The Annual Book List 2011

If you'd like this as an attachment, send an email to  * Asterisks depict my favorites and the most outstanding in each category.   

General Fiction

*Abbott, David, The Upright Piano Player, the first chapter of this British novel is one of the hardest hitting and gripping sections I’ve ever read.  Henry is an “upright” man, one who followed the rules, built a company and made a family then because he couldn’t bend, his life spiraled out of his control   G/BC
Abdu-jaber, Diana, Crescent, Sirene is half Iraqi and half American, 39, single and the chef at a Middle Eastern restaurant near UCLA.  She falls in love with Han, an Iraqi professor, and their story intertwines with a fairy tale of a mermaid that stretches the imagination.  The lush descriptions of food seemed overdone and the plot grew tedious for me. My book club loved the cultural revelations. GPR, SN
Ahern, Cecelia, The Book of Tomorrow, the author of P.S. I Love You, tells teenage Tamara’s tale of woe. Her father killed himself and her mother is almost comatose with grief. They’ve lost everything including their spectacular home on the beach in Dublin. They’re living in an aunt’s rural gatehouse far from the glitter and wealth of their former life. Magical realism and unexpected twists will appeal to many.  CC
*Ahmad, Jamil, The Wandering Falcon, the 80-year-old author worked in tribal areas and his voice captures those living in this hidden world where Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan meet and where the borders are blurred because tribal loyalties have always been stronger than nationalism. It’s told in inter-related sketches featuring a boy who bridges the Baluchistan tribal culture with others. I think every person in Congress and the military should read this and so should we.  G/BC
*Airgood, Ellen, South of Superior, Madeline leaves Chicago to live with two elderly sisters in a tiny town on the shores of Lake Superior. Great characters and community; similar to Richard Russo   GPR/BC
*Banks, Russell, Lost Memory of Skin, only a writer with Banks’ skill could make me care about a social misfit who can’t join society because he’s on a sex offender list.  “The Kid” is such an engaging character; I can’t let this go. It made me think so much about society’s underbelly and homelessness.  G/BC
*Berry, Wendell, Hannah Coulter may be the best portrait of a 20th century woman ever and that a man captured her voice perfectly is amazing. He distills Christianity. You must slow down to ponder and appreciate the beauty and truth shown in a life well and carefully lived.  G, SF/BC  
      *Jayber Crow loves his community so much that he makes everyone in it better.  They live through war, peace, love, forgiveness and sacrifice together. I wrote down quotes on almost every page.  G, SF/BC
*Brown, Eleanor, The Weird Sisters, three sisters return home when their mother is ill. Their father is a Shakespeare professor and everything from their names to the way he talks to them mirrors the Bard. You’ll love being a part of their family and you’ll appreciate the subtle lessons the story tells. I underlined numerous passages that still resonate especially about the stories we tell ourselves. G, GPR/BC
Brown, Victoria, Minding Ben is 18-year-old Grace’s story after she leaves Trinidad for New York and ends up working as a nanny for a sadistic woman. It makes you think but it’s a little too long. GPR
*Campbell, Bonnie Jo, Once Upon a River flat out deserves the Pulitzer. This is a true American novel with a girl as Huck Finn, Annie Oakley and Hester Prynne in one unforgettable character living on the river near Kalamazoo. It’s an American Odyssey and it’s a page turner you won’t forget. G/BC
                *Q Road was written in 2002 but it takes place after the action in Once Upon a River.  It features Margo Crane, the outsider, and it’s amazing as well but I’d advise readers to read it after reading River. The subject matter is rough but sweet characters like David, an asthmatic boy make it sing.  G/BC

*Comyns, Barbara, Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is a 1940s British novel about a Bohemian couple who fall in and out of love that shows how Sophia survives yet suffers through tragedies.  This is a most modern story told in a distinctive first-person voice that dispassionately details the times.  G, S Currimbhoy, Nayana, Miss Timmin’s School for Girls should be wonderful but it takes forever for anything to happen and by then it’s hard to care.  Charu leaves her middle class Brahmin family to teach Shakespeare at a British boarding school in India in 1974 and she’s soon involved in a murder. The spiraling events of the time and the evocation of place aren’t enough to save this too long novel. SN *Diffenbaugh, Vanessa, The Language of Flowers makes you think about what happens to foster children when they turn 18 by showing the life of Victoria who would be lost if she hadn’t learned about flowers and their special language. What is mother love? It’d be perfect for book clubs.  GPR, SN/BC 
