The following is an updated list of books read by Lisa Cadow in 2012 as well as those completed in 2011. The years, noted in parentheses, indicate the date of publication.
2012 Reading List
An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer (2012). A lovely, touching, and funny read. It’s always refreshing to read a romance written about falling in love later in life. In this case, the object of cupid’s arrow is Edward, a 62 year-old widow in deep mourning for his beloved wife. But this doesn’t stop his family and friends from trying to throw him back into the dating scene by doing things like sending in a classified on his behalf to The New York Review of Books and presenting him with the responses. Spending time in New York City and suburban New Jersey gardening, birding, and dating with this likable hero, the reader is reminded of the joys of being a couple, the difficulty of finding the right mate, and how love can find you when you least expect it. Put this one on your list.
Carry the One by Carol Anshaw (2012).
Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton (2012). I enjoyed Afterwards - it’s a book that will keep you up at night. The subject matter - about the days following a devastating school fire that leaves a mother and her teenage daughter in critical care - is certainly not “easy” but the author pulls the reader in with her Lovely Bones style of writing (with an injured, out-of-body narrator telling the story). Meet Grace, the mother, who’s able to watch events unfold despite being in a coma. Though I wouldn’t normally be drawn to something so seemingly macabre, I loved Lupton’s first book, Sister, (about a woman who goes to London to search for her missing sister) and was eager for another one of her literary wild rides. She didn’t disappoint with this one as a result of the unusual and original way she’s constructed the story, the interesting psychology of the characters, and the everyday nature of the drama.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010). Riveting. Worthy of her Pulitzer. But with that said, be aware that this is “challenging” fiction – challenging in the the sense that it can be uncomfortable to read along with these characters who are struggling, their actions sometimes making the reader’s stomach hurt in anticipation of their consequences. But any discomfort is worth it. This book is essentially comprised of character sketches that defy linear time, landing anywhere from the early 1980′s to 2021. Egan’s writing reminds me of genre-defying books like those by Jonathan Safran Foer. Egan captures the voice, the feelings, the neuroses of an era in telling the story of Bennie, an aging record producer and those whose lives touch his.
The Bells by Richard Harville (2010). Lisa Christie found this book back closer to when it was released and reviewed it in a 2011 Book Jam podcast. But the other Lisa just finished it and requested that we give it double air time as she was so besotted with its story. Meet Moses, a boy born in the Swiss Alps in the 1700′s to a deaf mother whose ultimate pleasure is ringing the bells in her village’s small bellfry – their powerful vibrations reverberating through her body is her only sensory pleasure. This special little boy is blessed with an exquisite voice and exceptional ears. These talents forge for him a complex life – in a monastery, as an outcast, on the run, in some of the most beautiful places in Europe – and for the reader a most intersting plot. Some might say that the story and its telling are “overwrought” but we found its pacing to be “on pitch,” enouraging readers to turn the next page. The setting of the Alps and Vienna is lovely (and very well researched), and the story of forbidden love captivating, but it is also fascinating in the understanding it gives readers about music, opera, the church, and the sad traditon of “castratos” in a world that has (thankfully) long since passed. ~Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow
The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomon (2011).
The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesy (2012).
The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood by Elspeth Huxley (1959, 2000). This is a classic in the genre of white women with African childhoods, right up there with West With the Night and Out of Africa. I had never heard of it (really!) – surprising given that I’m a huge fan of this kind of literature – and, even though it is told from the perspective of a very young Elspeth, it was a joy to come to this tale in my 40′s. Elspeth’s voice is clear, amusing, innocent, and yet also somehow wise. She tells of her family’s moving to a remote area of Kenya to grow coffee in 1912 when she was just 5 years old. There are stories of snakes, the travails of building shelter in such a foreign land, and of her family’s encounters with the Masai, the Kikuyus, plus the various European and British “tribes” (the Scots, the Dutch) that struggled to settle in this unforgiving and forever challenging environment
The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon (2011).
