Some books I have read in 2017 and can recommend (details for many can be found on Book Jam blog posts). 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, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 reading lists are located below 2016’s.
2017 Reading – Adults (fiction and nonfiction)
The Strays by Emily Bitto (2017) – This award-winning debut by an Australian author had me staying up late to discover what happened next. Ms. Bitto uses research into depression-era Australia and an actual group of artists from that time as inspiration for a completely fictional tale of an artist colony and the ramifications of strangers living in close proximity. While I hate it when blurbs compare it to other books I love – in this case Atonement – as that sets the bar far too high, I really enjoyed this first novel and truly look forward to what Ms. Bitto pens next. A great book for art lovers in particular, or for those interested in a novel about adolescent love, and/or the fallout from certain choices.
The Meaning of Michelle edited by Veronica Chambers (2017) – Various essayists write about what Michelle Obama’s tenure as first lady meant for them. Moving on so many levels not matter your politics.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016) – Funny, sad, and amazingly moving memoir about growing up a biracial child in South Africa during and just after Apartheid. Mr. Noah is insightful and honest as he dissects his life and his choices and the choices that were made for him. Each chapter begins with an overview of life in South Africa that relates to the subsequent story from his own life.
The Souls of Black Folk by DuBois (1903) – The introduction to this book famously proclaimed that “… the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line”. He then proceeds in a series of essays to explore lives of African Americans as they navigate their lives in a white privileged world.
The Wretched Earth by Frantz Fanon – Reading for a class and saddened by how so much of what he says about race and race relations and oppression still applies. A distinguished psychiatrist from Martinique who took part in the Algerian Nationalist Movement, Frantz Fanon was one of the most important theorists of revolutionary struggle, colonialism, and racial difference in history; this book is considered his seminal piece.
It’s Always the Husband by Michele Martinez (2017) – A thriller from one of my favorite people (yes we are friends). Perfect for fans of Gone Girl or The Girl on a Train.
The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff (2017) – This books pulls you into its circus setting and keeps you there with a tale of people saving others during WWII. The author, a law school professor, discovered two true tales that she weaves throughout this novel in her previous work in the archives of Yad Vashem: 1) a circus that had rescued Jews and 2) the unknown children, Jewish babies taken from their families and shipped to concentration camps before they even knew their own names. Yes this is another WWII story, but that fact it is based on actual people and events imbues each page with importance. It reminded me a lot of the WWII YA books by Ruta Sepetys, but for adults.
Outrageous Openness: Letting the Divine Take the Lead by Tosha Silver (2014) – A friend recommended this and I am not usually a self-help book person. But I actually loved this collection of columns by this author that encourage you to determine what needs to happen, ask for it, and then let go of the outcome and being open to what comes. May be a great formula for maintaining sanity.
In The Country We Love by Diane Guerrero (2016) – One of the stars of Orange is the New Black penned this memoir with some help from another author about her life as the daughter of undocumented immigrants. Parents who were deported one day while she was at school, and she was left to fend on her own, relying on her friends for places to live so she could finish High School in the US. She is using her fame to help shed light on the lives of the undocumented in the USA. I, for one, could not believe some aspects of her story, and I am grateful she broke years of silence to put her face on a problem we need to help solve.
2017 Reading – YA and Children’s
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – Sometimes it takes a work of fiction to give life to current events. And sometimes it takes a book for children to give all of us a starting point for conversations about difficult issues. Ms. Thomas has done all of us a service by producing this fresh, enlightening, and spectacular book about the black lives lost at the hands of the police every year in the USA. Starr Carter, the teen she created to put faces on the statistics, straddles two worlds — that of her poor black neighborhood and that of her exclusive prep school on the other side of town. She believes she is doing a pretty good job managing the differing realities of her life until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. As a description of this book stated, The Hate U Give “addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty”. Just as importantly, it is a great story, with fully formed characters who will haunt you, told by a gifted author. Please read this one!
The Disenchantments (2010) – This YA novel entertained me on a day over the holidays where my cold rendered me immobile.
2016 Reading – Adults (fiction and nonfiction)
The Whistler by John Grisham (2016) – Sometimes I just need the comfort of a reliable storyteller, and with Mr. Grisham I almost always get that. But, I also always get a tale of people trying to do the right thing in spite of the odds against them. And as 2017 begins, I need more of that. So, read this for a page-turner, but then think about it as a way to begin working for and fighting for what you believe is important. We can all use more of that in 2017.
The Fire This Time: A great new generation speaks about race by Jesmyn Ward (2016) – this collection of essays is a powerful way to start the year. Perhaps it will help you figure out how to advocate for equal opportunity for all. But it will definitely make you think about what life is like for those with black skin in the USA.
Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta (2016) – Apparently we have been missing some great YA novels if Ms. Marchetta’s first adult novel is any indication of her ability to tell a tale. This novel is part crime story, part immigration tale, part indictment of prejudice against Muslims, part family saga, part love story, and totally gripping. Whatever you want to call it, it is worth reading – full of empathy for each and every complicated character. If, you need a plot summary, the tale revolves around a suspended cops quest to find the truth behind a devastating bombing involving his daughter. I particularly loved the fact that half-way through I was certain the book had to end, yet another twist in the plot allowed me to keep reading for another hour or two. Pick this up for “a novel of great scope, of past and present, and above all the Marchetta trademark of a fierce and loving heart” as Markus Zusak of The Book Thief fame blurbs on its back cover.
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (Feb 2017) – Yes, this is another WWII novel. But this one about the lives of a large family of Polish Jews and their efforts to survive the onslaught of the Holocaust, and the German and Russian armies, seems especially important in light of current political rhetoric. The fact that all characters and their escapades, deaths and near-deaths are based on the truths of the author’s own family had my heart in my throat at times. A superb debut novel about family, survival, and living.
Indelible by Adelia Saunders (Jan 2017) – I wasn’t certain if I liked this at first, but then this debut novel about a girl who sees people’s pasts, presents and futures written on their skin, a man whose mother, an infamous expatriate author, deserted him at birth, and his son who is delving into the history of the world from London and Paris, drew me in. If you like stories with quirky characters whose connections reveal themselves slowly, you will enjoy this novel about connecting with others and our pasts. Reminded me a lot of Bitter in the Mouth, another quirky novel I enjoyed.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti (April 2017) – An amazing novel about choices, love, and the ties of family. Samuel is a man on the lamb with a daughter who is all set to follow in his criminally tending footsteps. Or is she?
You’ll Grow Out of It! by Jessi Klein – Recommended by Lucinda during Pages in the Pub, this laugh out loud, poignant, insightful memoir was exactly what I needed to counteract the vitriol of the recent election.
Voices of Freedom: Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement by Henry Hampton (1991) – This companion to the PBS series Eyes on the Prize is fabulous, full of voices of people who struggled and fought and preached and led the Civil Rights movement in the USA last century.
The Nutshell by Ian McEwan (2016) — Ok the tale of Hamlet reworked for Modern Day London and told form the perspective of an unborn child? Yes, sounds too precious, but Mr. McEwan pulls it off. It truly is more brilliant than this quick summary shows it should be. Perhaps because the narrator allows Mr. McEwan to ponder modern problems and pleasures without seeming to lecture. Perhaps it is because of Mr. McEwan’s lovely prose. Whatever the reason, I highly recommend this one, while admitting a bias for Mr. McEwan’s work.
The Good War by Studs Terkel (1984) This Pulitzer Prize winning book was my first foray into Mr. Terkel’s oral histories; I am so glad I finally made time. The people Mr. Terkel interviewed create a vivid picture of what WWII was like for individuals, not countries usually portrayed in histories. From OSS officers, to foreign correspondents, to engineers on the Manhattan Project, to Japanese Americans, to privates in the US army and the families they left behind, these voices explore life before, during and after “the Great War” for Americans – no matter what their ethnicity and level of participation in WWII. This book might help remind us all what is at stake in the upcoming elections.
Missoula by Jon Krakauer (2015) – It took awhile for this to get to the top of my bedside stack of books, but once I started I could not put it down. Mr. Krakauer’s rigorously researched analysis of 52 months of reported sexual assaults centering around the University of Montana is enlightening, sad, anger-provoking and most tragically could have been written in so many college towns. This is important, read it, ponder it, and somehow act to end a culture in which victims are punished over and over again.
The Patriarch by Martin Walker (2015) – Somehow I missed that there was a new Bruno until it appeared in paperback earlier this month. But this one continues this series’ ability to charm me with details of the French Countryside. Mr Walker’s insights into international politics from his former job as international affairs columnist at United Press International are, as usual, sprinkled throughout. As with Donna Leon’s series, be prepared to be hungry as you read.
August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones (Feb 2017) – I so hope there is someone like August Snow – half black, half Mexican, ex-cop with a strong sense of justice and neighborhood – looking out for Detroit. The hope this book expresses for Detroit weaves throughout the narrative and Mr. Jones’s descriptions of Detroit’s decline and partial resurgence make the city an actual character in this thriller.Yes, he makes mistakes and wow his body count is way too high for my tastes by the end, but so few books take place in modern day Detroit, enjoy this one!
