Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Annual List - 2019 Edition

The Annual List for 2019 has me standing in front of my new bookshelves looking at several of my favorite titles this year. I read over 100 books in a variety of genres and met several of the authors, all of whom were as engaging as their books. The best books of the year lists will begin appearing in a few weeks. I hope you find several titles on this list that will satisfy your craving for good books.  Enjoy and let me know which ones you loved.

If you'd like a pdf version to print for your own use especially in independent bookstores or at your library, email me at trinabookhungry@gmail.com and I'll send it to you.

Happy reading,
Trina Hayes


Hungry for Good Books? Annual Book List for 2019

Find these and more at www.hungryforgoodbooks.com

 ©Copyright December 1, 2019, by Trina Hayes
Letters after each selection designate the book as CC: Chinese Carryout (page-turners, great for plane rides), D: Desserts (delightful indulgences), DC: Diet Coke and Gummi Bears (books for teens and young adults), G: Gourmet (exquisite writing, requires concentration), GPR: Grandma’s Pot Roast (books that get your attention and stick with you), GS: Grits (evocative of the American south), OC: Over Cooked (good ingredients, but overwritten), PBJ: Peanut Butter and Jelly (children’s books adults will like), PP: Pigeon Pie (historical fiction, parts or all of the novel set at least 50 years ago),  R: Road Food (audio books for road trips and more), S: Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet (satire, irony, black humor, acquired taste), SBP: Sweet Bean Paste (translated and international books), SF: Soul Food (spirituality, theology, books for your soul), SN: Super Nutrition (lots of information, yet tasty as fresh blueberries), and T: Tapas (small bites including short stories, novellas, essays, and poetry). The letters BC denote books for book clubs.  Asterisks (*) depict the most outstanding titles in each designation. The plus sign (+) is for books I recommend. The number sign (#) is for books with full reviews on my blog. All books listed were published in 2019 unless noted otherwise.

General Fiction and Poetry

+Ackerman, Elliot, Dark at the Crossing embeds the reader into the truth of life along the Syria/Turkey border. This National Book Award finalist follows an Iraqi who became a US citizen and then returned to the Middle East to fight for a free Syria. Ackerman, a former Marine, makes war’s tragedy and brutality hauntingly real. It’s a beautifully wrought telling based on a true story. G/SN, BC (2017)
*Ackerman, Elliot, Waiting for Eden is an inventive, exceptional novel about Eden, a dying soldier in a burn center, whose story is told by a fellow soldier who was killed in the same explosion. Through his ghostly voice, we learn of the suffering of Eden’s wife Mary, of their 3-year-old daughter who is with her grandmother, and of the efforts of Gabe, Eden’s compassionate nurse. Touching and deeply affecting this novella helps the reader prepare for an Eden we hope will come especially for our veterans. G/T, BC
+Andrews, Mary Kay, The High Tide Club is a romp of a romance with a touch of mystery set in the sea islands off the coast of Georgia. I spent my honeymoon on St. Simons Island and am drawn to the rich history and beauty of the area. When a lawyer and single mother is called to one of the islands by the reclusive, 99-year-old owner of half of that island to find a way to keep the National Park Service from buying her land, the lawyer can’t imagine how she and others fit into the story and the backstory of an unsolved disappearance on the island in 1941. D/CC/GS (2018)
*Benz, Chanelle, The Gone Dead is both an enthralling thriller and a soulfully lyrical novel that explores racial tensions in the Mississippi delta. Billie James’ return to the town where her poet father died when she was four turns deadly when she asks questions. The Gone Dead feels like a marriage of Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones and Greg Iles’ Natchez Burning trilogy. Exquisite pacing, characters with distinct and true voices, and a sense of urgency underscore Benz’s remarkable talent for bringing themes of justice, loss, and lack of hope to light. G/GPR/GS, BC
+Bowen, Rhys, The Tuscan Child takes place in Tuscany in 1944 where RAF officer Hugh Langley hides after his plane crashes. He’s fed and nursed back to health by local Sofia and after his death in England in 1973 his daughter reads a letter and finds his drawings and decides to travel to Italy to learn more. A romantic historical novel combined with a mystery is sure to engage fans of Daphne du Maurier and cozy mysteries. Foodies will love it too. GPR/D/SBP (2018)
*#Butler, Nickolas, Little Faith is the novel readers have been wanting since Kent Haruf’s All Souls at Night. It’s an engaging, thought-provoking tale of a grandparent’s love for his grandson and for the life he’s blessed to live. It’s a novel of gratitude for the natural world and of the threats to the things we hold sacred. It’s holy ground in rural Minnesota. It will make you ponder religious beliefs and what people do in the name of them. Beg your book club to discuss it. G/GPR, BC
Carr, Bryan Allen, Opioid, Indiana, Riggle’s parents have died and he has to move to rural Indiana where he gets suspended from high school on a false claim. He spends the week trying to figure out his life. The novel is best when he gets a job washing dishes in a character-filled restaurant. S 
+Carty-Williams, Candice, Queenie narrates a heartbreaking story of her life after Queenie’s longtime boyfriend asks her to move out and she spirals into depression. Her humor, the texts with her friends, and her poor decisions regarding sex make this darkly humorous despite the sadness. Fine insight into “Black Lives Matter” mark this an important read. S/SBP, BC.
+Cather, Willa, The Song of the Lark is a classic and while I don’t love it the way I love My Antonia or Death Comes for the Archbishop, it’s still a splendid portrait of the sacrifices a woman of the early twentieth century needed to make to achieve success as an artist. Cather is at her best when describing the western landscape and her picture of the Colorado plains is sumptuous. Thea’s singing voice allows her to leave tiny Moonstone, Colorado, but she couldn’t have done so without the help of several men who taught her, supported her financially, and offered her respite when she couldn’t have continued alone. The language can be dated and racially insensitive, but the novel offers insight into Cather’s evolution. G/PP, BC (1915)

Chiaverini, Jennifer, The Christmas Boutique, a search for delightful Christmas reads for the busy holiday season led to trying this, the latest in Chiaverini’s Elm Creek Quilts series. It features the quilt retreat’s rescue of a Christmas boutique to benefit the county food pantry. It was short on plot and character development. OC
+Clarke, Brock, Who are You, Calvin Bledsoe? is the dictionary definition of the word quirky. Calvin, named after John Calvin, the theologian about whom Calvin’s mother had written a famous book, is at loose ends after his mother’s death. His mother’s twin sister, who he didn’t know existed, pirates him off to Europe on a bizarre escapade. Recommended for those who enjoy absurdity, Calvinism, and plenty of laughter. S
Colgan, Jenny, Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop is a frothy “Calgon take me away” romantic comedy for fans of Jojo Moyes. Rosie loves living in her small Derbyshire village where her boyfriend is starting a job teaching at the local school and she’s doing well with her aunt’s sweetshop. A terrible accident shakes up the town just as Rosie’s family is arriving from Australia and all her plans are in disarray. This will relieve holiday stress. D/SBP (2014)
+Colgan, Jenny, Christmas on the Island is a romantic, “Hallmark” escape set on the remote Scottish Island of Mure where Flora heads to tell her ex-boss that she’s pregnant with his baby and where a Syrian doctor tries to help his sons during the Christmas season when they miss their mother. This is the third in Colgan’s Island series. D/SBP (2018)
*#Conklin, Tara, The Last Romantics uses a technique I can’t remember having read previously –- and I love it. Renowned poet, Fiona Skinner looks back on growing up with her siblings in the year 2079 when she’s 102 and is questioned about the inspiration for her most famous poem. Fiona was the youngest of four when her father died and her mother took “The Pause,” an extended period in which the children raised themselves. The effects on Renee, the responsible eldest child, sweet Caroline, Joe, the athlete and charmer, and Fiona who observed everything with her keen eye reverberate for almost a century in Conklin’s steady hands. Conklin’s growth since The House Girl is phenomenal.  GPR, BC
+Day, Kate Hope, If, Then imagines the world of three neighboring families traversing their chosen paths and through their visions of alternate realities. Sharp characters engaging in fascinating speculation on the lives they might have led offer a page-turning look at the way we value time and relationships. This offers endless topics for discussion. S/G, BC
+Denfeld, Rene, The Butterfly Girl: see Mysteries and Thrillers for a wonderful sequel.
*Derricotte, Toi, “I”: New and Selected Poems, this National Book Award Finalist is a brilliant and affecting collection told in Derricotte’s poetic voice. “What song do you sing when you sing so low we can’t hear you?” She’s a treasure and her words make us feel her experiences as a light-skinned black woman in America. G/T, BC
+Evison, Jonathan, Lawn Boy shows how poverty affects young Mike Muñoz, a Latino landscaper in Washington State. Mike is 22 and lives with his Mom and handicapped brother in a house on the reservation despite not being Native. Mike and his Mom work constantly but can’t get ahead. This funny, poignant look at poverty and class is a great novel for adults and older teens. GPR/SN, BC (2018)
*#Fitzpatrick, Lydia, Lights All Night Long combines gorgeous language, a compelling story, a mystery, AND captivating characters. Ilya, the smartest kid in his small Russian refinery town, is going spend a year in high school in a refinery town in Louisiana, but he can’t stop thinking of ways to help his older brother who’s in prison for confessing to a crime Ilya knows Vladimir didn’t commit. Like the lights that burn all night long in the town, this novel allows the light to breakthrough. The last pages are a pure gift filled with love and wonder.  G/GPR, SN, BC
*Gainza, Maria, Optic Nerve is both a novel and a course in art history that follows an unnamed Argentinian woman through the lives and works of illustrious painters. The narrator visualizes life and culture via Toulouse-Lautrec, Rothko, Courbet, Rousseau, Foujita, and El Greco. This short, inventive novel offers much to ponder and the last chapter is exquisite. I keep reading pages of it aloud and sighing. Publishers Weekly had it as a 2019 Top 10 book. G/SBP/SN, BC
+Gamble, Terry, The Eulogist beautifully examines pre-Civil War life in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky through the eyes of an Irish immigrant. Olivia came to America at age 15 and saw slavery, women’s rights, and religion via an educated lens. G/GPR/SN, BC
+Grames, Juliet, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Luna traces Stella’s life from a small Calabrian village to the U.S. over 100 years in which she survives seven or eight near-death experiences. This family saga of secrets and Italian-American traditions and superstitions illustrates the effects of patriarchy on family love and rivalry. That this is a debut novel is surprising because of its depth, descriptions, character studies, and voice. GPR/PP/SN, BC
+Gray, Anissa, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is a smart debut that demonstrates how differently family members handle the aftermath of childhood abuse and abandonment. Told from the points of view of three sisters, it examines bulimia, prison, and black family and church culture in the small Michigan town where Gray grew up. 
*#Heller, Peter, The River is a spectacular adventure and one of the best-written novels I’ve read in a long time. Wynn and Jack are on a canoe trip in a remote Canadian area and they’ve smelled smoke for two days and know that they’re approaching a forest fire when they meet two frightening drunks. This book celebrates nature and epitomizes the best aspects of true friendship. It’s a thriller, an outdoor lover’s dream of an adventure and a spectacular novel. G/GPR, BC
*Hepworth, Sally, The Mother-in-Law is a clever page-turner that will leave readers thinking about relationships and the impact of family bonds. Lucy’s mother-in-law, Diana, wasn’t all that impressed with her son’s choice in brides. After five years, Diana is a wonderful grandmother who helps women immigrants assimilate in Australia and Lucy still tries to please her. After Diana is found dead with a suicide note nearby, several unanswered questions remain. What happened? Why? The ingenious revealing of the clues is both smart and compelling. GPR/SBP, BC

