Essentially, this is a round up of all of the books I’ve read this year in one place. Think of it as a yearly review and as a way to figure out what books to give for Christmas. For even more book ideas for Christmas, check out the roundup of all of the books from my old blog, too.
Full disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a link and buy something (even if it’s not the particular book,) I receive a little compensation. I think I’ve made $5-10 over the years of blogging, probably because I’ve clicked on my links – lol.
Mindfulness and Spirituality Books
Mystery School: An Insider’s Perspective by Gayle Clayton. Reading and re-reading books written by your meditation teacher is a very, very good thing. It helps tickle my memories and certainly reminds me of an amazing time in my life. And, if you’ve ever wondered what exactly a mystery school is like, this will help. Your brain will be overloaded with information: exactly what’s needed in this Western world to break through our overthinking over-obsessed-with-details-and-facts-and-figures world. A remarkable accounting.
Mindfulness by Joseph Goldstein. This is a series of lectures by Goldstein, one of the people who brought vipassana (aka mindfulness) meditation to America. Along with Sharon Salzburg and Jack Kornfield, Goldstein founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. When there is a retreat being held at the center, there is always a dharma talk, or lecture, in the evening; this book is a collection of those lectures by Goldstein specifically covering the Satipatthana Sutta, the foundational discourse of Buddha on mindfulness. I find I can only read one lecture a day because each brings so much to ponder. It’s worth it, though, as there are plenty of jewels like this:
An ironic and useless patter that I’ve noticed in my own retreats is that my mind comments on someone not being mindful — or at least not appearing to be in my eyes — all the while being oblivious to the fact that in that very moment I’m doing exactly what it is I have a judgement about: namely, not being mindful! It usually doesn’t take me long to see the absurdity of this patter and then just to smile at these habits of mind. It’s always helpful to have a sense of humor about one’s own mental foibles.
I’ve definitely never been guilty of this, have you?
Mindful Aging by Andrea Brandt. I really tried to like this book, but alas, I can’t do it. The subtitle of the book is “embracing your life after 50 to find fulfillment, purpose, and joy.” It comes off a little too simplistic for me, and probably for you, too.
The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield. As part of the mindfulness certification, I had to read a book or several about mindfulness. Jack Kornfield is a good introduction, and I really liked how he broke down the functions of mindfulness into things I could easily understand and relate. Gentle wisdom and good storytelling combine with modern psychology.
Clear Home, Clear Heart by Jean Haner. Not long ago I watched a video of Jean Haner in one of those free summits I post about on Facebook. I was captivated by her talking about clearing space, so picked up this book, and within a day or so had cleared myself and my cats – thanks to a pendulum and copper dowsing rods. I cleared the house, too, which may explain the whole basement thing; and yes, the house felt different after I cleared it. Hmmm, maybe I should get certified in space and personal clearing, too?
Chumpi Illumination by Eleanora Amendolara. After my experience at the Sacred Waterfall with twelve crystal Chumpi stones, I finally broke down and bought a set of seven. These are mystical stones from the Peruvian Andes mountains; mine are made of meteorite and are (without a doubt) alive. This deck of cards is helping me understand the basic principles behind the stones I have.
Five Lives Remembered and Between Death and Life by Delores Cannon. If you’re unfamiliar with past life regressions and/or the work of Delores Cannon, these two books are good introductions. “Five Lives” is the retelling of how she and her husband started regressing people and found one person who was particularly good under hypnosis. “Between Death and Life” explores what happens to a soul after it leaves the body.
Writing about American Buddhist Rebel and Unplugging the Patriarchy is a little like writing about the chicken and the egg. They’re so closely related, it’s a bit hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. For example, American Buddhist Rebel is the teacher’s while Unplugging the Patriarchy is the student’s story; the teacher appears in Unplugging but the student doesn’t appear (at least by name) in American.
Regardless, I did enjoy both. I can’t get enough spiritual biographies, and both books are that. American Buddhist Rebel: The Story of Rama – Dr. Frederick Lenz by Liz Lewinson is a more conventional biography albeit written by a student of Rama. That is to say, it’s a flattering biography of an even-to-this-day controversial figure. As someone who’s fairly well versed in spirituality (I spent two years working at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies and writing the catalog/course offerings,) I’d never heard of Rama.
I really loved Unplugging the Patriarchy: A Mystical Journey Into the Heart of a New Age by Lucia Rene. This novel reads more like a fictionalized first-person narrative, and it kept me on the edge of my seat. Who is the mysterious man in the Pacific? Can he stop the three main characters from dismantling the esoteric rings that bind patriarchy into this world?
