Some books I have read in 2014 and can recommend (details for many can be found on the Book Jam blog and in the podcasts). Those I HIGHLY recommend are in bold. I did not bother to list the books I read and can not recommend without reservations. OK, if I have reservations about recommending any of these, I mention them in the brief descriptions. 2011, 2012 and 2013 reading lists are located below 2014′s.
The Resistance Man by Martin Walker (2014) – The latest Chief Bruno mystery takes you back to southern France, a nice escape from the VT cold of late, with a tale of auction fraud and the French Resistance fighters.
The Housemaid’s Daughter by Barbara Mutch (Dec 2013) – I never really thought about the fact that of course Apartheid began at a point in time, and that before Apartheid there was something else and then Apartheid changed that something. This historical novel looks at Apartheid from the perspective of a Black maid in a white household in Cradock, South Africa before Apartheid, through Apartheid and then allows a glimpse of post-Apartheid. And for that reason I am grateful I read it.
Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal (July 2014) – With Mardi Gras approaching, I was in the mood for something from New Orleans and picked up this novel. While the characters were memorable and the time in 1960s south was fun, it just didn’t quite click for me. I wish I could highly recommend it and want to, but I can not.
The Year She Left Us by Kathryn Ma (May 2014) – When Jennifer Egan blurbs a book and calls the author a “fierce, subtle new American voice” I listen and I read that author’s work asap. Since this was her blurb for Kathryn Ma’s debut novel, I read. As a mother of two children adopted from another country, I am not certain how I FEEL about this novel – uncomfortable would certainly be accurate. But I am also glad I read it. In this novel, Ari, a young woman adopted as a girl from a Chinese orphanage into a Chinese-American family confronts her own feelings about adoption, China and identity. Her journey is complicated by the fact as someone adopted by an unmarried Chinese-American mother she doesn’t fit in a traditional family of two parents, nor she does not fit the typical picture of two white parents with one Chinese born daughter. The action takes off when she discovers her mother’s secret – at the time of her adoption, there was a man in her mom’s life who was supposed to have been her dad. Bonus – any fan of San Francisco will love the descriptions of life there.
Ripper by Isabel Allende (2014) – This book combines murder mystery, and gaming. In it the teen daughter of a San Francisco detective plays an online game with other teens nationwide in which they attempt to solve the identity of Jack the Ripper. The game become real when a series of present day murders in SF looks like the work of a serial killer. With access to her father’s work, the teens and their gaming prove instrumental in figuring things out.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013) – The Goldfinch has provided good reading during these very frigid days. I picked this up because many, many people I trust LOVED it, so maybe you should trust them too. As for me, I am so glad I read it and I liked it too, but I must say it was hard for me to read. It was very difficult to witness the main character’s poor choices. Honestly, it was stressful. Luckily, just when I thought I could not take one more moment living the consequences of bad decisions, Ms. Tartt changed directions and led me through another bad choice which built up until a slight respite with the next bad choice. So while I am looking forward to reading something less stress inducing, I enjoyed the writing, the premise, the time in NYC, and the book. So, honestly, I think you will too. I also think it would be a great Book Group book. ~ Lisa Christie
While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell (Feb 2014) – It is almost as if Gail Carson Levine created one of her fairy tale retellings for grown-ups. In this novel, Ms. Blackwell tells the “true story” of Sleeping Beauty, with explanations of why she was lying in the tower when the Prince came, who exactly were Millicent and Flora, and why the king and queen feared spinning wheels. It is truly a page-turning tale of family, secrets, and promises. Read it and enjoy losing your self in an unique telling of a well-known tale.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kid (2014) – I hope any Oprah snobs are ready to overlook her pick of this book for her book club. Any book that helps you understand the day to day plight of African American slaves and the forming of an abolitionist is worth your time. What I loved about this one — both of the two narrators are based upon actual people from history.
Vienna Nocturne by Vivien Shotwell (Feb 2014) - A story of a famous opera singer - Anna Storace, an outstanding British soprano and her life in Italy and ultimately Vienna where her paths and love crossed with Mozart. A first published novel by a very strong new voice.
The Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Dec 2013)- The latest Department Q novel shows how the misfit threesome stuck in the bowels of the Copenhagen Police Department have become an effective cold-case solving unit, and a worthy family.
For kids and young adults
Dangerous by Shannon Hale (2014) – Be prepared to lose a bit of sleep over this page-turner. Yes, it’s another action packed young adult novel. In this one, evil business people have discovered five pellets from space that provide super powers, but need teen hosts. So, they find some as part of a summer camp for budding astronauts. And yes, these teens must then save the world. But first, they have to figure out who the good guys actually are, and it may not be them.
I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin (Feb 2014) – Celeste Marconi is 11 and has bigger problems than many pre-teens. Her country Chile – is in the midst of being overtaken by a military dictatorship. And once that happens, her best friend is among those “disappeared” by the General, her parents go into hiding to protect her from their support of the previous leader. And her grandparents send her to far-away Maine to live with her Tia and escape the problems in Chile brought by the dictator. An excellent introduction to South America and to being an exile and all that entails. All events in the book are based upon true events in Chile.
Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (March 2014) - Publishers Weekly says ”Fans of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will find this another delightful lesson in art history.” That fan base includes us; so, we were thrilled to read this. What would the movie look like? Well, it would follow Theodora Tenpenny around Manhattan as she tries to solve the mystery of a painting she uncovers (literally) once her grandfather dies. It would include her eccentric mother who has spent at least fifteen years doing nothing else but completing her mathematical dissertation and consuming very expensive tea (and certainly not caring for Theodora). It would show how two amazing, but lonely girls can make great friends. And, it would introduce viewers to the world of beautiful and important art and the importance of asking for help when you need it. Not bad for an author’s first children’s book!
Same Sun Here Silas House, Neela Vaswani, Hilary Schenker - a superb audio book with alternating chapters and voices telling the story of two pen pals — one in NYC and one in rural KY — and the adventures they share via printed page (gasp – we know).
March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (2013) – Yes, that John Lewis, the Congressman, the man who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., has with two collaborators written a memoir in the form of a graphic novel. Told in flashback as a story relayed to two young constituents who came to visit his Capital Hill offices the morning of Barack Obama’s first inauguration, this book begins with his childhood in rural Alabama and follows Mr. Lewis through meeting Martin Luther King and then his student activist days in Nashville. The pictures perfectly explore how his life must have felt at the time. The prose explains what he was thinking as each of the momentous moments of his life unfolds. The 1958 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was inspirational to Mr. Lewis and other student activists. We hope March proves as inspiring to future leaders. I am truly looking forward to Book Two.
The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson (dec 2013) – A true story of one of the boys saved by Schindler’s List. Important, and a well told tale.
Boy or Beast by Bob Balaban (Oct 2013) – While I disagreed a bit with the ending — I thought there was a squandered lesson, the humor and storyline are prefect for the middle grade reader approaching puberty or in the midst.
Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody (Nov 2013) – An EXCELLENT and FUN tale of Robin Hood and his merry men before they became famous. In this version, you meet them as a gang of outlaws and watch them find their mission in life. A superb adventure for any middle grades reader and the adults who love them, or who love English legends.
The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol – I HATE short stories. They leave me bereft because just as I am starting to care so much about their characters, they are over. So the fact I am recommending a collection of short stories is rare and special. This collection is amazing. Each story has unforgettable characters. Each is well written by one of Stanford’s Wallace Stegner fellows(a sign for me of an author who can write – hello Bo Caldwell). Yes, I was a bit bereft at the end of each one because it was over. How did I survive? I chose to concentrate on the theme and look at is as a strangely constructed novel about a variety of interesting “communists”/immigrants to America from various countries that comprised those behind the former Iron Curtain.
Night Film by Pressl (2013) – With the exception of The Shining, I am not a huge fan of horror films. Actually, I usually refuse to watch. So the fact I would describe this as a horror book makes it weird that I would also recommend it. But I would. In it you care about the narrator – a classic tribute to Hitchcock’s “Innocent Man wrongly accused”. You are fascinated by the premise of a creepy horror film director who manipulates everyone around him into their own horror film. Basically I would call this a Hitchcock-like book. Enjoy.
Natchez Burning by Greg Isles (May 2014) – I am so glad this is the first part of a trilogy as so much was left hanging. After reading Sycamore row, I was drawn to this novel of Mississippi and a modern day crime with roots in the 1960s civil rights struggle. The details made my stomach turn mostly because I know a lot of it is based in actual unsolved cases involving disappeared “negroes” and the whites who tried to help. A saga, but one I recommend.
Sycamore Row by John Grisham (2013) – When I saw this book on a best of 2013 list – a list that also included Donna Tartt and other authors whose novels tend not to become blockbuster movies – I decided to give it a read. I am glad that I did! Mr. Grisham is a master at plot and suspense. And, since I am a fan of the movie A Time To Kill, spending time with Jake Brigance years after the trial from that book, felt like a mini reunion. Get this for anyone you know loves to read, but for whom you don’t know what types of books they like. But, take my advice and before you gift Sycamore Row to someone else, read it yourself and enjoy the gift of time with a page-turning story.
Fear in the Sunlight by Nicola Upson - a fun mystery set in England just before Alfred Hitchcock goes to Hollywood. Josephine Tey has a friend who solves mysteries and they become embroiled in one in Portmerion. Fourth in the series of Tey mysteries.
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is not eat pray love. This is a SUPERB book of fiction that is among my picks for this year. Read it and enjoy a well-written piece of historical fiction that spans the globe and the life of an incredibly unique woman.
Solo: James Bond by William Boyd (2013) – It is Bond have fun.
The Devil’s Cave by Martin (Oct 2013) – Another fun entry in the Bruno Series.
The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood (October 1, 2013) – Part history lesson, part ode to sensation and sensuality, this well-crafted novel about food and flavor and savoring life tells the story of Jean-Marie d’Aumont, an orphaned aristocrat in the hours before the French Revolution. In his quest to taste all the world’s flavors, Jean-Marie will try anything once and the descriptions and consequences of his desires are often mouth watering, but almost more often, just macabre. Read it and think differently about food and desire.
Capital by John Lanchester – This book is brilliant. As you begin, you think it is a straightforward story about a disparate group of Londoners united only by the fact they all live on the same street – Pepys Road in London. And, it is true — the novel plots an intriguing story line. However, what sneaks up on you is the social commentary. Hopefully, without creating unfair images, or unintentionally offending anyone, you could think of the author as a male Jane Austen for modern times. How, could we compare him so? Well, mostly because Mr. Lanchester (an award-winning journalist and novelist) nails life in the 21st century and all its messes and glories – immigration, bank failures, the consumer culture, football, love, art, terrorism, dying, twitter, to name a few. Each chapter is a short two to three page look into the lives of people residing in one of the various houses on Pepys Road. The next chapter takes up the next household’s stories, and the next circles back again. In each chapter, each resident is reacting to their own unique life and the personalities that inhabit it, but also to the fact they are all receiving anonymous postcard pictures of their homes each marked with the ominous message — “We want what you have”. Each chapter is also a cliffhanger, often causing you to read on longer than your time, and your need for sleep, should allow. As the chapters stitch together, this book lingers long after the last page. Enjoy. I highly recommend this for anyone in the mood for a contemporary novel that offers insight without preaching, and laughter. ~ Lisa Christie
Lonesome Dove - Yes I finally read this Pulitzer Prize winning novel and while westerns are not my favorite genre, I enjoyed this saga of Augustus and his partners, enemies and friends.
