The Annual Book Lists 2005 - 2009

Hungry for Good Books, August, 2005

After each selection, letters  designate the title as G:  Gourmet (perfectly written, requires concentration), GPR: Grandma’s Pot Roast (books that  get your attention and stick with you), CC:  Chinese Carryout (escape reading, great for plane rides),  PBJ: Peanut Butter and Jelly (kids books adults will like), S: Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet (acquired taste, satire, black humor), SF: Soul Food (theology, inspiration; books for your soul), SN: Super Nutrition   (lots of information, yet tasty as fresh blueberries), D: Desserts (sheer delights, chick-lit).  I’m writing a book about these designations..  I hope these categories help you select a book to fit your taste.   My fiction favorites this year were Broken for You, Child of My Heart, Deafening, Gilead, gods in Alabama, Ireland,  The Northern Lights, Rules for Old Men Waiting, Saturday, Shadow of the Wind, Turtle Warrior, and When the Empire was Divine.  In non-fiction, they were Being Dead is No Excuse, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, Freakonomics, On Writing, Plan B, Sea of Glory, Shadow Divers, and True Notebooks.. Asterisks * denote the favorites.

Ablow, Keith, Psychopath, The “Highway Killer” lures his victims into trusting him. He also corresponds with the forensic psychiatrist who’s trying to catch him in this page-turner with plausible characters and details. CC
Amick, Steve, The Lake, the River, & the Other Lake, a laugh-out-loud romp with quirky, real characters, black humor, some very sad problems, and a perfectly rendered resort community. It’s a fast read but you have to slow down to think at times. I adore the Von Bushburgers. Watch out; it has some X rated scenes.   S
Balliett, Blue, Chasing Vermeer, Petra and Calder, two 11-year-old U. of Chicago Lab School students, search for a missing painting and solve mathematical puzzles in this challenging, inventive mystery filled with twists. PBJ
Barr, Nevada, Deep South, a riveting mystery featuring District Ranger Anna Pigeon in a scary, moving tale of murder in Mississippi’s Natchez Trace where locals don’t want a woman to succeed. Excellent CC
Brandt, William, The Book of the Film of the Story of My Life, this hoot of a page-turner is a lusty, cinematic lark with a big heart. Frederick is a washed up 42-year-old New Zealander living in England. He decides to get his actress wife back by hiring a prostitute to pose as his lover at a posh South Pacific party. CC/S
Brooks, Geraldine, March, If you loved Little Women and wondered about Mr. March, this book imagines his life as a Civil War chaplain. Brooks used Louisa Mae Alcott’s father’s actual letters and journals. It’s a bit wordy. GPR
Buchan, Elizabeth, The Good Wife Strikes Back, a delectable, slightly satirical comedy of manners in which Fanny, the restless wife of a Member of Parliament, strikes back at her husband’s infidelities. D/CC
Buday, Grant, A Sack of Teeth, an amazing, spare, troubling, illuminating novel that hits you right in the solar plexus. Loraine, a young mother, finds her boarder, Antoine, dead. Because of his suicide, she learns many secrets of Antoine’s past and of her own life. This book compels the reader to ask if people can really change. G/GPR
Carter, Jimmy, The Hornet’s Nest, the former president’s first novel provides a view of the American south during the Revolutionary War. The love stories and differing philosophies make the war vivid.  SN/GPR
Chiaverini, Jennifer, The Master          Quilter, the fifth in a series of quilt mysteries is a delightful escape for those who delight in quilts and decorative arts. It even makes you think about the lack of respect for women’s art. CC
Coban, Harlen, Just One Look, Grace picks up photos of her kids, finds an old print of her husband among them, he disappears and the murders begin.  This is perfect for a long plane ride but not as good as his others. CC
*Delaney, Frank, Ireland,  an epic novel.  Ronan’s search for the storyteller who disappeared from his home in 1951 is packed with delectable Irish stories and history. The perfect gift for everyone on your list..  GPR/SN
DeMille, Nelson, The Lion’s Game, masterful suspense in an action-packed thriller with quirky, wise guy detective John Corey and his new FBI partner Kate Mayfield. Written in 2000, it presciently tells of terrorist horrors. CC
DePree, Traci, a can of peas, Peter and Mae move to the family farm. They face problems but love, faith, and a caring community shares their load.  It’s perfect for Mitford lovers. It made me laugh and cry.  GPR/SF
Ellis, Mary Relindes, Turtle Warrior, a wonderful, moving portrayal of abuse, love, Viet Nam, secrets, and the power and saving grace of reading. The narrative soars.  It begs to be discussed.  Choose it for your book club. GPR
Fowler, Karen Joy, The Jane Austen Book Club, a wryly observant comedy of manners featuring kindness and satire in a California book club. Read the Austen book review notes at the end before you read the book.  G
Gamble, Terry, Good Family, a good, tight story with meaning set in the resort community where I live in the summer evokes the land and people well. It explores the problems and secrets of an “old money” family. GPR
Gardam, Jane, The Flight of the Maidens, a Jane Austenish tale of 17-year-old girls in 1946 England who must grow up and leave home. A quiet, moving indictment of war and small-mindedness. Delightful G
Gardner, Lisa, The Killing Season, a serial killer takes two victims at a time in this mystery involving geology, botany, psychology, and a romantic twist. CC The Next Accident involves the death of special agent Pierce Quincey’s daughter and the setup to frame him. Great suspense.  Gardner always gives readers a good yarn. CC
Goldstein, Jan, All That Matters, a sweet tear-jerker involving Nana “Gabby” who forces her granddaughter Jennifer to recover from a suicide attempt while sharing the story of her own holocaust survival.  GPR
Gulley, Philip, A Change of Heart, another entry in the funny, sweet Harmony series. Just when Dale and the crew’s antics seem predictable, there’s a twist. Gulley flat out gets it, and grace abounds. CC/SF
Hagan, George, The Laments, this quirky, clever, ironic, yet poignant story tells of family woes in Africa, England and America as the strange group learns to become a family. It’s satirical yet moving. S
Haigh, Jennifer, Baker Towers, a plot-driven, literate saga with wonderful characters and setting. The mining town “wore away like a bar of soap” and the people had to cope. Her seamless writing carries the tale.  GPR
