The Annual Book List - 2015

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Hungry for Good Books?
©Copyright November 30, 2015 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 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), 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 the last year unless noted.                 ‘
General Fiction

*Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi, Americanah spectacularly evokes the immigrant experience through the eyes of Ifemelu, a NAB or non-American Black, who blogs about race in the U.S. then returns to life in Nigeria. The novel is magnificent, offering numerous insights, yet it’s also pure story and a compelling page turner. This must read is as entertaining as it is informative. G/SN, BC (2013)
+#Allende, Isabel, The Japanese Lover, wonderful book, terrible title. A wealthy artist moves into a progressive nursing home where an immigrant young woman haunted by her past learns of the artist’s love of a Japanese gardener. Allende hits all the high notes in this novel of separation, loss, anxiety, and love that conquers all. The ending is absolutely spot-on perfect. G/SN, BC
+#Atkins, Jeannine, Little Woman in Blue is an enchanting novel that embeds the reader in the life of Louisa May Alcott’s sister May. May, an accomplished artist and a contemporary of Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, comes alive in Technicolor in this delightful tome. GPR/PP/SN, BC
+#Backman, Fredrik, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is a fanciful tale that reminds us that stories matter, that children often see what’s most important and that suspending belief can be the right thing to do. Precocious Elsa’s grandmother is her best friend and when she dies, Elsa is bereft. Her grandmother’s friends help her cope in this tender, yet droll novel. GPR/SF, BC
#Barrows, Annie, The Truth According to Us is a clever romp seen primarily through12-year-old Willa’s eyes as she views her family and their small 1938 West Virginia town. It’s Barrow’s first adult novel since she co-authored The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society.  “Guernsey” fans will enjoy the setting, the way families protect each other, and the romantic tension. D/GS/PP/SN
+Bivald, Katarina, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend will be published in the U.S. in January, 2016. A Swedish bookseller arrives in Iowa to learn that the woman she’s visiting, her pen pal whom she’s never met, has just died. She reluctantly stays on in the quaint town that seems like Brigadoon. The residents try to find her a husband and she helps the town survive in this sweet charmer. GPR
+Brelinski, Val, The Girl Who Slept with God, It’s 1970 and 17-year-old Grace returns from a missionary trip to Mexico pregnant and certain she’s bearing God’s child. Her eccentric family buys an isolated house and moves Grace and her 13-year-old sister, Jory, there for the pregnancy’s duration. New neighbors and public school for Jory change their lives. Told from Jory’s point-of-view, this quirky tale soars. GPR/S, BC
Brooks, Geraldine, The Secret Chord, Brooks’ portrayal of King David is awash in bloody battles, conniving brothers, manipulative wives, and raping and pillaging “heroes.” It’s disorienting and difficult to read because Brooks uses transliterated names for Schlomo (Solomon), Shmuel (Samuel), Yishai (Jesse), and others. Depicting Yonatan (Jonathan) and David as lovers will surprise some. PP
+Butler, Nickolas, Beneath the Bonfire is a testosterone packed group of stories that would be a great gift for any man who likes hunting, fishing, and male bonding as much as reading fine literary treasures. G/T
+Ford, Richard, Let Me be Frank with You contains four linked novellas depicting Frank Bascombe of Ford’s Pulitzer Prize winner Independence Day trilogy in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Always a philosophizing, dry-witted skeptic, Frank is now 68 and contemplating the big picture.  GPR/T
+Fox, Lauren, Days of Awe Isabel’s best friend has died, her husband has moved out, her mother wants to fix her up, and her ten-year-old daughter is angry with her. Fox’s exploration of relationships is spare, witty, and real. Isabel’s mother wants her to find the kind of man who’d “hide her in an attic.” Fox’s writing about their relationship and what it means to be Jewish during the high holy days resonates. GPR, BC
+#Genova, Lisa, Inside the O’Briens is a joy-filled page-turner of a novel about a family confronting the diagnosis of a fatal, hereditary disease. That isn’t an oxymoron because the well-developed, genuine characters, the keen insight into the working of the brain, and an emotional resonance that rings true make this a winner. Yes, it’s a little heavy on fighting for the disease, but it’s still wonderful.  GPR, BC
+#George, Nina, The Little Paris Book Shop, Stick with The Little Paris Bookshop as it takes time to build and its early romantic scenes are cumbersome. It’s an ode to the healing power of reading, travel, food, humor, forgiveness, and love. Booklovers and Francophiles won’t be able to resist its charm. GPR/SF,
+Gilbert, Elizabeth, The Signature of All Things mixes historical fiction and evolutionary science in a rip-roaring, Dickensian tale of the nineteenth century. G/SN, BC (2013)
*Groff, Lauren, Fates and Furies, Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite, an aspiring actor, is the hero of the “Fates” half of the novel as is reflected in his nickname. When acting doesn’t work, he becomes a famous playwright. His wife, the enigmatic Mathilde, reveals herself in the “Furies” section as she copes with grief and plots malevolent revenge. The characters, the underlying connection to Greek mythology, and the words, oh, the magnificent words, of this novel show why it’s on every best-of-the-year list.  G, BC
#Gruen, Sara, At the Water’s Edge is a disappointing, frothy World War II romance featuring a gruff war hero, caricatured, hardworking Scots, and two American wastrels hiding from their lack of gumption and honesty while accompanied by a naive American girl in Scotland in search of the Loch Ness Monster. The predictable story line and one-dimensional characters won’t please Gruen’s readers. CC/PP