The Hit by David Baldacci (2013) – Yes, another beach another Baldacci.
Bitter Almonds by Laurence Cosse (2011 in France 2013 in US) – A tale of friendship across age and ethnic barriers in contemporary Paris. Edith, a translator of English novels into French, learns that her elderly Morrocan housemaid Fadilia can not read or write and is horrified at the implications for Fadilia’s life in France. So she decides to tutor her. What evolves is a simple and moving friendship as this short novel unfolds.
The Monster of Florence by Magdalen Nabb (1996 in Italy, 2013 in US) – A Florence carabinieri – Marshal Guarnaccia – usually only deals with lost tourists and stolen handbags. However when assigned to a special task force to stop a serial killer, he finds himself aware the force is rigged and the real killer is not who they have arrested. A more subtle mystery with an intriguing hero.
Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant (2013) – Who knew the Pope and his court could be so scandalous! An engrossing historical fiction about Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgias of Spain) and the Italy of 1492. It has everything – sex, politics, religion, murder, affairs, sexually transmitted diseases, war.
It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris by Patricia Engel (August 2013) – I loved Ms. Engel’s debut – Vida – even though my book club thought it was a bit predictable as a coming of age story. I disagreed as it revealed a culture we don’t normally hear from in literature – Colombian- Americans and their Colombian relatives. Based on Vida, I was very excited to see she had another book on the shelves. And this novel is lovely. While reading it, you live in Paris with a group of 20-something children of wealthy parents who are in Paris for a variety of reasons – mostly because they do not know what to do next. We see the group and their male friends and senior benefactor/landlady through the eyes of Lita – a 20-something American girl born to Colombian immigrants to the US who have lived and succeeded in the American dream. What unfolds is a love story – of a man, a city and a time in one’s life when you can make all the wrong decisions and be mostly OK.
Cukoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (April 2013) – This is the book JK Rowling fans have been waiting for. Enjoy a mystery with a superb detective – a wounded Afghanistan war hero and his helper – a young girl searching for a career. In this installment, they poke fun at paparazzi, celebrity culture and murder.
Conspiracy of Faith by Adler-Olsen (2013) – The third in this series is as good as the others and I liked the others.
The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler Olsen – This introduction to this Danish detective and his office mates is just what you need in a summer read. Enjoy the distinctive characters, time spent in Copenhagen and a thriller.
Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma (2013) - I seem to be reading many books set in Africa of late and I am glad, as this trend led me to this novel. Unchangeable begins with “I’ve lost every book I’ve ever written.” The “I” is the book’s narrator, a writer, whose literary attempts began early in life. At age eight, in an airport terminal where he spent a lot of time hanging out with various airport vendors waiting for his airline “hostess” mother to return from flights, he wrote and promptly lost his first novel. He then proceeds to lose three other books: “a novel, a novella, and a biography,” in a variety of creative places – in a black lake, with a woman he has loved and lost, and in an African landfill. All three lost novels are his fictional accounts of true events involving the narrator, his friend Julian, a much more successful author, and Eve, the elusive actress the narrator loves. And in this novel, the “truth” of the narrative is truly stranger than the fiction. But, what actually is truth? Ultimately, that is the question the narrator confronts and examines in this intriguing novel by a strong “new-to-me” author – Mr. Jansma. I look forward to his next book.
Murder at the Lantern Rouge by Clara Black – Paris, fashionable woman detective, murders solved.
Benediction by Kent Haruf (March 2013) – With the quietness of his novels, Mr. Haruf tricks the reader into thinking nothing at all is happening. Then somewhere along the way you realize so much is going on. In Benediction, a man has mere weeks to live as his cancer advances, a daughter comes home to help, A son disappears, a girl comes to live with her grandma after a tragedy, a middle-aged woman lives with the choices her love life has offered and more… Through it all, you will enjoy the well thought out prose and your time in Mr. Haruf’s Holt, Colorado.
Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell (June 2013) – Summer and heat. Well apparently in 1976, London suffered more than most. That heat wave is the setting for a series of events in this wonderful book. The chain unfurls once a father of three grown children disappears, calling all the kids to rally around their mother. And well one disappearance leads to a secret unveiled which leads to a series of events that rapidly take over in the heat. Enjoy!
The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen (2012) – Now I have my go-to Scandanavian thriller author from Denmark – Mr. Morck. This allows me to recommend a thriller series from each of the Scandanavian countries – Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. Mr. Adler-Olsen has created a series based around a group of detectives in Copenhagen’s Department Q – headed by Detective Carl Morck. Dept. Q is in charge of unsolved cases, and as detectives in novels do, runs into resistance from other departments and from the Danes they investigate. In this installment, the group looks into the unsolved murder of a young brother and sister from two decades ago. In the process, they pursue Denmark’s ruling elite and a homeless woman who holds all the answers.
The Dark Winter by David Mark (2012) – I picked this up because summer this year has reminded me of summer in England – lots and lots of rain with days in between so gorgeous that they could break your heart. I was a bit Britian-missing and so when Publishers Weekly calls a book outstanding and the Guardian says an extremely promising debut and another review says the author writes with “frieghtening urgency as well as keenly conceived prose” I pay attention. This book intorduces a large Scot- Detective Seargent McAvoy – a man a bit out of place in a major crimes unit on England’s north east coast. Someone who looks completely terrifying, but is not. I am looking forward to the next installment of this series.
Ghost Man by Roger Hobbs (2013) – This first novel by a young American novelist is being reviewed with high marks by sources as diverse as The New York Times, Booklist, O magazine, and Kirkus Reviews. I picked it up when a Norwich Bookstore bookseller recommended it for a great summer thriller. That it is. I usually do not enjoy books about gambling or drug wars or drug deals gone awry. However the clean language choices, the level of detail about underworld dealings and the compassion with which Mr. Hobbs writes about the criminal elements in our midst grabbed me and keept me engaged until the very end.
Ten Things I have Learned about Love by Sarah Butler (15 July 2013) – A debut novel that is a lvoe letter to London – her descriptions will make you feel as if you are there, and to love itself. In it Alice, a wayward younugest daughter returns to London to care for her dying father with her two sisters. While home, her life unravels a bit. Daniel is a “tramp”, a homeless man, who stays only because of his strong desire to see the daughter he never knew. Together they learn how to lay their demons to rest.
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (27 August 2013) – I think this installment is my favorite Inspector Armand Gamache mystery yet. In this book, the Christmas holiday season is darkened by the murder of a woman in her home and the mysterious suicide of a Canadian Civil Servant under a bridge. The murdered woamn has ties to Twin Pines, the entire police force is gathered to crush Gamache and the demons of the terribel shoot out from three books ago are still plaguing key characters. And yes, in it, all the loose ends from previous books are tied up. I hope this does not mean the end of the series. But if it does, I am happy to have found and enjoyed Ms. Penny’s prose for more than a decade.
Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld (25 June 2013) – As a fan of Prep and American Wife, I was excited to see a new novel by Ms. Sittenfeld. In this outing she looks at Twins with the power to predict the future and see secrets. Each of the sisters uses this power differently – Kate rejects and hides it, Vi embraces it and become a medium. They both end up in St. Louis and a public premonition unleashes a series of events that force them to reconcile their “gift” with their respective lives. A great American novel…? Well, I would classify this as a good beach read or a great book club pick.
Blow-up and other stories by Julio (1967) – An interesting collection of short stories by an Argentian novelist. Somehow their well-written, unique plots and slightly dark tenor reminded me of Stephen King. I like to think Mr. King read these as a teen and was inspired.
Leaving Everything Most Loved: Maisie Dobbs novel by Jacqueline Winspear (2013) – I continue to be a bit annoyed by Ms. Dobb’s need to analyze her entire life all the time. However this trait did not bother me as much in this latest book as it did in a previous installment of this very good survey. Bottom line – I like these books, and most likely my need for more action less analysis reflects feelings about my own life more than the book.
Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason – Second in this series of Icelandic Mysteries. In this one a secret from WWII and the stationing of British and American troops on Iceland comes to light when a skeleton is found near a Rekivek Subdivision. A good change to the popular Scandanavian thrillers.
xxx by Steve Berry (June 2013) – Mr. Berry is my go-to stuck in an airport author. He provides mind candy that teaches me a bit about history. This time Elizabeth I. Could be a great read as you wait for the new British Royal to be born.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (2013) – This engrossing, entertaining story follows a group of friends from the moment they meet at summer camp, through how they somehow stay together as they go to separate colleges, get married – sometimes to each other, try to live in New York City on entry-level salaries, find and lose success, become parents, face an assortment of crisis points and well, just live their lives. Told from the perspective of Jules Jacobson, a girl from the suburbs who infiltrates a group of sophisticated young Manhattanites when sent to their camp on a scholarship, this novel is populated by complex, and well “interesting” characters who come together and apart as their lives and their interpretations of New York City change. In fact, “the City” itself is a character changing as mayors come and go, crime increases/decreases, AIDS epidemic enters, finances collapse and twin towers fall.
Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith (2013) – The power of stories, the power of trains to make strangers friends, and the power of love come together in this brief gem of a book. Four strangers sit next to each other on a train from Edinburgh to London: a female and three males. Two are young (20s), two older (let’s say past 40). One opens up with a story of why they are on the train – a new job, but tied to a girl, the others follow with their own stories (of their parents’ lives in the Australian Outback, of forbidden love of their youth, of the importance of trust in a relationship). By the time they part in London, you know something about each from their stories and their reactions to the stories of the others. You also know a bit more about yourself.
Ghana Must Go by Talye Selasi (2013) – An incredibly memorable modern tale of a family – The Sais. Their story and this novel, begins in Africa, and follows how their subsequent pursuit of the American dream shapes their lives. Page one starts with the sudden death of the main character – Kweku Sai, an incredible surgeon, but failed father and husband. The story then unfolds backwards and forwards through the eyes and voices of his first wife and their four children. It all hinges on Kweku’s reaction to a failure endured in his pursuit of his American dream. His response shatters his family, yet also makes them all uniquely themselves. This is a truly global tale — enjoy the time this book spends in Boston, Accra, Lagos, London, and New York. It is also truly beautifully written. So much so that I slowed my reading to make it last a bit longer. I loved this debut and are already looking forward to this writer’s next work.
The Nightmare by Lars Kepler (2013) – A new to me Scandanavian thriller, but I picked this one up and it kept my attention. Loved the character of Joona the Finnish detective in Stockholm. And was a bit frightened by the premise – one man controls arms to Africans.
Letters from Skye (July 2013) – Another story told in letter form. This time about a poet on the Isle of Skye and a young American fan who becomes her pen pal as WWI unfolds. We then skip a generation and watch another set of letters between two young lovers as WWII begins. The relationship? You must read to discover.
love water memory by Jennie Shortridge (April 2013) — A woman dives into SF Bay and stands until she can no longer feel her legs from the cold. Turns out she has lost her memory due to a rare condition. Her fiance finds her and brings her back to Seattle where she discovers she does not much like the person she apparently was before her escape to San Francisco, and realizes a childhood trauma must be uncovered for her to truly move on. The pacing is right and you will enjoy a trip into what it must be like to receive a blank slate in your life.
