What’s Ashley Reading?: Clanlands

Clanlands by Sam Heughan & Graham McTavish

First line: Well, in The Beginning…there was a man in a kilt.

Summary: Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish, stars of the widely popular TV show Outlander set out on a trip around the Highlands of Scotland exploring the history, culture and landscape of this beautiful countryside. In their camper van they traverse the roads, lochs and pubs while sampling whiskey and traditional foods of the Highlanders.

My Thoughts: I highly recommend checking out the audiobook on CloudLibrary because I feel that this is what made the book much more interesting. Sam and Graham narrate the book. They recount times on set and with fellow cast members. They goof around and make fun of each other. I could tell that they really enjoy each other’s company and are good friends.

I learned a lot about the history of Scotland while reading this. As I listened I looked up the locations and people mentioned. It is astounding that there are homes older than our country. I could tell how proud they are to be Scottish.

I have always wanted to visit Scotland but I want to go even more after reading/watching Outlander. The land is beautiful and wild. The culture is rich and enduring. Much of my genealogy comes from Scotland. I want to experience the world my ancestors knew.

FYI: Find the audio book on CloudLibrary.

Monica’s Musings: Coraline

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

“She had the feeling that the door was looking at her, which she knew was silly, and knew on a deeper level was somehow true.”

― Neil Gaiman, Coraline

            I, like most people, love the claymation movie, Coraline. When I first watched it back in 2009, I was young enough for it to sort of scare me! Now it is one of my favorites to watch during Halloween season. I chose to listen to the audiobook this year because I have always heard that books are better than movies, and I wanted to see if that was true for this one.

            Coraline is a young girl who has just moved into a new apartment with her mom and dad. Their new place is big, and they have a lot of odd neighbors. Coraline’s parents are workaholics who refuse to look up from their computers to give her any attention. So, she spends her time exploring, and one day she finds a tiny door in her apartment that leads to another world! It is an alternate universe of such, and it seems a little too perfect. In this world, her mother and father have all the time in the world to spend with her, which is what keeps her coming back. However, her excitement begins to disappear when she finds out the real motive of her “other” parents.

            I knew I would love this book because of how amazing the movie is. Honestly, I did not think that either one was superior to the other. Each allowed me to imagine a strange world that exists inside the mind of the author, Neil Gaiman. Not to mention, Gaiman reads the audiobook version, so it is told exactly how he imagined it to be read. I will listen to this story again, and I will watch the movie again! Overall, it is a great story in all formats.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Wrong Family

The Wrong Family by Tarryn Fisher

First line: Juno was hungry.

Summary: Juno, a retired therapist is living with the seemingly perfect Crouch family. She wants to spend the rest of her days here but then one day she overhears Winnie and Nigel discussing a matter that is hard for her to ignore. She tries to remind herself that she should not get involved but the therapist in her wants to help fix the situation. As she digs deeper into the family secret she worries that she will have to reveal it. But Juno has her own secrets as well.

My Thoughts: Tarryn Fisher’s book, The Wives, was one of my favorite reads from last year. I loved the big reveal that completely changed how the beginning of the book was read. It was inventive. I think Fisher does it again in The Wrong Family. I love that the story is once again set in the Pacific Northwest, in a beautiful house in Seattle.

I liked Juno. Her history and life were sad but most likely common for many people in the world. Winnie was whiny. She had a lot going for her but she seemed entitled. This shows the differences in society and people’s views on life.

The ending of this book was wild. But first the beginning was a little predictable but with several plot twists that really derailed what I thought would happen. I love how the author created this dual story line which leaves the reader oblivious to what is revealed. I raced through the ending as everything came to a head. I was really worried for both our narrators but the last chapter was a perfect ending. I had to go back and reread a few pages to make sure I picked up the final twist. It was worth every minute!

FYI: Very violent at the end. Drug and alcohol use.

Terese’s Thoughts: Women Rowing North

Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age by Mary Pipher

First line: “There are many lifetimes in a lifetime.”