While the teacher, Rama, passed away in 1998, and his work is carried on by the nonprofit Rama Meditation Society. Lucia Rene is still very much alive and living in South America. Her website offers classes and other teachings online.
The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg. This was a fun little read that I picked up on a late summer adventure to Grand Rapids. I went over for the day and hit Nordstrom Rack, thrift stores on 29th street, Trader Joes, and (how could I not) Schuler Books. I ate lunch and gathered a few books including this one purely for the title. The back-of-book blurb attracted my attention too: “Martha Andersson may be seventy-nine years old and live in a retirement home, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to stop enjoying life. So when the new management starts cutting corners to save money, Martha and her four closest friends won’t stand for it.” This league of septuagenarians gets up to all sorts of hilarious hijinks and you’ll love it. Thank goodness there’s at least one more in the series: The Little Old Lady Who Struck Lucky Again!
Raspberry Danish Murder by Joanna Fluke. New Hannah!!! I read this super-cozy mystery in one night and am delighted by the end. I wrote about the recipes on my other blog. Though I’ve been annoyed by plot developments in previous books, this one is sweet and complete, just like the perfect chocolate chip cookie.
Christmas Cake Murder by Joanna Fluke. This quick and easy read is yet another in the Hannah Swenson series, and I read it in one night. There are tasty recipes and a lighthearted look back at the beginning of Hannah’s cookie and mystery empire in the small town of Lake Eden, Minnesota. Charming, as always. Recipes included are: cocoa-crunch cookies, honey apple crisp, anytime peach pie, melt-in-your-mouth pork roast, ultimate lemon bundt cake, Cool Whip lemon frosting, bacon & sausage breakfast burritos, cashew butter blossom cookies, chocolate hazelnut bonbons, ultimate butterscotch bundt cake, Cool Whip butterscotch frosting, ultimate Christmas bundt cake, Cool Whip white chocolate frosting, and minty dream cookies. If you love old recipes, you’ll thoroughly enjoy my other blog – My Great Recipes Collection.
Curiosity Killed The Cat Sitter by Blaize Clement. Retired sheriff’s deputy turned pet sitter Dixie Hemingway is no pushover – unless there’s dog or cat involved. And there are the dead bodies that (ahem, mysteriously) keep appearing. But Dixie has a complicated history, and solving murders doesn’t help her keep her cool. I’d read more of these. And besides that, reading about hot Florida days is a fantasy in the middle of a Michigan winter.
About A Dog by Jenn McKinlay. Romance, dogs, and small-town gosh-golly-gee are in this delightful story. Throw in three girlfriends and you’ve got a charming tale – or should that be tail? I’m sure the others in the Bluff Point Romance series are just as heart-warming: Barking Up The Wrong Tree and Every Dog Has His Own Day.
To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear. Move over all you other books, private investigator Maisie Dobbs is in the house. I read this in maybe two or three nights of intense reading. I would do it again – probably when the next book is released. My hopes are up that that will be next year.
The Maisie Dobbs series of mysteries stand out because the characters are true-to-life. They’re believable, likable, and tenacious. At this point in the series we’ve seen Maisie and her cohorts through the first World War, personal struggles, and now the second World War is starting. Sigh. If only Winspear could write as fast as I can read.
Brimstone by Cherie Priest is set in the early 1920s where talented clairvoyant Alice Dartle has just arrived at the spiritualist camp in Cassadega, Florida. Tomas Cordero, a tailor who lives in Ybor City, Florida, is struggling with shell shock from his experiences in the first World War and the loss of his beloved wife. The paths of Dartle and Cordero cross in Cassadega and combine to defeat a powerful enemy who loves fires.
The Edge of Dreams by Rhys Bowen. Bowen writes the Molly Murphy mysteries series, set in the early part of the 1900s in the New York City area. Molly’s biggest challenge seems to be balancing what a proper woman should do (stay at home and take care of her young child) versus her natural instincts to solve mysteries as well as any man – including her police captain husband. Charming, if a little predictable.
The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. Bowen is a prolific author, and this book is definitely not a Molly Murphy mystery. It does seamlessly blend the stories of a World War II British bomber pilot and his daughter in with a quaint rural Italian town. Bonus points for delicious food, but like The Edge of Dreams, this is a charming (and a little predictable) read.
