My Constantly Evolving List of All-Time Favorites.

Kyle 's favorites books montage

Gone Girl
The Night Circus
The Woodcutter
The Graveyard Book
Sharp Objects
Dark Places
Shutter Island
The Passage
The Twelve
Rules of Civility
The Aviary
Heir to the Glimmering World
Wool Omnibus
The Weird Sisters
A Song of Ice and Fire
A Game of Thrones

Kyle Uniss's favorite books »

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The beauty of the early morning and The Heretic's Daughter

I got up this morning early. Or early for me. 5:00 am. I'm not a late sleeper, but I do not have to get up and head for work, so I don't rush out of bed usually. But I woke up and couldn't sleep. So I got up. I got things done that I usually get done a little later. So now I have time to write.

One of my goals this year was to get up early and head to the gym. But January, 2014 in Ohio happened. That meant very few days of temps above 10°. And snow. And late starts for school. And days off from school. Needless to say, I did not get up and go to the gym very many days this month. But February starts soon, and hopefully higher temps.

Today is Thursday, the second to the last day in January. And it is cold. BUT the temperature isn't in the negatives (or not too much, if you count windchill), so the girls will go to school for the first day this week. A full day. Last week they only had two full days. There are moms all over central Ohio doing the happy dance. I got up early and danced (figuratively, not literally), so now I will spend an hour drinking my coffee and cleansing my soul by putting these words on virtual paper.

And now, onto Massachusetts and The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent.


As I approached Massachusetts and had to choose a book, I was faced with an issue that hadn't come up in my first three states. A large city. Now, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire all have cities, don't get me wrong. But when I talk about big cities I'm thinking of those cities that stand alone. New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles--and Boston. 

Facing this, I made a decision. I am going to attempt to skip the large cities and focus on the rest of the state. I've read many good books centered in Boston (and other large cities) and I really want to learn a little more about the state. Maybe some history. 

For Massachusetts I went with some witch trial historical fiction. I've read some, but not tons. The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent is the story of Sarah Carrier, the 10 year-old daughter of Martha Carrier, one of the first women executed during the witch trials. This is a work of fiction, but the Carriers were real, and Kent is an actual descendant of the Carriers.

Through Sarah we learn about the hard, puritanical life of a New Englander in the 17th century. Their existence is bleak, and any bad luck that happens in the area is quickly blamed on witchcraft. We watch as hysteria sweeps a town, and a family is torn apart by accusations made in a time of desperation.

Sarah is tough and hard. She slowly learns that her parents love her and will do anything to protect her and her siblings, although they do not show much outward affection and emotion. The lesson learned is that real love is proven in the hard choices made in life.

A well written, well told story that flows well and quickly and seems based in historical fact. I would recommend for high school age up, as there are some rougher scenes. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Lovely snow days a little Vermont and a visit to New Hampshire via Peyton Place

We have been a little cold this January of 2014. Wait, I'll take that back. We've been REALLY cold. We gotten to the point where when the temperature hits 25° we're putting on shorts, grilling, and drinking iced drinks on the back deck. Of course, that only works when the wind isn't blowing, because that knocks down the temperature at least 15°. Now, I grew up in Colorado, and spent a few years in the mountains as a ski instructor (best job EVER), and I felt cold and wind chill. But I was prepared, and it is much drier in Colorado, so it doesn't seem so bone-splitting cold. And it is quite often sunny in Colorado.

We've had two full days off from school as well as four late starts. And it looks like we will have at least two late starts next week, and maybe more days off.

Many of these miserably cold days have not included snow, which makes it so much worse. Oh, we've had snow, and it hasn't gone away, making it turn dirty and icy and and sharp-edged from all the wind. That's what makes days like today so magical.  Yes, it's cold (although it got into the 20's today!!!!) and windy. BUT we once again had a magical day without an activity. AND it SNOWED. Pretty much all day. I left my sleeping jammies on until noon. Then I took a hot bath. Then I put on my warm, polar fleece owl jammies. The girls are still in their sleeping jammies. And Ted had to go do a little work, but he is back in his fleece man-jammie pants. (We obviously have many classifications of jammies.) I even ran out to the store for wine (yes, wine) in my warm owl jammies.

So it was the perfect day for doing very little. I read, I puttered, I attempted to make healthy muffins (that tasted like doody, so I gave up that thought). I watched broke into the wine at 5:00 and I'm okay with that. Tonight we will do Family Movie Night and relax.


