Top Ten Tuesday – Top 10 Books I’ve Read So Far in 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is a fun, weekly meme hosted by the good folks over at The Broke and the Bookish. It’s a great way to discover new book blog’s and even find common literary ground in the blogosphere. See here for other bloggers posts on this particular topic.

I only average about a book a week, so a top ten at this point of the year actually represents about 40% of my reading. Fortunately, I’ve read a lot of good books this year and didn’t have trouble coming up with ten favorites. I had a LOT of trouble however in ranking them, but I attempted to anyway. 🙂

I’m also happy to do this particular top ten list, since I can mention some of the books I’ve read but haven’t blogged about. Seems all I actually post about anymore are short stories! I keep meaning to write about BOOKS more often, but have failed thus far. Maybe that’s a worthy goal for the second half of the year? Hmm… Anyway, on to this week’s list, ranked in order with #1 being my “favorite” (if there can truly be such a thing)

10 Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

Just read this one last month for my Book club that meets at Indy Reads Books bookstore. A really eye-opening non fiction work about the plight of the people in North Korea. Oppression, Economic collapse, starvation – it’s got it all.

9 Long Knife – by James Alexander Thom

The historical fiction biography of George Rogers Clark, a Revolutionary War hero who won most of his laurels in and around Indiana. I’d read this author’s (historical fiction) Tecumseh biography a few years ago and had no qualms about recommending this book as a ‘wild card’ pick for the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. I was so gratified that it was a big hit with them, and that the author himself (who lives near Bloomington) visited our book club meeting with some friends.

8 Prisoner of Trebekistan by Bob Harris

I read a few books related to the TV game show “Jeoaprdy!” earlier this year in preparation for an in-person audition I had in Chicago (I was invited after passing the online test). This book was the best of the lot, both honest and funny AND useful for my “inevitable” (ha ha) future appearance on the show. Above: Jeopardy! champ Bob Harris – do you remember him?

7 Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

Yet another book club I’m in read this one back in April. The stories within this book are somewhat tough going at times, but some were also indisputably brilliant and have stuck with me even two months later. I’m sure that this is a book I’ll be revisiting over the years.

6 Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb by Ian Woollen

I learned of this book in a roundabout way, as the author was one of the friends that author James Alexander Thom brought with him to our book club meeting for #9 above. I then heard the author would be the guest of a reading group at Bookmama’s Bookstore (link on sidebar under “local interest”) so read it “at warp speed” in order to be finished in time to participate. A sweeping “family epic” spanning the Cold War, I still hope to write a more formal “review” of this one at some point. Who’s “Uncle Anton?” Why, Chekhov, of course!

5 Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

The only YA book on this list (and I think the only one I’ve read this year), it’s the debut novel of a young local author. Kind of a “A Beautiful Mind meets YA lit” book, with a great “unreliable narrator” who leaves you constantly wondering what’s real and what’s not.

4 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I don’t know how many times I’ve read this one now, but I went through it again for a book club meeting, which featured one of the best discussions I’ve ever participated in. Shelley does not disappoint.

3 Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana by James Madison


I heard of a book signing at the local “Indiana Historical Bureau” (which I previously didn’t even know existed) and I popped downtown after work to check it out, finding a very nice event held at the Indiana State Library. I feared the book would be dry – as non-fiction sometimes can be – but it was really quite good, and I learned a lot about Indiana that I hadn’t known before, even though I’ve spent virtually my whole life here. Note: this book is not about basketball. 🙂

2 Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

The fourth (yea, Me!) non-fiction book on this list. I heard about this one via NPR, which was launching a kind of online book club with this work as the selection. It’s the story about the 33 trapped Chilean miners that was all over the news a few years ago. I actually DID blog about this one too. See here for details.

1 Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglass

Part of my “program” to read local, I learned from Dan Wakefield’s introduction to the Indy Writes Books anthology that this book was written by an Indiana author, so it went on my list. I also knew it was made into a very popular Rock Hudson film back in the day, but I still haven’t watched it. The book can be a little cheesy or naively sweet and optimistic at times, but I liked it anyway and make no apologies. 🙂 See my post about it here for details.

Well, those are my favorites (so far) for 2015. What are yours? Did YOU do a list for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday?

