Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Annual Book List - 2012 Edition

My annual list of the books I've read in the last year is now in a pdf. file so that you can easily read and print it.  It also appears below.  You may print it to take with you to your favorite book store or library to make selections for yourself or for holiday giving. If you wish to share it, please share the link to this post.  I'll post what I think were the Best Books of the Year in each category separately throughout December. 

Hungry for Good Books? Annual Book List, November
©Copyright November, 2012 by Trina Hayes
Letters after each selection designate the book as 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), CC: Chinese Carryout (page-turners, great for plane rides),  PBJ: Peanut Butter and Jelly (children’s and young adult books adults will like), S: Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet (satire, irony, black humor, acquired taste), SF: Soul Food (spirituality, theology, books for your soul), SN: Super Nutrition (lots of information, yet tasty as fresh blueberries), T: Tapas (small bites including short stories, essays and poetry), D: Desserts (chick-lit, delightful indulgences), The letters BC denote books that would be good for book clubs.  The fiction section is divided into three categories: general fiction, mysteries and thrillers, and children’s and young adult books.  * Asterisks depict the most outstanding in each designation. The number/hash sign (#) denotes books with full reviews on this blog.

General Fiction

*Adichie, Chimamanda Ngoze, Half of a Yellow Sun explains the Biafran war for independence and transports readers through the lives or two sisters and their friends. A contemporary classic G, SN/BC
Alcott, Kate, The Dressmaker tells of an ambitious maid who wants to be a dressmaker and who leaves England on the Titanic. Historical fiction fans will love the details that set this page-turner apart. CC, SN
*Alger, Cristina, The Darlings takes the financial crisis to a human level via Paul and Merrill’s fairy tale marriage. Merrill’s father is the head of a hedge fund when a financial crisis threatens everything they have. It’s fun with a reality check for life in the fast lane.  The engaging characters make it soar.  GPR, D
*Benaron, Naomi, Running the Rift gives voice to the Rwandan genocide and shows that love matters in this noble story of a Tutsi runner destined for the Olympics and the perils he and his family face when their world falls apart. This Belwether Prize winner will appeal to Khalid Hosseini fans. G, SN/BC
*#Bohjalian, Chris, The Sandcastle Girls is a historical fiction love story that tells of the Armenian genocide and of a woman who searches for her family’s story. Reading of Syria in the early 1900s helps us understand Syria today. This novel comes from the heart and Bohjalian’s family story. GPR, SN/BC
*#Brockmeier, Kevin, The Illumination will keep you up at night as you consider what it might mean if all our wounds, illnesses and internal injuries were visible to the world. Brilliant writing, compelling characters and a challenging premise will make you see yourself and others differently.  G, SF, T/BC
*Cash, Wiley, A Land More Kind Than Home begins as a preacher hands a copperhead snake to an older woman. After the snake bites her, she’s whisked off to the garden behind her house to die alone. An 81-year-old woman, a young boy and a middle-aged sheriff expose evil in this Southern gothic thriller packed with suspense and meaning.  GS, SF/BC
Dermont, Amber, The Starboard Sea explores life in a boarding school that takes in kids tossed from good schools if they have family money and influence. Using sailing as a metaphor for searching for a guiding star, it explores father-son relationships. It’s reminiscent of Dead Poet’s Society.  GPR, SN/BC
*Du Bois, Jennifer, A Partial History of Lost Causes, in this exceptional novel, 30-year-old Irina who’s sure that she’ll die of Huntington’s disease as her father did, finds an unanswered letter he wrote to Alexandr Bezetov, the world chess champion, who is now running for president against Vladimir Putin.  She drops everything and travels to Russia to ask Bezetov how one proceeds in a lost cause.  G, SN/BC
*#Erdrich, Louise, The Round House is a rip-roaring good story told by Joe, a 13-year-old Native American boy, who tries to make sense of a terrible attack on his mother.  Humor makes the story accessible.  Great writing makes it universal. It won the National Book Award.  G, GPR, SN/BC
Foenkinos, David, Delicacy portrays Natalie, a Frenchwoman, who’s grieving her husband’s death when she falls in love with a shy, introvert.  This romantic, droll novel is a subtle character study that’s very, very French. The movie features Audrey Tatoo in the lead. D, S, SF/BC