Donnelly, Gabrielle, The Little Women Letters takes effort as it’s hard to keep the main characters and their friends straight at the beginning.  But in the end, I fell in love with Lulu and her sisters just as I did with their “ancestors” the March sisters. GPR, D
*Donoghue, Emma, Room is a great read. It’s about a mother who does everything for her young son despite her harrowing circumstances. It’s told in his charming 5-year-old voice and you’ll love it.  Don’t ask anything more, just read it. I promise you won’t be able to put it down.  G/BC
Eugenides, Jeffrey, The Marriage Plot is about Madeline and her two suitors at Brown University in the 1980s.  I wanted to love it because I adored his first books but this just didn’t resonate until the wonderful ending tied everything together.  His language and dialogue are perfection. G
*Fallon, Siobhan, You Know When the Men Are Gone, these interrelated short stories depict the lives of those left behind on a Texas base when the men deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Her perspicacious writing forces us to bear witness to what we’ve asked them to do. It’s a must read. G/BC
*Feldman, Ellen, Next to Love is the story of three wives who remain in a small town while their husbands serve in World War II and of their lives after the war when everything changes. The writing is wonderful especially the first chapter. Babe works for Western Union so she’s the first to learn when one of “our boys” is lost or has died. If you loved The Postmistress you’ll really like this.  GPR/BC
*Geye, Peter, Safe from the Sea, Noah returns to the remote lake region north of Duluth when Olaf, his ill father, beckons. The novel also tells of Olaf’s survival of one of the most deadly Lake Superior shipwrecks. Lyrical prose highlights this tale of forgiveness, love and honoring the past.   GPR, SN/BC
Gowda, Shilpi Somaya, Secret Daughter, Somer is a physician who has it all except a baby. Kavita is a poor woman in India who fears for her daughter. What does being a mother mean?  GPR, CC/BC
Grissom, Kathleen, The Kitchen House is a great plot idea with poor execution. Telling the stories of an Irish indentured servant and a Negro slave working on the same plantation in the late 1700s offers so many possibilities but it deteriorated into rape, murder and outright stupidity. CC
Hannah, Kristin, Night Road is a very emotional story with a predictable yet satisfying plot and characters that make you care. When Lexi moves to town she’s befriended by Mia and her twin brother and their perfect parents. Life is wonderful until graduation weekend when tragedy strikes.  What happens next isn’t expected but it rings true.  It will make a great movie. GPR, CC
*Harbach, Chad, The Art of Fielding is a book you, your husband and your sons will love. Henry arrives at a small college on the shores of Lake Michigan to play baseball; perhaps to save the team with his fielding. He becomes the best until he makes on unforced error and everything changes. You’ll remember his captivating teammates long after flying through this big book. G, GPR/BC
Harvell, Richard, The Bells is a must read for music lovers. Moses, a young boy, is rescued by monks then he’s castrated to preserve his unique soprano voice.  GPR, SN
Holmes, Gina, Crossing Oceans, Jenny is dying so she swallows her pride and takes her delightful daughter home to her estranged family.   I thought the heavy handed “Christian fiction” too contrived but I cared about the characters and the feel-good aspect of the book should appeal to many. SF, CC
*Hunt, Rebecca, Mr. Chartwell, I laughed at the droll “bon mots” Black Pat, the black dog, utters to Emma, a young widow, then I was overwhelmed with tears and a deep connection to her and to Winston Churchill as they deal with the “black dog” of depression. The originality and careful layering of the descent and struggles of the main characters is both imaginative and compelling.  S, GPR/BC
*Jansson, Tove, The Summer Book rescued me. It’s gentle prose, philosophies and humor spoke to me when I most needed it. If you liked The Elegance of the Hedgehog, you’ll like this. It made for a great book discussion.  Much of it begs to be read aloud. It’s spare and evocative of the remote island in the Gulf of Finland where Sophia and her grandmother spend the summer. GPR, SF/BC
*Johnson, Denis, Train Smoke is a novella illustrating the last American frontier through the dreams and life of Grainier who lived in the northwest from the 1880s through 1968. He had one wife, one child and one acre of land and this small gem captures all his triumphs and misery. G, T
