Crisp fall days, meandering drives through mill towns, and a stunning college campus… When I started this blog in November, my goal was to post a book and travel guide every week. And then, I found I couldn’t read and research that fast! However, I can tell you that recently I finished Hometown by Tracy Kidder, I’m starting Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan, and I’m brushing up on my knowledge of Sojourner Truth, Sylvia Plath, and maybe even a little bit of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Can you guess where the next post takes place…?
As of today, I finished up my last two books of the year, and I ended up reading 90 books! I’ve never read that many books in a year before, but this year, I found reading to be a welcome respite from everything going on in the world. Conversely, I added online subscriptions to both the Washington Post and the New York Times this year to my reading life, an addition I have greatly enjoyed. The one thing I did less of was watch tv, one of my favorite pastimes. I’m woefully behind on current shows, but I’m making time to start watching The Crown, which EVERYONE has recommended. However, for tonight I’m curling up with a glass of bubbly and Glass Houses, by one of my favorite mystery writers, Louise Penny. My husband, Rich, is reading The Green Mile by Stephen King, and is glued to it. Not an action-packed NYE, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Some of my favorite books of 2017 include the atmospheric mystery The Dry by Jane Harper set in drought-plagued Australia, the moving time-travel novel Kindred by Octavia Butler, written in 1979 but so relevant today, and the eerie novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go. For sheer fun, try The Litigators by John Grisham, the historical fantasy, The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, and The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman, featuring a kick-butt librarian who travels to alternate worlds to save books. Note: As of today (12/31/17), some of these books like End Game, Sleeping Giants and The Invisible Library are $3.99 or below for Kindle on Amazon. Click the pictures below to find out about these books and more.
Since 2012, I’ve been doing the Goodreads Reading Challenge, and I highly recommend it. You set a goal of how many books you want to read during the year, and then log them on the Goodreads site as you finish. At the end of the year, you can look back and see all your books and your reading trends. This year, I’ve read some amazing books, a few clunkers (I usually put a book aside after 50 pages if it is not appealing to me, but there’s a few I powered through), and I can certainly see areas I want to improve for next year, such as non-fiction and books for 8-12 year olds. Over the next few days, I will highlight some of my favorites, starting with books I especially liked on Audible.
If you want to increase your reading time, audiobooks are the way to go. My commute to school is 15 minutes each way, so I can get in about 30 minutes a day of listening time. I have an Audible membership for one book credit a month, but you can also get books on CD at your local library, and even get downloadable audio books from some libraries. Check out the app Libby – it’s a great way to find some new books to listen to!
I find this category to be full of noteworthy books, often read aloud by the author. The three below are my favorites from this year:
The Princess Diarist– read by the author, Carrie Fisher, and her daughter, Billie Lourd. A dishy inside look at the making of Star Wars from the late Carrie Fisher. It’s funny, a little sad, and a fantastic listen, whether or not you like Star Wars.
Gloria Steinem My Life on the Road-introduction read by the author, Gloria Steinem and book read by Debra Winger. This insightful book covering Gloria Steinem’s travels, starting with her vagabond days as a child with her restless father and continuing into her adulthood, is a must for anyone who loves the road.
You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) – book read by author, Felicia Day. I’m not a gamer and don’t really watch internet series, but I LOVED this brave, funny memoir by The Guild star and creator, Felicia Day. Trust me on this, and take a leap of faith on this audiobook. You won’t be disappointed.
I find listening to a fast-paced book while cleaning out my closet or classroom to be a fun way to get through a dreaded chore. The Women’s Murder Club series is entertaining with added sound effects and dramatic music. There are several narrators throughout the series, and I recommend starting with the first book due to some plot developments that occur.
1st to Die – The Women’s Murder Club by James Patterson, narrated by Suzanne Toren. A serial killer is murdering newlyweds in San Francisco, and all efforts to capture the killer have failed. A homicide inspector, a coroner, a newspaper reporter, and an assistant D.A. join forces to track down the killer before he or she targets the next couple.
My current listen is The Demon Crown by James Rollins, the newest book in his Sigma Force series. The series is a mix of science, adventure, and a lot of action. I recommend you start at the beginning of the series with Sandstorm, but there is enough information on characters’ backstories to start with any in the series. The narrator, Christian Baskous, is adept at all the different voices and accents of the characters.