+Hogan, Ruth, The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes is a wise, hope-filled ode to living life despite traumatic grief. Masha can’t get beyond a tragedy that occurred twelve years ago and only her dog and walking in her quiet village bring her any peace. When she meets Kitty, a 70ish roller disco lover, and Sally Red Shoes, a bag lady who sings like an angel, does she begins to heal, but her past may not let her. It’s a worthy follow up to The Keeper of Lost Things. GPR/SBP (2018)
+Jackson, Joshilyn, Never Have I Ever is a propulsive binge read. Amy is leading her dream life when Roux invades and takes over the suburban Moms’ book club with a wine enhanced game to learn the women’s secrets. Amy doesn’t divulge, yet Roux seems to know her worst sins already. Power, fear, evil, and love duke it out with no clear winner in sight. A gem of a “read-it-in-day” thriller. CC/GS, BC
Jenoff, Pam, The Lost Girls of Paris is a page-turner, romance/spy thriller about women who operated radios and served behind enemy lines in France in the lead up to D Day. In New York in 1946, young widower Grace finds a suitcase and photos and learns that the owner has just died in an accident outside the train station. Flashing back to 1943 when Eleanor, the suitcase owner, and Marie were part of the clandestine effort, it’s a worthy topic, but it feels rushed. It made me want to learn more about British Intelligence agent Vera Atkins despite my not loving the novel. CC/PP, BC
*#Justicz, Julie E., Degrees of Difficulty is a debut novel that asks insightful questions about survival when thrust into a devastating situation. Told from the points of view of the parents and siblings of a nonverbal, profoundly disabled child, it’s a hope-filled, humor-laced, page-turner that you’ll devour in a day. Select it for your book club to talk about love, forgiveness, loyalty, family, responsibility, redemption, and transcending the hand you’ve been dealt. GPR/SF/SN, BC
*Kellner, Megan Klco, What Will You Teach Her? is a spectacular collection of poems celebrating motherhood. Winner of the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press 2019 Poetry Contest, it’s a gift of quiet contemplation and joy. GPR/T, BC
+Kenney, John, Love Poems for People with Children are hysterical odes to the insanity that is daily life with young children. Buy it for overwhelmed parents with a droll sense of humor. S/T
+Kibler, Julie, Home for Erring and Outcast Girls, The Berachah Home for the Redemption and Protection of Erring Girls, founded in 1903 in Arlington, Texas, was different. It allowed women to keep their babies and offered help to those in need regardless of their “sins.” The book follows Lizzie and Mattie in the early 1900s as they deal with illness and grief. A century later, Cate, a research librarian discovers their stories and feels a connection that helps her deal with her own losses. Kibler offers a different look at rehabilitation, addiction, and hope. My favorite sentence: “I won’t judge him (God) by the people who claim to represent him, if he won’t judge me for keeping my distance.” GPR/PP/SN, BC
+Krueger, William Kent, This Tender Land is a Dickensian tale of four children on a river odyssey across Minnesota in 1932. It features colorful characters in a sweet story. Krueger’s talent for capturing the heart of young boys is on display in this clever tale with a Mark Twain twist. GPR/PP, BC
+Letts, Elizabeth, Finding Dorothy tells the story of the making of the book and the movie of The Wizard of Oz as seen through author L. Frank Baum’s wife Maud’s eyes. Maud’s mother was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement and Maud was an early coed at Cornell University in 1880. Maud met Judy Garland on the set of the Wizard in 1939 and the story imagines their conversations and Maud’s actions. The book is a fascinating glimpse of women's suffrage, life on the prairie, Chicago in the 1890s, and the world behind the scenes of the movie. A must for Oz lovers! PP/SN, BC
+Li, Lillian, Number One Chinese Restaurant illustrates the isolation that immigrants can feel. Set in a Chinese restaurant run by two brothers, it shows the physical difficulty and demands of working in the service industry. It’s a story about love, hard work, and immigration. SN, BC
Liss, David, The Whiskey Rebels narrates the tale of the beginnings of the U.S. financial system via a drunk deemed a traitor and a woman seeking revenge. It offers insight into Alexander Hamilton and William Duer but forces the reader to slog through more than 500 pages of unrelenting details, brutality, and scheming to find them. Some in my book club enjoyed it, but many chose not to finish it. OC/PP, BC (2008)
+Lucas, Meagan, Songbirds and Stray Dogs is an evocative and suspenseful portrait of small-town secrets and the difficulty of escaping expectations. Jolene arrives in a quiet western North Carolina town pregnant and in need of a job. Chuck is searching for his addict sister and caring for her teen son when he’s threatened by one of his sister's unsavory acquaintances. The ending of this debut rings true and while sad, it offers hope. Jolene, Chuck and the minor characters are engaging and realistic. GPR/GS, BC
+Novik, Naomi, Spinning Silver, If you love fantasy, I recommend this retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale about the daughter of a moneylender who changes silver into gold. If you don’t like fantasy, this might be a good way to try the genre. My book club read it and most said that they didn’t like fantasy but were glad to have read Spinning Silver. It could have been shorter and tighter, but most fantasy lovers prefer a big saga. Listen to it to enjoy being read a fairy tale. GPR/OC/RT, BC (2018)
*Obreht, Téa, Inland is an accomplished tale of an Old West we rarely encounter in fiction. It’s a world in which dying of thirst or heat is routine. Nora can’t get over the death of her first child and still talks with her daily. Lurie, also haunted by ghosts, is on the run when he joins an outfit herding camels in the desert. The Carnegie Medal nominee presents the 19th Century southwest as more diverse and nuanced than most offerings. Exquisite language explores grief, fear, and ambition. The camels captured this reader, oh, those camels. G/S/SN, BC
+Orner, Peter, Maggie Brown & Others offers 44 exceptional short stories and one novella in a book you’ll want to keep by your bed to read over a long winter. Chicagoans will particularly enjoy seeing so many stories set there. G/T
*Patchett, Ann, The Dutch House is a brilliant Hansel and Gretel meets Cinderella tale. Maeve and Danny live in a mansion outside Philadelphia with their father and servants who feel like family. After their mother left them, their father married an evil stepmother with two daughters. Danny tells their story, and the reader falls into the boiling pot of family stew. A bonus for me is that Patchett named a character for my wonderful friend Julie who helped inspire her to open her bookstore. G/GPR, BC
+Powers, Richard, The Overstory, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize, is a structurally fascinating epic about the interdependence of trees that warns of our environmental demise. Its main characters’ separate stories connect via environmental preservation. The novel offers incredible gifts, yet for this reader, it belabored some points beyond what the action had already shown. The science was brilliant, but often the prose felt hectoring. G/OC/SN, BC*#Reid, Taylor Jenkins, Daisy Jones & the Six immerses the reader into the life of Daisy, a singer experimenting with sex, drugs, and the party scene in late sixties LA when her voice gains recognition and she connects with The Six, a band led by a stubborn singer/songwriter. The story is told as an oral history of the time and embeds the reader into the 1970s music scene. It’s a magnificent novel that you’ll want to read in a day and remember forever. Passionate, headstrong characters, addictive writing, and a propulsive storyline make it a winner. GPR/S, BC
+Richardson, Kim Michele, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek highlights the 1930s Pack Horse Librarians who delivered books to rural Appalachian hills via Cussy Mary who has a genetic trait that makes her skin blue. She’s considered “colored” and suffers from the prevailing racism of the time. Her story is intriguing and many will like the tilt into romance. The ending seems abrupt and somewhat contrived yet delivers the romantic twist. GS/PP/SN
+#Robertson, Peter, Conclusion is a clever, sci-fi take on mortality. In it, 55-year-olds can be scanned and if deemed healthy, they can choose to be welded, thus never becoming sick or aging. The tradeoff is that they’ll “conclude,” that is they’ll die at 75. Following a man whose wife has just concluded and the people he meets, it explores mortality in a suspense-filled journey in the northern Boundary Waters. I hope it makes people want to save that land. CC/GPR, BC
+Rowley, Steven, The Editor is sweet yet not saccharine. Constructing a novel based on Jackie Onassis editing a first novel is an ambitious undertaking that works because Rowley makes James, the conflicted author, the star of the book with Mrs. Onassis as his encouraging muse. In a supportive role, Mrs. Onassis’s character feels both real and endearing as she helps James find himself and an ending for his novel. GPR, BC
+Schine, Cathleen, The Grammarians takes a tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek view of family relationships particularly those of twins and the families raising them. Laurel and Daphne love words and language then they weaponize both to compete with one another. This Carnegie Medal nominee offers multiple topics for a great book discussion. It’s a droll treat that makes you think about the meaning of family. G/GPR/S, BC 
+Smolens, John, Wolf’s Mouth combines a compelling thriller with historical fiction featuring POWs held in Michigan’s upper peninsula near the end of WWII. Frank escapes the camp where he fears a German commander and his men more than his American jailers. Following Frank’s life through 1991, this delivers a powerful story. The ending seems rushed, but the rest of the story resonates. GPR/PP/SN, BC (2016)
*Stradel, J. Ryan, The Lager Queen of Minnesota is pure delight. It follows the lives of two sisters and their families from the women’s teens to their late seventies. The art of brewing beer ties them all together, but the novel is essentially about loyalty, family, identity, happiness, and grit. Just fall into this wonder and enjoy the ride. GPR/D, BC
*Strout, Elizabeth, Olive, Again takes the reader back to Maine and the remarkably ordinary life of Olive Kitteridge. I adored the Olive Kitteridge novel and the sequel didn’t disappoint. It’s a realistic, wry view of aging and of the realization that learning who we are is a full-time occupation.  G, BC
*#Toews, Miriam, Women Talking is based on the true story of 130 Mennonite women and children in Bolivia who were drugged and raped for four years and had been told that ghosts had attacked them. Toews turns their story into a propulsive novel showing how eight women in the colony might have reacted. As they were all illiterate, their story is narrated by a shunned man who keeps “minutes” of their conversations. This is an original and fierce manifesto that reveals itself in an irresistible story that it’s tempting to read in one sitting. Select it for your book club. G/SF, BC
*Tokarczuk, Olga, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was first published in Poland in 2009, but was only translated into English in 2019 after it won the Man Booker International Prize. Janina lives in a remote Polish village on the Czech border where she studies astrology, translates William Blake’s poetry, and takes care of vacant summer cottages. Her neighbors consider her strange and she prefers being with animals over humans. Her neighbor “Big Foot” dies then other dead bodies keep appearing. Janina is sure she knows whodunit, but no one will listen to her. This is a literary thriller/fairy tale about sanity, justice, culture, and ecology. The ending is both unexpected and believable. She’s such a fine writer. Read this magnificent book! G, BC
*Waldman, Amy, A Door in the Earth follows Parveen, a recent college graduate, to the Afghan village she’d read about in a famous bestseller that told of the author/doctor’s work to help the remote, poverty-stricken village which she finds is nothing like what the book said it was. She also sees the tragic consequences of some U.S. efforts to change the place and bring medical care to it. It’s a frighteningly realistic view of the misuse of power written by a former New York Times Afghanistan correspondent. The story is compelling and unsettling. Perfect for book clubs. GPR/SN, BC


