Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Annual List - 2018 Edition

Dear Readers, 
Every year as I sit down to go over the titles of the books I've read in the last twelve months, I realize how grateful I am to be able to read and to have the time to delve into many wonderful books. I'm also thankful that I was again able to introduce sixteen authors who read from their marvelous books at the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book. They and the many other acclaimed authors who participated in the Festival introduced me to several books I wouldn't have otherwise discovered.   

Here's the list of the books I read in the past year. In a few weeks, I'll post my "best of the best" lists by category. In the meantime, I hope the following summaries bring you many hours of reading pleasure. If you'd like a printable copy of the list or wish permission to make copies, please email me at  

Wishing you the happiest of holidays and a new year filled with engaging books,

Trina Hayes

Hungry for Good Books? Annual Book List for 2018
Find these and more at

©Copyright December 1, 2018, 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 2018 unless noted otherwise.
General Fiction and Poetry
*Backman, Fredrik, Us Against You follows the lives of the characters in Backman’s Beartown. If you’ve read Beartown, and you must, the first chapters are somewhat slow as the author relates what happened in Beartown. After that, it’s full speed ahead as the inhabitants of the Swedish town that loves hockey act with violence, kindness, and love. GPR, BC
+Benjamin, Chloe, The Immortalists is an exquisitely rendered portrait of the manner in which our beliefs about ourselves control our destiny. In 1969, the four Gold children hear a prediction of the date they each will die. Those prophecies shadow the next fifty years as each child chooses a different path to fill the years they think they have left. G, BC
+Berg, Elizabeth, Night of Miracles is a stand-alone novel featuring characters from Berg’s 2017 charmer The Story of Arthur Truluv. While you could read it without reading Arthur, please don’t as you’ll miss so much. Lucille, a baker extraordinaire, hires new resident Iris to help her with her baking classes and more town relationships develop. D/GPR  
+Berg, Elizabeth, The Story of Arthur Truluv Arthur Morse has spent the six months since his wife’s death riding the bus daily to the cemetery to eat lunch at her gravesite. One day he meets 18-year-old Maddy who visits the cemetery to escape the kids at her school. Maddy nicknames Arthur “Truluv” and they soon help each other navigate their lives. Adding Arthur’s neighbor Lucille to their circle, they create a charming ensemble sure to delight readers. D/GPR, BC 2017
+Center, Katherine, How to Walk Away is pure escape with a dollop of wit and a message. A book about a young woman left unable to walk by an accident her fiancé caused on the night of their engagement wouldn’t seem like a chocolate covered meringue of a read, but it is. Lovers of literary fiction may not enjoy it, but anyone looking for a light romantic read that is impossible to put down will find it between these pages. Brené Brown loved it. CC/D
Copleton, Jackie, A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding offers insight into the aftermath of the bombings in Nagasaki, but the melodrama and contrived secret along with overdone descriptions and flashbacks aren’t worth the read. I wouldn’t have finished it if my book club hadn’t chosen it, but many of them liked it for its illumination of history. OC/PP/SN (2015)
*Denfeld, Rene, The Child Finder is the extraordinary combination of a psychological suspense novel, a fairy tale, and a hopeful dispatch. Naomi is a private investigator who finds missing children. Her instincts and insights come from her own past as a lost child. Madison, the child she’s tracking in an Oregon national forest, is surviving by imagining her own fairy tales. Will that be enough? Brilliant and breathtaking. Denfeld is my hero. A friend who usually refuses to read any book with a child in danger or hurt adored this novel because of the voice and hope-filled tone. GPR, BC (2017)
*Denfeld, Rene, Enchanted is a unique novel that transcends genre and features a death row inmate who reads voraciously and observes the truth in those around him. A fallen priest and “the Lady,” an investigator tasked with finding last-minute reasons not to execute a prisoner, make this a novel that will enchant readers. That a book set primarily on death row could be both entrancing and magical is a testament to the author’s skills. Simply amazing! GPR, BC (2014)
*#Enger, Leif, Virgil Wander is a quirky character-driven ode to the Northland. It’s also a siren song of the need to find a place where you matter and to push the envelope when that place starts to disintegrate. Virgil Wander survives a plunge into icy Lake Superior with a brain injury after a car accident and his life changes. The seductive appeal of the minor characters never distracts from the story thus allowing the reader to fall under mythical Greenstone’s spell. Rune, the kite-flying Norwegian newcomer, delivers just what recuperating Virgil needs in this whale of a tale. GPR/S, BC
+Frankel, Laurie, This is How It Always Is explores what happens when families keep secrets. Rosie’s a physician. Her husband Penn is writing a novel. They have four boys and despite their dreams, their fifth child is also a boy. At age three, Claude declares that he wants to be a girl and “becomes” Poppy at school. It’s tough so when the family moves to Seattle, they keep Poppy’s identity secret. The coming contradictions make this a great book group choice. GPR/SN, BC (2017)
#Hannah, Kristen, The Great Alone presents a portrait of the Alaskan wilderness. Teen Leni tells of her family’s move to the Alaskan wilderness in 1974 after her damaged Viet Nam veteran father loses another job. This is a melodramatic romance and the critics divide with several giving it raves and starred reviews and others panning it. I didn’t love it. OC