Galore by Michael Crummey (2011). In a word: gorgeous. “Galore” is set in the Newfoundland of two hundred years ago and tells the story of the coastal town of Paradise Deep. Crummey incorporates legend and folklore from the island to create a story of four generations that feels almost mythical. It begins with the arrival on the beach of Judah, a man who was pried from the belly of a whale and expands from there to tell of interconnected, complicated lives. Crummey’s voice is rich and imaginative and captures what it must have felt like to live on a foggy, windy, forlorn island in the nineteenth century where there was enough love, hate, and tales of curses to feed everyone, even when the cod were sparse.
The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys (2003). Humphrey’s other job as a poet really shows in this small masterpiece about World War II. For those going through Downton Abbey withdrawal, this might be just the book for you. It’s set at an English country estate that has been given over to the war effort and the main character, horticulturist Gwen, is there to help the Women’s Land Army to plant potatoes for the people of England. Her time there becomes much more than about potatoes and the reader is led to hidden gardens, into the world of the the manor in its heyday, through an encyclopedia of roses, and on a journey of self-discovery.
22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson (2011).
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011). While the title refers to the sisters in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, this story is actually about three very modern-day siblings, Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia (who grew up with a Shakesperean professor for a father, hence their names). The tale begins with them all returning home to Ohio from their rather messy adult lives to help care for their ailing mother. Their uncanny ability to qoute the Bard at every twist and turn makes for fun, smart dialogue but it is their very present day struggles that make this story relevant. There is some romance, as promised in the intoduction to this post. But most of all it is the sisters love for and understanding of each other that makes this book endearing.
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (2009).
The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen (2011).
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English (2010) by Natasha Solomon. This is a fantastic novel. The story starts out in 1953 with German-immigrant Jack Rosenblum deciding to leave his successful life behind his life in London to build a world-class golf course in the countryside. Except for the fact that he’s never played golf, knows nothing about life in the country, and hasn’t told his wife of his plans, it sounds like a good idea. He desperately wants to become a proper Englishman and this seems just the way. I loved Solomon’s prose, her inclusion of food and recipes in the novel and her gentle, insightful writing style that doesn’t shy away from addressing serious topics such as antisemitism, prejudice and grief. This book was an international bestseller after being published in 2010. It’s another one of those How did I miss this? titles. Fans of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – this book is for you!
Into the Beautiful North (2010) by Luis Alberto Urrea. A lighthearted story that connects the reader with what it means to be a modern-day Mexican. Author Urrea, known for his popular book The Hummingbirds Daughter, crafts a tale about a group of young people from small town Tres Cammarones who set out on a journey to America. Their mission is to bring back the men who have deserted their village in order to make a better living elsewhere. The comical series of events that ensue artfully shed light on the serious issues of being different, in love, coming of age and growing old in a fast-paced world.
To Be Sung Underwater (2011) by Tom McNeal.
How to Be An American Housewife (2010) by Margaret Dilloway. Funnily enough, this book is also organized around a list of instructions, these ones in a book explaining to Japanese war brides how to assimilate, to cook spaghetti and meat balls, and to be a good housewife in 1950′s America. Main character Shoko turns to this book for guidance when she moves to California as the bride of an American soldier and starts her life over. The story begins with an older, very sick Shoko remembering her life and aching for her American-born daughter to understand more about her history. I really enjoyed this take on the immigrant experience (actually written by the daughter of a Japanese woman) and was transported to some unexpected places: to what it meant to be a Japanese “untouchable,” what it was like to live through a nuclear holocaust, and to grow up during wartime in a struggling, Asian nation with very different customs. And, it’s always interesting to see one’s own culture mirrored back through new, foreign eyes. It is about mothers and daughters, lost love, family feuds, and leaving everything behind to sail into the unknown and start over.
Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgiveness by Alexandra Fuller (2011).