*Whitehead, Colson, The Nickel Boys proves that Whitehead is a genius. Coming after his magnum opus, Pulitzer Prize winner—The Underground Railroad, this is a different animal in every manner except excellence. This is realistic narrative, straight-shooting storytelling; yet both novels tell the truth of the stain that racism levies on the US regardless of the century. Elwood, a smart, hardworking teen, gets sent to the Nickel Academy, a reform school, despite his innocence. There, in the early 1960s, he encounters inconceivable sadism. He wants to heed Dr. King’s words to love. His friend thinks him naive. Read this novel and give thanks for the gift of Colson Whitehead who makes us see and feel the pain. G/SN, BC
+Wiggs. Susan, The Oysterville Sewing Circle is a 2019 Library Journal Top Ten Pop Fiction choice and it’s a compelling story of a woman who becomes the guardian of a friend’s two children and moves back to the small coastal Pacific town where she grew up with them. She finds purpose in helping women victims of domestic abuse and in using her fashion design background to make exciting garments. The ending is abrupt, but the story is just what readers want in an escape with heft with pages that almost turn themselves. CC/SN, BC
+Woodson, Jacqueline, Red at the Bone returns to the African American family life of Woodson’s previous books with a coming-of-age story about Melody, a 16-year-old making her debut in the family’s Park Slope brownstone, and her mother who had her at age sixteen then basically abandoned her and her father to attend Oberlin College then make her way in New York. United by the stories of Iris’ mother Sabe, the book offers a meditation on the music of life. Perfect language, elegant details, and caring character studies combine to make a brilliant novel. G, BC

Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers

+Atkinson, Kate, Big Sky showcases private eye Jackson Brodie in his fifth book in a case involving eastern European sisters involved with a bogus employment agency as Brodie gathers evidence of marital discretions to pay his bills. Brodie and his teenage son and old dog keep things real. Exploring human trafficking, child sexual abuse, and family life with comic undertones isn’t simple, but Brodie always delivers. Don’t try to define this, just read it. CC/GPR/SBP
+M.C. Beaton, The Flirt (The Regency Intrigue Series Book 1) offers an homage to Jane Austen as Elizabeth is orphaned and living with her cruel uncle. She tricks her way into the Duke of Dunster’s party to snag a wealthy bachelor, but the results are not as expected. CC/D/PP/SBP
*Benz, Chantelle, The Gone Dead, see General Fiction for a remarkable thriller and an astonishing tale of race and secrets in the Mississippi delta.
+Bowen, Rhys, The Tuscan Child, see General Fiction for a delightful cozy mystery combined with romantic historical fiction.
+Box, C. J., Endangered finds Game Warden Joe Pickett investigating the killing of endangered sage grouse when he learns that his adopted daughter has been brutally beaten and left to die. Her boyfriend’s evil family is sure he wouldn’t have hurt her. Pickett soon finds more problems as he patrols the Rockies. Fifteenth in the compelling series. CC (2015)
+Braithwaite, Oyinkan, My Sister the Serial Killer, winner of the LA Times Best Mystery Award, is a sinister, wry, and compelling story of murder and sibling loyalty made believable because the characters are so well imagined. It seemed a strange choice for my book club, but almost forty women loved the discussion and were glad they’d read it. It explores beauty and misogyny as it might have been told had Jane Austen written a Nigerian murder mystery. S/SBP, BC (2018)
+Denfeld, Rene, The Butterfly Girl is a sequel to the magnificent The Child Finder. While searching for her lost sister whose name she doesn’t know, Naomi is drawn to Celia, a homeless 12-year-old girl who’s escaping sexual abuse. There’s a serial killer at large and the homeless are vulnerable. Celia’s imagination might save her. This book is a love letter to libraries and how they saved Denfeld and help so many people. Read The Child Finder first. GPR/SN, BC
Giordano, Mario, Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions is a convoluted novel in which Poldi, a wig-wearing German widow moves to Sicily to drink herself to death. Instead, she investigates a murder and falls for a detective. It’s wry, but the detail overwhelms the narrative. OC/SBP (2016)
+Harvey, Michael, The Fifth Floor is the second in the Michael Kelly mystery series set in Chicago. When his former girlfriend hires Kelly to follow her abusive husband, connections to the mayor’s office and back to the 1871 Chicago fire surface. Clever historic connections along with intriguing local sights boost the narrative. CC (2008)
*Hepworth, Sally, The Mother-in-Law, see General Fiction for a smart page-turner with fascinating clues.
+Iles, Greg, Cemetery Road follows Marshall McEwan home to Bienville, Mississippi where he takes over his family’s dying newspaper and reconnects with his former love. Corruption, murder, sex, and family come together in a big saga of a novel packed with violence and Southern manners. Iles always offers absorbing page-turners. CC/GS
+Jackson, Joshilyn, Never Have I Ever see General Fiction for a thriller with heft and a great twist.
+Johnston, Tim, The Current begins when Audrey’s roommate drives her 700 miles home to Minnesota to see her dying father. A few miles from their destination, the car plunges into an icy river killing the roommate. The former sheriff wonders if the car was pushed reminding him of a similar case ten years previously. The novel explores grief, family, community, and responsibility and is thus much more than just a mystery. Johnston is a master at character development. CC/GPR


+Jones, Steven Mack, August Snow, winner of the Hammett Prize and the Nero Award, is a rock ‘em, sock ‘em mystery featuring the unique August Snow. Snow is a former Detroit cop who exposed corruption and got a $12 million payout after his wrongful firing. He’s rehabbing homes on the street where he grew up in the Mexicantown area of Detroit. His father was an African-American cop and his mother was Mexican. After a wealthy socialite dies, he investigates and uncovers cybercrime and a cadre of criminals out to kill him. Great characters, setting, and voice. CC (2018)
+Kim, Angie, Miracle Creek is a courtroom drama featuring Korean immigrants in Miracle Creek, VA where they have a hyperbaric oxygen therapy center (HBOT) they call the Miracle Submarine. Clients sealed in the HBOT breathe pure oxygen to cure autism, infertility and other problems. When the book opens, two people have died and four have been seriously injured when the capsule burned. The mother of an autistic boy who died is charged with his murder, but so much more happens. Immigration, loyalty, family, and morality are on view in this page-turner. CC/SN, BC
+Le Carré, John, Agent Running in the Field is pure Le Carré with British Secret Service agent Nat as an aging, badminton-playing spy returned to London in a new desk job he doesn’t want and reporting to an incompetent boss he despises. Russians, Brexit, double agents, romantic intrigue, and a clever ending form a tale only a former British spy could invent.  CC/SBP/SN
+Lelchuk, S. A., Save Me from Dangerous Men, Nikki Griffin is a bookseller, book club leader, and private investigator who saves women who’ve been abused by horrible men. She’s court-mandated to see a shrink to handle her anger issues, she’s met a caring man, and she just might have the skills of Lisbeth Salander. What’s not to like!  CC
*Lippmann, Laura, Lady in the Lake is set in 1965 Baltimore where 37-year-old Maddie leaves her husband to pursue a life as a newspaper reporter. She’s consumed by the death of Cleo, a black cocktail waitress whose body was found in a city park lake. Maddie also secretly sees a black policeman and fights racism, classism, and sexism. This book is simply phenomenal and every character is developed fully. CC/PP/SN, BC
*Locke, Attica, Heaven, My Home returns to east Texas where Texas Ranger Darren’s mother is blackmailing him as he, an African-American, has been sent to make a case against the Aryan Brotherhood in a rural area. The 9-year-old son of an imprisoned Brotherhood member is missing and his family thinks an old black man who owns the land they rent killed him. Darren’s demons and the distrust of the whites in the community aren’t helping him do his intended sleuthing. Locke’s Highway 59 series is exceptional for character development, pacing, and intrigue. CC/SN, BC
*May, Peter, The Black House is the first in the Lewis trilogy set in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. Fin, who’s recently lost his only son in a tragic accident is sent to the Isle of Lewis where he grew up to investigate a horrific murder that may be connected to an earlier killing on the mainland. Revisiting the tragic events of his childhood isn’t helpful. Terrific pacing and a stellar beginning to an engrossing series from a writer who writes hauntingly chilling tales! CC/GPR/SBP (2013)
*May, Peter, The Chess Men, the third entry in the Lewis trilogy, returns Fin to his childhood home as the head of security at a local fishing and hunting estate. When the wreckage of a plane lost in a long-ago crash surfaces, Fin confronts a childhood friend and his past with a renowned band. The setting is dramatic and haunting and almost acts as a separate character. CC/GPR/SBP (2015)
+May, Peter, Entry Island, English speaking Montreal detective Sime Mackenzie is sent with a French-speaking team to remote Entry Island in the Madeline Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to investigate a murder. It seems clear to the team that the widow did it, but Sime thinks something is missing and his dreams and the disappearance of a local make him look further. CC (2015)
*May, Peter, The Lewis Man, the second in the Lewis trilogy, returns Fin to the Outer Hebrides without a wife or a job. He’s no longer a Chief Inspector so he decides to try to repair his parents’ home and his former friendships. His plans are interrupted when a long-buried body is found in a peat bog and he traces clues to find the killer. The second entry in the series is just as exceptional as the first. These gripping psychological tales offer a chilling escape. CC/GPR/SBP (2014)
*McLaughlin, James, Bearskin, the winner of the 2019 Edgar for Best First Novel, is a searingly tight thriller. Rice Moore is the new biologist/caretaker on a massive old-growth preserve in southwest Virginia’s Appalachian region. He’s hiding from players in a Mexican drug cartel and he’s not your usual caretaker. When poachers begin killing bears to sell their gallbladders and paws to world markets, he learns that the young woman who was the previous caretaker was raped and left for dead. The folks in the woods of Virginia are as deadly as those on the border. This is both a gorgeously told nature saga and an intriguing view of the multi-dimensional characters who populate the area. G/SN, BC (2018)
*Penny, Louise, A Better Man continues the saga of Armand Gamache and his cohorts in Quebec. In this, the 15th in the series, Gamache returns from a suspension as much of Quebec, including his beloved village, is threatened with flooding and he tries to catch the murderer of an abused woman. Compassionate and compelling as always. GPR
+Royce, Deborah Goodrich, Finding Mrs. Ford is a promising debut thriller with a clever premise that tracks a woman from her college job in Detroit in 1979 to her privileged life in 2014. It covers many arenas including the mafia, Iraq, and the abuse of women with an unexpected twist that makes for a delightful escape. CC
+Smolens, John, Wolf’s Mouth, see General Fiction for a suspenseful tale of POWs in the USA during WWII.
+Stander, Aaron, The Center Cannot Hold is the tenth in the Ray Elkins Thriller series that take place in the resort community area near Traverse City, MI. In this one, Sheriff Elkins investigates the burning of his predecessor’s home and the vandalizing of the former Sheriff’s grave. Could the crimes be tied to a mysterious commune forty years ago?  Fine pacing and detailed depictions of the icy, relentless winter make this another hit. CC (2018)
*Tokarczuk, Olga, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, see General Fiction for the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature that’s also a compelling mystery/thriller.
+Walker, Wendy, The Night Before is a clever tale with tantalizing misdirection that changes course just when you think you know what’s happening. Laura has returned to her hometown where she’s temporarily living with her sister after a sad breakup. Sister Rosie and her husband Joe are worried that a harrowing incident from Laura’s teen years is affecting her now. The thriller reveals what happens the day before and the day after Laura disappears on a blind date. This roller-coaster of a tale has more twists than a French braid. CC 

