The Annual Book List, 2010

                                  Hungry for Good Books?  November, 2010

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), 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), D: Desserts (chick-lit, sheer delights).  The letters BC denote books that would be good for book clubs. 
The fiction section is divided into three categories: general fiction, mysteries and thriller, and children’s and young adult books.   My fiction favorites this year were Astrid and Veronica, Driftless, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, Let the Great World Spin, The Lonely Polygamist, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, The Man in the Wooden Hat, Old Filth, One Day, The Postmistress, The Sea and the Silence, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, Shadow Tag, Small Island and The Widower’s Tale, In Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers they were Blacklands, The Draining Lake, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Man from Beijing, One Step Behind, A Quiet Belief in Angels, and Silence of the Grave.  In Young Adult and Children’s they were All the World, Every Soul a Star, Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature, The Lion and the Mouse, Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t), Miss Suzy, The Quiet Book, Revolution, Trouble, When You Reach Me and Word After Word After Word.  In non-fiction, they were Acts of Faith, All Over but the Shoutin,’ An Altar in the World, Game Change, Man’s Search for Meaning, The Liar’s Club, Lit, Population 485, Stitches, Stones into Schools, and Take This Bread..              * Asterisks depict the favorites. 

General Fiction

Abate, Carmine, The Homecoming Party, 9-year-old Marco’s voice sings in this coming-of-age novel set in a small Italian town. Since Marco’s father works in France to support the family, his Christmas homecoming is always a joyful occasion. The novel explores secrets and doing what must be done.  G
Adamson, Gil, The Outlander, Fans of Cold Mountain and Paulette Jiles’ poetic novels will love this tale of 19-year-old Mary’s 1903 journey through winter in the western mountains as she tries to elude the men who want to capture her after she killed her husband. The characters are phenomenal. G, BC
Andrews, Mary Kay, The Fixer Upper is a predictable, escapist lark about a young lawyer/lobbyist implicated in the bribery of a congressman who moves home and finds love and justice.  D
Benjamin, Melanie, Alice I Have Been tells of the life of Alice Lidell Hargreaves, the girl Lewis Carroll envisioned as Alice in Wonderland.  The story is told as Alice, age 80, ponders selling the original manuscript that Carroll (C.L. Dogson) gave her as a child.  Packed with romance including Alice’s with Prince Leopold it evokes the Victorian era and its constraints on women. It’s a complex look at love and heartbreak.  Based on fact, it will appeal to fans of Loving Frank and other historical fiction. SN/GPR
Berg, Elizabeth, Home Safe is a really fast read about a widowed writer who has writer’s block and needs money so she teaches a writing class.  The class description is wonderful but the ending is too pat. CC
*Blake, Sarah, The Postmistress  is a charming yet thought-provoking early WWII story about a small New England town’s doctor, his wife and the local postmistress and the way their lives intertwine with Frankie Bard, a woman whose radio report of a boy’s loss of his mother in London, moves the doctor to go to England to save lives. It’s evocative, compassionate, yet not sentimental so it flat out works. GPR, BC
Chiaverini, Jennifer, The Lost Quilt is an informative look at Joanna, a runaway slave, taken back to Virginia from Pennsylvania in 1859. Her quilt depicting landmarks to help slaves escape weaves a story of courage and history.  It’s a simple, yet intriguing story.  SN/CC/GPR
Ciment, Jill, Heroic Measures is a satirical, yet heartwarming look at the jaded way people feel about where they live.  Alex and Ruth, an older NYC couple, are selling their apartment but first must get their dog to the Vet during a possible terrorist attack. This whimsical treat will make you think about timely topics including the way opinion has become news and our many new ethical challenges. S/GPR
Cook, Claire, Life’s a Beach tells of Ginger who lives in her parent’s garage and makes beach glass jewelry.  It’s cute but too formulaic. D  Must Love Dogs is a humorous look at a recently divorced woman with a too-involved family and some funny dates. This was made into a movie. D The Wildwater Walking Club is a fun story of a woman who reinvents herself after she takes a buyout and is betrayed. She and her neighbor walk their way to friendship and better lives. D