+#Hannah, Kristin, The Nightingale is a World War II story that goes beyond the usual rehashing of history. “In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”  Hannah’s tale of a young woman who led many soldiers out of occupied France along with the stories of women who saved Jewish children and hid downed airmen reveals what people can do to survive. If you don’t shed a tear or two at the end, you might need a new heart.  GPR/PP/ SN, BC
*#Haruf, Kent, Our Souls at Night is one joy-filled ride. Addie, a widow, visits Louis, a widower, and asks if he’d consider sleeping with her occasionally. She wants to talk, to fight the loneliness.  She isn’t asking for sex, just companionship against the darkness. Set in small-town Holt, Colorado, where Haruf’s other spare, eloquent novels, lived, Our Souls is a legacy that Haruf bequeaths on his readers. He wrote this last novel as he lay dying and it reflects the pureness of his life. Just read it.  G/GPR/SF, BC
+#Hetrick, Tammy Flanders, Stella Rose asks her best friend Abby to assume custody of her daughter, Olivia after she dies. Abby moves to rural Vermont to rear Olivia, a grieving, willful teenager. The book is partly an epistolary novel with a narrative thread sewn with the letters and gifts that Stella leaves for Abby and Olivia to open every month in the year following her death. Romance and unexpected twists make this more than a predictable romp. GPR, BC
+Hooper, Emma, Etta and Otto and Russell and James, Emma is in her early 80s. She has a few memory problems so when she packs a rifle and a bag and sets out to walk to see the ocean because she’s never seen it, it’s disconcerting. She leaves husband Otto with a stack of recipe cards to feed himself and heads off from her Saskatchewan farm to walk EAST over 2000 miles toward the Atlantic. When Etta meets James, a singing coyote, we realize this isn’t your average novel. This is reinforced when Russell, Etta and Otto’s friend, goes to find Etta and wanders off on his own quest. Lovely prose makes this sing. G, BC
Horan, Nancy, Under the Wide and Starry Sky is the author of Loving Frank’s homage to Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife Fanny. Their passionate relationship and her devotion to his health and writing show a woman far beyond her time. Their time spent in Samoa and on endless sea journeys and their days in France will entertain historical fiction fans. GPR/PP, BC (2014)
+Hornby, Nick, Funny Girl is a warm, laughter-filled romp with heft. Barbara is named Miss Blackpool but she resigns to move to London in 1965 with hopes of becoming the next Lucille Ball. She becomes Sophie Straw, Britain’s favorite sit-com star, and her growth and that of her work family – her co-star, producer, and writers chronicle the country’s social changes. Producer Dennis is the soul of the novel and Sophie is a determined, smart, and delightful woman. D/GPR
Jonasson, Jonas, THE100-YEAR-OLD MAN Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is a sometimes funny, often eccentric jaunt à la Forrest Gump. While I enjoyed parts of it. My husband and I found it overly long and repetitive. Most of the women in one of my book clubs enjoyed it though. OC/S
+Joyce, Rachel, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is a companion to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It tells the story of Harold’s trek through the eyes of Queenie as she awaits his arrival. Queenie may be dying, but her sense of humor is intact. Harold Fry fans will relish this. GPR, BC
Kirman, Robin, Bradstreet Gate is an unsuccessful glimpse into the lives of a group of Harvard students whose classmate was murdered just before their graduation. The characters aren’t memorable and the mystery of how Julie Patel died isn’t explored sufficiently. The addition of a dotcom that may violate privacy issues comes out of nowhere and goes no further. OC
*#Laurain. Antoine, The Red Notebook, This is the light, intelligent romance we all want when we need a lift. Laure is mugged outside her Paris apartment. Laurant, a bookseller, finds her abandoned purse. It has no phone or ID – just a small red Moleskine notebook filled with handwritten thoughts. Laurent attempts to find the owner in this quintessential French tale that fans of The Elegance of the Hedgehog and the movie Amélie will adore. It’s elegant, charming, and I’m already casting the film in my mind. D/GPR/T, BC
+#Leary, Jan English, Thicker Than Blood details the turbulent life of Andrea, a white, single woman, who fosters, then adopts Pearl, an African-American child abandoned at a Chicago church. Pearl’s stormy teen years threaten to destroy their relationship and perhaps more. This book asks many questions about identity, love, family, sisters, motherhood, race, economics, adoption, idealism, and control.  Leary’s use of food and eating as a coping mechanism and a way of seeing people is profound. GPR/SN, BC
+Lee, Harper, Go Set a Watchman isn’t a magnum opus like Lee’s Mockingbird, but reading it provides a realistic glimpse of 1955 Alabama and the unease of the South after Brown vs. the Board of Education meant changing a way of life. Written before Mockingbird, it also shows Lee’s growth and the importance of a good editor. I’m glad I read it to see Lee’s process and I recommend it to book clubs for a timely discussion of race. Over thirty people at my church used the novel as the impetus to talk candidly about the continuing impact of the attitudes of the 1950s today. GS, BC
+McCoy, Sarah, The Mapmaker’s Children, Eden, who’s tried to conceive for years, discovers a porcelain doll’s head in the root cellar of her home. This leads to the story of abolitionist John Brown’s daughter Sarah who hid Underground Railroad maps within her paintings. The interweaving of their stories offers new definitions of bravery, family, and love. GPR/PP/SN, BC