*Itani, Frances, Deafening, this Canadian prize winner is a tremendous, old-fashioned, breathtaking epic of love, war, and hope in the life of a deaf girl from the turn of the century through WWI.  She evokes sound and silence so that they feel a part of you.  The book illuminates the power of self and quiet strength. Hooray for Itani!  G/GPR
*Jackson, Joshilyn, gods in Alabama, from the very first sentence, this novel is pure delight packed with wisdom and caring, quirky characters.  Lena won’t go back to her hometown where secrets could ruin her life. Finally she returns with Burr, her strong, smart, stable, black boyfriend. It’s fast as lightening and has a great ending. GPR/D
*Kallos, Stephanie, Broken for You, an original, loving, exuberant, poignant wonder of a novel. When wealthy Margaret, who lives alone with her prized porcelains, learns that she has a brain tumor, she takes a boarder, the artistic Wanda into her mansion. Dreams, family secrets, and atonement come alive in this great novel. G/GPR
Kidd, Sue Monk, The Mermaid Chair, This is very different from The Secret Life of Bees.  The low country setting is evocative and Jessie’s story is intriguing and thought-provoking but I just didn’t care about the characters. CC/SF
King, Cassandra, The Same Sweet Girls, a women’s friendship book, Good old girls have met twice a year for 25 years since leaving college and they nurture each other through illness, losses, and loves.  D/GPR
Lahiri, Jhumpa, The Namesake, the expertly written story of a family’s assimilation into America as they leave Calcutta behind.  Lahiri’s writing is as beautiful as it was in Interpreter of Maladies. G
Lent, Jeffrey, In the Fall, an epic American saga of the Civil War, families, and guilt involving great characters beginning with a Vermont soldier who falls in love with Leah, a slave, through generations of their family. G
Lipman, Elinor, The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, a witty, smart, heartfelt story of a surgical intern who has the social skills of a rock. Slimy Ray, a salesman, pursues the hapless Alice and the writing makes this novel sing. GPR
Livesey, Margot, Banishing Verona, a slightly autistic house painter meets a pregnant radio personality in London and they fall immediately in love, or do they? O Henryish circumstances separate them in this fine novel. GPR/S
Lowry, Lois, Messenger, a utopian, young-adult novel, reprises Matty and Kira from Gathering Blue and the Leader from The Giver.  A sad but compelling and honest look at our need for kindness. PBJ
Machado de Assis, Joaquin Maria, The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas, this 19th century Brazilian classic is one of the most difficult novels I’ve ever read but the droll, ironic humor made greed and selfishness palpable. G/S
*McDermott, Alice, Child of My Heart, a small, charmingly perfect novel that will capture you immediately. Fifteen-year-old Theresa is a cross between Doctor Doolittle and Mary Poppins. Her summer with her young cousin turns an innocent world upside down. This book is a delicately carved, translucent cameo. G /GPR
McEwen, Ian. Saturday, in the hands of this masterful writer, a single day in the life of an English physician makes our post 9-11 world come alive.  It’s a page-turner but the beauty of the prose keeps you from flying through it.  It seems prescient in light of the London bombings yet it’s an old-fashioned tale of love and forgiveness. G
Michod, Alec, The White City, a novel of murder at the Chicago World’s Fair, Fans of The Devil and the White City should enjoy this murder mystery featuring a woman who’s a forensic psychologist. CC
Mills, Magnus, The Restraint of Beasts, This bizarre, black comedy, English satire about fence builders epitomizes the word droll.  Just who are the beasts and who should be restrained?   A fable of murder and mayhem. S
Mulhauser, Travis, Greetings from Cutler County, a novella and short stories related by their northern Michigan setting tell of life in a resort area as seen through the eyes of the young, uneducated, minimum-wage earners. The black humor and insight should appeal to readers under forty who like David Sedaris or Adam Haslett.  S
Noble, Elizabeth, The Reading Group, a yummy, witty novel of a British book club, the books they choose, and the interesting lives of its members. The books they read offer the bonus of new titles to try. GPR/D
*Norman, Howard, The Northern Lights, I loved the characters and setting in this coming-of-age novel set in the wilds of northern Canada and in Toronto. The language, the metaphors and the eternal truths told make this a fascinating book to discuss. A heartfelt first novel, it was a National Book Award finalist in 1987.  GPR/G
*Otsuka, Julie, When the Emperor Was Divine, this small novel depicts a family in a WWII Japanese internment camp. It’s spare, eloquent and evocative depiction of the children and their resolute mother is brilliant.  G
Paterson, Katherine, The Same Stuff as Stars, I love Angel who feels worthless as her father is in prison and her mother dumps her with her paternal grandmother. Soon she finds her own constant “North Star.”  The kind librarian and the mysterious stranger make this a good read for 8-12-year-olds and their parents.  PBJ
Perez-Reverte, Arturo, The Flanders Panel, a suspenseful, challenging, literate, urbane, and slightly disconcerting mystery in which Julia, an art restorer, finds a hidden inscription in an Old Master painting of a chess game. Then the murders begin.  Set in Madrid this novel is similar to the Da Vinci Code but is better written.  CC/G
Perrotta, Tom, Little Children, a great satire of suburbia, especially of play dates, parents who act like children, and NIMBY types who lose it when their perfect place is threatened.  Can thinking people survive?  S
Phillips, Susan Elizabeth, several people have asked me why I don’t read or review Phillips, the queen of romance, so I read two.  Match Me If You Can is pure fluff; Annabelle is a delightfully wacky 31-year-old matchmaker who improbably falls in love in this chick-lit escape.  Ain’t She Sweet  has boring sex and dreadful writing.  CC/D
*Pouncey, Peter, Rules for Old Men Waiting,  an exquisite, perfect, short novel filled with the beauty of love, art, war, and music seen through the eyes of a dying man who lists rules for his dying days as he writes a novella.  G
Price, Reynolds, The Good Priest’s Son, Mabry Kincaid can’t return to New York after 9-11 so he visits his father, a retired Episcopal priest. Interwoven stories and good characters overcome the philosophical rants. GPR