*Cunningham, Peter, The Sea and the Silence is a lyrical, beautifully written novel of life in a small town in Ireland at the end of WWII. It’s also a page turner of a romance. The first half made me ponder why Iz was so loyal to the dreadful Ronnie then I devoured the second half of the book with the Irish and English hating each other and the many secrets slowly revealed. This book is an artichoke with each leaf opening to more problems, obsessions and love.  I plan to reread it more than once. G, BC
Dallas, Sandra, Prayers for Sale, 86-year-old Henni lives in a Colorado mining town in 1936 where she befriends Nit, a newcomer, with tales of her life in this emotion-packed page-turner. GPR/SF/CC
Diamant, Anita, Good Harbor, Kathleen is panicked upon learning she has breast cancer and Joyce is worried about her marriage when the two meet and share stories while walking the Cape Ann Beach.  What could have been melodramatic is handled with restraint and wisdom so it rings true.  GPR
Doig, Ivan, Work Song was such a disappointment. I eagerly awaited the return of Morrie Morgan, the distinctive character in Whistling Season, but his personality doesn’t come through in this flat tale about the strikes and horrors in the Anaconda mines in 1919 Montana. Reread other Doig books instead. S
*Durrow, Heidi, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, If you only read one book this year, read this.  Rachel’s mother is Danish and her father African American.  After her mother’s death she goes to live with her grandmother and learns “that I am black.”  This book will haunt you and force you to think about identity and hatred but mostly you’ll love the strong characters even when it hurts. G, BC
*Erdrich, Louise, Shadow Tag mesmerized me as I sat bereft shouting out loud, “no, no, stop” while trying to keep the inevitable from happening in this searing novel about a famous Native American painter who has been reading his wife’s diary so she makes fake entries to make him jealous.  Sadly her ploy works and his alcoholism and fears cause irreparable harm. I ache for their damaged children. This story has an incredibly powerful ending but it’s almost too much to bear. It’s a tightrope stretched between despair and the shadows.  I feel it’s her best and am thankful that she could put such pain on paper.  G, BC
Franzen, Jonathan, Freedom starts off strong with engaging portraits of a Minnesota family. But then Franzen pontificates through the voice of Walter and other characters that must choose between money and freedom. His use of the family to explain the excesses of the U.S. in Iraq, in the environment and in business greed were apt but overdone. I enjoyed the ending but the book dragged unnecessarily in the middle. GPR
*Glass, Julia, The Widower’s Tale is a winner. I couldn’t put it down.  Percy is 70, recently retired and has been a widower for many years.  He loves his routines but they’re turned upside down when he allows a preschool to move into his barn and becomes involved with the mother of one of the students and connects with others who make him change. It aptly shows the fears of those without a voice. Glass’s voice and attention to her characters as well as the plot remind me of Richard Russo at his best. I devoured it.  G, BC
*Gardam, Jane, *Old Filth, a beautiful glimpse into Sir Edward and Betty Feathers’ lives that is packed with insight into why they acted as they did in pre-WWII Hong Kong and later in England.  Feathers, known as “Old Filth,” Betty and their friends and rivals are remarkable characters. G, BC The Man in the Wooden Hat provides more insight into the Feathers’ lives in Hong Kong and London.  These are lovely British novels about marriage and a forgotten way of life. Read them both in any order. G, BC
Genova, Lisa, Still Alice, Everyone I know loved this book and I found it lacking.  It’s a noble endeavor to explain early-onset Alzheimer disease in a character experiencing it.  But I found Alice and the other characters unrealistic.  I didn’t learn anything new and it seemed overly emotional. CC
Goldberg, Myla, The False Friend, I can’t believe that Goldberg who so perfectly captured childhood in Bee Season could miss so badly in this self-conscious novel about a girl who believes that her childhood memories from 20 years before are false so she returns to tell the real story only to meet with unbelief. GPR
Hannah, Kristin, Winter Garden is a fast-paced tale of Meredith, a controlling superwoman, her absent sister and the story Anya, their cold mother, tells when their father dies. The novel takes off when Anya describes her life in Stalingrad in 1941. The ending didn’t work for me but historical fiction fans will still love it. GPR