If you enjoy mystery and intrigue set in a not-too-dissimilar setting (albeit that setting is industrial revolution England) you just might like this haunting novel by Ian R. MacLeod. There’s a sick child, a manipulating mother, and gritty fantasy. What’s the book? The House of Storms by Ian R. MacLeod
Urban Mystery & Other Fantasy Books
Darker and grittier than your typical cozy mystery, but oh so interesting!
The Greywalker series by Kat Richardson: Poltergeist, Labryinth, Vanished, and Seawitch, and others. This urban fantasy series features private investigator Harper Blaine who just happens to be able to see between the worlds. Start with #1 in the series, Greywalker, which explains how Blaine got these talents, among other things.
On that same trip, I bought Bibliomysteries edited by Otto Penzler. This is a collection of short stories about bookshops, libraries, book collectors, and booksellers. Authors include Mickey Spillane, Nelson DeMille, Anne Perry, and Laura Lippman. The subtitle of the book says it all: stories of crime in the world of books and bookstores.
Seanan McGuire is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors. I learned about her from a friend who reads more than me and we both have devoured most of her books – which is saying a lot. The InCryptid series follows professional ballroom dancer turned friend-of-monsters Verity Price as she shimmies at the bar, tumbles across rooftops, and fights the good fight. All that and burgeoning true love. First in the series is Discount Armageddon. I just finished Midnight Blue-Light Special, too.
Stealing Shadows by Kay Hooper. I picked up a series of three Kay Hooper books at the autumn book sale at my local library because they looked interesting: a psychic helps police catch killers. Unfortunately, this got just a little too dark for my tastes, perhaps even a little too unbelievable. I’ll donate this series back to the book sale for next year.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. So many good series, so little money to go and buy all of the books. If you’re a fan of dystopian fantasy, you owe it to yourself to seek this series out. I’ve only read this first book, but it’s worth finding. And as it’s the 2016 Hugo Award Winner, your local library may stock a copy or two. As I said, this is a trilogy, so if you’re able, you can definitely grab all three books here.
The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemison (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdom, The Kingdom of Gods, and the bonus material “The Awakened Kingdom.” I’d looked for other books in the Fifth Season at local bookstores, but have had no luck. Finally, I came across The Inheritance Trilogy at a Barnes and Noble; it’s not the same series, but it’s a doozie of a series all on its own. As this is a 1400-page compilation, it’s hard to sum up the plot in a few short sentences. Suffice it to say that the ruling class is deposed, and a new class begins to rise. Oh! And there are gods and goddesses involved, too. Fantasy and storytelling at its very, very best: go read some of this stuff.
The Wall Of Night Series by Helen Lowe: The Heir of Night, The Gathering of the Lost, and Daughter of Blood. If you thought I was enthusiastic about The Fifth Season, you haven’t seen anything. This fantasy series by Helen Lowe blew me away. I gobbled these three up as quickly as I possibly could. That’s saying something because Daughter of Blood is more than 700 pages long. The series is epic – a battle between good and evil led by two awkward teenagers with impressive abilities – and the world-building is magnificent.
The Brightest Fell is the ninth book in The October Daye Series by Seanan McGuire. I really tried to dislike this series, I really tried. At dinner one night I said I thought the first book was well written but just too violent for me. And then I read another two or three and didn’t stop until I finished the whole series. It easily took me less than two weeks to glide through all eight books; and now I long for the magical world of the faerie with all of the political intrigue, infighting, and imaginative world-building. October “Toby” Daye is a half human half fae (as in fairy or fairy-ish) hard-boiled detective type who also happens to have considerable talent with the decidedly not human skill of ‘riding blood.’ When she tastes blood, she sees and experiences the story of whomever the blood has come from; and given that she’s a detective, that blood is often coming from a freshly dead body. If you love fantasy, this is a great series to consider.
Beach Read Books
Sourdough by Robin Sloan. Yes, sourdough bread and San Francisco, but also high-tech, grazing goats, farmer’s markets, and cricket cookies. There’s a visit to a Chez Panisse look-a-like restaurant, and an appearance of the owner who resembles Alice Waters, the legendary founder of Panisse. There’s a robot that makes bread, too. Sourdough is a quick read with a good story. It didn’t take me much longer than making a loaf of bread from scratch to read.
The Last Girls by Lee Smith. If you got together with college roommates, you’d have a lot of fun, right? I would! But these roommates and friends seem more bent on destroying each other, or at least hurling insults and mean glances. There is fun, to be sure, as the women recreate their trip down the Mississippi, but I wouldn’t want to be along for the trip.
