Leslie's Bookcase

celebrating and recommending unforgettable books

Fall-Winter Reading List – updated with reviews

Last Fall after reading dozens of new book titles, publisher notes, and excerpts, and of course looking at beautiful book covers, I presented my first reading list, for Fall/Winter 2016.

The books on this list caught my attention for various reasons, which are noted below along with the publishers notes.

As of March, I am updating this post with reviews from most all of these books. I was sidetracked from the list several times which is OK because I found my favorite book of the year and also spent recent weeks watching all 9 films nominated for best picture.

RELATED POST: 2016 ROUND-UP

My Reading list for Fall/Winter 2016, updated with links to reviews

I LOVED:

The Other Einstein: A Novel by Marie Benedict

This description had me at “Paris Wife”!

“In the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein offers us a window into a brilliant, fascinating woman whose light was lost in Einstein’s enormous shadow. It is the story of Einstein’s wife, a brilliant physicist in her own right, whose contribution to the special theory of relativity is hotly debated and may have been inspired by her own profound and very personal insight.”

Update: Click here to read my review/reflections on The Other Einstein.


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A Man Called Ove warmed my heart

I read once that (paraphrase here from my memory)  it is impossible to hate someone if you know his or her story.

At first, I didn’t really like Ove, a grumpy and routine-based elderly man featured in A Man Called Ove: A Novel though I did find him an amusing character. Here’s a sampling of Ove:

“Ove is the sort of man who checks the status of all things by giving them a good kick.”

and

“Ove doubts whether someone who can’t park a car properly should even be allowed to vote.”

Likewise, I knew Ove would not be a fan of me, exampled by this:

“How can anyone be incapable of reversing with a trailer? he asks himself. How? How difficult is it to establish the basics of right and left and then do the opposite? How do these people make their way through life at all?”

However, as Ove’s “story” was revealed to me, I started liking him. And I felt that his character would eventually become tolerant of me as well…though I am 99% sure I’ll never learn to back-up a trailer, also a disappointment to my husband!

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Joining the circus in The Orphan’s Tale

Like one of the characters in The Orphan’s Tale: A Novel, I didn’t expect to find myself in a circus during a WWII read.

“…it is hard to believe that such a world still exists even during the war. I might have been less surprised to find myself on the moon,” says Noa after finding refuge in a circus troupe.

Not to be confused with the previously bestselling Orphan Train, especially since the cover of this newer book has a train and instead of a circus, The Orphan Tale by Pam Jenoff is set in WWII Europe.

Noa, cast away by her family for becoming pregnant, rescues another baby boy from a boxcar of Jewish infants headed towards a concentration camp. Then, taken in by a German circus, Noa gets training in the art of trapeze and also finds deep friendship from her mentor Astrid, who has her own secrets and heartaches.

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A guide to the Oscar-nominated “Best Pictures”

I concentrate on finding the best books, so I let “the Academy” sort through the year’s best movies for me. Then I go into a frenzy trying to see as many as possible before the awards show.

This year – for the first time – I saw ALL of the Best Picture nominees BEFORE the Academy Awards. My movie quest was super fun and kept me returning to theaters many times during the past few weeks and more recently to the local Redboxes. I finished my ninth movie yesterday, just in time.

As it turned out – thanks Academy – I enjoyed most all of these movies. Below are my brief reflections and recommendations with no spoilers…I want you all to enjoy these movies as much as I did! At the end, I’ll give my votes to win the major awards.

Disclaimer: I am not a movie critic or a movie expert; I am just a normal person who saw all nine of these movies, and these are just my opinions!

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Born to Run – Part I

I’m reading the new Bruce Springsteen memoir Born to Run slowly, savoring it.

A third of the way through, I’m to the point where he has released his first album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.

A tidbit of what he says about his Asbury Park album:

…the lyrics and spirit of Greetings come from an unself-consicous place. Your early songs emerge from a moment when you’re writing with no sure prospect of ever being heard. Up until then, it’s been just you and your music. This only happens once.

I listened to the album again and heard it differently than before – an awesome experience with this new insight.

