The Annual Book List, 2008

Hungry for Good Books?   November, 2008
After each selection, letters  designate the title as G:  Gourmet (perfectly written, requires concentration), GPR: Grandma’s Pot Roast (books that  get your attention and stick with you), CC:  Chinese Carryout (page-turners, great for plane rides),  PBJ: Peanut Butter and Jelly (kids books adults will like), S: Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet (acquired taste, satire, irony, black humor), SF: Soul Food (spirituality, theology, books for your soul), SN: Super Nutrition (lots of information, yet tasty as fresh blueberries), D: Desserts (sheer delights, chick-lit).  The letters BC denote books that are book club favorites.   My fiction favorites this year were The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Born to Read, The Commoner, The Dark Room, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, The Echo Maker, the Elizabeth George mysteries, The Garden of Lost Days, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Home, The Maytrees, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Remembering the Bones, The Road, Sarah’s Key, The Seville Communion, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, That Book Woman, Unaccustomed Earth, The Uncommon Reader, Wave, The Whistling Season,  and Wild About Books.  In non-fiction, they were Here If You Need Me, The Legend of Colton H. Bryant,  Measure of the Heart, Saving Graces, Waiting for Snow in Havana,  and When Evil Came to Good Hart.  *Asterisks depict favorites. 

*Alexie, Sherman, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Everyone should read this book and all teens MUST read this book.  It shows how Reservation Indians are destroying themselves with alcohol and no one cares because of low expectations.  It’ll make you laugh and cry.  The characters are so real.   PBJ/S
Atta, Sefi, Everything Good Will Come, This novel explores the life of Enitan, a young woman in male-oriented Lagos, Nigeria.  It portrays Yoruba culture and examines identity.  Powerful imagery SN/BC
*Bennett, Alan, The Uncommon Reader is a charming novella that wryly depicts the way the world opens to those who read.  In it Queen Elizabeth II discovers books and her world turns  upside down.  I love it!  G/S, BC
Berlinski, Mischa, Fieldwork, 2007 National Book Award finalist, This is a very strange novel that I found slow and clumsy yet I kept returning to it’s odd story of an American anthropologist in northern Thailand who murdered an American missionary.  It’s clever and examines the way Americans see other cultures but I found the long passages about the imagined Dyalo culture and rituals too contrived. S
Buchan, Elizabeth, Consider the Lily, Kit, the heir to a British estate, is about to lose everything due to the depression so he accepts Matty’s marriage proposal.  Matty is unhappy until she discovers the estate garden and begins to flower.  The book is written to follow the garden seasons and it’s reminiscent of The Secret Garden, Daisy Miller, and Anne Tyler novels. The metaphors and characters are wonderful.  GPR
Burke, James Lee, Tin Roof Breakdown, This Dave Robicheaux mystery is set in New Orleans after Katrina.  Powerful language evokes evil and greed as thieves loot a mafia home then look for escape. CC/SN Burning Angel is another hit from Burke who may be America’s best mystery writer, CC
Chabon, Michael, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, This Pulitzer Prize winner is bizarre, inventive, and at 636 pages of symbolic prose is just the right length.  Joe escapes from Prague in 1939 and lives with his cousin Sammy who is also 17.  Joe and Sammy invent a new comic hero – The Escapist, make big money and are living large but then tragedy strikes leaving Joe despondent.  Exquisite writing, G/S
Chiaverini, Jennifer, Circle of Quilters is the best in this series of quilt mysteries. The characterizations of the quilters, particularly the men, set this entry apart.  CC The New Year’s Quilt is a rehash of previous books with a schmaltzy, feel-good ending.  Skip it. CC
Curtis, Christopher Paul, Elijah of Buxton, Eleven-year-old Elijah is the first child born into freedom in a runaway slave settlement in Canada across the border from Detroit.  Not as good as his previous books. PBJ