Leavitt, Caroline, Pictures of You focuses on Isabelle who’s leaving her husband when she crashes in fog and kills a young mother whose son thinks that Isabelle is an angel. There are lots of relationship twists and most reviewers loved this Anita Shreve/Elizabeth Berg read-alike but I thought it a bit trite. CC, GPR
Lee, Linda Francis, Emily and Einstein is a sweet but not cloying charmer about a strong young woman who is happily married when her husband dies at age 38.  He’d lied to her and now she’s grief stricken and may also lose everything she thought she owned. Einstein, a shelter dog, saves the day. CC, D
*Leroy, Margaret, The Soldier’s Wife takes place on the Isle of Guernsey during World War II. It’s primarily a love story and a tale of the way war affects and changes all the lives it touches. Vivienne is a mother and a fighter. This novel evokes the food, the land, and the way they really lived.   GPR, SN/BC
*McHenry, Jael, The Kitchen Daughter features a delightful young woman whose parents have just died unexpectedly and who copes with her grief by cooking. Her sister tries to manage her and her “condition” by defining what’s normal.  This is a joyous book that shows the many dimensions of the Asperger spectrum.  The food descriptions are delectable as are the characters.  There’s a touch of believable magical realism as well in a book you’ll long remember.  GPR, SN/BC
Moore, Lorrie, A Gate at the Stairs, Tassie comes to college from the farm – unformed, naïve and brilliant. She babysits for a strange couple who are adopting a mixed race child. It’s searing, funny and made me think about “liberal” prejudice. I entered the gate and followed Tassie into adulthood. Warning:  I loved this book and it got some stellar reviews but none of my friends have liked it. G/BC
Morton, Kate, The Distant Hours, Edie Burchell visits a castle where her mother was sent during WWII and finds the elderly Blyth sisters and many secrets. This 672-page, gothic tale of mental illness and pride will appeal to Morton’s fans and those who love historical fiction.  GPR
*O’Brien, Tim, The Things They Carried is the classic 1990 Viet Nam narrative and Pulitzer Prize finalist. It’s so hard emotionally that I’m not sure I’d have finished it if my book club hadn’t selected it.  I’m thankful I did as I believe it should be required reading for all. O’Brien writes about the literal and figurative things men carried in Viet Nam – from helmets to pictures, good luck charms and food along with fear and prejudice. Ultimately it asks us to listen without judging and to bear witness. G, SN, S/BC
*Obrecht, Téa, The Tiger’s Wife won the Orange Prize and it’s so original in its evocation of the Balkan conflicts. It uses fables and allegories to tell a story filled with superstition. If it were a cake it’d have twenty layers and thus it demands a careful and concentrated reading.   G/BC
*Otsuka, Julie, The Buddha in the Attic tells the stories of the “picture brides” who came from Japan to California in 1917.  Told in the collective, the language is spectacularly evocative.  It’s short and each word is absolutely perfect.  The Greek chorus of the women’s voices both mesmerizes and entertains.  It’s a finalist for the National Book Award. Revisit her When the Emperor was Divine, too.  G, SN/BC
*Patchett, Ann, State of Wonder creates a special world in the Amazon and populates it with characters and adventures that will take your breath away. It’s her best and that’s saying something. The subtle growth of the main character is still under my skin as is the scene on the river.  G/BC
Perkins-Valdez, Dona, Wench details the lives of the people at an Ohio summer resort where Southern white plantation owners vacationed with their slaves. One can’t call them mistresses as they had no choice but they were treated as such. The story is told in the third person and focuses on four slaves and the Underground Railroad.  I found the character development lacking but the author’s painstaking research was evident in the details.  Philippa Gregory fans will enjoy the history and pace. SN, CC
*Perotta, Tom, The Leftovers tells of a “Rapture” type incident in which a portion of the earth’s population disappeared in an instant but with no understandable rhyme or reason as to who disappeared and who stayed. Three years later the leftovers, those left behind, are coping in unusual ways. Irony!!!  G, S/BC
Picoult, Jodi, Sing You Home is a typical Picoult page turner that makes us see all sides of a hot button issue.  This time it’s gay marriage and adoption. Good escape but predictable with a dumb ending. CC/BC