+#McEwen, Ian, The Children Act depicts British family court judge Fiona Maye as she wrestles with the case of a bright 17-year-old boy whose refusal to accept a blood transfusion due to his Jehovah’s Witness beliefs will most likely lead to his painful death unless the court intervenes. The troubles in her marriage and her sadness at being childless along with McEwen’s brilliant writing lift this above the usual such cases. It’s rare when a novel you want to read in one sitting is so powerful. G/SN, BC (2014)
*#McLain, Paula, Circling the Sun, McLain, the author of The Paris Wife, offers a compelling portrait of aviator Beryl Markham. Lions, poisonous snakes, planes, love affairs, and fine writing offer a view of a woman who did things 100 years ago that few of us would attempt today. Pure delight! GPR/PP/SN, BC
+Moore, Meg Mitchell, The Admissions, Angela is valedictorian of her class and has applied only to Harvard, her dad Gabe’s alma mater. Mom, a realtor, worries constantly about family, sales, money, etc. Middle daughter Cecily who’s usually happy is troubled and youngest daughter, Maya, a second grader, still can’t read. Mom blames herself for Maya’s problems but can’t say why. The “perfect” family’s secrets may derail their Marin County façade in this wry, ingenious tale of what it means to keep up. D/S, BC
#Morton, Kate, The Lake House (See Mysteries and Thrillers)
+Odell, Jonathan, Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League (A new rendering of The View from Delphi), is similar to The Help only in its portrayal of 1950s women in a small Mississippi town. Miss Hazel is more realistic and shows the part African-American maids played in the civil rights struggle. Hazel is white, privileged and has “issues.” Vida is black, poor, and ignored since her father is no longer the darling of the elite. Both have lost a child and when Hazel’s husband hires Vida to care for his surviving son and to watch the ailing Hazel, the women end up changing their community. Based on Odell’s life, it rings true. GPR/GS/PP, BC
*Offill, Jenny, Department of Speculation is inventive and clever: a new universe, a new way of exploring life in words. The wife and the husband share an over-the-top love and marriage until they don’t. So many random, seemingly unrelated speculations together form a cohesive, literary triumph.  You can read this in one two-hour setting but you’ll want to set it down, take a walk, ponder, then return to Offill’s intricate world of desire, fear, connection, disintegration, and life’s rhythmic pace. Wow! G/T, BC (2014)
+#Ohanesian, Aline, Orhan’s Inheritance, Orhan inherits a family business in a small Turkish village. He soon learns of its connection to an 87-year-old Armenian woman living in a California retirement home. Seda’s story reveals secrets of the Armenian genocide in a novel that illuminates the actions of compassionate people in untenable times. GPR/PP/SN, BC
*Ozeki, Ruth, A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth, a Japanese-American novelist, finds teenage Nao’s diary when it washes up near her British Columbia home. Alternating chapters delineate Ruth and Nao’s lives which feature time as a concept and being “other” as a connection. Nao’s grandmother, a Buddhist nun, offers life lessons and serenity. Readers looking for a challenge and those willing to read some tough bullying scenes will embrace the power of this masterpiece. Book clubs could talk for hours and not cover most of the questions this novel makes you ponder. G/S, BC (2013)
+Payton, Brian, The Wind is Not a River, Journalist John Easley is trapped behind enemy lines during the Japanese invasion of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands during WWII. His wife Helen joins the USO and heads to Alaska to find him. This is both a beautiful love story and a tale of the horrors of war. Great descriptions and a haunting story will appeal to men and women. GPR/PP, BC (2014)
+Rosen, Renée, Dollface: a Novel of the Roaring Twenties, Vera grew up with nothing, but her life changes when she begins dating a Chicago gangster. All’s well until she falls for a rival gangster and the stakes are high. Murders, corruption, Al Capone, and more give a picture of the times. GPR/PP (2013)
+Rosen, Renée, What the Lady Wants is for Chicagoans, especially those that miss Marshall Fields. This tale depicts the rebuilding of Chicago after the 1871 fire. It shows Marshall Field’s determination and the lives of Chicago’s gilded movers and shakers. Primarily though it depicts his romance with Delia Caton.  Chicago book clubs should discuss this in the Walnut Room or after a Glessner House tour. PP/SN, BC
+#Rosen, Renée, White Collar Girl captures 1950s Chicago life and politics under the new Daley machine. Jordan Walsh is a young reporter for the Chicago Tribune who yearns to escape the “society” pages for real news especially the graft and corruption of the city. Her boyfriend is jealous of her success, she gets little support from her family, and her inexperience causes her to make some consequential errors.  Chicagoans will devour this as they revisit Riccardo’s, the Berghoff, and other places Rosen evokes perfectly. D/GPR/PP/SN, BC
+Sanmartin Fenollera, Natalia, The Awakening of Miss Prim builds slowly and deliberately as it examines Prudencia Prim’s entrance into a small European town whose residents have intentionally escaped the modern world. Fans of Chocolat and The Elegance of the Hedgehog will appreciate the pace and aura. Will Prudencia find romance or will she escape the town for a more realistic life? GPR/SF, BC (2013)
Schumacher, Julie, Dear Committee Members is a droll, witty, short epistolary novel.  I love droll, witty, short epistolary novels, but this one’s repetition became tedious as the main character fell into depression, and I surprisingly grew less sympathetic. As a tired English professor pens recommendation letter after recommendation letter for graduate school fellowships, summer work, and full-time jobs having nothing to do with his academic area, he ruminates about the lack of respect his department has and the numerous insults he’s heaped on colleagues over the years. It’s extremely clever but after a while, this reader wearied of his problems even though I appreciated the author’s skill in sharing them. S