*Dillard, Annie, The Maytrees, You’ll want to stop to look up all the words Dillard introduces and you’ll surely read some of the poetic phrases aloud but nothing will stop you from caring about Toby and Lou Maytree and their unusual life and marriage. This is what a novel should be – love, friendship, loyalty, sense of place, and fine characterizations set on the coast at Provincetown.  Her spare descriptions including: “She lowered without fuss like a pilot light” will leave you breathless.  Enjoy!  G, BC
*Doig, Ivan, The Whistling Season, In 1909, Rose and her brother move to Montana where she becomes a housekeeper for a widower and his three boys.  This novel is evocative, eloquent, timeless, funny, poignant, charming and loving.  It has it all – real boys, a one-room schoolhouse, farm life, and surprises.  G, BC
*Dubus III, Andre, The Garden of Lost Days is still haunting me months after reading it.   Dubus made me care about a stripper, a terrorist, and a kidnapper by presenting them as multi-dimensional people. The stripper’s daughter is “kidnapped” while her mother performs for Bassam, a Saudi, who is part of the 9/11 attacks.  I loved Lonnie, the dyslexic bouncer, who quotes T.S. Eliot. It’s a moving, can’t-put-it-down tale of fear, grief, and the universality of isolated people.  His tone is similar to Richard Russo’s in Empire Falls.  G/CC, BC
Early, Tony, The Blue Star, I wanted this sequel to Jim, the Boy, to be great  but Jim as a teenager who loves a half Cherokee girl and goes off to World War II just didn’t measure up.  It’s a comforting tale of love, family, war and community but it isn’t as exceptional as Jim, the Boy was.  GPR
Evanovich, Janet, One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly, Four to Score, etc.  I finally read several (seven) of the series of Stephanie Plum mysteries and found them to be fun and feisty. CC
Falcones, Ildefonso, Cathedral of the Sea is very similar to Pillars of the Earth and is an incredibly fast read despite its more than 600 pages. It tells of the building of a Barcelona Cathedral during the Inquisition.  I really enjoyed learning about the early Jewish community and the “peoples” cathedral.  SN/GPR/CC
Follett, Ken, The Pillars of the Earth, Beginning in 1123 A.D., this epic tells of the building of Knightsbridge Cathedral and all its innovations.  At 983 pages this book never seems long since it evokes history through the stories of Tom, the builder, and his family. The evil characters are particularly well done.  SN/GPR
Fowler, Earlene, Sunshine and Shadow, the tenth novel in the Agatha Award-winning series about a quilter/crime solver is different because Benni depicts old California and Latino life in a clever mystery. CC
Franklin, Ariana, Mistress of the Art of Death, Set in Cambridge, England in 1170 A.D. ,when Jews are blamed for the disappearance and death of young children, Adelia, a young medical pathologist, arrives from Salerno, Italy and determines how the children have died and who killed them.  It’s a medieval CSI.  GPR/SN
French, Tana, In the Woods, a psychological mystery similar to those of Dennis LeHane,  In a remote Dublin suburb, a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered on the site of an archeological dig. One of the detectives assigned to the case is the lone survivor of another crime that took place in the same wooded area when he was twelve.  Are the two related?  Will the detective cope?  It’s a great read.  CC/S
*George, Elizabeth, For the Sake of Elena, This Inspector Lynley (basis for the PBS Mystery series) mystery is beautifully written.  The deaf Elena is murdered while jogging near her college.  The characters, language and descriptions set this apart from the usual whodunit.  G/CC, Missing Joseph, Deborah St. James meets a vicar from Lancashire and later learns that he’s died in an “accidental” poisoning. When her husband notes the shoddy investigation of the crime he calls in Inspector Lynley and the result is 567 wonderful pages of great characters and writing. G/CC Playing for the Ashes, one of England’s top cricket players is killed and his friends and family are fascinating people to investigate.  I love watching Lynley, Lady Helen, and Barbara Havers evolve. Livie, a character with ALS disease, is compelling as are all the others. G/CC, In the Presence of the Enemy, Lynley and Havers solve the murder of the ten-year-old child of a conservative MP and a liberal publisher.  The portrait of the politician mother is chillingly good. G/CC Deception on His Mind, Havers is on her own in a seaside town in solving the murder of the fiancé of a wealthy Pakistani businessman’s daughter.  The town’s prejudices and Havers’ delightful neighbor set this apart from the usual.  It kept me happy on an overnight flight.  G/CC