*Hobson, Brandon, Where the Dead Sit Talking, this National Book Award Finalist evokes a dark, eerie feeling that helps the reader enter Sequoyah’s world. A scarred, 15-year-old Cherokee boy whose mother is in prison, he’s recovering from neglect when he moves to a foster home where he befriends Rosemary, an older Native American teen with serious problems. This is a sensitive portrait with narration so fine that it could serve as a primer on novel writing. G/SN, BC
+Hogan, Ruth, The Keeper of Lost Things is a charmer. Anthony Peardew, (yes, as in the French word “perdu” meaning lost), an aging author, has a room of lost things that help him cope with his continuing grief from his fiancée’s death many years previously. He hires Laura who’s also lost after her divorce and she begins stewardship of his “lost and found” items. Blended with the tale of another unlikely couple, the book offers many twists and turns, delightful bon mots, and sufficient humor to make it a pleasing escape with enough meaning that it’s a book club favorite. D/GPR, BC (2017)
+Immergut, Debra Jo, The Captives grabs the reader with its complicated characters set primarily inside a prison where Miranda’s tale of her life and her 52-year sentence is revealed in the third person. Frank, a prison psychiatrist who had a crush on Miranda in high school which he doesn’t reveal when he realizes she doesn’t remember him, tells his backstory in the first person which is the weakest aspect of the novel. Soon both are on a collision course that twists the book into a psychological thriller. Descriptions make this less Orange is the New Black and more a literary novel. Note: the high school is based on the one the author attended in the area and time of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. S
*Ivey, Eowyn, The Snow Child – second reading – I reread this 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist to lead a book discussion at a Michigan bookstore. Rarely do more than twenty women all love a novel as much as these women loved The Snow Child.  Set in 1920 Alaska where Jack and Mabel have settled hoping to reboot their childless lives, the increasingly distant couple build a child of snow on the first snowy day. The snow child disappears and they catch sight of a little girl. That child changes their lives. The ladies of the book club decided that it didn’t matter if she was real. G/GPR, BC (2012)
*Jones, Tayari, An American Marriage will help readers understand the problems in our justice system that have led to mass incarceration on a horrific scale. It also puts the reader into the mind of a wrongly accused black man whose accomplishments and character matter so little to the world. The title is genius as the letters between newlyweds Roy and Celestial share such intimacy and urgency as their marriage evolves as do all. National Book Award long list.  G/GPR BC
*Krivák, Andrew, The Signal Flame is an exquisitely rendered portrait of the effects of war, loyalty, grief, and love on three generations of a family as seen in 1972. Krivák’s evocation of the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania makes me sure I’ve been there. His word pictures are superb and the depiction of a family in limbo is pure perfection. Read his National Book Award Finalist The Sojourn. This is a stand-alone sequel. It’s a perfect book club title. G/SN, BC (2017)
+Laurain, Antoine, The President’s Hat is a philosophical romp by the author of the brilliant The Red Notebook. Focusing on the changes four people possessing French President Francois Mitterand’s black homburg make to better themselves, it’s a primer on optimism and metamorphosis. It’s a grown-up “Wizard of Oz” type fable. D/SF/SBP, BC (2013)
*Lee, Min Jin, Pachinko is a historical saga and National Book Award Finalist following one Korean family from the early 1900s under Japanese occupation through their difficult lives in Japan. Despite being born in Japan, Sunjita’s sons and grandson are always treated as second class. This beautiful, character-driven novel shows how damaging being stricken of identity can be. Exquisite prose and perfectly defined characters and descriptions make this sing. G/PP/SN, BC (2017)
*Ludwig, Benjamin, Ginny Moon is a debut delight. Thirteen-year-old Ginny is autistic. Life with her foster family should be settling down, but Ginny keeps testing the limits in her quest to find her “Baby Doll” left behind four years previously when Ginny was taken from her abusive, drug addict mother. Ginny’s certain that “Baby Doll” is in a suitcase and if she can just find her mother things will be okay so she tracks her mother on Facebook, steals a classmate’s cell phone, and runs away. This heart-warming, humorous charmer has a fantastic ending. Having a bad day, read this original novel. The author is the foster parent of an autistic teen and he writes with amazing insight. D/GPRSN, BC (2017)
*Makkai, Rebecca, The Great Believers, a finalist for the Carnegie Medal and the National Book Award, is an arresting story of friends in 1985 Chicago during the AIDS epidemic and thirty years later in Paris. Yale has discovered a treasure trove of 1920s paintings including a Modigliani that he may be able to get the owner to donate to his museum. Fiona, whose brother died of AIDS, is the connecting tissue for the group and the art donor. In 2015 she’s gone to Paris in search of her daughter and her memories follow her. This is a magnificent, sometimes devastating, always captivating, portrait of families we create, the love that joins us, and what it means to believe in and live life. Superb G/GPR, BC