*Foer, Jonathan Safran, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is an imaginative look at the aftermath of 911 through the eyes of a boy who’s lost his father.  The pictures and the flip book at the end alone would make for the perfect book discussion if readers will stretch, think and consider.  G, S/BC
Ford, Richard, Canada, 15-year-old Dell’s parents, who’ve never done anything illegal before, rob a bank and when they go to prison, he ends up in Canada. Ford’s detailed prose and nuance make this a study in skilled writing yet it’s almost a page-turner. G/BC
*#Geye, Peter, The Lighthouse Road is historical fiction at its best. Thea, a Norwegian immigrant working in a lumber camp, gives birth to Odd Einar in 1896.  After her death, their boundary water area town raises Odd.  Incredible characters, good and evil, a setting that won’t let you go, and exceptional writing make this a winner. A book for everyone (and read his Safe from the Sea as well).  G/BC
*George, Alex, A Good American, Frederick and Jette leave Germany and end up in a small Missouri town in 1904 as Jette delivers her first child. Frederick later enlists to fight for his adopted country in WWI and his grandson James, tells the story of their lives and struggles. George, an English immigrant living in Missouri, weaves a family saga that details American history and explores loyalty, identity and the power of music.  Historical fiction fans and music lovers will adore this novel. GPR, SN/BC
Goodman, Daisy, The American Heiress, Cora Cash, is from one of the richest families in 1890s America and her mother wants her to marry into royalty in this charming, plot-driven page turner. Downton Abbey viewers and historical fiction fans will eat this up with silver spoons. D, CC
Grisham, John, Calico Joe is a kind novel about family and forgiveness as seen through the eyes of the son of a blackguard pitcher in 1973 and today. It isn’t just for baseball fans but will appeal to readers looking for a heartwarming story.  Perfect for reluctant readers especially teenage boys GPR
*Gutcheon, Beth, Gossip , Lovie French’s NYC shop outfits Manhattan’s elite. Lovie knows everyone’s secrets and this novel shows that the way we talk to and about each other is important.  This novel is very entertaining but its message about the evils our tongues can cause is its real magic.  G/BC
Hanauer, Cathi, Gone captures marriage, boredom and eventually the importance of loving and changing. Eve is the perfect wife and mother whose husband drives the sitter home one night and doesn’t return. Even Eve’s usual ability to make everything work, can’t solve things overnight.  GPR/BC
Hepinstall, Kathy, Blue Asylum, Iris is convicted of lunacy and sent away to an asylum on Sanibel Island, FL during the Civil War to be “cured” into becoming a good wife.  The minor characters are engaging and the language is plaintive and descriptive as the novel makes its way to resolution.  GPR, SN
Hoffman, Alice, The Dovekeepers is a repetitive historical view of the siege of Masada. Half of my book club loved this but I’m with the half that found it melodramatic and much too long. SN/BC
Hruska, Bronwen, Accelerated wryly illustrates the competitive world of NYC private schools where every child must be the best.  Sean, a newly single father, worries when the school insists his son, Toby, must be tested and Toby’s best friend’s death isn’t what it seems. Romance and entertainment abound. CC/BC
*Itani, Frances, Requiem is a quiet book both because it’s a peaceful, gentle opus and because of the forced quiet that comes when one can’t talk about something bad. Bin and his family were removed from their Canadian Pacific coast fishing village and put in an internment camp during WWII.  Bin ended up with a new father and an estranged relationship with his birth family.  After his wife dies, Bin and his dog drive across Canada to rediscover his past.  This poetic, descriptive book is powerful.  G, SN/BC
*Ivey, Eowyn, The Snow Child asks what if a fairy tale really came true and a child made of snow came to life in the remote Alaskan wilderness. This is for the child in all of us. GPR/BC
Johnson, Adam, The Orphan Master’s Son takes place in North Korea where everything is based on lies whether in an orphanage, on a fishing boat, when listening to radio propaganda or when Kim Jong Il’s omnipresence makes just staying alive the only game in town. This book defies description.  G, S, SN/BC
Johnson, A G S,The Sausage Maker’s Daughter , Kip is arrested for the murder of her ex-lover and brother-in-law and the DA has it in for her family. Her recalled memories reveal the mystery and the dysfunctional family at its heart in this 1960s era page turner. CC