Deal Me In 2015 – Week 26 Wrap Up

We’ve made it to the mid-point of the Deal Me In challenge! Those who have kept up have read through “a couple of suits worth” of stories now and only have the same amount to go that we’ve already done. We KNOW the finish line is achievable now. (Think of it as getting to the halfway point in a book – how good does that make you feel?) 🙂

Anyway, I’m a little late this week, but that  serendipitously allowed me time to pick up a post from James, which is among the links below. Please check them out and leave a comment or “like” if you’re so inclined,

“O” at Behold the Stars posted about a classic Greek tragedy, Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King”

Dale at Mirror With Clouds read Eudora Welty’s “The Worn Path”

Randall at Time Enough at Last read William Eastlake’s “A Long Day’s Dying” and last week covered “Customs of the Country” by Madison Smartt Bell

I drew a wildcard and went to a favorite author, Margaret Atwood, reading her story “Revenant” from her newly published collection, Stone Mattress.

James at James Reads Books read a “pair” of works:  Joan Didion’s “Comrade Laski” and Ben Winters’ connected tales “BRING HER TO ME” and “BRING THEM DOWN”

“Revenant” by Margaret Atwood

I drew the two of hearts for week 26 – the midway point! – of Deal Me In 2015. Deuces are wild, and hearts is my suit “for women authors only” so, having recently started Margaret Atwood’s newly minted collection, Stone Mattress, I thought reading the second tale in that book an appropriate choice. For a brief summary of how Deal Me In challenge works, see the 2015 sign up post. If you want to see what my 52 stories for 2015 are, check out my roster.

After reading and doing some minimal research, I learned that the first three stories in the book (“Alphinland,” “Revenant,” and “Dark Lady”) actually, when read together, make up a tidy little novella. In “Alphinland” I met the author character, “Constance” who made a killing writing a wildly popular fantasy series which lent its name to the story title. In “Revenant” I met Gavin, who was married to Constance, but now is in the twilight of his life, in ill health (he’s become “an atrophied bundle of sticks and twine”) and – as a “literary” author himself – somewhat embittered by the enduring fame of his former wife’s work.

In “Revenant” Gavin is now “under the care” of the latest woman in his life. Her name is Reynolds, and her “babying” of him got on not only Gavin’s nerves, but this reader’s nerves as well. Gavin’s recalling his somewhat lecherous past fuels the first part of this story, but the main “action” takes place when a pretty young female graduate student visits Gavin and Reynolds in their home. Apparently she has based her thesis on some of the great writer’s work (as Gavin reacts: “Thesis on my fucking work,” he says. “Christ defend us!”). Or that’s what he thinks at first.

The story – and the others in this collection from what I’ve heard – deal with the issue of aging and not always in a happy way, it seems. Atwood also takes some time out in this story to comment on an aspect of the current state of high education: “’Every halfwit has an M.A. They’re like popcorn…’ ‘Tiny little kernels,’ he says. ’Superheated in the academic cooker. The hot air expands. Poof! An M.A.” Not bad, he thinks. Also true. The universities want the cash, so they lure these kids in. Then they turn them into puffballs of inflated starch, with no jobs to match. Better to have a certificate in plumbing.'” Pretty damning, huh? I guess we should also remember that these are the grumblings a of a bitter old man, though.

I’m not so “in tune” with the publishing world that I often await an author’s new book with great anticipation. I guess it’s happened a couple of times with series, but those are rare cases.  When I learned last year that Atwood had this short story collection “coming out in 2015,” however, I began counting down the days. I have been so impressed by everything I’ve read by her so far, particularly The Handmaid’s Tale and The Robber Bride. Since all these stories have to do with aging, and its effect on us humans, I’m sure I’ll find them fascinating. Though she’s got more than a couple decades on me, at seventy-five Atwood speaks from authority on this subject and has gotten me thinking a little more about the subject of aging than maybe I’d like to. 🙂 Nonetheless, I look forward to reading the rest of the stories in this collection.

What is your favorite Margaret Atwood work?

Playing card image from

Deal Me In 2015 – Week 25 Update

Below are new Deal Me In posts since last week’s update. We’re almost to the halfway point!

Dale at Mirror With Clouds writes about John Updike’s story “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth” this week was also time for Dale’s “Bradbury of the Month” and he share “his latest favorite Bradbury story” – “The Flying Machine” – with us

Katherine at The Writerly Reader read and posted about Nikolai Leskov’s “The Steel Flea” and there is a link to a card trick video for her eight of hearts. 🙂

I read Kyle Minor’s “The Truth and all Its Ugly”

Jennifer at Military History read Katey Schultz’s story “My Son wanted a Notebook

“o” at Behold the Stars stretched the DMI rules (which, paradoxically, is permitted and even encouraged by the DMI rules) and ’went back for more’ when Prosper Merimee’s short story “The Storming of the Redoubt” left her still hungry so also read the author’s “Colomba.” Read her post here

Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery read Sara Paretsky’s story “Freud at Thirty Paces”


Have you ever heard of bibliotherapy? I hadn’t and found this article in the New Yorker interesting:

Can you identify the author below, who is featured this week by one of our participants? (hint: it’s not Sara Paretsky)

“The Truth and All Its Ugly” by Kyle Minor

I first read Kyle Minor in 2013, when I enjoyed his collection of stories “In the Devil’s Territory,” and was immediately taken with his style and black humor in the story “The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl Party.”   Then later I wrote a brief review of the other stories in the book.  So, after purchasing the 2014 anthology, The New Black, I was happy to see that it included a story by him and added it to my roster for Deal Me In.

Its turn came up in week 25, when I drew the Jack of Spades – a dark card for a very dark story.

Jack of spades pic found at:

If you’d like to see my entire story roster for 2015 – with links to my posts on stories I’ve read – it is here.   if you’re curious about the Deal Me In challenge, there is a passable explanation of it here.

The Truth and All Its Ugly is the story of Danny’s father/Penny’s ex-husband, who also happens to be our unnamed first person narrator. It seems he and Penny and Danny were briefly a happy little family unit, but by the time we join the story, Penny is gone (“Penny kept saying she was going to leave and stay with her sister in town. She said it enough that we stopped believing her, but the last time she said it, she did it.”) and our narrator has drifted into a life of prescription drug abuse where “the days and nights go by fast” with “little cause to tell one from another.” Their home has become ripe for a visit by Child Protective Services and was “eighteen kinds of mess, some we’d made, and some that had just kind of grown while we weren’t paying attention.”

For their situation, they conveniently blame Penny. She is, after all, absent and thus not able to defend herself. The narrator’s bitterness about Penny’s departure infects Danny as well, and when he hears that a friend knows where Penny really is, he comes up with a plot to hurt her. En route to the execution of his plans, however, he thinks of an even better way…

Based on the illustration on the story’s first page, and a couple other foreshadowing events (my favorite being when Danny & the father haul Penny’s mother’s pink-painted upright piano out into the lawn and take axes to it) made me suspect that Penny would meet a gruesome end in this story, but things got a lot more complex than that – AND I wouldn’t want to spoil things any further for anyone who wishes to read it.

Speaking of which, if you’d like to invest in the Richard Thomas-edited anthology, “The New Black,” an e-version of it may be purchased at Amazon for a bargain price of $4.99

I still have two more stories from this anthology remaining to be drawn from my 2015 deck too. Michaela Morissette’s “The Familiars” and Craig Wallwork’s “Dollhouse.” The other stories that I’ve already covered in 2015’s Deal Me In challenge are  Roxane Gay’s “How” and Benjamin Percys “Dial Tone.”

While reading, I was reminded of the infamous late-19th century American ax-murder of the Bordens allegedly by their daughter Lizzie (who WAS acquitted of the crime, by the way), which became immortal due to the following rope-skipping(!) rhyme:

“Lizzie Borden took an ax

And gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one.”

The piano smashing passage called to mind a favorite scene in the cult comedy classic film, “Office Space,” where Peter and crew take an offending printer out into the field and smash it to bits. “PC Load Letter?!?!”

Deal Me In 2015 – Week 24 Wrap Up

How about a Tolstoy quotation to start us off?

All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.”Leo Tolstoy

Kind of Andro-centric, but the basic idea seems fairly accurate, right? How many of our stories this week could be said to fit into those two buckets? Mine would only if it was considered very broadly… Anyway, below are links to new posts since our last update. Please take a moment to check out the posts of your fellow DMI participants.

Just this morning, I posted about the Andrea Smith story “Fallen Idols

“o” at Behold the Stars read the Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem, “The Talking Oak”

Jennifer at Military History shares two stories this week: May Sinclair’s “Red Tape” and Katey Schultz’s “Home on Leave”

Dale at Mirror With Clouds read the American Classic tale “Rip Van Winkle” by Washinton Irving

Katherine at The Writerly Reader posted about the Kelly Link story, “Catskin

Randall at Time Enough at Last goes back to 1986 for James Lee Burke’s “The Convict”


Did you happen to catch Deal Me In author (not his biggest claim to fame, of course. 🙂 ) George Saunders on CBS Sunday Morning yesterday? It’s a very nice piece about seven minutes long and worth your time. (You may have to endure a 30-second commercial at the start)

Read about the 2015 Nelson Algren award here:

Finally, for those who love lists: How many of these 23 have you read? (13 for me 🙂 )

My week 24 read for Deal Me In – “Fallen Idols” by Andrea Smith

Deal Me In is an annual short story reading challenge now in its fourth year. While there are variations, my approach is to – before the start of the year – come up with a list of fifty-two stories to read, assigning each to a card in a standard deck of playing cards. Draw one card a week and read that story. You’ll be done in a year. If I have favorite genres of stories or favorite authors I’m focusing on, I sometimes group them together in a suit of the deck (e.g., spades are for ‘darker’ stories). As of this writing, I plan to host this challenge again next year. If you’d like to see more details, check out the sign-up post from last December. If you’d like to see my list of stories for this year, they are listed here.

hoosier hoops

I’ve come to love the role that a random reading order plays in the challenge as it often seems to deal up just the right story at just the right time. Sometimes, however, the randomness can be frustrating if there is a story or stories you’re especially anticipating. This happened to me to a degree in 2015, as I included three stories from an intriguing anthology, “Hoosier Hoops and Hijinks” – a collection of basketball-related mysteries written by Indiana authors. I even met a few of them at a local library’s “Author Day” last year. (The Greenwood Public Library, pictured below – just a few miles down the road from me) Two of them signed my copy of the book, so I added their two stories and one other to my Deal Me In roster and eagerly awaited their being drawn. And waited. Finally last week, almost halfway into the year I drew one of them, the eight of hearts, and got to read Andrea Smith’s story “Fallen Idols.”

“Fallen Idols” follows the investigative efforts of Dectective Lenora Wise as she investigates the murder of Indiana Pac… Er, I mean Indianapolis Titans star basketball player, Bryce Cooper. Found shot dead in a nightclub’s parking lot after being the hero in a big playoff game, it turns out Cooper and his lifestyle (publicly squeaky-clean, but privately pretty unsavory) provide no shortage of suspects to the detective and her partner. As someone who doesn’t often read mysteries, I found myself falling for a couple of the misdirections early in the story as I searched for my prime suspect. I wonder if a more experienced reader of mysteries like my fellow Deal Me In participant Tracy at Bitter Tea And Mystery still has this problem? I suppose the best mystery stories are the ones that pull off these misdirections successfully.

I also liked that the story was set in Indianapolis, a city I’m quite familiar with. It’s always fun (for me) to read a story set in a familiar setting since that doesn’t happen too often in my reading travels. Those of you who follow sports or especially NBA basketball are already aware that we had some problems with our team’s behavior about ten years ago (see above). This fact maybe added a little to my appreciation of this story as well, as the more sordid side of Cooper’s life began to become known. It also occurred to me while reading that a mystery must be even tougher to pull off in short story format than most other genres. It seems by definition more information would have to be imparted to the reader in just a few pages, which may not leave as much space “just for writing.” This particular story, at 26 pages, was the longest in the anthology, from which I’ve since read an additional story ad hoc (I.e., not part of my Deal Me In challenge) and am looking forward to the rest. If you’re interested in this anthology, it’s available at Amazon and at other places enumerated on the Speed City Sisters in Crime website

Below: My signed copy of the story. Plus, I got a bookmark! 🙂

fallen idols signed

What about you? Are you fond of reading mysteries in the short story form? Do you have any favorites you’d recommend to a novice mystery reader (I’m not counting all those Hardy Boys Mysteries I read as a kid) such as myself?

Hoosier basketball legends playing cards? I must find and purchase these!

“My Name is Talky Tina… and I Have a New Favorite Short Story” – Philip K. Dick’s “Beyond the Door”

As a die-hard fan of the original Twilight Zone series hosted by Rod Serling, I am forever finding its echoes – or things it echoed – in literature. A short story I read last week reminded me immediately of the episode “Living Doll,” starring a pre-Kojac Telly Savalas as a domineering, sleeves rolled up, blue collar-ish husband, who’s not too pleased with his step-daughter’s expensive new doll, “Talky Tina,” who – at least initially – says harmless things like “My name is Talky Tina, and I love you very much.” (The gentle Savalas’s reaction to this? He snarls “Will you shut that thing off!?”)

a quick two-minute “highlight reel” of this episode is available on YouTube

The introduction of a talking doll into a household that is already under pressure echoes the Philip K. Dick short story “Beyond the Door” wherein it’s not a talking doll that’s introduced, but a cuckoo clock. The husband in the story, Larry, becomes jealous of the clock because of his wife’s affection for it, and it’s seeming “dislike” of him. It doesn’t keep good time when it’s just him in the house, or forgets to chime at all.

