What I Read in 2014

Best BooksThe Best, The Worst, The Rest


  • I had a goal of reading 36 books this year and complete my Book Bingo Card. However, I am being pressured to complete this post before year’s end. I intend to complete my Book Bingo Card by December 31, but will fall short of my total reading goal. I realize this is a total first world problem.
  • Not all of these books were published in 2014; they are just the books I read during 2014.
  • I wrote reviews for some these books, mainly joint reviews with my snobby reading friend Jennifer Spiegel (under our stage name: Snotty Literati). Whenever there’s a review, I include the link. Whenever there’s not, I don’t.
  • I would love your thoughts on any of my thoughts. I would also love your thoughts on any books you think I should read. I am all about the thoughts. I want them. I am greedy for them.

Now, on to What I Read in 2014…

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2014

1. Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012). Not only is this my favorite book of the year, it goes into my list of all-time favorites. It’s the story of what can happen when you value people for who they are, not what they look like or how they are different. It’s a book that shows how similar we truly are despite the differences that make us unique and, ultimately, special. I probably also love it because my son read it too and announced it was his favorite book. While considered juvenile fiction, Wonder is a book for all ages.

2. This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (2014). My love for this woman and her way with words is well-documented. This collection of essays is geared for writers, but I encourage anyone who enjoys good storytelling or wants a different perspective on how to be good at something to read this book.

3. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013). If you ever felt misunderstood, different, an outcast, or even normal angst during your adolescence, then Rowell is your gal. She writes with humor and grace about the awkward beauty of growing up and urgency and total everythingness of falling in love. Add to that the backdrop of the 80s and you have YA perfection.

4. The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (2013). Earning The National Book Award for Fiction, The Good Lord Bird is a humorous and provocative historical novel chronicling Abolitionist John Brown and his storming of Harper’s Ferry. McBride creates a motley crew, while throwing in some well-known members of the anti-slave movement. A truly great read.

5. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (2013). The title and pink flowers on the cover scream beach read, chick lit, and maybe even Lifetime movie. But trust me—this is lit for the clever and witty chick. Like you. The chick reading this column right now. Moriarty has architected a smart story that follows three disparate storylines that all converge in a way that will take you by surprise. If you liked Where’d You Go, Bernadette then add The Husband’s Secret to your reading queue and pop it up to the top. Oh, and if you haven’t read Bernadette yet… what are you waiting for?

6. Boys and Girls Like You and Me by Aryn Kyle (2010). The problem with so many short stories is their structure, or lack thereof. They often don’t wrap up very tidily and I find myself asking if I missed something. So imagine my delight when I come across a collection of stories that each has a clear beginning, middle, and end. And they are interesting, a little weird (in a good way), and really well written. That’s this collection. Check it out. Amazon has only one copy left.

7. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (2012). More clever chick lit from Moriarty, and this was actually written before Hubby. I read both of her books for my book club and we all enjoyed this one (but Hubby was better). Nonetheless, a breeze of a read with highly engaging characters that will keep you turning the pages.

8. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (2005). I would have never even heard of this book, let alone picked up this gem of a book were it not for my Book Bingo group and a little square that required us to read a fellow player’s favorite. As much as I want to write as eloquently as Ann Patchett, I would be happy to write as creatively, succinctly, and resonantly as Rosenthal does here in her memoir formatted like an encyclopedia.

9. The Complete Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman (1986, 1992). This is the only graphic novel to make my list and the only graphic novel to ever receive a special citation from the folks at Pulitzer. The artist and storyteller is the son of a Holocaust survivor who uses the comic book medium to tell of his father’s harrowing experiences and their subsequent, challenging relationship.

10. The Last Night at the Ritz by Elizabeth Savage (1973). It’s 1960s Boston, and an unnamed and unreliable narrator walks us through a history of martini lunches, affairs of the heart, betrayals of friendship, books, and feminism as she celebrates her birthday at the Ritz with her dearest friend. Lush sentences about books, boys, and booze make this a highly enjoyable read. The

Honorable Mentions
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert
The Home Place by Carrie La Seur
Sky of Red Poppies by Zohreh Ghahremani
The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

The Book I Should Have Read by Now
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Book I Read for a Second Time (and Enjoyed as Much as I Did the First Time)
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

The Books I Wanted to Like More than I Did
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

The Book I Should Be Embarrassed to Have Read But Am Not (Okay, I Kind of Am…)
It’s Just a F***ING Date by Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt 4 stars

The Binge-Reading-Instant-Gratification-Total-Crack-Candy-Crushers (aka Totally Empty Afterward)
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The Book that Is On So Many ‘Best Of’ Lists… But not Mine
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeymi

The Bad
Beautiful Bodies by Laura Shaine Cunningham
Erotic Poems by e.e. cummings
A Highly Unlikely Scenario, Or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World by Rachel Cantor

That’s all I’ve got! Peace, love, and books! See you next year!