Glancy, Diane, Pushing the Bear: A Novel of the Trail of Tears is an imagined diary in the voices of the Cherokee travelers on the forced Trail of Tears from North Carolina to Oklahoma. The main thread in this poetic odyssey is Maritole, a young mother.  It’s thought-provoking, sad, and beautifully explored. G/SN, BC
Gordon, Mary, Pearl, I had trouble getting to know and care about Pearl, a 20 year-old, who chained herself outside the American Embassy in Dublin while trying to starve to death.  Her mother seemed distracted and distant but then I realized that the book was asking me to examine maternal love, selflessness, sacrifice and forgiveness.  The ending is beautiful and Pearl’s atonement is a powerful symbol of love.  GPR/SF
*Grushin, Olga, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, Wow, this starts slowly but always with magnificent language.  Sukhanov is a Soviet artist who sells out to become an art critic.  I underlined this novel the way I would a textbook. Surrealism symbolizes the culture and things are seldom what they seem in this amazing novel. G/S
Gunning,, Sally, The Widow’s War, My book club had a great discussion about women’s rights, the plight of widows, and about what attracts us to others in this saga of Lyddie whose husband dies at sea in 1760.  When Lyddie asserts her independence, she gets in trouble.  I liked the history but found the plot contrived and melodramatic.  Some in our group agreed but most adored the book.  SN/CC, BC
*Hamid, Mohsin, The Reluctant Fundamentalist,  The entire novel consists of Changez telling his tale to an unnamed American sitting across from him in a market café in Lahore, Pakistan.  Changez was a top Princeton grad and management consultant whose life changed after 9/11 when he became resentful of the U.S. role as a world aggressor and he returned to Pakistan to teach.  So many questions – is he a terrorist? What happens? My book club had a phenomenal discussion of this novel and all the questions it raises.  G/SN, BC
Hamilton, Steve, A Stolen Season, This murder mystery has exceptional characters and evokes a cold, dreary summer in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula but it didn’t seem as good as his previous efforts. CC
Hannah, Kristin, Firefly Lane, friendships, cancer, and success at all costs are explored in this novel that will be a women’s book club winner.  Lifelong friends separate but love and cancer intervenes.  GPR, BC
Harris, Joanne, The Girl with No Shadow, the sequel to Chocolat begins with the same evocative feeling of Chocolat.  Vianne Roche is now posing as a Montmarte widow with Anouk, now called Annie, and 3 ½ -year-old Rosette who is obviously Roux’s daughter.  She’s opened a chocolaterie and is to marry respectable, wealthy Thierry but in blows Zozie, a con artist, who enchants everyone.  Good but I expected more.  GPR/CC
Hempel, Amy, The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, an amazing collection by one of America’s best short story writers.  They are spare, ironic and challenging.  S
*Henson, Heather, with pictures by David Small, That Book Woman is a picture book celebrating the pack horse librarians who delivered books to remote Kentucky homes in the 1930’s.  I adore the inventive illustrations that make this a winner for book loving parents and children.  PBJ
Heywood, Joseph, Snowfly, Despite good descriptive writing and a fine beginning, this mystery has too many red herrings and undeveloped characters.  If Hemingway had faked his suicide as this novel supposes, he’d surely want get away from these crazies who live only for the “big fish.” It’s bizarre and much too long.  CC
Hobbs, Will, Crossing the Wire, Leave it to a children’s author to capture all the nuances of how and why so many “cross the wire” border from Mexico to the U.S.  illegally.  Great for reluctant boys 9 and older.  PBJ
Hood, Ann, The Knitting Circle, Mary Baxter is unable to cope after her five-year-old daughter’s death when she joins a knitting circle where she learns all the women have experienced tragedy.  The author lost her own child and presents a compelling portrait of grief that’s achy and poignant yet offers hope. GPR/SF