Pittard, Hannah, The Fates Will Find Their Way reveals the stories the boys in the neighborhood tell after 16-year-old Nora disappears. It features imaginative writing and a look at the psychological impact such an event has on those who can’t let it go and on the town where it happened. G
Rice, Luanne, The Silver Boat, three sisters pack up their mother’s things on Martha’s Vineyard then decide to search for their father who went to Ireland to search for an ancient Irish deed but never returned.  The sisters have problems of their own in this forgettable tale. CC
*See, Lisa, Dreams of Joy, after Joy’s father’s suicide, she flies to China. Joy’s mother, who’d left China 20 years previously, chases after her.  It’s 1957, so Mao rules the country completely and both are caught in the famine and the Great Leap Forward. This is one great read.  GPR, SN/BC
Shoneyin, Lola, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is about the four wives of a wealthy, clueless Nigerian businessman. When the fourth wife tries to become pregnant, everything changes. SN, S
Stein, Garth, The Art of Racing in the Rain, everyone has loved the story seen through Enzo, the dog’s eyes.  Danny, a race driver and Enzo’s “master,” makes many dumb mistakes and there are too many coincidences to make this plausible for me. I understand why others loved it but I just didn’t. GPR/BC
Stuckey-French, Elizabeth, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady is a droll, dry comedy about a woman whose daughter died because the mother had unknowingly had radiation while pregnant.  She moves to Florida to kill the retired research scientist who experimented on her and becomes involved with his family especially his granddaughter.  It felt as if I were watching the characters in a movie. S
Tanner, Haley, Vaclav & Lena meet in ESL (English as a Second Language) class when they’re six. They’re inseparable and Vaclav’s mother feeds and loves Lena.  They practice daily to be a magician and assistant and they plan to be together forever until Lena is suddenly gone only to reappear when Vaclav is 17.  It’s such a unique love story told by a young author with quite a story of her own.  GPR/BC
*Thompson, Jean, The Year We Left Home is for all who left small towns in the 1960s and 70s. It humanizes the farm crisis and makes you ponder why people become who they are.  It also shows how place and family influence development and captures an era beautifully. G/BC
Towles, Amor, Rules of Civility is a lovely, civilized, novel of 1938 New York showing society and what it means to be yourself.  Katy Kontent is quite a character. It packs a punch.  GPR/BC
Vann, David, Caribou Island is a dark, morose novel about a dysfunctional couple in Alaska.  The writing is beautiful but the story is so depressing and lacking in hope that I can’t recommend it. G
Walter, Jess, The Zero, Brian Remy just shot himself in the head and he doesn’t remember doing it.  He has lots of memory gaps after surviving 911.  He’s a cop and a hero but he can’t make sense of anything. This dark, dry novel weaves a tortuous story as Vonnegut or Heller might have spun it. S
*West, Stanley Gordon, Blind Your Ponies, if you loved the movie Hoosiers you’ll adore this story of a high school basketball team. The characters are delightful. It’s a bit overdrawn but it’ll make you laugh, cheer, cry and you’ll think it was too short even at 560 pages. Buy it for your sons and husbands.  GPR
Wingfield, Jenny, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is southern fried chicken with a side order of murder and mayhem. Those who love Dorothea Benton Frank and Fannie Flagg will love it but I found it too heavy handed and lacking in character development. One of the main characters is named Swan Lake but there’s no explanation of how she got her name.  There’s plenty of action though. GS
*Wilson, E.O., Anthill: a novel, a Pulitzer winning naturalist penned this novel that’s similar to Jim, the Boy in its charming depiction of boyhood. Part IV, The Anthill Chronicles, tells the story of three ant colonies in something I can only dub “narrative biology.” It feels like a sportscaster is giving the play-by-play of a baseball game but he’s describing tournaments between ants. It’s an adult novel but I think it could make any teenage boy or girl want to know about ecology and biology. Wow!  GPR, SN/BC

Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers

*Atkinson, Kate, Started Early, Took My Dog, Detective Jackson Brodie is trying to find an adopted child’s family when he rescues an abused dog while Tracy, a retired police detective,  makes a snap decision and “rescues” a child. The intrigue involves questions of identity and a search for the truth. G
Box, C, J., Cold Wind , game warden Joe Pickett  must prove that his mother-in-law (not his favorite person) killed her fifth husband who was found dangling from a massive wind turbine. CC