So far I’ve learned about his childhood, his relationship with his parents and grandparents, his inspirations,  and the source of some of his songs, for example “The River” is a tribute to his sister and brother-in-law.

I’ve learned how hard he truly worked for his first opportunities. Natural talent – yes he had that – but he worked his a$$ off to get better. He was so focused and he didn’t even have a drink of alcohol until after he recorded his first album (the funny story of his drinking Tequila for the first time is what I just read about!).

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If you miss watching Downton Abbey read this!

Recently I discovered a book by Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey. His book Belgravia is set a century before the Grantham family, so many of the themes of class are even more stringent.

Fellowes begins by noting that regardless of time period, similarities exist:

“Ambition, envy, rage, greed, kindness, selflessness, and above all, love have always been as powerful in motivating choices as they are today.”

For me, this book was completely engrossing. Like Downton Abbey, the plot moves around the themes quoted above plus new money vs. old money and upstairs (aristocracy) and the downstairs (their service help). Like in Downton Abbey, I loved most of the characters and hated a couple.

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Reflections on Hillbilly Elegy

An elegy by definition is “a poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead.”

J.D. Vance’s new memoir, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, currently a bestseller and a hot item with a long waiting list at any public library is certainly a serious reflection on his growing up a “hillbilly,” and it does express grief for his grandparents, both for whom I cried real tears while reading this book.

Early on he says the book is about how this culture (Kentucky Appalachia and Ohio Rust Belt) is known for “reacting to bad circumstances in the worst way possible. It’s about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it.”

Vance can talk about these problems in a way others can’t get away with because he lived through it himself and somehow came out a Yale-educated lawyer.

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Beyond the Bookcase: The Hidden Life of Trees

One of my goals for the new year is to read at least six environmental books. My first was a beautiful book about how trees in a forest feel and communicate: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World. Did you know research shows trees behave like human families and human communities? Tree parents live with their children, communicating and supporting them. The trees in a undisturbed forest also function socially, helping the sick and warning each other of dangers.

The author Peter Wohlleben is a forester in Germany; his book was recently translated into English due to high demand.

The book starts out like a love song to trees and forests (and this was my favorite part!) and then it continues on like a layman’s textbook teaching how trees grow, survive, and die. Most interesting (to me ) is that the trees in forests work together for the success of all.

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Moonglow, Moonlight, and the phases of the moon

Last week I finished the book “Moonglow” and saw the movie “Moonlight.”

My double moon experience was a coincidence, but it left me contemplating these vastly different life stories with references to the same moon.

Moonglow: A Novel

Moonglow was on my Fall-Winter reading list and it has since been named as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Awards. It is based on the death-bed confessions of the author’s grandpa, including many stories he heard for the first time in the last week or so of his grandfather’s life.

The title here references the grandfather’s passion for space travel. I will never look at the official photo of the Challenger space crew the same due to one of the stories told in this book! Also, the first time he saw his wife was by “moonglow.”

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The joy of (and efficiency) of multi-booking – or reading multiple books simultaneously

I used to read one book at a time. I thought I owed it to each book to give it my undivided attention, and I wasn’t sure I could concentrate on multiple books at a time.

I’ve since discovered that reading multiple books simultaneously (what I am going to  call “multi-booking”) makes me a more efficient and even a more thoughtful reader.

How can this be?

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The Last Days of Night: Electricity, law, and intrigue

The Last Days of Night: A Novel was certainly out of my comfort zone, revolving around electricity, patent law, and Wall Street.

A fictionalized yet well researched version of events related to the invention and production of electricity, specifically the rivalry and patent lawsuit for the light bulb, Edison vs. Westinghouse, the novel centers on the young and inexperienced attorney representing Westinghouse. A bit of New York society is thrown in, which I enjoyed, and also a dose of intrigue with questionable behaviors from most of the characters.

I learned for example exactly what creates electrical current, the difference between A/C and D/C, and that Tesla is not just the band that opened for Poison when I was in the 8th grade. (For the record I ended up loving Tesla for themselves…I still LOVE the song Love Song!)

And even with all this “information” it was still an entertaining read! Plus when I turn on my reading light at night,  I appreciate it a bit more now.

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