October & November Best Reads!

These are all books by people I (kinda) know!

During the past two months I’ve read a number of books by authors who I have either met in person or online. I’ve had the privilege of reading a few of these books as a beta reader—giving advice (sometimes minimal/sometimes more than that) for possible changes before the book was published. I feel it’s an important disclaimer to give you before I review these books and recommend them to you.  

Recently, I was asked a question by a fellow reader who had been asked to read a friend’s book and review it. Unfortunately, the reader didn’t feel that she could give the book a good review. She asked what she should do? I jokingly said she had two choices . . . LIE or IGNORE the review request. (She would never actually write the bad review and hurt her friend.)

In this case, the person asking the question is not a professional reviewer or reviewing as part of her business, but she offers her reviews with integrity to let other readers know about good books or ones to steer away from. Clearly, she wasn’t going to write a glowing review when the book didn’t deserve one.

What do I do when faced with a similar dilemma? If I’ve been asked to review a book but cannot give it at least 3 stars—I do not review the book.  (That’s only for review requests—If I read a book on my own and find it seriously lacking, I might give a 2-star review. I’ve never given a 1-star review, because that’s a book I wouldn’t even finish.) I will let an author who has requested a review know that unfortunately I will not be reviewing the book, but I will (as gently as possible) let an author know what I felt was wrong and offer constructive criticism if the writer wants it. That’s a hard email to write, and I am grateful I haven’t had to do it often.

So what have I been reading lately that I think you might like, too?

Five Ferries by William Michael Ried

I enjoyed going on the main character's jaunt through Europe on his post-college backpacking trip in the 1970s. This WAS not the same trip I was on in the 1990s--where Eurail was the main mode of transport. This "Europe on zero dollars per day" plan made hitchhiking and camping a necessity and also introduces us to some fabulous (and quirky and downright strange) characters along the way. If you've ever traveled in Europe (or wanted to), you'll appreciate this story of a young man on an adventure. There's an underlying theme of the trip paying homage to a brother (recently killed in Vietnam) who should have been the main character's traveling companion. Good read!  4-Stars

NOTE: I was a beta reader for this book.


A one-way ticket to “Europe on no dollars a day” buys Stephen Kylemore a trip to love, loss and liberty. With college behind him and nothing to tie him down, Stephen Kylemore yearns to escape a country and a family torn apart by the Vietnam War. Buoyed by his love of literature and a dream of living an odyssey of his own, he buys a one-way ticket for the journey he will come to call “Europe on No Dollars a Day.” Stephen joins young people from around the world on a road with no clear destination. He hitchhikes, sleeps in the woods, looks for work and trades one paperback novel for another to maintain his alternate reality. Sympathetic hosts smooth his path, eager to repay kindnesses they received on their own travels. He finds instant friends and transient romance. His months of travel inevitably reveal the circle of life and make him confront the tension and the passion he left behind. Travelers of a certain age will recognize a world that seems archaic in this day of debit cards and instant communication. But time and technology don’t diminish the universal human experience of survival and redemption, love, loss and liberty that await any traveler breaking trail. 


The House on Ludington Street by Susan Pare’

This was a great story about the mysteries of a particular house in Columbus, WI. A grandfather is approached by his grandson wanting to hear about the tunnels that are rumored to be under city hall. . . a ghostly story of intrigue and murder that spans decades unfolds and eventually the grandson gets the answer about the tunnels. Good read – 4 stars.

NOTE: Susan Pare’ is a writer from the area where I live, but I have never met her.


Except for the survivors, if there are any, that is, does anyone really know what goes on behind closed doors? If a house could speak, what ghastly tales could it tell? 

Of course, there’s always a slight possibility that there is that one person, still living, who will speak for it. It’s 1956 and Samuel Hassel is old and bored and ready to kick the bucket. So, when a couple of curious teenage boys ask him a simple question, he grabs at the opportunity to start talking. There’s a house, on Ludington Street, which was built in the early 1900s. Samuel helped build that house, and now, after all these years, he has an audience and he is ready to tell its story. As the two teenagers sit by his side, Samuel recounts the stories of the families who lived and died in that house from 1906 to the present day. A house that was surely cursed from the day the foundation was laid. 