By |December 16th, 2014|2014|7 Comments

The Last Night at the Ritz by Elizabeth Savage

w538892This slim novel was Kindle-gifted to me by my stepmom at the end of our fall break in Boston and New York City this year. The book is narrated by an unnamed woman, who is celebrating her birthday with her best friend Gay, Gay’s husband Len, and the narrator’s former lover, Wes. Gay and the narrator met in college in the 1930s and have maintained a 3o-year friendship despite their dramatic differences.

Now, it’s 1960s Boston, and there’s lots of talk of martini lunches, affairs of the heart, betrayals of friendship, books and feminism. Gay is straight and narrow, the narrator is not. They are the yin to each other’s yang, and despite the narrator’s unreliability, I really liked her. She’s full zingers and quotes that could appear on the next Anne Taintor notepad. She struck me as the person you would sit next to at a party if you didn’t have anything nice to say about anyone—she would love to talk with you.

Here are some of my favorite passages:

Describing a college acquaintance:

“But having missed being pretty she settled for being kind and merry, which is not the worst settlement a girl can make.”

About her college major:

“Like many old English majors, we don’t hold staunch opinions about anything much but books.”

On her ability to be trusted:

“Nobody–except for Gay– has ever trusted me. And for good reason.”

Speaking about girls who got pregnant in college:

“Everyone I knew who got caught got married, but only after a lot of tears and a lot of snotty remarks from the dean.”

On sex:

“In those days we were pretty sure sex stopped at about thirty-five.”

On Gay’s grandmother:

“Gay’s grandmother was a formidable woman, but you didn’t see it right away because she was pretty.”

“As it turned out, the grandmother was a rampant feminist who rejoiced in any female victory. It wasn’t really that Grandmother didn’t like the uncles; but she saw all men as dolts. In spite of all her sons–perhaps because of them–she was not much in favor of sexual congress. It was untidy and had dire results and took a lady’s mind off more important things. Like sonnets.”

“In spite of the grandmother’s stern admonition, the bathroom was obviously a library. Everyone in that house liked to read; not that they were all scholars; the just liked to read, and there was no corner of that big house that was not littered with literature, as though they were all afraid that they might be caught at any moment without print.”

On her love of books and reading… and drinking:

“But you can’t very well lug an encyclopedia around hotels. Fortunately, I did have my flask.”

On loss and lust:

“So after that, if the fellow and the time were right, I started having an occasional affair, which is less debilitating than grief and a lot more fun.”

I could go on… but what kind of review just reprints the whole book? The book is not perfect, by any means. But it’s a gem. Our lushy narrator can ramble at times; however, the she propels the story forward nicely, throwing in her share of secrets and some of Gay’s as well. The Last Night at the Ritz does a swell job unfolding a story of a complicated life-long friendship in one night’s time, across a number colorful stories and cocktails.

Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 196
Genre: Fiction

By |November 30th, 2014|2014, 3 stars|1 Comment

Sunday Sentence, July 13, 2014: A Three Dog Life

Here’s the best of what I read this week:

A Three Dog Life


We envisioned an old age on a front porch somewhere, each other’s comfort, companions for life. But life takes twists and turns. There is good luck and bad.

From A Three Dog Life
by Abigail Thomas










Snotty Literati Reviews: The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Hubby SecretI made Jennifer read this book after she bailed on a book she forced me to read. And guess what? We both loved it. I bet you will too.

Check out our review of The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. It’s not just a pretty cover. There’s substance beyond the title.

Sunday Sentence, June 1, 2014: Boy, Snow, Bird

Here’s the best of what I read this week:Boy Snow Bird

“They looked around with drained faces and drank less than their friends did, barely wetting their lips so as to keep their secrets.”

From Boy, Snow, Bird
by Helen Oyeymi


Boys and Girls Like You and Me: Stories by Aryn Kyle

Snap 2014-05-28 at 19.25.34Around May 21ish I learned it was Short Story Month. As a sucker for just about anything book related, I decided I would fit a collection in before month’s end, in between book club, Book Bingo, Snotty Literati and all the other book commitments I have made. Somehow, some way, I would do it. But what would I read?

Fortunately, the speed at which I purchase books far exceeds the speed at which I read them, so there’s always something on hand. Enter, Aryn Kyle’s collection, Boys and Girls Like You and Me. I picked up a mint-condition, used copy of it at a favorite independent book store a few years ago for a steal and I remembered liking her debut novel that my book club had read a few years back. So that made things easy. It also didn’t hurt that this collection features written stories of women and girls messily making their way through life and love. And before you start doing the math and thinking that women/girls + drama + love + sex = dumbed down, porny, chick lit. You are wrong. Try again.