*Marais, Bianca, Hum If You Don’t Know the Words, In 1970s South Africa, after ten-year-old Robin’s parents are killed and her aunt leaves her in the care of Beauty, a Xhosa nanny who has stayed in Johannesburg to find her own daughter who disappeared after a bloody student protest. Beauty becomes attached to Robin while Robin loves Beauty despite knowing that her parents wouldn’t approve of her being close to a black woman. This novel explores grief and racism in an impartial yet emotionally gripping manner. Read this book and PLEASE choose it for your book club. GPR/SN, BC (2017)
*Mbue, Imbolo, Behold the Dreamers embeds the reader in the lives of Jende, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, and his newly arrived wife Neni and their six-year-old son in 2007. Jende lands a job as a chauffeur for a Lehman Brothers exec and Neni is doing well in community college hoping to become a pharmacist. Their immigration status is in limbo, but things seem to be improving in this witty, insightful debut novel that won the Pen/Faulkner Award. Everything changes when Lehman Brothers collapses, Neni becomes pregnant, and after losing his job his boss’s family implodes. The writing is so captivatingly simple and engaging that the lessons it imparts about marriage, class, race, and hope seem a part of the atmosphere. G/SN, BC (2016)
+McDermott, Alice, The Ninth Hour, like all McDermott’s novels, embeds the reader in the New York Irish Catholic world. This fine novel is set in Brooklyn at the beginning of the 20th century when a young Irish immigrant who’s recently lost his job, blocks the doors and windows of his apartment and opens the gas tap. Sister St. Saviour, an elderly nun, appears at the door seeing the apartment afire and begins a ministry of taking care of the newly pregnant widow and her daughter. The idea of suicide which is never mentioned broods over the novel and its distinct characters. G/PP, BC (2017)
+#McLain, Paula, Love in Ruins depicts the life of war correspondent Martha Gellhorn and her marriage to Ernest Hemingway. Gellhorn and Hemingway led exceptional lives and McLain illuminates them and their joys and conflicts well. The novel soars when showing the difficulties Gellhorn faced as a female journalist and writer. GPR/PP/SN, BC
Moshfegh, Ottessa, My Year of Rest and Relaxation is shocking, strange, sad, and uncomfortable. That said, Moshfegh makes the reader feel the unease of the narrator, a young Manhattan woman who lost her parents in college. She finds an unethical psychiatrist who prescribes her almost unlimited drugs so she hibernates seeing only her alleged best friend and a few others for a year. A fine writer tackles a prickly subject but leaves the reader unsatisfied. S
*Navin, Rhiannon, Only Child opens with six-year-old Zach sitting in a closet with his teacher and classmates trying to keep quiet as the continuous “Pop, Pop, Pop” of gunfire explodes outside their classroom. This novel evokes the pain that school shootings rain onto victims and their families. When Zach’s mother begins a quest for justice aimed at the killer’s family, little Zach finds refuge in his books and art and in forging a possible remedy for his parents’ pain. Zach’s authentic voice makes this debut novel a page-turner, tear-jerker, and wonder. A timely reminder that “a child shall lead us.” Despite the tough subject, this is novel is not a downer. GPR/SF/SN, BC
*Orange, Tommy, There There illuminates the difficulties of identity that urban Native Americans displaced in their own land face. By telling their stories from their differing points of view, then tying them together, Orange highlights their hope, despair, and fear. This debut novel, longlisted for the National Book Award and on almost every best novel list, unravels a tale few readers see. Opening with a magnificent essay, then offering stories, not solutions, There There is spectacular. Forcing the reader to concentrate in the beginning chapters helps the reader feel the characters’ anxiety. G/SN, BC
+Owens, Delia, Where the Crawdads Sing is a page-turner of a tale and a naturalist’s look at the flora and fauna of coastal North Carolina. Beginning in the 1950s when Kya, age 5, fends for herself in a battered shack in a coastal marsh, with her abusive father providing money only for grits and gas for their boat. Once he leaves, Kya who’s never been to school and thus can’t read lives alone with help only from the black man who owns the gas and bait shop. Later, Tate, another student of the marsh, teaches her to read and falls in love with her. When he, too, leaves, she falls for Chase, the town bad boy. When Chase turns up dead, Kia’s the obvious suspect. Fine descriptions with a touch of melodrama. GPR/SN
*Pearson, Allison, How Hard Can It Be? This sequel to Pearson’s “I Don’t Know How She Does It” shows protagonist Kate approaching fifty with surly teenagers, parents facing health problems, and her husband having a midlife crisis. Pearson turns turmoil into a hilarious, yet poignant and insightful story of what it means to be the one who has to hold everything together when she just wants a nap. The scenes at Kate’s job are both hilarious and perceptive. D/GPR, BC
+Picoult, Jodi, A Spark of Light is unlike other Picoult novels which may be why I liked it and some of her longtime fans didn’t. Working backward and told from several points of view after a shooting in a Mississippi abortion clinic occurs, the novel shows how the shooter, victims, hostage negotiator, and a girl in jail for self-abortion illustrate a nuanced picture of individuals with unique lives and problems. Picoult’s usual fast-paced plot drives the novel, but her characters and the time reversal technique force the reader to think. The book shows the good, bad, and the squeamishly ugly of abortion. As Kirkus Reviews noted, “Novels such as this extensively researched and passionate polemic are not necessarily art, but, like Sinclair Lewis’ The Jungle, they are necessary.” This one is also an issue-driven page turner. CC/SN BC