The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys (2002) – My search for a good British Edwardian novel continues and the other Lisa in this blog and our town’s children’s librarian both put this book in my hands. While I sometimes disagree with their indiviudal recommendations, when they both say you must read this book, I trust that wholeheartedly. And they were right – I love this book. You would think authors had run out of ways to tell WWI and WWII stories and then a book like this proves you wrong. Its slimness masks profound musings on writing, love and life. Pick it up and enjoy your time in the gardens of a British estate taken over in war time to be a garden for the war effort with the girls sent there to tend is and a group of Canadians waiting to be sent to battle.
Death in the Vines by ML Longworth (June 2013) – An escape to Provence with a mystery to be solved and fine policemen and their Lawyer friends to do it. Would be a good “Beach” read, so take it on your vacations this summer.
The Dinner by Herman Koch (2012) – This page-turner kept me up all night as I raced to finish it. Now it will keep me up for many nights going forward as I think about the disturbing traits and situations it unearths. Amidst the dark, dark satire are very uncomfortable truths; it is these and to be honest – the entire premise – that left me slightly reeling when I finished. (Of course it could be the lack of sleep reading this caused.) I can’t say any more because revealing any plot items would be unfair to any future readers. But note, this would be a GREAT book club book because you are going to need to talk with someone about it. Plus, it is a quick read – a bonus when cramming for book club discussions.
Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer (2012) – This slim book is amazing. It is heartbreaking, passionate, illustrates the power of words and books and friendships and love. The writing dazzles, the plot emerges, the investment in the characters is powerful. Because it is based upon Flannery O’Connel and Robert Lowell, I now want to read everything they ever wrote. A great book for anyone who has ever cared deeply for the wrong person. And, in ways that will become clear as you read this, it could be the perfect book to read during lent.
The Associate by John Grisham (2009) – Another Grisham that truly will be a better movie than book, but that kept me entertained while stuck at home with sick children. And I must admit that he knows how to plot a book. In this one, an idealistic law student (does Grisham know any other kind?) is blackmailed into taking a jpb with a large NYC law firm to spy during a huge legal tussle over defense contracts.
The VIG(1990), Dead Irish (1989), The 13th Juror (1994), by John Lescroart () - Perfect escapes while suffering from stomach flu. Yet another mystery solved by Dismas Hardy, that allows you to travel the streets of San Francisco.
Snobbery with Violence by MC Beaton (2013) – I have been searching for a good Edwardian England read to make up for the fact I have not found time for Downton Abbey. This was close, but not as great as I wanted it to be. In it, Lady Rose Summer’s father wants to know if her suitor’s intentions are honorable. He calls on Captain Harry Cathcart, the impoverished younger son of a baron, to do some intelligence work on the would-be fiancee, Sir Geoffrey Blandon. Of course the fiance is a cad and the house party that follows involves murder and the professional pairing of Rose and Harry. Again, fine, but not what I was hoping for. The search continues.
The Woman from Paris by Santa Montefiore (2013) – I picked this up as it was blurbed by the creator of Downton Abbey and I was in the mood to spend some time with some Brits. While I enjoyed the characters and the plot was interesting, Ms. Montefiore put in way too many pithy Hallmark card like sayings for me to truly enjoy this novel. I was especially disappointing as without those preachy moments, this would have been a very enjoyable read – her characters are compelling the setting was fun etc…
The Golden Egg by Donna Leon (April 2013) – Thank goodness it is time for another Commissario Bruno mystery. Thank Sarah Taylor for introducing me to this series years ago. For those who love the series – this is a great installment. For those who have not read her Bruno novels, please start soon. Enjoy the pictures of Venice, the life of an admirable man and the intrigue madoern life brings to this ancient city.
Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell (Feb 2013) – Having a house full of flu victims put me in the mood for a page turner that did not require a lot of my brain, but did not insult my intelligence too much. I think I found it in this saga of Queen Emma wife of King Athelred of England (married him in 1002). Although the book is in many aspects a soap opera, I know little about this age of British history and enjoyed learning a bit more. I also found myself wanting to know more about Queen Emma. Since this book is first in a trilogy, it looks as if I will get my wish.
Truth in Advertising by John Kenney (Jan 2013) – Funny, observant, wry, thoughtful, insightful, not preachy, modern. I suppose I should have expected nothing less than being able to use these adjectives about a book written by a New Yorker contributor. That said, this book was just what I needed – a funny, unique coming of age story about a 40 year old man (yes, it took him awhile) making a living, but not a life, as a NYC ad man.
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein – I missed this when I was a kid, but have enjoyed reading it aloud with my youngest son. The chapters each end with a cliff-hanger and the adventures offer, humor, companionship and death-defying escapades.
The Confidant by Helene Gremillon (2012) – Lisa Cadow recommended I pick this up and once I did, I read it in one fell swoop. Now I need to read a happier book, a book about people whose decisions are not motivated by revenge. But if you are looking for a psychological thriller, look no further.
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (2012) – I am probably the only person who has read this novel who enjoyed the plot line about ignorant stereotyping of Southerners more than the messages about environmentalism and global warming or women’s consciousness raising. While, for me, this is not the best book by Ms. Kingsolver, I am glad I read it.
God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Marla Frazee (2013) – This collection is going to be my go to gift for awhile. Hilarious illustrations accompany poems about God and what she/he does every day.
Looking for The Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco (2012). Each of the poems in this latest book of poetry by Inaugural poet Richard Blanco takes a particular part of the author’s childhood (i.e., a beach vacation) and uses it to explore the person he is today. As the poems reveal, Cuban-American, gay man, poet, New Englander, Florida born and bred, are all possible adjectives for Mr. Blanco. But labels don’t quite capture the entirety of a person. As the poet himself states that in this book, “I am looking to capture those elusive moments that come to define us, be it through family, country, or love.“ This looking is no small task, and one, as these poems remind us, that it seems each of us, poet or not, tackles in our own way throughout our life.
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett – (2013) LOVED THIS selection of essays.
The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist (2011) – A great entry into thinking about how you interact with money and how it interacts with your life.
Women Food and God by Roth – Basically, forgive your mistakes as you would other’s, eat good food and your weight will right itself.
My Venice and Other Essays by Donna Leon (Dec 2013) – A great collection of essays about Italy and life from a great mystery writer.
This Town This depressed me as I am so sad this is the way Washington Politics works. But this book is fascinating in a guilty People magazine gossip way about the culture our nation’s leaders live in/create.
Provence 1970 — OK I learned a lot about food, food culture, restaurants, France, and James Beard, Julia Childs, MFK Fisher and the 1970s. Part gossip, part food blog, part commentary, enjoy this journey through American food.
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran — This book by the British comedian had my cousin in stitches at a recent beach vacation. She seriously was laughing so hard she cried just from the blurb on the back of the book and then randomly picking up and reading a page or two in different chapters. I finally read it after recommendation from Lisa Cadow and our friend Cindy Pierce. I am SO SO SO glad I did. A very superb way to think about feminism and life.
If it’s Not One Thing It’s Your Mother by Julia Sweeney (May 2013) – I loved this book. I loved her humor, her chapters on adopting a girl from China and being a single mom are superb and her chapter on abortion should be read by EVERYONE on all sides of this issue – but especially policy makers. read this and then go hear the former SNL star Ms. Sweeney in this summers Monster’s University.
More Baths Less Talking by Nick Hornsby (2012) – A collection of his columns for Beliver Magazine that chronicle books he has purchased and those he has actually read or lost in the stack on his nightstand or desk during tha previous month. As expected, he is insightful and irreverent. For example, in one essay, he subtley pokes fun at the “buisnessmen: who sit next to him on airplanes and tell him – a novelist – that they don’t read fiction because they “want to learn something they don’t already know”. But, by the end he wants to be one of them based soley on the power of his reading and loving The Immortal Life of Henrietta Sacks. The columns also offer a great reading list for any reader. This book can be read all at once (as I did in order to finish in time for this post) or sampled one at a time over days or months or years.
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (1999) – I have resisted reading this book as I tend to dismiss new agey books. But it is required reading for a class and maybe I needed to some new age thought more than I knew. But honestly, I am struggling with this book. It feels paternalistic and self important somehow. Sorry Oprah.
Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamont (2013) – My mother-in-law gave this to me for Mother’s Day not knowing that I am a fan of Ms. Lamont. This latest book offers a concise set of essays about the three prayers she vows are all you ever need – Help, Thanks and Wow.
The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron – A series of lectures by this reknowned Buddist were a perfect thing to read before bed this past month.
North of Hope by Shannon Huffman Polson (2013) – This memoir describes the author’s process of grieving when her father and step-mother are killed by Grizzly Bears in the Alaskan Artic. It follows the retracing of their journey she undergoes with a brother and his friend, her singing of Mozart’s Requiem as a way to offer structure to her grieving (and structure to this memoir), and her life as she deals with this amazing and unique event.
The Hare with Amber Eyes - A memorable book about the importance of objects in our lives. In this case the narrator traces some prized nemutche from Japan and their importance to his family. This journey takes him through the Holocaust, Austria, Paris, modern day England, Japan. His narrative style is unique as he attempts to distance himself from the material; this made it hard going for a few friends who have read it. For me, once I accepted the style, I was fine and learned a lot. The book led to an interesting book club discussion as well.
End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David Kessler – I liked this doctors approach to why people are overweight. The lack of preaching, the message that there are just people who need help with eating well was calming in the midst of this American epidemic. He does not let people off the hook, he gives them tools for their mind to handle their body’s unhealthy cravings. That just seems like the missing piece in so many healthy eating plans/diets.
Accidental Branding by Vinjamuri (2012) – A friend pointed me to this author’s work with Forbes magazine on libraries and the publishing industry so I picked-up this set of case studies of people who created well-known brands. If you are looking to grow a business these might inspire you.
Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (2004) – This review focuses on the audio version of this book for which our President won a Grammy. (Side note: President Obama and his producer also won one for The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.) I am truly glad that I finally found the time to listen. Not only was it fun to have his voice in my minivan as I drove over our snow-covered roads, it was enlightening and thought-provoking to hear how his childhood, his absent father, his step-father, his mother, his grandparents, as well as important teachers, shaped President Obama’s life. It may serve as a good reminder that you never know who you will be influencing with your own actions. It may inspire you in its telling of an American story. But, it is definitely a source of insight into our 44th President as he takes the oath of office for the fourth time today.
Children and Young Adult
Living with Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles (Dec 2013) – This basically is a tale of an unwanted teen pregnancy told from the point of view of the teenage boy. But it is also basically a tale of the AA mantra - accepting the things you can’t change, changing the things you can and possibly most importantly learning to tell the difference. It is also very well-written (I stayed up most of the night to finish), nothing is black and white and the characters – the karate teaching uncle and his girlfriend, the girl in the building, and the narrator all make you care. Please read this with your favorite teen and use it as a way to discuss a multitude of teenage things (including not living your life through texting or waiting for the guy to text or college acceptance letters or…).
The Treasure Chest Book 2: Alexander Hamilton: Little Lion and Book 4 Houdini by Ann Hood (2012) – I would call this series a great pick for Magic Tree House fans who are ready for the next step up in Chapter Books. In this series twins, whose parents have just divorced discover a magic room in a Newport Mansion their family used to own. The items in the room transport them back in time where they need to help a historical figure before they are allowed to return home.
The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen (Feb 2014) – The final installment of this trilogy wraps things up nicely for all.