Reardon, Lisa, The Mercy Killers, a psychological murder mystery involving a Viet Nam vet’s return to friends and his past in Ypsilanti, MI. Lots of twists involving fear, love and respect elevate this above the typical. CC/S
*Robinson, Marilynne, Gilead, a dying small-town preacher tells of his life and that of his ancestors in a letter to his young son in this Pulitzer Prize winner. It reads like the Old Testament distilled into one Psalm that drifts gracefully into a loving ode. I adore the characters: foibles and all. G. Make sure you read or reread Housekeeping, Robinson’s 1980 classic of sisters who don’t fit in their small town where floods add to the parable-like story. The inner lives of each character are explored in language that forces to you to stop and ponder on every page. G
*Ruiz Zafon, Carlos, The Shadow of the Wind, a boy in 1945 Barcelona finds solace in a book and then learns that someone is burning everything the author wrote. This almost perfect novel begins slowly then BAM!  just like popcorn, things began exploding. It’s like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Umberto Eco and Dickens in one perfect package. I’ll reread this many times and I can’t wait to visit the places where Daniel walked. G/GPR
Russo, Richard, Straight Man, a satirical comedy of academia presented with pompous characters clashing with the good guys. Hank, the acerbic, wry department chair plays devil’s advocate in his personal and professional life even when there’s nothing to be gained. It’s a witty, yet kind, Russo take on average life. GPR/S
Salinger. J. D., Catcher in the Rye, the classic is a superb book club selection as reading about Holden as an adult is very different than reading it in high school. It’s slightly dated but asks many questions you’ll want to discuss. G
Shaffner, George, In the Land of Second Chances, a stranger arrives in a small, troubled town selling second chances in life. It’s thought-provoking yet simplistic. GPR
 Sharp, Matthew, The Sleeping Father,  Bernard, a divorced father, loses his job and then ends up in a coma. His recovery and the lives of his ironic, absurd family and friends are the focus of this poignant, strange tale. S
Shreve, Anita, Light on Snow, when they find a dying newborn in the snow, a father and daughter must rejoin society. Plot twists and interesting characters abound in this novel you’ll want to read in one sitting. GPR/S
Smith, Marin Cruz, Wolves Eat Dogs, Arkady Renko, the ironic detective in Gorky Park, returns in this mystery thriller set in the new Russia. The horrors of Chernobyl and the greed of the new billionaires are exposed in this tale of atonement, redemption and oddball behavior.  CC/GPR
Thom, James Alexander, Sign Talker, the story of George Drouillard, the French-Shawnee hunter who translated for Lewis and Clark from 1804-06.  It shows the journey and times from a different point of view. GPR
Tuck, Lily, The News from Paraguay, 2004 National Book Award Winner. In 1854, Franco woos Ella and takes her home with him. He becomes Paraguay’s dictator; she bears him five sons and writes back to Paris of their lives. The descriptions of the land and the birds as well as the craziness of the people make this a great novel.  G
VanTrease, Brenda Rickman, The Illuminator, evokes the period and you can’t put it down. Finn, a painter, and his daughter go to live at a widow’s manor where he’s illustrating a gospel in English. Romance, history, and abuses of the church and crown all make this thirteenth century tale work. The Christian message is strong. SF/GPR/SN
Walbert, Kate, The Gardens of Kyoto, Ellen tells a mesmerizing, quietly calm, haunting, yet entrancing reminiscence of her life in America during WWII. She uses the Kyoto Garden as a metaphor for her thoughts. G
Wells, Ken, Meely LaBauve, Junior’s Leg, and Logan’s Storm. form a trilogy of charming, clever novels set in the Cajun bayous where Meely, his father Logan, and Junior show love, forgiveness, evil, and redemption. CC/GPR
Wells, Rebecca, Ya-Ya’s in Bloom, I expected fun and fluff and got much more in this prequel/sequel to Little Altars Everywhere and The Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The twists and multi-dimensional characters are great. D/GPR
Willett, Jincy, Winner of the National Book Award, funny, dry, clever tale of two different sisters one of whom is awaiting trial for killing Conrad, a frightening writer. The characters’ voices ring true but the ending isn’t great. S
Wolfe, Tom, I Am Charlotte Simmons, a big, big book that reads very, very quickly. It’s filled with sex and profanity as it describes life at one of America’s toughest colleges in a satire that grabs your attention. S

The Bible, I reread it this year and got even more out of it than when I read it last year. Join a class to find companions for the journey. Reading it twenty times won’t be enough for the words and meaning to sink in. SF/G
*Hanff, Helene, 84, Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street., I could reread “84” a hundred times and still love the letters sent to and from Hanff and the English booksellers from 1949-1968. I just discovered the sequel of her trip to London in 1971 and I adored the charming view of the city, of books, and of her life. GPR
Karr, Mary, The Liars’ Club, this book made the childhood memoir genre popular and it evokes the horrors of growing up in a dying Texas town with an alcoholic mother. It’s poetic, funny, heart-breaking and loving.  Her father’s stories saved her and gave her a writer’s heart. Her phrasing and metaphors glow.  GPR
*King, Stephen, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Half of this book is King’s compelling autobiography and the rest features his advice on writing.  I recommend listening to it on audio as King tells the tale with joy and humor.  The paperback is a useful writing resource. It’s inspiring, funny, and makes a great graduation gift.  SN/GPR
Krakauer, Jon, Under the Banner of Heaven, Krakauer weaves the story of the murdering Lafferty family with the history of the Mormon Church and Mormon fundamentalism into a frightening depiction of strange people. SN
*Kurzon, Robert, Shadow Divers, two intrepid divers risk everything to solve the mystery of a German U-boat they discover off the New Jersey shore.  The incredible writing makes this suspenseful tale a masterpiece. SN/G
*LaMott, Anne, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith,  this Traveling Mercies sequel is vintage Annie yet many may not get past the first pages as she uses them to rant against George Bush. Stick with it though as she settles into wonderful thoughts on love, grace and redemption especially in telling of the man with the deformed face. SF/S