+Sarvas, Mark, Memento Park is a thoughtful novel that makes the reader ponder what one truly inherits. A journeyman actor inherits a famous painting seized by the Nazis as he begins examining his poor relationship with his father while drifting through life with his fiancé and his attraction to his lawyer. Despite attending summer camp in Hungary as a child, he knows little about his father’s family there or of his Jewish heritage. Great imagery sets this apart. GPR, BC
+Sopinka, Heidi, The Dictionary of Animal Languages, Inspired by the life of surrealist artist Leonora Carrington, Canadian author Sopinka reexamines her character Ivory Frame’s life as she looks back at age 92 on her time in 1920s Paris and on her affair with a famous married Russian painter. Exploring whether women have the same right to create as men and what the language of animals can tell us, this novel is a masterwork of creativity. G/PP, BC
+#Stark-Nemon, Barbara, Hard Cider After fertility treatments, adoption, and the rearing of her children, Abbie Rose wants to make time for her own needs so she heads north to her Michigan vacation home to pursue the making of hard cider from locally grown apples. Reading this novel is like sitting down for a cup of tea and conversation with women who share their lives and support one another. Women with a creative bent will especially enjoy it.  GPR/SN, BC
*#Urrea, Luis Alberto, The House of Broken Angels is an exuberant, joy-filled family saga that celebrates what it means to love, to grieve, and to be a family in today’s USA. It’s also a love letter to the Mexican-American family that makes readers feel -- if only for just a few hours – that they too belong. Big Angel is dying so he decides to throw a huge party for his 70th birthday. His mother dies the week before and her funeral is the day before the scheduled party. The book inhabits the two days of the funeral and festivities in a raucous celebration of life. A perfect read for the times. G/GPR/SF, BC
Wingate, Lisa, Before We Were Yours is an uneven and predictable novel that many of my fellow readers adored. Based on the true tale of a 1930s and 40s adoption scam that stole children from their families, the sections detailing the plight of the 1939 siblings who were taken from their family are captivating. They’re interwoven with the story of Avery, a young lawyer returning to the south to help her ailing US Senator father. Avery, her fiancé, the man she meets and her family members aren’t clearly delineated and they seem like cardboard characters. I stayed with it because of the adoption scandal and the scenes on the river, but Avery and her family’s present-day trials bored me. OC/PP, BC (2017)
+Winman, Sarah, Tin Man, In 1996, Ellis looks back on his life as he continues to grieve his wife Annie’s death. He worked in an auto plant but always wanted to be an artist. The book shifts back to Ellis as a young adult involved romantically with his best friend Michael. Ellis, Michael, and Annie become inseparable until Michael moves to London. Ellis’s diary provides clues to the ways people stop themselves from loving. The prose is gorgeous and the novel is compelling. GPR, BC
+Woolf. Virginia, Mrs. Dalloway, the 1925 classic starts slowly then builds as the reader enters the lives of the characters and sees how Mrs. Dalloway’s remembrances of the past affect her current life. The literary contrivances offer a view of the evolution of the 20th-century novel, but make it difficult to read. Most of my book club didn’t like the book but were glad they’d read it and grateful for the brain stretching exercise it was. I would only read it with a group. G/PP, BC (1925)
*Yarbrough, Steve, The Unmade World explores the intertwined lives of two men. Richard is an American journalist living in Poland with his wife and daughter who loses them both in a car accident. Bogdan, a failed businessman, comes upon their accident and his actions haunt both men. As the story tracks their lives, the intricate plotting helps the reader feel Richard’s grief and inability to reconnect with life. This is masterful storytelling with intriguing characters and a sense of displacement shown in being separated by language. There’s so much here for books clubs; select it for yours. G, BC
*#Zacharias, Lee, Across the Great Lake introduces Fern, a five-year-old girl on a winter voyage across Lake Michigan on a railroad car ferry in 1936. Fern’s authentic voice both as a child and as a widow looking back on her life will capture those longing for a literate, historical novel packed with action that offers enchanting characters and a poignant ending. The author is an acclaimed photographer and her eye for detail shows in her word pictures. GPR/PP/SN, BC
+Zevin, Gabrielle, Young Jane Young, Zevin’s hit The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was poignant and philosophical. This novel is lighter and funnier but still has heft. Told from the points of view of Aviva Grossman, her mother, and a delightful young girl, the novel shows what being a mother means and what being true to self requires. Aviva, a college intern, has a steamy affair with her congressman boss and is slut-shamed. If reading details of such an affair bothers you, select another book. The characters will make you laugh out loud especially if you listen to the audio; they will also force you to reexamine some of your ideas. GPR/RT/S, BC (2017)