As the title suggests, Women Rowing North considers the issues women face as they cross into old age. Pipher approaches the subject as the clinical psychologist and cultural anthropologist she is, but also as an aging woman herself who knows intimately the waters she discusses. She illuminates the joys and struggles of being an older woman through the stories of other women’s lives. The women she has interviewed are from various walks of life and offer their experiences of ageism, sexism, and loss, but also of increased confidence, gratitude, and a changing perspective.

Pipher goes beyond simply reviewing the issues women face as they age; she also gives guidance on how to age, highlighting the importance of community, family, and of appreciating the good things in life despite the ever-present bad. One such chapter titled Building a Good Day begins with a quote from Iris Mudoch: “One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.”

My thoughts

As a woman approaching middle-age faster than I’m comfortable with, I can say I’m terrified of getting old but actively trying not to be. You don’t have to be 80 or even 50 before you start to see invisibility slowly taking effect. Yet like the women in the book, with each passing year I gain confidence and lose concern with what others think of me. Getting older is also freeing. Reading this book helped me grab onto the real positives of aging and gave me an idea of how to cultivate a healthy approach to the process. It is fascinating to read the first-hand accounts of other women’s experiences with growing older and to see their strategies for coping with a shifting landscape.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

First line: I could not have written a more perfect man.

Summary: Agatha Christie, one of the most famous mystery writers of the twentieth century has gone missing. A widespread manhunt ensues looking for the missing author. Meanwhile, her husband is hiding secrets of his own. As time progresses and Agatha is not found more suspicion is placed on Archie. Then suddenly after eleven days Agatha reappears with no recollection of what happened or where she had been. What happened during these days? It is a mystery that is still yet to be uncovered.

My Thoughts: Several years ago I remember hearing about the disappearance of the Agatha Christie. It sounds like one of her stories but was actually true. I was really excited when I saw that Marie Benedict was going to bring this piece of history to life. Benedict does a great job of giving voice to historical women who time has forgotten. Even though Christie is famous, this part of her life was not as well known.

I liked the alternating time periods and perspectives. We see the beginning of the romance between Agatha and Archie. We see the progression of their lives together. But then we see how Archie deals with Agatha’s disappearance. I kept having to stop myself from Googling the case in order to avoid how the author’s reappearance happens. I liked that it was a short novel that was quick to read and gives a little more insight into such a prolific writer. I now have to read more of Christie’s novels starting with The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Melanie Benjamin and Agatha Christie, of course.

Xochitl’s Book Thoughts: The Calculating Stars

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

First line: Do you remember where you were when the meteor hit?

Summary and Thoughts: This science fiction book is set in an alternate timeline during the Cold War when a meteor struck the United Sates and sent the world into a forever cloudiness and accelerating the change of climate. Elma York, a military airplane flyer and mathematics doctorate, is with her husband Nathaniel York, head engineer of NACA, the book’s equivalent to NASA, in a cabin in the woods when a meteor hits and wipes out the east coast of the United States. The result is the climate rapidly changing to where the Earth becomes inhabitable, meaning humans must find a way to leave the planet quickly. But during an era where both women and people of color are still looked at as beneath men who were white, even as the main focus should be coming together for an important cause, this means that the characters have to go beyond to prove themselves worthy of being in the space program and even astronauts.

As far as plot and characters go, this book was unique. Even if this book focused on how racism and sexism do hold back innovation and societal progression, women and ethnic characters were not just their identities, though the hardships they faced do help shape them. I liked that the women felt like real heroes you can read in history books. I did get frustrated at how the main character behaved at times, but I felt like the behavior I didn’t like from her was justified in many of the situations Elma was placed in. I also loved how Kowal wasn’t shy about writing about women being medicated for issues such as anxiety back then. Elma York’s anxiety was written so real and not romanticized, I can feel good about recommending this book to people and not have to worry about the issue of am I doing a disservice to those with anxiety. This book was a comforting and inspiring read, I would recommend this book to people looking for some motivation to overcome difficult obstacles.

FYI: There are strong references to sexual acts as well as characters dealing with racism and sexism.

What’s Ashley Reading?: A Year in Review

This year has a been a strange one for everyone, myself included. I spent a lot of the year in a reading funk. I just couldn’t find books that appealed to me or that kept my interest. Even with my slump I read 106 books in 2020! Below is my top 10 books of 2020.