Harding, Paul, Tinkers won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and is similar to Marilynne Robinson’s Home.  George recalls his life as a clock repairer as well as the life of his father an epileptic salesman. It’s more of a prose poem and elegy than a novel.  The writing is gorgeous but I wanted more. G
Hoffman, Beth, Saving Cee Cee Honeycuttt, Great Aunt Tootie whisks 12-year-old Cee Cee off to a perfect life in Savannah in 1967 after her psychotic mother dies. Everyone is too good to be true.  DD
Jackson, Joshilyn, Backseat Saints, Ro is a battered woman who escaped her father’s beatings only to end up beaten by her husband. I thought this was a bit flat and not as good as her other novels. CC
Kingsolver, Barbara, The Lacuna, this lyrical novel features a boy, then man, caught between the US where he was born and Mexico where he grew up.  His search for “home” is framed by his associations with Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Lev Trotsky but stenographer Violet Brown steals the show.  It explores identity, the role of media, McCarthyism, and how what we don’t know can hurt us. G, BC
Kostova, Elizabeth, The Swan Thieves, Oliver has committed himself to a private psychiatric residence after his arrest for attacking an Impressionist painting in the National Gallery of Art.  His psychiatrist searches for clues to Oliver’s malaise in his wife and his former lover and in the history of the painting. There’s so much beauty in this stunning portrait but it’s about 150 pages too long.  G/SN
*Larsen, Reif, The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet, T.S. Spivet is 12 and lives with his scientist mother, quiet rancher father, older sister, and the shadow of his dead brother.  T.S. is a mapmaker extraordinaire who maps EVERYTHING including his house, yard, and all of Montana.  He’s just won a prestigious Smithsonian prize but doesn’t want his parents to know so he hops a freight train to Washington and encounters a fantasy of adventures. This is hard to describe but amazing to read. G/SN
*Levy, Andrea, Small Island  is a fast-paced historical novel with perfect phrasing, great character development and a beautiful ear for dialogue.  It’s warm, poignant, and humorous and deserved the Whitbread and Orange Prizes. Hortense is a highly educated Jamaican teacher who marries Gilbert who serves in the RAF in England then finds Jamaica “too small an island” so he returns to England where he encounters American GIs’ racism and meets Queenie, a resourceful Brit. There’s so, so much here. G, BC
Lynch, Jim, Border Songs, Brandon, a 6’ 8” tall, dyslexic, quirky bird watcher uses patience and observation in his new job as a Border Patrol Agent in Washington State.  The novel is laugh-out-loud funny with a charmingly poignant ending.  Older teens should enjoy the irony of this story. GPR/S, BC
Lynch, Thomas, Apparition and Late Fictions: a novella and stories, these stories seem almost Biblical in their scope and range. “Hunters’ Moon” is a lovely elegy to a man dealing with grief and alcoholism.  G
Martel, Yann, Beatrice and Virgil is a tough, gut wrenching allegory about a donkey, a howler monkey, the Holocaust and a writer who can’t get his book published.  I found the book pretentious and the brutality unnecessary. There are glimpses of brilliance but it just doesn’t work. GPR
*McCann, Colum, Let the Great World Spin,  National Book Award 2009, this spectacular tale weaves the lives of a disparate group of “haves” and “have nots” into a parable of hope and redemption centered around the real 1974 tightrope walk between NYC’s Twin Towers. It illustrates how we are all connected; we just have to look up. Every character in this book became someone I know and care about. G, BC
Monroe, Mary Alice, Time is a River, Mia is recovering from breast cancer and attends a “Casting for Recovery” retreat. She learns to fly fish and falls in love in this simple, emotional tale. GPR
*Nicholls, David, One Day, I loved this fun then sobering and bittersweet novel. Emma wants to save the world and she works hard to do it.  Dexter is immature.  They get together at their July 15, 1988 graduation day in Edinburgh.  The novel traces them every year on the same date as they meet each other at different places in their lives. It’s witty, charming and spot-on emotionally. GPR/CC
*Olsson, Linda, Astrid and Veronica has a poetic feel and imbues a sense of tranquility while telling the story of Veronika, a young poet, who rents a house in a small village to finish her novel and deal with a tragedy.  Astrid, the elderly reclusive “witch” next door, watches Veronika and helps her when she falls ill. They forge a deep friendship while revealing their secrets. I adore the way Olsson evokes tenderness through food.  This is a spectacular book of beauty and friendship.  Share it with someone. G. BC