Dibdin, Michael, Blood Rain, Aurelio Zen, a Roman policeman, is banished to Sicily where organized crime threatens his family. He has to determine if his investigation will make things worse. CC
Flynn, Vince, American Assassin, fans of Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series will welcome this prequel that tells of Rapp’s journey from college athlete to CIA operative. It isn’t as good as his others. C
*Frazier, Charles, Nightwoods is so gothic and eerie that it almost feels like you’re inside a movie like Cape Fear or North by Northwest. It’s also eloquent, ethereal and elegiac. While it takes place in early 1960s North Carolina it seems more like the depression era.  Luce is a wonderful character who’s taken guardianship of her twin niece and nephew whose stepfather killed their mother and who resemble frightening forest nymphs more than preschoolers. Bud, the evil stepfather, manages to get off and tracks them down in a series of actions that won’t let you sleep till it ends. G
Gardner, Lisa, Live to Tell would be just another escapist mystery if it didn’t feature young children so damaged that they commit heinous crimes. Murders connected by a pediatric psych ward offer much to consider about nurture versus nature CC/SN Love You More is a thriller with two female protagonists. Tessa, a state trooper, claims she killed her husband in self-defense but where is her missing daughter? Detective D. D. Warren must investigate while dealing with her own problems.  CC
Läckberg, Camilla, The Ice Princess exudes the dark Swedish wintery atmosphere and evil found in the Stieg Larsson trilogy. Biographer Erica returns to her small seaside hometown and finds her childhood friend has seemingly committed suicide.  The town itself provides atmosphere and secrets. CC
*Marklund, Liza. Red Wolf is similar to the Inspector Wallender mysteries.  Reporter Annika Bengston suspects a connection to the Swedish power elite when a journalist is murdered and she’s told not to investigate but soon finds ties to a long ago airbase attack. The “chilling” ending is superb. CC
*Mosley, Walter, When the Thrill is Gone: a Leonid McGill Mystery offers exceptional language, tone and voice. McGill takes a case because he needs the money even though he doesn’t believe the billionaire’s wife’s tale of woe. Mosley writes in the traditional Chandler vein and is always good. CC
Patterson, Richard North, In the Name of Honor shows how lack of support for post-traumatic stress can wreak havoc. That this PTS victim is the son of the soon-to-be chair of the joint chiefs makes it truly fascinating. Plot twists abound and I was tempted to read all 401 pages without taking a breath. CC
*Penny, Louise, Bury Your Dead, Chief Inspector Gamache is the best multi-dimensional crime solver since Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley.  He’s in Quebec City recovering from a case he didn’t solve in time when a murder caught up in the conflict between the French and English intervenes and he sends an aide to reopen a case in a small Quebec town.  This novel shows that goodness can triumph over evil.  I wish I’d begun with her Still Life as Bury Your Dead is the sixth in the series. CC, SN
Spencer-Fleming, Julia, I Shall Not Want isn’t my favorite in this series featuring Clare, an Episcopal priest and Russ, the police chief who try to find out why Latino men are being killed in their small town. CC
Stander, Aaron, Color Tour, is the second in the up north series featuring Sheriff Ray Elkins. Deer Season, the third in the series, evokes the strange juxtaposition of deer season, rich resorters, and November weather. Rogue old-time cops, guns and a northern setting make it appealing. CC
Stevenson, Taylor, The Informationist, Vanessa Michael Munroe is a new kind of investigator.  She finds information about developing countries for businesses and uses her background growing up as a missionary kid in Africa to search for a wealthy oilman’s adopted daughter who’s been missing for four years.  She’s a new kind of protagonist for those who miss Lisbeth Salander.  CC
*Watson, S. J., Before I Go to Sleep is a very British, haunting tale of amnesia. Christine can’t remember a single thing from the previous day. Sleep robs her of knowing the room she’s in or any of her acquaintances or family. All she knows is what she’s told but who can she trust? Wow!  CC, GPR
Wilson, Robert T., The Crooked Tree is supposedly very scary so I’ve avoided it. I finally read it because it’s packed with Native American and northern Michigan lore but I thought it more fantasy than horror and it didn’t scare me. The idea of evil bears attacking people was too bizarre. Read it for “up north” color.  SN