Colors of a Mind by Brea Behn

I was completely intrigued by a novel that is told from the perspective of a character with non-verbal autism. The inventiveness of conveying what it must be like to have limited ways of communicating but still tell a story in a way to keep the reader engaged, makes this a 5-star read for me. Great book! (This is technically written for the younger audience, but I found it to be an excellent read as an adult.)

NOTE: I was a beta reader for this book.


Meet a boy named Adam in his world of nonverbal autism. He will take you with him on great alphabetical and colorful adventures in his mind. The Colors of a Mind will show you how Adam overcomes his fears, hardships and his real-life tragedies with love, courage, and strength in fun and exciting adventures.


Dark & Stormy by J. Mercer

I picked up a copy of this book after meeting the author. I coordinate a book club in Columbus, WI where we read books by authors who will visit us for the book discussion. (Read more about Books & Beer Columbus.) I always read books in advance before recommending them for a group vote. This is book one of three (unrelated books) that I will be reading by this author. Wow! I was completely impressed with the level of writing overall—but in particular I loved the complex characters and amazing twists. Frankly, the ending was stunning. Well done—5 stars!  (I would classify this as romantic suspense.)


Faryn Miller wants to build a new life in a small town. It's her last chance to figure out, of all the roles she's played in her thirty-some years, which one truly fits. Her aim at simplicity sounds like the perfect medicine until she meets Kai Allen, who’s spent his life doing everything the hard way and never bending for anyone. Lucky for Kai, Faryn has no preconceived notions about what he’s done and who he is, unlike the rest of town. When cryptic messages start sneaking their way into Faryn’s apartment, then blatant threats, the two of them compile a long list of who could be stalking her. Unable to keep his frustration and rage hidden any longer, Kai explodes on everyone in his path, and Faryn can't help but wonder if the storm is closer than she thinks.


Braving It: A Father, a Daughter, and an Unforgettable Journey Into the Alaskan Wild by James Campbell

We were lucky to have Jim Campbell join us at our Books & Beer book club earlier this fall to discuss his story Braving It.  Jim has a long resume of nonfiction writing both in book form and for magazines. His debut book The Final Frontiersman went on to be developed as the tv series The Last Alaskans on the Discovery Channel.

This book follows the travel adventures of Jim and one of his daughters to the wilds of Alaska not just once, but three times! From building a cabin in the summer to a wintertime hunting and trapping visit and on to an epic canoe trip. This story made you both love and fear the wilderness of Alaska.  5 – stars!


Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, home to only a handful of people, is a harsh and lonely place. So when James Campbell's cousin Heimo Korth asked him to spend a summer building a cabin in the rugged Interior, Campbell hesitated about inviting his fifteen-year-old daughter, Aidan, to join him: Would she be able to withstand clouds of mosquitoes, the threat of grizzlies, bathing in an ice-cold river, and hours of grueling labor peeling and hauling logs? But once there, Aidan embraced the wild. She even agreed to return a few months later to help the Korths work their traplines and hunt for caribou and moose. Despite windchills of 50 degrees below zero, father and daughter ventured out daily to track, hunt, and trap. Under the supervision of Edna, Heimo's Yupik Eskimo wife, Aidan grew more confident in the woods.


Campbell knew that in traditional Eskimo cultures, some daughters earned a rite of passage usually reserved for young men. So he decided to take Aidan back to Alaska one final time before she left home. It would be their third and most ambitious trip, backpacking over Alaska's Brooks Range to the headwaters of the mighty Hulahula River, where they would assemble a folding canoe and paddle to the Arctic Ocean. The journey would test them, and their relationship, in one of the planet's most remote places: a land of wolves, musk oxen, Dall sheep, golden eagles, and polar bears.


At turns poignant and humorous, Braving It is an ode to America's disappearing wilderness and a profound meditation on what it means for a child to grow up--and a parent to finally, fully let go.


I love a good book! What have you been reading lately?






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