*Levitt, Steven and Dubner, Stephen, Freakonomics, an absolutely riveting page-turner that applies economic theory to explain why we behave as we do. The compelling treatises on crime, parenting and names made me stay up way beyond my bedtime. You may not agree with or like his findings but they’ll make you think. SN/CC
Lindvall, Michael, The Christian Life: A Geography of God, anyone new to Christianity and those who’ve been “practicing” it for years should read this profound book that sets God at the center.  Great for discussion. SF
McCullough, David, 1776, history comes alive particularly in the emphasis on the blunders made and of the part that weather played. It was good to see an unbiased picture of the British and to learn of some great men.  The Path Between the Seas is a fascinating, yet too detailed, look at the engineering and building of the Panama Canal. SN
*Metcalfe, Gayden & Hays, Charlotte, Being Dead is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral, an absolute hoot of a cookbook, side splittingly hysterical and packed with good recipes. D Philbrick, Nathaniel, Sea of Glory, the history of the voyage of the U.S. Exploring Expedition in 1840 started slowly then it caught wind and sailed. I loved learning of the men who commanded the vessels as they explored the world. I learned about history and science but the book felt like a fast-paced thriller. It’s exceptional. SN/G
*Salzman, Mark. True Notebooks, this might be the best audio book I’ve ever heard. Salzman tells the tale of his work teaching writing to inmates at the L.A. Juvenile Correction Facility. I cried and cried and smiled and sighed at the stories these boys told. This book is packed with wisdom, redemption, self-knowledge and lots of profanity. GPR
Seierstad, Asne, The Bookseller of Kabul, The author lived with Sultan Khan’s upper-middle class Afghan family and shares her view of their world.  The characters weren’t very likable but I learned more about the culture. SN
Turnbull, Sarah, Almost French, Sarah, an Australian TV journalist met Frederic in Bucharest and went to visit him in Paris for a week. She ended up staying and tells of expatriate life and love in France. A delight.  CC/GPR
Winter, Jeanette, The Librarian of Basra, this beautiful picture book and story (grades 1-3) blew me away. Its illustrations show the destruction of Iraq and the joy of peace. An epiphany for lovers of art and books.  PBJ

Hungry for Good Books, August, 2006
After each selection, letters  designate the title as G:  Gourmet (perfectly written, 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 (kids books adults will like), S: Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet (acquired taste, satire, black humor), SF: Soul Food (theology, inspiration; books for your soul), SN: Super Nutrition   (lots of information, yet tasty as fresh blueberries), D: Desserts (sheer delights, chick-lit).  I’m still writing the book about these designations and hope they help you select a book to fit your taste.  The letters BC denote books that are great for book clubs. information.  My fiction favorites this year were Abide With Me, The Book Thief, Digging to America, Knitting, The Known World, The Madonnas of Leningrad, Me and Emma, Never Let Me Go, On the Black Hill, Plum Wine, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, The Space Between Us, Things Fall Apart, An Unfinished Life, and The Whole World Over   In non-fiction, they were Between Two Worlds, Blink, Father Joe, The Glass Castle, Indians of Hungry Hollow, Leaving Church, The Living Great Lakes, Love in the Driest Season, The Tender Bar, and The Year of Magical Thinking.  Asterisks * denote favorites.

*Achebe, Chinua, Things Fall Apart, This story of Eastern Nigeria in 1900 is a classic because of its beautifully rendered metaphors of the land mixed with a concise, almost spare rendering of the plot. The sadness of Okonkwo, a traditional, self-made man, who must save his people, is tragic. Read it to better understand Africa. G/GPR, BC
Ali, Monica, Brick Lane, Nazneen, a teenage Bangladeshi village girl moves to London after her arranged marriage to Chanu who is twenty years her senior.  This exquisite first novel that was a Booker Prize finalist shows the lives of Muslims in London in ways that help us understand the world today.  Every page has a word gem I want to treasure and her simple, concise style makes the book sing. I felt the colors, smells, food, and isolation. G/BC
Aw, Tash, The Harmony Silk Factory, a literary mirage, mystery set in 1940’s Malaysia. The three parts show Johnny searching to find out who he is, as his wife Snow sees him, and as flamboyant, Englishman Peter Wormwood envisions him.  I saw him as a Malaysian Gatsby. GPR
*Bartlett, Anne, Knitting: A Novel, I adore this little novel of the knitting together of the lives of two broken women. It shimmers with insight into control as a way to keep from dealing with the issues that break us while featuring very quirky characters in an upside-down world.  It’s a first novel and I hope she’ll write more.  G/GPR, BC
Bland, Eleanor Taylor, A Cold and Silent Dying, Marti MacAlister is a black police detective in Lincoln Prairie (Waukegan), Illinois.  I loved her emphasis on the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on Gulf War veterans that comes through as she finds a killer. She shows the homeless as both victims and those who do the right thing. This series covers many issues while providing a good mystery CC
Cabot, Meg, The Princess Diaries, Mia, a teen, learns that she’s a princess. It’s better than the movie. PBJ/D
*Chatwin, Bruce, On the Black Hill, an amazing evocation of the early 20th Century on a small farm in Wales. The two brothers and the land were the main characters in this story of family life. G/GPR, BC
Cleage, Pearl, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, Ava leaves her flashy life in Atlanta to visit her sister in the African-American resort town of Idlewild in northern Michigan and her life begins to change more than it had since she became HIV positive. The sex and language may disturb but the insights are worth it. S/GPR
Clarke, Stephen, A Year in the Merde, It’s hard to remember that this  farce is fiction as it reads like a memoir of an Englishman who attempts to start a chain of English tea rooms  in Paris. S/CC
*Davis-Gardner, Angela, Plum Wine, Barbara is a young teacher in a small school in Japan in 1966 when she inherits a Tansu chest from her mentor. She follows its clues, falls in love, and learns about the horrors of Hiroshima and of the newly expanding war in Viet Nam. This wonderful romance highlights cultural differences. GPRBC
