A Book with a Type of Plant in the Title

2018

For my second book in the challenge, I selected The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton.

This book was published in 1962, concurrent with other simple stories of family and human nature, such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Joy in the Morning. With all the craziness in today’s world, the idea of going back in time to a simpler era is appealing.

There are those who feel this book is an unsung hero. At just a few pages in, I can attest that it is a loving depiction of the “ordinariness” of living that many of us who grew up in a rural setting will recognize. Perhaps its quiet and unassuming impression was overshadowed by more intensity in its peers.

So far, The Moonflower Vine is a lovely, gentle read, reminding me of the magical days when one could spend an afternoon lying in the grass gazing up at a summer sky and then awakening to find several decades have passed. Life feels so much like that at my age now.

Mary Jo

I chose this book for two reasons. One, I was looking for something that fit the challenge, and while Heather is a girl’s name in this book, it is also a plant so it fits. And two, it’s a debut novel from the creator of Mad Men. I had high hopes for it because of the latter.

To call Heather the Totality a novel is a stretch, in my opinion, it’s more of a novelette or a long short story. I was disappointed in it, perhaps more of a reflection on my expectations rather than the story itself. I was expecting some of the Mad Men wittiness and vibrant repartee. Instead, it was a reflection of two parents obsessed with their daughter and a dangerous stranger who becomes so as well.

There are probably some good discussion points for a book group, though, and perhaps his second outing will be a winner.

A Book That Takes Place in Your Hometown (or one like it)

2018

Mary Jo

I grew up in a small town, a town not likely to ever have been written about, so for this category, I had to find a book that was set in somewhere like my hometown. Although Out of Circulation is set in the South (Athena, Mississippi) and the actual town is vastly different from mine, the attitudes and the sensibilities of the town are all too similar.

This small town, like mine, had a hierarchy of residents – from the venerable families who have lived in the town to generations, to the new upstarts who will never be accepted no matter how hard they try, to the familiar shopkeepers and cafes. Small town attitudes, biases, and closed-off attitudes brought back memories of growing up and how tough it sometimes was to fit in.

This is a cozy mystery, a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed and the crime and subsequent investigation take place in a small, socially intimate community. It’s a quick read, a nice break from some the self-help genre I had been reading, and anything with books and a cat in the plotline is worth a few hours. Nothing earth-shattering, but a quick little read down memory lane.

A Book Set in Your Favorite Country or Region

2018

Mary Jo:

I’m a big John Grisham fan, so I’m always eager to pick up his new book, in this case, The Rooster Bar. The primary setting for this novel in Washington D.C. (and the surrounding area), with a little bit of New York City, Barbados, and Senegal thrown in for good measure. I’ve always enjoyed spending time in that “other” Washington, and while I hesitate to designate it as my favorite, I’ll go out on a limb and put this here.

The premise of the book, as is often the case in Grisham’s writing, seems to be drawn out of the headlines. In The Rooster Bar we have threads of predatory recruiting and lending practices at for-profit law schools, the growing burden of student loan debt, the fraud occurring within the banking industry caused by employees incentivized to create fake accounts, and the fraud that occurs in massive class action suits. Whew, that’s a lot to chew on.

It was a quick read, and I found myself alternating between cheering on the protagonists and being outraged by their actions. And, like most Grisham novels, the ending is both satisfying and annoying. I was left wondering if we’ll see these characters again, either in another book or a movie.

Another from Mary Jo

This installment in James Patterson’s Alex Cross series, The People vs. Alex Cross finally came in off the hold list from my library. It’s set in the Washington D.C. area and perfectly fits this challenge category. I know I already have one for this challenge, but am adding this as a backup.

It’s a quick read, with a plotline involving the usual cast of characters. The story divides its focus between a police abuse trial and a complicated investigation. This book won’t change the world, but if you’re looking for a good police/legal thriller, it will fit the bill.

 

One of my favorite countries to visit is Italy.  We used to go once a year, but now it’s been nearly 10 since we’ve been there. This book by Frances Mayes, author of so many books regarding living in Italy, reminded me of all the frustrating and wonderful things about living in Italy.

At the core of the book is the relationships of a group of middle age women. But surrounding all the relationships is the food, sights, and wonder of Italy.

I’m ready to go back!

A Book with a Silly Title

2018

Mary Jo
While I’m all for self-development and self-improvement, this book failed to deliver all the way around. It felt like a sales pitch to rah-ray live a better life and coming from a cocky millennial whose credentials seem to be coming back from a low point of not being the top producer for his company, the businesses he started were failing, and he was in debt. He readily shares that that was a much lower point that his near-fatal accident where he wasn’t expected to be able to walk. A matter of messed up priorities much?