2011 Reading List
Sister (2011) by Rosamund Lupton. If you’re in the mood for a page-turner, this book’s for you. And for people who don’t think they like mysteries, no need to worry: it’s shelved along with the fiction in my favorite indie bookstore. This clue tells you that it passes for both a good novel and a smart ciff-hanger. The story opens with Beatrice being called to London – away from her ordered, safe life and fiance in New York City – to help find her younger sister who has recently disappeared. That’s all I’ll reveal as the plot thickens with every chapter of this pyschological thriller.
Rules of Civility (2011) by Amos Towles. Each time I picked up this book it was as if a ’38 Bentley had siddled up to my door to take me for a literary ride. This fabulous novel transports. It’s set in Depression-era Manhattan and is gloriously atmospheric in the New York it portrays (think flapper dresses, smoky jazz clubs and Great Gatsby-esque Hampton estates with flowing champagne). It is also rich in characters and probing in the questions it asks its readers. Towles writing is polished (hard to believe it’s a first novel) and takes us to 1938 to tell the story of that year in the life of Katey Kontent, a smart, working class girl who finds herself rubbing shoulders with the 1%. Besides being a great read, it is a love letter to New York City.
The Night Circus (2011) by Erin Morgenstern. This new, fast-paced novel is magic-filled and has a plot that keeps readers turning the pages. Author Morgenstern is a creative story-teller and a beautiful writer who tells the tale of an ephemeral 19th century circus with one-of-a-kind performers. It’s a love story, an artistic exploration of place, people, time and timepieces. Think of it as a circus themed Romeo and Juliet story with alchemy, sorcery and a very dangerous game at its core.
The Tricking of Freya (2009). If you are a fan of Iceland, its sagas and history, or of Holder Laxness’s fictional masterpiece “Independent People” you will really enjoy this book. This beautifully written coming-of-age tale moves between an Icelandic settlement in Canada and Iceland itself. Freya tells the story of growing up as a member of an Icelandic sub-culture and in a family with secrets, quirks and mental health issues and yet this book is never morose. A journey to spectacular Iceland brings the country – it’s lava fields, it’s ice flows, its complex language – to life.
Perfume: The Story of a Murder by Patrick Suskind (1986). How did I miss this book? Published over 25 years ago, Suskind’s novel still has the power to excite and engross. I came to it after reading a recommendation of great book group reads and I easily found it on the shelf of my local library. Since it’s set in Paris, the Cevennes, and Provence and tells of a man obsessed, cursed and gifted with a prodigious sense of smell, I figured I couldn’t go wrong. You’ll race through it.
Gods in Alabama (2005) by Joshilyn Jackson. I’m a lover of Southern writing so pulled this older title off of the library shelf hoping to get my fix. I wasn’t disappointed. Energetic, buttermilk and biscuits prose, fully-developed characters and an intriguing plot line kept me hooked all the way through this smart, touching book. Arlene Fleet is heading back to Alabama for the first time in ten years with her African-American boyfriend and is full of trepidation. She’s stayed away to avoid her family and the truth about an awful, secret crime she committed in high school. But now, to save her relationship and herself, it’s time to face the demons and Gods that await in Alabama.
The Language of Flowers (2011) by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This is an enjoyable and thought-provoking novel that sprinkles seeds of knowledge throughout about the Victorian meanings and symbolism of flowers. What I found most intriguing, however, was the insight the author offers into the world of a now-adult foster child. Set among the farmers markets and grape vineyards of California we get to know Victoria, recently emancipated from the foster care system and finding her way in the world , supporting herself as a part-time florist. Flashbacks and memories help bring us to the present day where this challenging and challenged girl is growing a new life and discovering the possibility of love.
The Cat’s Table (2011) by Michael Ondaatje. This novel has received a tremendous amount of attention and is listed on many “best of 2011″ lists. I really enjoyed it for the journey it offers readers on board a ship bound for England from Ceylon in the 1950′s. It is masterful in the way it seamlessly plays with time and memory, for the main character is recalling this trip as an 11-year-old boy from the present day and understanding the impact the voyage had on his life.