Horan, Nancy, Loving Frank, historical fiction based on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mameh Cheney, his client who became his lover.  They left their families and ran away to Europe then lived in Wisconsin.  I didn’t love either one as they were so selfish but it’s a fine portrait of Wright and his work. SN/GPR, BC
*Itani, Frances, Remembering the Bones, Because Georgie was born on the same day as Queen Elizabeth II, she’s invited to London to the Queen’s 80th birthday lunch.  On her way to the Ottawa airport, she loses control of her car and lands at the bottom of a ravine where she remembers her life.  It’s a wise, compelling monologue with perfect pitch language and extreme literary tension.  I stayed up half the night to see what happened.  I can’t understand why this isn’t a best-seller; it’s so good.  G/GPR, BC
Johnson, Diane, L’Affaire, Amy, a 30-year-old dot-com billionaire, is skiing in France where she naively befriends a young boy.  This droll, dry, comedic satire ends quite believably. Delectable literary fiction, D/S
Kagen, Lesley, Whistling in the Dark, a charmingly evocative novel of 1959 life in which two tough sisters fend for themselves and  try to convince people that a murderer is after them. Sally is delightful. GPR, Land of a Hundred Wonders isn’t as good but Gibby McGraw, the 20-year-old protagonist who is NQR (not quite right) after brain damage from the car wreck that killed her parents, is a great character. She tries to solve a murder mystery and regain her memory in this 1960’s portrait of a small town in Kentucky.  GPR
Karon, Jan, Home to Holly Springs, Father Tim returns to his boyhood home and it takes more than 200 pages of sappiness to get to the point.  What happened to Father Tim’s usual sense of humor?  CC
Kasischke, Laura, Be Mine, weird and creepy, definitely not recommended SN
Konigsburg, E. L., The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place., Twelve-year-old Margaret leaves an oppressive summer camp and uses her imagination to save the three towers in her uncles’ back yard – witty and thoughtful.  PBJ
*Lahiri, Jhumpa, Unaccustomed Earth, The writing is exquisite yet I devoured this book of short stories like a bag of potato chips.  The title story is about Ruma who has just moved to Seattle with her American husband and son. Her father’s visit makes them both examine their beliefs and feelings.  The rest of the book consists of three inter-related stories about Hema and Kaushik who meet as children in the first story when Kaushik’s mother becomes ill. The second story is about Kaushik’s feelings of displacement when he comes home from college to his father’s new family.  The third story is about Hema, now a professor on a trip in Rome, who encounters Kaushik and falls for him. It’s one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read.   G/CC, BC
*Lee, Suzy, Wave is a wonder of a wordless book depicting a joyful day at the beach for a charming girl who encounters all the delights of the sea.  It makes me smile every time I pick it up.  PBJ
Litzenburger, Liesel, The Widower, When Swan Robey’s wife dies in an accident, he can’t cope.  Grace, a Native American, nurses him.  It’s  too disjointed but the descriptions of northern Michigan are well done.  GPR
Mazzarella, Nicole, This Heavy Silence, I zoomed through this in less than a day but continued to think about it long after.  Dottie is a single, self-reliant farmer who fights to keep her land while raising her best friend’s daughter with rules and little overt love. Dottie’s inability to trust is her downfall.   It’s very good.  SF/CC. BC
*McCarthy, Cormac, The Road, The 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner is bleak and haunting but you can’t possibly put it down.  It’s about a man’s love for his son as they journey to find safety after a nuclear war.  The boy is a powerful symbol of good in an evil world.  It’s not possible to “enjoy” this book but you must read it. G, BC
Offill, Jenny with pictures by Nancy Carpenter, 17 Things I’m not allowed to do anymore tells the story of a girl who has great ideas that aren’t understood by the grown-ups in her life.  The illustrations will make every parent and teacher laugh.  Rambunctious 4 – 8 year-olds should love it.  PBJ