*Jordan, Hillary, When She Woke is reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale and is a retelling of The Scarlet Letter set in the not-so-distant future.  Chromes, criminals whose skin color is altered to fit their crimes, are outcasts.  Abortion is classified as murder so Hannah Payne who won’t reveal the father of the child she aborted or the abortionist, must serve time in prison and then years as a “red.”  G/BC
Jordan, River, Saints in Limbo features elderly Velma True, a wonderful character, and her mysterious gift in this gothic, mystical novel that makes too many confusing turns to hold its center.  GS, GPR, SF
*Joyce, Rachel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is an eye-opening picture of a man who quit life until forced to confront the mortality of an old friend.  When Harold learns that his former co-worker Queenie is dying, he impulsively starts walking across England to save her. Charming without being cloying, this droll British tale will make you laugh then think about living life to the fullest. GPR/BC
*Kaplan, Mitchell James, By Fire, By Water brings history to life through Luis de Santangel, the Spanish chancellor during the Inquisition.  It shows how the conversos, Jews who had converted to Christianity, were treated.  1478 – 1492 comes alive in a beautifully written, cinematic novel.  GPR, SN/BC
*Kuhn, William, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train will delight anglophiles and anyone looking for a charming story.  The Queen of England takes an unscheduled train ride and learns about life.  GPR, D
 *#Kingsolver, Barbara, Flight Behavior is the story of Dellarobia, a young mother, who discovers millions of monarch butterflies wintering in the Appalachian mountain forest that her father-in-law wants to log. This novel of climate change presciently came out the week after Hurricane Sandy - just when Americans might be ready for a novel about climate change. Kingsolver’s characters deliver. GPR, SN/BC
*Kogan, Deborah Copaken, The Red Book is a compulsive page-turner based on Harvard’s famed, every-five-year, red book of essays about graduates’ personal and career details.  The class of ’89 is arriving in Cambridge for their 20th reunion and all is not exactly as the Red Book says.  While at first a witty, seemingly carefree novel about beautiful people who have it all, it soon percolates with secrets, betrayals, romantic rendezvous, forgiveness and all that gives life meaning.  CC, GPR/BC
Livsey, Margot, The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a 1950-60s retelling of Jane Eyre. Gemma, orphaned in Iceland at age three, moves to Scotland to live with a kind uncle. When he dies, his family treats her like Cinderella so she leaves and ends up on Mr. Sinclair’s remote Orkney Island estate as an au pair.  GPR
*Mc Lain, Paula, The Paris Wife follows Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson’s courtship and marriage in Paris. With minor characters including James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, this novel evokes the era and a marriage that went off like a firecracker.  Hadley was some woman and this novel made me know her well.  G, SN/BC
Mc Laughlin, Emma and Kraus, Nicola, Between You and Me is a page-turner about a 20-something, Lady Gaga-type sensation whose troubled past makes her reach out to an estranged cousin. CC
*Morgenstern, Erin, The Night Circus is a mystical, ethereal fantasy of a book. A circus open only at night appears out of nowhere with a black and white theme and a magical clock.  Behind the scenes is a do-or-die competition between two magicians.  Escape to this enchanted world you’ll swear is real.  GPR/BC
*#Morton, Kate, The Secret Keeper, 16-year-old Laurel watches a man die at a 1960s picnic then years later on her mother’s 90th birthday, she searches for clues in her mother’s past in London during the blitz and in the English countryside. No one mixes history, mystery and Brits better. GPR, SN/BC
*#Netzer, Lydia, Shine, Shine, Shine is a love story of a genius astronaut who’s in space as his wife copes with an autistic son, her soon-to-be-born baby and her dying mother while she confidently pretends that all’s right in the world.  This novel will NOT let me go.  It’s as if Vonnegut had written The Velveteen Rabbit as it continues to make me wonder about what it means to be real.  S/BC
*Powers, Kevin, The Yellow Birds is one of the toughest books I’ve ever read and it’s sure to be a classic. Powers, himself an Iraq veteran, shows the horror of war through the details of the war in Iraq as seen by young soldiers.  He then depicts one soldier’s return to civilian life where he doesn’t fit.  It’s bleak but the writing is pure poetry in its evocation of war as purgatory. It should be required reading for everyone in Congress and the Pentagon. G, SN/BC
