Book Reviews of 2023

Book Reviews of 2023

Tom Lake

Ann Patchett

I love Ann Patchett but had a hard time getting into this. In fact, by the time I met with my book club to discuss it, I was only half way through! I finished it two days after that and wondered if it was actually better to read the book after some spoiler-filled discussion. I’m not sure why this book felt a little flat. The premise was great. A mother of three grown daughters, telling the story of how she once dated a famous actor and how she ended up living on a cherry farm. The present day takes place during the pandemic and has a heaviness you would expect when it feels like the world is ending. Nothing so terrible happens in the past. I describe it as A Star is Born, only in reverse.

The Secret History

Donna Tartt

Half way through this book I realized I may have read it before! It was written in 1992, way before one of my favorite books of all time, Tartt’s The Goldfinch. The Secret History felt like it was more of a freshman effort. It did have some meaty content. Self-indulgent college kids living privileged lives yet being neglected by their parents. A worship of academia and resulting disconnect from reality. But then much of the book was devoted to explaining how even the best of people are capable of heinous acts and its unraveling of the mind. 

The Covenant of Water

Abraham Verghese

This was the second of the book club picks. It was long. Ultimately I didn’t love it. I even abandoned it at one point but curiosity forced me to finish it. I did like that it was set in India and chronicled much its history. I like the many female characters and multi-generational drama that unfolded. Some of the writing was artful and lyric, but some of it felt dry, and the style and tone seemed mismatched. Some horrible things happen, some of them to children and it was hard to read that.

The Overstory

Richard Powers

Oh boy. So much good stuff in this. And I have a thing for trees, so, yes. But much of it left me feeling that the world was ending which was so devastating that I couldn’t finish it. It would seem people either love this book or hate it.

Art Is Life: Icons and Iconoclasts, Visionaries and Vigilantes, and Flashes of Hope in the Night

Jerry Saltz

My fellow art student/best friend/sister gave this to me as a gift. I loved the introductory essay in this book of art critiques. It was some of the best writing I’ve ever read. Art is Life. It is everything. And it’s ridiculous. And I couldn’t live without it. And so, so, so much more. I still haven’t finished the book but thought I’d include it here.


Hello Beautiful

Ann Napolitano

You know how I said I’d never join a book club? Well, I joined a book club. And I like it. This was the first book we read. Hello Beautiful is a a modern day Little Women that explores so many relatable challenges — mother/daughter conflict, sibling rivalry, family secrets. On the surface, it just seemed like family drama, but this book had a slow burn. It wasn’t until I’d finished it that I realized how sneaky it actually was. The symbolism and deeper meanings only became completely clear when I heard others share their impressions and their personal related experiences. It gave me a lot to think about. Like about how few people really love us for who we are, about how painful, debilitating, and misunderstood depression is, about how amazing forgiveness is. A solid read.


Cloud Cuckoo Land

Anthony Doerr

The author of All the Light We Cannot See did not disappoint in this epic story inside a story inside a story. It was everything I wanted: rich, wordy transcendent descriptions, layered characters, time-hopping, mythology, history lessons, fantasy, and science fiction. Oh my gosh. It was so gripping. There are a multitude of protagonists defined by their time and life stories, all threaded together in a common fantastical tale: Cloud Cuckoo Land, a place you only get to by transfiguring yourself into a bird. The absolute best book of the year.


The Vanishing Half

Brit Bennett

Identical twins who run away from home at 16 and then are separated from each other when one decides to pass as white, inventing an entirely new life. I was drawn into the historical fiction aspects of living in the south in the 1950s, where races, and their various shades, are segregated and subjected to to harsh criticism and judgement. The characters are all beautifully drawn and delineated, revealing their pain, motives and secrets that keep them isolated and are then ultimately revealed. The construct of race as well as gender identity are so artfully explored. I found myself fully sympathetic to each flawed woman and her relationships with the others.

Lessons in Chemistry

Bonnie Garmus

I’m reading this now!