+#Scotton, Christopher, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth  Fourteen-year-old Kevin’s brother is dead and his mother “had folded into herself” so they go to her Kentucky hometown where her father, “Pops,” works to heal them. But the coal industry wants Pops land and evil threatens. If you enjoyed the mystical landscape of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, the Southern gothic feel and characters in Ron Rash’s Serena, or watching a town and a boy fight evil in Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind Than Home, then The Secret Wisdom of the Earth will have you holding your breath as you make it down the mountain alongside these authentic characters. It’s a debut novel and there are some credibility-defying actions so the book isn’t perfect but it’s quite simply an old-fashioned good read. GPR/G/GS, BC  
*Silver, Marisa, Mary Coin is a page-turning story based on Dorothea Lange’s iconic “Migrant Mother” photograph. Silver bases characters on Lange, another photographer, and an imagining of the mother in the photograph. Silver’s experience and training as a film director and short story writer make this a colorful story in which each person’s story adds to the whole. There’s so much to discuss about ethics, art, women, poverty; it’s a must for book clubs.  GPR /PP, BC (2013)
+#Sloan, Lynn, Principles of Navigation is a stunning photograph of a marriage that debut novelist Sloan develops before
your eyes. Fall into the lives of two broken, imperfect individuals and stick with them as they find new ways to navigate the lives they’ve created so they can become whole. It’s an evolving image of an unconventional family that would make a great book discussion. G, BC
*#Smiley, Jane, Some Luck tells one family’s distinctly American story from 1920 through 1953. It’s the first installment in Smiley’s “hundred years” trilogy. Each short chapter covers one year and those years show the birth of children and grandchildren, the depression’s effect on farm families, losses in war, and the different manifestations of love. The title is stated on Walter and Rosanna’s first child Frank’s birthday when his Granny replies to his father’s remarks about his birth.  “That was a piece of luck Walter,” said Granny. “But what would we do without some luck after all.” And there is some luck involved as family members die or survive incidents that could have ended either way. I love the distinct personalities of the children and enjoy Rosanna’s take on them. I’ve heard readers bemoan the absence of the great “linear” novel, one that tells a fine story without convoluted lapses into other realms. Here it is friends and it’s a winner. G/GPR, BC
+Stradel, J. Ryan, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a fast-paced, wry, romantic tale with a very unusual twist and extremely clever writing that makes the puzzle parts come together surprisingly. Eva’s perfect palette and her love of food lead to some unlikely connections best left to the reader to discover. S
*#Toews, Miriam, All My Puny Sorrows is a wise, ironic, unsettling, dark, original tale based on Toews’ family. Sisters Elf and Yoli grew up in a small Mennonite community in Manitoba. Now Elf is a world-renowned concert pianist and Yoli seems like a screw-up but it’s Elf who wants to kill herself and her latest attempt pulls their family apart. If you like literary novels with distinctive voice, read this. G/SN, BC
*#Tyler, Anne, A Spool of Blue Thread is Anne Tyler at her best – subtly mirroring our lives. Some critics call it the best novel of the year and others find it predictable. I adored the predictable rhythm of family life. The Dowager Queen of the ordinary offers a novel that helps us understand the people inhabiting our own worlds. The enchanting ending proves that you can go home again. G/GPR, BC
*#Urrea, Luis Alberto, The Water Museum made me laugh, cry, and ponder, Snippets from it keep invading my thoughts about immigration, assimilation, love, grief, and community. Urrea’s imagery, heart, and brilliant writing make this a must read, but I beg you DO NOT READ THIS BOOK; LISTEN to Urrea tell you these stories in his whimsical, emotional, powerful voice. Earphone Award winner, G/RT, BC
+Walsh, Genanne, Twister, Genanne Walsh is a word alchemist. Her vivid tornado descriptions raised the hairs on the back of my neck and transported me to my teens when a twister came near my town. Centered on the residents of a small Midwestern town after the death of a young soldier who left for war, the tale reveals the earlier lives of the townspeople awaiting a coming tornado. This deliberately paced story makes the air crackle with foreboding. G, BC
+#Ware, Libby, Lum is a captivating novel about outsiders, race, a little-known part of our history, and the power of self-acceptance and resilience. Lum portrays the people of rural Virginia’s mountains during the Great Depression when the new Blue Ridge Parkway both threatens farmland and offers opportunity. Lum, a 33-year-old woman with an intersex condition, lives with relatives and is treated as a servant, but when the Parkway comes, the life of this engaging woman who seems to have no place of her own, soars. Ron Rash, Lee Smith, and Wiley Cash readers will love this debut Southern voice. GPR/GS/PP, BC
+Yoon, Paul, Snow Hunters is a quiet meditation on war. Yohan defects from his country at the end of the Korean War and ends up living in Brazil. His connection to four people changes him. The book is short and spare with no unnecessary words so the simplicity of Yohan’s life shines through. G/T, BC (2013)

Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers
+Cleave, Paul, Trust No One tells the unsettling story of Jerry, a crime writer diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, who may actually have committed the crimes he described in his novels. Did Jerry kill or is someone else using his illness to murder?  Jerry’s tale spins from first to second to third person narration leaving the reader both uncomfortable and yearning for more. It’s a clever trick and the ultimate use of an unreliable narrator by the Edgar Award finalist and New Zealand author. CC