What were your favorite audiobooks this year? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!
Sacramento is the nearest city to where I live. While it doesn’t have the sophistication of San Francisco, or the glamorous allure of Los Angeles, Sacramento has its own unique personality. It sounds like I’m bashing Sacramento, but I’m not – Sacramentans are proud of their city and all the things that make it stand out from California’s other cities. It’s the state capital of California, full of gold rush history, leafy, tree-lined streets, a thriving craft beer scene, and an incredible minor league baseball team, the Sacramento River Cats. Sacramento is also a river town, with one of the best bike trails in the nation. Check out the books below to get a feel for Sacramento.
Where I Was From by Joan Didion Writer Joan Didion is one of Sacramento’s most famous native daughters. Her book, Where I Was From, examines her family roots in Sacramento and the surrounding area. Parts of the book also delve into the changing landscape of California, but the most powerful parts of the book deal with her family and ancestors.
Lost Restaurants of Sacramento and Their Recipes by Maryellen Burns and Keith Burns When I started to research books about Sacramento, I found this guide to past restaurants of Sacramento. I feel like I missed out on some amazing places! From Posey’s, a downtown hot spot for lawmakers, to Dunlap’s Cafeteria at the old state fairgrounds, these local restaurants were a common ground for the city’s citizens. Included in the book are many photographs and recipes from the gone-but-not-forgotten restaurants.
Abducted by T.R. Ragan – Abducted is the first book in the Lizzy Gardner series. Lizzy Gardner is a typical teenager, sneaking out to visit her college-bound boyfriend, until she is abducted by Spiderman, a serial killer. Fourteen years later, Lizzy is a private investigator living and working in Sacramento. She was the only one of Spiderman’s victims to escape, and has worked diligently to put her life back together. Then one day, she gets a call from someone claiming to be Spiderman, promising to finish what started fourteen years before… This thriller is a fast-moving read and takes place in and around Sacramento.
Sacramento has several online resources to plan your trip. The Visit Sacramento website is an excellent place to start your planning your trip. For information on visiting the Capitol building and grounds, check out the official site.
If you go, don’t miss:
There’s lots to do in Sacramento, such as biking on the American River Bike Trail, visiting the train museum, or taking a stroll through the Capitol World Peace Rose Garden. However, for this post, I am focusing on BCC aka Beer, Coffee, and Chocolate.
Sacramento has an active craft beer community. Here are a few of my favorites:
Track 7 – Track 7 has a fun, relaxed atmosphere and food trucks every evening. It’s also dog-friendly and kid-friendly, making it an ideal place to gather with the whole family. All the beers are tasty, but I especially recommend the Bee Line Honey Blonde Ale and Panic India Pale Ale. I’ve only been to the original Curtis Park location by the railroad tracks, but I’ve heard nothing but praise for their other location in Natomas. I think a field trip there is in order!
Other breweries that are popular around the area are Fieldwork, Bike Dog, and Device. If you can’t make up your mind, the Federalist Public House is a fantastic place to try a variety of local beers, and order up one of their tasty pizzas. Plus, it’s in a unique building – a shipping container.
Sacramento also has some incredible coffee places. Temple Coffee is an experience, and offers coffee that is hard to beat. There are several locations around town, and all of them have their own distinct vibe. My favorite is the one on 9th. Another favorite is Old Soul Coffee, with three different locations.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the chocolates from Ginger Elizabeth. The chocolates are dreamy little squares, with flavors such as Caramelized Milk & Coffee, Raspberry Rose Geranium, and Buttermilk Lime. When I have friends visiting from out of town, I always plan a stop here. If you visit Ginger Elizabeth in the winter, don’t miss out on the specialty hot chocolate, especially the Oaxacan Spicy Hot Chocolate.
Do you have a favorite book that takes place in Sacramento? A special place around the city? Let me know!
It’s that time of year! I’m not a Black Friday 4 a.m.-in-the-morning person, but I do like to snuggle up on the couch with one of my dogs and a cup of coffee, and peruse the offerings online. Books are wonderful gifts, and I have a few to recommend, but here are some other ideas for things that you might tuck under the Christmas tree too.
I LOVE my Paperwhite Kindle, and I never travel without it. Amazon has some great deals running on all their Kindles before Christmas. I especially like this one designed just for kids with no advertisements and a vocabulary builder. You can even set reading goals, track progress, and pick a color for the free cover.