O’Nan, Stewart, Songs for the Missing, O’Nan’s powerful writing makes what could have been tabloid fare into an elegy about an 18-year-old girl who disappears just before she’s to leave for college.  The depiction of the way her family members cope as they suffer and search for her is beautifully written. G
Phillips, Jayne Anne, Lark and Termite, I love the story of Lark, a wise-beyond-her years-17-year-old who cares for Termite, her hydrocephalic, handicapped brother. I adore the way Phillips conveys Termite’s inner life. Intertwining their story with their mother Lola’s life and Robert Leavitt’s death in a tunnel in Korea makes this a tour de force but I didn’t think the ending fit the beauty of the rest of the book. G. BC
Quindlen, Anna, Every Last One seems like a beach book involving a perfect Mom, a typical Dad and their quirky kids until a terrible thing happens and their peaceful life is destroyed. Good escape. GPR, BC
Rachman, Tom, The Imperfectionist is a biting, edgy, engrossing story of the founders, bosses and employees of an international newspaper based in Rome. Written in concise stand-alone chapters, the book features “aha” moments written in subtle whispers.  Every character has a story to tell.  G/S
*Rhodes, David, Driftless is a poetic novel that explores the effect of place on its inhabitants. July Montgomery arrives in tiny Words, Wisconsin to farm and he makes a difference in the lives of all he meets. It’s almost Spoon River Anthology meets Dickens and Faulkner. It even makes dog fighting poetic. The funeral chapter is one of the best I’ve ever read.  It’s a perfect book club title and a great second read. G, BC
*Simonson, Helen, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is droll, charming, and sweet, yet it has some heft to it. Major Pettigrew is proud of his heritage, his books, his club, his golf, and his garden.  He still misses his wife and finds no solace in his simpering, egotistical son. When Mrs. Ali, the shopkeeper’s widow, enters the Major’s life, the village and his son disapprove as does Mrs. Ali’s family.  It’s pure delight. GPR, BC
Spragg, Mark, Bone Fire, quirky, wonderful characters abound in this western novel that explores prejudice toward Native Americans. When Paul says that he loves ordering a drink in Chicago because no one expects him to be a drunken Indian, it speaks volumes.  Ten-year-old Kenneth steals the book. GPR
Trigiani, Adriana, Brava, Valentine, absolutely dreadful - a Harlequin Romance in disguise.  Valentina falls in love with an Italian then discovers a Buenos Aires cousin with a “dark secret.” Predictable drivel D
Tyler, Anne, Noah’s Compass, Only Tyler could invent a character like Liam Pennywell, a philosopher/ teacher/widower whose second wife divorces him for indifference, who floats through life, yet whose life is turned into a page-turner I read in less than a day. The characters tread water in such unusual ways. GPR
*Udall, Brady, The Lonely Polygamist, Golden Richards is a confused, depressed man with four wives and 28 children. He’s saddened by the death of his beloved handicapped daughter and by his inability to admit that he’s building a brothel/resort not a retirement home as his family believes.  This could be over the top but the dry humor makes it somewhat like Garp with a touch of Vonnegut. It also resembles Anne Tyler in the poignancy of family members, especially son Rusty, who want to be noticed and to be normal. They’re quirky people trying to deal with the hands they’ve been dealt.  It’s an odd, sweet tale. GPR/S, BC
Updike, John, The Widows of Eastwick, the writing is lovely but this is just too weird and the sex seems unnecessarily raw and inappropriate. I liked the melancholy look at aging but not the characters. G
Watson, Winifred, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a 1938 charmer, a droll romp that could almost have been written by Dorothy Parker. Miss Pettigrew is a down-on-her-luck spinster who needs a job today or she’ll be out on the street. She’s dowdy and lacking in confidence when she’s sent to Miss LaFosse’s London flat for an interview that turns into a comedy of manners that changes her life. D

Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers (including books for those who love the Stieg Larsson trilogy)

*Bauer, Belinda, Blacklands, suspense abounds as 12-year-old Steven Lamb searches for the body of his Uncle Billy then begins corresponding with imprisoned serial killer Arnold Avery. Steven is an endearing character in this British award winner for lovers of Kate Atkinson and Tana French novels. GPR/CC
Bohjalian, Chris, Secrets of Eden, What is the minister’s involvement in a murder/suicide that seems very Jodi Picoult meets Anita Shreve?  This page-turner is packed with red herrings and twists. CC, BC