Raven Black The Shetland Series #2 by Ann Cleeeves – A bit slow to begin, I enjoyed this tale of art, murder and the midnight sun. I am glad this series exists.
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny (2016) – Somehow Ms. Penny cast of characters in her lovely Quebec Village of Three Pines makes murder comforting. The latest instalment of her Inspector Gamache series is well plotted, infused with poetry and just a great end of summer read. Enjoy!
The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel (2016) – I loved Vida, Ms. Engel’s collection of short stories, so I tend to read anything she has written since; and, this is my favorite novel thus far. Reina is the daughter of a man who threw her older brother off a bridge; a mother who thinks her ticket to prosperity is a man, and who in her pursuit of men neglects/abuses her daughter; and, the sister of the brother who was thrown from the bridge and survives, only to do the same to his own daughter years later – ending up on Florida’s death row. Who Reina is herself is something she uncovers in this novel. The story moves around the Caribbean from Miami to Cartegena to Havana to the Florida Keys and uncovers what it is to be an immigrant, to dream, and to accept that your family’s story is not necessarily your own. Lovers of the sea will enjoy Ms. Engel’s descriptions of marine life, lovers of creation stories will enjoy how she weaves Caribean ones into the narrative throughout.
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Tarkington (2016) -“Love can make people do terrible things”, and in 1977 Spencerville, Virginia, terrible things occur. As the story begins, the narrator – Rocky – is eight and worships his rebellious, cigarette smoking, school skipping, music loving, older brother Paul. The story’s pace quickens once Paul in an attempt to punish their indifferent father tries to abandon Rocky in the woods, but instead skips town himself. Fast forward to when Rocky, a teen who has never forgotten the still-missing Paul, begins an affair with an older woman – an affair whose consequences include a double murder, Paul’s return, and much more. This book is for anyone seeking to function in dysfunctional circumstances, or a great debut novel, or a new coming of age tale.
Thin Air The Shetland Series by Ann Cleeve (2015) –
I Let You Go by Clare Macintosh (2016) – THE thriller for summer. Written by a retired UK police woman, this is better than than the books it gets compared to – Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. You will like the characters, you will feel each plot twist and you will lose a day of productivity as you finish this novel. Have fun!
The Second Life of Nick Mason by Hamilton (2016) – I had not read any of Mr. Hamilton’s other award-winning detective series, but I will after devouring this debut of his new series. Nick Mason is complicated. The people he encounters are complicated and basically when feeling the need to justify the literary merit of the thriller festival I seem to be enjoying, I would describe this detective story as a novel that poses the questions, “How much control do any of us really have?” “How fair is life for those who are born on the other side of the tracks? (in this plot literally and figuratively)”. When feeling the need to convince you to read this, I would say, just have fun and enjoy some time with a former? criminal.
Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz – Fans of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series will not be disappointed. This had me entertained for hours en route home from the UK.
Paying Guests by Sarah Waters – a mystery, a thriller, a novel, a saga about forbidden love and oppression. This well written tale spun by Ms. Waters does it all.
Harvest by Jim Crace
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet by David Mitchell
Two Caravans by Lewycka
Solar by Ian McEwan (2010) – I love Mr. McEwan’s tales and prose style, so I was surprised I had missed a novel. This tale of a lonely scientist contains warnings about climate change and how our choices affect our life’s story. You will enjoy reading how Michael Beard, Nobel Award winning physicist, becomes who he is – a man whose ambitions and self-deception lead dominate his life. Solar, like most of McEwan’s work is wittily profound.
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (2006) – Yes, another WWII novel, but worth reading. This time the plot revolves around people in London just after WWII ends, during the nightly bombings of WWII, and at the start of the war, all told backwards chronologically. May of the women have taken up important positions as ambulance drivers, the men are in jail for a variety of crimes; their adventures and connection they share link the tales. The prose is beautiful and the images Ms. Waters creates of life for civilians during war memorable.
The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna (2016) – A gorgeous piece of art filled with wisdom for grads, dads, moms, job changers… Ms. Luna took an internet talk and turned it into a book to help people figure out what is next. Read it if in need of a quick shot of inspiration.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015) – The pulitzer landed on an important book this year. The narrator is a vietnamese immigrant to the USA, rescued by the Americans during the fall of saigon due to his work with the US side. His life further unravels from there.
In Other Words by Jumpha Lahiri (2015) – A memoir of her life in Rome and her fascination with Italian.
All that Followed by Ganriel Urza (2015) – This intriguing debut novel unfolds complicated layers of life in the Basque countryside of Spain as the Atocha (Madrid train station) bombings force citizens in a small Basque town to confront their own history of terrorism. The plot involves love, betrayal, mental illness, poor choices, revolution, and the perennial questions – do we ever really know anyone and what do we really want?
London Rain by Nicola xxx – Mystery Writer Josephine Tey and her Scotland Yard friend Archie solve mysteries in this fun look at King George’s unexpected coronation.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (2016) – SO MUCH FUN TO READ! Yes, the New York Times panned it, and I agree that Jane would never consent to be married on a reality show, but that is a small point in light of the fact you get to spend hours of reading with the Bennett Sisters. Liz as a magazine writer, Jane as a yogi, Kitty and Lydia as self obsessed gym goers, and Mary as a grump with a secret, lets you have a bit of fun with a well-known tale. And besides, it takes no small amount of courage to take on a classic. So kudos for that act of bravery Ms. Sittenfeld; and to the rest of you – start reading.
Triangular Road by Paule Marshall (2009) – This small gem of a memoir about Ms. Marshall’s life as an African American woman author, began as a series of lectures at Harvard. The organizing theme is the role of water to the African American experience, and the words will leave you thinking.
Goldfish??? by — the concept of a fish falling from a terrace was a bit much for me. But I LOVED the characters in this novel and the concept of completing a picture of an apartment building through glimpses of it inhabitants. The building super and the construction worker scene still replays in my head.
The Wisdom of the Scraped Knee
The Gift of Failure
Friction by Sandra Brown (2015) – Picked up in an airport when stranded with nothing to read. It was a page turner but a bit too something for me to recommend. There is a way to do page-turning without insulting intelligence. (See Louise Penny, Jo Nesbo, Sarah Stewart Taylor, John Grisham).
new maisy dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (2016) – Maisy is back and she is not gazing so heavily at her own navel so I liked this one much better than some others in this series. But really you can’t go wrong with this character/these books.
The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon (2016) – Another superb Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery. This time a young girl is attacked and left for dead, but instead suffers severe brain damage. Years later her grandmother asks Guido to investigate. The tale weaves illegal immigration, refugees and mental illness together. It also allows us to spend time with Guido and his superb family. Enjoy.
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves – I found my next detective series — this one featuring the Shetland Islands. This one features Up Helly Aa – a festival of fire.
The Men We Reaped by Jessmyn Ward (2013) – This coming of age memoir shows what it is like to grow up smart, poor, black and female in America. Ms. Ward’s starting point is a two year period of time shortly after she graduated college during which five boys who she loved and grew up along the Mississippi Coast with experience violent deaths. (Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath also play a role in this drama.) Her prose illuminates these dead young men and the people who loved/still love them; it also exposes the people behind the statistics that almost one in 10 young black men are in jail and murder is the greatest killer of black men under the age of 24. And while the material is brutal, the memoir is not; it is insightful, introspective, beautifully written, and important. At some point Ms. Ward states that the series of deaths is “a brutal list, in its immediacy and its relentlessness, and it’s a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time.” We are glad she found her voice and told her story. And, we hope to see it on a big screen near you soon.
The Best Place to be Today by Lonely Planet (2015) – An idea for travel for every day of the year.
Paris by Serge Ramelli (2015) – Gorgeous photos of Paris – no text.
Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2016 (2015) – Great BIG ideas for where to go in 2016 from the editors of Lonely Planet.
Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson (2015) – A collection of Scandinavian cooking, with great text and enough pictures.
2016 YA and Kids
Still a Work in Progress by Jo Knowles (2016) – A look at perfection, eating disorders and the price paid by those who suffer from those affiliations and those they leave behind.Not my favorite book by Ms. Knowles, but worth reading and discussing.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by JK Rowling (2016) — This is terribly fun to read and really what is better than returning to the wonderfully magical world of Harry Potter? This time you visit in 1920 and hang out with a Hufflepuff hero. There is a reason JK Rowling once said that was her favorite Hogwarts house.
The Distance Between Us: YA version by Reyna Grande (2016) – This book seems especially important with all the recent talk about walls along the US border and hatred towards illegal immigrants. Ms. Grande has adapted her memoir for young adults and in it she tells of her life as a toddler in an impoverished town in Mexico, her three attempts to cross into the USA with a coyote as a young child, her life in LA as an illegal immigrant, how her family gained legal status and how she managed college. This is not for the faint hearted due to themes of physical abuse and complicated relationships with parents who are always leaving. But it is important to be informed, and this book will put faces on any political discussions about immigration that the teens in your life might encounter.