*Dean, Debra, The Madonnas of Leningrad, a sweeping, sensuous portrait of war, art, memory, hunger, grief, loss, and truth packed into a mesmerizing package. Marina packs away paintings in the Hermitage Museum before the Nazis invade. Her story intertwines with her current life in the U.S. where Alzheimer’s makes her past more real than her present.  I could see this book and live this book. I cherish it and will read it many times. Magnificent G/GPR, BC
Edwards, Kim, The Memory Keepers Daughter, A doctor delivers his own baby in a snowstorm and when an unexpected twin is born with Down’s syndrome he tells his wife the girl died. His nurse is ordered to take the baby to a home but she flees and raises her as her own. The repercussions provide much to think about and discuss. GPRBC
*Flock, Elizabeth, Me and Emma, Eight-year-old Carrie is a delightful, feisty, sweet, tough, and vulnerable girl who tells of life with her sister Emma. I read it straight through and the ending really grabbed me. GPRBC
Gaitskill, Mary, Veronica, a difficult novel about Alison, a teen model and her life in a world of drugs, alcohol, sex, and beauty. Her friend Veronica contracts AIDS and they care for each other. G/S
Gardner, Lisa, The Survivors Club, three women who survived rape are accused of having the rapist killed. Great forensic details, good characters, and compelling situations make this a wonderful escape. CC
Gibbons, Kaye, the life all around me by Ellen Foster,  I wanted more from this sequel to one of my favorite books but found it tedious and contrived.  Ellen’s voice was true but couldn’t save it. GPR
*Glass, Julia, The Whole World Over,  I adore Greenie, a Greenwich Village baker, and her son George as well as all their friends in this wonderful story of a woman so desperate for a positive change in her life that she moves to New Mexico to be the Governor’s chef. It’s a literate page-turner and is so much more accessible than her Three Junes.  When New York is attacked on 9-11, Greenie and her family must decide what’s important. G/GPR, BC
Gregory, Philippa, The Virgin’s Lover, I found this rendering of the life of Elizabeth I and her lover Robert Dudley to be overwrought.  For once, I’d rather watch the movie. CC/SN
Gutcheon, Beth, Leeway Cottage, Sydney and Lauren Moss’s Maine cottage is the keystone of this novel of an unusual marriage. Lauren, a Danish musician, is separated from his family during World War II and his sister suffers under the Nazis.  All these elements make for a thought-provoking novel with an appropriate ending. GPR/SN, BC
Hollinghurst, Alan, A Line of Beauty, the 2004 Booker Prize winner is a sardonic look at British society in the 1980’s. Young Nick, a gay opportunist who adores Henry James, is the lynchpin in this portrait of modern London packed with sex, drugs, and a search for beauty that often becomes excessive. The metaphors are amazing. G
*Ishiguro, Kazuo, Never Let Me Go, This tale of passive friends in 1990’s England is a compulsive page-turner and a melancholy vessel of hope and it’s a novel that won’t let me go weeks after reading it. Ishiguro never reveals the secrets in the novel, but he allows us to figure them out for ourselves.  It’s even better than Remains of the Day. G, BC
Jerome, Jerome K., Three Men in a Boat, Not to Mention the Dog, 1889 travelogue with three Brits on a slapstick adventure touring the Thames River. It’s slow going but the dry British humor makes it work. SN/S
*Jones, Edward P., The Known World, The sadness of slavery is explored through the free Negro families who owned slaves from 1845-1855 in this Pulitzer Prize winning wonder. I keep thinking about this amazing novel and the way it made me see and feel the impact of slavery. The stories are circular and the narrative reads like a tale of deliverance leading me into a world I never knew. Superb G, BC
Langer, Adam, Crossing California, Different teens interact in  Chicago’s West Rogers Park where California Avenue separates the wealthy from the poor in this funny, character-driven novel that looks at race and culture in 1979. It’s as if David Sedaris channeled Saul Bellow. S/G
Leonard, Elmore, The Hot Kid, a different novel for Leonard, this is about a young federal Marshall in Oklahoma during the 1930s when Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd were on the loose. Packed with irony, it’s a good read. CC
Lynch, Jim, The Highest Tide,  Miles O’Malley is a very short, very smart thirteen-year-old. He examines tide pools and sells clams, crabs, and exotics to museums and restaurants. When he finds a rare squid, the media intervenes and his life changes. The story informs and explains ecology and will delight older boys and adults. PBJ/SN
Maine, David, Fallen, a new look at Cain and Abel. The tale we all know is tossed upside down so we feel it and grasp Cain’s anger, rebellion and fear. This guy can flat-out write. G/SF, BC
McDermott, Alice, Charming Billy, This National Book Award winner captures an Irish Catholic funeral perfectly and evokes the characters poetically.  I couldn’t get into the sadness of the losses though.  G, BC
Mosse, Kate, Labyrinth,  a DaVinci Code-like mystery novel, purely plot-driven, that will appeal to those who enjoy history with mystery. It moves from today to 12th Century CarcassonneFrance and is packed with tales of the Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene, and Holy Land legends.  It will make a great movie and once its 508 pages are in paperback it’ll be perfect for a long trip. CC
Perez-Reverte, Arturo, Queen of the South, Teresa Mendoza is a cold-hearted criminal but she makes you care about her quest. From Mexico to Spain, her adventures and growth are both amazing and alarming. Reading and books elevated her and this novel above the typical thriller. Many lines like “He looked at me the way a Jehovah’s Witness looks at a doorbell.” remain with you in this brilliantly evocative tale. CC/G
Perkins, Lynne Rae, Criss Cross, This 2005 Newbury winning young adult novel depicts teens and how they connect. The illustrations, photos, and odd drawings add to this book that would be perfect for contemplative young teens. The intersecting vignettes examine teen life. PBJ
Proulx, Annie, Close Range: Wyoming Stories, These short stories set in the west will break your heart with their spare writing. “Brokeback Mountain” made me cry at the doomed love of the two cowboys.  A tale of an old man’s trip back to Wyoming for his brother’s funeral depicts isolation that seers the heart. She writes like a dream. G