Summers at Blue Lake is the first novel from Jill Althouse-Wood. Take one miserable divorce, two grandmother lesbians, and fond memories of summers spent at the lake…then combine with the pieces of a puzzle coming together in one bittersweet picture. It’s a darned fine summer read.
Looking for a heart-warming novel about girlfriends? Add a little knitting into the mix, and that’s exactly what you get in The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. There’s friendship, love, secrets, and miracles – everything you’d really want or need in a chick-flick book.
The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig. This is a pleasant, predictable read based in the gilded age of New York City. You know this story: servant girl falls in love with a wealthy boy and there are complications. Yawn. How three successful authors can write such an average story, I’m not sure, but they definitely pulled it off here.
The Lost Carousel of Provence by Juliet Blackwell. Cady Drake is a social misfit and down on her luck: her adoptive mother has passed away, and now Cady is alone in the world. She moves forward in her life through her old cameras and photographic skills. When a friend urges Cady to accept an assignment photographing the old carousel’s of Paris, the adventure truly begins. If you’ve ever loved riding on a carousel and fallen in love with the gorgeous sculptured creatures, be sure to add this to your reading list. History, mystery, and a little bit of love are included, too.
Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen. This is more of ‘love’ story that I like. A famous female photographer based in New York City, newly divorced and financially unstable, rents her fancy loft-like apartment and escapes to a small country town. Naturally, she falls in love with a local boy, because doesn’t that happen to everyone? Fortunately, Quindlen adds just enough twists and turns to make this book charming.
History and Other Non Fiction Books
The Memory Code by Dr. Lynne Kelly. As I write this, I’m about halfway through this book, subtitled “The Secrets of Stonehenge, Easter Island, and Other Ancient Monuments.” It’s incredible. She’s explored how Australian Aborigines encode memory (events, people, seasons) into places, and then extrapolated and applied to her own life. In one chapter she takes the reader on a walk around her neighborhood. She uses the objects and places to help her remember geological and archaeological history.
As Epsi [her dog] and I walk down the drive from home, the first life – the first photosynthesis- is happening… We walk through geological eras and eons, one per house: Hadean, Archean, Proterozoic, Paleozoic, and into the Mesozoic. The last house on the block has a very messy garden, which makes remembering that this is the Mesozoic very easy. For a reason I have never been able to discern, Epsi doesn’t like the Mesozoic and tries to head back home when we get there. I pick her up and nod to the dinosaurs as I carry her through the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. From the Pliocene on, she is perfectly happy to walk, even though the big noisy dogs are at the house with Lucy, the famous australopithecine from the Pliocene who has no idea the stir her skeletal remains will one day cause when they are found over three million years later. I turn the first corner in the Jurassic, 200 million years ago. By the time we reach the next corner, now well into the Cenozoic, we have encountered many long-extinct hominid species. Homo erectus stands upright just as I get to the last house on this block. The corner is one million years ago, which I decided was the best place to change from geologic time to archaeological time and enter the Paleolithic.
But what really kept me reading is the fact that she has applied this knowledge of encoding memory into many other ancient monuments around the world – including Stonehenge and New Grange. Fascinating!
Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon by David McGowan. If you don’t know it already, I love me a good so-called conspiracy theory. I even wrote a little bit about the whole QAnon stuff going on this past year. QAnon and David Wilcock both posit that something much bigger is going on covertly and that we’ll all know about it soon enough. So it’s the perfect time to read this little collection of stories from McGowan who wrote about a lot of very interesting things. This book explores the Laurel Canyon scene in the 60s and 70s that spawned a whole hoot of musicians: the Byrds, the doors, Buffalo Springfield, the Monkees, the Beach Boys, the Turtles, the Eagles, and more. And it especially delves into the underbelly of that scene (think Charles Manson connections) and a lot of military connections.
A World Without Whom by Emily J. Favilla The subtitle for this book is “The Essential Guide to Language in the BuzzFeed Age,” and it should come with an English teacher alert: you won’t like this one bit. I did, but perhaps that’s because I am online so very, very much. This truly is a guide for the new way of writing that has developed online. It’s not about proper sentence structure or well-developed thesis; instead, it’s about accessible, friendly writing. And she likes the Oxford Comma – hallelujah!
Inspired and Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work by Tama Kieves. On the journey from employee to entrepreneur…. (Wait, did I just call myself a business owner? I guess I did, didn’t I? I’m still getting used to that…) Anyway, while on the journey from employee to creating a dream job/life as a life coach and writer, Tama Kieves has been consistently inspirational. This book is full of sound, heart-centered advice. I have her new book, Thriving Through Uncertainty, loaded onto my Kindle to read, too.