Disabato, Catie, The Ghost Network is a brilliant work. Molly Metropolis, a Lady Gaga-like star, is missing and clues abound in unlikely Chicago places. Disabato sets up an elaborate framework of red herrings and strange characters that dazzles. I love the way the novel mocks our obsession with stardom and missing persons, yet the imaginative, intricate plotting interfered with the narrative and my emotional connection. S
*George, Elizabeth, A Banquet of Consequences brings my favorite characters Barbara Havers and Inspector Lynley together again and reintroduces the ingenious Detective Sgt. Nkata. A suicide by the son of an annoying assistant to a prominent feminist author is at the center of a possible murder. Havers is on probation and must prove herself or be posted to the hinterlands. George is back in form in this one. CC
*Hawkins, Paula, The Girl on the Train, Rachel, an alcoholic who’s lost her job, continues commuting on the train to “work” so her roommate won’t know she’s unemployed. She fixates on a couple she sees living near her former home and after the wife of the couple disappears, Rachel inserts herself into the case. The novel slowly reveals secrets and clues as the line between love and obsession blurs. This novel is as good, as surprising, and as engaging as everyone says. CC/S
*#Johnston, Tim, Descent, Caitlin’s brother crashes his mountain bike on a remote Colorado road. Caitlin accepts a ride to call for help and isn’t heard from again. As brother Sean recovers from his wounds, their family slowly disintegrates. Then a clue to finding Caitlin leads to one of the most thrilling endings I’ve ever read. Descent mixes poetic words, heart-rending action, courageous exploits, superhuman survival tactics, fear, and hope. I couldn’t put it down. GPR, BC
+#Kasischke, Laura, Mind of Winter chronicles one Christmas day in a suburban home. Holly and Eric oversleep. Eric gets stuck in a blizzard picking up his parents and their daughter is still in bed. Holly behaves bizarrely and something is off kilter. This searing psychological thriller’s shocking conclusion will have you returning to the first page to figure out the puzzle. You can’t put this one down, CC, BC (2014)
+Matthews, Jason, Red Sparrow, Matthews, a former CIA officer, introduces Dominika Egorova, a Russian intelligence agent and Nash, the US handler of a Russian mole. It’s superb. CC/SN (2013)
+McKenzie, Sophie, You Can Trust Me, Livy is certain that her best friend, Julia, didn’t commit suicide, but when she investigates, she thinks the man who murdered Julia may be the same one who killed Livy’s own sister eighteen years previously. The evidence points toward someone close to her family. Is there anyone Livy can trust now? This suspense-filled thriller also offers a great tale of love, trust, and friendship in a winning package. CC
+McMahan, Jennifer, The Night Sister is a novel about shape-shifting monsters that may be a part of a family that owns a motel resembling the Bates Motel. One sister’s letters to Alfred Hitchcock offer a shrewd way of introducing information. Lovers of the horror genre will devour this ingenious novel. CC
+#Milchman, Jenny, As Night Falls is a thriller featuring an evil prison escapee and his over-sized fellow inmate who break into a remote hilltop home to seek refuge and get supplies to trek to Canada. But much more lurks under the surface as the homeowners try to save themselves. McLean, the sweet dog in the book, is named in honor of Edie, the wonder dog, who reigns at one of my favorite places, McLean & Eakin Books in Petoskey, MI. CC/GPR, BC
+Milchman, Jenny, Ruin Falls Liz and Paul Daniels live green on their organic farm. Paul, a professor, takes environmentalism very seriously and Liz follows his lead. On their way to visit Paul’s parents, they stop at a hotel and when Liz wakes her children have disappeared and soon Paul is gone too.  Liz soon learns that she knows very little about Paul, but she won’t let that stop her from finding her kids. Paul’s eco-terrorism and the uncertainty of his parents’ knowledge make this thriller work. CC
#Morton, Kate, The Lake House isn’t my favorite of the prolific writer’s tales, but intriguing characters, a Downton Abbey-like setting, and clever twists will capture Morton fans from the novel’s beginning. Numerous plot lines interfere with the flow and the ending seems built on too many coincidences, but Morton still knows how to deliver a good, if perhaps just a tad too long, story. Lush descriptions of The Lake House gardens should inspire readers to visit the spectacular Cornish coast. GPR/OC/PP, BC
+Moshfegh, Ottessa, Eileen is eerily dark. Eileen is a strange character. Would you keep a dead mouse in your glove compartment? Eileen does. Eileen follows the trend of twisted characters seen in Gone Girl, Mind of Winter, and Girl on the Train. This novel is grotesque, haunting, gothic, and thoroughly gripping. Moshfegh’s mastery of character and plot is superb. S/G, BC
*Penny, Louise, The Nature of the Beast is spot-on Louise Penny. When a 9-year-old boy is murdered after telling a tale of a monster wielding a massive gun he’s seen in the woods, Inspector Gamache finds his quiet retirement disturbed. Penny ties things together with the Biblical Yeats lines “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” Penny’s ingenious plotting and ability to get to what’s inside each character make this exploration of evil a triumph. G, BC
+Scherm, Rebecca, Unbecoming is tough to categorize. Is it a mystery or literary fiction with a crime in it? Grace, a nice Southern girl, plans an art heist from a local historic house. Her co-conspirators go to prison and she’s working in Paris as an art restorer. A touch of Hitchcock makes this an inventive debut. CC

Peanut Butter and Jelly: Books for Children

*Applegate, Katherine, Crenshaw is an imaginary cat who comforts ten-year-old Jackson when his life is falling apart. Jackson’s dad has MS and has lost his job and his mother’s lost her job as a music teacher as well. Jackson and his sister are hungry. They may not have enough money for rent. Will they have to live in their minivan? This is an honest rendering of a real problem that shows that kids are resilient. Humor helps and it’s a winner. PBJ/SN, Ages 9 - 12