Pym, Barbara, Excellent Women, wry, understated, droll, British 1950’s classic that reads like Jane Austen.  Muriel’s observations of everyone in her circle are refreshing not jaded. Her realization that being an Excellent Woman suits her is pure delight. G/GPR/D, BC
Rushdie, Salman, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, A fable, a parable, a delightful Aladdin’s tale from a masterful storyteller. It’s as if Alice in Wonderland has fallen into the Bay of Bengal. Rushdie began this as a tale for his son then expanded the story to weave in humor, magic, and the surreal nature of life in India.  A gem. G/GPR
Russell, Mary Doria, A Thread of Grace, Spend the first forty pages sorting out the characters then this historical fiction novel flies as you see the partisans – Jews, Catholics, priests, and farmers – work together to hide, transport, and save 43,000 Jews in the final years of World War II in the Piedmont region of Italy.  GPR/SN, BC
*See, Lisa, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a charming novel of 19th Century China. Narrated by Lily, a poor girl who begins a “laotong” friendship with the well-born Snow Flower, it tells of women’s secret writing, foot binding, arranged marriage, and the low place of women. Lily’s voice seems so real that we don’t realize the undercurrents until the wonderful ending. GPR/G/SN, BC
Sittenfeld, Curtis, Prep, Lee is a smart teen from a boisterous, loving Indiana family who is on scholarship at a prestigious Eastern prep school. She thinks she’s a nobody so she observes instead of participating. Subtle humor, painful insights, and a probing look at class, culture, sex, and prejudice with a smooth style reminiscent of John Irving and Tobias Wolff. A winner. G/S
Smith, Sarah-Kate, Blessed are the Cheesemakers, New Zealand author presents a nonsensical Irish farce.  Pregnant women milk cows to “The Sound of Music” in an over-the-top novel that joyously works. It begins slowly then builds to a crescendo. S/D
*Spragg, Mark, An Unfinished Life, This spare, eloquent story set in the west reminded me of Plainsong with caring old coots Einan and Mitch. I absolutely adore Griff, a tough, funny, gritty, wise girl. It’s filled with forgiveness, strength, courage, love, grief, and hope.  Read it! GPR/G, BC
(Strout, Elizabeth, Abide with Me, This enchanting, evocative novel shows the loneliness and consequences of grief without being maudlin. When a small-town pastor’s wife dies, he needs help.  I just adored it. GPR/SF, BC
*Tyler, Anne, Digging to America, When a typical “American” family and an Iranian family meet in the Baltimore airport to welcome their new adopted Korean daughters, they form an unlikely bond reinforced by mother Bitsy’s outrageous yearly arrival day parties. Maryam Yazdan, the Iranian mother-in-law, stole my heart with her chic confidence masking her insecurity as an outsider. Many don’t like the ending but I adored it and cheered.  I’ll read this again and again for its subtleties. It’s worthy of the big awards. I can’t wait to discuss it. G/GPR, BC
*Umrigar, Thrity, The Space Between Us,   Bhima works every day in Sera’s fancy Bombay apartment. She’s “family” but isn’t allowed to sit on the furniture or drink from the family’s glasses. Make sure you read this exquisite, evocative, kind, amazing novel of culture and attitudes. It’s still haunting me. Reread her Bombay Time. G, BC
Vaite, Celestine, Frangipani, When this novel of family life in Tahiti begins, you think it’s fluff but then it shows the matriarchal society and mother-daughter relationships of this culture. It has the similar voice and feel of the charming manner in the Number 1 Ladies Detective series.  Her second novel, Breadfruit, just came out. GPR/D
Vincenzi, Penny, No Angel, Something Dangerous, and Into Temptation, These big, plot-driven sagas in the vein of The Thorn Birds and A Woman of Substance will appeal to fans of multi-generational page-turners. Lady Celia’s life through most of the 20th century soars in these portraits of upper-class England. The soap-opera series is perfect for a dreary weekend or long plane rides. GPR/D
Wright, Vinita Hampton, Dwelling Places, When Mack returns from treatment for his depression, everyone walks on egg shells while he does the hard work of healing himself. His wife can’t figure out her role now that he’s recovering.  There are so many layers to this family novel.  GPR/BC
8Zusak, Marcus, The Book Thief,  Liesel watches as her brother dies aboard a train in Hitler’s Germany then her mother is sent away and she goes to live with a foster family where the books she steals save her. What sets this novel for older teens and adults apart is that it’s narrated by Death who tells it with grace and empathy.  Death is exasperated with humanity and we feel it. A tale of love, words, community, sharing, and hope that’s sure to become a classic. PBJ/GPR, BC His I Am the Messenger tells of a twenty-year-old Aussie cab driver who’s been chosen to help people in his small community. The twists will keep older teens and adults engaged. PBJ

Berendt, John, City of Falling Angels, The city of Venice is the main character in this chronicle of  eccentric citizens and social climbing associated with finding who burned down the Fernice opera house. It can’t compare to his Midnight in the Garden but it has its moments. SN, CC
Chang, Jung, Wild Swans, This memoir/ history of 20th Century China was tedious to me.  If it hadn’t been for a book group, I’d never have finished it. Read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan instead. SN
*Dennis, Jerry, The Living Great Lakes, Every American should read this fascinating picture of the Great Lakes to understand the wonder and peril of them. Dennis uses compelling stories and characters he encounters to illustrate and make the lakes come alive. SN/GPR, BC
*Didion, Joan, The Year of Magical Thinking, After returning from visiting their very ill daughter, Didion’s husband suffered a coronary and died almost immediately.  The memoir that follows is an honest portrayal of Didion’s year of grief, coping, not coping, anger, guilt, and denial. Her ability to describe it as she lives it is truly the mark of a great woman and a fine writer. G/GPR, BC
*Dunlop, Bill, The Indians of Hungry Hollow, a must-read memoir of the depression years through the eyes of a small Native American community at the edge of Petoskey, Michigan. Dunlop shares the hopeful, yet poignant stories he heard and lived. The book has a spare dignity. GPR/SN, BC
Eck, Diana L., A New Religious America: How a “Christian” Country Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation, The first and last chapters are all you need in this textbook that tells what Americans believe. It’s non-judgmental and provides insight into our essential differences. If it were shorter, I’d recommend it for all. SN