How These 4 Women Are Learning to Love The Skin They’re In

How These 4 Women Are Learning to Love The Skin They’re In

I interviewed 4 women, at different stages of life, to find out what they do to feel their best. Here are their responses.


How do you feel about your body?
I think my relationship with my body is constantly changing. Depending on factors such as weather, time of my cycle, and even when my life isn’t going great. I often find myself wishing it looked different but I think overall I try to love it as much as I can.

What diet works best for you?
The diet that works best for me includes three smaller meals and some snacks throughout the day. I try to pick a healthy choice if possible but I find that trying to restrict can lead to unhelpful habits forming.

What’s your favorite kind of exercise?
I love running more than anything. It helps me sort my thoughts and makes me feel amazing. But any kind of high-impact I enjoy.

How do you overcome negative thoughts?
Some tools I use to overcome negative thoughts are retracing my steps and writing about them. By retracing my steps I mean thinking about what I’ve eaten or what I’ve done today for my body and it makes me feel like I’m doing the best that I can. Writing also really helps me unpack how I’m feeling.


How do you feel about your body?
Past or present? That’s a huge question. I have a sort of interesting relationship with my body. When I was young, I was very skinny and I wished I was curvy. When I developed in my teen years, I felt better about my body, partly due to having a great boyfriend. I was always active. I danced and liked to go for walks. When I was 17, I went to Spain to study and fell in love with the food. When someone close to me said I looked heavy, I abruptly stopped eating and became almost anorexic. l lost 30 pounds!  When I came home to the States, I was able to go back to a carefree relationship with food. In my 20s, I felt at ease and empowered. Now, in my 50s, with perimenopause, the main feeling has been, my body is good to me. I feel strong and attractive. It has helped that the men in my life have found me beautiful. As I’m facing getting older, I feel like my body is not my body—I gain weight much easier, I have a different shape—but I’m trying to make peace with it. I’ve gone from awkward to empowered, discomfort to peace.

What diet works best for you?
I feel best when I’m eating a high-(lean) protein diet: chicken, fish, and then vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. When I do that I feel clean and energized. But I know I definitely have a sugar addiction. And I love French bread. And chocolate. And cheese! I don’t eat red meat. I was a vegetarian for years and only added fish and poultry when I was pregnant. I think I would benefit from eating more meat, but I can’t really bring myself to do it. I guess I eat mostly a Mediterranean diet.

What’s your favorite kind of exercise?
I really love dance. In an ideal world, I’d still be going out clubbing. Dancing all night is a great workout. I walk and do yoga but I really love Jazzercise. I need to exercise. It’s how I stay sane. I used to do the gym, the Nautilus. I used to run a lot. Actually, I’ve been a runner for probably 30 years. But now it hurts my hips. I want my workouts to really count, I want them to be challenging. I like to get them done quickly!

How do you overcome negative thoughts?
If I’m having negative thoughts about my body, it’s because I’ve done something unhealthy, like eat too many sweets or eat a bunch of food when I’m not even hungry. Those thoughts are there for a reason. I don’t want to overeat, so I try to recommit to myself to doing the things I know are good for me, I’ll go for a walk, drink water, do meditation, bring myself back to the present moment. I have learned to be gentle with myself. With aging and my changing body, it’s a process to change how I view myself and how I not relate to my partner. Now, when I’ve have negative thoughts, I will actively disrupt my thought patterns. I’ll say, “shut up!” Haha. Not very gentle, but it works. Then I’ll turn the thoughts around and focus on the positive.


How do you feel about your body?
I feel relatively good about my body. I’ve always struggled with my weight and body image but with age am getting better at giving myself grace.

What diet works best for you?
I’m a volume eater. To keep my portion sizes under control while still feeling full, my meals are usually at least 50% veggies or leafy greens. I always include a protein and I try to avoid dairy. Other than that, I don’t restrict myself to a particular diet. I think everything is fine in moderation.