Home of the Brave by xxx (2007) – My 11 year old is reading this for school and I am so glad he is because I borrowed it and devoured it in one sitting. A great book about the complicated lives of immigrants to the USA.
The Trials of Apollo: Book One by Rick Riordan (2016) – Mr. Riordan’s treatment of mythology may be getting old for some, but not for me. Why? Well because his ability to capture teen angst and power remains spot on and perfect for narrating these tales. In his latest book, Apollo has fallen to earth as a teenage boy with flab and acne for his most recent sin against his father Zeus. He turns to his children at Camp Half Blood for help and with his mortal enslaver manages to figure out what is going wrong on earth. The question is can he solve it? (Cliffhanger alert – Not in book one.) ENJOY! And thank you Augie Fortune for introducing me to this author all those years ago when you visited.
Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz (2013) – An amazing book about the holocaust that my 13 year old just declared probably “the best book he’s read”. Mr. Gratz takes the true story of Jack Gruener, who was moved through ten concentration camps including Auschwitz, and with slight poetic license creates a tale of survival amongst unspeakable horrors that must be remembered.
The Seven Most Important Things – listened to with my ten year old and his friend on a long trip to Maine.
The War That Saved My Life (2016) – re-read with my ten year old.
Curveball: The Year I lost my Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick (2016) – How does an amazing pitcher deal with the fact he will never pitch again while simultaneously navigating his freshman year of high school? Mr. Sonnenblick offers a compelling answer in this tale of friendship, first love and change.
Soar by Joan Bauer (2016) – Years ago, we fell in love with Ms. Bauer’s Newbery Honor Medal Winner Hope Was Here. But we haven’t read much of her work since. We corrected this yesterday when one of the Book Jam Lisas could not put Ms. Bauer’s latest novel – Soar – down, finishing it in one long swoop. Her main character and narrator of this tale – Jeremiah, is a heart transplant recipient and the world’s biggest baseball fan. He may not be able to play (yet) due to his transplant, but he sure can coach. And, he is just what his middle school needs after a huge high school sports scandal breaks his new hometown. Infused with humor, baseball trivia, and a lovely adoption sub-plot, this book is all about grit, hard work, and determination. It also does an amazing job of reminding readers that kids can be truly amazing people. We love all the books listed for this post, and we admit that some of Soar could be construed as corny, but the Lisa who read Soar hasn’t been so happy reading a kid’s book in a long, long, long time. We recommend it as an excellent (and possibly necessary) break from politics. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
True Letters from a Fictional Life by Kenneth Logan (2016) – A story of a popular soccer star and his quest to define his sexuality and his struggle to tell his friends and family he is gay. His best friend’s reaction is truly all you would want it to be.
Trapped by Marc Aronson (2011) – Mr. Aronson makes the story of the 33 Chilean Miners and those who helped rescue them suspenseful even though you know what happens. I great fact filled story of suspense and heroic efforts to stay alive. Mr. Aronson even includes tips for middle schoolers on how to write better research papers and a lengthy reference list.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling and others (2016) – 19 years later the characters of Hogwarts still entertain.
My Life With the Liars by Caela Carter (2016) – I never thought I would write the next sentence – I loved this children’s book about a religious cult. But I did. I have no idea how to sell this book, but after a retired librarian pointed out that kids will have no trouble with the content, it is parents who will have doubts, I decided to add this to this annual summer list of great books for kids to read. I truly truly loved the narrator – almost 13 year old Zylynn. I was spellbound as she narrated her quest to return to the compound where she was born and lived up until her birth father brought her to his home “on the outside, in the darkness, to live among the liars” and away from the “light” of the cult’s white-washed home. As the book jacket states, “Caela Carter has created a stunningly unique and poignant story of one girl’s courage to decide who she is and what she will believe in”. If you are not certain if your kids can handle this concept, read it yourself; you won’t be sorry.
Brave as You by Jason Reynolds (2016) – A slow tale of how life in Virginia changes two Brooklyn boys visiting their grandparents there for a summer. Their grandpop is blind, their grandma makes them work in her garden and sell sweet peas at the local flea market, Ernie meets a girl, and their parents are alone to figure out how not to get a divorce. Genie and Ernie will show you that being brave sometimes means not doing something as much as it means taking action.
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (2015) — When Gary Schmidt (one of my favorite authors) blurbs a book with the words “I read this in two big gulps” I pay attention. This tale of two of the many children who were sent from London to the countryside for safety (think The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe) is full of adventure, hardship, and ultimately love. I especially loved Ada and here feisty fight for her place in the world.
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (2016) – Ms. Camillo returns to 1970s Florida and creates a superb tale of three young girls who discover each other and themselves over the course of a summer. The plot centers around Raymie’s plan to bring her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, back — she will win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, get her picture in the paper and remind him he needs to come home. First though she must learn to twirl a baton and defeat the two other girls in her lessons. Delightful!
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Spetys (2016) – Just when you thought you WWII had been written about from every angle, an author proves we needed another WWII book. In this one four teenage refugees and their friends flee the Russians and the Germans. Their tales will haunt you as you listen to today’s headlines about Syrian and other refugees. This one is important.
Booked by Kwame Alexander (2016) – Another hit by Mr. Alexander. This time a soccer player experiences family hardships (divorce) and teen angst (soccer tryouts). The poetry format is winning. And my 13 year old fan of The Crossover finished this in 18 hours (with school interfering.)
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T Cook by Leslie Connor (2016) – This kid will restore your faith in humanity and the art of doing the right thing. A superb middle grade book about a boy who is raised in a prison alongside his incarcerated mother and her fellow inmates. The love they share is inspiring and the forces trying to keep them apart are well-intentioned but coming up against a kid they underestimated. Enjoy!
Just My Luck by Cammie McGovern (2016) – Truly a superb book that illustrates what it is like to be a 4th grader, have an autistic older brother, a distracted teacher, and feel as if you were the cause of your father’s life-altering accident. Basically it shows what it is like to be loved and to love.
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor – THANK YOU Marion Cross School for featuring this as one of your Battle of the Books choices. Because of you, I have finally read this classic, and I am so glad I did. Ms. Taylor’s writing is superb, and apparently brought out my southern accent as I read this aloud to my son. The tale of dangerous race relations in the USA is gripping, leaving my son to ask for one more chapter over and over again. Alone this book is superb, as a way to talk about today’s headlines with a 4th grader, priceless.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (2015) – My 13-year-old son (who self describes as someone who hates reading) gave this to me when I was looking for a good book. I thank him. I am drawn to children’s books written in verse, and Mr. Alexander’s poetry did not disappoint. His lyrical, artistic, pointed and poignant word choices expertly develop a narrative of closer than close twin brothers who are basketball stars, facing the first challenge to their relationship – girls, and trying to navigate their evolving relationship with their parents (a mom who is also their assistant principal complicates their lives quite a bit). This award winning book is haunting me days after the last page was read.
All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2016) – Told in two voices in alternating chapters, this YA novel unravels what happens to a town when a white policeman beats a black teen. The authors wrote this in response to what they saw, while on book tour together, after Ferguson. And while some of the situations are convenient, overall, the book is a superb way to get your teen to talk about today’s headlines, how race, upbringing and situations all affect one’s perspective, and how hard it is to “do the right thing”. Oh, the fact one of the authors is white, one black and both are award winning YA authors is an added bonus.
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (2016) – This slim YA novel looks at life as a refugee – this time in Poland during WWII. Anna’s father never comes home from work on day and she is befriended by a mysterious stranger who remains nameless throughout the book. Somehow, the author makes walking in circles in Poland compelling and meaningful, especially in light of today’s headlines from Syria. A great choice for fans of The Book Thief.
West is West – normally I LOVE the Kingsolver award winners for socially conscious fiction. And I usually rave about them. I can’t rave about this one – perhaps it just took on too much – war, Wall Street, too big to fail, drugs, military culture, drone warfare, assumptions – but I also can’t stop thinking about the characters – especially the woman discharged from the service after some security breaches with drone warfare. So maybe I can rave a bit.
The Escape by Baldacci – Yes, the annual I am in an airport and thus must pick up a Baldacci did not fail me.
The Diamond Caper by Peter Mayle (2015) – This was adequate for my airplane needs. But I was disappointed as it just was not that fun.
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (2015) – Mr. Galbraith is back in form with this third instalment in his detective series.
by Daniel Silva
The Girl From the Train (2015) – This novel of the German orphans sent to South Africa after WWII had a great plot, but honestly I wanted the writing to be just a bit better so this story would be a great novel. It wasn’t and such is only OK, which makes me sad. that said I learned a lot. This is probably my fault as this is a romance novel, something I dod not like as a general genre and something I was unaware of as I picked it up to read.
Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann (2015) – These shorts stories, although one is basically a novella, are GORGEOUSLY crafted and memorable. Definitely one of the best books of 2015 for me.