Boys and Girls Like You and Me features 11 stories, all of which tackle topics we have all faced: love, loss, betrayal, despair. Rather than being overdramatic, Kyle shares the awkwardness, pain, and humor that so many relationships experience, wether involving a parent and child, friends, siblings, lovers, or even acquaintances. In the collection’s opener, “Brides”, Grace loses her virginity and her best friend Dilly after the friendship of convenience experiences an irrevocable breach of trust.

The first man I slept with kept his eyes closed the whole time. We did it in a prop room of my high school theater on the leather sofa my parents had donated to help me get a part in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It would have been better if my mother could have sewn costumes or if my father could have built scenery. But since my mother didn’t sew and and my father said he would rather drive a nail through his tongue than building cardboard shrubbery, they gave the theater department two hundred dollars and the sofa we’d kept in the garage since our dog chewed through the arm rest. And voila. Townsperson Number. I had a line too: Somebody get the pastor!

Grace and Dilly aren’t boiled down to catty caricatures, rather they make choices that girls their age make. While they may not be the choices all high school girls would make, they are highly probable ones and certainly not out of character.

Kyle captures character well, presenting each stories’ protagonist with perspective changing moment. For 12-year old Tommy, the heart of “Captain’s Club”, it’s the night he sees an uncommon Blood Red Moon while on an unlikely Spring Break cruise and his first time away from home.

But when, at last, Tommy began to cry, it was not because of fear or loneliness or disappointment, but because there was so much beauty, too much beauty for his small body to hold, because some people, most people–his mother and sisters and sweet, pretty, Tree, who would never, ever love him, people he had not yet met and strangers he would never know, his father–would live their whole lives and never see this moon, because here he was, only twelve, and already he had seen it.

My favorite of the collection is the title story. Haven’t we all stayed too long in a job that didn’t challenge us, with a partner who couldn’t appreciate us, in a house that wasn’t right for us? And how did we break out of that funk? When it has been my rut, it has always been a break in the monotony or drama or whatever through which a sliver of light illuminated something completely unexpected. That’s what happens when the unnamed protagonist, who is in a dead-end relationship with a married man, working in a job where she writes term papers for students, living in a shitty apartment’s life changes when she meets Iris.

The girl working the register is the teenage vampire from my apartment building, and when I set the movie on the counter, she looks down without touching it. She is pale and razor-thin, with dark, frightening eye makeup and dyed black hair that falls over her face like a hood. “Have you seen this move?” she asks, and I say that I have. “This movie’s fucked-up.”

She runs one hand through her hair, and when it lifts away from her face, I realize that she’s younger than I thought–fourteen, fifteen at most. This surprises me because I have more than once seen her drunk outside the apartment building kissing her boyfriend and, on one occasion, puking in the bushes.

When she pushes the video across the counter at me, her nails are short and jagged, her cuticles raw. I should make sure to return the the movie by Friday, she tells me. The late fees here are ridiculous.

The video is not returned on time, fees are racked up and the two seemingly different characters’ lives become shockingly similar. Much to the dismay of the narrator, she is forced into a situation where she must help Iris. It’s this moment, the break in the chaos that shakes things up, breaks up the chaos and changes her perspective and trajectory.

This is a solid debut collection, and one where each of the stories has a clear beginning, middle, and end. This genre is a tough one and tough to do well. Kyle has proven in her first attempt that she’s a talented storyteller and one I hope we see more from in the future.

AMENDMENT! So, when you purchase faster than you read and you read all the live long day, you don’t even catch that you already read a short story collection this month! Thankfully, both were delights; even though I forgot about the other one. Read my review of the other one. It really was good. Promise.

Sunday Sentence, May 11, 2014: The Husband’s Secret

The best of what I have read this week come’s from:

The Hubby Secret

“Then she changed her mind, put the cups back down, and while Will and Felicity watched, she carefully selected the two fullest cups, lifted them up in the palms of her her hands, and with a netballer’s careful aim, threw cold coffee straight at their stupid, earnest, sorry faces.”

From The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Swan Gondola

Snap 2014-03-23 at 17.30.16My side book review gig, Snotty Literati, just reviewed The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert. The cover is beautiful (I mean just look at it) and that was a big motivator for us selecting it as our April pick. Yes, we were being a bit shallow. But in the end, it’s what is on the inside that counts. Read our review to see if this beauty goes beyond the dust jacket.

Read our review of The Swan Gondola now.