What’s your favorite kind of exercise?
I love running. I have a hard time meditating so I find long runs to be both good for the mind and body! Recently, I joined Orange Theory for some cross training and it’s awesome. Since I started, my mile time has dropped significantly. Plus it’s a great way to socialize with other people who love fitness as much as I do!

How do you overcome negative thoughts?
I struggle with this one. Staying active helps to keep my mind at ease. I also like using the boxed breathing technique. You inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4 seconds, and exhale for (you guessed it) 4 seconds. It helps to center me when I’m extra stressed or feeling negative.


How do you feel about your body?
I love it! I’m super grateful for it. I love that I enjoy it, and value it. I will say though, I would like to be physically stronger, like, build more muscle mass.

What diet works best for you?
I eat mostly organic greens, and vegetables, and focus on eating a high protein/low-fat diet. I get most of my animal-based protein from dairy.  I really love Greek yogurt. I sprinkle cinnamon on it which tastes almost sweet!

What’s your favorite kind of exercise?
Pilates. I need to do it more! I also like yoga, dance, and tai chi.

How do you overcome negative thoughts?
I practice positive self talk. I read books or internet articles about positivity. And practicing healthy habits really helps. Exercise helps! Someone once said, “Move a muscle, change a thought.”

My Health & Fitness Routine

I want to let you know that you’re beautiful. Just. the. way. you. are.

Is anyone else questioning this fact? Do you look in the mirror and ask, what can I do to be thinner? or just more toned? Or immune to gravity? I do. More than I’d like to admit. I analyze. Critisize. Then I tell myself, I am my perfect weight. I love my body. I love what it’s capable of. And I don’t need to change a thing.

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time and can’t decide how to approach it. Fitness. Exercise. Diet. Body Image. Women feeling judged for how they look, not for what they do. And how we’re passing these messages on to our children.

I’d really like to have all the answers, and then package them up and give them to you. But I decided instead that I’d take you along on the journey. I don’t have all the answers. I do have a lot of the questions.

I will share what I do to be healthy. I’ve developed a few good habits over the years. You might not agree with me but that’s okay. Some thing might be triggering. I could say something wrong. I just going to go ahead anyway. Besides, I think only 5-10 people will read this.

I’m also going to share with you what works for other people. I have some friends who are willing to share their own health and fitness practices. I think it will be a good cross-section.

I’m excited.

Book Reviews: January – June 2022

Susanna Clarke

This was such an enjoyable read. It was so different from what I usually choose. From the beginning, I was immersed into a world that didn’t make sense. I’d loved how the author set the mood and tone of the place. For the rest of the story, I was just trying to figure out, “How?” and “Why?” By the time I came back to reality I missed being there.


Evvie Drake Starts Over
Linda Holmes

Evvie, rhymes with Chevy. How do I keep choosing Romance novels? It wasn’t my thing really but I did enjoy it. Light, relatable, sweet. The kind of book to read when your brain needs a break. 

Fifty Words for Rain
Asha Lemmie

I enjoyed this book a lot. It had some similarities with Pachinko. At one point I thought I’d have to stop reading it. It veered into the area of sex trafficking and I can’t go there. (It’s why I abandoned Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement)

Fifty Words follows a little girl, Japanese, and how she survives an abusive family of aristocrats. Her love of her half brother and their shared love of music help her endure.


Rules of Civility
Amor Towles

This might be my favorite book of the year. Not surprising since I loved A Gentleman in Moscow. I love the writing, especially the witty repartee, which seems typical of the 1930s. Towles really does a great job of transporting you to the time and place (NYC) without it feeling redone. Really lovely. Really enjoyable.

What Are You Going Through
Sigrid Nunez

Everyone is going through something. As much as I love a good escape, sometimes a relatable, real story makes life feel less lonely. Because we’re all experiencing heavy stuff. It wasn’t my favorite book, but pretty solid.

