I completed my book challenge! I read 50 books in one year. Below are the books I read and my recommendation.

Here are also some posts related to my book challenge.

50 Books

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Book Challenge Update (including tips on doing your own book challenge)

I Read 50 Books!

Also check out my Top 5 Book Recommendations page. This will include a revolving list of books that I’ve recently read that I recommend.


1. The Very Thought of You, Rosie AlisonRecommend. Although I thought the ending could have been different, this is a very good book about love and loss in WWII England.

2. Smokin’ Seventeen, Janet EvanovichRecommend if you’re a Stephanie Plum fan. I was disappointed by Janet’s last two Stephanie Plum books. I was almost bored while reading them. But this one caught my interest like the earlier books in the series. I read it in a day. Lula and Grandma Mazur make me laugh out loud.

3. Before I Go To Sleep, SJ WatsonRecommend. This is an interesting mystery from the perspective of an amnesiac.

4. Bossypants, Tina FeyRecommend. I didn’t find Fey’s autobiography hilarious – probably for the same reason I couldn’t get into 30 Rock. But I did find it interesting and entertaining. Get an honest glimpse of what it’s like being a writer for NBC. *Recommended by Book Club

Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth GilbertDo not recommend. I read about 100 pages last weekend and decided not to finish this book. The author is too self involved. I couldn’t stand it. I did not finish the book so I’m not listing it as one of my 50.

5. Outliers, Malcolm GladwellRecommend. I recommend this book for those who believe that anyone can pull themselves up by their boot straps, work hard, and find success. The author argues that hard work is definitely needed to find success, but so are a number of variables completely outside our control.  Some anecdotes are a stretch but, overall, a very interesting read. *Recommended by Book Club and Cousin Angie

6. Prayers and Lies, Sherri Wood Emmons Do not recommend. The plot was not unusual or one that I’ll always remember.  I could recommend if you are going to read 50 books in the next year — or even 40 books. But if you are not trying to reach a reading goal, I think there are better books out there.

7. At Home with the Templetons,  Monica McInerneyRecommend. I loved this book because of the interesting, quirky, and diverse characters. The ending was a bit to soap-opera-y, but overall I really enjoyed the book. It’s a great “beach read”. (Then again, who am I kidding? Most books on my list are “beach reads”!)

8. A Small Hotel, Robert Olen ButlerRecommend. This book was about a couple whose marriage had unravelled not by hurtful things said to each other, but by the unsaid things in their marriage. It was tragically good because you felt like you were spying on this poor couple and their dysfunction.

9. Cleaning Nabokov’s House, Leslie Daniels – Recommend. For my reading tastes, this was a gem! This book was funny and cynical while also being warm and honest. It will make you think about new possibilities in life. I laughed out loud throughout the book. Very entertaining.

10. The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein Recommend for dog lovers. This book is written from the perspective of an aging dog, Enzo. If you love dogs, you will love how this book captures the heart and soul of dogs. *Recommended by Cousin Angie

11. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls Recommend. This autobiography was both heartfelt and heartbreaking. The author talks about her childhood living with her family as nomads. *Recommended by Cousin Angie

12. Room, Emma DonoghueRecommend. This book is narrated by five-year-old Jack. Jack and “Ma” are held captive in a small room by “Old Nick”. The horror of the situation is shielded by Jack’s young, naive mind and his observations about his small world are fascinating. This is probably my favorite novel on this reading list so far. *Recommended by Brother-in-Law Dave

13. The Underground History of American Education, John Taylor Gatto  Recommend for those interested in learning more about the American system of education. It’s difficult to sum up this book in a short summary. The main message is that our current system of education is focused on social control rather than the values that made our country great — innovation, creativity, and critical thought. I agreed with many of his points. Although the book needed more editing, it was well worth the read.  *Recommended by Sister Sunny

14. Always Something There To Remind Me, Beth Harbison Do not recommend. After the heavy reading of book #13, I wanted something light. This was too light. A 30-something year old woman starts thinking about her high school boyfriend after her current boyfriend proposes. It was not real or romantic or entertaining.

15. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins Recommend. I began the book with three concerns: 1) The premise of the book seems grim; 2) I’m not usually a science fiction fan; and 3) It’s a young adult novel.  But I admit I loved every page of this book. The second book in the series will be on this reading list as soon as I can get it from the library.  *Recommended by Book Club, Cousin Angie and Brother-in-Law Dave

16.  Breaking Night, Liz Murray Recommend. A memoir, very similar to The Glass Castle, that details the life of a girl in New York City with neglectful, drug-addicted parents. She is homeless by age 15 and she was admitted to Harvard at 18. I kept thinking about Outliers (book #5) while reading this book.  *Recommended by Grandma Norma

17. Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, Lorna Landvik Recommend especially for readers of the Twin Cities.  This is a book about a book club of diverse ladies who live in Minneapolis. What is not to love about that? *Recommended by Cousin Barb

18. Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay Recommend. This story follows a ten-year-old girl, Sarah, during the 1942 Jewish arrests in Paris. It also follows forty-something Julia in 2002 and how Julia’s and Sarah’s lives intersect. I preferred the first half of the book but the entire book is worth reading.*Recommended by Cousin Angie and Book Club

19. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins Recommend. This is the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy. I am really enjoying this series of books. Again, it’s young adult fiction so it is easy to read but the plot and characters are very interesting. By far, these books are my favorite on my reading list so far. I’m starting the third book today and I can’t wait! *Recommended by Book Club

20. Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins Recommend. I preferred the first two books in the series that had a more narrow focus. But I think it was appropriate to have a more complicated ending. Anyway, I loved this series. I plan to read the series again after my book challenge has ended. I recommend this book to anyone looking for an easy to read, entertaining book series. *Recommended by Book Club

21. The Boy in the Moon, Ian Brown Recommend. This honest and frank memoir details the life of a father and his severely disabled son. It discusses the obligations of parents and society to the fragile, vulnerable disabled population.  There were so many passages and themes in the book that moved me. If you like memoirs, you need to read this book. *Recommended by The New York Times 10 Best Books of 2011

22. How To Talk Minnesotan, Howard Mohr Recommend to Minnesotans or anyone visiting our fine state.  This book from the 1980’s still rings true to Minnesota culture. I am guilty of many of sayings and phrases. This is a funny book.

23. The Memory Palace, Mira Bartok Recommend.  Another memoir (yes, another one) made my reading list. I find people’s stories so interesting that I can’t help it. The book detailed the author’s life growing up with a schizophrenic mother. She ponders memories and brain function further after suffering a brain injury herself.

24. City of Lost Girls, Declan Hughes Do not recommend unless you are reading the series. This book wasn’t bad, I just had a sense that I was reading a book in series and missing a lot of the character development from previous books. This was the latest of the Ed Loy PI series by Hughes. I guess I should have started with book #1…

25. That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, Thomas Friedman & Michael Mandelbaum. Recommended for all Americans. This is a great summary of our country’s enormous challenges and the solutions to those challenges. The one point that stuck with me is that our young people are no longer able to compete in the world. Our students are currently middle of the pack — at best — and falling. We perform below countries like Estonia, Iceland, Poland, Canada and Slovenia. We cannot regain prosperity with an unskilled workforce. The world is literally passing us by and our politicians are too busy arguing to notice. Great book.

26. When God Was a Rabbit, Sarah Winman Recommend. This is another coming-of-age novel. But the book is interesting to me because the author’s voice is unique. The characters were off-beat and interesting. I read this book quickly because I enjoyed reading it. *Recommended by Laura Tweten (friend)

27.  Wingshooters, Nina RevoyrRecommend.  This is a serious book about prejudice in the 1970s. It touches on prejudice related to race, class, and sexism. The author is a really good writer. A good book if you want to take on heavy issues. *Recommended by Laura Tweten (friend)

28. Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson. Recommend. Business books irritate me. While this book was a biography, I think it outlines business strategy better than 99% of business books out there. Steve Jobs was clearly a revolutionary thinker. But he was also a jerk. He lied to and cheated people close to him. He was unnecessarily cruel to people. But I respect his business savvy very much after reading this book and I think that was the point of the biography. This book is inspiring.

29. Explosive Eighteen, Janet Evanovich Recommend if you’re a Stephanie Plum fan. This book wasn’t as good as 17 but it wasn’t as bad as 14-16. So I give it a so-so rating. I like it because I love the characters. But the plot held my attention just enough to finish the book.

30. Let The Great World Spin, Colum McCann Recommend. This is a beautifully written book about New York City in the 1970s. It follows a number of characters and details how their lives interconnect. *Recommended by Book Club

31.  Metro Girl, Janet Evanovich Do not recommend.  If you are going to read this author, I recommend reading the Stephanie Plum book series beginning with One For The Money.  The first 12 books in the series are entertaining, fun, and you can almost imagine Stephanie and her pals being real people. Metro Girl is just too far fetched and the characters are a bit irritating.