“There is such a thing as love not meeting a test, but that does not mean that it was not a kind of love to begin with. Love is not static. It changes and fluctuates, sometimes growing stronger, sometimes weaker and sometimes disappearing altogether. But still, I think it is difficult not to be grateful for the love one gets.”

In my literary trip across the U.S., I am now in Massachusetts, reading a book set in the Salem region during the witch craziness. So far, so good. That means I've traveled through Vermont and New Hampshire and I've learned a few things. First, there are not too many great books that are set in Vermont. Well, I guess there aren't many that I haven't read.  I am really sorry that I  read Donna Tartt's The Secret History in December, because it would have been the perfect Vermont book. It was really good. But a lot of the books are written by Jodi Picoult, and I don't like her that much, or Chris Bohjalian. I chose two Bohjalian books, but neither was actually set in Vermont, so I gave up on that vein. So, I decided to go for an unknown author. Usually a good idea. Not so much this time.

Now, Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Maloy isn't a bad book. When Sarah Lucas's husband of fifty years dies, she is inconsolable. But her large Vermont home becomes a waystation for a bunch of lost souls, and Sarah suddenly finds herself becoming not one half of a couple. I think what bothered me is the 'perfectness' of it all. I know her husband died, and that would be sad, but they had such a charmed life. They did have rocky periods in their marriage when their children were young, and each had an icy relationship with a child, but that was about it. Everyone around her has a hard time, but Sarah is such a good person that she roles with the punches. Her big house on lots of land, her oh-so-liberal Vermont friends, her children  . . . all seem perfect. I would have rather read a book about her soon-to-be daughter in law, who had quite a bit of loss and hardship. Or her granddaughter, even, going through some hard teen years. Sarah just seems a little one-dimensional to me. But it was a nice look at Vermont, with quite a bit of Vermont outdoorsy going on. I really enjoyed that part of it.

New Hampshire was better. I went with a book that has always intrigued me, Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. It was said to be oh-so scandalous, the 50 Shade of Grey of its time (which was the 1950's). And I can see that. It is the story of Peyton Place, New Hampshire, and its ups and downs from 1939-1945. Mostly the story of Allison McKenzie, her mother Constance, and her friend (at the beginning of the book) Selena Cross, but it does delve into the other characters in town. It had to have been shocking in the 50's, opening the curtains and revealing the town secrets: unwed motherhood, incest, teenage sex, even abortion. It was banned in many towns but still managed to be a bestseller, setting records for sales for the time. I enjoyed this book, although I cannot say it was great literature. It was fun, knowing I was reading something 'scandalous' for its day. It wasn't particularly shocking, just normal scandal in today's novels. But that's okay. I can cross it off my list.

So far Massachusetts is going well. The Heretic's Daughter is interesting, and Kathleen Kent tells a great story. I'm glad I had this snowy day to really get into it. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

The magic of ordinary days and Empire Falls

There are days that seem endless with activities and events. Weeks that go by without a minute to stop and sit down with my family all at once, or even one at a time. Dance classes, swim practices, play practices, meetings, meets, games . . . they all take a toll on the family and on each individual. Especially at this time of the year, when things all start to pile up, I start to think about how beautiful it would be to leave it all behind. Get out of everything, go live in the middle of nowhere, forget the world and the activities. The probability of that is minimal, at best, but a girl can dream. Until that dream comes true, I relish in the extraordinary of ordinary days.

Actually, what I think of as ordinary are the exception. The days when we can hang out at home, having nothing to do at all. This weekend we actually had a couple of those days. A swim meet that was supposed to happen was cancelled, and then we had MLK day. Two days to do very little. I listen to the girls play, knowing that I should take them to the movie, or sledding, or to the library. But they are enjoying doing nothing at home; building with Legos, playing with Barbies and American Girl dolls, drawing, painting, writing. I love listening to the girls do all the things that don't get done on other days.

Of course, along with that comes the arguing. I mean, the girls are only 15 months apart. And Katy, my beautiful daughter with Down syndrome, is really good at playing the victim. She is cute and little and VERY good at manipulation, and she uses that power for personal gain. So I play referee and judge, remembering that Libby, my beautiful older daughter, has to deal with The Manipulator on a regular basis.