Nonfiction

*Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions made my heart sing. I wish I’d been given this when I became a parent. Renowned author Adichie’s childhood friend asked her for advice on how to raise her baby girl to be a feminist. Adichie’s fifteen caring and compassionate suggestions offer lessons on motherhood, race, kindness, and more. These are the best 63 pages of advice I’ve ever read. Buy it for a new parent. G/SF/SN, BC (2017)
+Cep, Casey, Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee follows Rev. Willie Maxwell, a rural Alabama preacher, who probably killed five family members to collect insurance money in the 1970s. Because he and his victims were black and because he had an astute lawyer, he was never convicted of any crime. At the funeral of his last victim, another relative shot and killed Maxwell point-blank in front of everyone and the same smart lawyer may get the murderer acquitted. Harper Lee was in the courtroom and planned the story to be her next book. Amazing research. SN
*Chung, Nicole, All You Can Ever Know is a memoir of Chung’s search for her adoptive family when she’s pregnant with her first child. She was told that her Korean birth parents couldn’t take care of her or give her the life she deserved so she grew up in an all-white town and went to an all-white school. Just before she gave birth, her birth sister contacted her and everything she knew about her origin changed. It’s a profound look at finding out who you are. GPR/SN, BC
+Dana, MaryAnn McKibbon, God, Improv, and the Art of Living shows how living life requires improvisation. Dana, who studied improv at Chicago’s Second City and who’s both a parent and a pastor, saw that using seven improv principles could help her with all her roles. Life never goes according to plan, so learn to improvise. She’s also a gifted speaker and workshop leader and offers much wisdom and enthusiasm for churches. SF/SN, BC (2018)
*Dreyer, Benjamin, Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read. I laughed and laughed. Not only does Dreyer give pithy advice on grammar, punctuation, and writing, his droll humor makes that advice a vacation on the page. I plan to keep this book on my desk at all times and will reread my favorite parts whenever I need a lift. This entertaining tome will make anyone a smarter, better writer. G/S/SN
*Evans, Rachel Held, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again examines Bible stories and retells them in poetry, stories, interpretations, and imaginative renderings. She helps the reader wrestle with the doubt that some misappropriated passages have caused. I led a discussion of this last winter and the class found it unique, transformative, and compassionate. Evans died from a sudden illness as we were finishing and we grieve the loss of such a profound truth-teller who was also a brilliant writer whose words inspire. What a loss!  G/SF/SN (2018)
+Fountain, Ben, Beautiful Country Burn Again: Democracy, Rebellion, And Revolution examines the 2016 election and the historical context that led to Trump’s victory. Fountain expertly explores every nuance of the campaign and why Trump won. Fountain lays out an impressive thesis showing white supremacy at the root of our current trials and Trump’s victory. His brilliance forces the reader to contemplate. This is a book to read slowly then reread. G/SN, BC (2018)
+Geary, James, Wit’s End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It explores wit from puns to repartee. Each chapter is written in the style becoming it with chapters written in jive, rap, and a play. If you love words and clever plays upon them, you’ll enjoy this tome. Don’t read it straight through; visit the chapters for entertainment. S/SN (2018)
+Gordinier, Jeff, Hungry presents a gripping view of Rene Redzepi and Noma, the world’s top-ranked restaurant. Gordinier embeds himself in Redzepi’s travels as he frantically seeks the rarest local ingredients in Denmark, Australia, and Mexico. Gordinier journeys in search of self and that’s what makes the book sing as the reader cheers for him and as he contemplates life’s meaning. GPR/SN
*Land, Stephanie, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive will make you feel some of what it’s like to be cold, hungry, frightened, and anxious when you’re trying to hang on and raise a child with minimum support. You must read this book to begin to understand and bear witness to her stark struggles to survive. Stephanie Land is someone we should all respect for her fine writing, intelligence, resilience, and loving support of her daughter. GPR/SN, BC
*Laymon, Kiese, Heavy: An American Memoir, the winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal and on every best of 2018 list is that good. It’s a powerful memoir showing how the weight of secrets, lies, and fear can destroy a black man and his body. Laymon grew up the son of a brilliant mother in Jackson, MS. He suffered from anorexia and obesity as a result of coping with his secrets. His writing is genius, his transformation real, and he shares it beautifully. G/SN, BC (2018)
+Lillien, Lisa, Hungry Girl: Simply Six: All-Natural Recipes with 6 Ingredients or Less has imaginative ideas using healthy ingredients to make tasty foods easily. She has me thinking about making blender muffins and buying a small spiralizer. SN
*Ludwinski, Lisa, Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit made this reader who has never had any desire to bake pies want to make savory pies, hand pies, shortbread, and maybe even a blueberry plum balsamic pie. Her repertoire is imaginative and features great seasonal ingredients. Her compassion and devotion to community make you want to head to Detroit. The book was an IACP finalist and landed on every Top 10 Cookbooks of 2018 list. SF/SN (2018)
Mundy, Liza, Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II presents fascinating information about the new college graduates and teachers selected to break code during World War II. It’s too long and too repetitive though. On a personal note, I was surprised to learn that my father’s 5th Infantry Division made it from Iceland to Ireland because the code breakers found them safe passage. My book club did not enjoy this. SN (2018)
+Norris, Mary, Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen is a blend of an informative book with scholarly appeal paired with Norris’s delicious Greek travelogue. She teaches the reader about the origin of the alphabet while sharing her escapades traveling alone to Greek islands and remote villages. Wouldn’t everyone like to sit naked on a beach that had belonged to a favorite author? She did it. Her section on epithets alone is worth the retail price of the book for language-lovers. SN/D
*Oluo, Ijeoma, So you want to talk about race breaks through all the pretense of understanding race in the U.S. and makes sense of why it’s a problem, why we should care, and what we should do. Filled with facts and stories that illuminate them. This is a primer every American needs to read and utilize. Buy this book!  G/SN, BC (2018)
+Page, Susan, The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty uses over 100 interviews with Bush friends and family members, many hours of conversation with Mrs. Bush as she neared the end of her life, and extensive research to show what made her “the matriarch.” Susan Page is a gifted journalist and this book makes Mrs. Bush come alive. It’s a piece of history everyone should read. SN, BC
+Reichl, Ruth, Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir is pure delight. Reichl shares the ups and downs of running Gourmet magazine from its heyday through its demise. Even if you have no interest in food or cooking, this book is a gem as Reichl puts the reader into her experiences. G/SN, BC
*Shapiro, Dani, Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, Shapiro submitted her DNA to a genealogy testing center and shockingly found that the father she adored, wasn’t her biological father. As both her parents were deceased, she took to the Internet and soon found a video of her biological father thus setting off a journey to uncover secrets and to determine who she was if she was no longer who she’d always known herself to be. Only an author like Shapiro could turn her own story into a meditation on acceptance and love. She’s such a treasure. I’m glad I’d read several of her other books so I already “knew” her, but it stands alone beautifully. Perfect for book clubs. G/GPR/SF, BC
+Skoczylas, Patricia, Lullabies and Laments is a tough read. Told in a stream of consciousness, it illustrates a frighteningly hard childhood that still provided love and community. I had to put it down many times as it was too sad to endure especially as I know some of the family members. SF 

Peanut Butter and Jelly – Picture Books and Books for Preschoolers and Toddlers

+Dewdney, Anna, Llama, Llama, Easter Egg is just what a two-year-old wants to read before and after an Easter egg hunt. Using books like this to foreshadow events makes them more fun. PBJ Ages 0 - 3 (2015)
+McGhee, Holly M., illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre, Listen teaches empathy and the importance of our connection to the natural world. PBJ Ages 3 - 7
+McMullan, Kate and Jim, I’m Tough is just what a preschooler wants. With a tough pickup truck, an adorable dog, and a farm filled with cows, the colors and drama will keep any child turning the pages. My grandson loved “reading” this to me. PBJ Ages 2 - 7 (2018)
*Medina, Juana, Juana & Lucas is the story of Juana and her dog Lucas. They live in Bogota, Colombia. Juana loves Lucas and her family, but she detests her school uniform, dance class, and most of all, learning English until her grandfather tells her about a fantastic treat that makes her want to learn English quickly. PBJ/SN Ages 5 - 8
*Moore, Lindsay, Sea Bear: A Journey for Survival is a gorgeously illustrated view of polar bears, sea creatures and survival. Little ones will love the pictures and will inhale the lessons of patience, determination, and climate change. PBJ/SN Ages 4 - 8
+Parr, Todd, The Cars and Trucks Book is for car and truck-loving preschoolers. The bright colors and bold lines lead the story. Cars and trucks on the farm and everywhere are a treat for kids. My grandson lined up his cars and trucks and asked me to read them this tale. What an endorsement. PBJ Ages 2 - 6 (2018)
+Patricelli, Leslie, Potty is a book for the “newly potty trained and proud of it” crowd. My grandson made me read this at least six times EVERY day for weeks. He found this book uproariously funny. It’s much better than the other options. PBJ Ages 2 – 4 (2010)
*Schertle, Alice, illustrated by Jill Mc Elmurry, Good Night, Little Blue Truck is a wonderful addition to the bedtime story genre. Kids love the Little Blue Truck books and parents love that they won’t go nuts reading them repeatedly as they’re charming. PBJ Ages 2 - 5

Peanut Butter and Jelly – Chapter Books and Books for Early Readers

+Sheinkin, Steve, Time Twisters: Abraham Lincoln: Pro Wrestler makes learning history fun. When Abraham Lincoln hears kids call history boring, he decides to teach them a lesson by opting out and becoming a pro wrestler. Can kids save the day? PBJ/SN Ages 7 – 10
+Sheinkin, Steve, Time Twisters: Amelia Earhart and the Flying Chariot sends the time-traveling kids to ancient Greece with Amelia Earhart driving a chariot before returning to cross the Atlantic by plane. PBJ/SN Ages 7 – 10

Diet Coke and Gummi Bears: Young Adult Books and Books for Teens and Tweens

Faring, Sara, The Tenth Girl is a haunting gothic novel set at the southern tip of Argentina in a school where Mavi moves to teach English and escape her mother’s past. The first 350 pages of the book have little narrative arc and thus were tedious for me. The last 100 pages were faster paced with a twist. This is a book you’ll either adore or not. Recommended for teens who love ghostly tales. Teens are loving it. DC Ages 15 and older. 
+Mathieu, Jennifer, The Liars of Mariposa Island is a story told by two teen siblings and their controlling, alcoholic mother. Set in 1986, when Elena babysits a wealthy Texas island family and her brother works in a restaurant as well as in flashbacks to their mother’s childhood life in a wealthy Cuban family until the Cuban revolution delivered her to Texas as a poor, lonely refugee, the novel explores abuse, trauma, and loyalty. Teens and adults will find it compelling. DC, BC Ages 12 - 18
+Perkins, Mitali, Forward Me Back to You shares the stories of Kat, a jiu-jitsu champion, who was attacked by a boy in her high school and is staying with an older aunt in Boston to heal and Robin who was adopted by wealthy, white parents from an orphanage in India. They go to Kolkata with two others from their church youth group on a service project working with survivors of human trafficking. Will Robin find his birth mother or any connections to India? Will Kat survive? This book explores justice, faith, healing, and above all kindness. DC/GPR/SF/SN, BC Ages 14 and older
*Sheinkin, Steve, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights details the 1944 explosion that killed more than 300 men at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in California. All the officers were white and all the sailors handling the explosives were black and had no training. Of those who died 202 were black sailors. After the explosion, 50 black sailors refused to return to work under the same conditions and were charged with mutiny. The fifty men tell the story of their heroism in this National Book Award Finalist. PBJ/DC/SN Ages 10 – 14 (2014)
*Warga, Jasmine, Other Words for Home is an exquisite view of the immigrant experience as seen through Jude, an eleven-year-old Syrian girl who accompanies her pregnant mother to live in Cincinnati. Told in verse, Jude makes being “other” come alive through her heart and her hope-filled story. Plenty for book groups to ponder regardless of their ages. My adult group is going to discuss it. GPR/DC/SN, BC Ages 10 - 14
*Wynne-Jones, Tim, The Starlight Claim drops the reader into a wintery thriller in the Canadian wilderness. Nate, haunted by the death of his best friend, plans a trip to their camp with a buddy. When he’s grounded, Nate goes alone without anyone knowing. Upon arriving at his family’s remote cabin, he finds it occupied by escaped prisoners, but the area is snowed in and he can’t contact anyone, so he uses his wits to survive. Harrowing, compelling, and full of questions about life, this is a winner for older teens and adults. I love this book. DC/GPR, BC Ages 14 and older 
Hungry for Good Books? Annual Book List for 2019
Find these and more at www.hungryforgoodbooks.com

 ©Copyright December 1, 2019, by Trina Hayes
Letters after each selection designate the book as CC: Chinese Carryout (page-turners, great for plane rides), D: Desserts (delightful indulgences), DC: Diet Coke and Gummi Bears (books for teens and young adults), G: Gourmet (exquisite writing, requires concentration), GPR: Grandma’s Pot Roast (books that get your attention and stick with you), GS: Grits (evocative of the American south), OC: Over Cooked (good ingredients, but overwritten), PBJ: Peanut Butter and Jelly (children’s books adults will like), PP: Pigeon Pie (historical fiction, parts or all of the novel set at least 50 years ago),  R: Road Food (audio books for road trips and more), S: Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet (satire, irony, black humor, acquired taste), SBP: Sweet Bean Paste (translated and international books), SF: Soul Food (spirituality, theology, books for your soul), SN: Super Nutrition (lots of information, yet tasty as fresh blueberries), and T: Tapas (small bites including short stories, novellas, essays, and poetry). The letters BC denote books for book clubs.  Asterisks (*) depict the most outstanding titles in each designation. The plus sign (+) is for books I recommend. The number sign (#) is for books with full reviews on my blog. All books listed were published in 2019 unless noted otherwise.