If you have a book that you loved during 2020 or that got you through this crazy year let us know in the comments! And I will be starting 2021 off with Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie.

Terese’s Thoughts: Calypso

Calypso by David Sedaris

First Lines: “Though there’s an industry built on telling you otherwise, there are few real joys to middle age. The only perk I can see is that, with luck, you’ll acquire a guest room.”


If there is a theme among this collection of essays, it would be family. Sedaris is fiercely loyal and loving when it comes to his own, but he also isn’t afraid to describe their less attractive qualities. We learn of the overly-tanned skin of one of his sisters as well as his father’s hammer toes, but his love for them is never in question.

Throughout the essays, Sedaris seems to be grappling with reaching middle age, but in a way that makes you genuinely laugh out loud.

He reflects on the complicated relationship he shares with his father, who he knows won’t be around much longer, and looks back on life with his mother, who died of cancer in her own middle age. While spending time with his family at the North Carolina beach house he purchased, they recount stories of their sister Tiffany who committed suicide just before her 50th birthday. While these can make for sad stories, they are also poignant and hilarious. Sedaris has the talent of making his reader laugh at the bleakest of situations.

My Thoughts

Sedaris is one of the very few writers who unfailingly makes me laugh and cry within a mere five pages. His ability to find comedy in pain is admirable and his skill in communicating as much through writing his uncanny. Although I only have two siblings instead of the five Sedaris grew up with, I can relate to his close-knit sibling relationships. Reading essays of the Sedaris siblings lounging and talking on a beach blanket, I felt my family would have fit right in.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Arctic Fury

The Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister

First line: In the front row sit the survivors.

Summary: Virginia Reeve has spent years as a guide for settlers trying to cross the mountains to California until one day she receives a request for a new adventure. Upon meeting her new benefactor she learns that she is going to be leading a group of women into the arctic to find the ships and crew of the Terror and Erebus. Many men have tried and now it is time to let women try to succeed where the men failed. However, not everything turns out like Virginia and her hopeful crew had planned.

My Thoughts: I went into this book really excited because I loved the author’s debut novel, The Magician’s Lie. And I am not saying I didn’t like the book. I did. I found the story interesting and the setting fascinating but it just didn’t have the same magic as her first book. I liked how the author linked several very tragic events together in one book. Virginia kept referring to the Very Bad Thing. I guessed early on what this was but I liked that twist. I definitely did a lot of reading on the internet to get better informed about the true events behind the story.

One thing that surprised me was that there was very little time in the book dedicated to the actual time on the ice of the arctic. But the descriptions were stunning. I cannot imagine trying to spend time, especially months in the winter, in the arctic. I could tell that the author did research on survival skills, the time period and life on the ice.

FYI: Perfect for fans of historical fiction.

Linda’s Favorite Books: Wreck the Halls

Wreck the Halls by Sarah Graves

First Line: Blood was everywhere, so much of it that at first Ellie and I didn’t realize what it was or understand what we’d walked into.

Summary: So opens the story, WRECK THE HALLS, the fifth book in the Home Repair is Homicide series with Jacobia “Jake” Tiptree. An ex-Wall Streeter, Jake has bought a fixer-upper in small town, Eastport, Maine with her son, Sam, and her boyfriend, Wade and learns small towns have their own secrets.

When Jake and her best friend Ellie arrive at the kitchen of Faye Anne Carmody’s they find her dazed and covered in blood and her no-good husband, the town butcher, Merle, who is missing. Then Jake discovers his body wrapped in his own butcher paper and the town residents all have an idea of what happened, an open and shut case against the wife, Faye Anne.

Jake and Ellie aren’t convinced of Faye Anne’s guilt as take it upon themselves to find the real killer and when another citizen of the town is murdered they realize the murderer’s trail began long before the death of Merle the butcher.

Thoughts: This book is another of my cozy mystery authors I enjoy reading. The way it is written you also glean a few details on home repair, especially older ones worn by the weather off the coast of Maine. The author uses several twists and turns to keep the story moving along and I kept guessing at the real villain. I like this series and would recommend it to anyone.