Pastan, Rachel, Lady of the Snakes, Jane., a perfectionist scholar and first-year professor, loves her husband and daughter but seems to live more in the imagined world of her research than in reality.  When her babysitter has an affair with her husband, Jane begins to evolve and become less rigid.  I really liked this but had trouble with some of the best scenes because of my irrational fear of snakes. G/S, BC
Patterson, Richard North, Exile, this long, page-turner needed more dialogue and stories to develop the characters so we’d understand why a Jew would give up everything to defend a Palestinian accused of assassination.  It helps explain Israeli-Palestinian hatred and is a pleasant way to learn history. CC/SN
Penney, Stef, The Tenderness of Wolves, Almost everyone in my book club adored this story of a fur trader’s brutal murder in a small settlement in the northern end of Georgian Bay, Ontario in 1867.  The characters, especially Mrs. Ross, who sets off to find her son, are great, the setting is spectacular, and the interweaving of history and an inventive story were well plotted but it just didn’t mesh for me.  Historical fiction lovers will really like it but I thought too many “important” clues and people weren’t developed. SN/GPR/BC
Perez-Reverte, Arturo, The Painter of Battles starts slowly then bang as Faulques, a famous war photographer, is visited by a Croatian survivor who hates him because of a photo he took.  Faulques is painting a fresco of battles on the tower walls of his home on Spain’s south coast. The language is hauntingly beautiful and the symbolism of war photography and survival are exquisitely rendered. G, *The Seville Communion also starts slowly as it builds the mystery of a hacker who’s gotten into the Pope’s computer and their possible connection to the archbishop and banker who want to raze an old Seville church to make way for a development.  It evokes old and new Seville with wonderfully original characters including Father Quart, the elegant priest sent by the Vatican to investigate.  The ending is pure perfection. CC/G
*Powers, Richard, The Echo Maker, National Book Award winner and Pulitzer finalist, When Mark, a 27-year-old immature Nebraska man, is in a car wreck his head injury is diagnosed as Capgras syndrome.  He believes that his sister Karen is an imposter in a government conspiracy.  It has great characters and language and made me think about my identity and what it is that makes us real.  G/BC
*Robinson, Marilynne,  Home features some of the same characters as the wonderful Gilead but the style is very different.  I love them both and adore Glory who returns to Gilead to care for her father and then copes with her “black sheep” brother in this deserving Natl. Book Award nominee that evokes the 1950’s.  G/SF, BC
Rosenthal, Amy Krause, Little Pea, Who wouldn’t love a story about a young pea who must eat all his sweets before he can have vegetables for dessert?  It’s a fun twist for parents and picky eaters. PBJ
*de Rosnay, Tatiana, Sarah’s Key explores the little known story of France’s role in rounding up Jewish families in 1942.  It intersperses ten-year-old Sarah’s search for her brother with that of an American journalist investigating the roundup sixty years later. I loved Sarah’s story and her refusal to give up.  It makes you wonder what you would have done and is a great companion piece to Suite Francaise. GPR/SN, BC
*Shaffer, Mary Ann and Barrows, Annie, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is absolutely delightful.  I’ve already read it twice and will read it again.  It’s charming, acerbic, and poignant.  It reminds me of 84 Charing Cross Road.  It’s written in letters from a British writer to and from the residents of the Isle of Guernsey in 1946 after the German occupation of their island.  I love the characters in this winner. GPR, BC
Schmidt, Gary, The Wednesday Wars, a Newbery Honor book in 2008, Holling spends Wednesday afternoons with Mrs. Baker because all the other seventh graders have gone for religious training.  Mrs. Baker begins teaching Holling Shakespeare and both learn to see through Shakespearean metaphor.  It’s a bit contrived but is still enjoyable and bright preteen boys are really liking it.  PBJ
*Schwartz, John Burnham, The Commoner spectacularly evokes the life of Haruko, the Japanese commoner, who marries the Crown Prince and loses herself. She is terrorized by the Empress and her staff.  When her own son marries a commoner, Haruko must decide how to act.  Beautiful language, haunting characters, history, and an improbable ending that I adored.  G/SN, BC