General Fiction and Poetry

+Ackerman, Elliot, Dark at the Crossing embeds the reader into the truth of life along the Syria/Turkey border. This National Book Award finalist follows an Iraqi who became a US citizen and then returned to the Middle East to fight for a free Syria. Ackerman, a former Marine, makes war’s tragedy and brutality hauntingly real. It’s a beautifully wrought telling based on a true story. G/SN, BC (2017)
*Ackerman, Elliot, Waiting for Eden is an inventive, exceptional novel about Eden, a dying soldier in a burn center, whose story is told by a fellow soldier who was killed in the same explosion. Through his ghostly voice, we learn of the suffering of Eden’s wife Mary, of their 3-year-old daughter who is with her grandmother, and of the efforts of Gabe, Eden’s compassionate nurse. Touching and deeply affecting this novella helps the reader prepare for an Eden we hope will come especially for our veterans. G/T, BC
+Andrews, Mary Kay, The High Tide Club is a romp of a romance with a touch of mystery set in the sea islands off the coast of Georgia. I spent my honeymoon on St. Simons Island and am drawn to the rich history and beauty of the area. When a lawyer and single mother is called to one of the islands by the reclusive, 99-year-old owner of half of that island to find a way to keep the National Park Service from buying her land, the lawyer can’t imagine how she and others fit into the story and the backstory of an unsolved disappearance on the island in 1941. D/CC/GS (2018)
*Benz, Chanelle, The Gone Dead is both an enthralling thriller and a soulfully lyrical novel that explores racial tensions in the Mississippi delta. Billie James’ return to the town where her poet father died when she was four turns deadly when she asks questions. The Gone Dead feels like a marriage of Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones and Greg Iles’ Natchez Burning trilogy. Exquisite pacing, characters with distinct and true voices, and a sense of urgency underscore Benz’s remarkable talent for bringing themes of justice, loss, and lack of hope to light. G/GPR/GS, BC
+Bowen, Rhys, The Tuscan Child takes place in Tuscany in 1944 where RAF officer Hugh Langley hides after his plane crashes. He’s fed and nursed back to health by local Sofia and after his death in England in 1973 his daughter reads a letter and finds his drawings and decides to travel to Italy to learn more. A romantic historical novel combined with a mystery is sure to engage fans of Daphne du Maurier and cozy mysteries. Foodies will love it too. GPR/D/SBP (2018)
*#Butler, Nickolas, Little Faith is the novel readers have been wanting since Kent Haruf’s All Souls at Night. It’s an engaging, thought-provoking tale of a grandparent’s love for his grandson and for the life he’s blessed to live. It’s a novel of gratitude for the natural world and of the threats to the things we hold sacred. It’s holy ground in rural Minnesota. It will make you ponder religious beliefs and what people do in the name of them. Beg your book club to discuss it. G/GPR, BC
Carr, Bryan Allen, Opioid, Indiana, Riggle’s parents have died and he has to move to rural Indiana where he gets suspended from high school on a false claim. He spends the week trying to figure out his life. The novel is best when he gets a job washing dishes in a character-filled restaurant. S 
+Carty-Williams, Candice, Queenie narrates a heartbreaking story of her life after Queenie’s longtime boyfriend asks her to move out and she spirals into depression. Her humor, the texts with her friends, and her poor decisions regarding sex make this darkly humorous despite the sadness. Fine insight into “Black Lives Matter” mark this an important read. S/SBP, BC.
+Cather, Willa, The Song of the Lark is a classic and while I don’t love it the way I love My Antonia or Death Comes for the Archbishop, it’s still a splendid portrait of the sacrifices a woman of the early twentieth century needed to make to achieve success as an artist. Cather is at her best when describing the western landscape and her picture of the Colorado plains is sumptuous. Thea’s singing voice allows her to leave tiny Moonstone, Colorado, but she couldn’t have done so without the help of several men who taught her, supported her financially, and offered her respite when she couldn’t have continued alone. The language can be dated and racially insensitive, but the novel offers insight into Cather’s evolution. G/PP, BC (1915)

Chiaverini, Jennifer, The Christmas Boutique, a search for delightful Christmas reads for the busy holiday season led to trying this, the latest in Chiaverini’s Elm Creek Quilts series. It features the quilt retreat’s rescue of a Christmas boutique to benefit the county food pantry. It was short on plot and character development. OC
+Clarke, Brock, Who are You, Calvin Bledsoe? is the dictionary definition of the word quirky. Calvin, named after John Calvin, the theologian about whom Calvin’s mother had written a famous book, is at loose ends after his mother’s death. His mother’s twin sister, who he didn’t know existed, pirates him off to Europe on a bizarre escapade. Recommended for those who enjoy absurdity, Calvinism, and plenty of laughter. S
Colgan, Jenny, Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop is a frothy “Calgon take me away” romantic comedy for fans of Jojo Moyes. Rosie loves living in her small Derbyshire village where her boyfriend is starting a job teaching at the local school and she’s doing well with her aunt’s sweetshop. A terrible accident shakes up the town just as Rosie’s family is arriving from Australia and all her plans are in disarray. This will relieve holiday stress. D/SBP (2014)
+Colgan, Jenny, Christmas on the Island is a romantic, “Hallmark” escape set on the remote Scottish Island of Mure where Flora heads to tell her ex-boss that she’s pregnant with his baby and where a Syrian doctor tries to help his sons during the Christmas season when they miss their mother. This is the third in Colgan’s Island series. D/SBP (2018)
*#Conklin, Tara, The Last Romantics uses a technique I can’t remember having read previously –- and I love it. Renowned poet, Fiona Skinner looks back on growing up with her siblings in the year 2079 when she’s 102 and is questioned about the inspiration for her most famous poem. Fiona was the youngest of four when her father died and her mother took “The Pause,” an extended period in which the children raised themselves. The effects on Renee, the responsible eldest child, sweet Caroline, Joe, the athlete and charmer, and Fiona who observed everything with her keen eye reverberate for almost a century in Conklin’s steady hands. Conklin’s growth since The House Girl is phenomenal.  GPR, BC
+Day, Kate Hope, If, Then imagines the world of three neighboring families traversing their chosen paths and through their visions of alternate realities. Sharp characters engaging in fascinating speculation on the lives they might have led offer a page-turning look at the way we value time and relationships. This offers endless topics for discussion. S/G, BC
+Denfeld, Rene, The Butterfly Girl: see Mysteries and Thrillers for a wonderful sequel.
*Derricotte, Toi, “I”: New and Selected Poems, this National Book Award Finalist is a brilliant and affecting collection told in Derricotte’s poetic voice. “What song do you sing when you sing so low we can’t hear you?” She’s a treasure and her words make us feel her experiences as a light-skinned black woman in America. G/T, BC
+Evison, Jonathan, Lawn Boy shows how poverty affects young Mike Muñoz, a Latino landscaper in Washington State. Mike is 22 and lives with his Mom and handicapped brother in a house on the reservation despite not being Native. Mike and his Mom work constantly but can’t get ahead. This funny, poignant look at poverty and class is a great novel for adults and older teens. GPR/SN, BC (2018)
*#Fitzpatrick, Lydia, Lights All Night Long combines gorgeous language, a compelling story, a mystery, AND captivating characters. Ilya, the smartest kid in his small Russian refinery town, is going spend a year in high school in a refinery town in Louisiana, but he can’t stop thinking of ways to help his older brother who’s in prison for confessing to a crime Ilya knows Vladimir didn’t commit. Like the lights that burn all night long in the town, this novel allows the light to breakthrough. The last pages are a pure gift filled with love and wonder.  G/GPR, SN, BC
*Gainza, Maria, Optic Nerve is both a novel and a course in art history that follows an unnamed Argentinian woman through the lives and works of illustrious painters. The narrator visualizes life and culture via Toulouse-Lautrec, Rothko, Courbet, Rousseau, Foujita, and El Greco. This short, inventive novel offers much to ponder and the last chapter is exquisite. I keep reading pages of it aloud and sighing. Publishers Weekly had it as a 2019 Top 10 book. G/SBP/SN, BC
+Gamble, Terry, The Eulogist beautifully examines pre-Civil War life in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky through the eyes of an Irish immigrant. Olivia came to America at age 15 and saw slavery, women’s rights, and religion via an educated lens. G/GPR/SN, BC
+Grames, Juliet, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Luna traces Stella’s life from a small Calabrian village to the U.S. over 100 years in which she survives seven or eight near-death experiences. This family saga of secrets and Italian-American traditions and superstitions illustrates the effects of patriarchy on family love and rivalry. That this is a debut novel is surprising because of its depth, descriptions, character studies, and voice. GPR/PP/SN, BC
+Gray, Anissa, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is a smart debut that demonstrates how differently family members handle the aftermath of childhood abuse and abandonment. Told from the points of view of three sisters, it examines bulimia, prison, and black family and church culture in the small Michigan town where Gray grew up. 
*#Heller, Peter, The River is a spectacular adventure and one of the best-written novels I’ve read in a long time. Wynn and Jack are on a canoe trip in a remote Canadian area and they’ve smelled smoke for two days and know that they’re approaching a forest fire when they meet two frightening drunks. This book celebrates nature and epitomizes the best aspects of true friendship. It’s a thriller, an outdoor lover’s dream of an adventure and a spectacular novel. G/GPR, BC
*Hepworth, Sally, The Mother-in-Law is a clever page-turner that will leave readers thinking about relationships and the impact of family bonds. Lucy’s mother-in-law, Diana, wasn’t all that impressed with her son’s choice in brides. After five years, Diana is a wonderful grandmother who helps women immigrants assimilate in Australia and Lucy still tries to please her. After Diana is found dead with a suicide note nearby, several unanswered questions remain. What happened? Why? The ingenious revealing of the clues is both smart and compelling. GPR/SBP, BC