*Benjamin, Ali, The Thing about Jellyfish, After Suzy’s friend drowns, she convinces herself that a jellyfish sting must have caused the drowning and sets out to prove her hypothesis. Suzy’s poignant determination and intelligence will appeal to thinkers. It’s a touching ode to grief. NBA finalist PBJ/SF, Ages 10 and up
*Daywalt, Drew and Jeffers, Oliver, illustrator, The Day the Crayons Came Home is even better than its predecessor The Day the Crayons Quit. Postcards sent to Duncan from disgruntled and misplaced crayons will delight parents and children alike. PBJ, Ages 5 – 8
*#DeCamp, Alison, My Near-Death Adventures (99% True), Eleven-year-old Stan’s mother and grandmother cook for lumberjacks at a camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the late 1800s. When Stan learns that his father isn’t dead, things get interesting. Stan is hilarious and boys will love him. PBJ/PP, Ages 8 - 12
+Ellis, Carson, Home is a gorgeously evocative picture book reminiscent of Mary Ann Hoberman’s classic A House is a House for Me. I’d let a child tell me what the pictures say rather than reading the words although phrases like “Sea homes. Bee homes. Hollow tree homes” charmed me.  PBJ Ages 4 - 8
+Field, Edward and Blanc, Mike, illustrator, Magic Words from the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit is a gorgeous depiction of Inuit legends done in colored pen-and-ink renditions of fish, people and animals. PBJ/SN, Ages 4 - 9. (2013)
+Haily-Moss, Marian and Meredith, Lois, An Elephant Called Butterfly would be useful in a classroom unit on endangered species. Children could read it and spark a discussion before or after a visit to the circus or zoo, too. The message is heavy, but animal-loving kids will embrace it. PBJ/SN, Ages 9 - 12
*Henkes, Kevin, Waiting depicts figurines on a windowsill waiting to see what will happen next. Waiting is hard for all of us, but it’s especially difficult for young ones. This charmer will help. PBJ, Ages 3 – 6
*McDonnell, Patrick, Thank You and Good Night, Maggie hosts a pajama party for her bunny Clement and invites Jean, an elephant, and Alan, a bear. Adults will love McDonnell’s homage to favorite children’s literature characters and authors in this charmer that extolls friendship and gratitude. PBJ, Ages 3 - 6
*Miles, David W. and Hoopes, Natalie, illustrator, Book celebrates the extraordinary world of books in a radiant display of color and words that will resonate with preschoolers. You don’t need a password or have to worry about a virus with a book. PBJ, Ages 3 – 6
+Paquette, Ammi-Joan and Record, Adam, illustrator, Ghost in the House with its cumulative counting and charming rhymes is a story that’s perfect for Halloween story time without being sappy or scary. It never mentions Halloween so it could be read all year. Kids will love the sounds. PBJ, Ages 3 - 8
+Piluti, Deb, Bear and Squirrel are Friends so Bear would never eat Squirrel even though Bear’s friends say he’d “make a good midnight snack.” What might happen if Bear got really, really hungry though? Piluti’s illustrations perfectly complement a tale that kids, parents, and teachers will love. PBJ, Ages 4 - 8
*#Ryan, Pam Munoz, Echo is a wonder. It shows how music propels and enriches the lives of three children. Combining a magical fairy tale with 20th Century history, it’s a brass band, cymbal-clapping winner that ties the three tales together gloriously. PBJ/PP/SN, BC, Ages 10 - 14
+Schertle, Alice and McElmurry, Jill, illustrator, Little Blue Truck is a sweet read-aloud for the youngest set with great sounds and a colorful story of helping friends of all types. PBJ, Ages 0 – 3 (2008)
*Schmidt, Gary D., Orbiting Jupiter broke my heart. Joseph is a “bad” kid. He’s in eighth grade. He’s been in jail, assaulted a teacher, and fathered a daughter named Jupiter who he’s never seen. When sixth grader Jack’s family takes Joseph in as a foster child, most people think it’s a bad idea. A few teachers and Jack begin to see light in Joseph. Told in Jack’s straight-forward, calm voice, this never gets maudlin. Prepare for a good cry. PBJ, BC, Ages 10 - 14
*Spinelli, Eileen and Preston, Archie, illustrator, Thankful is a gentle story for Thanksgiving and beyond. “The waitress is thankful for comfortable shoes/The local reporter for interesting news. It’s a delightful read-aloud with lovely illustrations that will spark “thankful” conversations. PBJ, Ages 4 - 7
*Stead, Rebecca, Goodbye Stranger, Three seventh grade girls navigate friendship via their “No Fighting” rule. This book is profound, bighearted, humorous, and quite simply a winner. It also illustrates the dangers of innocent middle school-aged kids and their cell phones. PBJ/RT, Ages 10 and up
*Weeks, Sarah and Small, David, illustrator, Glamourpuss is sassy, clever, and a laugh-out-loud tale that should please any adult sharing it with a lucky child. Glamourpuss lives with the Highhorsen family and she’s special so when a trick-performing dog disturbs her reign, she isn’t happy. Princess lovers and all children will enjoy this romp. Parents and teachers will relish the expansive vocabulary. PBJ, Ages 3 - 6

Diet Coke and Gummi Bears: Books for Teens and Young Adults
*Arnold, David, Mosquitoland, Teenager Mim Malone’s world has fallen apart since her father and stepmother took her to Mississippi, which she calls “mosquitoland,” leaving her mother behind in Ohio. Mim is medicated and seeing a strange shrink because her Dad fears she’ll be crazy like her aunt. Hating her new life, Mim hops a Greyhound bus back to Ohio and along the way a group of strangers show her what life and friendship mean. Mim’s quirky personality makes her odyssey challenging, humorous, and perfect for bright, questioning teens. DC/S Ages 15 and up
*Benjamin, Ali, The Thing about Jellyfish, (See Peanut Butter and Jelly) Ages 11 and up