                                                Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers
*Denfeld, Rene, The Child Finder, see general fiction
*Doiron, Paul, The Poacher’s Son: Mike Bowditch Mysteries Book 1 features Mike, a young Maine game warden, whose estranged father is a fugitive thought to have killed a cop. Mike’s recently split up with his longtime girlfriend who wished he’d go to law school, but he doesn’t trust himself or anyone else. This is a stellar start to a compelling series set in Maine’s north woods that will capture fans of Craig Johnson, Kevin McCafferty, and C J Box in the way all make land and setting an important character. CC (2010)
+Doiron, Paul, The Precipice: Mike Bowditch Mysteries Book 6, When two female hikers disappear in the wilderness of Maine’s portion of the Appalachian Trail, everyone in Maine seems to believe it’s a rogue coyote attack. Bowditch and wildlife biologist Stacey Stevens have their doubts. Then Stacey disappears and the stakes rise. CC/SN (2015)
+Doiron, Paul, Trespasser: Mike Bowditch Mysteries Book 2, After a woman calls 911 for help after striking a deer with her car, she disappears. The crime resembles one committed by a Maine lobsterman seven years previously and the locals and wealthy summer people want justice. When Bowditch finds evidence that might disprove the earlier conviction, no one wants to listen. CC (2011)
+Finn, A. J., The Woman in the Window introduces eerie character Anna, a child psychologist, who lives alone in a New York suburb where she drinks wine and watches movies on TV while spying on her neighbors. When she sees a horrific crime across the park in her new neighbors’ home, she doesn’t know what to do. The novel evokes the qualities of a Hitchcock movie, but the last quarter of the book could have been tightened to keep the suspense building. CC
*French, Tana, The Witch Elm Toby’s always considered himself lucky until he’s beaten in a robbery in his Dublin apartment and goes to his family’s ancestral estate to recover. When a human skull is found in the garden, Toby must reconcile everything he’s ever believed about himself and his family. French is a master storyteller. CC/GPR, BC
+Gardner, Lisa, Look for Me, When the parents and two of their children are killed in their home and their 16-year-old daughter and their two blind dogs are missing, Detective DD. Warren tries to ascertain what occurred. Soon, she learns that Flora Dane, the survivor of a horrific period as the hostage when she was young, knows of the missing girl. Will Flora, who’s worked with D.D. before, turn vigilante? Can she find the girl and solve the crime? The horrors of the foster care system and of bullying make this a different thriller. The twists at the end are incredible. A captivating escape.  CC
*Harper, Jane, The Dry is the compelling tale of federal agent Aaron Falk’s return to his hometown after his childhood friend and family were brutally murdered. Falk and his father had been run out of their small Australian town when he was a teen and many townspeople still thought he was connected to the drowning of a girl there. The town is in the midst of a long drought both literally and in terms of any hope for its citizens. This tight debut mystery builds suspense as it offers clues to how fear, greed, hatred, and loyalty make a case for more than one possible culprit. CC/GPR, BC (2016)
+Harper, Jane, Force of Nature features federal agent Aaron Falk in Harper’s second mystery. While it isn’t as ingenious or fast-paced as The Dry, it’s a clever glimpse into the consequences of a corporate retreat in the wilderness with five women who may not be prepared for the trek. The first half of the journey is slow, but Harper amps up the pace in a quest to find a missing hiker/whistleblower and to uncover evidence of her bosses’ financial shenanigans. CC (2017)
+Hendricks, Greer and Pekkannen, Sarah, The Wife Between Us, Fans of unreliable narrators like those in Gone Girl will enjoy figuring out if sweet preschool teacher Nellie, her controlling fiancé, or his boozy ex-wife are telling the truth. The hair on the back of your neck will warn you that something sinister is coming. Let’s leave it to the reader to ascertain. CC
*Locke, Attica, Bluebird, Bluebird, the 2018 Edgar winner, is a masterful mystery with twists of insight about race, greed, and fear. John Lee Hooker’s lyric “Bluebird, bluebird, take this letter down South for me” becomes real when Michael Wright, a black University of Chicago-educated attorney, travels to East Texas to return a guitar his father held for years. When Wright’s bloated body shows up followed by the body of a white waitress who died a few days after him, Darren, an African-American Texas Ranger with problems, sees a shot at redemption if he solves the crime. G/SN, BC (2017)
+Marabell, Peter, Death Lease is the fourth Michael Russo mystery taking place in northern Michigan. This one is set primarily on Mackinac Island where storied cottages on the bluff sit on state-owned land with leases passed down through the generations. After her divorce, Camille Sanderson learns that her family lease is now in her ex-husband’s name and she can’t find out why but wants it back. Russo uses his Mackinac and Petoskey connections to solve this charmer. CC/D
+Marabell, Peter, Devils are Here is the third Michael Russo mystery that takes place in Petoskey, Michigan. This entry features the theft of Hemingway signed first editions from an elite fictional college in the town. Marabell shows how power and lack of transparency can hide bad guys while capturing northern Michigan to a tee. (2016)
+Marabell, Peter, Murder at Cherokee Point is the first in a series of Michael Russo mysteries set in the Petoskey, Michigan area where the privileged residents of a gated resort north of Harbor Springs don’t want anyone investigating a murder within their borders. The police ask local attorney Russo to assist and he’s soon warned to desist by a Chicago Mafia boss. Sheer fun. CC/D (2014)
+Marabell, Peter, Murder on Lake Street, the second Michael Russo mystery, has the attorney looking for clues to the attempted murder of his friend and mentor in Petoskey. He’s soon led to Mackinac Island where Chicago mobster Joseph DeMio’s involvement shows that this was ordered hit. Marabell’s familiarity with northern Michigan makes this series one that residents and tourists will enjoy. CC/D (2015)
*#Matthews, Jason, The Kremlin’s Candidate is the final installment in the fabulous trilogy that began with The Red Sparrow. In this last book, a U.S. Vice Admiral who’s in line to head the CIA is also a Russian spy and Dominika must get word to Washington before her own identity is compromised. . . Fall under the spell of political intrigue, spy tricks, great descriptions, frightening characters, and a cast of regulars you’re sure to love. CC
+Paris, B.A., Bring Me Back is a thriller that keeps you guessing because you don’t know who to trust. What part did Finn play in the disappearance of Layla twelve years previously? Can he trust Ruby or even his best friend Harry? Since he became engaged to Layla’s sister Ellen, Russian nesting doll pieces have begun appearing. Do they mean that Layla’s alive? I found myself begging Finn to tell the police about the dolls, but that might have meant no story. CC
*Penny, Louise, The Kingdom of the Blind uses blindness as a metaphor for the acceptance and allowance of evil as long as we can rationalize not seeing it. Penny is, as always, phenomenal at making readers feel that they are in mythical Three Pines as a part of Inspector Gamache’s team. That she can take a simple murder mystery and make it a universal inspection of the heart in every single novel, is truly extraordinary. Do read the earlier titles first. GPR, BC
+Reardon, Bryan, The Real Michael Swann builds suspense with short, staccato chapters. Julia Swann is talking on the phone with her husband Michael when the call drops. She soon learns that a bomb has gone off in New York’s Penn Station where Michael was awaiting a train home when their call ended. She heads to the city to find him but finds only questions. Is Michael alive? What happened to him? What should Julia do? This is one page-turner of a page-turner. CC
+#Richard, Saralyn, Murder in the One Percent is an engaging procedural with an unexpectedly delicious twist of an ending that will leave readers wanting more of Detective Oliver Parrot. The satirical jabs at the suspects and their “affluenza” deliver a tasty treat of a whodunit. The elite gathers for a 65th birthday party at a country estate and when one of them is murdered, whodunit has high stakes with even the President of the US demanding a quick resolution. CC
+Sharpe, Tess, Barbed Wire Heart is a thriller with a feminist twist. Harley, the heir to an illegal drug empire, funds and protects the women and children at a women’s shelter she’s helped create. She’ll do anything to protect them and her turf. Will, the boy raised with her, tells her “You gotta be like barbed wire. Tough no matter what, ready to tangle with anyone who gets too close. If you stay like that, you’ll be too strong for anyone to hurt you.” Can she survive without becoming the worst of what she sees and has learned? It’s rare to find a fine tale of suspense that makes the reader ponder. CC, BC