Carter, Stephen L., New England White, Characters from Carter’s Emperor of Ocean Park reappear in this delightful mystery about the President of an Ivy League college and his wife, a divinity school dean, members of the powerful African American elite, that happen upon a dead body in the snow and learn that it’s the wife’s former love who seems to be connected to their 17-year-old daughter. GPR/SN
Chaon, Dan, Await Your Reply is a clever, gothic, literary thriller that uses technology in a psychological look at identity theft as a way of finding what identity means. The title refers to the stilted English of a Nigerian e-mail scam. Many complex characters add to the questions this book asks. GPR, BC
Coban, Harlan, Back Spin, Sports Agent/detective Myron Bolitar returns in this rollicking good read about the kidnapping of the son of golf’s U.S. Open leader.  It’s a perfect escape read. CC
*Ellory, R. J., A Quiet Belief in Angels, both a fast-paced mystery and a beautifully written psychological, literary novel, this reminded me of Mystic River and The Thirteenth Tale in tone and voice.  While set in rural Georgia it has the feel of a British gothic. In 1939 when Joseph is 12, young girls are raped, killed and dismembered.  Years later Joseph is imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit then he becomes a famous author and is released and looks for the real killer.  Hold your breath when you read this. GPR, BC
French, Tana, Faithful Place, Frank Mackey left his Dublin neighborhood, his abusive, alcoholic father, and his dysfunctional family at age 19.  He’d planned to leave with his girlfriend Rosie, but she didn’t show up and he’s never gotten beyond the betrayal. Now that her body’s been found and he learns that she couldn’t meet him, everything changes.  Who killed her all those years ago?  Compelling   CC/GPR
George, Elizabeth, This Body of Death, Inspector Lynley returns to work to assist the temporary D.I. Isabelle Ardrey with an investigation.  Lynley realizes that Ardrey is drinking secretly and addresses the problem with compassion. Barbara Havers clashes with Ardrey as she looks into a murder in the New Forest area. A toddler’s brutal murder by three young boys many years is revisited as well. This is such a great series. GPR
Grafton, Sue, U is for Undertow continues Kinsey Milhone’s adventures as a private detective with a strong moral code. Michael Sutton calls on Kinsey when he recalls a memory of a kidnapping when he was six. Her research, a buried dog, and some troubling clues help solve the mystery.  CC
Gruley, Bryan, The Hanging Tree, I’ve driven past the “shoe tree” outside Kalkaska, MI and imagined stories about it but Gruley’s turned his thoughts into a mystery involving Gus, the reporter in Starvation Lake and Gracie, a local who’s found dead there, as well as local opportunists and bad guys. CC
Hamilton, Steve, The Lock Artist is a stand-alone mystery about a boy so traumatized at age eight that he hasn’t spoken since.  He’s now 18 and his talent for cracking safes has been discovered by bad guys. CC
*Indridason, Arnaldur, This Icelandic author’s “Reykjavik Thrillers” will appeal to Stieg Larsson fans.
   *Silence of the Grave - #2, A human skeleton found outside Reykjavik is traced to a family living near an American barracks during WW II. In a subplot, Inspector Erlendur’s drug-addicted daughter lies in a coma and he must confront his own demons.  This is my favorite in this series. GPR/CC Voices - #3 mirrors Iceland’s December darkness in a tale about a murdered doorman who had been a child prodigy singer. CC  The Draining Lake - #4, Cold war secrets are revealed along with a long buried skeleton when a seismic shift causes an Icelandic lake to drain. Insight from Erlendur’s childhood explains his doggedness in solving missing person cases.  Odd bits of history add to this wonderful addition to the series. GPR/CC
*Larsson, Stieg, The Girl Who Played with Fire, Lisbeth Salander is back and all of Sweden is searching for her as a murder suspect in this sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The inimitable characters including the giant who can’t feel pain and the many “ah-hah” moments make this the perfect page-turner.
*The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the third book in the trilogy, (There may be a fourth.) shows Salander’s emotional growth and her realization that she needs others. It leaves you wanting more. CC
Le Hane, Dennis, Moonlight Mile is an emotionally satisfying thriller psychodrama featuring Patrick Kenzie, a private investigator now married to his former partner.  Things are different now that he’s a parent when he tries to find a runaway 16-year-old who he had returned to her mother twelve years before.   CC
*Mankell, Henning,
This Swedish author’s mysteries (featured on PBS) will satisfy Stieg Larsson fans.