His morning recommendations are as superficial as they are trite, with no real meat or substance. Instead, readers are sent to his website, where he presumably sells lots of products and coaching, for deeper explanations and examples. I expect those in a book, which should have a stand-alone value rather than serve as an infomercial.

By all mean, find a way to incorporate self improvement habits into your day, we all benefit from that, but to suggest that you can change your life in 60 minutes (or in some case 6 minutes) a day – without further information and guidance – feels like a sales pitch.

The Miracle Morning doesn’t deliver a miracle; it’s just kind of silly.



I read this while cruising in anticipation of a book club discussion when I get home.

The Woman Who Stole My Life is easy going, laughable chick lit, but there’s an underlying message beneath the laughter (and tears). From unknown beautician to a paralyzed patient to renowned writer – and back again – this was full of “what ifs” that I expect will lead to a good discussion of the book.

A Book That is Written by or is About a Famous Person

2018

Mary Jo

I make no apologies for being a Hillary Clinton fan, despite not agreeing with all her choices, votes, or decisions. When What Happened became available at my library (I check out e-books through the King County Public Library), I quickly shuffled my reading list to put this at the top. Like most candidates for President, this memoir touches on both the election, the process, and personal stories and background. While those elected don’t publish their memoirs until after they leave office, those who didn’t win usually post theirs within the following year. Hillary joins those ranks.

If you despise Hillary Clinton, there is nothing in this book that will change your mind. And it wasn’t written to change your mind. This is a personal memoir, it is full of angst, and it both apologizes and remains unapologetic. If you’re not willing to see her as a flawed individual (like we all are) who still remains one of the most respected and admired women in the world, then skip this read.

As a woman of the same era as Hillary, I was at times moved to tears as she talked about the limited path that was available in the 50s and 60s. I know the limitations that I had to face in my early school years, a steering of interests to those that were designated appropriate for girls, and I remain thankful that young women of today and so many more choices that I did. The book reminded, however, of the need to remain vigilant to ensure that young women continue to have all these choices and more.

There are facts and figures, statistics and quotes, and lots of analysis about the election. But if you only read it for that take, you’re missing a story of a young woman coming of age in the 60s who despite the odds nearly becomes president of the United States.

A recommended read.


I downloaded this biography of Prince Charles to read as we visited London and Scotland for the first time. While I don’t consider myself a royal follower, I do confess do more than a passing interest in the royal family, especially with the younger generation, Prince William and Kate, Prince Harry and Meaghan.

This biographer seemed to do a good job of creating a picture of a complicated man in an even more complicated situation. There were no apologies made for his often quirky behavior, but there was also plenty of explanation about how he developed his beliefs and why he supports the causes that he does. It also refreshed my memory about certain times in history, or perhaps just rounded out my memory with a U.K. viewpoint.

 

Who better to collaborate on a plotline that involves the President going missing than a former President? In this case, President Bill Clinton joins prolific writer James Patterson.

I’ve long been a Patterson reader but lately have thought his plotlines and character development are pretty thin. I also wonder how much of his collaborations he is writing vs. relying on the author author. This was a nice surprise and I found myself caring about the characters and the eventual plot outline. Yeah, sure, there’s some self-serving political comments, so if they don’t fit your sensibilities, just read over them and go for the plot.

 

Betsy:

Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway’s First Wife isn’t the first book I’ve read which tells the story of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife. According to author Gioia Diliberto, she is the one woman he never stopped loving.

Hadley is also the subject of a biographical novel, The Paris Wife, which I’ve read previously. Paula McLain wrote The Paris Wife using Hadley’s voice. Seven years older than he, Hadley’s story as told in The Paris Wife evokes the impossible emotional commitments people can and cannot make when their own dysfunctional backgrounds collide with their hopes and dreams.

This true biography (as opposed to the fictional portrayal in The Paris Wife) will further illuminate the milieu in which Hadley and Ernest moved: the Paris-based Lost Generation inhabited by Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Gerald and Sara Murphy (whose story is poignantly told in Everybody Was So Young), John Dos Passos, Dorothy Parker, Cole Porter, and famous others between the World Wars.

Definitely recommended.

A Book With a Type of Food in the Title

2018

Brenda Tolentino
Food is what drives me most to travel so I chose a book with a type of food in the title for my first Ticket To Read Challenge, Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons by Matthew Fort because I traveled to Sicily in 2016 and loved the food culture on that island. In Sicily, I ate dishes like Pasta Norma, Cannolli and Arancini and I’m hoping to transport myself to Sicily again with every plate Matthew Fort writes about and will also try some of the recipes he adds to each story. The author also travels through Sicily by Vespa, which I find intriguing and a bit romantic, so I’m really looking forward to diving into this book.