The Tsar of Love and Technology by Anthony Marra (2015) – The author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon comes through again. This time with connected short stories about USSR and Russia during the Cold War through basically present day.
Let Me Tell You: New Stories, essays and other writings. by Shirley Jackson (2015) – I am so glad a class introduced me to Ms. Jackson’s stories and essays. Yes, I read the Lottery in High School, but this collection showed me the expansiveness of her abilities – I saw her as the first “Erma Bombeck”, as a guide for how to write, and well just someone who is incredibly clever. After my finishing class, her personal tragic bio embeds every word for me, but somehow that makes each story even more amazing. I think this will be my new Mother’s Day pick.
Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham (2015) would not have finished if not sick .. Was perfect for a “unable to function with the world” reader.
The Marrow of Tradition by Charles Chestnut ( xxx) – A superb look at life for former slaves in the post-Civil War south. Chestnut was one of the first African Americans to achieve success as a novelist and short story writer in the 19th century.
Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne (assorted dates) –
The Company She Kept by Archer Mayor (2015) — Another great Joe Gunther mystery. This is just what my stressed brain needed. And there was a twist with one of the main characters that guarantees to keep things interesting.
Collected Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne – I last read Hawthorne in High School and had to read him again as part of a cultural studies course. I enjoyed these stories more than I recall doing in High School. Perhaps because I now live in northern New England and his descriptions of life here resonate.
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (Oct 2015) – While someone more familiar with the Bible and its historical figures will have to attest to the accuracy of the history in this novel, I truly enjoyed this moving and page-turning story of David. Ms. Brooks’ depiction, through the eyes of the prophet (and David’s conscience) Natan, allows for his flaws as well as his victories (e.g., Goliath). Ms. Brooks has created a genuine saga of faith, family, and raw ambition.Coincidentally and somehow fittingly, I finished this just as Rosh Hashanah began.
The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny (2015) – the latest Inspector Gamache novel does not disappoint. This one’s plot revolves around weapons of mass destruction and the true nature of evil. What I think I like most about this series is the loving relationship between Gamache and his wife. Pick this up if you want a page turner full of wonderful characters.
The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin (Feb 2016) – It took me a bit to care, but once I did this debut was a page turner. I would best recommend it to fans of Gone Girl. Not high literature, but engrossing, and giving food for thought.
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (2014) – This could be my favorite book from 2015 so far. How to describe it? A love letter to a sister, an attempt to understand why some people end their lives in suicide, an example of compassion and understanding and love, all wrapped up in a superb prose and a fabulous tale.
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (2014) – An often creepy tale of twinhood, death and the aftermath of choices.
The Heart Has Its Reasons by Maria Duenas (2014) – I loved being in Spain again and found the history of the California missions interesting. The rest of the story was slightly soap-opera like, disappointing as I loved her novel The Time in Between, but I still finished every page.
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (2015) – Haunting. This novel can be read on so many levels — as a straight story of brothers in trouble in Nigeria, as a parable about Nigeria, as a tale of how our expectations shape our reality. But on any level, it is good; perhaps my most memorable read from this summer. For me, what makes it even more amazing is that the author is 27 or 28. Catch this tale before the Booker hype is too much.
The Fall: A Novel by John Lescroart (2015) — ANYONE who loves San Francisco should read Mr. Lescroart’s Dismas Hardy series as each is so grounded in that amazing city by the bay. Anyone who loves a good murder mystery should also try this series. In this latest installment, With Mr. Lescroart’s signature suspense and impressive plots, Mr. Hardy’s daughter joins his law firm and adds some excitement to Mr. Hardy’s life when a client with a history with a dead African-American foster child engages her legal services.
Safekeeping by Jessmyn Hope – A piece of jewelry unites the fates of several characters on a Palestinian kibbutz. A great debut, and a good story to help you explore the Palestinian conflict and what it takes to grow up, change and make amends.
Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young (Sept 2015) – Visions guide a NY woman to Louisiana to solve a 30 year old kidnapping. A fun beach read.
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain (2015)- I have been fascinated by Beryl Markham since reading her memoir West with the Night. (A book Hemingway also praised with “[she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers”.) In this novel, Ms. McLain creates a fictional account of Ms. Markham’ remarkable life that fills in the holes her memoir left unanswered with more about her childhood, her horse training and her early marriage. A great beach read!
God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015) – Yes, this is another book about WWII, but it is truly fabulous. History buffs will love the descriptions of British air raids over Germany and the Blitz in London. Fans of Life After Life will love another look at Ursula, Teddy and the family from Fox Corner. This book focuses on Teddy, a fighter pilot who gets a life in a future he never expected to have. His ability to navigate life’s changes as lover, father, husband, grandfather are lovingly portrayed. This is basically a book about an ordinary, but lovely, man living an ordinary life in extraordinary times. Please pick this up at some time this summer.
Memory Man by Baldacci (2015) – guilty summer pleasure to start the Memorial Day weekend. In this outing the main character has lost everything – his family in a tragic murder, his job as a police detective, everything except his memory – which holds on to everything he has ever seen heard smelled or read. You will like him and root for him as he tries to navigate his post-tragedy life while unofficially helping the police solve a school shooting.
The Rocks by Peter Nichols (2015) – A fun, bittersweet summer novel set in Mallorca and spanning across generations of the Spaniards and English who call it home, even if only for a few weeks each summer. Told backwards, the novel unravels what happened to cause a great love to sour, and shows all the effects of love gone awry. Be warned, the Mediterranean setting and its olive trees, beaches, succulent food, will have you booking tickets before you finish its last pages.
Bone Tree by Greg Isles (2015) – The second book in the trilogy begun with Natchez Burning. I personally found the descriptions of life int he South more intriguing than the Kennedy Assassination plot line, but the Kennedy plot is what keeps the pages turning in this thriller/social commentary/novel. At 800+ pages it is a long haul so pick it up when you need an excuse to sit still for a very long time with a good book.
Funny Girl by Nick Hornsby (2015) – A fun look at life in 1960s Britian through the eyes of a gorgeous girl who just wants to be funny. Mr. Hornsby delivers in this tale of a group of people who meet and then create an iconic BBC sitcom and must deal with all that fame brings.
The Target by David Baldacci (2014) – Yet another purchase in an airport led to a Baldacci thriller and I was not disappointed. The perfect thing to get me from DC back home.
Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (June 2015) – So far, this is my go-to beach book this summer. The title refers to the number of grapes required to make a bottle of wine. The story revolves around a Sonoma, CA vineyard and the family who has tended it for decades. The novel launches with the narrator, a successful LA lawyer with a lovely British architect for a fiance, sitting, inappropriately dressed, in her brothers’ bar after discovering there is more to her fiance than she thought. As she resides in the vineyard to think, she learns her fiance is not the only one with secrets. And yes, I was casting it for the inevitable movie as I read.
The Whites by Harry Brandt (2015) – A superb book about police, police procedure and the criminals and crimes who haunt those caught in their webs.
Girl At War by Sara Novic (May 2015) – This amazing debut attaches faces and stories to the civil wars dominating the world’s news today. Set in 1991 in Croatia and then in 2001 NYC, this novel explores war and its impact through the eyes of Croatian born Ana. What she experiences and witnesses at ten, will make your heart lurch. The impact of what she remembers at age 21 as a NYC college student will make your breath catch. How she emerges from it all will give you hope. Infused with gifted storytelling, this novel is a superb read. Bonus — fans of A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon will be pleases to find traces of Mr. Marra’s tale in these pages.
My Sunshine Away by MO Walsh (2015) – Rape is a devastating violent event for the victim but also for the community in which the rape occurs. The rape of 15-year-old Lindy in the summer of 1989 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana begins this novel, a novel narrated by the 14-year-old boy across the street whose love for Lindy outlines his entire teen existence. With often heart-rending prose, Mr. Walsh creates a tale in which narrative, memory, forgiveness and love are as palatable as the Southern landscape this novel inahbits, and he shows how all those things shape a life.
A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear (March 2015) – Maisie Dobbs is back. This time she is on the Island of Gilbraltar during the Spanish Civil War. And I am thankful to say, after the first 50 pages or so is less whiny than in the past two books. Having just returned from 4 months n Madrid, I was delighted to spend some time in Spain again.
The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (2015) – As someone who loves bookstores and booksellers, it would be hard not to like this charming novel. However, even removing that bias, I would still love and recommend this book for anyone in need of a story that leaves them smiling. High literature? Perhaps not, but feel-good stories have their place as well.
Lincoln Myth by Steve Berry (2014) – Once again time in an airport meant a thriller by Mr. Berry. This was not one of my favorites, but it did the trick.
How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – yes I have read this before, but re-reading it as part of a final paper for a class, re-introduced me to the clever humor of Mr. Thurston, and the ideas he has for discussions about race.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015) – Sad, thoughtful, angry, well-written and timely memoir written in the form of a letter to his son. Won the National Book Award too.
Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to do The Right Thing by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe (2010) – While I think, as with most of Malcolm Gladwell books, that this would have been more powerful as a long New Yorker Essay, this book has me thinking about how I can structure work, play and family to learn, as well as how I can better acquire and use practical wisdom in all aspects of my life.
It’s Been Me All Along – a book about struggling with weight, self worth and love.
Good Prose by Kidder and Todd (2013) – Every once in awhile I pick up a book on how to write – favorites being Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. This volume of advice rises to the top. The authors’ relationship, adventures together and editor and writer and love of a good story well-told propel this clearly written volume of advice on writing.
Can We Talk about Race?by Beverly Daniel Tatum (2008) – A collection of four essays by renowned psychologist and Spellman College President Dr. Tatum about race in America. While they have a school based slant, the questions they raise the the information they impart is important for anyone to consider.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) – Wow, does this make you think about race in America. Uniquely laid out and provocative. Read it to help you make sense of today’s headlines.
Kids and YA
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savat (2016) – I am not sure who I would sell this to as its subject is more difficult than the typical k-12 book, and the age of the main character younger than the average YA heroine. But I loved this short well-written tale about a girl who is forced to wander Poland when her father goes to work one day and never comes home in order to survive WWII. Along the way she befriends “the swallow man” a man who speaks with birds and does not provide his name as “names are dangerous these days”.
The Seventh Most Important Thing (2015) – This YA book combines juvenile delinqency, folk artist James Hampton, 1960s America in a lovely tale about redemption, friendship and learning to make your own way.
Magnus Chase by Rick Riordan (2015) – LOVE this new series by Mr. Riordan. Same voice for teens, but with a Norse Myth Twist.
Loki’s Wolves: Blackwell Pages Book #1 – KL Armstrong and MA Marr (2013) – This was a great read aloud for my Percy Jackson loving sons who were looking for a good new book to share.
Norvelt to Nowhere by Jack Gantos – A superb and funny sequel to Dead End in Norvelt.
The View From Saturday by EL Konisberg – a superb classic by this great writer.
Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko (2015) – I loved Lizzie, a young girl who loves accompanying her father on his doctor’s rounds in early 1900s San Francisco, but instead must attend a school for girls to learn how to serve tea and dance and become a lady. The influx of the plague in San Francisco’s Chinatown and then beyond, changes everything as Lizzie fights to save her family’s cook from the Chinatown quarantine. A great book for young lovers of historical fiction.
– a poetry book with rocking illustrations, divides the poems among the seasons they reflect.
Stella By Starlight by Sharon Draper (2015) – A great book about depression era North Carolina told from the perspective of a young African American girl.
Ferals by Jacob Grey (2015) – Caw was abandoned by his parents when he was very young and he has been living with and talking to the crows ever since. Then one day he saves a girl and finds his first human friend. Then things get complicated as they discover others who can talk with animals and that some of those are intent on destroying the world by bringing the “Spinning Man” back to life. Believe me — this will all make sense to the kids who read this dark adventure for animal lovers.
The Worst Field Trip Ever by Dave Barry (2015) – Perhaps my favorite book for kids of the summer of 2015. Fans of Dave Barry will love the humor. Fans of fun adventures will love this book.
Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin (2015) – Ruby has a big secret that keeps her from inviting friends over to play and that takes her out of town every Saturday – her mom is in prison. She is fuzzy on the details of why as she does not really want to know. But she starts middle school in the fall and there is a new girl in her condo complex who just might be a friend. This story tells Ruby’s story and introduces the reader to the complicated lives led by children of the incarcerated. This would be a great book to read with your kids too as it would lead to great conversations about bad choices and the ripple of repercussions they can lead behind.
Bo at Iditarod Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (2015) – This series brings me back to my days of devouring the “Little House” books. And while this series, unlike Ms. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, is not a memoir, it feels authentic and the illustrations are especially evocative of those of Ma and Pa and Laura and Mary. In this second book of xx series, we continue to follow Bo, her brother and her two dads as they travel the Alaskan Gold Rush. Give this one to all your Little House fans; they will thank you.
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt (October 2015) – Mr. Schmidt does it again – a TERRIFIC thoughtful novel for kids. I thought Wednesday Wars would be difficult to top, then OK For Now was written (my 12 year old calls these two books his favorite books ever) . And now Orbiting Jupiter appears. Mr. Schmidt tackles tough topics, Vietnam War, foster care, abuse, with compassion and honors the reader by mot preaching. In this book, which I would read WITH your child or give to older pre-teens and above, he creates a family built on love out of a foster care situation in which the foster kid has already fathered a child at the tender age of 13. I know that sounds horrid, but it is not. Please read this and Mr. Schmidt’s other novels.
X:A novel by IlyAsah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon (2015) – This novel looks at Malcolm X and his formative years in Michigan, Boston and NYC. Written by his daughter and Ms. Magoon (author of another kids book I recommend How it Went Down), this book humanizes a legend, and illustrates how choices and your reactions to them shape your life.
Last in a Long Line of Rebels by Lisa Lewis Tyre (Sept 2015) – A fun exploration of the civil war, underground railroad the rebels, and treasure hunts all through the eyes of a super protagonist – Lou and her friends and crazy family.
The second Maureen Johnson London series
Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles (2015) – Ms. Knowles is a favorite YA writer ever since Living with Jackie Chan. In this outing, she describes one day in the life of a few teachers, a couple of cheerleaders, some stoners, some jocks and some who don’t know exactly where they fall in the High School hierarchy. Her tale serves as a reminder that everyone has a story to tell and we would all be better off if we took some time to find it.
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour (2014) – What I loved most about this book is that the main romance is between two girls, and it is NOT a big deal. It is lovely. I am old, and that never would have been the case in books aimed at teens of my generation. So I thank the author for this. But, in addition to some teen romance, this book gives you insight into the world of making movies,a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend, teen sleuths, homeless teens, messed up adults, bi-racial families, and great friends. And just so you know, I tried to put this down and read something else for a bit, but I kept picking it back up as I just wanted to know what happened. Enjoy!
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (2011) – I just discovered this YA series and loved this first book. In it a Louisiana native relocates to a London Boarding school where she discovers an ability to see and speak with ghosts just gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper in the autumn of 1888 begin.
Wonder by RJ Palacio – listening to this with my sons and reading it aloud with my reading mentee and loving it even though I know this story from reading it years ago. The story of Auggie and his transition to to middle school, a transition complicated by his severe facial deformities, is special. Read it and enjoy seeing how friends make mistakes and rectify them and how everyone has something they can do to make the world a better place. A SUPERB CLASSIC.
Drowning is Inevitable by Shalanda Stanley (Sept 2015) – Olivia’s mom died days after giving birth to her, Olivia’s best friend’s father has unraveled with the help of endless bottles of booze, her on-again off-again boyfriend does not understand her, and her closest girlfriend is trying to live with a mother who is both absent and an addict. That is just the backstory; the novel takes off when Olivia’s best friend and his father have a disagreement ending in death. Sound depressing? Perhaps, but somehow Ms. Stanley uses all four characters to create a story of friendship, loyalty and small town life that will stay with you long after the last page is finished. Confession – I stayed up all night to finish this superb YA novel.
The Missing – a great Sci Fi for kids that my son loved – perhaps because the main character is also adopted.
A Snicker of Magic – A GREAT audio book for my two boys. They loved this tale of words and magic and family.
George by Alex Gino (August 2015) – An unique book told from the perspective of a and about a transgendered elementary school student. This is the first published middle grades book by Alex Gino and feels true to what life as a transgendered child must be like for the transgendered and those who love them. Important, short and a great start of a discussion about diversity and acceptance and love.
The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart (2015) – A boy fighting cancer learns it has returned. Rather than face treatment again, he runs away to climb Mt. Rainier. This is his story, and the story of the best friend who knows where he is and must decided what and who and if to tell. Not the best written debut ever, but two compelling characters.
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (2015) – Yes another YA book that is hard to read due to content but also hard to put down. In this tale the lives of girls in a juvenile detention center and their former friends intersect in a surreal tale of friendship, betrayal, abuse, families, ballet, karma and justice involves money. This novel is confusing — part psychological thriller, mixed with some magical realism. To be honest, you really can’t tell what’s real, what’s a lie, and what’s a by-product of the narrators’ (and there are multiple voices in play throughout this book) twisted imaginations.
Weightless by Sarah Bannan (30 June 2015) – I am not sure who I would sell this novel too, but I can’t stop thinking about it. So, definitely High School teachers and parents of high schoolers. Then I would have those parents and educators decide which young adults they know would appreciate this book. It is a tough look at the consequences of bullying in the age of FB and Twitter and other social media that begins when beautiful Carolyn Lessing moves from New Jersey to a very small town in Alabama. Initially popular she pays an ultimate price for being an outsider, and no one is quite off the hook in her demise. I was appalled at the bullying, the number of girls obsessed with their weight and the bulimia and anorexia that seemed to be normal ways to manage appearance. I was appalled at the students and teachers who apparently stood by and watched as things went downhill fast. I was just sad at the picture of high school painted in this tale. But I think it would be an excellent way to start conversations with the teens in your life to read it. So I am recommending it for that.
Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff (May 26, 2015) – SUPERB! Sad. Powerful. Trent’s 6th grade year is scarred by the aftermath of a tragic accident in 5th grade, and nothing gets much better until he meets an unique, also scarred, force of nature called Fallon. The story of Trent and Fallon is one of second chances, recovery and friendship. It is also an honest look at rage, anger, and blame. As award-winning author Gary Schmidt states, “This book will change you.”
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (2012) – My sons and I listened to this as we commuted to various sporting events. They LOVED the humor and the history of this cold war era tale for young readers. Their highlights – the grown man who rides a tricycle, the main character who is grounded for life and becomes an obituary writer, the differing opinions of the narrators parents as to how to raise him. bonus – Dead End in Norvelt won the 2012 Newbery Medal for the year’s best contribution to children’s literature and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction!
Saving Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea (July 2015) – The kids in this book about seventh graders are believable and fun. Enough so that I would like to read the first two books in this series where they are in 5th and 6th grade. I loved the fact that a group of mixed gender middle schoolers could be friends, have issues with one another, not speak for awhile, have life happen (hormones, Mom’s breast cancer, dad leaving) and still stay connected. I was a bit astonished by the frequent references to God and by the fact many of the characters pray to God often as that is not a frequent relationship explored in juvenile fiction, but once I managed my surprise the prayers rang true for the characters involved.
The Giver by lois Lowry – Not sure how I missed this one, but at age 48 I listened to this with my 12 year old. And we both loved it. His review “Why would anyone want to live in that town; they do crazy things”. Both our reviews – it is a good book.
Graphic Library (many stories): The Attack on Pearl Harbor, Matthew Henson, Jim Thorpe, Shackleton and his lost Antartic Expedition, The Battle of Gettysburg – GREAT nonfiction graphic novels covering a variety of topics.
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (24 Feb 2015) – A plot influenced by Magic Realism and launched by a fairy tale about the fate of three princesses allows a harmonica to travel among three children in three different states/countries (Germany, Pennsylvania and California) during WWII. This harmonica unites their very different war experiences (rescuing a father from concentration camp, ensuring a brother does not go to an orphanage, helping a family hold on to their farm) into one lovely book. Uniquely crafted, this story of love, music and war will both educate and delight.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015) – A superb, superb book about love, life and suicide told from the perspective of two teens – Violet and Finch – living in Indiana, trying to figure out what senior year of HS means, what colleges to attend and how to play the hands they have been dealt by life (him – abusive father, indifferent mother; her – she survived a car wreck, her sister did not). I SOBBED at the end, but am glad I have this perspective on young adult life and the aftermath of death. I can not recommend it highly enough; but be warned you will be sad along with the happy.
Lincoln Photobiography by Russell Freedman (1987) – This Newberry Award winner that was fun to listen to with my sons and their hockey teams. It provides an account of Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood, his career as a country lawyer, and his courtship and marriage to Mary Todd. Then focuses on his presidential years with explanations of the complex issues brought by Civil War. The book’s final chapter accounts his final evening in Ford’s Theatre. Bonus material includes Lincoln’s writings. I can only imagine how much better the pictures would have made it. Highly recommended!
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015) – This book is going to be BIG. I will describe it as the next Gone Girl (from a British perspective) as any description of the plot will ruin the experience.
The Children Return by Martin Walker: A New Bruno Mystery (April 2015) – Mr. Walker once again provides a fun read in his Detective Bruno series – smart, well grounded in the French countryside and fun to read.
Buried or The Marco Effect in the USA by Adler Olsen (2014) The latest instalment in the Department Q series does not disappoint. I could not read it fast enough.
The Children Act by Ian McEwan (2014) – Although definitely not my favorite book by this excellent author, Mr. McEwan always manages to craft a story that makes you think and think a bit differently about the world. In this case, I was fascinated to think for 214 pages about what life as a judge would entail, what life in Modern England brings and how religion intersects everything.
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2013) – WOW I cried at the end of this one. This was the COSTA book of the year for 2013 (awarded to fiction written by writers in Ireland and the UK) and I can totally understand why. Told in a completely engaging manner in the first person by the main character – Matthew, although you don’t know his name for awhile, this FIRST novel by Mr. Filer explores mental illness, what triggers it, how people help and hurt the patient’s prognosis, what mental health hospitals try to accomplish, how funding for services for mental health is precarious, how the mentally ill function so well for so long, until they don’t. Mr. Filer is a mental health nurse (and I would add outstanding novelist) and his compassion for his patients comes through in this novel. The narration is brilliant, the situation touching, heart-breaking, unbelievably moving, bittersweet, and above all compelling. As London’s Daily Mail says, “you’re going to love it.”
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014) – I love her Thomas Cromwell trilogy so I leapt at the chance to read some short stories by Ms. Mantel. The collection is diverse and always interesting, from a piece about when you know a marriage has ended to the title story about an assassin, she keeps you guessing about what is really going on with each character. Pick this up and enjoy them one at a time or in one fell swoop.
Em and The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto (2012) – In a little over 200 pages this author charmed me with his narrative of a son trying to figure out his unusual family, one orbiting the ups and downs of his mother and the manifestations of her bipolar disease. Uniquely and beautifully infused with compassion, grace, lots of humor, insight and love, this gem of a book is a must read for anyone looking for a good story or anyone whose lives are touched by mental illness. (Note: This would make a great Book Club book – well-written, short, and on many levels profound.)
Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansome (2005) – recommended by Lonely Planet as one of the books to read to get a flavor for Madrid. And since I am living in Madrid for a few months, I am hungry for information. This left me wanting even more about the Spanish Civil War. In this novel a reluctant spy is sent from England to Madrid to discover what a former public school chum is up to with Franco and others. As suspected things get complicated as an ex-Red Cross nurse is engaged in a secret mission of her own that involves another of the spy’s MIA friends. Throughout, C. J. Sansom’s tale provides a profound sense of history unfolding and the impact of impossible choices. It was a perfect read to get a map out and follow the trail of the spy and his compatriots as they try their best to keep Franco from joining Hitler. Based in part on actual people and events.
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker (2013)
The Long Way Home: An Inspector Gamanche novel by Louise Penny (August 27, 2014) – Ms. Penny’s series just gets better. This latest book may be her best. In this book, Inspector Gamanche pauses retirement to help his friend and famed artist Clara Morrow find her missing husband. Somehow she makes every day life in a small town of Three Pines a delightful excursion with each installment. And the lessons these books gently unfold are great reminders of all the things you knew were excellent mantras for living your own life.
The Keeper by John Lescroarte (May 2014) – yet another Dismas Hardy mystery to get me through the summer. These characters have become friends and revisiting San Francisco – the setting of this series – is always delightful.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (June 2014) – An excellent debut novel about the power of all the things left unsaid in a family. How secrets hurt. How children try so hard to please their parents. How parents’ expectations, even if well-meaning, can crush. How you must live your life, not the life others expect you to live. All of this is intwined in the story of Lydia and her family (three mixed race children and their Chinese father and Caucasion mother) mix living in 1970s Ohio) after she is found dead in a lake. Read it.
Cover Her Face PD James (1962) – James’ first Adam Dalgleish thriller – an impertinent serving girl is murdered behind a locked door in an old mansion. Enjoy.
Euphoria by Lily King (2014) – Truly terrific. A well-crafted tale of three anthropologists and their time observing and living with the various peoples in the Territory of New Guinea. Set between the two World Wars, Ms. King explores a complex love triangle among three gifted and often confused young scientists. This novel is loosely based upon real life events from the life of Margaret Mead — all from a trip to the Sepik River in New Guinea, during which Mead and her husband, Reo Fortune, briefly collaborated with the man who would become her third husband, the English anthropologist Gregory Bateson — and it has me searching for nonfiction treatments of her life. The New York Times agrees that this book is a must read this summer.
Foreign Affairs by Allison Lurie (1964) – This is actually a travel log about London disguised as a novel about two American professors abroad in the same way Henry James created his novels. In alternating chapters we meet Fred, a 29 year old English professor at a prestigious New England college, and Vinnie, a 54 year old professor also at the same college. They are not friends, but they are both in London for the summer and each of them has a summer of discovery; about themselves, their relationships and their professions. This is a lovely brief and satisfying novel about what there is for Americans abroad to love in London. Truly a fun read and a great airchair travel book.
Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch – The summer 2014 pick for fans of Gone Girl. Not as gruesome as The Dinner by the same author, but equally disturbing and psychologically probing. In this one a Dutch doctor and his family are forever changed after a summer with a set of characters renting a vacation house.
Mudbound by Hilary Jordan (2008) — Yet another reason to read Bellewether prize for Socially engaged fiction winners. Finally got around to reading this and did so in one fell swoop. Heartbreaking story of creating family, racial relations, poor treatment of returning veterans, and the price of silence as members of two families scraping a living in rural Mississippi collide.