Winspear, Jacqueline, A Lesson in Secrets, a college promoting peace is being investigated by the Secret Service so Maisie Dobbs is sent to teach there as the Nazi party catches hold in 1930s England. Murder, plagiarism, and questions about Maisie’s boyfriend and her secretary seem like too many story lines to juggle.  This is good but I liked the first four Maisie adventures better.  CC, SN

Peanut Butter and Jelly: Books for Children and Young Adults
*Buck, Nola and Wright, Sara Jane illus., A Christmas Goodnight will enthrall children ages 2 – 6. Those who adored Christmas in the Manger will love this sweet telling of the nativity story paired with a child’s bedtime story with his own nativity set. It’s a perfect antidote to the craziness of December.  PBJ/SF
*Forman, Gayle, Where She Went is as sequel but it more than holds its own. Adam, a rock star, is an emotional wreck who misses his high school honey who dumped him after her parents and brothers died in an accident she survived.  The use of music and a wonderful playlist that hit home really resonated with me and I think this will appeal to teens as well as those under 40 (but I loved it as well). PBJ, GPR
*Klassen, Jon, I Want My Hat Back, poor bear has lost his hat so he asks all the other animals if they’ve seen it.  Klassen uses subtle color illustrations, facial expressions and deadpan humor to show who’s telling the truth. In an ending older kids and their parents will “get” the bear behaves like a bear.  PBJ
*Kleiner, Mariela, Meet Einstein is a preschool book that makes science fun. Wonderful illustrations and simple explanations will make 4 – 7 year olds think about “why” things happen.  Buy it!  PBJ
*Myracle, Lauren, Shine is the “almost” National Book Award finalist about Cat whose friend Patrick, a gay teen lies in a coma after being beaten in a possible hate crime. In trying to find who did it, Cat learns to trust again while recovering from an assault she suffered. Teens will like the way Cat turns hate to love and manages to shine in her own courageous way. PBJ, SN/BC
*Sams, Carl and Stoick, Jean, Tea with Lady Sapphire features bird identification for younger kids and bird-loving adults who love them.  I’d love to make the snowman in the book with a child. PBJ, SN
*Sepetys, Ruta, Between Shades of Gray, in 1941, 15-year-old Lina is studying for art school when the Soviets ship her family east from Lithuania to Siberia.  Lina sends “art” messages to her father who’s taken away as they continue east.  The determination and humor of the characters is formidable and their journey to the northern Arctic Circle is compelling and wrenching. This has become a best seller and award winner in Britain. There’re so many well-written novels about the holocaust, now we have one that makes Stalin’s atrocities real.  Adult and teen book clubs should read it.   PBJ, SN/ BC
*Schmidt, Gary, Okay for Now is a book for teens and adults. It’s 1968 and Doug’s brother is in Viet Nam, his other brother is trouble and his pathetic father has lost his job so the family has to move.  Doug discovers an Audubon folio in their new town and things begin to change. Incredible!  Read this to see what a difference determination and people who care can make. PBJ, SN/BC
*Selznick, Brian, Wonderstruck, using the same technique perfected in The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Selznick’s Caldecott Award Winner, 460 of Wonderstruck’s 637 pages are exquisite illustrations telling Rosa’s 1927 story of her dreams. They’re intertwined with Ben’s 1977 search for who he is.  Children and art lovers will revisit these haunting drawings again and again. Give it to someone you love. PBJ
*Smith, Lane, It’s a Book, in the digital age, this is fun for all as a charmingly drawn monkey  explains how a book works and that it doesn’t need recharging.  Kids will delight in reading this out loud. The humorless may not appreciate it. PBJ, *Grandpa Green has exquisite illustrations of sculptured topiaries that tell a boy about his great-grandfather’s life and that communicate love.  Each reading reveals more. PBJ
*Stead, Erin E. and Philip C., A Sick Day for Amos McGee, kind Amos, the zookeeper gives daily personal attention to each animal then when he’s ill, the animals take the bus to care for him. This Caldecott winner is what picture books for children should be – caring and wise. PBJ
*Tullet, Hervė, Press Here is an adorable old-fashioned “interactive” book that will delight 3 to 7 year olds.  It’s addictive. Press the dot and use your imagination.  PBJ
Vanderpool, Clare, Moon over Manifest won the 2011 Newbury and it tells of Abilene Tucker’s life in 1936 when she’s sent to live in a small Kansas town. The story includes poignant letters written by a soldier fighting in WWI. The dialogue makes the period come alive.  This is for 5th – 8th graders. PBJ/SN
*Viva, Frank, Along a Long Road is a beautiful book showing a cyclist following a smooth yellow ribbon road on a trip through a tunnel and the countryside.  Freight Train loving kids will adore it.  PBJ