Foul Trouble by John Feinstein (Nov 2013) – Another great outing from Mr. Feinstein. This one is not a mystery, but is about the corruption in college basketball. He has an ax to grind, but does so in a good story. Could be a great way to engage your favorite sports fan in a conversation about abuse and trust and doing the right thing.
Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan (Oct 2013) – this suffers slightly from second book in a trilogy syndrome – nothing new and nothing resolved. But the characters remain strong and you care about the fate of Sorry in the Vale. Love the narrator – Kami – a smart, caring, and funny heroine.
Allegiant by Veronica Roth (October 2013) – A satisfying conclusion to a trilogy. I liked the not pat ending. I admit I had a hard time distinguishing the voices of her two narrators – Four and Tris, but maybe that was on purpose as they are both abnegation members who chose dauntless, but I am certain no other fan will care. A good series for your favorite middle grade reader.
Heaven is Paved with Oreos by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Sept 2013) – Sarah a middle schooler living in the Midwest has a problem, her “boyfriend” Curtis breaks up with her even though they are not going out, a girl in school torments her a bit, and she is waiting for a dead calf to decompose in time for the science fair. Her grandmother Z comes to the rescue with a trip to Rome. However Z is not entirely honest about why this trip is important. Written as a journal this book explores first love, family and wanting more than your hometown offers. best of all DJ from Dairy Queen is a part of Sarah’s life.
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (September 2013) – I am not sure how this award winning author of Code Name Verity endured the research for this book. She must have just kept thinking it was so much worse for all the prisoners. But in this book, the best selling author of Code Name Verity takes on the German concentration camps, specifically Ravensbruck, where her heroine Rose, an American ATA pilot, has ended up after being overtaken in the sky by two German fighter planes/pilots. What happens to her there is unthinkable, what she witnesses is worse. But somehow, while this book caused me to sob quietly often and sustainably at the end, the message is one of hope and survival and witnessing so that the horrible, horrible things that happened in Ravensbruck and other camps, never happen again. May all world leaders read this and govern accordingly. But in the meantime, get this book in the hands of your favorite future world leader and yourself. (And yes, a few characters from Code Name Verity play a part, but mostly this is Rose’s story and that of her fellow prisoners.)
A Most Dangerous Deception by Sarah Zettel (November 2013) – What would you do if you were cast out on to the streets of London by an angry uncle and your only options were to marry the man who attacked you or to call on a stranger who claims he knows you long dead Mother? And what by saving you if this stranger places you in the court of King George I as an imposter of a recently dead lady in waiting in his court? What if you then discover she was murdered and that espionage is your only hope of survival? The answers to all these questions lie in this engrossing book – the first in a trilogy with a perfect young heroine, who for a change in the young adult genre is not saving a dystopian world, but instead is grounded firmly in the world’s past.
Unbreakable The Legion Book One by Kami Garcia (October 2013) – Fans of Insurgent, Beautiful Creatures, Hunger Games will like this new series by the co-author of Beautiful Creatures. In it teens with the ability to see paranormal activity are the only thing that can save the world.
The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider (2013) – A great way to discuss fate and choices. Plus, this has one of the most memorable opening chapter events of any book I have ever read. If you continue past chapter one you will: 1) Get to know Ezra – the golden boy of his high school until a car accident ends his star tennis career. 2) get to know Toby a boy ostracized by his classmates ever since being the innocent victim of the horrific event in Chapter One. 3) Meet Cassidy – the new girl in town with a huge secret that sets her apart. 4) Start to believe Ezra is right – everyone has a tragedy waiting for them – a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen.
The Crossing by Levin (2013) — George Washington and Trenton – the battle that saved the American Revolution told through great illustrations/maps and Washington’s own words combined with the authors’. My 10 year old son loved this.
Code Name Verity by Wein (2012) – OK I lost sleep on this one. I could not put it down. It has women heroines, WWII history, a glimpse into life in England and France, spies, Nazis…. Pick it up and be prepared to lose a day to reading.
Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (June 2013) – Fans of Little House series are going to love this tale of Bo – an orphan adopted by two tough miners in 1920 Alaska. The illustrations perfectly show her exuberance and the variety of characters who inhabit a hard scrabble mining town in the Alaskan Bush. The prose is delightful and fun as readers learn about mining camps, the hazards of Grizzlies, fourth of July celebrations and how Eskimos, Swedes, Finns, Russians, Creoles and others all mix together to form a town and extended families.
Beautiful Creatures by Garcia and Stohl (2009) – A gothic romance series for teens. Lena Duchannes arrives in Gatlin, South Carolina making a statement with her clothes and the fact she lives with her extremely eccentric uncle (think To Kill A Mockingbird’s Boo Radley). She also is dreading her 16th birthday for a variety of reasons. Ethan Wate, born and bred in Gatlin, is from a family so established he does not have to worry about fitting in, he worries about getting out. When they discover the voices they have been hearing in their respective heads are each others, a connection is formed and they work to change Lena’s fate. Bonus — if you like this book, there are many others in this series.
Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth (2011) – I finally got around to reading this young adult series because my niece had it at the beach. And while it is impossible to read this without thinking about The Hunger Games, or as my sister said without reading it while simultaneously casting the movie in your head, anyone who misses the novelty of the Hunger Games will love this dystopian series and its heroine Beatrice and her friends Will, Christina and Tobias.
The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech (August 2013) – The only thing I did not like about this book is that I can’t figure out who I would sell it to. It really seems best for adults thinking about fostering or adopting a child or parents rethinking their parenting styles. Kids??? not so sure.
The Apprentices by Maile Meloy (June 2013) – This second installment in Ms. Meloy’s Apothecary series takes up where book one left off, with Jane, Benjamin and Pip all going their separate ways. Pip to starring in a BBC production and becoming a television star, Jane back in the USA with her parents attending boarding school in NH, and Benjamin with his apothecary father trying to contain the atom bomb, but temporarily stalled heloping people wounded in the conflicts in Asia in the early 1950s. What this book does well – bring Cold War and post WWII history to life, and create characters readers care about. Pre-teen readers will also like the teen romance complications that occur as the trio reunites to stop evil from taking over the world.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013) – Set during one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits – both from he wrong side of the tracks and smart enough to know that first love rarely, if ever, lasts, but willing to try anyway. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own high school years, riding the school bus, any time you tried to fit in while figuring out who you were and your first love. I truly believe that when the book ends you will think hard about children from the “other side of the tracks” and from family situations that are less than ideal.
Twerp by Mark Goldblatt (May 28, 2013) – Julian is not a bully. He just made a very stupid decision that ended up hurting a kid. Set in 1960s Queens NY, this book explores the importance of belonging and of finding your own voice, and ultimately how hard it is to do the right thing when everyone else wants you to do something else. Told through a journal Julian keeps for his English teacher in order to get out of reading Julius Cesar, Julian’s voice will entertain as the story of forming his sixth grade “gang” of buddies, the devastation “liking” girls can wrought, and how hard it is to make new friends unfolds. Would be a great book to read with younger kids in your life (8-12), or for a parent child book clubs.
Romeo Blue by Phoebe Stone (June 2013) – The sequel to Romeo and Juliet Code does not disappoint. In this round, Flissy has been in Maine for almost two years, with no word from her parents. She still wonders what will happen with her uncle’s teen ward – Derek, she still is struggling with having parents and uncles and grandmothers who are spies. She also discovers many people in Maine have an interest in her family’s activities. All of this is further complicated when Derek’s birth father appears to take him away. Enjoy a great heroine and an unique take on WWII in the USA.
Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone (2011) – I am always predisposed to like books for kids that involve Shakespeare and this one did not disappoint. Although I HATE the cover and feel it makes one think you are getting ready to read a teen romance, I really liked this book. In it, a 12 year old London girl – Flissy Budwig – is dropped off in Maine during WWII by her parents to live with her estarnaged relatives while her parents return to Europe. Turns out they are actually spies and have been sent to save children and others in Germany and Spain. The story shows what she learns and how family changes over time.
Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum (28 May 2013) – I really need to remember to look to the PEN/Bellwether prize winners for socially engaged fiction whenever I need a good plot with great writing. Alternating chapters and narrative voices, this latest winner uses looks at a “home” for kids with disabilities and their caregivers. Throughout, you see what their daily life consists of, you also see their dreams and relationships blossom and fall apart and reconstruct. The author use wry wit and humor to create memorable characters who live on in your head long after you finish reading the last page. Billed as a young adult novel, adults will love it too.
Hold Fast by Blue Balliett (2013) – The Danger Box is one of my FAVORITE kids books of all time, so I was excited Ms. Balliett had a new book. In this outing, Ms. Balliett takes her title from a Langston Hughes poem, and crafts a story of homelessness, family, and the love of words and books. Specifically, Early Pearl holds fast, in the words of Hughes, to her family’s dream of a home of their own after her father disappears, their apartment is ransacked, and she and her little brother and mother must move to a shelter.My only problem with this book, you can tell the author wanted to write a book about homelessness and created a story for that topic. So, to me, at times it feels a bit forced. But a story about homelessness is important and this one is good. Her characters are warm and full. Her setting memorable and the lessons about books and helping people priceless.
The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu – I am alsways up for another kid book that uses mythology, so I picked this one up. I think readers will enjoy the teen protagonists Zee and Charlotte as they take on Hades and well actually enemies of Hades.
Peter and the Star Catchers by Dave Barry – audio version read by Jim Dale of Harry Potter narration fame. My boys love the pirates, the potty humor the mischief and the treasure story. I loved the narrator.
Wonder (2012) – This book just made the DCF list for 2013-14 and I see why. A superb, compassionate and often very very funny book about differences and life of middle schoolers.
The Jaguar Stones, End of the World Club Book Two by Jon and Pam Voelkel – audio version. The audio version of this series have hooked my eldest son. He now prefers listening to this to Hockey pump up music now on rides to games.
A Hen for Izzy Pippik by Aubrey Davis and Marie LaFrance (March 2012)- An old-fashioned fable, based upon Jewish and Islamic folklore, about being rewarded for doing the right thing even when the world is pressuring you to act differently. Since the setting is a village facing hard economic times, many of the villagers arguments and situations might ring true for many readers.
Squeak, Rumble, Whomp !Whomp! Whomp!: A Sonic Adventure by Wynton Marsalis and Paul Rogers (Oct. 2012) – The music of everyday items truly sings on every page in this funly (Yes, we are making up words in honor of Dr. Seuss too with this post.) illustrated book.
Oliver by Birgitta Sit (Oct. 2012) – This almost sparsely illustrated book shows you a boy who is a little bit different and slightly lonely. Along the way you see his adventures, his discovery that he is pretty OK. And then, you smile as he embarks on the greatest adventure of all – friendship.
Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein (Sept. 2012) – A gorgeously illustrated book shows the power of a smile to charm. It also demonstrates in a silly manner how interconnected the world is today.
Grumpy Goat by Brett Helquist (Jan. 2013) – Yes, this goat is cranky, he’s hungry, and he’s never had a friend. But, humorous illustrations show the power of positive thinking when growing something and making friends.
Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey (2006) – This Pulitizer Prize winning volume of poems was my introduction to our Poet Laureate. An introduction that led me to her book of prose and poetry – Beyond Katrina and her latest poems Thrall. In Native Guard I found a moving testimony to the complications of life in “The South” and of being bi-racial. Her words are perfect and her willingness to tackle the personal so publicly inspiring and fearless.