Board Books for Babies and Toddlers
These adorable, colorful board books by Ashley Evanson (New York, San Francisco, London, and Paris) will keep a baby or toddler engaged while you travel to your next destination. Plus, because they are board books, they are sturdy and easy for little hands to hold.
Books for Kids
If you are traveling to New York, be sure to pick up a copy of E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler before you visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This children’s classic about two children who run away to live in The Met, and end up discovering a mystery is one of my favorite read-alouds.
On the opposite coast, San Francisco is a fantastic getaway to celebrate the holiday season. We usually try to get an overnight there just after Christmas and before the New Year. You can find some great last-minute deals on hotels, and visiting the grand Christmas tree in Union Square and eating dim sum in Chinatown are two of my favorite ways to spend time in San Francisco. Oh, be sure not to miss the antics of the puppies and kittens up for adoption in Macys window displays. If you go, be sure to read Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. I’ll be featuring this book in a future post. The book takes place in San Francisco and includes two friends, a mystery, and a hunt for clues all over the city. This book is a good fit for readers age 10-14.
For the Family
Not necessarily book-related, but these car trip bingo cards keep everyone’s eyes of devices and observing things on the road. I had these as a kid, I bought them for my kids when they were young, and they are still in my car.
A road trip can be the perfect time to listen to an Audible book together. Our family favorites include Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (narrated by the incomparable Jim Dale), Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (including a fiddler playing Pa’s songs on the fiddle) and The Bad Beginning, the first book in The Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket. These books can be enjoyed by everyone in your family.
I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for this year? I’m thankful for the people in my life, and especially thankful to the Smith College and Denison College parents who are driving and hosting our daughter and her boyfriend back east for Thanksgiving. This is their first Thanksgiving away from family, and I can’t wait to hear about their East Coast Thanksgiving experience. We’re celebrating at my friends’ home with their family and our family, and I’ll be back on Sunday with another installment of Open Road Reads.
Several years ago, our family went on an East Coast adventure, and our first stop was the Lower East Side in New York City. I had never been to New York, and the city was everything I dreamed it would be – and more! The Lower East Side has bustling streets, restaurants with every type of food imaginable, and one of the best interactive museums around. If you go to New York, plan to spend at least one day in this historic neighborhood.
All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor – One of my favorite series growing up was Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family series. The first book, All-of-a-Kind Family, starts with the adventures of five Jewish sisters growing up in the Lower East Side at the turn of the century. Responsible Ella, mischievous Henny, shy Sarah, imaginative Charlotte, and little Gertie are the five sisters, two years apart in age. They have adventures around their home and neighborhood, and the books sweetly reflect a different time and place in America. Highly recommended, especially for families with children between the ages of 6-12.
The Memory Coat by Elvira Woodruff is a picture book about an immigrating family that resonates with all ages. Grisha, an orphan, lives with his cousin Rachel and her family. When they immigrate to America, Rachel’s quick thinking saves Grisha and keeps the family together as they start their new life in New York.
One of the best books I read in 2017 was The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker. This intriguing blend of historical fiction and fantasy takes place in 1899, when Chava, a woman created from clay, and Ahmad, a genie, arrive separately in the Jewish and Assyrian neighborhoods around the Lower East Side. Their lives become entwined as they learn to navigate this changing community while keeping their supernatural nature a secret from all.
Rhys Bowen has several engaging mystery series, one of which is the Molly Murphy mystery series. Murphy’s Law is the first in the series. Irish Molly Murphy is on the run after accidentally killing her would-be assailant. She hops a boat to America and soon finds herself accused of a murder she did not commit. Molly must become a sleuth to clear her name and find the real murderer before she is locked up for good.
Even if you can’t make it to New York City, The Tenement Museum is a fantastic resource to learn about New York’s tenement buildings, and the people who worked and lived in them.
The Bowery Boys – The Bowery Boys have one of the best podcasts around. Full of New York City history and puns (I love a good pun), the two co-hosts focus on a different area of the city in each episode. Here’s one to listen to, and here’s one about the food of the neighborhood. They also have a well-researched and entertaining book about New York’s neighborhoods called The Bowery Boys: Adventures in Old New York.