 The Dogs of Riga is an early Wallender mystery involving the changes in the Baltic’s as Soviet control wanes. Wallender won’t give up in this chilling view of the darkness of places without hope. CC Firewall, Two teens brutally kill a cab driver then the older girl is electrocuted in a power station causing a massive blackout. As Wallender gets closer to catching the killer, he and the police are endangered.  The financial and computer aspects of the mystery will engage many readers. CC/SN *The Man from Beijing, the horrific murder of almost everyone in a tiny Swedish town sets off an international mystery involving the Chinese who worked on the U.S. intercontinental railroad and a secret solution to Chinese and Zimbabwean problems.  This is a gripping stand-alone mystery.  G/GPR/SN The Man Who Smiled, After killing in the line of duty, Inspector Wallender is on sick leave and is drinking and sleeping his way toward deciding to retire when he gets caught up investigating a tycoon’s involvement in a murder and is himself the object of a bombing. CC *One Step Behind, Wallender refuses to accept the limitations of his weight and diabetes while fighting to find out who killed a respected detective who was investigating the killing of three teens.  The character studies of Wallender’s colleagues deliver and the suspense builds in my favorite in the series. GPR/CC
Parker, Robert B., Night and Day, Parker died this year and all should be reminded of his wonderful Spenser detective series and this, the latest Jesse Stone mystery.  Stone is a flawed police chief who helps a 13-year-old girl upset with her parents’ swinger lifestyle. Great characters CC
Rees, Matt Beynon, The Collaborator of Bethlehem (also titled The Bethlehem Murders), A glimpse into the real world where Muslims, Christians, and Jews live in fear.  Omar Yussef, an uncompromising teacher at a UN school in Bethlehem, tries to find out who killed a prominent Palestinian Muslim when one of his favorite former students, a Palestinian Christian, is found guilty of the crime. Compelling SN/GPR
Scottoline, Lisa, Look Again is pure escape.  Ellen, a reporter, sees a photo of a missing child that looks just like her adopted son.  Lots of twists and turns make this perfect for a long plane ride. CC
Smith, Tom Rob, The Secret Speech, Leo Demidov of Child 44 returns to head a homicide unit in 1956 Moscow where the government still won’t admit that crime occurs. His daughter is kidnapped and he’s set up in a gulag uprising.  Smith tries to do too much in this novel so it isn’t as good as his first.  CC
Stander, Aaron, Summer People explores small town justice and attitudes toward summer people in resort towns. Sheriff Elkins is challenged by a deputy he fired when three deaths seem to be accidents but may be related murders. I think he’s the best of Michigan’s fine “up north” mystery writers. CC

Peanut Butter and Jelly: Books for Children and Young Adults

*Bottner, Barbara, illustrations by Michael Emberley, Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don’t!) I adore the way this pokes fun at those of us who are a bit over the top about books. It’s perfect for K – 2nd grade reluctant readers.  The drawings capture the mother, the “vexed” girl and the librarian perfectly.  PBJ
*Brande, Robin, Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature, YA, Mena is ostracized by her church and her friends when she exposes a nasty plot to “change” a suspected-to-be-gay classmate.  Mena’s guilt about lying to her parents and the well-developed characters elevate this and offer much to discuss. PBJ/SF, BC
*Donnelly, Jennifer, Revolution,  Older teens will love the story of Andi, a Senior at an elite Brooklyn prep school, who is tormented and almost suicidal over her brother’s death.  Her father takes her to Paris where she finds a diary in a 1795 guitar case that sets up the parallel story of Alexandrine, a girl of the French Revolution, and discovers a connection to a composer she’s researching. I love the way it showed classical music’s influence on rock and hip hop.  It’s a beautiful treatise on war, grief, and history. PBJ/SN
*MacLachlan, Patricia, Word After Word After Word is a touching story about children who learn to write when a visiting author engages them.  2nd – 5th graders will like the characters and language.  PBJ
*Mass, Wendy, Every Soul a Star, This is perfect for 5th – 9th graders who don’t think they fit anywhere and an eye opener for those who hide in their popularity.  Moon Shadow is a camp in the middle of nowhere where thousands are headed to see the total eclipse of the sun. Three 13-year-olds meet at the camp and the novel is told from their viewpoints. It’s a great astronomy lesson, too. PBJ/SN
Mc Nichols, Ann, Falling From Grace, 6th – 9th graders will like this historical novel with a moral bent that allows them to question. Set in a small 1920s Arkansas town, it explores gossip and fear.  PBJ/SF
Neufeld, Josh, A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge is a graphic novel interpretation of Hurricane Katrina that will make teens understand the horrors.  It’s visceral; disaster made visible. Having lived through a lesser flood myself, I found his description of “missing things” to be searingly accurate. PBJ/SN