Sound of Broken Glass by Crombie (2013) – This is the first mystery by Crombie that I have read and I will now seek out previous works about her characters – Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. In this book, a murder from the past combines with a powerful danger in the present. In this novel, Duncan Kincaid has become a stay at home dad and Detective Inspector James partners with Detective Inspector Melody Talbot to solve the murder of an esteemed barrister that leads to London’s music scene, past wrongs among teens and navigating personal crisises. The Sound of Broken Glass is an engaging page-turner. A perfect vacation mystery.
Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (2012) – I am not sure how others feel about Oprah’s book picks, but if having her pick a book for her book club turns you away, please ignore her stamp of approval on this beautiful and devasting debut novel by Ms. Mathis. The Twelve Tribes follows Hattie Shepherd, a migrant from Georgia to Philadelphia, as she searches and hopes for a better life. Instead, she marries young to the wrong man; and the novel begins as their firstborn twins succumb to an illness money could have easily prevented. She then gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with tough love and not an ounce of tenderness they crave from her. Subsequent chapters follow some of her children as they make their way in the world with the knowledge she has bestowed upon them. This novel uses the stories of Hattie as a window to the Great Migration and how it shaped the American dream. It will leave you with a good story to ponder. ~ Lisa Christie
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (2012) – This short novel was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. My theory as to why is that Ms. Levy manages to pack a lot into a few pages, short chapters, well chosen words and well placed pauses in action. The story looks at love and secrets as two families combine their summer holiday into one villa in the hills above Nice. The action begins with a naked (but live and uninvited) body unexpectedly floating in the villa’s pool. But truly, the action began years earlier when the five people on holiday started keeping secrets from each other and from themselves. A perfect quick read for those of you who would like a well-told, well-written story that makes you think. ~ Lisa Christie
Hologram for a King by Dave Eggers (2012) – While I have never seen or read Death of a Salesman, what little I know of its storyline reminded me of this National Book Award nominee. With this version, a middle aged salesman on the decline (divorced, failed at saving Schwinn Bicycles, collectors at his door), is a “consultant” on a sales pitch in Saudi Arabia because he once knew the King’s nephew. Set among a group of 20 somethings, he is supposed to pull the whole pitch off. I think Willy Loman just met the middle east.
Marsaille Caper by Peter Mayle (2012) – Another light romp through France with Mr. Mayle – that most famous relocated Englishman.
The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler (2013) – I realized reading this how little I know about Eastern Europe after WWII, the communist revolution and exodus, Canadian immigration patterns, or Montreal. I am grateful Ms. Richler’s well-told tale enlightened me. The Imposter Bride follows a woman traveling under another’s identity as she leaves WWII Europe behind for Palestine and Montreal. The real story emerges from the destruction she unknowingly leaves in her wake.
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (2007) – This little book follows the Queen as she discovers, for the first time, the joys and sorrows of reading, and along the way, it reminds the reader of these as well.
The Art Forger by Shapiro (2012) – The most famous unsolved art theft ever, betrayal, bad judgement, insiders perspectives into the world of artists, collectors, galleries and museums, some historical speculating. This book has it all. ENJOY!
The Life of Objects by Susanna Moore (2012) - What appears a simple story of an Irish girl working for a wealthy family is actually a unique view of life in Germany during WWII. The descriptions of daily living and ultimately the fight for survival are as powerful as the tales of self deception so many people lived with as so many suffered.
The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (2012) – Once again Ms. Penny planted me firmly in her continuing tale of Inspector Gamanche and his team of investigators. This time they inhabit a monastery where a monk has been murdered. And one of the most thought provoking stories I’ve read in awhile emerged on the final page – a Montagnais tale (Native Canadians) of two wolves inside of a man: one wolf wants the man to be courageous patient and kind, one wants the man to be fearful and cruel. The one the man feeds wins.
The Writing on the Wall by WD Wetherell (2012) - Three different women from three different eras inhabit a house in Northern New England. Each is trying to deal with the hand life has recently dealt them. Along the way the latter two residents discover the stories of the woman(en) who came before them. A gem of a book that truly shows the power of words and stories. Please read this book.
Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel – According to the author, this gorgeous graphic novel was born of a mid life crisis. What results is the tale of a man lured by the siren call of another woman and the results of his torment. It has a bit of everything – Hudson River history, authentic steamship workings, love stories, gorgeous illustrations. Would make a great holiday gift.
The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon (September 2012) – I spent most of this novel missing her Commissario, but the descriptions of Venice are lovely as always.
Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling (Sept 2012)
The Vig by Lescroart (1997) – I was at the beach so I had to read a mystery and I found one by Lescroart that I had not yet read. In this one I learned how Dismas Hardy wed his second wife and how he left bar tending to return to a life of law. Always reliable and extremely fun for fans of San Francisco as that city is one of the major characters in these mysteries.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters (2012) – My favorite novel from this summer. Just when I thought I had anticipated all the possibilities of this book, the author slips in a surprise. Please read and enjoy this well-written tale. It has romance, gorgeous scenery, intelligence, all interwoven in a tale of the lives, loves, choices, and losses of a cast of characters as diverse as an Italian hotel owner living in a town on the Italian coast so small Cinque Terra doesn’t claim it, a lovely American actress, Richard Burton and Liz Taylor and their filming of Cleopatra, a few young men overcoming addictions, and a modern day woman trying to figure out when her life will begin and so many more (you will not be bored and somewhere in there you will relate to someone). The story jumps from 1962 to today and back again and back again, each time unveiling another layer of connections and dreams. A tale that ultimately shows so well that your life emerges from your choices. When you finish, the characters and scenery will remain long after that last page ends.
The Submission by Amy Waldman (2011) – I am so glad I read this book; it honestly has me thinking more than any book I have read in awhile. The plot – a jury chooses the final design for the 9-11 memorial only to find out that it was submitted by a Muslim. The reactions to this selection of the jurors, the public a reporter and the architect who submitted the design intermingle with politics, prejudices, emotions and thoughts about art. Somehow this seems like an appropriate book to read in September.
The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker (August 2012) - This latest Bruno, Chief of Police novel may be the best yet. I love this series and its depiction of the French Countryside. In this installment, Bruno must learn to work with the new magistrate – a young woman whose need to prove herself outpaces her experience. Here, Bruno and the magistrate find themselves on opposite sides of PETA protests against foie gras, a staple of the local economy. A simultaneous problem with Basque terroists brings back Bruno’s former flame and a whole new set of problems for the town. Add in some information about our species origins from a discovery at an archeological dig and you will find your self learning while being entertained by this gifted writer of thrillers. Enjoy!
Gone Girl (2012)
Taft 2012 by Jason Heller (2012)– The perfect candidate in 2012 is William Howard Taft? This author plays with the premise of what would happen if Taft returned after a hundred year slumber and was embraced by the disenfranchised factions of the Republican and Democratic parties. A good read for those of you tired of the actual 2012 presidential candidates or in the need for new fodder for your political conversations this fall.
Monument to Murder by Maragaret Truman (2011) – perfect airplane read for anyone interested in politics and thrillers. Not to heavy installment in this well written, fun series.
Tiny Sunbirds Far Away by Christie Watson (2010). Loved this well written thoughtful book about a family, in particular a girl named blessing, and how they navigate tradegy,changer and civil war inNigeria,with stories and love.
In the Sea there are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda (2011) Loved this short book about an afghan refugee and the countrie he must cross and what he must do to survive and achieve political asylum. The fact he was ten when his journey began and he did it all alone makes the reading truly incredible. I also enjoyed the exchanges between the boy and the novelist writing his story that are injected throughout.
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo anothergreat thriller from nesbo. I enjoy spending time with his detective Harry Hoe, and living in Norway briefly for the duration of each book.
The Expats by Chris Pavone (2012) – This novel brings together issues faced by Ex-Pats, overworked bankers, Ex-spies and stay at home moms. Our heroine – Kate Moore – leaves her life in the CIA to follow her husband’s job to Luxemborg. At first all is well – she begins to reinvent herself as an expat and stay at home mom, but then a mysterious couple insinuates their way into the Moore’s family life and Kate can’t turn off the CIA part of her brain. Are they after her because of her past or her husband because he is definitely up to something? A good beach read for those of us needing to live abroad – even if only in the pages of a book.
Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (2010) – Another thriller by Iceland’s premiere mystery writer – yes they have more than one. In this one, Thora, the heroine lawyer is juggling her two kids her son’s live in girlfriend and their young son, and of course a client who has neither committed a recent murder or four in the past when a volcano erupted and disrupted everything – including solving crimes. Or has he?
The Fallen Angels by Daniel Silva (2012) — Continuing with my recent string of thrillers I finally picked up a novel by the best-selling Silva. This one is another book in which Silva’s creation – Gabriel Allon–art restorer, spy, and assassin–returns to solve a crime for an old friend — second in command in the Vatican. Art theft, old enemies and the fate of Israel, and ultimately the world all have something to do with the plot.
The Watchers by Jon Steele (2012) – I am still not sure what I think of this thriller. I loved the main detectiveman, the damsel in distress, the man in the tower, the Swiss setting. But the supernatural ending left me a bit cold. Well written, interesting but…
The Postmortal by Drew Magary (2011) – A look at the world after a cure for aging is discovered – basically chaos and actual death squads. This, while not the best written book, is told with wit and raises some good questions. Could make an interesting Book Club discussion, and I honestly think would have been better as a great short story.
The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart (August 2012) – As with Ms. Stuart’s previous book – The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise - quirky and oh-so British characters drive the plot of this novel. In Pigeon Pie, Princess Alexandrina is left homeless and penniless by the sudden death of her father, the Maharaja of Brindor. Luckily, there are grace-and-favor homes in Hampton Court Palace for downtrodden royalty and Queen Victoria offers one to the Princess. Though the Palace is rumored to be haunted, initially all is well — the princess is befriended by three eccentric widows, the dampness of the quarters can be born and they have a roof overhead. Life gets complicated when Pooki bakes a pigeon pie for a picnic and the insufferble General-Major Bagshot dies after eating a piece or two or three. When the coroner finds traces of arsenic in his body, Pooki becomes the #1 suspect. However, the Princess is not going to lose her servant and discoveries and encounters abound.
The Camel Club by David Baldaccio (September 2006) – I consider Mr. Baldaccio’s work my mind candy that I seem to pick up in airports across America. What I appreciate in his books – the DC setting, escapism and the fact proceeds from his books benefit literacy organizations. In this book, the Camel Club consists of four eccentric members led by a mysterious man known as “Oliver Stone.” The club studies conspiracy theories, current events, and government workers to discover the “truth” behind the USA’s actions. Things get complicated when they witness a murder…and become embroiled in an actual far-reaching conspiracy. All that stands in the way of this apocalypse are the four unusual heroes and the friends they make along the way.
Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (May 2011) – As someone who has always been slightly fascinated by the influence of birth order on personality development, I loved this fun, well-written book. It’s plot? Three sisters and their lives as twenty-somethings once they end up living with their parents in the town they grew up in. Why are they back home? Due to various failures of their post-collegiate lives to live up to what they desired, and a desire to help deal with their Mom’s cancer. Having read it right after Seating Arrangements, I must admit I enjoyed this look a family life a bit more as it left me more hopeful. And I loved the Shakespeare references.
Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipman (June 2012) – A well-written book about the lead up to a wedding on an east coast island with humor, insight and thoughtful prose. But I must say I was a bit depressed when I finished. Question – will anyone ever write a book about WASPs that makes them look good?