The Blind Contessa’s New Machine (2011) by Carey Wallace. A beautiful idea – a story about the invention of the typewriter and a main character who is slowly losing her sight for whom it is developed - and lovely writing make for a special little novella. I could really picture the Italian landscape described and enjoyed an unexpected love story (several, actually) along with a fairy tale construct. Sometimes the excellent writing bordered on excessive and flowery and I felt the ending was a bit underdeveloped. But Carey Wallace is an author to watch — and to read.
Vaclav & Lena (2011) by Halley Tanner. Reviewed on The Book Jam.
In The Sea There Are Crocodiles (2011) by Fabio Geda. Based on the true story of young Afghani refugee Enaiatollah Akbari, this is an amazing read both stylistically and plot-wise. It would be as comfortable on the shelf next to young adult reads as it is in the adult section. The novel starts out in a small Afghan village and chronicles ten-year-old Ena’s harrowing escape from the middle east through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and Greece to Italy. His ability to survive, to see the goodness in people, to work hard and to learn along on the way is inspiring. Author Geda does a magnificent job capturing Ena’s voice and in creatively telling the tale.
The Buddha in the Attic (2011) by Julie Otsuka. This slim volume is a masterpiece of efficiency and story telling. Otsuka weaves together the impressions, histories, emotions, and journeys of hundreds (if not thousands) of Japanese “picture brides” who come to the US post-WWI in search of a better life and brighter future. The first chapter sets the stage on the boat from Japan, with no one character telling the story but rather with the voices of the hundreds of women below deck. Then we learn of these same women’s first night with their new husbands, the birth of their first children, carving out lives in foreign California, raising American-born children and the horrors of internment. Highly recommended.
The Lotus Eaters (2009) by Tatjana Soli. A story of the Vietnam war told through the lens of war photographers, this borders on epic. By “epic” I mean it’s long, satisfying, complex, tells tales of love, loss, separation, and growth and weaves in history (some of it graphic and troubling) and insight into an era of history.
Housekeeping (1980) by Marilyn Robinson – A meditative story of two young sisters abandonded by their mother in adolescence. This Pulitzer Prize winner is sometimes bleak but always beautifully written story of emotional survival set in the Midwest that takes a deep look at the meaning of family, community and lifestyle. When the grandmother who’s been caring for the girls passes away, a drifter aunt comes to stay with them in the family home. The girls have different reactions to her style and presence and it is here that their paths start to diverge. This book is full of melancholy and of the tone and pace of rural life. It will stay with me.
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives (2010) by Lola Shoneyin. Reviewed on the Book Jam. This novel takes a fascinating, humorous and disturbing look at polygamy in Nigeria. I was inspired to read this after finishing “Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away” which is also set in Nigeria and explores the issue of multiple wives. Though I found “Tiny Sunbirds” to be more poetic and of a higher literary caliber, “Secret Lives” takes a darker look at what can happen when a man has many wives –four in Baba Segi’s case. The real conflict arises when Baba Segi decides to take as a fourth wife a young woman with a college degree. This throws the household into a state of alarm and confusion, threatening the other, uneducated wives. The reader gets a look into the world of Baba Segi and each of his wives, learning their secrets, fears, dreams and plans.
Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away (2011) - Reviewed on the Book Jam. A novel set smack dab in the oil-polluted, violent back waters of the Niger River Delta, this book examines the complex political and economic problems that this petroleum rich country is experiencing. The majority of the story takes place in a family compound with no electricity or fresh water but occasionally there are glimpses into the preposterously air conditioned, manicured compound that houses foreign oil workers, I enjoyed the 12-year old narrator Blessing’s voice, full of questions about the often perplexing behaviors of those around her: her beloved brother Ezekiel trying desperately to navigate the path to adulthood, her mid-wife grandmother full of Nigerian fables and cultural contradictions, her own mother desperate to escape her impoverished surroundings, her Christian-turned-Muslim grandfather who decides it’s time to take a much younger second wife and the silly yet endearing second wife herself, Celestine.