*Williams-Garcia, Rita, One Crazy Summer explains the unrest of 1968 to 9 – 12-year-olds in a joy-filled book about the weeks three sisters spend in Oakland, CA.  I adore the way these girls awakened and changed their attitudes. Fern’s poem is a winner.  Whatever your age or race this book will touch you. PBJ
Woodson, Jacqueline, Feathers takes place in 1968 when a white boy with long hair moves to the side of the highway where everyone is black.  The kids call him “Jesus Boy” and his story is one teens should read. PBJ   *Hush is about Evie and her family who’ve lost everything they have including their names as they’re in the witness protection program because their father, a policeman, did the right thing when he saw two white cops kill a boy and the “code” said no one should object.  Great for 9 – 12 year olds PBJ


Abuelaish, Izzeldin, I Shall Not Hate: a Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity is packed with the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - good information for those who don’t know it.  I liked his inclusion of the actual 1917 Balfour Declaration letter establishing Palestine as the home of the Jewish people. The rest is his heartfelt story of the tragic killing of his child and his fight for hope. SN
Birnbach, Lisa, True Prep is a sequel to the delightfully satirical The Official Preppy Handbook of 1980. This riff on the changes since then provides nothing new, original or interesting. Skip it.  S
Colon, Suzan, Cherries in Winter is a book for our times. Colon lost her job so she began to cook. She hands down her family’s recipes to lucky readers. It got me through a blizzard and made me smile.  SF
*Demick, Barbara, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea depicts the complexities of life in North Korea.  Told through the stories of six North Koreans, it conveys unimaginable brutality. That most of North Korea spent the nineties literally in the dark without electricity, food, or medical care is sad but even sadder is that they were so brainwashed that they could watch children die of starvation and still believe what their government told them because they assumed that things were worse elsewhere. Within a four-year period North Korea’s entire frog population died because so many were killed as there was no other food.  The resilience of the profiled six is uplifting.   SN/BC
*Dennis, Jerry, The Windward Shore is the best non-fiction book this year.  It tells of a winter Dennis spent in different places along the shores of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan.  Nothing prepared me for the deep connection it forged with me – a connection so strong that I spent two weeks avoiding reading the last chapter so the book would never end. The book is similar to Walden and The Sand Country Almanac. Yet, it’s entirely accessible and would make a suitable holiday gift for a fisherman, a motorcyclist or a hunter as well as for natural history devotees.  G, SN/BC
Fuller, Alexandra, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgiveness tells the story of Fuller’s mother’s life in Africa and provides background for her wonderful Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight.  SN, S
Garfield, Simon, Just My Type is an amusing and insightful look at the world of fonts.  SN, S
Gildiner, Catherine, After the Falls: Coming of Age in the Sixties has the same poignant, dry humor as her first book Too Close to the Falls. I couldn’t put this down but didn’t love it as much as Too Close.  Her Chicago references aren’t entirely accurate but I still adored her tales of high school and family. CC, S
*Grennan, Conor, Little Princes tells of 29-year-old Grennan’s trip to Nepal and the way it changed his life when he fell in love with a group of Nepalese orphans. If you liked Three Cups of Tea, you’ll enjoy this as well.  I think it’d be perfect for men in their teens through forties.  SN, SF/BC
Hall, Ron and Moore, Denver with Vincent, Lynn, Same Kind of Different as Me should be required for anyone who cares about the homeless. Such a different way of “seeing” will inspire you. SF/SN
*Hillenbrand, Laura, Unbroken is the best story of courage in many a year.  Louie ran in the 1936 Olympics and led a charmed life until he became a POW under the Japanese in World War II. His courage and determination are inspiring and his struggles after the war are beautifully told. G, SN, SF/BC
Jones, Toby, The Way of Jesus: Re-forming Spiritual Communities in a Post-Church Age, Phyllis Tickle explained the emergent movement and Toby Jones gives it a face by portraying several church communities that are living their faith in new ways. SF/SN