32. The Penny Pinchers Club, Sarah Strohmeyer Do not recommend. This wasn’t a bad book, but there so are many other good novels to read out there. The plot was just a little shallow to hold my attention.

33. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak  Recommend.  This book is why I love to read — beautifully written from a unique point of view (Death is the narrator). It’s about a girl in WWII Germany and how the written word can change your life. Heartfelt, heartbreaking, and just so good. I don’t think I’ll ever forget Liesel. *Recommended by Cousin Jenny

34. Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon KrakauerRecommend. Written by the same author that wrote Into the Wild, this book describes the history of the Mormon church along side the story of  the Mormon fundementalist Lafferty brothers. The brothers killed their sister-in-law and baby niece because God told them to. While reading this book, I thought a lot about the nature of religious belief and where belief crosses over into untruth and lies.

35. I Know This Much Is True, Wally Lamb Recommend. Difficult at times to read but a story that will stay with me.Spanning over four decades, this book tells the story of a set of identical twins. One of the twins is schizophrenic while the other is healthy. It is a story about loving and forgiving those people closest to you. More importantly, it is also a story about how to love and forgive yourself. *Recommended by Book Club

36. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson  Recommend…sort of. A comical memoir about a neurotic woman who grew up in west Texas. It’s a book you enjoy reading because you are glad the “train wreck” you are reading about is not your life while also identifying with her struggles. I appreciated the light content of the book because most of my books lately are quite heavy. This book is crass and a little offensive. So if you’re easily offended, this book isn’t for you.

37. Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman Recommend. This book looks at how we think and make decisions based on two types of thinking. System 1, as Kahnerman referred to it, provides the quick answers to questions without thought. You would use System 1 to answer the question 1+1=? System 2 requires you to engage more complex thought. For example, you would use System 2 to answer the question “How many states begin with the letter A?” This book examines how we use these systems in often flawed ways. Thought provoking and I needed System 2 to get through most of the book.

38. The View From Mount Joy, Lorna Landvik  Recommend.  A great book to follow up #37 since I didn’t need System 2 to read this book. It was a fun and light book that questioned the true meaning of success in life.

39. Plum Lucky, Janet Evanovich Recommend. I selected this book because it was a quick read and I knew I’d like it. (I’m having a hard time getting through Cutting For Stone. It’s not a bad book, it’s just over 600 pages!) This was written back when Stephanie Plum was at her best. Another good beach read.

40. Cutting For Stone, Abraham Verghese Recommend. The first 250 pages of this book are s-l-o-w. It took me a month to get through them. An then a week to get through the remaining 450 pages.  This fictional book was about twin boys who grew up in Ethiopia. The beautifully written book talks about family, love, and forgiveness. *Recommended by Book Club

41.Plum Pudding Murder, Joanne Fluke  Recommend. I enjoyed reading this murder mystery set in Minnesota. The entire book took place in December so I loved the descriptions of the cold and the descriptions of Christmas in Minnesota. It was a fun book to read.

42. 11/22/63, Stephen King Recommend. This is the first Stephen King book I have read and I loved it. It was another long one — almost 900 pages. But it was easy to read and the storyline really held my attention. It was about a guy who time traveled back to the late 50s and early 60s to stop JFK’s assination. I’ve said this before…I’m not much of a sci-fi fan but I loved this book!

43. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card Recommend. Okay. I’ll stop saying that I’m not a sci-fi fan. Because this is the fifth sci-fi book in my challenge that I have really enjoyed. This book was written in the mid-1970s about alien invasion. The government has genetically modified children to be soldiers and this book focuses on one of the child soldiers, Ender. Even though it sounds “out there”, the basic theme throughout the book is human connection — how connections isolate us, connect us, and ultimately are our motivation for everything we do. Great book. *Recommended by Camille (friend)

44. 9th Judgement, James Patterson Recommend. This is the ninth book of his Women’s Murder Club series. I’ve read four other books in the series already so it was nice knowing the characters from the first page. This was one of the darker murder mysteries in the series but I enjoyed it.

45. Ender’s Shadow, Orson Scott Card Recommend. This follows the same story as Ender’s Game but tells the story from a different character’s perspective. It follows another child soldier at the Battle School whose life entwines with Ender Wiggins. I enjoyed this book as much as Ender’s Game. *Recommended by Camille (friend)

46. Replay, Ken Grimmwood Recommend. This bookfollows a man who dies and then replays the last 25 years of his life, dies again, and replays again, etc. I was captivated by this book in the first five pages. Very interesting book!

47. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee Recommend. Beautifully written, many interesting themes throughout, and an interesting story. I think classics sometimes get a bad rap for being tedious to read. This book was anything but tedious. I’m sad that I’m done following Scout and Jem in Maycomb, Alabama.

48. The Grand Finale, Janet Evanovich Recommend. This book is actually a romance novel which is a genre I’m typically not fond of. But it was also light with fun characters. Exactly what I needed at the end of my book challenge.

49. Not Working, DW Gibson Recommend. The author, along with two assistants, drove coast to coast in search of people’s unemployment stories. He compiled the stories into this book. It details how people’s lives have been affected by layoffs, down-sizing, position eliminations, etc. I enjoyed this book because it puts all of the media statistics about unemployment into a human context. I highly recommend this for anyone who wants to get a better idea what our economy looks like through the eyes of the unemployed.

50. God’s Hotel, Victoria Sweet  Recommend. This book is a medical memoir about a doctor’s experience at the last almshouse in the country — a place where the poor and vulernable could come for free, long term medical care. Dr. Sweet describes her “slow medicine” approach which made me rethink my approach to my own health and well-being. I give this book my highest recommendation because it was a medical memoir that I, a non-science person, read easily, quickly, and with lots of interest.


12 Responses to “Tracy’s 50 Books”

  1. Sue Tauer Says:

    Hey Tracy,
    You go girl! My mom will be so pleased to know that there is somebody else that loves reading as much as she does. I love the Stephanie Plum series too and was disappointed in the last two books. Looking forward to Smokin’ Seventeen.
    Great idea to publish your list. It will inspire me, I hope!

  2. tracyhovland Says:

    Thanks, Sue! It’s nice to know another Stephanie Plum fan! :)

  3. evify Says:

    Recommended book: “An Underground History of Education” by John Taylor Gatto. Read for free online at http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/index.htm

    Transformed the way I view compulsory education.

  4. Jenny Tauer Says:

    Hi Tracy ~

    I am also in a book club. We read The Help several months ago. It was really very good. We all went to see the movie together too and I am happy to report that the movie was as good as the book. :) Happy Reading!

  5. Angie Dunn Says:

    I couldn’t finish Eat, Pray, Love either. It is rare for me to actually not finish a book, but that one did it for me.

    Some great books I have read recently include:
    The Hunger Games series (movie next year?)
    Heaven Is For Real
    The Art of Racing In the Rain
    Born to Run

    Next on my list:
    The Glass Castle (recommended by many)
    Sarah’s Key (recommended by a couple)

  6. Angie Dunn Says:

    Sarah’s Key was really good.

    Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet and the sequel World Without End were also amazing. Long, but worth it.

  7. Barb Says:

    Love the commentary…makes my 5 books in a year goal seem rather pathetic. I do recommend anything by Lorna Landvik, my favs of hers include…Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, Tall Pine Polka, The Great Mysterious, Patty Jane’s House of Curl, Oasis on Flame Lake…did I say I was a fan??? Most of her books are set in Minnesota and the characters are juicy and the plots always have interesting twists as well as a few tissue worthy moments. I just finished The Help – highly recommend and am now reading the Hunger Games trilogy. Happy reading!

  8. Angie Dunn Says:

    Just started/finished The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. Highly recommend it…amazing!

  9. Nicole Says:

    Love this list! Based on your recommendation and from another friend I just started the first Stephanie Plum book =)

  10. Jenny Says:

    I was here looking at your reviews. Thanks for all of them! Our book club is reading hungar games this month. I thought I’d pass on one we read that I thought was really good. It is called a book thief. Really good story. Hope you guys had a nice vacation

  11. Angie Dunn Says:

    Wow! You are moving right along. Abraham Verghese also wrote a book called My Own Country that is really good. I think I’ll steal a couple books off this list since I am looking for a new good book :) I’ll let you know if I come across anything great.

  12. Camille Says:

    Amazing Tracy! Great job! I am very impressed as I have been trying to read two books a month for the last 6 months and I think I’ve only successfully done it 2 months (and the first month, one of the books Hunger Games and the second month the books were Catching Fire and Mockingjay)! Thanks for keeping us posted and for all the great reviews and recommendations! I’m so happy to see that Ender’s Game made the top 5 list. Woo hoo!! :)


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