*Gladwell, Malcolm, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, This really made me think about how I make decisions. I can’t get it out of my mind.  How do curators instantly “feel” that something is a fake? How can commodities traders help the Pentagon? Why do we fall for handsome politicians?  I loved this amazing book. SN/G, BC.  His The Tipping Point, describes the way things suddenly become phenomena The stories about the popularity of Hush Puppies and rising crime and graffiti are thought-provoking. SN
Grogan, John, Marley and Me: Life and LoveWith the World’s Worst Dog, Anyone who ever had a challenging dog will laugh and cry as they read of Marley’s antics. It’s so real. CC/GPR
*Hendra, Tony, Father Joe, the Man Who Saved My Soul,  The former National Lampoon editor, “Spinal Tap” actor, and self-confessed bad boy tells a heart-wrenching story of Father Joe, the monk who befriended a poor, brilliant school boy and made him want to become a better person. Listen to it to hear Hendra’s accent and feeling.  I laughed and cried all through it. SF/GPR, BC
Hunt, Linda Lawrence, Bold Spirit:  Hilda Estby’s Forgotton Walk Across Victorian America, In 1896, Estby and her daughter walked from Seattle to New York to earn $10,000 to save their home. The history was intriguing but the writing was preachy and interfered with the story. SN
Kidd, Sue Monk, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, While it provided material for musing, I expected more than self-pity from Kidd. My friends liked it but I thought it a wordy, pretentious attack on the church as the cause of all her problems. I wanted her to grow up and get on with it. SF
Kimmell, Haven, She Got Up Off the Couch, a sequel to A Girl Named Zippy continues the story with joy and some sadness. It’s tough and gritty but still very funny as Zippy’s voice is picture perfect. I hope she writes a third volume so we can learn of her college and adult years. S
Miller, Donald, Blue Like Jazz, Put Anne LaMott on testosterone and turn her into a Republican and you’ll have the wit and feeling of Miller’s journey to know God, Jesus, and his own spirituality. This smart, young seeker leaves fundamentalism behind and learns grace. I think men and those under 35 will find this intriguing.  SF/S
*Moehringer, J. R., The Tender Bar, I need a new word to combine bittersweet and poignant so I can adequately explain this memoir of a boy who grows up with the patrons and employees of a bar as his surrogate fathers. Hooray for this wonder that depicts the joys and losses of life. G/GPR, BC
*Ohlson, Kristin, Stalking the Divine, When Ohlson, a lapsed Catholic, went to Christmas Day mass in downtown Cleveland; she never expected to encounter a group of contemplative nuns.  She paints a fascinating picture of their faith, history, and life. Most intriguing, though, is the way Ohlson’s life changes as she conducts her own search for the divine.  Her journalistic style and honesty captured me. GPR/SF, BC
Patchett, Anne, Truth and Beauty: a friendship, Patchett and Lucy Grealy were best friends. Anne supported Lucy as she endured operations to correct her facial deformity. Lucy’s successful book Autobiography of a Face didn’t help her deal with living but despite her self-destructive use of sex and drugs, her friends stayed with her. This  tough memoir of friendship would be a great book discussion paired with Grealy’s book.  G/GPR, BC
Raybon, Patricia, My First White Friend: Confessions on Race, Love, and Forgiveness, a difficult and courageous glimpse at a lovely woman who found that hatred was ruining her life and she had to learn to love herself before she could love others. It’s a memoir and meditation. SF/SN, BC
*Salbi, Zainab with Laurie Becklund, Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam, I couldn’t put down Salbi’s story of life growing up in Saddam Hussein’s inner circle. She lived in fear and had to escape. A compelling, informative account that makes you feel the horror SN, BC
Stewart. Chris, Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Spaina British sheep shearer relates the tale of his purchase of a farm in southern Spain near Granada. It’s a delightfully delectable treat similar to Bill Bryson’s humor. D
*Taylor, Barbara Brown, Leaving Church: a Memoir of Faith, I couldn’t put down this story of Taylor’s journey to becoming a pastor and shepherding her church. When she left her church, I was so upset; I didn’t want to read more and kept hoping she’d heal. Her honesty about her plight is gut-wrenching.  SF, BC
*Tucker, Neely, Love in the Driest Season, A white reporter  born in Mississippi and his black, Detroit-born wife find Chipo, a dying baby, in Zimbabwe and begin the work of nursing her back to health. When they fall in love with her they enter the crazy, bureaucratic nightmare of trying to adopt her. A story of love, sadness, and hope GPRBC
*Walls, Jeannette, The Glass Castle, The MSNBC reporter describes the most dysfunctional family I’ve ever encountered. Walls writes in a no-excuses, no whining, straight manner that makes the book engaging and palatable. It’s powerful and is on everyone’s favorites list this year. GPRBC

©copyright 2006

Hungry for Good Books,   November, 2007

After each selection, letters  designate the title as G:  Gourmet (perfectly written, 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 (kids books adults will like), S: Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet (acquired taste, satire, irony, black humor), SF: Soul Food (spirituality, theology, books for your soul), SN: Super Nutrition (lots of information, yet tasty as fresh blueberries), D: Desserts (sheer delights, chick-lit).  I’m still slowly writing the book about these designations and hope they help you select a title to fit your taste.  The letters BC denote books that are book club favorites.   My fiction favorites this year were  Bridge of Sighs, Ceremony, Changing Light, City of Shadows, Gentlemen and Players, The Higher Power of Lucky, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, The Lay of the Land, Luncheon of the Boating Party, The Master Butcher’s Singing Club. On Beauty, Quarantine, Run, Stormy Weather, Suite Française, The Thirteenth Tale, Water for Elephants, The Welsh Girl, and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.  In non-fiction, they were About Alice; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; Booking Passage; Dreams From My Father; and Three Cups of Tea.  
*Asterisks depict favorites.  