Even the arguing, though, is beautiful, considering that there are many days the girls don't see each other for more than half-an-hour. Ordinary days are splendid, even with the fights and the mess, the yelling and the tattling. Because that means we also get giggles and hugs, talking and secrets, artwork and heart-to-hearts. So I will relish in the magic of ordinary days. These are the days I will remember when life goes off the rails, like it always does. These days are what make up a happy life.


"One of the odd things about middle age, he concluded, was the strange decisions a man discovers he's made by not really making them, like allowing friends to drift away through simple neglect."

After reading Empire Falls by Richard Russo I cried. I was so sad it was over, so sad to leave Empire Falls, Maine, that I actually wept. The characters are so real, flaws and all, that I miss them. It took me a few days to pick up another book, and that NEVER happens to me.

On my Read Across The U.S. Quest, this was my first book. My novel for Maine. And it was a wonderful book with which to begin. Russo sets a perfect stage, and fills it with wonderfully rich characters. To him I say THANK YOU!!!! And, I'm so sorry I haven't discovered you sooner!

-----Some Spoilers!!!-----------------
Empire Falls, Maine has seen better days. The town, once prosperous under a successful textile mill owned by the Whiting family, has been closed for a couple of decades and the few businesses still open are hanging on by a thread. This includes The Empire Diner, a restaurant run by Miles Roby and owned by the last of the Whiting family, Francine. She promised the diner to Miles upon her death as long as he ran it for her, forcing him to leave college, when his mother was ill. In this, he feels his fate was sealed.

Miles is the protagonist of this story, a man in the middle of his life. He runs the diner and his life without passion, although I loved Miles. He is in the middle of a divorce, one that he doesn't want but isn't willing to fight, mainly because of his daughter, Tick, who is dealing with high school and those rocky waters. We even get to watch as Miles' father, Max, runs off to Key West with a senile priest and the offering money, something that is met with very little surprise by Miles and his brother, David.

Readers are privy to flashbacks, from both the Whiting clan and Miles himself. Miles own memories help him deal with old wounds, making him also confront his current barriers. Tick also has to deal with the upsets of small town life and adolescence drama. In the end, it is a need to heal Tick that forces him to leave town.

This was a wonderful book with which to begin my journey. It was a perfect look at a small Maine town, written by a writer who uses his pen to paint a wonderful picture. Unfortunately, Vermont wasn't such a treat. But that's a story for another day.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Why shedding Christmas is so hard and JoJo Moyes

I hate taking down the Christmas tree, putting away the decorations. I hate that the village goes back in the storage space under the stairs. I hate the nativity scene going back in its storage container, looping the lights just right so that they are easy to put out next year. I loathe taking the wreaths off the door and the windows. Everything looks so barren and empty, so cold.

In an attempt to stave of the emptiness of a Christmas-less house, I decorate for other seasons, other holidays. I really wish that in January you could leave up the 'winter' decorations: the pinecones, the snowmen, the snowflakes. They aren't really Christmas-y, ya know? But no, we have to say bye-bye to them all. So, in my house, we decorate for the next holiday. And that would be Valentine's Day. And I HATE Valentine's Day.

Why do I hate Valentine's Day? I guess because it's so friggin' cheesy. I mean, red, pink, glitter, sparkles, roses, chocolate . . I mean, all these things I love one at a time. But on Valentine's Day they all collide. It's just so FORCED. Women are supposed to make men buy them things, to get crazy frisky, and find 'romance' because it is the middle of February. It's pretty much a holiday picked by retailers because they were between seasons.

Don't get me wrong, I like romance. But I don't like 'contrived' romance. I like laughing with my husband and finding secret moments, having inside jokes and knowing when one of us needs a hug. Movies? I would rather watch a rom-com than a straight up 'romance.' Books? I stay away from a book classified as a 'romance,' but I will read chick-lit. I love a book that isn't about romance, but I love it when romance happens in a book.

I don't force the hubs to buy me flowers or jewelry. If he wants to buy me flowers, I tell him to wait a week (they raise the prices on Valentine's Day). He cooks, so I would rather have a great dinner. We go out usually the week after or so, when not everyone in the world is trying to get to the same restaurant (we only have one really nice one in our town), or maybe we go out for a drink. If he wants to buy me an Amazon or a Starbucks card he can, but he does that every once and awhile any way.