The Conquer Kit: A Creative Business Planner for Women Entrepreneurs by Natalie MacNeil. I bought this on a whim more than a year ago, really before I realized I was truly starting a business. I couldn’t work with this book at all. But then, gradually, as I became more aware of the business that was emerging from my consciousness, this book became an inspiration. It is a business plan, but it’s not stodgy or boring. It causes you to brainstorm and apply solid business tactics in creative ways. There are still parts I haven’t been able to work through. I think that’s the point, though – as I develop as a business owner, I can see returning to this book over and over again to discover fresh perspectives.
The Apprentice by Jacques Pepin. I love a good autobiography and, for sure, this is one. It’s filled with anecdote after anecdote about celebrated chef Pepin’s life, and a handful of recipes. There is a grueling old-fashioned apprenticeship in France, and then Pepin arrives in America. The rest, they say, its nothing but history, and the story-telling is charming.
Even More Fiction Books
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. It’s deep winter and a small village in the medieval Russian wilderness is beset upon by pagan demons. Or is it beset upon by a monk from far away Muscovy attempting to impose new religious beliefs? Tensions are high in this imaginative retelling of a classic Russian fairy tale. Thank goodness Vasya, the land owner’s wild-child daughter is around to save the day…or does she? I suspect the sequel, The Girl In The Tower, will have just as many twists and turns.
A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. If it wasn’t for the hurricane, this would be a wonderful summer beach read. And that hurricane is ever-present because the reader knows it’s sneaking up on the characters, yet they remain blissfully unaware of what’s on the way. The story twists and turns to unravel Lily Dane’s family mystery and slowly winds up to that hurricane. The final chapter is thrilling, and the epilogue shows how love stands the test of time. Sigh.
The “Honor Harrington” novels by David Weber. Also recommended by a friend, this is another sci-fi epic space odyssey of novels. I chunked my way through ten of them and had to stop – not because they’re not good, mind you. Instead, I got tired of the militaristic (warmongering?) focus. But if you love sci-fi, don’t let that stop you from trying these out; I suspect I’ll be back into the series at some point. Start with the first in the series – On Basilisk Station – to get a real feel for the brilliance of Honor Harrington.
Featuring two sisters who are (seemingly) totally opposites, The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman is tasty. And the novel is not so much about the sisters as it is how they find their way in the world, and how one of them discovers her true passion in some old cookbooks.
The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber A thriller with books, bookstores, book writers, and book restoration? Yes, please. There’s a secretive twist on Shakespeare, too. This book spans centuries and continents and is a truly fun read. I’d read more by Michael Gruber.
I keep wondering why so many post-current society stories are filled with tragedy and struggles. I always imagine the opposite of that: a bright and beautiful future for all. Nevertheless, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a different kind of dystopian story filled with a traveling band of actors and musicians, and an entertaining one at that. A flu pandemic ravages the world, and -twenty years later- we travel with the troupe through what used to be known as Michigan. There’s a violent prophet, and a city growing where there once was an airport. And if you’re a Shakespeare fan, there’s King Lear on stage in Toronto all those many, many years ago – and that is the special twist.
Artemis by Andy Weir. Yes, the guy who wrote The Martian in his spare time while working a computer programmer is back with another book set off-planet. This time we’re on the moon and all sorts of adventure is afoot in the domed city. The main character is just as sharp as The Martian’s Mark Watney, and in about as much trouble, too. I hope Andy Weir has a few more books like these to write!
Peace Like A River by Leif Enger is Midwestern to its core, and dripping in the possibility of miracles that float through this novel like snowflakes. The novel is gripping, haunting, and all of those things you and I love about a well-written piece of fiction. It covers one short year in the life of eleven-year-old Reuben Land and his small, broken family as they race across the cold north searching for his renegade older brother. Fresh like winter snow, treacherous like an ice storm, and tragic and beautiful all at the same time.
In the aftermath of Germany’s World War Two defeat, a lonesome woman and her two boys return to the castle of her husband’s ancestors. There, a disjointed group of women gathers and rebuild their lives. The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck was inspired by tales told by the author’s relatives and took more than seven years to write. Grim and gripping, shimmering and bright, this novel tells stories and reveals secrets for everyone.
For even more book ideas for Christmas, check out the roundup of all of the books from my old blog, too.
What books are you giving for Christmas this year?