Newbery, Linda, Lost Boy is a lovely fantasy set in Wales and England where Matt “sees” things that may solve a mystery.  5th-8th grade boys will enjoy this book that features a faithful dog. PBJ
*Pinckney, Jerry, The Lion and the Mouse is a magnificent wordless adaptation of the fable that will resonate with preschoolers and their parents.  The 2009 Caldecott winner is sure to be a classic    PBJ
*Scanlon, Liz Garton, illustrations by Marla Frazee, All the World, This preschool wonder reminds me of Virginia Burton’s Little House and McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal in the way it makes the world seem cozy and accessible. The illustrations made me feel that I was actually outside. Caldecott honor award PBJ
*Schmidt, Gary D., Trouble, 14-year-old Henry’s brother is hit by a car and lies in a coma. Henry hates Chay, the Cambodian refugee, cited with causing the accident but they are thrown together. This book shows how trouble comes into every life and that kindness and grace can save us despite it. Make every 7th – 10th grader you know read this book about prejudice.  Henry’s friend, Sanborn’s humor will help teenage boys engage with the story. PBJ
Snicket, Lemony (Brett Helquist), A Series of Unfortunate Events # 1, #2, Kids love these delightful tales of Violet, Klause, and Sunny and their dreadful guardian who gives them to the evil Count Olaf. PBJ
*Stead, Rebecca, When You Reach Me, Sixth grader Miranda lives in NYC in 1979 but she really lives in her copy of A Wrinkle in Time that she reads constantly.  For all 5th – 8th graders, 2010 Newbery, PBJ
*Underwood, Deborah, illustrations by Renata Liwska, The Quiet Book  Kids from 3 – 8  will love snuggling up to look at the great illustrations as they envision different kinds of quiet including “first snowfall quiet, “thinking of a good reason you were drawing on the wall quiet” and “sound asleep quiet.”  Parents will savor a new bedtime book.  This will be one of my new favorite baby shower gifts. PBJ
*Young, Miriam, Miss Suzy, illustrations by Arnold Lobel, Miss Suzy, the squirrel, is back in print to the delight of preschoolers and their parents. Kids love this cozy book and its illustrations. PBJ
Zarr, Sara, Once Was Lost, Sam’s Mom is in rehab and her Pastor Dad’s in denial when Jody, a girl in her youth group disappears.  This edgy Christian novel looks at things from all sides. 8th – 10th grades PBJ/SF


Ackerman, Jennifer, Ah-Choo! The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold readably explores what works (very little just keeping things clean, not touching your face, chicken soup, and ibuprofen) and what doesn’t (almost everything from vitamin C, to Airborne, herbs, and anti-bacterial soaps). SN
Bernstein, Harry, The Dream is a worthy sequel to The Invisible Wall that continues the journey of the Bernstein family when they arrive in Chicago in the 1920s and build a new life there and in New York. SN
*Bragg, Rick, All Over but the Shoutin,’Bragg’s 1997 masterpiece memoir eluded me. I thought it would be too male and too Southern. Boy was I wrong; it’s a universal tale of growing up Southern, fatherless, and as poor as red clay in a tiny 1960s-70s Alabama town. It also includes his journalistic beginnings through his winning of the Pulitzer Prize.  He tells the truth but “tells it slant.” It’s a primer on how to write. GPR
Daniel, Lillian and Copenhaver, Martin, This Odd and Wondrous Calling is a must read for everyone who’s ever sat on a church committee and for anyone who goes to church. In alternating chapters, Daniel and Copenhaver, both UCC Pastors, describe the lives behind the ministry in open, honest, and extremely informative ways.  Copenhaver’s chapter about his marriage to a wife who doesn’t believe or attend church is worth the price alone. This will change the perceptions of many people.  SF/SN, BC
*Frankl, Viktor, Man’s Search for Meaning, Everyone on the planet should read this book about Frankl’s journey from a concentration camp to inspiring people to live meaningful lives.  SN/SF, BC
*Heilemann, John and Halperin, Mark, Game Change, Whoa Nellie, the story of the 2008 election is entertaining but such a sad indictment of the best and the brightest.  I listened to this so the profanity, the stupidity, and the stubbornness of the candidates became even more real and shocking. SN
*Karr, Mary, The Liar’s Club, My second read of this classic memoir that opened the way for books like The Glass Castle, was still hard to read despite the spectacular writing and humor.  Karr’s childhood featured rape, alcoholism, hunger, and bizarre beatings, yet she survived. The last page is a true epiphany.  Imagination and intellect triumph in this primer on lyrical, poetic writing. G, BC
*Karr, Mary, Lit stands for literature, alcohol, and the light emanating from within in Karr’s compelling page-turner about her overcoming alcoholism as a young mother. The details of her descent kept me up all night.  Her life and struggles are compelling but Karr could write about a refrigerator and I’d gobble it up - she’s that good. Poetry, humor, and faith in a tight package make it the finest modern memoir I’ve ever read.  G, BC