*Seiffert, Rachel, The Dark Room, the 2001 Booker Prize finalist consists of three thematically related novellas of ordinary Germans’ lives in World War II and today.  Helmut, a loner, photographs the changes in Berlin but refuses to accept them. Lore, a fourteen-year-old girl, leads her siblings north from Bavaria where she confronts the truth and Micha struggles to learn if his grandfather killed Jews.  It constantly asks what responsibility we must bear when evil threatens.  It’s haunting and won’t let you go. G/SN BC
*Sierra, Judy, Wild About Books,  When a librarian mistakenly drives the bookmobile into the zoo, the animals get hooked on reading and even begin writing their own books.  Spectacular!  PBJ, Born to Read is Sierra’s latest that tells the story of Sam who has loved to read since he was a baby when his mother read him a book “then another, then another . . . such a perfect patient mother.”  It’s ideal for 3 – 8 year olds although the dialogue may seem a bit overdone to adults. Kids will invent their own words for the pictures.  PBJ
*Tsukiyama, Gail, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms presents World War II from the perspective of those in Japan; shows why sumo wrestling is honored, respected and revered; and explains Noh theatre and mask making.  Throughout it all Tsukiyama infuses the novel with her characteristic serenity via grandparents who rear their grandsons.  So much grief was difficult to read about but it helped me feel the way the Japanese would have felt as they experienced loss upon loss. The characters are really strong.  GPR/SN, BC
Ward, Amanda Eyre, Forgive Me is a confusing, convoluted mystery novel about a journalist who goes to South Africa for the amnesty trial of a girl who killed a man from her home town. Not the author’s best.  S
Wargin, Kathy-jo, P is for Pumpkin, God’s Harvest Alphabet  is a charming book for preschoolers.  SF/PBJ
Weiler, Julia, and Leo, Jennifer, editors, More Sand in My Bra, This is probably the worst book I’ve ever read. These supposedly comic stories about women travelers aren’t funny and have no redeeming qualities.
Willig, Lauren, The History of the Pink Carnation is a silly, chick lit, historical romance.  The 428 pages of twittering females trying to assist the Scarlet Pimpernel in Napoleon’s court bored me.  D
Wood, Patricia, Lottery is a warm, funny novel about Perry, a boy who is NOT retarded because he knows that his IQ is 76.  Perry’s Gram made him work hard, learn words, and think so while he may be slow, he always gets things done. After he wins the lottery, his family tries to cheat him and his friends help him but in the end his resilience and confidence wins the day.  It’s a delightful escape.  GPR, BC
*Wroblewski, David, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Wow, Edgar, who was born mute, is a compelling character who communicates with the family’s special breed of dogs through sign language.  The novel is a modern telling of Hamlet set in the woods of Wisconsin.  It’s old-fashioned storytelling at its best.  Lovers of Watership Down and The Life of Pi will enjoy the universal truths told in this beautifully written thriller.  G, BC
Young, William P., The Shack, I found this story of a man who meets God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to be shallow and stilted.  Its convoluted writing style was difficult for me to read.  I also found it too preachy and overdone. SF
Allende, Isabel, My Invented Country, Allende evokes the Santiago, Chile of her childhood.  It’s a love letter to the world of her grandparents and shows that we are the stories we hear.  SN/SF
Beah, Ishmael, A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Forced to be a killer/soldier at twelve, the erudite Beah came to the U.S. and graduated from Oberlin at 17.  There are questions about the validity of his story. SN
*Braestrup, Kate, Here If You Need Me, Braestrup tells of her life after her husband, a state trooper, died and she was left with four children to rear.  She fulfilled her husband’s dream and became a minister, then became the Chaplain for the Maine Warden Service who went on search and rescue missions and accompanied people in their grief and in their relief.  Her descriptions put me on the site as a chopper landed and her raw emotions left me in tears several times.  I love her telling of universal truths as well as her humor. G/SF. BC