Larson, Erik, In the Garden of Beasts shows 1932-1936 Berlin when the world wanted to believe all was well. A U. Chicago professor is the reluctant ambassador to Berlin where his daughter revels in dating and access to Nazi society.  It’s both gossipy and filled with things that were never in history books. SN
Napoli, Lisa, Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth provides information about Bhutan but I expected more from this NPR, CNN and MSNBC alum who volunteers at a fledgling public radio station in Bhutan. Her lack of emotional involvement was puzzling to me. SN
*O’Rourke, Meghan, The Long Goodbye‘s climax hits early when the author’s mother dies and she learns how to grieve.  She’s 34 and single and she’s one incredible writer. Her metaphors make the reader experience exactly what she feels. Anyone who’s lost a mother will thank O’Rourke for this.   G, SN/BC
*Ross, Tracy, The Silence of All Things tells how Ross’s stepfather taught her to love the outdoors then molested her. She ran away from home at fifteen because the abuse continued and her mother ignored it.  She spent time in foster homes and led a troubled life until love, writing and nature healed her. She’s found the courage and grace to forgive and the honesty to tell her compelling story. GPR/BC
*Shapiro, Dani, Devotion, sad things happened in Shapiro’s life and she looked for ways to find meaning. Her simple explanations of living mindfully with purpose, of paying attention, and of believing in loving kindness resonate because she’s such a fine, fine writer.  This is for everyone. If you loved Here if You Need Me, you’ll find the same hope-filled philosophy here.  Carpe diem!  G, SF/BC
*Skloot, Rebecca, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, told in simple language, the book explains the science involved in cell research and exposes the way a poor black woman was (mis)treated in the colored wards at Johns Hopkins.  Riddled with cancer, she was sent home for the cells to grow then after her death her cells were harvested without her family’s knowledge.  Her “immortal” cells multiplied exponentially and they’ve been used in research that led to the polio vaccine and the study of viruses, cancers and the effect of the atom bomb.  “Hela” cells were used by everyone and they were anonymous until Skloot exposed this and the suffering of the Lacks family. SN/BC
Smith, Patti, Just Kids tells the story of Smith, the artist and punk rock star when she met and fell in love with Robert Mapplethorpe.  They were young, just kids, and they lived and loved together. The people they knew and the way they grew, changed and became artists is a window into a turbulent time. G
*Taylor, Natalie, Signs of Life: a memoir, when 24-year-old Taylor is pregnant with her first child, her husband dies in an accident. This is her journey through her grief and becoming a mother without her beloved Josh. She writes as if she’s in the room telling her story. It’s set apart because she’s a high school literature teacher and she learns from each of the classics as she teaches them. Readers will love thinking about these familiar characters in new ways.  It’s poignant and surprisingly humorous.  GPR
Whitaker, Mark, My Long Trip Home tells the first African American editor of Newsweek’s (now managing editor of CNN Worldwide) story. Whitaker’s father was the first African American to earn a PhD in politics from Princeton and his white mother grew up in France and Africa in a missionary family.  She and her five sisters were sent to the US when the Nazi’s took control of Vichy France then she returned to become a professor at Swarthmore where she met her husband. SN, GPR/BC
Zuckoff, Mitchell, Lost in Shangri-La is a true story that seems like fiction. This adventure story features a plane crash in a remote area of New Guinea at the end of World War II. The actual journals, logs and photos really add to the telling. SN
©Copyright November, 2011 by Trina Hayes
]Letters after each selection designate the book as G: Gourmet (exquisite writing, requires concentration), GPR: Grandma’s Pot Roast (books that  get your attention and stick with you), GS: Grits (evocative of the American south), CC: Chinese Carryout (page-turners, great for plane rides),  PBJ: Peanut Butter and Jelly (children’s and young adult books adults will like), S: Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet (satire, irony, black humor, acquired taste), SF: Soul Food (spirituality, theology, books for your soul), SN: Super Nutrition (lots of information, yet tasty as fresh blueberries), T: Tapas (small bites including short stories, essays and poetry), D: Desserts (chick-lit, delightful indulgences), The letters BC denote books that would be good for book clubs.  The fiction section is divided into three categories: general fiction, mysteries and thriller, and children’s and young adult books.