*#Schulman, Audrey, Three Weeks in December, Jeremy oversees the building of a railroad in remote East Africa in 1899. In 2000, botanist Max, who has Asperger’s syndrome, goes to Rwanda in search of a vine eaten by gorillas that might cure heart disease. Their personal journeys and the history, botany and biology are insightful and colorful. I hope this becomes a movie as I can already envision it.  G, SN/BC
*Segal, Francesca, The Innocents retells Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence set it in a North London, upper class Jewish enclave. This is a page-turner with substance and a great ending. G, GPR/BC
*Semple, Maria, Where’d You Go, Bernadette uses emails, letters, FBI documents and the thoughts of an 8th grader, her alienated genius mother and her techie, workaholic father to create a laugh-out-loud, yet very real and even tender page turner about family dysfunction and the absurdity of our world.  Microsoft culture meets Antarctica adventure in a story that’s essentially about love and growth. S, D/BC
Sendker, Jan Phillipp, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, The Bridges of Madison County meets The Alchemist in a tale of a young lawyer who travels to Burma to find her father, a successful man who disappeared four years previously. Most readers ADORE this novel but I found it trite and tedious. SF
Tsyukiama, Gail, A Hundred Flowers, Tao’s father is taken away for reeducation in Mao’s 1957 China.  Later, six-year-old Tao falls from a tree and breaks his leg and his mother tries to hold the family together.  This has Tsyukiama’s wonderful attention to detail and evocation of place and time but it isn’t as good as Samurai’s Garden.  Still, it allows the reader to see and feel the time and place. GPR, SN/BC
Tyler, Anne, Beginners Goodbye seems too light to be Tyler but in the end she ties it all together and grief, fear and loneliness give way to hope and joy.  Aaron grieves after his wife dies but her frequent appearances help him cope in a quirky, steady picture of love and living. GPR
#Umrigar, Thrity, The World We Found will transport you to Mumbai and its changing culture while enveloping you in the lives of four women who’ve changed but still need each other. GPR, SN/BC
Vincenzi, Penny, More Than You Know is 589 pages that you might just read in a day or two.  If you enjoy fashion, British sagas and revisiting the 1960s and 70s then you’ll adore this romp of a romantic comedy.  Vincenzi’s Lytton family trilogy was hugely successful and this tale of Eliza, an upper class fashion editor who falls for a driven-to-succeed working-class mate, should appeal to the same readers.  Add Summercourt, the family estate that may be lost due to a downturn in the family resources, and you have the perfect read for a long flight or for those awaiting more of Downton Abbey.  CC
Walter, Jess, Beautiful Ruins, a dying starlet is sent to a tiny Italian resort in 1962 during the filming of Cleopatra.  Sixty years later, an elderly Italian goes to Hollywood to find the starlet and uncovers a bevy of secrets, misspent lives, and unmet dreams.  S
The Financial Lives of Poets, only Walter could pull off a character who quits his job to begin a website devoted to poetry about finance and whose own financial miasma gets him into deep trouble.  S

Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers
*Cash, Wiley, A Land More Kind Than Home, see General Fiction for information
Child, Lincoln, The Third Gate packs a lost tomb, a near-death experience, Egyptology, unfathomable treasure, and things that go bump in the night into a mystery that doesn’t quite make it. CC
*Flynn, Gillian, Gone Girl is a deftly written psychological thriller/mystery that seems like an upside-down cake laced with arsenic.  Amy disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary and husband Nick is accused of murder in this dark, passionate drama. From beginning to end, it’s a work of disturbing art.  G, CC/BC
Sharp Objects, Flynn’s first novel, is disturbing and dysfunctional yet completely addictive. Camille, a Chicago reporter recovering from psychological issues, is dispatched to her home town to scoop the story of one dead and one missing young girl.  Camille’s creepy, bizarre family adds to the suspense. Packed with twists and disturbing revelations this is like a Hitchcock movie.  CC
*Hamilton, Steve, Misery Bay, when a former state trooper’s son is found hanging from a tree in a remote western upper peninsula bay, Alex McKnight is called to investigate and finds another trooper’s son has died in a declared suicide that may be murder. Perfect for Dads CC
*Jay, Gerald, The Paris Directive depicts Inspector Paul Mazarelle, a droll, sly, unkempt, seemingly slow, cognac swigging, former Parisian star inspector who now lives in a small Dordogne village where a grisly murder takes place.  The victim’s daughter and the inspector track an international killer. It’s perfect. CC
Johnson, A G S,The Sausage Maker’s Daughter ,see General Fiction for information.