Thread of Sky (2010) by Deanna Fei. I found this book after reading an op-ed piece by its author in the New York Times entitled “To Keep but Not Be Kept.” Intrigued by her views on modern love and her experience as an Asian American woman, I checked her novel out of my local library. It is an interesting story of three generations of women who return to China on a family trip to explore their history and to experience places and landmarks together. The different viewpoints they have on femininity, success and what it means to be a woman leave the reader thinking.
The Road (2006) by Cormac McCarthy. Not for everyone, I think this post-apocalyptic, Pulitzer Prize winning book is important reading. I found myself thinking a lot about the world that the characters referred to only as “the man” and “the boy” were living in even when I wasn’t reading. This book made me consider the impermanence of the world we’ve created (structures, roads, cars) and how easily it could all come to an abrupt end. It also reminded me of the beauty, life and food supply that we can take for granted. Interesting dialogue and a love that survives ruin.
The Oracle of Stamboul (2011) by David Lucas- Very good historical fiction set in 1877 between Constantinople and Istanbul, it tells the story of a young girl with incredible intellectual capacities who stows away on a ship to follow her rug merchant father to “Stamboul.” This book is the story of her adventures and explores the ability of one person to change the course of history. If you want to visit the middle east in the 19th century, pick up this book.
The Call (2011) by Yannick Murphy. Set in Vermont, this unique, quirky novel recounts a year in the life of a rural veterinarian. The book serves a a log of his days and of the calls he receives that summon him out to treat the animals under his care. But then his son is injured in a hunting accident and puts his family’s life into a bit of a tailspin. Lovely, funny, touching. Inde Bound describes it best: “…an absolute delight to read. E.B. White meets James Herriot with just a touch of Jonathan Safron Foer.” One of the best books of the year.
The Lovely Bones (2002) by Alice Sebold. I think I was afraid to read this book given the topic of rape and murder and the story being told from heaven by a teenage girl.
The Tiger’s Wife (2011) by Tea Obreht.
When God Was a Rabbit (2011) by Sarah Winman.
The Discovery of Witches (2011) by Deborah Harkness. My teenage daughter loved this
The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003) by Audrey Niffenegger.
Saving Cee Cee Honeycut
The Mistress of Nothing
The Summer without Men
East of the Sun
A Cup of Friendship
Cutting for Stone
The Gate at the Stairs
In Sunlight, In a Beautiful Garden
The History of Love (2005) by Nicole Krauss.
In the Woods (2007) by Tana French.
The Likeness (2008) by Tana French.
The Rapture of Canaan ( ) by
Daughter of Time
I Think I Love You (2011) by Alison Pearson.
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (2009) by Alan Bradley.
In the Woods (2007) by Tana French.
The Likeness (2008) by Tana French.
Still Life (2006) by Louise Penny. Reviewed on the Book Jam. I enjoyed this mystery for its setting, a village called “Three Pines” located in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. The class act detective, Gamache, is our hero and the other characters (gay café owners, Olivier and Gabri, the bookstore proprietress Myrna, poet Ruth Zardo and artists Claire and Peter Morrow) make the reader feel as if they want to move into this charming community – except for the fact that someone has just been murdered at point blank range with a razor-sharp hunting arrow. First in a series.
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress (2009) by Rhoda Janzen. Despite the annoying (a little too sarcastic perhaps) narrator’s perspective on the world, there were some clever turns of phrase in this memoir. I particularly liked the narrator’s mother and learning a bit about Mennonite food and traditions (though it would have been nice to get even more). She recounts the story of the year after her divorce from the husband who left who for someone named Bob, followed up by a terrible traffic accident that leaves her incapacitated. She heads home to live with her parents and recover. At times the book is funny but is not an overwhelming reading experience.
Dirty Life (2010) by Kristin Kimball . Reviewed on The Book Jam.
Blood, Bones, and Butter (2011) by Gabrielle Hamilton. Loved it.
Just Kids (2010) by Patti Smith.
My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over (2010) by Gesine Bullock-Prado.