Despite all that, I will sprinkle my house with hearts like an elementary school teacher (because I have elementary-age daughters) and make heart-shaped pancakes (because I am raising my kids in the age of Pinterest). But I tell my family I love them everyday, and we show our love in a million different ways. We don't save it for Valentines' Day.

And now, let me talk about JoJo Moyes.

Well, after you read my above rant, you will find this funny. I have fallen in love with JoJo Moyes' books. And then I learn that "Moyes' novel Foreign Fruit won the Romantic Novelists' Association (RNA) Romantic Novel of the Year in 2004." But, as you see, that would be ROMANTIC books, not necessarily romance books. I would classify the two books I read as good chick-lit.

I first read The Girl You Left Behind and wasn't sure if I loved it. I listened to it, and one of the readers had a French accent which threw me off. But guess what? I read so many books in the last year, and I remember this one so clearly. My mind keeps going back to this book and the wonderful nuances, the stories, the 'romance' of the story.

This is book is actually two stories from two different woman living nearly a century apart. In 1916, Sophie Lefevre's artist husband, Edward, has left her in her small French village while he goes to fight on the front in World War I. The village is invaded by Germans, and the inn that Sophie and her sister run becomes the food and entertainment center for the soldiers. The Kommendant becomes obsessed with the Edward's painting of Sophie which hangs at the inn, and Sophie is determined to do whatever she must to save her family, her village, and especially her husband.

The book switches to Liv Halston, a living in modern-day London, hanging onto her life by a thread after her successful architect husband dies suddenly. His gift to her on their honeymoon was Sophie's portrait, and, through a chance encounter, the painting is discovered to be on the list of art stolen by Germans. Liv battles to keep the painting, sure that losing it will mean losing her husband again, and all the good memories along with it.

Moyes tells two wonderful tales. Sophie's story is historical fiction, told with such richness that I can see her inn, Le Coq Rouge, and I can picture the painting, done is a Matisse style. I can picture Sophie, and Edward and the whole town. Liv's story is told with emotion, and the pictures Moyes paints are more visceral, more emotional. We can feel everything Liv feels; her hurt, her love, her need. Moyes does an incredible job on both fronts. The modern story gets slightly bogged down, but it is worth it all just to read a book that invokes such strong emotions.

After The Girl You Left Behind I read Moyes' novella Honeymoon in Paris. This is short read is the stories of Sophie and Edward's earlier romance, and Liv's let down of a honeymoon, ending with the purchase of the painting.
And, to finish off my Moyes' obsession, I read Me Before You. This is a totally different book, the story of Louisa Clark, a steady girl with a striking sense-of-style, a steady boyfriend, and no real purpose in life. When the cafe where she works closes, she is forced to take a job as a companion to a quadriplegic man with a past including business success and extreme sports. Louisa refuses to let him retreat from the world, and, in the end, she gets more from him then she gives. Moyes' ability to let us see what her characters are seeing and to feel what her characters are feeling really shines.  Beautiful, beautiful book.

These books are my ideas of what a 'romance' novel should be. Real emotion brought to us by beautiful words. I recommend all three of these books.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Goldfinch and the value of good family

Reading The Goldfinch, I began thinking about my childhood and coming of age. Growing up, it seemed like I had an awesome family. We had a nice house, a nice business, and we did family type things. But, looking back at it from a different angle, I can see what a sham that was. To my dad, we were a hindrance, always keeping him being great.  He really thought he could have made it big if it wasn't for us dragging him down. It was everyone else's fault when things went wrong.

And now, as a mother, I see the value in having a wonderful mom. She wasn't a "hug-it-out" mom, she was a "you're-tough-you-can-do-it" mom. She didn't believe in tears (and I'm a crier) and they rarely moved her. But she fought for my brother and I, even when we didn't realize she was fighting for us. Yes, we had to work hard, but if someone was treating us badly, she went to bat for us. She stands at a mighty 5 foot, and rarely weighed in over 100 pounds. But I was told by more than one boy in my teen years that my mom scared them. She was, and still is, fierce in her love. Don't hurt those she loves, or you will feel her wrath. As a mother, I get this. As the mother of a child with disabilities, I get it even more.

I cannot imagine growing up without my mom. And I hope my children have me for a long time.

And now, onto my review of  The Goldfinch.


"And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty? Those first images that crack your heart wide open and you spend the rest of your life chasing, or trying to recapture, in one way or another?"