*Landay, William, Defending Jacob is a fast-paced courtroom drama and story of the son of a district attorney who’s accused of killing his classmate.  As the father tries to save his son, he has to ask if a tendency to violence is an inheritable trait and then to explore his own past.  The courtroom scenes are crisp and realistic as the author is a former district attorney.  The book will keep readers on edge until the very clever ending. CC, SN/BC
*Locke, Attica, Black Water Rising tells the story of Jay Porter, an African-American lawyer in Houston in 1981.  He lives in fear because one juror is all that stands between him and a felony conviction. But he still can’t ignore a mystery involving politics, oil and corruption. This debut has won many deserved awards and will make you think as well as entertain you with its twists.  CC, GPR, SN/BC
*#Morton, Kate, The Secret Keeper, see General Fiction for information.
Penney, Stef, The Invisible Ones involves the families of a Romany gypsy caravan in 1980s England trying to find a woman who’s been missing for seven years.  Detective Ray Lovell, himself half gypsy, narrates most of the story from his hospital bed after an accident. JJ, a 14-year-old, provides insight into the lives of real gypsies but the ending doesn’t ring true. CC
*#Penny, Louise, #6Bury Your Dead was my favorite mystery last year and it made me read the entire Inspector Gamache series. These novels provide insights into good and evil while making the darkest winter days fly by. Gamache of the Surêté du Quebec (a special investigation team) and his crew are wonderful characters and the small town they often visit is a place you’ll long visit.  Bury Your Dead tells of Champlain and early Quebec. SN, CC/BC  
If you’re new to these, start at the beginning: 
#1 Still Life introduces Gamache and his team who travel to Three Pines, a small village, where a retired schoolteacher is found dead in a deer hunting area.  Sinister secrets are revealed.  CC
#2 A Fatal Grace  returns to Three Pines where a woman no one likes is electrocuted on a frozen lake in plain sight of the entire town during a curling tournament.  Gamache exposes more secrets.  CC
#3 The Cruelest Month, Gamache has to confront his own ghosts and clear his name when he returns to Three Pines to investigate a séance gone wrong. CC
#4 A Rule Against Murder  finds Gamache and his wife on vacation at a remote Quebec resort where a murder takes place and no one knows how it happened.  CC
#5 A Brutal Telling, the body of an old man shows up in the bistro in Three Pines and Gamache finds clues leading to the bistro’s owner.  CC
#7 A Trick of the Light finds Lillian dead in her friend Clara’s garden in Three Pines and clues lie in Clara’s art exhibition in Montreal. CC
#8 The Beautiful Mystery takes Gamache and Beauvoir to a remote monastery where a monk has been killed inexplicably.  The order’s singing of Gregorian chants adds to the story.  SN, CC
Quirk, Matthew, The 500 is a debut thriller set in the powerful world of Washington lobbyists with unchallenged power.  Mike Ford, a recent Harvard Law School grad with a past, is riding high until he discovers secrets that turn his world into something resembling The Firm.  CC
Robertson, Peter, Permafrost  takes a dissatisfied man from his home in Chicago to the resort area near Traverse City, Michigan to find out what happened to a childhood friend from his native Scotland who’s disappeared.  The former Publishers Weekly mystery reviewer makes the settings real. CC
Stander, Aaron, Shelf Ice, when an artist is killed in her remote home in an apparent home invasion, Sheriff Elkins’ investigation leads him to a new mega church pastor and a frightened young mother.  Stander captures the atmosphere of the previous books in this series but the ending was too strange.  CC
Upson, Nicola, An Expert in Murder: A Josephine Tey Mystery weaves the life of a famous mystery novelist into the investigation of a murder on a London-bound train along with lots of red herrings found among the cast of a London play. History imbues this new series. CC/SN