The clock also indirectly leads the husband to discover his wife’s adulterous affair when, thinking he will be out for awhile, she invites her lover, Bob, over to see the new clock. This is the last straw for Larry, who gives his wife the boot but, mainly out of spite, decides to keep the clock for himself. What transpires from that point to the end of the tale sheds some light on the introductory paragraph of the story:

Larry Thomas bought a cuckoo clock

for his wife–without knowing the

price he would have to pay.

This story got me thinking about “automatons” and the human race’s long association and fascination with them as they grew to be more elaborate and sophisticated over time. Now our lives are deeply entwined with machines  of all kinds and, even if they aren’t always given human or animal shape, maybe we give them at least a human voice (iOS’s “Siri” anyone?). Personally, clockworks of all kinds have always especially interested me. It could be argued too that automatons are making a “literary comeback” – especially in the steampunk genre, where they seem to be everywhere.

Beyond the Door may be read for free online at

We have cuckoos (Yellow-Billed Cuckoos at least) in my state (Indiana), and as an amateur birdwatcher, I’m always pleased when I get a (sadly infrequent) glimpse of one.

Did you know that you can even purchase a replica of the original talking doll from the Twilight Zone episode via Of course you can. 🙂

Do you know of any other literary stories featuring automatons? What are your favorites?

I’ve rambled on too long again, and I now feel compelled to say  “So long, farewell…” until next time. (& hopefully you’re familiar with the lyrics of the number from “The Sound of Music” pictured below) 🙂

Deal Me In 2015 – Week 23 Wrap Up

A little behind in posting this, but here goes. Links to new posts by the DMI gang are below. Happy reading!

Dale at Mirror With Clouds wrote about “Fleur” by Louise Eldrich Also – though not part of DMI – Dale featured several stories by Annie Proulx last week. Check out his other posts.

“o” at Behold the Stars posted about Jean Racine’s “Phedre”

Randall at Time Enough at Last covers the David Gates story “The Mail Lady

Katherine at The Writerly Reader introduces us to Chris Offut’s story “Chuck’s Bucket”

Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery posted about Stanley Ellin’s “The Specialty of the House”

Jay at Bibliophilopolis (that’s me!) went Neo-Noir and posted about the Roxane Gay story, “How

See you next week!

“How” a short story by Roxane Gay from “The New Black” anthology

Week 23 of Deal Me In 2015 brought me the four of hearts and with it this story by author Roxane Gay, who just happens to currently reside in Indiana, teaching at Purdue University. Last year – almost exactly a year ago – I read her story “North Country” for Deal Me In 2015, and earlier this year I also read her novel An Untamed State but never blogged about it. My roster of stories I’m reading in 2015 (with links to any posts I’ve written about them) may be found here if you’re interested.

“How” is the story of Hanna, a twin whose grown-up (at 27 years old) life has become populated with “usurpers.” She lives with a house full of them. Her unemployed husband, sister, brother in law and her father – a laid-off miner who never found work again and lives a drinking existence.

The story has an uncommon structure, but it was one I was able to rapidly fall into step with. Each titled section is an explanation of how certain components of Hanna’s life came to pass: (e.g. “How Hanna met and married Peter”, “How Red… Got his reputation”, “How these things came to pass,” etc.) Hanna, the only one in her household who works, holds down two jobs and has little time to herself, but takes that time that she does have to pose as a student at a local college, notching encounters with male students in a kind of diverting masquerade. She also explores a relationship with a lifelong friend, Laura, with whom she is plotting to escape her unfair life.

A quotation near the end of the story gives your pretty good idea of the type of existence Hanna has led:

The Twins stood before their father, their mother, their husbands. They stood in the house where they had grown up filled with broken people and broken things.”

So… it’s not a very cheery story (and I’m sure it’s not intended to be), but I enjoyed the style and the way Hanna interacted with the other characters, especially her twin sister, Anna (Of course her name is Anna!).

This is the third story I’ve read from The New Black, a “Neo-Noir” collection of stories. Both the others were excellent, one of them – Benjamin Percy’s “Dial Tone”   – being another Deal Me In 2015 pick. I learned of this anthology some time ago from Paula Cappa’s excellent blog.

What about you? Have you read anything by Roxane Gay? She may be best known for her essay collection “Bad Feminist,” which is on my list but hasn’t bubbled to the top yet. What are some of your favorite short story anthologies? (I’m always looking for stories for future years’ DMI rosters…) 🙂

Below : Author Roxane Gay

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