The House of the Hunted by Mark Mills (June 2012) – I would describe this as Maisy Dobbs with an edge, but I think that would turn off some potential audience members for this great read. So what it has, a strong main character – a former British Secret Service Agent who has retired at a young age to the coast of France, a great setting, Russians, Italians, a few sexual escapades and history of Europe between the two world wars. A great thriller for your summer beach trips.
Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray (June 2012) – I am not sure what it says about my life that I related to and needed this book. But, I so totally appreciated her humorous look at life in a family when the mother does not feel seen or heard by others. The main character has superb self awareness and humor, her overworked husband and two oblivious kids are sympathetic, and you will want a mother-in-law like the one in this novel. If you are looking for a “beach” read that will have you smiling and maybe even appreciate yourself and others a bit more, look no further.
Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino and Alexander O. Smith (October 2012) – I picked this up in search of a good mystery and found I enjoyed the writing and the inadvertent look at life in Japan.
Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (1951) – I re-read this book as research for a future Book Jam post. It held up! I still enjoyed the clever plot of a detective finding a historical mystery to solve from the confines of a hospital bed. And, I loved the history I learned along the way – in this case about more abouf King Richard and those “poor princes” he “killed” in the Tower of London.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Sept. 11, 2007) – This book is AMAZING! Many High Schoolers across the country have had to read it as part of required reading lists or projects because it tells the story of the holocaust as narrated by Death. You should read it because it will change you, because it is well written because it reminds you in the heart of the worst darkness there is hope and there are good people. I finished the last six pages or so with tears pouring down my face and now I am sad only because I can never read this again for the first time. The plot – the novel follows a German teen and her family(ies) and the adventures she chooses in the midst of all the horrible things happening around her. And yes, being reminded that there were “good” Germans in the midst of WWII, and that everything does not fall along Good and Bad even in a clear conflict, is a good thing to be reminded of at any age.
The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel (May 2012) – A coming of age story about five friends – four of whom were in a talented instrumental quartet in High School, one of whom ultimately was a girlfriend to two of the band members. Their town in Florida where they met and ultimately return to on some level at points in the story, truly is the sixth character. Traits of the heat of Florida, the sprawl of north Miami and the abandonment of post 2008 real estate collapses play as much of a part of this story as the choices each character makes. When they separate both geographically and lifestyle-wise after their last concert, each and every one makes bad, bad choices. One becomes a journalist in NYC, but “becomes undone”, plaguerizes quotes and ends up back in Florida. One finds herself pregnant, with the wrong lover and evenutally in hiding. One gambles away her college scholarship. This novel unravels what happens as a result of those choices and how youth’s promise is squandered, yet life goes on. And yes, somehow, the novel remains hopeful. Well written, well paced – a great summer reading choice.
Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel (May 2012) – In this new novel, Ms. Mantel continues her chronicle of the life of Thomas Cromwell through the lens of Anne Boleyn’s downfall. To help the King bring down Ms. Bolelyn, Mr. Cromwell must play dangerous games with his enemies and his friends, and keep his wits about him in unchartered and dubious waters. Because this account is told from the perspective of the elusive Mr. Cromwell, the famous story of Queen Anne’s downfall, trial and beheading, surprise. For those of you who enjoyed Booker Prize winner Wolf Hall, try this sequel. For those of you who have not yet discovered Ms. Mantel’s stories of Cromwell, start with Wolf Hall and know a fascinating sequel awaits.
The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker (2006) – A novel set on a farm in modern day Netherlands. Not much happens, but since so much of life seems like that - not much happens until suddenly you have lived and done much - it feels right. The prose is sparse, but vivid. I enjoyed living with the main character Helmer, a middle aged man as he navigates his life and the relationships with the people who remain after he lost his identical half in a car accident when they were teens. Winner of the Impac Dublin literary award.
Agony of the Leaves by Laura Childs (2012) – This mystery was not for me (altough I enjoyed the descriptions of Charleston and Savannah – two cities I love to visit). But I can see suggesting it to people wanting a gentler who dun it.
Restoration by Olaf Olafsson (2012) – A straight to paperback book about Italy, love and how WWII changed so many things.
A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns (May 2012) – I heard from our local librarian that Amish Mysteries are the hot new genre. So I tried this Shaker Mystery. I liked the protagonist and was entertained and I learned a bit about the Shakers.
In One Person by John Irving (May 2012) – There are books that you read that are just great stories and keep you turning pages because it is important to you to find out what happens next. There are books that while you are reading them remind you of places you have been in your life, and people you have encountered. There are books that remind you people are amazing and that ongoing progress in improving the way humans treat one another is important and most striking possible. There are books that inspire you to think about what you can do to help the world be a better place. There are books that illustrate the power of great literature to inspire. This amazing book did all of these things for me. The story of William/Bill Abbot/Dean, an amazingly unique boy growing up in a rural Vermont town housing an all boys academy, having “crushes on all the wrong people” is a novel at its best. Please read it an enjoy. (NOTE – some people have complained the narrative had a slow start and was hard to follow – stick it out – you will be rewarded.)
Beastly Things by Donna Leon (2012) – The 21st Commissario Guido Brunetti novel is like visiting an old friend. You know what to expect – descriptions of amazing food and gorgeous Venice sights, insightful musings from the characters, and of course a murder or two. This one will have you thinking twice about the beef that you eat. Bob Appetit!
Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron (2012) – For me, this author’s amazing gift is that she makes a book about a country torn apart from genocide somehow hopeful, without flinching from the awful truths contained in Rwanda and in the world’s lack of response to the horrors there. My theory of how she manages this is that you care for her hero, Jean Patrick, the Tutsi boy who anchors this narrative and his dream to run in the Olympics. And you care for all the unique characters he encounters while maturing from boy to young man, especially his girlfriend Bea and his room mate Daniel. The story effectively illustrates the strong ties of family and friendship, and the love that can overcome hatred even as all hell breaks loose – even if ultimately, that love can not save everyone. Since it is the second of the two winners of the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction that I have truly enjoyed, I vow to add the annual winners to my annual reading lists. ~ Lisa Christie
Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton (April 2012) – I SOBBED. Ok I cried. Yes, I did, even though I saw the ending coming – I have an annoying habit of being able to guess the ending of television shows, movies and mystery novels – I sobbed at the end. Why? Well, it is hard not to put yourself in the place of each of the characters in this novel; a novel about the aftermath of a school fire where a teenager is trapped and a mother goes in to save her. The give and take of who will survive and who caused the commotion is well executed. The questions of what would you do for love resonate long after you finish. (I admit I did not correctly guess “who done it”.) I highly recommend this second book by the author of Sister - another well written and moving “thriller”.
The Cove by Ron Rash (April 2012) — I LOVED this book. It is a haunting tale about the power of prejudice and love. Set during WWI in a dark cove in the rural Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, the book follows the life of Laurel and her brother Hank, newly returned and maimed from serving in France. The story begins as they offer shelter to a mute musician – Walter – who wanders into their home. Due to abundant local superstitions about the Cove and Laurel’s birthmark mark, a visitor is eerily unique. As Walter stays in their midst, he finds a place as a farm hand and in Laurel’s heart. When the outside world intrudes and secrets are revealed, of course tragedy strikes. However, you will enjoy the story that gets you there and the small piece of hope you are left with. An amazing piece of literature.
The Book Of Jonas by Stephen Dau (2012) — A truly spare and haunting book about a young Muslim war orphan whose family is killed in a military operation gone wrong, and of the American soldier to whom his fate is bound. Jonas lives in an unnamed Muslim country when his family is killed by US Armed forces. With the help of a releif organization he lands in Pittsburgh, PA and finds a foster family, college scholarship and powerful girlfriend. However the adjustment is not all that it seems, eventually, he tells a court-mandated counselor and therapist about a U.S. soldier, who saved his life. This leads to the meeting of the soldier’s mother who is searching for any information possible about what happended to her son. The book explores how people adjust to the ultimate tragedy – loss of loved ones. The Book of Jonas allows the reader to look at the terrible choices made during war, how people deal with the unknown and what happens when disaster appears in your own life.
The Healing by Jonathan O’Dell (2012) – The book jacket reviews all mention the unforgettable character of Polly Shine. Yes, she is memorable, but the narrator’s – Granada’s – voice is the one that had me thinking long after I finished the last page. The choice forced upon her at 13 has such ramifications and regret that it is haunting. This story of life on a Mississippi plantation, told from the perspective of Granada, a slave child taken from her momma by the Mistress to be raised as a “pet” and used as a pawn in a marriage gone bad, is well written. It also illustrates the power of stories to save and to teach.
The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey (2012) – Set in Scotland and then Iceland in the 1960s, this book provides an homage to Jane Eyre, while remaining its own novel. I enjoyed the sense of place she created the most. You could feel the wind of the moors and the sea and… It is a just a fun read – think of it as a beach read for March.
Elegy for Eddie: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear (April 2012) – A death of a childhood friend under mysterious circumstances has Maisie re-thinking her life while trying to help the bereaved. While I must admit grew slightly tired of Maisie obsessing over every detail of her life and the results of her choices, living in her head is what makes Maisie Maisieso to speak. Fans of this series will enjoy this latest installment.
Tag Man by Archer Mayor (2011) – Four months after poublishing, I finally found time to read the latest Joe Gunther mystery. I love these books. They were recommended to me when I first moved to Vermont as a way to get to know the state. It is true. While I don’t think Vermont has as many murders as these books require, Mr. Mayor does an amazing job of showing what an amazingly beautiful place our state is and what incredible characters live here (natives and flatlanders alike). In this latest installment, he is in top form with one of my favorites in his Joe Gunther series. In it, Joe is recovering from the recent loss of his girlfriend, Willy and Sam have a baby and the “Tag Man” is an amazing portrait of a person who has developed an unique means to cope with an affiliction and the power of his love for his daughter.
Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James (2011) – OK this is just clever writing and truly fun for any fan of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, English period pieces, PD James. In it, Ms. James imagines Elizabeth Bennet’s life years after she has become Mr. Darcy. Their wedded bliss is complicated by a murder at Pemberley. Read it and enjoy the writing and revisiting all the characters from Pride and Prejudice that you may or may not remember so well.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813) – At the suggestion of a member of our local library board, I just re-read this as preparation for reading PD James’ latest – Death Comes to Pemberley. Loved it as much as I did the first time years ago. A truly witty and descriptive story of England and love and the choices for women with no means.
Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet by David Mitchell (2010) - I am not sure how I missed this when it was first published, but I am glad I found it. I must admit that I had to persevere through the first 50 pages, but once the narrative picked up, I was hooked. And although reading it was often like watching a train wreck – you knew horrible things were coming but could not look away, this is a fascinating look at Japanese life and Dutch trading in the 18th century and human love. Even though it did not fit our Valentine’s Day post’s theme of Shakespeare inspired, it fits the Valentine’s Day theme as it truly is a tremendous and tragic love story.
LionHeart by Sharon Kay Penman (2011) – Be prepared to devote a large portion of your allotted reading hours to this novel (589 detailed filled pages), but be ready to enjoy every minute. I call Ms. Penman’s works my guilty pleasures. They read so easily, but I learn quite a bit about human nature as she sweeps you along in the tides of English history with each of her novels. In this latest tome, I was surprised at how human and sympathetic Richard the Lionhearted appeared as you follow him on his first and very bloody Crusade. I am both thankful and ready to curse the friend who introduced me to this author. Thankful as I love her work, cursing because they take up most of my non-work waking hours until I am done.
Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye – Meet Timothy Wilde, a member of the newly formed NYPD. He is a reluctant police officer, but finds himself intrigued and unbearably angry over a series of murder of child prostitutes in 1845 NYC. I loved Mr. Wilde’s character, but I truly enjoyed this look into NYC during the Irish immigration and the insight it offers into what life as part of NYC’s first police force must have entailed. A great thriller for the historically minded. To be published in March 2012 – I read the advance copy.
Nothing but the Truth by John Lescroart - I found a Dismas Hardy novel I had not yet read in an airport and am glad. In this thriller, Hardy’s wife goes to prison rather than reveal the secret a friend has entrusted her with. The twist, the friend is a male and the possibility his wife is having an affair rocks his world and his work. Once again, San Francisco remains an important character and as such endears me to this series – my latest “mind candy”.
Beyond Katrina: A meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Natasha Trethewey (2010) – US Poet Laureate Ms. Trethewey combines prose and poetry to describe the Gulf Coast, bookmarked by Hurricanes Camille and Katrina. The combination of the community’s and her family’s own stories is haunting and informative. The fact she is bi-racial adds heft to the racial aspects of post Katrina recovery . I truly believe this should be read by many many people, because as the author says when most people think of Katrina, they think of New Orleans; Katrina affected so so so much more.
How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – I should warn you I am white (as you may have guessed from the picture on this blog and the fact I live in one fo the whitest states in America. But, I am raising a Latino child who is self identifying as a Black man. So I picked this up for insight and I am glad I did. Through laugh out loud and sometimes painful humor, Mr. Thurston, of Jack and Jill Politics and The Onion, makes the reader think hard about their own racist tendencies. And any time I am thinking about how I could better interact with the world, I am appreciative of the source that started that thinking. In this case, I was also appreciative of the laugh out loud moments.
Bossypants by Tina Fey (2011)- I usually avoid books by celebrities (one large exception listening to and enjoying Michael J Fox read his first autobiography). So, it took awhile to read this one and I am glad I finally did. And while enjoying her amazing humor and self-depracating outline of her life to date, I irritated my poor husband by laughing out loud when he was trying to sleep. In my defense, I fell asleep with this book on my chest and woke to him having stolen it and laughing out loud. Pick it up, read and laugh.
Sleepwalk with Me by Mike Birbiglia (2011) – A coming of age story of an American Comic.
River of Doubt – This true story of Teddy Roosevelt’s adventure in the Amazon is well written and fascinating. I am glad I finally got around to reading it.
Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (2009) – A collection of essays whose topics specifically cover everything from the positive traits embedded in the loneliness of a suburbian childhood, to questions from one’s children about one’s own use of drugs, to being raised by a single mom and living with a complicated passionate wife, to publically backing Kerry’s presidential run, to losing one’s virginity to watching a daughter’s bat mitzvah. But ultimately the essays, often simultaneously poignant and funny, are about the questions one encounters in trying to live a life. Mr. Chabon’s answers and more importantly his questions, have me thinking and looking forward to reading his upcoming piece of fiction (out summer 2012). Read this if you are questioning things yourself - his insight and experiences might propel you in an unknown direction.
A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez (May 2012) – Since reading In the Time of Butterflies, I will read anything Ms. Alvarex writes, and yes, I like some books more than others. In this case she narrates the tale of two excursions into Haiti: one shortly before the earthquake and one shortly afterwards. Her insight into Haiti is unqiue. As a native born Dominican, she shared an island with Haiti for a portion of her life. As a writer, she is often looking on analzying and noticing many things others would miss.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010) – I had been meaning to read this for awhile and it rose to the top of the stack when my friend Stephanie gave me her copy. I devoured this and I don’t usually say that about non fiction books. However, this reads like a novel. It does an amazing job of telling us about the extraordinary story of medicine, ethics, and Henrietta Lacks and her family.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (2012) – This work is hard to read. It opens with a child hiding, naked under a pile of garbage, from the police for a crime he did not commit, and continues with harrowing details of life in a Mumbai slum. But it is important to keep reading as it effectively puts faces on the dilemmas of global change, and most importantly brings visibility to the invisible – the poor.
Londoners: the Days and Nights of London Now – as told by those who love it hate it live it left it and long for it by Craig Taylor (2012) — OK, as someone who truly LOVES London, I admit the first set of essays really depressed me. Most of those essayists spoke about why they left London, or how awful London is for those who live there, or why you should never live there. However, I then rethought my own life as a dweller in MANY big US cities, and remembered how hard city life often is and I understood. So, I chose to keep reading and was amply rewarded when I arrived at the next section of essayists. These writers included a woman writing about being chosen as the voice of the London Underground – the one who says “mind the gap” and announces train delays and other important bits of information, and a cab driver speaking about “The Knowledge” – a test Cabbies must pass before receiving their licesnse. Subsequent sections included a hackney driver, a city planner, a dominatrix, a rapper, the lost property manager for London’s transport system, a hedge fund manager, homeless folks, a member of the Queen’s Guard to name a few. Get this book and read it in one sitting – although it may be hard to absorb all at once. Alternatively, parcel out the views of London living essay by essay and savor each perspective. You will learn a lot about Londoners and about living.
Adventures in Cartooning by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, Alexis Frederick Frost (2009) – The Center for Cartoon Studies, in neighboring White River Junction, Vermont, has brought the joy of comics to youngsters. Through a humorous story, the authors show the basics of cartooning (panels, thought bubbles), and how anyone who can pick up a pencil can produce a comic that tells their story. My six year old has re-read this nightly since getting it from the library, both for the laughs and for the instructions.
Scrambled Eggs Super by Dr. Seuss (1953) – A 6 year old was laughing so hard at the names in this book that he literally fell off the couch while we read this together. Ha, you think not? Well, you try to say -Mop-Noodled Finch, Zummzian Zuks, Ham-ikka-Schnim-ikka-Schnam-ikka Schnopp, or Mt. Struckoo Cockoo – with a straight face. I dare you to try it, I dare you fire face.
McElligot’s Pool by Dr. Seuss (1947) – The optimists in us love this one. Narrated by a boy sitting above an unlikely fishing hole. He fishes and fishes and firmly believes, not only will he catch one, he will catch maybe three. And to top that off, he believes that they will all be quite rare and special for him by swimming staright to his lair.
Gerald McBoing Boing by Dr. Seuss (1950) – First seen as an academy award-winning cartoon. It is less subtle than most in reminding kids that all people have talent and all kids have worth. And it has great illustrations and superb silly words to be loved from here to New Perth.
Children of the World by Anthony Asael and Stephanie Rabemiafara (Sept. 2011) - A collection of art and poems by children from countries all around the world. Each page is devoted to what makes a particular country unique in the eyes of the children who live there. And the best part, sales from the book benefit United Nations and Art in All of Us programs worldwide.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (Jan. 2012) – Finally, the remarkable story of William Kamkwamba - a boy from Malawi who dreamed of building a windmill to help his country grow crops, have electricity and end poverty – is in picture book form. Children and adults will enjoy the pictures and the hope this story inspires. As a connection to our town – Mr. Kamkwamba now attends Dartmouth College just across the Connecticut River from us.
The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub by Susan Katz (2012) – Perfect batch of humorous poems, accompanied by a brief paragraph of facts, about the US Presidents – just in time for President’s Day or for your favorite young Presidential scholar.
Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman (2012) – This picture book, with quirky illustrations, goes through all the reasons – serious and obscure – why kids love Lincoln. Three of the more obscure facts I discovered from this picture book: 1) Lincoln was kicked in the head by a mule and slept for two days, 2) he always had an apple on his desk, and 3) Mozart’s Magic Flute was his favorite opera.
Runaway King by Nielsen (2013) – The second in a trilogy had me on the edge of my seat wondering how King Jaron was going to get out of the messes he created/had thrust upon him. Basically, only weeks after he outsmarted his captors from the first installment, an assassin forces, a coming war make it apparent that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But, once he leaves, when will he be able to return? Must he sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom? Friends of the first book will continue to root for King Jarod. Newcomers will want to start with Book ONe – The False Prince and then continue. We all will eagerly await Book Three.
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares – Yes, I read it again in a fit of insomnia and I still enjoyed the time spent with the four girls and their families described in this book.
Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (Sept. 2012) – I continue to marvel at the ability for Mr. Riordan to produce fun to read, well written books year after year. Mark of Athena is no exception. I truly enjoyed the further adventures of Percy, Annabeth, Leo, Jason, Piper, Nico, Hazel, and Frank.
Jaguar Stones: Book Three by J and J Voelkel (sept 2012) – The third book in this amazing adventure series follows Max and Lola as they contiunue to outwit the Mayan Death Gods and eat as much pizza as possible.
Unspoken: Book One of the Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan (September 2012) – Jane Eyre fans rejoice!, the Gothic novel has been revived in the form of a book for pre-teens and teens. Kami Glass lives in a quaint town in the English countryside. She lives with a loving mother and father and two energenic younger brothers. All is idyllic really, with one small exception - she has lived with a boy’s voice in her head for as long as she can remember. Despite the fact she sometimes zones out of her immediate surroundings to engage in conversations in her head with this voice, she has learned to manage it enough to have a superb best friend and to run the school newspaper. That is until one day when the Lynburns return to town and the voice in her head becomes too real to be comfortable. Enjoy this book and this unique new heroine. And did I mention it is funny?
What Came from the Stars by Gary Schmidt (September 2012) - Because of The Wednesday Wars and OK for Now, I truly look forward to new books by Mr. Schmidt – one of my favorite kids authors. In this novel, Tommy Pepper, a sixth grader receives a gift from a far away land – a necklace that contains all that is good in that world. This makes the necklace very valuable to those left in this other land and intriguing to Tommy who discovers he looks at the world very differently when wearing the necklace, a helpful perspective as he and his sister and father sort through life without his mother who recently died in a car wreck. it is not so helpful when evil beings from the far off land come to Plymouth MA to retrieve the necklace by force.
Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead (2012) – A special gem of a book in which a boy faces a few of life’s challenges with wisdom and aplomb: bullies, moving, a father who lost his job, a mother in a hospital, and a name – Georges (with an s) that not everyone appreciates. But like his namesake Seauart, he learns to look at the big picture but to also remember it is made up of tiny dots which are what life looks like when it is happening or as he says “life is really just a bunch of nows, one after another”.
The Outermost Castle by Ken Cadow (2013) – I am provlegded to have been a,llowed to read an author’s draft of this new novel for younger chapter book readers. Lovers of stories about elves and fairies will be thrilled by the cast this book invovles. All will enjoy the well written prose and the themes of finding your path, community and creating.
Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (2011) – A boy on vacation in Acadia finds himself abandoned by his mother – something that happens periodically in their home in Jamaica Plain, MA. So he starts running towards the one thing he knows for certain – an elephant. He can’t get caught or people will know his mother has left and take him from her permanently, but he also is so tired of being in charge. A great read about family, the kindness of strangers and doing the right thing even if it may not be exactly what those you love want. Also a good place to introduce the concept of mental illness to younger readers.