Peanut Butter and Jelly: Books for Children and Young Adults

*Aesop, retold and illustrated by Helen Ward, The Town Mouse and the City Mouse features sumptuous water color illustrations that will appeal to everyone.  Ages 4 -7 plus art loving adults PBJ
Barnett, Marc, Klassen, Jon,  illustrator, Extra Yarn depicts Annabelle whose knitting transposes a tired, dark town into a warm and sunny place by using special yarn from her magical yarn box.  When an evil archduke enters, she turns the tables on him. A happy, kind, ethereal tale for ages 5 - 7 PBJ
*#Bemonster, Ludworst (aka Walton, Rick), Hale, Nathan, illustrator, Frankenstein is a wry take on the beloved Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans that should make everyone laugh out loud.  “In a creepy old castle all covered with spines, lived twelve ugly monsters in two crooked lines.”  Ages four and up PBJ
*Erskine, Kathryn, Mockingbird shows how Caitlin copes with Asperger’s with her brother Devon’s help.  When tragedy strikes and Devon is killed in a middle school shooting, Caitlin must learn to handle bullying and grief in a book that will make adults and kids ages nine and up cheer. GPR, SN, PBJ/BC
Hannigan, Katherine, True (. . .sort of) tells of Delly who’s always in trouble when a “mysteriosity” in the form of Ferris Boyd, who doesn’t speak, moves to town. Ages 8 and up but I’d read it with anyone under 10 because the issue of abuse might be troubling to younger kids. PBJ
Hiasson, Carl, Chomp will especially appeal to boys ages 10 and up.  It spoofs reality shows when one films at the Everglades home/ranch of a wild animal wrangler. His son, Wahoo, saves the day along with a funny damsel in distress named Tuna. Kids should love the wacky humor and inept adults.  PBJ
*Palacio, R.J., Wonder is THE best. It’s a gem that will make adults and kids ages eight and up whoop with joy.  Ten-year-old August has a facial deformity and all his operations have kept him out of school till this year.  He wants to be accepted but kids at his new school can’t get past his face. His deformity also affects his family and the beauty of this book is hearing the story from his sister’s and classmates’ point of view.  Choose this for your adult or parent-child book club. It’s an endearing tear-jerker.  GPR, PBJ/BC
*Klassen, Jon, This is Not My Hat has amazing drawings that with a blink of an eye literally tell the darkly hilarious story of a little fish who thinks he can steal a big fish’s hat. Children aged three and up will “read” the story as even the bubbles carry the plot.  As ingenious as his earlier I Want My Hat Back.  PBJ
*Lai, Thanhha, Inside Out & Back Again, NBA winner, Newbury Honor, Hà tells the story of her family’s move from Viet Nam to Alabama. Told in verse, her story packs a wallop. It provides a history lesson as well as a lesson about bullying - all beautifully told.  Ages 9 -13 SN, PBJ
*Levine, Gail Carson, Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It is a collection of “mean” poems mimicking William Carlos Willams. Kids will love creating their own satirical poetry after reading it. Ages 8 and up PBJ
*Levithan, David, Every Day  the book’s main character, “A,” wakes up in a different body – male, female, different races so when “A” falls in love the question of whether you can love someone regardless of what they look like on the outside becomes paramount. Absolutely beautiful ending Ages 13 and up  PBJ/BC
Oliver, Lauren, Leisel and Po is packed with magic to delight 8 – 12-year-olds.  Leisel’s wicked stepmother keeps her locked and hungry in an attic until ghost Po helps her and Will, the alchemist’s assistant, mixes up an order. Good triumphs over evil and the way you view things can make a difference.  PBJ
Raschka, Chris, A Ball for Daisy won the Caldecott showing the joy and sadness having or losing a favorite toy can bring. Dog lovers will adore it.  Ages 3 and up will love the way pictures tell the story.