The Island of Sea Women
by Lisa See

I loved that this book took me somewhere so interesting, so different from what I’ve experienced. A small island off of Korea where women make the money to support their families by diving for sea urchin, abalone, octopus and other delicacies. I learned about this rich tradition in such beautiful detail. The story time jumps from present day back to the 1930s as it tells about the life of Young-sook and her best friend Mi-ja. We move through the decades and learn about the history of the region. Some of the events are so harrowing, so unthinkable, I wish I hadn’t read about them. But it was very educational and worth it.


28 Summers
Elin Hilderbrand

While I was vacationing at the beach, I took a break from The Island of Sea Women and picked up 28 Summers. I’ve never read anything by this quintessential beach-read author. It was the break I was looking for. Why don’t we all live on Nantucket?

How to Boost Your Mood (when it’s cloudy for days on end)

How to Boost Your Mood (when it’s cloudy for days on end)

I find that the weather can really dictate my mood, and my motivation. If I don’t see blue sky or sun for a while, I feel … not good. So, when that happened recently, I thought, maybe there’s something I can do. I sat down and wrote this list:


Some of these things are obvious and I do them fairly regularly. But some of them surprised me. Like, where did that come from? So I know these things help improve mood, but the thing about a cloudy day is I forget about all the things that can make me feel better.  I need to remember to use them when sluggishness started to settle in. And the sooner the better. Usually taking simple action works well, like taking a walk. And, the more often I do these things, the easier it is to do them.

Since I work from home, which I love, don’t get me wrong, I need to find excuses to get out of the house. I also need to connect with people (other than the three I live with.) Calling a friend is super helpful. Seeing them in person is even better! Making plans with your people is so, so important. I think we all learned how important human connection is after being deprived of it during the pandemic. I can’t make plans with someone, I usually go out by myself. I highly recommend strolling through stores just to look at stuff. Or better yet, an art museum.

Exercise is also essential. Luckily I’m already in a good habit of prioritizing workouts. Usually I do it first thing in the morning. Right now I have a routine that I walk the dog then I go for a longer walk by myself. On some days I do Jazzercise from home. I started doing Jazzercise on-demand at the start of the pandemic and I love it. Don’t judge my old lady workouts! They’re awesome. When the days get shorter and colder and I’m less willing to go outside, I have to really make myself get outside. I know it makes a big difference in my energy level.

I definitely believe in vitamins. I just never remember to take them. Not only are they good for physical health, they are good for mental as well. Studies have shown that calcium, chromium, folate, iron, magnesium, omega-3s, vitamin B, vitamin D, and zinc all help to boost mood. I take Garden of Life but there are obviously many to choose from. 

Adding light, artificial light if it’s cloudy or dark, is supposed to regulate circadian rhythms (like your body’s reaction to light and how it effects energy). I got therapy lamp a few years ago to help with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). “Symptoms of SAD include loss of pleasure and energy, feelings of worthlessness, inability to concentrate, and uncontrollable urges to eat sugar and high-carbohydrate foods.” – Harvard Health Blog. I’m not sure if the one I have is good or if it’s making a difference but I thought it was worth a try. I find that turning on lights and lighting candles can also make me feel better.

I found it really interesting how many things on my list were sensory. Flowers and candles – sight, music – hearing, perfume (and flowers, and candles if they’re scented) – smell. Enlivening the senses can make us feel more alive. So often people are tempted to numb out to combat depression; bingeing on alcohol, sugar, social media, or TV. Feel less. I never realized that feeling more could be much more effective.

The idea of buying myself flowers is very new to me. So is wearing perfume. I think I got my new love of fragrance from my daughter who is constantly asking for essential oils, candles and perfumes. It feels very indulgent and I’m surprised I haven’t allowed myself to enjoy it more before now. I learned a lot about happiness and self-care from reading The Year of Living Danishly. Lighting candles, drinking hot tea, listening to music, setting a mood. How did I not know about these things?

It’s so easy to get caught up in doing all the things. We feel compelled to clean and work, to take care of others and be “productive.” But if we’re feeling down or tired maybe we need to take a step back, slow down and do something that really creates beauty and wonder. Maybe a cloudy day is just the universe saying, your to-do list just got a lot shorter.