+Hogan, Ruth, The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes is a wise, hope-filled ode to living life despite traumatic grief. Masha can’t get beyond a tragedy that occurred twelve years ago and only her dog and walking in her quiet village bring her any peace. When she meets Kitty, a 70ish roller disco lover, and Sally Red Shoes, a bag lady who sings like an angel, does she begins to heal, but her past may not let her. It’s a worthy follow up to The Keeper of Lost Things. GPR/SBP (2018)
+Jackson, Joshilyn, Never Have I Ever is a propulsive binge read. Amy is leading her dream life when Roux invades and takes over the suburban Moms’ book club with a wine enhanced game to learn the women’s secrets. Amy doesn’t divulge, yet Roux seems to know her worst sins already. Power, fear, evil, and love duke it out with no clear winner in sight. A gem of a “read-it-in-day” thriller. CC/GS, BC
Jenoff, Pam, The Lost Girls of Paris is a page-turner, romance/spy thriller about women who operated radios and served behind enemy lines in France in the lead up to D Day. In New York in 1946, young widower Grace finds a suitcase and photos and learns that the owner has just died in an accident outside the train station. Flashing back to 1943 when Eleanor, the suitcase owner, and Marie were part of the clandestine effort, it’s a worthy topic, but it feels rushed. It made me want to learn more about British Intelligence agent Vera Atkins despite my not loving the novel. CC/PP, BC
*#Justicz, Julie E., Degrees of Difficulty is a debut novel that asks insightful questions about survival when thrust into a devastating situation. Told from the points of view of the parents and siblings of a nonverbal, profoundly disabled child, it’s a hope-filled, humor-laced, page-turner that you’ll devour in a day. Select it for your book club to talk about love, forgiveness, loyalty, family, responsibility, redemption, and transcending the hand you’ve been dealt. GPR/SF/SN, BC
*Kellner, Megan Klco, What Will You Teach Her? is a spectacular collection of poems celebrating motherhood. Winner of the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press 2019 Poetry Contest, it’s a gift of quiet contemplation and joy. GPR/T, BC
+Kenney, John, Love Poems for People with Children are hysterical odes to the insanity that is daily life with young children. Buy it for overwhelmed parents with a droll sense of humor. S/T
+Kibler, Julie, Home for Erring and Outcast Girls, The Berachah Home for the Redemption and Protection of Erring Girls, founded in 1903 in Arlington, Texas, was different. It allowed women to keep their babies and offered help to those in need regardless of their “sins.” The book follows Lizzie and Mattie in the early 1900s as they deal with illness and grief. A century later, Cate, a research librarian discovers their stories and feels a connection that helps her deal with her own losses. Kibler offers a different look at rehabilitation, addiction, and hope. My favorite sentence: “I won’t judge him (God) by the people who claim to represent him, if he won’t judge me for keeping my distance.” GPR/PP/SN, BC
+Krueger, William Kent, This Tender Land is a Dickensian tale of four children on a river odyssey across Minnesota in 1932. It features colorful characters in a sweet story. Krueger’s talent for capturing the heart of young boys is on display in this clever tale with a Mark Twain twist. GPR/PP, BC
+Letts, Elizabeth, Finding Dorothy tells the story of the making of the book and the movie of The Wizard of Oz as seen through author L. Frank Baum’s wife Maud’s eyes. Maud’s mother was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement and Maud was an early coed at Cornell University in 1880. Maud met Judy Garland on the set of the Wizard in 1939 and the story imagines their conversations and Maud’s actions. The book is a fascinating glimpse of women's suffrage, life on the prairie, Chicago in the 1890s, and the world behind the scenes of the movie. A must for Oz lovers! PP/SN, BC
+Li, Lillian, Number One Chinese Restaurant illustrates the isolation that immigrants can feel. Set in a Chinese restaurant run by two brothers, it shows the physical difficulty and demands of working in the service industry. It’s a story about love, hard work, and immigration. SN, BC
Liss, David, The Whiskey Rebels narrates the tale of the beginnings of the U.S. financial system via a drunk deemed a traitor and a woman seeking revenge. It offers insight into Alexander Hamilton and William Duer but forces the reader to slog through more than 500 pages of unrelenting details, brutality, and scheming to find them. Some in my book club enjoyed it, but many chose not to finish it. OC/PP, BC (2008)
+Lucas, Meagan, Songbirds and Stray Dogs is an evocative and suspenseful portrait of small-town secrets and the difficulty of escaping expectations. Jolene arrives in a quiet western North Carolina town pregnant and in need of a job. Chuck is searching for his addict sister and caring for her teen son when he’s threatened by one of his sister's unsavory acquaintances. The ending of this debut rings true and while sad, it offers hope. Jolene, Chuck and the minor characters are engaging and realistic. GPR/GS, BC
+Novik, Naomi, Spinning Silver, If you love fantasy, I recommend this retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale about the daughter of a moneylender who changes silver into gold. If you don’t like fantasy, this might be a good way to try the genre. My book club read it and most said that they didn’t like fantasy but were glad to have read Spinning Silver. It could have been shorter and tighter, but most fantasy lovers prefer a big saga. Listen to it to enjoy being read a fairy tale. GPR/OC/RT, BC (2018)
*Obreht, Téa, Inland is an accomplished tale of an Old West we rarely encounter in fiction. It’s a world in which dying of thirst or heat is routine. Nora can’t get over the death of her first child and still talks with her daily. Lurie, also haunted by ghosts, is on the run when he joins an outfit herding camels in the desert. The Carnegie Medal nominee presents the 19th Century southwest as more diverse and nuanced than most offerings. Exquisite language explores grief, fear, and ambition. The camels captured this reader, oh, those camels. G/S/SN, BC
+Orner, Peter, Maggie Brown & Others offers 44 accomplished short stories and one novella in a book you’ll want to keep by your bed to read over a long winter. Chicagoans will particularly enjoy seeing so many stores set there. G/T
*Patchett, Ann, The Dutch House is a brilliant Hansel and Gretel meets Cinderella tale. Maeve and Danny live in a mansion outside Philadelphia with their father and servants who feel like family. After their mother left them, their father married an evil stepmother with two daughters. Danny tells their story, and the reader falls into the boiling pot of family stew. A bonus for me is that Patchett named a character for my wonderful friend Julie who helped inspire her to open her bookstore. G/GPR, BC
+Powers, Richard, The Overstory, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize, is a structurally fascinating epic about the interdependence of trees that warns of our environmental demise. Its main characters’ separate stories connect via environmental preservation. The novel offers incredible gifts, yet for this reader, it belabored some points beyond what the action had already shown. The science was brilliant, but often the prose felt hectoring. G/OC/SN, BC*#Reid, Taylor Jenkins, Daisy Jones & the Six immerses the reader into the life of Daisy, a singer experimenting with sex, drugs, and the party scene in late sixties LA when her voice gains recognition and she connects with The Six, a band led by a stubborn singer/songwriter. The story is told as an oral history of the time and embeds the reader into the 1970s music scene. It’s a magnificent novel that you’ll want to read in a day and remember forever. Passionate, headstrong characters, addictive writing, and a propulsive storyline make it a winner. GPR/S, BC
+Richardson, Kim Michele, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek highlights the 1930s Pack Horse Librarians who delivered books to rural Appalachian hills via Cussy Mary who has a genetic trait that makes her skin blue. She’s considered “colored” and suffers from the prevailing racism of the time. Her story is intriguing and many will like the tilt into romance. The ending seems abrupt and somewhat contrived yet delivers the romantic twist. GS/PP/SN
+#Robertson, Peter, Conclusion is a clever, sci-fi take on mortality. In it, 55-year-olds can be scanned and if deemed healthy, they can choose to be welded, thus never becoming sick or aging. The tradeoff is that they’ll “conclude,” that is they’ll die at 75. Following a man whose wife has just concluded and the people he meets, it explores mortality in a suspense-filled journey in the northern Boundary Waters. I hope it makes people want to save that land. CC/GPR, BC
+Rowley, Steven, The Editor is sweet yet not saccharine. Constructing a novel based on Jackie Onassis editing a first novel is an ambitious undertaking that works because Rowley makes James, the conflicted author, the star of the book with Mrs. Onassis as his encouraging muse. In a supportive role, Mrs. Onassis’s character feels both real and endearing as she helps James find himself and an ending for his novel. GPR, BC
+Schine, Cathleen, The Grammarians takes a tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek view of family relationships particularly those of twins and the families raising them. Laurel and Daphne love words and language then they weaponize both to compete with one another. This Carnegie Medal nominee offers multiple topics for a great book discussion. It’s a droll treat that makes you think about the meaning of family. G/GPR/S, BC 
+Smolens, John, Wolf’s Mouth combines a compelling thriller with historical fiction featuring POWs held in Michigan’s upper peninsula near the end of WWII. Frank escapes the camp where he fears a German commander and his men more than his American jailers. Following Frank’s life through 1991, this delivers a powerful story. The ending seems rushed, but the rest of the story resonates. GPR/PP/SN, BC (2016)
*Stradel, J. Ryan, The Lager Queen of Minnesota is pure delight. It follows the lives of two sisters and their families from the women’s teens to their late seventies. The art of brewing beer ties them all together, but the novel is essentially about loyalty, family, identity, happiness, and grit. Just fall into this wonder and enjoy the ride. GPR/D, BC
*Strout, Elizabeth, Olive, Again takes the reader back to Maine and the remarkably ordinary life of Olive Kitteridge. I adored the Olive Kitteridge novel and the sequel didn’t disappoint. It’s a realistic, wry view of aging and of the realization that learning who we are is a full-time occupation.  G, BC
*#Toews, Miriam, Women Talking is based on the true story of 130 Mennonite women and children in Bolivia who were drugged and raped for four years and had been told that ghosts had attacked them. Toews turns their story into a propulsive novel showing how eight women in the colony might have reacted. As they were all illiterate, their story is narrated by a shunned man who keeps “minutes” of their conversations. This is an original and fierce manifesto that reveals itself in an irresistible story that it’s tempting to read in one sitting. Select it for your book club. G/SF, BC
*Tokarczuk, Olga, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was first published in Poland in 2009, but was only translated into English in 2019 after it won the Man Booker International Prize. Janina lives in a remote Polish village on the Czech border where she studies astrology, translates William Blake’s poetry, and takes care of vacant summer cottages. Her neighbors consider her strange and she prefers being with animals over humans. Her neighbor “Big Foot” dies then other dead bodies keep appearing. Janina is sure she knows whodunit, but no one will listen to her. This is a literary thriller/fairy tale about sanity, justice, culture, and ecology. The ending is both unexpected and believable. She’s such a fine writer. Read this magnificent book! G, BC
*Waldman, Amy, A Door in the Earth follows Parveen, a recent college graduate, to the Afghan village she’d read about in a famous bestseller that told of the author/doctor’s work to help the remote, poverty-stricken village which she finds is nothing like what the book said it was. She also sees the tragic consequences of some U.S. efforts to change the place and bring medical care to it. It’s a frighteningly realistic view of the misuse of power written by a former New York Times Afghanistan correspondent. The story is compelling and unsettling. Perfect for book clubs. GPR/SN, BC


*Whitehead, Colson, The Nickel Boys proves that Whitehead is a genius. Coming after his magnum opus, Pulitzer Prize winner—The Underground Railroad, this is a different animal in every manner except excellence. This is realistic narrative, straight-shooting storytelling; yet both novels tell the truth of the stain that racism levies on the US regardless of the century. Elwood, a smart, hardworking teen, gets sent to the Nickel Academy, a reform school, despite his innocence. There, in the early 1960s, he encounters inconceivable sadism. He wants to heed Dr. King’s words to love. His friend thinks him naive. Read this novel and give thanks for the gift of Colson Whitehead who makes us see and feel the pain. G/SN, BC
+Wiggs. Susan, The Oysterville Sewing Circle is a 2019 Library Journal Top Ten Pop Fiction choice and it’s a compelling story of a woman who becomes the guardian of a friend’s two children and moves back to the small coastal Pacific town where she grew up with them. She finds purpose in helping women victims of domestic abuse and in using her fashion design background to make exciting garments. The ending is abrupt, but the story is just what readers want in an escape with heft with pages that almost turn themselves. CC/SN, BC
+Woodson, Jacqueline, Red at the Bone returns to the African American family life of Woodson’s previous books with a coming-of-age story about Melody, a 16-year-old making her debut in the family’s Park Slope brownstone, and her mother who had her at age sixteen then basically abandoned her and her father to attend Oberlin College then make her way in New York. United by the stories of Iris’ mother Sabe, the book offers a meditation on the music of life. Perfect language, elegant details, and caring character studies combine to make a brilliant novel. G, BC

Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers

+Atkinson, Kate, Big Sky showcases private eye Jackson Brodie in his fifth book in a case involving eastern European sisters involved with a bogus employment agency as Brodie gathers evidence of marital discretions to pay his bills. Brodie and his teenage son and old dog keep things real. Exploring human trafficking, child sexual abuse, and family life with comic undertones isn’t simple, but Brodie always delivers. Don’t try to define this, just read it. CC/GPR/SBP
+M.C. Beaton, The Flirt (The Regency Intrigue Series Book 1) offers an homage to Jane Austen as Elizabeth is orphaned and living with her cruel uncle. She tricks her way into the Duke of Dunster’s party to snag a wealthy bachelor, but the results are not as expected. CC/D/PP/SBP
*Benz, Chantelle, The Gone Dead, see General Fiction for a remarkable thriller and an astonishing tale of race and secrets in the Mississippi delta.
+Bowen, Rhys, The Tuscan Child, see General Fiction for a delightful cozy mystery combined with romantic historical fiction.
+Box, C. J., Endangered finds Game Warden Joe Pickett investigating the killing of endangered sage grouse when he learns that his adopted daughter has been brutally beaten and left to die. Her boyfriend’s evil family is sure he wouldn’t have hurt her. Pickett soon finds more problems as he patrols the Rockies. Fifteenth in the compelling series. CC (2015)
+Braithwaite, Oyinkan, My Sister the Serial Killer, winner of the LA Times Best Mystery Award, is a sinister, wry, and compelling story of murder and sibling loyalty made believable because the characters are so well imagined. It seemed a strange choice for my book club, but almost forty women loved the discussion and were glad they’d read it. It explores beauty and misogyny as it might have been told had Jane Austen written a Nigerian murder mystery. S/SBP, BC (2018)
+Denfeld, Rene, The Butterfly Girl is a sequel to the magnificent The Child Finder. While searching for her lost sister whose name she doesn’t know, Naomi is drawn to Celia, a homeless 12-year-old girl who’s escaping sexual abuse. There’s a serial killer at large and the homeless are vulnerable. Celia’s imagination might save her. This book is a love letter to libraries and how they saved Denfeld and help so many people. Read The Child Finder first. GPR/SN, BC
Giordano, Mario, Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions is a convoluted novel in which Poldi, a wig-wearing German widow moves to Sicily to drink herself to death. Instead, she investigates a murder and falls for a detective. It’s wry, but the detail overwhelms the narrative. OC/SBP (2016)
+Harvey, Michael, The Fifth Floor is the second in the Michael Kelly mystery series set in Chicago. When his former girlfriend hires Kelly to follow her abusive husband, connections to the mayor’s office and back to the 1871 Chicago fire surface. Clever historic connections along with intriguing local sights boost the narrative. CC (2008)
*Hepworth, Sally, The Mother-in-Law, see General Fiction for a smart page-turner with fascinating clues.
+Iles, Greg, Cemetery Road follows Marshall McEwan home to Bienville, Mississippi where he takes over his family’s dying newspaper and reconnects with his former love. Corruption, murder, sex, and family come together in a big saga of a novel packed with violence and Southern manners. Iles always offers absorbing page-turners. CC/GS
+Jackson, Joshilyn, Never Have I Ever see General Fiction for a thriller with heft and a great twist.
+Johnston, Tim, The Current begins when Audrey’s roommate drives her 700 miles home to Minnesota to see her dying father. A few miles from their destination, the car plunges into an icy river killing the roommate. The former sheriff wonders if the car was pushed reminding him of a similar case ten years previously. The novel explores grief, family, community, and responsibility and is thus much more than just a mystery. Johnston is a master at character development. CC/GPR


+Jones, Steven Mack, August Snow, winner of the Hammett Prize and the Nero Award, is a rock ‘em, sock ‘em mystery featuring the unique August Snow. Snow is a former Detroit cop who exposed corruption and got a $12 million payout after his wrongful firing. He’s rehabbing homes on the street where he grew up in the Mexicantown area of Detroit. His father was an African-American cop and his mother was Mexican. After a wealthy socialite dies, he investigates and uncovers cybercrime and a cadre of criminals out to kill him. Great characters, setting, and voice. CC (2018)
+Kim, Angie, Miracle Creek is a courtroom drama featuring Korean immigrants in Miracle Creek, VA where they have a hyperbaric oxygen therapy center (HBOT) they call the Miracle Submarine. Clients sealed in the HBOT breathe pure oxygen to cure autism, infertility and other problems. When the book opens, two people have died and four have been seriously injured when the capsule burned. The mother of an autistic boy who died is charged with his murder, but so much more happens. Immigration, loyalty, family, and morality are on view in this page-turner. CC/SN, BC
+Le Carré, John, Agent Running in the Field is pure Le Carré with British Secret Service agent Nat as an aging, badminton-playing spy returned to London in a new desk job he doesn’t want and reporting to an incompetent boss he despises. Russians, Brexit, double agents, romantic intrigue, and a clever ending form a tale only a former British spy could invent.  CC/SBP/SN
+Lelchuk, S. A., Save Me from Dangerous Men, Nikki Griffin is a bookseller, book club leader, and private investigator who saves women who’ve been abused by horrible men. She’s court-mandated to see a shrink to handle her anger issues, she’s met a caring man, and she just might have the skills of Lisbeth Salander. What’s not to like!  CC
*Lippmann, Laura, Lady in the Lake is set in 1965 Baltimore where 37-year-old Maddie leaves her husband to pursue a life as a newspaper reporter. She’s consumed by the death of Cleo, a black cocktail waitress whose body was found in a city park lake. Maddie also secretly sees a black policeman and fights racism, classism, and sexism. This book is simply phenomenal and every character is developed fully. CC/PP/SN, BC
*Locke, Attica, Heaven, My Home returns to east Texas where Texas Ranger Darren’s mother is blackmailing him as he, an African-American, has been sent to make a case against the Aryan Brotherhood in a rural area. The 9-year-old son of an imprisoned Brotherhood member is missing and his family thinks an old black man who owns the land they rent killed him. Darren’s demons and the distrust of the whites in the community aren’t helping him do his intended sleuthing. Locke’s Highway 59 series is exceptional for character development, pacing, and intrigue. CC/SN, BC
*May, Peter, The Black House is the first in the Lewis trilogy set in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. Fin, who’s recently lost his only son in a tragic accident is sent to the Isle of Lewis where he grew up to investigate a horrific murder that may be connected to an earlier killing on the mainland. Revisiting the tragic events of his childhood isn’t helpful. Terrific pacing and a stellar beginning to an engrossing series from a writer who writes hauntingly chilling tales! CC/GPR/SBP (2013)
*May, Peter, The Chess Men, the third entry in the Lewis trilogy, returns Fin to his childhood home as the head of security at a local fishing and hunting estate. When the wreckage of a plane lost in a long-ago crash surfaces, Fin confronts a childhood friend and his past with a renowned band. The setting is dramatic and haunting and almost acts as a separate character. CC/GPR/SBP (2015)
+May, Peter, Entry Island, English speaking Montreal detective Sime Mackenzie is sent with a French-speaking team to remote Entry Island in the Madeline Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to investigate a murder. It seems clear to the team that the widow did it, but Sime thinks something is missing and his dreams and the disappearance of a local make him look further. CC (2015)
*May, Peter, The Lewis Man, the second in the Lewis trilogy, returns Fin to the Outer Hebrides without a wife or a job. He’s no longer a Chief Inspector so he decides to try to repair his parents’ home and his former friendships. His plans are interrupted when a long-buried body is found in a peat bog and he traces clues to find the killer. The second entry in the series is just as exceptional as the first. These gripping psychological tales offer a chilling escape. CC/GPR/SBP (2014)
*McLaughlin, James, Bearskin, the winner of the 2019 Edgar for Best First Novel, is a searingly tight thriller. Rice Moore is the new biologist/caretaker on a massive old-growth preserve in southwest Virginia’s Appalachian region. He’s hiding from players in a Mexican drug cartel and he’s not your usual caretaker. When poachers begin killing bears to sell their gallbladders and paws to world markets, he learns that the young woman who was the previous caretaker was raped and left for dead. The folks in the woods of Virginia are as deadly as those on the border. This is both a gorgeously told nature saga and an intriguing view of the multi-dimensional characters who populate the area. G/SN, BC (2018)
*Penny, Louise, A Better Man continues the saga of Armand Gamache and his cohorts in Quebec. In this, the 15th in the series, Gamache returns from a suspension as much of Quebec, including his beloved village, is threatened with flooding and he tries to catch the murderer of an abused woman. Compassionate and compelling as always. GPR
+Royce, Deborah Goodrich, Finding Mrs. Ford is a promising debut thriller with a clever premise that tracks a woman from her college job in Detroit in 1979 to her privileged life in 2014. It covers many arenas including the mafia, Iraq, and the abuse of women with an unexpected twist that makes for a delightful escape. CC
+Smolens, John, Wolf’s Mouth, see General Fiction for a suspenseful tale of POWs in the USA during WWII.
+Stander, Aaron, The Center Cannot Hold is the tenth in the Ray Elkins Thriller series that take place in the resort community area near Traverse City, MI. In this one, Sheriff Elkins investigates the burning of his predecessor’s home and the vandalizing of the former Sheriff’s grave. Could the crimes be tied to a mysterious commune forty years ago?  Fine pacing and detailed depictions of the icy, relentless winter make this another hit. CC (2018)
*Tokarczuk, Olga, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, see General Fiction for the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature that’s also a compelling mystery/thriller.
+Walker, Wendy, The Night Before is a clever tale with tantalizing misdirection that changes course just when you think you know what’s happening. Laura has returned to her hometown where she’s temporarily living with her sister after a sad breakup. Sister Rosie and her husband Joe are worried that a harrowing incident from Laura’s teen years is affecting her now. The thriller reveals what happens the day before and the day after Laura disappears on a blind date. This roller-coaster of a tale has more twists than a French braid. CC 