*Ray, Mary Lyn, Frazee, Marla, illustrator, Stars introduces the idea of stars and night with gorgeous illustrations.  It’s the perfect bedtime book for kids 3 to 9 “Every night, everywhere.”  SN, PBJ
*Rosenthal, Amy Krouse, Duck! Rabbit! asks the question “is it a duck or is it a rabbit?” and it all depends on your point of view. It’s a great way to talk about arguing and what “right” means.  Ages 5 -7  PBJ
This Plus That: Life’s Little Equations demonstrates math for real life. “Birds + buds = spring.” “Blaming + eye rolling ≠ sincere apology. I’m sorry + hug = sincere apology.” Ages 3 and up PBJ
Underwood, Deborah, The Christmas Quiet Book builds toward Christmas Eve while entertaining young children as they try to be patient. From “searching for presents quiet, getting caught quiet” and “listening for sleigh bells quiet” to snow angels, cocoa and blown fuses, this will delight all. Ages 4 and up PBJ
*Woodward, Caroline with illustrations by Julie Morstad, Singing Away the Dark is about a six-year-old girl walking a mile alone in the dark to the school bus and is one of the most beautiful books ever. This will empower kids to overcome fears. Ages 4 to 8 and adults. PBJ


Abbott, Jim and Brown, Tim, Imperfect, Born without a right hand, Jim Abbott was an implausible candidate to pitch a big league no-hitter, yet he did.  The way his parents used his supposed handicap as an opportunity is an inspiration for everyone.  Abbott’s honesty and humor enlighten his journey and Brown’s skillful inning-by-inning rendition of Abbott’s no-hitter in Yankee Stadium will entertain readers. GPR, SN, SF
Ackerman, Diane, The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story is jubilant in its rendering of what could have been a sad story of the German occupation of Warsaw during WWII. Instead, Ackerman’s use of the zookeeper and his wife’s remembrances to tell of their turning the Warsaw zoo into a haven for Jews sings because of the elegant language and word pictures painted to make it come alive.  G, SN/BC
Barger, Rick, A New and Right Spirit: Creating an Authentic Church in a Consumer Culture is wordy and preachy but it’s extremely thought provoking and church leaders need to read it.  SF
*Becker, Amy Julia, A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny tells of the birth of Amy Julia’s first child, Penny, who was born with Down syndrome and who brought fear, joy and infinite growth to her family. SF, GPR/BC
Bonney, Grace, Design Sponge at Home is packed with pictures, ideas, and inspiration from the writer of the design sponge blog that will spark interest in making your house a home. SN
*#Boo, Katherine, Behind the Beautiful Forevers : Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbia Undercity is a heart wrenching yet compelling glimpse into the lives of the real people who live in extraordinary poverty in Mumbai.  If you only read one book this year, read this and allow it to seep into your soul. To understand India you must read it. It won the National Book Award for nonfiction. G, SN/BC
*Braestrup, Kate, Beginner’s Grace: Bringing Prayer into Your Life is filled with anecdotes that make learning to start, improve or simply complement your prayer life enjoyable and challenging. SF/BC
*Cain, Susan, Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking will make you think about why people talk, what shyness means and why introverts are important.  EVERYONE should read this. SN/BC
Cosgrove, Michael, Imperfect Passage: A Sailing Story of Vision, Terror and Redemption is a book for sailors.  Cosgrove’s account of his quixotic journey from California to Australia is inspiring. GPR
Dubus, III, Andre, Townie is a dark, brooding, testosterone-filled memoir of the author of House of Sand and Fog. His famous father abandoned the family and Dubus coped with his fists.  The violence, drugs, and concussions made it really difficult for me.  Writing finally saves him but it’s a hard read.  G
Isaacs, Susan E., Angry Conversations with God: a Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir was a touch too flippant for me. Issacs’ idea of taking God to couples counseling is intriguing but ultimately tedious. SF