If you go, don’t miss:
– A tour at The Tenement Museum. All of the tours are excellent and informative, but we especially loved the Shop Life tour.
– There are SO many fabulous restaurants in New York, but my favorites in this area are Russ and Daughters Cafe (the lox!) Pig and Khao (if you are adventurous, try the sisig-it’s amazing and the restaurant is known for this dish) and of course, Katz’s Deli (remember that famous scene from When Harry Met Sally?). The line may be long, but the pastrami and corned beef sandwiches are outstanding and worth the wait.
Mark Twain wrote in Roughing It (The Penguin American Library) that Lake Tahoe must be “the fairest picture the whole earth affords”, and it is hard to disagree with that sentiment. We are lucky enough to live about an hour away from South Lake Tahoe, so we get up to the mountains as often as we can. Several things make Tahoe an ideal place to plan your next adventure – the pristine lake, hiking trails for all levels of fitness, skiing down the snowy slopes, and gambling in glitzy casinos. It’s also the perfect place to unwind and read a book next to the lake, or by a crackling fire. If you can’t fit a trip in to Tahoe, hopefully the following books can take you there.
Two excellent mystery series take place in South Lake Tahoe, and although quite different, both series give the reader a vivid sense of life in South Lake Tahoe.
The Nina Reilly Series by Perri O’Shaughnessy
Motion to Suppress is the first book in the series. Nina Reilly, a hard-working lawyer, recently divorced with a young son, has moved to South Lake Tahoe to set up her law practice. Misty Patterson, a cocktail waitress at a local casino, may or may not have killed her husband. He’s missing, there’s blood in the house, and she just can’t remember everything that happened the night before. All the evidence points to her guilt. Can Nina discover the truth in time? This mystery is fast-paced and full of suspense. I highly recommend reading the series in order because of how the characters and plots are linked.
Owen McKenna is a tall, laid-back private investigator working the mean streets of Tahoe. With his Great Dane wonder dog, Spot, and his forensic entomologist girlfriend, Street, he investigates crimes around the Lake Tahoe area. The first book in the series is Tahoe Deathfall. Owen is hired by teen Jennifer Salazar to investigate her twin sister’s death in a fall years ago. Jennifer is sure it wasn’t an accident, and that she’s next. Unfortunately, no one believes her, and Owen is her last chance. The mystery highlights the gorgeous but sometimes deadly landscape of South Lake Tahoe, and the many people who call it home. All of Borg’s books highlight a specific aspect of Lake Tahoe, from arborglyphs to an extremely rare plant growing in the region. It’s not necessary to read the series in order, but I would recommend reading Tahoe Deathfall first because it establishes the main characters.
If you’re looking to learn more about the history of Lake Tahoe, Michael J. Makley’s A Brief History of Lake Tahoe is a good place to start. Chapters include the Washoe Native American tribe, the timber trade, and the developments around the lake.
Here are a few websites to help you plan your South Lake Tahoe adventure:
Tahoe South– Tahoe South is a great place to get started planning your vacation. There is information on lodging, weather, activities, and events. Don’t forget to check out the webcams too!
Keep Tahoe Blue – If you make it up to South Lake Tahoe, you’ll see “Keep Tahoe Blue” stickers everywhere. This website showcases the challenges Lake Tahoe faces, and what people can do to help.
Tahoe Tessie – Lake Tahoe even has its own “monster”. Check out Weird California’s website to read all about Tahoe Tessie.
If you go, don’t miss:
Taylor Creek This short, paved trail meanders through woods and meadow, boasts some stunning views, and even features a stream profile chamber to view fish at eye-level.
The Keys Cafe – For the BEST smoothies and breakfast sandwiches, look no further than the Keys Cafe. Everything is tasty, but the Green Dragon smoothie is my favorite.
Red Hut Cafe– There are several locations for this Tahoe institution, all serving tasty breakfast and lunch entrees. The Red Hut Rosti with an egg on top will keep you going all day.
Lam Watah Nature Trail – This trail winds through a meadow and some forest before ending at a beach on the Nevada side of the lake. It’s a popular trail with locals, but never too crowded, and you’ll meet many people walking their dogs.
Todd Borg, Author – Todd Borg has an outstanding website that highlights the area. At the Red Hut at Ski Run, you can even order an Owen Omlette, named after his private investigator!