Nonfiction

*Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions made my heart sing. I wish I’d been given this when I became a parent. Renowned author Adichie’s childhood friend asked her for advice on how to raise her baby girl to be a feminist. Adichie’s fifteen caring and compassionate suggestions offer lessons on motherhood, race, kindness, and more. These are the best 63 pages of advice I’ve ever read. Buy it for a new parent. G/SF/SN, BC (2017)
+Cep, Casey, Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee follows Rev. Willie Maxwell, a rural Alabama preacher, who probably killed five family members to collect insurance money in the 1970s. Because he and his victims were black and because he had an astute lawyer, he was never convicted of any crime. At the funeral of his last victim, another relative shot and killed Maxwell point-blank in front of everyone and the same smart lawyer may get the murderer acquitted. Harper Lee was in the courtroom and planned the story to be her next book. Amazing research. SN
*Chung, Nicole, All You Can Ever Know is a memoir of Chung’s search for her adoptive family when she’s pregnant with her first child. She was told that her Korean birth parents couldn’t take care of her or give her the life she deserved so she grew up in an all-white town and went to an all-white school. Just before she gave birth, her birth sister contacted her and everything she knew about her origin changed. It’s a profound look at finding out who you are. GPR/SN, BC
+Dana, MaryAnn McKibbon, God, Improv, and the Art of Living shows how living life requires improvisation. Dana, who studied improv at Chicago’s Second City and who’s both a parent and a pastor, saw that using seven improv principles could help her with all her roles. Life never goes according to plan, so learn to improvise. She’s also a gifted speaker and workshop leader and offers much wisdom and enthusiasm for churches. SF/SN, BC (2018)
*Dreyer, Benjamin, Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read. I laughed and laughed. Not only does Dreyer give pithy advice on grammar, punctuation, and writing, his droll humor makes that advice a vacation on the page. I plan to keep this book on my desk at all times and will reread my favorite parts whenever I need a lift. This entertaining tome will make anyone a smarter, better writer. G/S/SN
*Evans, Rachel Held, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again examines Bible stories and retells them in poetry, stories, interpretations, and imaginative renderings. She helps the reader wrestle with the doubt that some misappropriated passages have caused. I led a discussion of this last winter and the class found it unique, transformative, and compassionate. Evans died from a sudden illness as we were finishing and we grieve the loss of such a profound truth-teller who was also a brilliant writer whose words inspire. What a loss!  G/SF/SN (2018)
+Fountain, Ben, Beautiful Country Burn Again: Democracy, Rebellion, And Revolution examines the 2016 election and the historical context that led to Trump’s victory. Fountain expertly explores every nuance of the campaign and why Trump won. Fountain lays out an impressive thesis showing white supremacy at the root of our current trials and Trump’s victory. His brilliance forces the reader to contemplate. This is a book to read slowly then reread. G/SN, BC (2018)
+Geary, James, Wit’s End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It explores wit from puns to repartee. Each chapter is written in the style becoming it with chapters written in jive, rap, and a play. If you love words and clever plays upon them, you’ll enjoy this tome. Don’t read it straight through; visit the chapters for entertainment. S/SN (2018)
+Gordinier, Jeff, Hungry presents a gripping view of Rene Redzepi and Noma, the world’s top-ranked restaurant. Gordinier embeds himself in Redzepi’s travels as he frantically seeks the rarest local ingredients in Denmark, Australia, and Mexico. Gordinier journeys in search of self and that’s what makes the book sing as the reader cheers for him and as he contemplates life’s meaning. GPR/SN
*Land, Stephanie, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive will make you feel some of what it’s like to be cold, hungry, frightened, and anxious when you’re trying to hang on and raise a child with minimum support. You must read this book to begin to understand and bear witness to her stark struggles to survive. Stephanie Land is someone we should all respect for her fine writing, intelligence, resilience, and loving support of her daughter. GPR/SN, BC
*Laymon, Kiese, Heavy: An American Memoir, the winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal and on every best of 2018 list is that good. It’s a powerful memoir showing how the weight of secrets, lies, and fear can destroy a black man and his body. Laymon grew up the son of a brilliant mother in Jackson, MS. He suffered from anorexia and obesity as a result of coping with his secrets. His writing is genius, his transformation real, and he shares it beautifully. G/SN, BC (2018)
+Lillien, Lisa, Hungry Girl: Simply Six: All-Natural Recipes with 6 Ingredients or Less has imaginative ideas using healthy ingredients to make tasty foods easily. She has me thinking about making blender muffins and buying a small spiralizer. SN
*Ludwinski, Lisa, Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit made this reader who has never had any desire to bake pies want to make savory pies, hand pies, shortbread, and maybe even a blueberry plum balsamic pie. Her repertoire is imaginative and features great seasonal ingredients. Her compassion and devotion to community make you want to head to Detroit. The book was an IACP finalist and landed on every Top 10 Cookbooks of 2018 list. SF/SN (2018)
Mundy, Liza, Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II presents fascinating information about the new college graduates and teachers selected to break code during World War II. It’s too long and too repetitive though. On a personal note, I was surprised to learn that my father’s 5th Infantry Division made it from Iceland to Ireland because the code breakers found them safe passage. My book club did not enjoy this. SN (2018)
+Norris, Mary, Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen is a blend of an informative book with scholarly appeal paired with Norris’s delicious Greek travelogue. She teaches the reader about the origin of the alphabet while sharing her escapades traveling alone to Greek islands and remote villages. Wouldn’t everyone like to sit naked on a beach that had belonged to a favorite author? She did it. Her section on epithets alone is worth the retail price of the book for language-lovers. SN/D
*Oluo, Ijeoma, So you want to talk about race breaks through all the pretense of understanding race in the U.S. and makes sense of why it’s a problem, why we should care, and what we should do. Filled with facts and stories that illuminate them. This is a primer every American needs to read and utilize. Buy this book!  G/SN, BC (2018)
+Page, Susan, The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty uses over 100 interviews with Bush friends and family members, many hours of conversation with Mrs. Bush as she neared the end of her life, and extensive research to show what made her “the matriarch.” Susan Page is a gifted journalist and this book makes Mrs. Bush come alive. It’s a piece of history everyone should read. SN, BC
+Reichl, Ruth, Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir is pure delight. Reichl shares the ups and downs of running Gourmet magazine from its heyday through its demise. Even if you have no interest in food or cooking, this book is a gem as Reichl puts the reader into her experiences. G/SN, BC
*Shapiro, Dani, Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, Shapiro submitted her DNA to a genealogy testing center and shockingly found that the father she adored, wasn’t her biological father. As both her parents were deceased, she took to the Internet and soon found a video of her biological father thus setting off a journey to uncover secrets and to determine who she was if she was no longer who she’d always known herself to be. Only an author like Shapiro could turn her own story into a meditation on acceptance and love. She’s such a treasure. I’m glad I’d read several of her other books so I already “knew” her, but it stands alone beautifully. Perfect for book clubs. G/GPR/SF, BC
+Skoczylas, Patricia, Lullabies and Laments is a tough read. Told in a stream of consciousness, it illustrates a frighteningly hard childhood that still provided love and community. I had to put it down many times as it was too sad to endure especially as I know some of the family members. SF 

Peanut Butter and Jelly – Picture Books and Books for Preschoolers and Toddlers

+Dewdney, Anna, Llama, Llama, Easter Egg is just what a two-year-old wants to read before and after an Easter egg hunt. Using books like this to foreshadow events makes them more fun. PBJ Ages 0 - 3 (2015)
+McGhee, Holly M., illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre, Listen teaches empathy and the importance of our connection to the natural world. PBJ Ages 3 - 7
+McMullan, Kate and Jim, I’m Tough is just what a preschooler wants. With a tough pickup truck, an adorable dog, and a farm filled with cows, the colors and drama will keep any child turning the pages. My grandson loved “reading” this to me. PBJ Ages 2 - 7 (2018)
*Medina, Juana, Juana & Lucas is the story of Juana and her dog Lucas. They live in Bogota, Colombia. Juana loves Lucas and her family, but she detests her school uniform, dance class, and most of all, learning English until her grandfather tells her about a fantastic treat that makes her want to learn English quickly. PBJ/SN Ages 5 - 8
*Moore, Lindsay, Sea Bear: A Journey for Survival is a gorgeously illustrated view of polar bears, sea creatures and survival. Little ones will love the pictures and will inhale the lessons of patience, determination, and climate change. PBJ/SN Ages 4 - 8
+Parr, Todd, The Cars and Trucks Book is for car and truck-loving preschoolers. The bright colors and bold lines lead the story. Cars and trucks on the farm and everywhere are a treat for kids. My grandson lined up his cars and trucks and asked me to read them this tale. What an endorsement. PBJ Ages 2 - 6 (2018)
+Patricelli, Leslie, Potty is a book for the “newly potty trained and proud of it” crowd. My grandson made me read this at least six times EVERY day for weeks. He found this book uproariously funny. It’s much better than the other options. PBJ Ages 2 – 4 (2010)
*Schertle, Alice, illustrated by Jill Mc Elmurry, Good Night, Little Blue Truck is a wonderful addition to the bedtime story genre. Kids love the Little Blue Truck books and parents love that they won’t go nuts reading them repeatedly as they’re charming. PBJ Ages 2 - 5

Peanut Butter and Jelly – Chapter Books and Books for Early Readers

+Sheinkin, Steve, Time Twisters: Abraham Lincoln: Pro Wrestler makes learning history fun. When Abraham Lincoln hears kids call history boring, he decides to teach them a lesson by opting out and becoming a pro wrestler. Can kids save the day? PBJ/SN Ages 7 – 10
+Sheinkin, Steve, Time Twisters: Amelia Earhart and the Flying Chariot sends the time-traveling kids to ancient Greece with Amelia Earhart driving a chariot before returning to cross the Atlantic by plane. PBJ/SN Ages 7 – 10

Diet Coke and Gummi Bears: Young Adult Books and Books for Teens and Tweens

Faring, Sara, The Tenth Girl is a haunting gothic novel set at the southern tip of Argentina in a school where Mavi moves to teach English and escape her mother’s past. The first 350 pages of the book have little narrative arc and thus were tedious for me. The last 100 pages were faster paced with a twist. This is a book you’ll either adore or not. Recommended for teens who love ghostly tales. Teens are loving it. DC Ages 15 and older. 
+Mathieu, Jennifer, The Liars of Mariposa Island is a story told by two teen siblings and their controlling, alcoholic mother. Set in 1986, when Elena babysits a wealthy Texas island family and her brother works in a restaurant as well as in flashbacks to their mother’s childhood life in a wealthy Cuban family until the Cuban revolution delivered her to Texas as a poor, lonely refugee, the novel explores abuse, trauma, and loyalty. Teens and adults will find it compelling. DC, BC Ages 12 - 18
+Perkins, Mitali, Forward Me Back to You shares the stories of Kat, a jiu-jitsu champion, who was attacked by a boy in her high school and is staying with an older aunt in Boston to heal and Robin who was adopted by wealthy, white parents from an orphanage in India. They go to Kolkata with two others from their church youth group on a service project working with survivors of human trafficking. Will Robin find his birth mother or any connections to India? Will Kat survive? This book explores justice, faith, healing, and above all kindness. DC/GPR/SF/SN, BC Ages 14 and older
*Sheinkin, Steve, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights details the 1944 explosion that killed more than 300 men at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in California. All the officers were white and all the sailors handling the explosives were black and had no training. Of those who died 202 were black sailors. After the explosion, 50 black sailors refused to return to work under the same conditions and were charged with mutiny. The fifty men tell the story of their heroism in this National Book Award Finalist. PBJ/DC/SN Ages 10 – 14 (2014)
*Warga, Jasmine, Other Words for Home is an exquisite view of the immigrant experience as seen through Jude, an eleven-year-old Syrian girl who accompanies her pregnant mother to live in Cincinnati. Told in verse, Jude makes being “other” come alive through her heart and her hope-filled story. Plenty for book groups to ponder regardless of their ages. My adult group is going to discuss it. GPR/DC/SN, BC Ages 10 - 14
*Wynne-Jones, Tim, The Starlight Claim drops the reader into a wintery thriller in the Canadian wilderness. Nate, haunted by the death of his best friend, plans a trip to their camp with a buddy. When he’s grounded, Nate goes alone without anyone knowing. Upon arriving at his family’s remote cabin, he finds it occupied by escaped prisoners, but the area is snowed in and he can’t contact anyone, so he uses his wits to survive. Harrowing, compelling, and full of questions about life, this is a winner for older teens and adults. I love this book. DC/GPR, BC Ages 14 and older