*Edwards, Elizabeth, Saving Graces, I cried as Edwards told of her son Wade’s death, of her grief, and then of her cancer.  She’s tough with a platinum heart and deserves better than all the hits she’s taken.  GPR
*Eire, Carlos, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy: The National Book Award winner is a passionate, lyrical, funny, sad, descriptive account of Eire’s childhood in Havana before and during Castro’s first years intermingled with his years in the US as one of the boys sent into exile.  His  strange father, creepy adopted brother, and other relatives come alive in this amazing memoir.  Watching as Eire’s life of privilege as a judge’s son evolves into his being called a “spic” as a 16-year-old busboy in Chicago was eye-opening.   G/SN/SF, BC
Falsani, Cathleen, The God Factor contains interviews with famous people who share what they believe.  SF/SN
*Fuller, Alexandra, The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, Fuller says “This is a work of nonfiction, but I have taken narrative liberties with the text.”  In this treasure of a book, we get to know and love imperfect Colton. He is all the mistakes, youthful indiscretions, and unrealistic optimism that almost every American young man both sweetly and swaggeringly possesses.  So when we learn of his life and the oil company’s disregard for safety, we take notice and care.  This book is a wonder, please read it. G/SN
*Geist, Mary Ellen, Measure of the Heart:  A Father’s Alzheimer’s, a Daughter’s Return, Oliver Sacks’ forward aptly calls it “a tender, but tough-minded, and beautifully written memoir.”  It’s a moving portrait of Woody Geist’s cruel dementia and of Mary Ellen who gave up her life as the CBS news radio anchor in New York to come home to a father who cannot recall her name.  It’s spare, gentle and everyone should read it especially for the way the family connects through music.  Disclosure:  the author is my friend.  SF/SN
Hiaasen, Carl, The Downhill Lie is a hysterical look at the author’s return to golf.  Buy it for every golfer.  S/D
Kalish, Mildred Armstrong, Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on and Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, Kalish is clever, informative, and unsentimental in describing everything from her beloved books to butchering.  Her language is precise and charming and she uses detail to carefully describe nature on the farm and town life in the winter.  It’s a happy but true memoir of a forgotten time and place. SN/GPR, BC
Kamen, Henry, The Disinherited: Exile and the Making of Spanish Culture, 1492-1975, Kamen tells the truths of the Inquisition, the exile of the Jews, the persistence of the Moors, religious identity, and artists like Picasso and Pablo Casals who fled under Franco’s rule.  Booklist calls it one of this year’s best history books. SN
Larsen, Erik, Thunderstruck, this true murder mystery that interweaves the story of an amoral murderer who seems like a modest nerd and Marconi, the young entrepreneur and “creator” of the wireless, is both bizarre and packed with history and suspense.  The writing is similar to his The Devil and the White City.  SN
*Link, Mardi, When Evil Came to Good Hart: an Up North Michigan Cold Case, I’m  recommending a book that I’m in because it’s a compelling read about a family of six murdered in their remote log cabin near my summer home forty years ago. The case was never officially solved and the book presents the evidence and allows the reader to determine “whodunit.”  It also weaves in stories of the town today including one about the book club I started.  It evokes the beauty and serenity of a small town and some of the wonderful people in it.  SN/CC
Pollan, Michael, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, It’s basically common sense, - skip refined foods, eat more plants and leaves, and eat whole foods. I like his reasoned approach. SN, BC
Tippett, Krista, Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters and How to Talk About It, the host of the public radio program tells of her belief that we can talk about our faith together without attacking each other. The conversations about religion and science, natural disasters, quantum physics, fundamentalism, justice, and love ask us to think and listen while honoring the mystery of the convictions of others. It’s powerful. SF/SN