*#Alexie, Sherman, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is one of the most affecting memoirs I’ve ever read. I didn’t read it as much as I inhaled it. I listened to it while driving and had to request the hardcover of it from my library as I’d come home from errands and need to see the words on the page as I couldn’t leave them or let them leave me. Alexie reads the audio in what he might describe as a diminishing “rez” accent and when he chokes up, I did too. This portrait of poverty and prejudice against our indigenous people will make you alternately sob and laugh aloud. It’s one of the best portrayals of grief I’ve ever read. If the ‘F” word bothers you, get used to hearing it, as you don’t want to miss this one. He sews together chapters alternating between free verse and prose just as his mother stitched her intricate quilts. His therapist’s metaphor of a bird shaking off its pain is one I hope I’ll always remember to use and one that those in the helping professions should have in their toolboxes. Note: since I wrote this, there have been serious charges against Alexie that make it difficult to read his works. Although his actions are reprehensible, I stand by my words. G/RT/SF, BC (2017)
+Blum, Deborah, The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist explores the use of poisons in the early 20th Century to commit undetectable murders until Charles Norris became NYC’s medical examiner and began using science to apprehend criminals. PBS made a documentary film based on this intriguing book. Learning about each poison as I drove on a long car trip captivated me. RT/SN (2010)
+Catte, Elizabeth, What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia is an analytical, inside view of the people and part of the US that everyone is now contemplating. Catte, a historian who grew up in the area, offers a rebuke of Hillbilly Elegy and what she considers its simplistic portrait. She isn’t as gifted a writer as J.D. Vance, but she offers a more nuanced view of the people and culture of the region. I’ll never again mispronounce Appalachia. Read this important book. SN, BC
Drummond, Ree, The Pioneer Woman Cooks - Come and Get It!: Simple Scrumptious Recipes for Crazy Busy Lives relies on more processed foods than I enjoy using. Velveeta! Inexperienced cooks might like some of the recipes, but there are so many better cookbooks available. Most cooks have long made her recipes using fresh ingredients. OC (2017)
*Egan, Dan, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes was deservedly a Pulitzer Prize finalist. This is a book every American must read to understand the need to protect our fresh water supply. Thankfully Egan makes it all fascinating. SN (2017)
+Fox, Porter, Northland: A 4,000-Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten Border is a stimulating examination of the area very few see or explore. The beauty and challenge of the 3,987 miles that Fox traversed by foot, canoe, freighter, and car are astutely evoked in his descriptions. Readers will ponder the border’s future as Fox illustrates how it’s changing. SN
*Fraser, Caroline, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder is a meticulously researched, complex biography of the “Little House” books author. As one who adored the “Little House” books as a child, learning the history and background of the author was a dream come true. I listened to this and while the book was wonderful, the narrator was not. There’s no excuse for mispronouncing Pierre, South Dakota or saying cō-ĭtal for post-coital sex. RT/SN (2017)
+Ginsberg, Ruth Bader with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams, My Own Words is best “read” by listening to the audio version to hear many of Ginsberg’s speeches and opinion in her own voice. The rest of the narrative is well read by actress Linda Lavin. Revisiting the 1970s when women didn’t have equal rights and seeing Ginsberg’s role in gaining them, is instructive and inspirational. I felt that RBG was in my car with me and I loved having her there. RT/SN (2016)
+Groom, Winston, The Generals: Patton, MacArthur, Marshall, and the Winning of World War II is a fascinating take on the backgrounds and contributions of each of the three unique generals. The way Marshall’s quiet skills and the often unpredictable antics of Patton and MacArthur helped the U.S. win the war is captivating to hear.  GPR/RT/SN 2015
+Hyriniewicz-Yarbrough, Ewa, Objects of Affection illustrates how it feels to leave one’s native country. Hyriniewicz-Yarbrough grew up in totalitarian Poland, a place that she loved. She came to study in the US 1984 and stayed after falling in love with writer Steve Yarbrough. Her affinity for language shines as she notes, “'We live much more in a language than in a country.” This is a stunning view of the immigrant experience and of Poland. Her discriminating eye and ability to see things from multiple angles generate a view of our world that we all need to examine. She’s also one tough cookie. G/SN
+Lamott, Anne, Almost Everything: Thoughts on Hope features Lamott’s signature wit, her unique theology, and numerous quotable bon mots that will assist her fans in surviving almost everything. Use the book as a conversation starter or for a group discussion. I participated in a recent group that could have talked all day about every chapter. GPR/SN, BC
*Lee, Edward, Buttermilk Graffiti:  A Chef’s Journey to Discover America’s New Melting-Pot Cuisine combines fantastic storytelling and prose with a smattering of imaginative and unusual recipes. Edward Lee is one fine, fine essayist who’s also a great chef. He’s just what we need after losing Anthony Bourdain. G/SN, BC
*Lee, Edward, Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen is Southern food with an Asian twist. Lee combines his Korean forefather’s love of pickling and barbecue with the Southern love of both to create delectable recipes for treats like Kimchi Poutine, Pickled Chai Grapes and Bacon Paté BLTs. Yum! SN (2013)
*Macy, Beth, Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America relates the stories of many of those who became addicted to opioids via prescriptions for pain. It shows how Purdue Pharma, greed, and lazy doctors have contributed to the unprecedented rise of opioid addiction and deaths. This is required reading for everyone and luckily the stories make it a fascinating read. Select it for your book club.  FYI: Purdue University, my alma mater, isn’t connected to this, but they field calls and questions constantly because of the coincidental name. SN, BC
Magnusson, Margareta, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself from a Lifetime of Clutter, with text and drawings by the author, is more of a pamphlet than a book. I read it cover to cover in 30 minutes and didn’t find that it offered anything new in the “keep only what you love and use, give things away, live simply” category. T
+Markel, Howard, The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek, is a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist and“stranger than fiction” depiction of the brothers who changed the way we eat and whose advertising made what we want seem a necessity. Everyone from Presidents to movie stars came to Battle Creek. Fascinating! SN, BC (2017)
+McFadden, Joshua, Six Seasons:  A New Way with Vegetables is a photographic fantasy that makes you want to eat all your vegetables and come back for more. The pictures and recipes will tantalize your taste buds. SN
+McMurtry, Larry, Books: A Memoir shares his lifetime passion for buying, selling, and collecting rare books. The Lonesome Dove author’s tales of finds and near misses educate and tantalize. Listen to this one. RT/SN (2008)
+Medeiros, Tracey, The Vermont Non-GMO Cookbook: 125 Organic and Farm-to-Fork Recipes from the Green Mountain State is a book for cooks who are serious about using only ingredients whose origins they can trace. The recipes are challenging and Medeiros’ passion for a healthy lifestyle is compelling. SN
*Noah, Trevor, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood is a heart wrenching, yet wryly humorous look at apartheid in South Africa as seen by comedian and Daily Show host Trevor Noah, Listening to Noah recall his childhood will make any drive or task better especially when he recounts tales of his formidable mother. RT/S/SN, BC (2016)
+Perlman, Deb, Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant & Unfussy New Favorites is a useful tool particularly for someone with a growing family who likes to cook tasty, nutritional meals. SN (2017)
*Rankine, Claudia, Citizen: An American Lyric is both a spectacular book of essays about being black in America and a prose/poem that sings and laments. Rankine’s words made me feel the emotions of the constant microaggressions that would wear anyone down and that African-Americans endure daily. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, Finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry, and Finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for Criticism it’s a passionate missive. G/SN, BC (2014)
+Stefanovic, Sofija, Miss Ex-Yugoslavia explores the world of the Yugoslavian diaspora. It depicts her life in crumbling Yugoslavia, as an expat in Australia, and now in the US. Showing her journey through a beauty contest is genius. SN
*Thielen, Amy Give a Girl a Knife is unique in that the author cooks in top NYC restaurants and in the summer growing season in an off-the-grid northern Minnesota cabin where she and her husband haul water from a neighbor, use an outhouse, and cook without electricity. As she yearns for home, her exquisite sentences make beautiful prose no matter the subject. Unsurprisingly, this was on many “best nonfiction of 2017” lists. It will make you want to read her New Midwestern Table cookbook and watch her Heartland Table show on Food Network. G/SN, BC (2017)
*Westover, Tara, Educated: A Memoir is flat-out perfect. Tara Westover’s survivalist family wanted their kids at home working, so Tara didn’t attend school until she was 17. With very little help, she taught herself so she could go to college where she didn’t know about the Holocaust or that she should wash her hands after using the toilet. She eventually earned a Ph.D. from Cambridge while fighting the demons of her dangerous family. This is the best memoir of resilience and hope since The Glass Castle. That a riveting page-turner could also contain such gorgeous prose is miraculous. Everyone must read this “someday it’ll be a classic.”  G, BC