Most of us remember that pit-in-the-stomach feeling of youth; the moment when you get caught doing the wrong thing. The moment you realize that you have disappointed the person or people you have always tried to please, your parents. Now, imagine that leading to the worst day of your life. Add in a visit to a museum, a sudden crush on a beautiful girl, a terrorist attack, a gift of trust, and the theft of a beautiful work of art. All within the first quarter of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch.

Tartt's hero is Theo Decker, a young man with his mother's artistic eye and his father's ability to con. We read Theo's description of the terrorist attack that killed his mother, and we read as he takes off with Carel Fabritius' painting, The Goldfinch (here's a link to the painting: Theo's father had abandoned he and his mother, so he is taken in by an uber-rich friend's family until his father is located. His father then carts him off to Las Vegas, where he meets Boris, a boy who lives on the fringe of respectability. He clings to his friendship with Boris, and he clings to The Goldfinch, using it as a tether to his mother.

When Theo's father dies, he returns to New York, entering the world of antiques. We watch him enter college early, and become an antique dealer, doing some shady things to make the business boom and thrive. He meets up with his friend's family, and he learns his friend has been killed in a boating accident, along with his father. The mother has become a rich-recluse, but the return of Theo starts to lift her out of her shell. He takes up with his friend's younger sister. and they become engaged, although for both it isn't necessarily love. He seems to have inherited his father's con-man ways and addiction problems, and these become much more problematic as Theo gets older. The painting remains a focal point, although some have come to suspect that Theo has it. He has stored it away without looking at it since Vegas.

Theo reunites suddenly with Boris, a gangster with a big heart. From here we follow Theo to Europe, and it gets exciting. Gunfights, art theft, gangsters, and redemption. And we get this great look on the thin line between good and bad from dear Boris.

"I personally have never drawn such a sharp line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as you. For me: that line is often false. The two are never disconnected. One can’t exist without the other. As long as I am acting out of love, I feel I am doing best I know how. But you—wrapped up in judgment, always regretting the past, cursing yourself, blaming yourself, asking ‘what if,’ ‘what if.’ ‘Life is cruel.’ ‘I wish I had died instead of.’ Well—think about this. What if all your actions and choices, good or bad, make no difference to God? What if the pattern is pre-set? No no—hang on—this is a question worth struggling with. What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good? What if, for some of us, we can’t get there any other way?”
I have read a few reviews of this book where the reader struggles with the long descriptors and the adjectives. This was wonderful to me. Tartt uses these lengthy description to bring the readers to the beauty of ART, and Theo's constant connection to art and beauty. She uses her beautiful words to show the reader how much Theo's mother and her artistic eye stayed with Theo always.

I'm not sure of the message of The Goldfinch, or if I agree with Boris' thoughts that I highlighted above; it kind of seems like a cop-out for the criminals of the world. But I did love this book, and Tartt's writing. I highly recommend The Goldfinch.

Tartt has only written three books, taking about 10 years to write each. As soon as I was done with The Goldfinch I rushed out and got her first book, The Secret History, which is also really good, if a little disturbing. I don't know how I have missed Tartt, but I'm glad I found her now.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reading Across America

It's that time of year; time to set some goals. I have made the normal resolutions: lose weight, hit the gym, get organized. You know, the ones that everyone breaks by February. Hopefully, this year will be different. I've also made a resolution to be more patient, to be slower to get upset with the kids and the hubs. I get frustrated and yell, like everyone (or sputter in frustration, more like). It's not too much or obnoxious, I just think counting to 20 will teach me and my daughters the value of taking a deep breath before speaking.

But I also like to set fun goals (hopefully slower-to-frustration will end up fun). Go to more movies, plan more date nights. AND READ. Last year I set the bar a little high at 150 books. I finished, but I counted audio books (which are wonderful, but different from reading) and Kindle singles (which are, again, wonderful, but shouldn't count as real books). So I say I finished ugly. But this year will be different. My goal is lower, and different, and in stages. I plan to READ ACROSS AMERICA. Some do non-fiction, but I like fiction. I'm going to start in Maine and end in Alaska. And then I'm going back. Then we'll see. 

So, I've chosen the books for the first two states:

If you have any better ideas, speak now or hold your peace until I come back up this way (probably next fall or winter). Join me on my journey, if you would like. Follow behind, jump ahead, join the journey in Wyoming later this year if that's your wish. And let me know your thoughts!

Happy reading!!!