*Dessen, Sarah, Saint Anything  After Sydney’s brother Payton goes to prison for a drunk driving incident, Sydney transfers to a new school where she’s befriended by siblings Layla and Mack whose family struggles include running a pizza carryout business and taking care of their mother’s MS flare-ups. Sydney’s mother’s obsession with Payton leaves “good” Sydney unsupported emotionally. I loved this book. DC/RT, Ages 14 and up
+Forman, Gayle, I Was Here is a fine emotional depiction of depression and suicide.  The author of If I Stay and Where She Went expertly captures teen voice and truth. After Cody’s best friend Meg methodically kills herself, Cody packs up Meg’s dorm room to help her parents. Cody realizes that Meg hadn’t shared much about her life in college and wasn’t always the person Cody thought she was. Cody needs an explanation for Meg’s suicide and someone to blame especially after she sees that all Meg’s emails from the last six months are gone. Cody’s search leads her on a troubling journey. Teens looking for answers will find even more questions in this searing novel. DC, Ages 15 and up
*#Niven, Jennifer, All the Bright Places, Violet and Finch meet atop the school’s bell tower where Finch has contemplated jumping.  Violet is grieving her sister’s death and people misunderstand who helps the other down. A school project allows Finch to lead Violet to new experiences and they fall in love but complications ensue as Finch becomes enamored with all things “ultraviolet.”  This funny, real book made me want to hug my kids, eat carryout from Happy Chinese, go on a picnic, and remember that it isn’t what you take, it’s what you leave that matters.  DC/GPR, BC, Ages 15 and up
+Ottaviani, Jim & Wicks, Maris, Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas is a graphic novel that evokes the lives of Goodall, Fossey, and Galdikas in such an engaging manner that it should make adolescents yearn to become scientists. Chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans make this visual biography of three important women soar. DC/SN, Ages 12 and up (2013)
*#Reynolds, Jason and Kiely, Brendan, All American Boys blew me away. Two authors, one white and one black, tell this tale in alternating chapters from the point of view of two teens. Quinn is white and he sees his best friend’s older brother, a white cop, beat up a black kid outside a convenience store. Rashad is the black kid who was beaten and is hospitalized. He’s always been a model kid and now he’s the subject of protests. This is timely, eloquent, realistic, funny, and profound.  The characters don’t fit stereotypes and the writing alone makes it a winner. DC/GPR.SN, BC, Ages 12 and up
*Schmidt, Gary D., Orbiting Jupiter, (See Peanut Butter and Jelly) Ages 10 -14
*Stead, Rebecca, Goodbye Stranger, (See Peanut Butter and Jelly) Ages 10 and up

*Abood, Maureen, Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Fresh & Classic Recipes from My Lebanese Kitchen is sheer visual delight AND the recipes are unique. Every one I’ve tried has been delicious and has taught me new tricks to use with other ingredients. The zatar tomatoes are addictive, the simple baked eggs with spinach will make any weeknight soar, and the pistachio crusted whitefish is the best fish dish I’ve ever made. I love this book! Look at her website: then buy this book. SN/D
*Bolz-Weber, Nadia, Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, “God is there in the messy mascara-streaked middle of it, feeling as shitty as the rest of us.” Try to get your book club to discuss this profane, theologically astute wonder. Anyone pondering faith needs to read it. G/S/SF, BC (2014)
*Chast. Roz, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? deserves its many awards. This graphic novel/tragi-comic memoir tells of Chast’s parents’ refusal to discuss their own decline when they’re in their 90s. The term gallows humor could have been coined for her intimate, honest look at her parents and at her own reactions to their downward spiral. Chast’s drawings say it all. S/SN, BC (2014)
*#Coates, Ta-Nehisi, Between the World and Me is essential reading for everyone. Coates is a once-in-a-generation prophet. Written as a letter to his son, Coates addresses our racial inequities in gorgeous prose. People may disagree with him, but his passion and writing can’t be disputed. G/SN, BC
*#Dennis, Jerry and Wolff, Glenn, illustrator, A Walk in the Animal Kingdom: Essays on Animals Wild and Tame is a book you savor. You keep it on an end table and read a chapter at a time. If you’ve wondered why we both adore animals (our pets) and fear them (snakes) this book will answer your questions and renew your childhood curiosity, Both the perfect gift for the inquisitive kid and the learned adult, Dennis’s book packed with keen observations and magical, eloquent words that are complemented by Wolff’s intricate drawings form a package you’ll continually unwrap with delight. G/GPR/SN
*#Evans, Rachel Held, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, Reading this memoir is like being the honored guest at a banquet where the finest chefs have prepared your favorite foods. Evans’ journey to discover what church means and if there’s a place for her in it will make readers contemplate their own questions. Honest, insightful, humorous, and tender, this book takes you into the heart of a woman who gets that we need to respect and love each other. SF/GPR, BC
*Garten, Ina, Make it Ahead: a Barefoot Contessa Cookbook is worth purchasing for the Leek & Artichoke Bread Pudding and Ham Empanada recipes alone. I made a succulent, perfectly medium-rare standing rib roast on Christmas Eve and the bread pudding still stole the show.  It tasted just as wonderful when reheated two days later and we now have a new Christmas tradition that my family also chose for Easter. The tasty, original recipes found in this book allow the cook to enjoy the party without being exhausted or stuck in the kitchen while others socialize.  What a treat!  SN/D (2014)
Gillibrand, Kirsten, Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World is the New York Senator’s autobiography detailing her life in politics and as a wife and mother.  It’s sometimes self-serving and bland but when Gillibrand shares real moments like her use of colorful language, the fact that she was size 16 after putting on 50 pounds of post baby weight, and the way she and her girlfriends trade clothing when they go up and down in size, Gillibrand seems like someone I’d want for a friend.  Her stories of the people behind the bills she sponsored (Sexual Assault in the Military, 911) resonated. SN (2014)