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

*Denise, Anika, illustrated by Nate Wragg, Monster Trucks is a book every fan of Matchbox cars, “Cars” movies, and The Little Blue Truck books will adore reading around Halloween. It’s not too frightening, the rhyming is clever, and kids will love cheering as Frankentruck races around Spooky Speedway aside Little Blue Bus. PBJ Ages 2 – 6 (2016)
*Kuefler, Joseph, The Digger and the Flower,  Every day the big trucks go to work scooping dirt that they push aside. When Digger sees something growing in the rubble, he can’t keep digging and he won’t let the others either. This is a perfect book for a read-aloud for preschoolers. PBJ Ages 3 to 7
+Nagara, Innosanto, A is for Activist is one of my two-year-old grandson’s favorites. He loves the colors and staccato word sounds. His mom loves giving him a primer on modern history and in taking a stand for beliefs. PBJ/SN Ages 2 – 7 (2013)
Ray, Mary Lyn, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, Go to Sleep, Little Farm, My two-year-old grandson selected this over-sized board book at one of our favorite bookstores and it’s a wonder of a bedtime book. Gentle rhymes lead to bedtime as ‘Brown rabbits snuggle in a sleepy rabbit heap. . . . Somewhere a pocket sleeps in a skirt.” This appropriate bedtime story with rich colors that lead from day to night is one every family will enjoy. PBJ Ages 1 – 5 (2015)
*Rinker, Sherry Duskey, illustrated by A.G. Ford, Construction Site on Christmas Night is for all the toddlers and preschoolers that adore Good Night, Good Night Construction Site. It offers a charming message of friendship and generosity that children and parents will love. I’m giving it to my grandson on December 1. PBJ Ages 2 - 6
+Tavares, Matt, Red & Lulu uses the brightest of reds and other riotous colors to tell the tale of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree through the eyes of two cardinals who lived in it before it was cut. Just looking at the illustrations is a gift. PBJ Ages 3 - 7 (2017)
*Van Dusen, Chris Hattie & Hudson offers gorgeous color illustrations with dark tones illustrating the night that many fear and the moon shining brightly to alleviate those fears. When Hattie meats an “enormous but elusive” sea monster while paddling her canoe, she makes a friend, but the townspeople fear him until she shows that he’s friendly and that the lake is his home too. Ages 4 – 8 (2017)
+Yeh Kat, illustrated by Chuck Groenink, The Friend Ship shows that “Sometimes what you’re searching for is in front of you.” Friendship is out there if you only look around. Delightful animal illustrations will engage preschoolers. Preschool teachers will want to read this one in their classrooms. PBJ Ages 3 – 6 (2016)