The Expeditioners by SS Taylor (Nov. 2012) – Make way for the Wests - Zander, Kit and MK - three orphans living in the near future where computers and electricity have failed – trying to figure out what happened to their father on his last expedition. They are also trying to lay low so that evil government officials miss the fact they no longer have adult supervision. It all gets a bit complicated when a mysterious stranger finds Kit in a food market line and hands him half a map. The kids recognize the map immediately as one of their father’s – the famous cartographer and explorer Alexander West. They interpret this as a sign to find the other half and immediately set off to discover why this map is so important. But first, they must convince the government agents watching them that they do not have the map (difficult, as government officials spied the mysterious stranger approaching Kit), or that they plan to find the other half. En route, they receive help from a maimed bird, a young aviator, one of their Dad’s old friends and some colorful western characters. Map making has never been so exciting. And, each of the Wests and the friends they make along the way are memorable company for the reader. This is the first middle readers’ book being published by Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s McMullens Press and is billed as the first of a series. Even though I just finished this one, I am looking forward to book two already.
Midnight for Charlie Bone by J Nimmo - My boys and I have had a blast listening to the adventures of Charlie Bone, a boy who discovers he has a magical gift and an evil grandmother.
The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech (Sept 2012) – Naomi and Lizzie – two orphans in the little town of Blackbird Tree – befriend an unusual and mysterious boy, Finn. The adventures this new friend unlocks include croooked bridges, tree climbing, iron rooks, fantastical stories and unusual connections to Ireland among the various Blackbird Tree residents they have known forever. Slightly magical, and well-told, this story will remind you that your life is your own, but you are connected in so many ways to to many others. Enjoy!
The Serpent’s Shadow:Book Three of the Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan (May 2012) – This final installment in Mr. Riordan’s Egyptian Myth series summed things up nicely. I still enjoy the two narrators Carter and Sadie and their adventures with Egyptian gods ( some of whom they are related to some of whom inhabit them).
Jepp Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh (October 2012) – a book about fate and choices we make. Jepp leaves home only to become trapped in a luxurious prison: Coudenberg Palace, the royal court of the Spanish Infanta. As a court dwarf, daily injustices become his fate. After Jepp and his fellow court dwarf Lia attempt an escape, Jepp is imprisoned again – this time in a cage. He is taken across Europe to the home of a man devoted to uncovering the secrets of the stars. Well-written, well-paced, and inspired by real historical characters, this book may inspire a few kids you know.
Rush for the Gold by John Feinstein (May 2012) – Just in time for the London Olympics another young adult mystery by Mr. Feinstein – this time an Olympic adventure for teen star sports reporters Susan Carol and Stevie by Mr. Feinstein. In this book Susan Carol has become the latest hot Olympic hopeful (swimming) and needs the help of Stevie Thomas to keep everyone who wants a piece of her stardom away. Their usual sportswriter mentors are present as well as “real” reporters with cameos, and the insight into sports agents and the Olympics keeps it interesting. Fans of this series will not be disappointed.
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (2012) – In a faraway land a nobleman purchases four orphans in a scheme to set one and only one of them on the throne as the long lost Prince Jaron. The catch, the ones not chosen will probably not survive the “training”. When you add a clever housemaid as a friend, a castle with secret passageways and some servants who truly do assist, and the fact the entire scheme can have them all killed for treason, you have another great adventure for elementary school readers and the adults who love them. The False Prince has been published as the first installment of the Ascendance Trilogy, even though I only finished this last night, I am ready for part two.
Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke (2012) – The book starts with Jon being sent against his wishes to boarding school where he discovers he is a kid marked by a centuries old family curse to die at the hands of a ghost. When he finds his first friend – Ella – and her ghost-expert Grandmother, hope for belying this curse begins. Of course first he has to learn how to summon a ghost knight, earn the right to be a page and find many ways to successfully break curfew. And, somehow along the way he discovers boarding school is not the banishment he thought it would be. A GREAT adventure for elementary school readers.
Kissing Shakespeare by Pamela Mingle (2012) – Unfortunately, I read Cooper’s King of Shadows first and kept comparing this novel to that one – which I find a hard book to beat, this young adult novel had me turning the pages as Miranda/Olivia navigates a plot that wisks her to Elizabethean England to keep Shakespeare from becoming a Roman Catholic priest.
Steinbeck’s Ghost by Lewis Buzzbee (2010) - My two sons and I are listening to this in the car and loving it. My youngest keeps talking about how the narrator’s books keep coming to life in a really cool way and applying it to his own favorite books like Harry Potter and the “Dinosaur sports books” and Calendar Mysteries and…
A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy – Listened to books A-F with my boys. They loved the mysteries and the narrator kept everyone’s attention.
Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg (June 2012) – Thirteen year old Clare is recovering (as much as one can) from the recent death of her mother when her father relocates the two of them from Boston to Malawi. Told from the perspective of an American girl, this tale shows African life, how to live and laugh in the face of heartbreak, and the power of friendship and what one gains from cultural exchanges. ~ Lisa Christie
See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles (May 2012) – I enjoyed this book about adolescents and sad things, but I am not sure who I would recommend it to. It is written for the chapter book crowd, but I am hard pressed to think of an elementary school child who would not be haunted by a story in which a three year old brother dies in an accident while watched by his older sister (who is the main character and the perspective the story takes). I am not sure a young adult reader who is ready for the topics, would appreciate the style of this book as many plot lines seem in place to drive a lesson home. That said, it is a good book with great lessons about death, accidents, bullying, and homosexuality in it. So if you know a 4th, 5th or 6th grader who would not have bad dreams about the death of a sibling, place this book in their hands.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (1999) – Re-”read” as an audio book with my two sons. They loved the characters and laughed out loud a lot during this touching novel of the depression-era Flint, Michigan. The story unfolds through the eyes of Bud, not Buddy, a child on the run from his latest foster home. I loved listening to a strong audio narrator of this superb novel by an award winning author.
Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selnick (2007) Re-read this with my 3rd grade son in preparation for viewing Hugo. The story and illustrations are magical. The theme of the power of imagination and hope are universal.
The Boy Who Biked the World: Part One: On the Road to Africa by Alastair Humphreys (2011) – While the writing is a bit incomplex, the fact this book is based upon the TRUE story of the author’s trip around the world on a bike makes it interesting. I think this would be a great book to read with your elementary school child and discuss their dreams and how to make them come true.
The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo – Does watching the Blockbuster movie adaptation of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo have you looking for your next Scandinavian thriller? Look no further than this first book in Nesbo’s Norwegian series.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan Philip-Sendker (2012). A new English translation of a best selling German novel. The plot begins when a woman goes in search of her father who mysteriously leaves his wife of over 35 years and his family to find his first love. The story takes up in Burma where the daughter finds a wise man who slowly reveals the truth of her father’s childhood. The characters and the beauty of Burma will remain with you long after you close this book.
The Art of Fielding (2011) by Chad Harbach. Reading this book is akin to watching a no-hitter unfold. You know something special and rare is happening and all you can do is enjoy. While baseball is important in this novel, so are friends and education and learning how to live a good and honorable life.
I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck (2011) - A gorgeous novel following a woman’s reflections upon her marriage as she keeps an overnight vigil next to her husband’s body.
When Christ and his Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman – This look at A.D. 1135 had me up late learning about life after the death of England’s King Henry I, and what happens when men can’t stomach being ruled by a woman.
The Time In Between by Maria Duenas (2011) – A true SAGA about Spain and Morrocco during WWII.
By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham – A look at a marriage and the temptations the pursuit of beauty brings. I am disappointed not to be able to recommend this as highly as The Hours.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (2011) – While I found the author’s need to prove how much of college literature classes he remembers annoying (and most people I know who read this disagree with me about this point) , the “plot” which follows college students throughout their time at Brown into the “real” world is captivating.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese – Gorgeous gorgeous writing and a story that pans years and continents. Truly memorable.
Sister by R. Lupton – A contemporary British mystery that probes the bonds of sisters and their often fraught relationships with their mothers. Told from the perspective of a sister who returns home to London when her younger sister “goes missing”.
Doc by Mary Doria Russell (2011) – I am not a fan of Westerns, but I truly enjoyed this fictional look at Doc Holliday and his friends and enemies..
Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (2011) – How the first Native American students to enroll at Harvard changed that institution and their Cape Cod homeland.
My Antonia by Willa Cather – A classic that provides great discussions and a look at the American Midwest few other authors ever provide.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – A look at the time and characters of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast from the perspective of his first wife. Will truly take you back in time.
Hunting and Gathering by Anna Galvada – I LOVED this novel describing the lives and loves of four misfits sharing a Parisian flat.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan - An unique novel about coming of age in the 80s and the life you end up leading.
In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez – A fictionalized look at the lives of three women in the Dominican Republic during a time of revolution.
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld – This book caused me to both empathize with Laura Bush and vow never to pre-judge anyone again.
I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson – Just a fun book about David Cassidy and all his era represented to so so so many girls. Great dose of nostalgia for women born in the 1960s.
The Bells: a Novel by Harvell - A novel for music lovers. Follows an opera singer from his birth to his ultimate acclaim.
Louise Penny’s series – Fun, fun, fun escapes to Quebec.
Martin Walker’s series – Enlightening escapes to France.
Lescroart’s Dismas Hardy series – A wonderful way for a former San Francisco resident to spend some time in her old home town.
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers – A look at New Orleans post Katrina. Made me think hard about how we react to disaster.
The Man Who Couldn’t Eat by Jon Reiner (2011) - A moving look at how disease can shape a life.
Just Kids by Patti Smith – A well written look at the 1960s through the eyes of many famous souls.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – Paris through the eyes of one of America’s greatest novelists.
The Greater Journey by David McCullough (2011) – Paris through the eyes of one of America’s greatest historians.
Mosque by David Macaulay – A look at how mosques are shaped and how they shape their inhabitants.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (2011) – A thought provoking tale of a mother raising her daughters with traditonal Chinese values in contemporary America. You may not agree with all her choices, but the book will make you think.
Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America by James Stewart - A look at the History and effects of lying.
Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue by Eric Felton - A historical look at this virtue.
This Life is In Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family undone by Melissa Coleman - A fascinating look at life on a commune and the back to the land movement with Helen and Scoot Nearing.
News of the World by Philip Levine – Gritty moving poems by our latest Poet Laureate.
Every Thing On It by Shel Silverstein – His poems but published post-humously.
The Woman I Kept to Myself by Julia Alvarez – Once upon a time I gave this to women in my life as they turned 40.
Kid’s books (I can’t possibly remember all the picture books I consumed with my boys this year – sorry. 2012 resolution – capture those too.)
My Side of the Car by Kate Feiffer - A funny, well illustrated look at a clash of wills between a father and daughter.
Okay for Now by G. Schmidt — One of my favorite books of 2011. I LOVED this national book award finalist and I sobbed at points in the narrative.
The 68 Rooms by M Malone - A cross of the Mixed up files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler and Blue Baillet’s work.
All the World’s A Stage: A novel in five acts by Gretchen Woelfe – Shakespeare as seen through the eyes of a stage hand.
Dino-baseball by Lisa Wheeler – The latest in this wonderful series that combines sports and dinosaurs – what can be better for 4 year olds?
The Adventures of Mark Twain by Huckleberry Finn with help from Robert Burleigh and Barry Blitt – A kid’s view of Mark Twain.
The History Keepers: The Storm Begins by Damian Dibbens – A British series being touted as the next Percy Jackson/Harry Potter series.