The Farm by Tom Rob Smith (2014) – I can not really review this as to do so gives away too much. So I will just say fans of Gone Girl will love this and as someone who was not a huge fan of Gone Girl, Mr. Smith’s psychological thriller had me reading to completion in two fell swoops and rather annoyed when life interfered so it could not be one fell swoop. Enjoy this almost perfect summer light, but engrossing read. The fact it was based upon real life experiences of the author just makes it all the more fascinating. But don’t take y word for it – believe PW – “[A] superior psychological thriller…Smith keeps the reader guessing up to the powerfully effective resolution that’s refreshingly devoid of contrivances.”—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst (2014) – This is how a thriller is powerful – a superb author, a historical plot and intense situations with characters you care about. What I especially liked about this one – putting the Spanish Civil War in the historical context of the start of WWII. Enjoy and then pick up one of Mr. Furst’s many other superb historical thrillers.
The Accident by Chris Pavone (2014) – This is less a thriller and more a send up of the publishing industry. And honestly I am not certain that is what the publishing industry needs right now. But if you like intrigue and gossip and who done its, you might like this for a light summer read. I wanted it to be better, but it was fine.
Enter Pale Death by Barbara Cleverly (December 2014) – A Joe Sandilands Investigation – somehow I have missed the other books in this series, but I am glad this copy found its way into my hands as I will now look for the earlier mysteries. In this novel, Scotland Yard Detective (what a fun phrase to have in a book) must unravel a WWII murder and a current day suspicious death. Both involve a powerful family and his true love.
Landline by Rainbow Rowell – an excellent adult book by an superb young adult novelist !! Loved the idea of saving a marriage by going back in time.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (May 2013 in Australia/May 2014 is US) – I discovered this in Newport, RI at Island Books, and I am very glad I did. This is a haunting tale of Iceland. Ms. Kent does a superb job of taking the true stories of Agnes – a woman convicted of murdering two men, of the family who must house her while she awaits her execution, of Toti – the Reverend who must save her soul, and combing them into a fabulous first novel. As winter unfolds, she narrates her version of the events each night as chores are completed, and the tale is haunting for all.
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (June 2014) – This debut novel creates suspense from the first pages. Maud is showing signs of dementia, so no one takes her seriously when her friend Elizabeth is missing. Her attempts to find Elizabeth mingle with recurring memories of when her older sister disappeared from their London home after WWII. The reader is never quite sure if what has happened is in real time or in Maud’s past. But the story of an aging woman’s attempt to hold reality is touching and the story of her sister is heartbreaking. A superb debut.
By Its Cover by Donna Leon (April 2014) – yet another superb Commissario Brunetti mystery – this one revolves around the thefts of rare books. – ENJOY!
King and Maxwell by David Baldacci (2013) – I was in an airport so I bought a Baldacci – yes he is my guilty pleasure. Why – he writes page turners and there is always some sort of interesting political issue to think about. But, basically because his books are fun to read.
The City The City by xxxx — While I must say this book has haunted me a bit since finishing as I am thinking a lot about the things we chose mot to see in our lives, and I am glad I read it, I admit I skimmed towards the end as the narrative lost my interest, but I wanted to know how it ended.
Flying Shoes by Lisa Horworth (June 2014) — I wanted this book to be better than it was. I was vacationing in the south and wanted a good book about the south so I picked up this book by a bookstore owner. And because it was by a bookseller, I really wanted to like it a lot. But it was just fine. Basically I think the author tried to tell too many stories in one novel and that left me wanting more info about each somehow. The writing was fun, but again the story left me wanting.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (March 2013) – I am so so very glad I finally got around to reading this book!! What a clever concept that is cleverly executed. In this novel a woman is born, dies is born again as the same person lives a bit longer, dies is born again makes different choices again and again. It sounds a bit trippy but please read it and Enjoy! I promise you will be thinking about this one long after you close the last page.
The Late Scholar by Jill Patton Walsh (June 2014) – I have never read one of Ms. Walsh’s previous mysteries, nor have I read Ms. Sayer’s mysteries. But I am glad that Ms. Walsh has revived Ms. Sayer’s mysteries. I totally enjoyed my time spent in Oxford, circa 1952, with Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane – a Lord and a novelist who solve mysteries in their spare time. Honestly this was just what I needed on a cold, rainy spring day.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – A truly, truly, truly amazing debut novel about the pain and suffering inflicted during the Chechen conflict(s) and the power of love. From the opening pages describing the abduction and disappearance of a man from his home (which is promptly burned to the ground). Mr. Marra connects the lives of eight unforgettable characters – the daughter of the abducted man, the father of a despised informant, a doctor trying to hold together a hospital with three staff members, a woman who escapes when willing to be sold into prostitution, to name a few – in unexpected ways. With incredible writing and gifted storytelling, this is a superb read. I can not praise it enough.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (2013) – This Man Booker finalist is a fascinating look at Japan, bullying, the dot.com bust, zen buddhism, and love. It all begins when a dairy by a Japanese girl washes up on the shore of an island in the Pacific Northwest and is found by a novelist with severe writer’s block.
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.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (2014) – I cried at descriptions of Mr. Stevenson’s work in Alabama to help people who never had a chance in the American justice system. Peppered with facts about the percentages of people on death row who are people of color, or the number of people permanently incarcerated for non-violent crimes comitted when they were 12 or 13, Mr. Stevenson’s work brings these statistics to life in ways that make you care and bring stories from today’s headlines home in ways that, be warned, may incite action on your part.
A Late Education by Alan Moorehead (1970 – republished by Foxed Quarterly in 2012) – A fascinating look at the life of a war correspondent and the world of Spain’s Civil War, WWII, and England and Australian society of the times.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014) – A brief treatise of why men and women should be proud to be feminists by an amazing writer.
Blue Nights by Jon Didion (2011) – Confusing, enlightening, well-crafted, but highlights how we are all in avoidance about death and illness. Ms. Didion’s account of the death of her daughter and her own fears of mortality is heartbreaking. And this seems to continue my October pattern of unintentionally picking up books about mental illness.
Madrid: A Cultural History by Elizabeth Nash (2001, 2012) – A look at Spain, through the lenses of locations throughout Madrid (futbol stadiums, Plaza Mayor, Gran Via, the Palace, Puerta del Sol) written by the long time Madrid correspondent for The Independent. I loved the fact each chapter stood alone, so I could fit reading this around all the other books on my book stand.
A Load of Bull – An Englishman’s time in Madrid as editor of Vogue Spain. At first very very funny, the author’s humor is excellent and wry, I have to admit I was ready for it to end towards the end. Review – read the first 6 chapters and move on.
Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charles Leduff – This former NYTimes reporter heads home in 2008 to Detroit to discover if things are really as bad as they seem. They are. While this is completely depressing and I did not always like the narrator, I am glad I read this personal account of America gone wrong. I hope this book becomes a fable and Detroit and other cities like it pull out of their tail spin.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Heminway (1964) – I am so glad I finally got around to reading this memoir. His Paris is a place I would have loved to have visited, even in his poverty, and the characters involved are all the more amazing as they are real.
The Centrist Manifesto by Charles Whelan – The Naked Economist takes on American politics with a call for a third party – a moderate party made up of Democrats and republicans that would actually get things accomplished through moderate rhetoric and measures.As a fiscally conservative liberal, I listened with hope.
Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (1933) – This travel log is superb,and honestly took me by surprise with how much I loved it. Full of incredible humor, great writing, dry wit and well composed descriptions of life in early 20th century Britian and Brazil. The story begins when the narrator, a London literary editor, signs on for an expedition to find Colonel PH Fawcett, who has gone missing in the Amazon. With self- depreciating humor Mr. Fleming proceeds to explore how an expedition comes together, embarks and continues in the face of hardships of 3,000 miles of wilderness and alligator-ridden rivers. Have Fun with this one. I honestly can not recommend it highly enough.
For kids and young adults
The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne (March 17, 2015) – Take a bit of West Wing and Scandal, a bit of real life politics, a well drawn heroine, add an intriguing romantic interest with unusual complications and you have a YA novel that will keep you up all night wanting to know how the author will get her characters out of their respective troublesome situations.
One Big Pair of Underwear by Laura Gehl (2014) – Charming counting bears. Rhyming. Sing-Song.
I’m My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein (2104) – Dog adopts, trains, eventually loves owner.
Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea (2014) – Lane Smith pictures. Do-it My Way.
Little Elliott, Big City by Curato (2104) – Small elephant finds help/friend in mouse.
Lou Lou is Leaving for Africa by Villeneuve (2013) – Girl tires of brothers and runs away with help of Chauffeur.
This Book Just Ate My Dog by Byrne (2014) – Girl learns importance of books in humorous way.
A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall (2014) – A love story that unfolds through the eyes of 14 different observers of the boy and girl involved. Perfect for the young adult who needs a bit of romance and not sacharine sweet due to the varying perspectives, including that of a bench and the big brother.