Peanut Butter and Jelly – Chapter Books and Books for Early Readers
+Glazer, Karina Yan, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is reminiscent of cherished classic children’s tales. The debut also feels like a trip inside the brownstones and shops that populate Sesame Street after the film crews leave. The Vanderbeekers are a biracial Brooklyn family with 12-year-old twin girls, a 9-year-old son, and younger girls ages six and four. The author never says they’re biracial, yet her descriptions of Isa with “her mother’s stick-straight black hair” and Jessie who has “Papa’s wild, untamable hair” show it. Eleven days before Christmas, their landlord, the mysterious man they call “the Biederman” notifies them that their lease won’t be renewed and they’ll have to move in two weeks. The children’s antics as they try to change the modern-day Scrooge’s heart are delightful. Buy this! PBJ/SN Ages 7 - 11 (2017)
+Hanlon, Abby, Dory Fantasmagory: Head in the Clouds is a worthy addition to the series with daydreaming Dory being her silly, hilarious self who will win over sharp kids who don’t fit the mold. PBJ Ages 6 - 8
*Kelly, Erin Entrada, Hello Universe is a wonderful celebration of children overcoming obstacles and helping each other. Virgil, a shy Filipino boy, loves his grandmother’s stories and feels there’s nothing wrong with being like a turtle and staying in his shell. Valencia is smart, clever, and a bit bossy. Her deafness never stops her. Kaori Tanaka tells fortunes and Chet, the bully, pulls a frightening trick on Virgil. The 2018 Newbery winner is a jewel. PBJ Ages 10 – 12 (2017)
*#Kelly, Erin Entrada, You Go First is a delightful charmer filled with humor and compassion. Charlotte and Ben connected via an online Scrabble game. She’s twelve, lives near Philadelphia and is lonely. He’s eleven, lives in a small town in Louisiana and is lonely and bullied. Both are brilliant outsiders trying to survive middle school. This is a perfect book for every middle school kid who doesn’t fit in – and that’s probably most of them. I adore this book. PBJ Ages 9 – 12
+Messmer, Kate, illustrated by Heather Ross, Fergus and Zeke is a charmer about Fergus, the mouse who is the class pet in Miss Maxwell’s room. He hitches a ride in a backpack on a field trip to the natural history museum where he plays hide & seek amid the dinosaur bones and makes a friend in Zeke, a museum mouse. PBJ Ages 5 – 9 (2017)
*Schmidt, Gary D., illustrated by Daniel Minter, So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom is a beautifully illustrated tale of “Slavery Time, when Hope was a seed,”  “Slavery Time, when Words seemed weaker than whips.” It tells the story of Isabella’s life as a slave in New York where she was born in 1797 and of her work feeling that she was on a sojourn to tell the truth about slavery thus renaming herself Sojourner Truth. Every parent and child must read this book. PBJ/SN Ages 4 - 8
*Shabazz. Ilyasah with Renée Watson, Betty Before X begins in 1945 when the widow of Malcolm X was a child moving from the South to Detroit to live with her mother and her new family. It intimately shares Betty’s difficulties as a child as it focuses on the burgeoning civil rights movement. This gem shares messages of forgiveness, gratitude, and justice without preaching. I ADORE this book. Every child and adults who care about kids should read it. I can’t wait to discuss it with a group of kids and their parents. I read it, but the audio read by Shabazz is also outstanding. PBJ/PP/SN, BC Ages 10 - 14
+Van Eekout, Greg, Voyage of the Dogs is a book kids will enjoy as it features a crew of dogs aboard a space flight who work to save the mission after an accident. Dog-loving adults will enjoy it too. Hooray for Barkonauts! PBJ Ages 8 -12

Diet Coke and Gummi Bears
+#Albert, Melissa, The Hazel Wood is a dark fantasy featuring Alice, a teen whose reclusive grandmother wrote a cult favorite fairy tale collection. When Alice’s mother disappears shortly after her grandmother’s death, Alice tries to find the Hazel Wood, her grandmother’s estate, and finds sinister stories instead. Teen fantasy fans will adore the hauntingly evocative tone and they’ll celebrate Alice’s grit. Some may find it too chilling and grizzly. DC, BC Ages 14 and up
*Flores-Scott, Patrick, American Road Trip, Theodoro, known as “T” is a goof off until he sees Wendy and decides to buckle down and study so he can get into college. His long-awaited dream of his brother Manny’s return from Iraq isn’t what he expected as Manny’s PTSD threatens to further endanger their family. Teens and their parents will find this nuanced look at love, mental illness, and teen social pressure engaging. Wonderful characters. DC Ages 12 – 18 
+McKinney, L. L., A Blade So Black retells the Alice in Wonderland tale in an urban contemporary fantasy setting with Alice, a character similar to Buffy, the vampire slayer, battling evil. McKinney’s debut features a kick-ass, resilient, black female protagonist, teens will embrace. As McKinney notes, “And to those black kids searching countless shelves and between endless pages, hoping to catch a glimpse of themselves in galaxies far away, fantasies long ago, and stories here and now: this one’s for you.”  DC Ages 14 - 18
*Sánchez, Erika L., I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter was a 2017 finalist for the National Book Award. Julia (pronounced Hu-lēa) is 16 and her 21-year-old sister Olga recently died in an accident. Julia’s Mexican immigrant parents are smothering her even more now that she’s the only child they have. Julia wants to leave Chicago for college, become a writer, and live a life that isn’t mediocre. Her mother just wants her to learn to make tamales and remain a virgin. The pressure and grief become too much and Julia has to learn to handle her depression. Every teen should read this powerful novel set in Chicago. Many label Sánchez the new Sandra Cisneros, yet she’s an original. DC/S/SN, BC (2017)
+Thomas, Leah, When Light Left Us is just the book teens want and adults that love them want for them. It’s the story of a family invaded by a parasitic alien after their father leaves them which symbolizes the emotional holes we try to fill when faced with loss. It’s also the story of what family love and romantic love really mean which is one of the reasons adults will want teens to read it. This sentence alone is worth the price of the book: “People came and went, but love remained. It just changed faces an awful lot.” Now that’s a lesson teens and adults should learn. DC Ages 14 – 18


  1. Thank you so much for this detailed list of books you have read. Every year that you post this I find it so interesting that we read similar books and have similar tastes. One book that is not on your list that I think you would enjoy very much on audio is HEAVY: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon. I loved it like I loved EDUCATED. Definitely listen to it.

    1. Lisa, it's next on my list. We do have such similar taste and I look forward to reading HEAVY.

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