+Harlan, Will, Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island, Carol Ruckdeschel, a self-taught biologist, hits the Georgia barrier island with hurricane force. Called the Jane Goodall of sea turtles, she’ll do anything to preserve the wilderness. Tussles with developers, the National Park Service, the Carnegie family, and wild critters make this a rip-roaring adventure. SN, BC (2014)
+Hodgman, George, Bettyville is a wryly poignant memoir of Hodgman’s life and his return to his small, Missouri hometown to care for his mother Betty. Hodgman, a gay man, whose parents never discussed his sexuality, shows the complicated love a son has for his willful mother. He also portrays the landscape of disappearing small towns and their churches, diners, and connections. When Hodgman worries that his mother needs more help than he can offer and that he needs to return to New York to work, his words resonate. “But I cannot leave. I will step up. In the morning, before the fog burns off, I will water the roses. I will get them through this summer. They will not wither on my watch.”  GPR/SF/S, BC
+#Ivy, J., Dear Father: Breaking the Cycle of Pain is the memoir of a hip-hop poet who learned to forgive and now leads workshops for kids so they can write their way out of their pain. I loved it.  SF/SN, BC
*#Link, Mardi Jo, The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance celebrates the long friendship of a group of strong-minded women. Read it and call a friend. GPR/RF/SF, BC
*#Loomis, Susan Herrmann, In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France made me smile, taught me several tricks, and had me feeling as if I were sitting at her table or accompanying her on treks to markets in Normandy. Reading this gem is pure joy. D/SN
*Macdonald, Helen, H is for Hawk lives up to the critics’ accolades. It’s a unique blend of nature writing, memoir, and literary contemplation in a perfect package. During the time after her father’s death, Macdonald adopted and trained a goshawk. Her use of T.H. White’s (author ofThe Once and Future King) book about training his own hawk add to the story. If you can, listen to at least part of this to hear Macdonald’s poignant, erudite voice. Whether you read or listen, it’s exquisite.  G/RT/SF/SN, BC
+#Manning, Molly Guptill, When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II  tells of the campaign to provide books to American soldiers in combat that led to printing a new kind of paperback book. Not only did this alleviate boredom it also helped prepare a generation of men for higher education under the GI bill as it showed why fighting an enemy that burned books was important. This is a moving and fascinating tale. It will make you want to (re)read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn too. GPR/SN, BC
Mazzeo, Tilar J., The Hotel on Place Vendome forfeits clarity for cleverness. What happened at the Hotel Ritz in Paris before, during and shortly after the German occupation should have been fascinating especially with a cast including Hemingway, Proust, Chanel, and Camus, but instead it’s tiring. Referring to characters by first name only may create intimacy, but it also forces the reader to turn backward to determine who Frank, Josée, or others are. Mazzeo’s indecision as to whether she’s writing history or for Entertainment Tonight results in a gossip fest with a few bright moments.  Don’t bother with this one. OC
+Mulgrew, Kate, Born with Teeth: A Memoir tells the tale of the actress who played Captain Janeway on Star Trek Voyager and is now “Red” on Orange is the New Black. Haunted by having given her daughter up for adoption when she was 22, Mulgrew shares how her unconventional, large, Irish Catholic family and her own ambitions made her the actress and woman she is. GPR
+Niequist, Shauna, Bread & Wine: a love letter to life around the table with recipes is a treat that reminds the reader to enjoy food, friends, and family. The joy of this book is that it shows how Niequist has learned from experience that life is sacred and best enjoyed when “present not perfect.” The bonus recipes will keep the host sane and they’re tasty. I’d like to give a copy to everyone age 25 – 45. GPR/SF, BC
Ottolenghi, Yotam, Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi is a sumptuous feast for the eyes. Many of the recipes may be difficult to recreate as the ingredients aren’t readily accessible but just looking at the pictures will make cooks want to do more with vegetables. SN
+Reichl, Ruth, Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table is Reichl’s wry memoir of growing up with a love of food that translated into her career as a chef, food critic, and Gourmet editor. GPR/S, BC (1998)
*#Stevenson, Bryan, Just Mercy:  A Story of Justice and Redemption is a book EVERYONE must read. Desmond Tutu calls Stevenson “America’s young Nelson Mandela” and John Grisham compared him to a living Atticus Finch.  Yes, he’s a crusader but he’s also a fine storyteller and his tales of the lives of those his group defends will touch your heart. GPR/SN/SF, BC (2014)
+Wickenden, Dorothy, Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West, portrays the barely settled northwestern portion of Colorado in 1912 when two single women ventured there to teach at a remote school for a year. Their growth provides a unique view of the times, women’s roles, and the changing western frontier. SN

+Wolff, Peggy, editor, Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers on Food pays homage to Italian beef, sweet corn, meat loaf, great desserts and more in this foodie delight. The recipes and stories range from comfort food to Gale Gand’s tribute to southern Indiana’s Capriole goat cheese which made me drool and race to Google sources. Whole Foods here I come.  D/GPR (2013)

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