Jordan, River, Praying for Strangers tells of Jordan’s resolution to pray for a complete stranger every single day for a year.  Her prayers bring her closer to others and allow her to grow.  SF
#Kellis, Jan Stafford, A Pocketful of Light will take you on a trip to Italy with a typical American family. It might even help you decide if you’d like to take the same trip with your teen. D, SN
Klink, Angie, Kirby’s Way is Purdue University Press’s homage to the building of a business by a larger-than-life man and his amazing wife.  Kirby and his wife, Carolyn, were my next-door neighbors and Carolyn was one of my mother’s best friends so this portrait is a picture of my hometown. SN
Kozel, Jonathan, Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-five Years Among the Poorest Children in America follows the children Kozel has profiled in 25 years of reporting on poverty.  It’s devastating in its honesty.  SN
Lamott, Anne, Some Assembly Required tells of the harried first year of Lamott’s grandson and of the difficulties her son faced in having a child so young.  Lamott had to hold back some of her usual wise and snarky insights since she wasn’t describing just her own life.  Her reticence shows.   S, SF
Lemon, Gayle Tzemack, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana tells Kamila’s story of becoming an entrepreneur when the Taliban took over Kabul and she and her sisters were confined to their home but still needed to make money to survive.  Lemon couldn’t reveal many details about all the characters in order to protect them and the book’s flow is hampered by her restraint. SN
*Quindlan, Anna, Lot’s of Candles, Plenty of Cake is a witty, caring, kind, and thought-provoking collection filled with spot-on observations.  It reads as if Quindlen were the friend who knows you better than yourself sitting across the table enjoying lunch while talking about the rigors of aging, marriage, family and best of all friendship.  Quindlen, the queen of the quotidian, hits a home run with this one. GPR, T/BC
*#Richard, Mark, House of Prayer #2 is as gothic and southern as a memoir can get. Read it for the staccato word pictures and compelling second person narrative of a tough childhood. G, GS SF/BC
*Riess, Jana, Flunking Sainthood: a Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray and Still Loving My Neighbor is a thorough introduction and a delightful explanation of many spiritual practices but most importantly it’s about what practicing faith really means in the end – that the practices will make you more open to love.  Humor and scholarship make the practices accessible to everyone.  SF, SN, S/BC
*Saldana, Stephanie, The Bread of Angels
is a timely glimpse of Syria as seen by a Mexican-American Catholic on a pilgrimage via a Fulbright fellowship.  This journey to love, faith and hope will appeal to Eat, Pray, Love fans.  It’s a romance packed with insight and knowledge.  SF, SN/BC
Schiff, Stacy, Cleopatra tells the real history, not the Elizabeth Taylor version.  It’s packed with word pictures and descriptions that make you “live” history.  It’s very, very long though. G/SN
*#Schwalbe, Will, The End of Your Life Book Club, When Will Schwalbe’s mother was dying of pancreatic cancer, he often sat with her during chemo and they talked about books. This tribute to her and to carpe diem is an ebullient homage to the power of the written word.  It’s optimistic and enticing. GPR, SN/BC
*Strayed, Cheryl, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is exasperating and makes you want to shake Strayed but ultimately you’ll cheer for the young woman who found herself by testing her mettle on an 1100 mile hike.  Strayed’s exceptional writing elevate this above the usual.  S, SN, SF/BC
*#Winterston, Jeannette, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal is raw, honest, heart-wrenching, funny and ultimately flat-out mesmerizing. Named book of the year in Britain by almost every publication, this hard-hitting memoir by the adopted daughter of a mentally ill, super-religious woman who couldn’t fathom that her daughter could be a lesbian, features razor-sharp language and images.  G/BC