A Book That Takes Place in a Destination You’d Like to Visit

2018

Betsy

For the first book in the Ticket to Read challenge, I’ve selected a book that takes place in a destination I’d like to visit: The Mistresses of Cliveden: Three Centuries of Scandal, Power, and Intrigue in an English Stately Home
As a fan of Downton Abbey, The Crown, and similar Netflix series, and as one who loves a good biographical novel, I want to visit the great houses in the United Kingdom. This book will suffice until we actually return to Europe. What’s not to like about scandalous, powerful women, and the intrigue that automatically surrounds them? Painted against a backdrop of a luxurious home which was avant-garde in terms of architectural style for its time, these stories are likely to entertain as well as inform. I’m very much looking forward to the “three centuries of misbehavior” that went on within the walls of Cliveden.


Mary Jo

This book is a fictional account of a true story – a shipful of Jewish citizens fleeing Berlin to escape the rise of the Nazi power. They were loaded on a transatlantic cruise ship and headed for Cuba. Unfortunately, when they got to Cuba, only a small number were allowed to enter the country.

I had not recalled this happening, so in addition to the family saga related in the novel, it was a reminder of a part of history that I had forgotten.

Spoiler Alert: The ship was forced to return to Europe both the U.S. and Canada refused to accept these Jewish refugees.

I didn’t love the book, I felt like it jumped around too much and left me floundering trying to figure out what was going on, but I liked the story of the refugees and the power of family.

I chose this book for a place I’d like to visit – Cuba, where a good deal of the story took place.

 

Among the Mad is the sixth addition to the Maisie Dobbs series. I started the series earlier this year on the recommendation of a local librarian and I look forward to each new book.

Set in the aftermath of WWI in England (and the greater U.K.), I enjoy following a strong female protagonist searching to find meaning after the horror of war.

I haven’t been to England yet but will be there shortly.


I love a good thriller and after a few unsuccessful attempts to find one, The Flight Attendant grabbed my attention and didn’t let it go.

Imagine waking up on a layover in Dubai, not in your own hotel room, but in a posh room at a posh hotel with a very dead man in bed with you.

Weaving in the typical thriller arcs, set against the cultural and political background of Dubai and the Middle East, this one kept me up at night reading to the end.

Set in Manhattan and Key West, this legal thriller has some good ups and downs, twists and turns, and ultimately an ending that was both surprising and satisfying.

Key West is one of those places I’d like to visit, and I’m exploring that for 2019. While I know that it won’t be much like the city portrayed in the novel, it’s still a fun look at a city on my to-visit list.

A Book That Will Help You Become Better at What You Do

2018

Mary Jo

I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing – the process, the product, tools, habits, everything – so I was pre-disposed to enjoy On Writing, written by prolific writer Stephen King.

The book is a combination of memoir and master writing class, creating a combination of practical tools and suggestions imbued with encouragement and inspiration. It can be a quick read or do as I did and spend time thinking, researching, and implementing some of these ideas.

Biggest takeaway:  If you want to become a better writer, read. Read a lot. And that’s one reason I’m glad we started this 2018 travel reading challenge.

From Mary Jo

Maybe it’s because I have a bunch of business goals I’m keeping my eye on, but this year I seem to be reading a bunch of business-related books. I’m juggling a lot of balls right now, so it seems like a good time to pick up The One Thing.

It’s a simple concept, instead of trying to multi-task, focus on the one important thing in your life. The concept has merit, do one thing well instead of a bunch of things poorly, but only summarily takes into account the fractured lives that people – often women – lead. Not everyone is a CEO in a financially successful business, with staff at work and a spouse at home that will keep everything running smoothly. While there are some good takeaways from this book, it felt a bit sexist, and I would like to have heard a woman’s voice talk about battling through the responsibilities women are faced with to discover their one true thing.

From Mary Jo

I’ve reached the point in the growth of my business where it’s time to review – and in most cases raise – my rates. Whenever this happens there can be pushback on the new rates, potential clients trying to wheedle down my ask to the very lowest price possible. I get it, there’s only so much money to go around, and I can’t blame people for wanting to get the very most for their spend.

In the past, it was a fairly common response for me to suggest splitting the difference. But after reading Never Split the Difference, that’s not going to happen again.

The author explains that in his business (hostage negotiations), splitting the difference means that someone (or someones) die. That’s not an acceptable outcome. In the book, he lays out step-by-step scenarios on how to incorporate winning negotiations into everyday life.


I hated this book, bemoaning that it was hours of my life that I’ll never get back. But, even though I didn’t like it, I read it and it goes on the list.

The author seems terribly self-indulgent, a little too full of himself, and doesn’t bring any real qualifications to his conclusions in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. (And I would point out that the book is full of F-bombs, perhaps for a lack of sufficient English skills.

There was probably a redeeming concept or two in here, but it was buried beneath too much self importance.