Once Upon An Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers (2014) – Author of our favorite picture book from last year – The Day the Crayons Quit – has penned a series of short stories based upon each letter of the alphabet. His playful nature gets kids thinking about letters and life.
Nicky and his friend Velazquez by Leyre Chamorro (2011) – a great introduction to the great painter Velazquez and to Spain.
From Mudhuts to Skyscrapers by Christine Paxman (2012) – For budding architects or observers of the world.
How to be an explorer of the world by Keri Smith (2008) – In this journal, readers are encouraged to explore their world, to document and observe the world around them. The are told to take notes, to collect things you find on your travels, to document findings and notice patterns and to focus on one thing at a time in a series of illustrated prompts. Could make a great “what do we do now? We’re bored” inspiration.
New York in Four Seasons by Michael Storrings (2014) – A picture book for adults and kids that is actually a love story for New York. You might recognize his drawings from Christmas ornaments, but in this book they show a city he LOVES and his prose tells you why you should love it too. Great illustrations of Central Park, the museum mile, Coney Island, and of the seasonal items – Christmas windows, 4th of July fireworks and the Greenwich Village Halloween parade. A GREAT holiday gift for anyone who loves NYC or wants other to love it too.
Atlas of Adventures: A collection of natural wonders, exciting experiences and fun fun festivities from the four corners of the globe by Lucy Letherland (2014) – Similar to MAPS, this picture book encourages the reader through fun illustrations and some well selected prose to go all around the world and have adventures that are unique to specific locations. A GREAT holiday gift.
House of Secrets by Chris Columbus (2013) – The first adventure in a trilogy for kids. And as one might suspect from the director of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson movies, the chapters are action packed and often end on a cliffhanger which means you just have to keep reading well into the night. A great book for kids looking for something to read in between Rick Riordan novels.
The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting by Holly Bourne (2014) – WOW – she grabs you from the opening premise and keeps you turning pages. Yes, you know that disaster awaits, but you are so hoping that somehow it all ends well. Please read this with your favorite High Schooler. I think it might open up some great conversations about mean girls, horrid boys, cutting, suicide, how to garner great friendships, and the meaning of life.
The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable (2012) – Great atmosphere surrounds this story of an orphan girl and her two friends as they travel from a London Boarding School to Russia and are thrown from a train into the snow, rescued by a princess (or is she) and brought to a decaying castle surrounded by wolves, legends and tragedy. You could sort of see the end coming, but I am not sure the average kid reader will.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd (2007) – A superb mystery with great kid characters and an unusual mystery – where did a 15 year old boy go instead of home after a spin on the London Eye.
The Boy In the Dress by David Walliams and perfectly illustrated by Quentin Blake (2009) – I don’t know how I missed this book. It may be a bit preachy, but it is done with such humor I had to love it. In short, ever since his mother left the family, Dennis’s life is lonely. His father is depressed, and his brother bullies him. But one thing that did not leave when his mother did is Dennis’ love for soccer and his secret passion for fashion? When an older girl Lisa, discovers his stash of Vogue magazines, she convinces him to wear a dress to school with startling consequences. A tale of love tolerance, friendship and figuring out what it means to be who you are.
Book Five of the Lost Hero Series by Rick Riordan (2014) – I LOVE THIS SERIES. And I am so sad to see these characters go. That is all I can say.
OK For Now – heartbreaking, intelligent, heartwarming. This folllow up to Wednesday Wars follows one of the characters to his new hometown. His family situation is horrid. His situation at school is not much better, but a librarian and a folio of John James Audubon’s birds provides hope. Please read this. My 11 year old LOVED it!
The Misadventures of Family Fletcher (2014) – two dads adopt four sons and chaos and love ensue. My boys LOVED this book.
The Landry News by Andrew Clements
The Kid Who Ran for President by Dan Gutman – A fifth grader runs for President – for real, and managed by his new friend, actually has a chance of winning. A great introduction into Presidential politics and a fun read.
Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt – A SUPERB book about bullying, friendship, war and baseball.
Insurgent Divergent and Allegiant – reread as I could not remember the ending
Manhunt: Book Three in The Silver Jaguar Society Series by Kate Messner (June 2014) – In this third book of the Silver Jaguar series, Henry, Jose and Anna head to Paris, with their Jaguar Society relatives, to solve a series of international art thefts. The ensuing complications include that the adults promptly disappear leaving them stranded in Shakespeare and Company (a famous Paris landmark) with a boy they don’t quite trust, that they do not speak French and that they are constantly hungry as they try to recover both the lost art and the missing adults. ~ Lisa Christie
The Expeditioners and Secret of King Triton’s Lair by SS Taylor – The Wests are back and embroiled in an amazing adventure involving underwater secrets, pirates and lessons about friendship love and family. A superb sequel to the first Expeditioners novel. In this sequel, Kit, Zander, and M. K. West are liking their new lives as students at the Academy for the Exploratory Sciences. Ok Kit isn’t. But then he finds another mysterious map left for him by their father, the famous — and presumed dead — explorer Alexander West. This leads them on a trip through shipwrecks, pirates, storms and eventually undersea.
Hero by Lupica – A boy discovers he is part of a long line of heroes when his father is killed in a mysterious accident. Good modern day adventure set in Manhattan.
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (2013) – a cross between Mary Poppins (only for the roof top scenes, not the nanny) and the Adventures of Hugo Cabret. This story begins with a baby floating on the ocean in a cello case, and rescued by an unusual bachelor who the child services lady does not think is fit to care for a girl. Things come to a head and the solution is to find the girl’s mother with a clue left in the cello case. This leads the pair to Paris and rooftops and other orphaned children. it leads you to an enchanting story.
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira (2014) – While the book was slightly too long for me to rave about it completely, I truly was moved by this story of Laurel and what happened to her after her sister dies, or more aptly what happened to her sister and her before she died. And I have a feeling that the target audience of young people won’t mind the numerous pages. And I agree with my fellow booklover’s review – “though it may sound tragic, I found it to be: funny, moving, honest, and intimate–almost as if the author were writing this book to me.”
Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli (2014) – What do you do when your LITTLE brother gets all the credit for saving your neighbor’s life? Or when your best friend and the boy down the block don’t quite get you? Or when you don’t get a part in the community theater play? Why you become Emily Dickenson of course. But then you discover being a recluse is not as easy as it seems. A charming look at life.
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd (2014) – Factofabulous – this is a superbly fun book. Although I have a disclaimer — — during the first few pages, I thought it might turn out too be cloyingly sweet, but it is not. This tale of a unique family from the heart of the mountains of Tennessee has heart, grit, fun, friendship and magic. Best part for me – reading a modern day story set in the mountains where I grew up; was Splendiferous! to spend some time in Tennessee again.
Zac and Mia by AJ Betts (Sept 2014 in the US) – I was worried this would be too much like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I needn’t have bothered. Mia and especially Zac are superb characters in their own right. Yes, as in Mr. Green’s novel, they meet as a result of a stint in an Australian cancer ward. But who they are and what happens to them is uniquely Australian and uniquely their own. A perfect gift for teens and those who love them.
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon (Oct 21, 2014) – A powerful look at “what goes down” when a 16-year-old, black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man. Was it defense against a gang incident? Was it a man stopping a robbery gone wrong? Was it being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it none of these, or a combination of these? And, just when you think you have all the pieces and perspectives to know what happened, a new piece of information inserted into one of the multiple voices used to tell this story, sends you another direction.
A seriously impressive book – cleverly staged, with superb and unique voices throughout, and a plot from today’s headlines. This book makes you think about how perspective influences what you see, how stories are told, how choices have implications, and – well, to be honest – the pull and power of gangs. Read it and discuss with your favorite teen.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (May 2014) I COULD NOT PUT THIS DOWN. And I can not say much about the plot as it will ruin the book. But trust me, this story of a privileged family summering on their own island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard is mesmerizing. The plot revolves around decisions leading up to a tragedy, and then how the decisions made afterwards affect the family, particularly the narrator 18 year old Cadence.
Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore (May 2014) – This book combines, small town Vermont, McCarthyism, potential Russian Spies, Union troubles and two intriguing kids. I enjoyed learning more about Vermont and McCarthyism; kids will enjoy Hazel Kaplansky – the narrator and girl extraordinaire. Hazel strongly believes in the pursuit of knowledge and truth no matter what the cost, and she loves a good mystery. So when Senator McCarthy targets a local union in her small Vermont town, “good American citizen” Hazel knows it is up to her to uncover the Russian spies. She enlists Samuel, the new boy with a mysterious past, to help.
Divergent – Re-read to prepare for seeing the movie. Held up as a great suspenseful read.
Like No Other by Una LaMarche (July 2014) – West Side Story with an African American as the male lead and a Hasidic girl as the female lead. Set in modern day Brooklyn, this tale explores the feelings one’s first true love brings, and what it means to make your own way into the world – even if it requires navigating wanting to respect one’s parents while still rebelling from their rules.
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 love letter to London – her descriptions will make you feel as if you are there, and to love itself. In it Alice, a wayward youngest 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.