Kellis, Jan Stafford, Bookworms Anonymous: A Non-Traditional Book Club for All Readers, Kellis didn’t have the time or the funds for a traditional book club so she began an intergenerational club that trades books while having dinner together.  Book lovers will enjoy many of the suggestions. SN
*Miles, Sara, Take This Bread, Communion will never be the same after you read this book.  It’s a gut punch to get out there and do something. Miles, raised as an atheist by parents who grew up as missionary kids, is a gay journalist just returning from reporting on war in Central America when she happens upon a liberal Episcopal church where she is welcomed and served communion.  Her hunger for communion turns into a passion to feed the hungry and open food pantries.  SF/SN, BC
*Mortenson, Greg, Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, I liked this even better than Three Cups of Tea because it captures Mortenson’s voice and heart.  I adore Sarfraz Khan whose courage in building a school amidst the Taliban is inspiring as is the way the U. S. military, including Patraeus, McChrystal and Mullen, support the effort. Getting supplies to Afghanistan – wow! SN/SF, BC
Nguyen, Bich Minh, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, I wanted to like this memoir about Nguyen’s life as a Vietnamese child growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I admired her but found the book a repetitive, boring list of junk food, music, and pop culture that simply didn’t satisfy me. SN
*Patel, Eboo, Acts of Faith, A 35-year-old Indian-American Muslim who grew up in Chicago tells of starting an interfaith movement for teens to promote religious pluralism and understanding.  Inspiring!  SF/SN, BC
Palmer, Parker, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, the ideas are solid although most of it seems like common sense – you need others, you have to face the bad to do well, and you should lead through compassion. The section on depression would be useful for those dealing with that illness. SF/SN
*Perry, Michael, Population 485 tells of Perry’s return to his small hometown where he joins his mother and brother on the fire and rescue squad. His meditative yet humorous tone makes the book both ironic and poignant.   Perry observes then distills life into its essential details.  Just read it. GPR/SF. BC
Rodriquez, Richard, Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez tells of a “scholarship boy” alienated from his working class roots as he grew up in a Mexican immigrant family in California where life revolved around the neighborhood Catholic Church and school.  This is more essay and elegy than autobiography and explains his opposition to Affirmative Action and bilingual education beautifully. G/SN
Schell, Ellen Ruppel, Cheap, the High Cost of Discount Culture shows how our search for bargains reduces quality, gets us bamboozled by trickery, and leads to problems we never imagined. It’s fascinating. SN
Schlosser, Eric, Fast Food Nation: the Dark Side of the All-American Meal, the descriptions of conditions in meat-packing plants are almost enough to make me become a vegetarian. This book makes The Jungle seem like a comedy.  It’s filled with information but it can’t be called an enjoyable read. SN
*Small, David, Stitches, this memoir/graphic novel is profound, haunting, searing, subtle, sad, and yet it’s also hopeful and redemptive.  Small, a Caldecott Award-winning artist, survived a mentally ill mother and childhood cancer caused by X-rays his father administered through his drawing.  If I had the power, I’d force everyone in the world over age sixteen to read this book. The book had to be “written” in drawings to evoke the powerless feeling of being without a voice.   It’s a miracle.  GPR, BC
Steinberg, Avi, Running the Books starts out by cleverly showing how Steinberg ended up as a “hip” Boston prison librarian, then it becomes insightful as he matures. His thoughts on the passage of time, on knowing the names on the annual newspaper homicide list, on order, and on grace grabbed me. GPR/SN, BC
Theroux, Paul, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Theroux revisits his 1975 The Great Railway Bazaar journey.  From London through most of Asia returning through Russia he notes how the world has changed.  He describes the world’s poverty and overcrowding without making it maudlin. SN, BC
*Taylor, Barbara Brown, An Altar in the World,: A Geography of Faith, Brown Taylor makes the reader consider “What is saving your life now? What does your life depend on?  She suggests simple, everyday ways to discover the sacred by paying attention to what’s around us. SF/SN
Tickle, Phyllis, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, Tickle shares her creative reflections on the transformation of “church” during this time of great cultural shifts.  SF
Walls, Jeannette, Half Broke Horses, Walls tells of her grandmother Lily’s life in a novel using first-person dialogue to enhance the true story of the a schoolteacher, rancher, survivor.  The book is a wonderful way to learn more about Walls’ mother who was such an enigma in The Glass Castle. GPR/SN