Atkinson, Kate, Case Histories, Wonderful character development in a suspenseful page-turner that made me ponder “why?” as the intertwined case histories of three murders built through the connection with private detective Jackson Brodie.  Donna Tartt fans will love it. CC/G
Balliett, Blue, The Wright 3, A wonderfully informative book about three young sleuths who try to solve a mystery in Chicago’s Robie House.  I learned about art, architecture, and Fibonacci numbers. My adult book club had a wonderful discussion about it. PBJ/SN, BC
Benedict, ElizabethAlmost, An ironic look at Sophy who left her husband and is with her lover when she learns that her husband has died.  The writing is good, the characters are interesting, and it’s fast-paced, poignant, and funny but I didn’t connect with it.  The critics loved it though.  S
Berg, Elizabeth, Dream When You’re Feeling Blue, A charming look at the “girls” left behind when their husbands and boy friends served in World War II. It captures the time and the Chicago setting but I didn’t like the ending. GPR/SN, BC, We Are All Welcome Here, Based on the true story of a quadriplegic woman who reared her daughter alone, I didn’t think it one of her best. CC/GPR
Bohjalian, Chris, The Double Bind, An unusual mystery novel with a strange psychological twist. Laurel who was attacked by a killer when in college has found a box of photos that connect with the crime and with The Great Gatsby.  I had trouble with the premise and the convoluted story.  CC/S
Brookner, Anita, Hotel du Lac,  The 1986 Booker Prize winner is a timeless evocation of Jane Austin and Barbara Pym in a wry, sensitive glimpse of Edith Hope, a spinster romance novelist who has been sent away because of an indiscretion. It’s simple, spare and revealing. G, BC
*Chabon, Michael, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,  This satirical look at what might have happened if a Jewish state had been established in Alaska is packed with quotable metaphors and engrossing characters. It’s a funny, tart, erudite, laugh-out-loud wonder of an imaginative novel that asks us all to look at the boundaries we’ve imposed on ourselves. G/S
Chen, Da, Brothers, Not as good as his memoirs but it shows China through the lives of Tan, Shento, and Sumi who exemplify the country’s struggles. I didn’t care enough about them though. SN
Coben, Harlan, Promise Me, Myron Bolitar is an athlete turned sports and entertainment agent who solves crimes but this time he’s the suspect. It has colorful characters and tons of action. CC
*Crace, Jim, Quarantine,  I reread this novel based loosely on Jesus’ wilderness journey for a book club and am still impressed with Crace’s mastery of language and that he as a “scientific atheist” could grasp the mystery, prophecy, and mission of this Biblical allegory. What a writer! G, BC
Craig, Philip & Tapply, William, First LightTwo mystery writers combine forces to tell a story by writing alternating chapters.  The viewpoints make the mystery of missing women better. CC
*Davies, Peter Ho, The Welsh Girla Booker Prize nominee that takes place in Wales during World War II shows the universality of needing to belong to a place.  Each character shows us how we must learn who we are and where we belong while giving a sensitive portrait of time and place. G/BC
Dias, Junot, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoI liked the writing but couldn’t figure out what was happening or why I should care. The information about the Dominican Republic was informative and humorous. Perhaps someone more hip would get it.  R rated for language. S
DiCamillo, Kate, The Miraculous Adventure of Edward Tulane, Wonderful illustrations set this fable that’s similar to The Velveteen Rabbit apart and make it the perfect gift for any child. The Tale of Despereaux, A charming story of a mouse in love with music, stories, and a princess that uses delightful language to show how good can conquer perfidy. PBJ
Desai, Kiran, The Inheritance of Loss, Set in a remote region of India near Nepal where a retired judge and his orphaned daughter try to cope with the changes in society, the novel also features Biju, who left for a better life in New York. The language is extraordinary and evokes the smells and sadness of the land while taking the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride. It’s tough to read because the truth it tells is hard to digest. Booker Prize and NBCC Award.  G, BC
*Erdrich, Louise, The Master Butchers Singing Club, My book club adored this. Felix returns from World War I and in an Odyssey-like journey takes a suitcase of sausages and his knife to North Dakota with Eva. Then Delphine enters their lives and the world changes. Spectacular! G, BC
*Ford, Richard, The Lay of the Land,  Hooray, Frank Bascombe is back and at 55 he’s still ruminating, pondering, and learning.  Set in the three days around Thanksgiving, 2000 when all the U.S. wonders who’ll be President, Frank ironically looks at who he’ll be.  If you liked Empire Falls or Ford’s earlier Pulitzer winner and love spare, character-driven novels, read this. G, BC
*Franklin, Ariana,  City of Shadows, Wow, a well-written, historical, page-turner of a suspense novel that takes place in Berlin in 1922 and 1932. Enter Hitler, the Gestapo, expatriate Russians and a woman trying to be Anastasia and the result is a wonderful novel with great characters and a plot packed with unusual twists. It also showed how a Hitler could come to power. GPR/SN, BC
*Gallagher, Nora, Changing Light, This spare, eloquent love story is set in 1945 Los Alamos as Leo, a physicist, and Eleanor, a painter, meet.  Their story is a lyrical metaphor of faith and doing what’s right.  Its haunting use of physics and light to explain faith and love is exceptional.  G/SF, BC
Graver, Elizabeth, The Honey Thief, 12-year-old Eva is caught shoplifting so her mother decides to leave NYC for a rural upstate town. Eva befriends Burl, a beekeeper, and begins to heal. G
*Gruen, Sara, Water for Elephants, A poignant, gripping, violent gem of a story about humanity and the animal world set in a 1930’s circus and retold in 90-year-old Jacob’s voice. The twists of memory, the shading, and character details are magnificent as is the ending. G/GPR/BC
Gulley, Philip, Almost Friends, More from the quirky Quaker pastor who is jealous of the woman who is filling in while he’s on leave.  It offers a light touch on serious issues. CC/GPR/SF
Gutcheon, Beth, More Than You Know, I liked the writing and the characters in this mystery novel set in a Maine town but the haunted house aspect interfered with my enjoyment of the story. CC
Haddon, Mark, A Spot of Bother, a very British family comedy that is a satisfying, page-turner. S
*Harris, Joanne, Gentlemen and Playersa page turner with twists so compelling I was almost dizzy. What happened in an English boy’s school is told through different view points and flashbacks until we finally find out who and what the secrets are.  It’s sardonic and voyeuristic but good. GPR/CC, Five Quarters of the Orange, Framboise Simon returns to her native village on the Loire  and no one knows that she’s the daughter of a famous French traitor.  Framboise cooks and her food is almost magical in this lyrical look at love, honesty, and courage.  GPR/G, BC
*Hosseini, Khaled, A Thousand Splendid Suns,  Hosseini tells of the plight of women in Afghanistan through Mariam and her forced marriage and Laila who has no options. Packed with possibilities, it made me cry out loud because I loved the characters so. G/GPR/SN, BC
Humphreys, Helen, The Lost Garden, Gwen, an emotionally distant English spinster, leaves London to supervise a group of girls working on a Devon estate.  She finds a lost garden and opens herself. The book is lovely and similar to Remains of the Day but her forced poetic metaphors often get in the way of the story. GPRBC
*Jiles, Paulette, Stormy Weather, It’s the depression in East Texas and there’s a drought when nine-year-old Jeanine follows her father as he races their horse, gambles, drinks, and loses all they have. Later after her father’s death, the irrepressible Jeanine helps save her family. The characters and story are delightful and the writing is poetic and engrossing. G/GPR/SN, BC
Johnson, Joshilyn, Between, GeorgiaChick-lit fluff with a touch of reality. Nonny, the stolen/adopted daughter of a deaf and blind artist is at the center of a Hatfield & McCoy feud.  Many of the characters are caricatures but it’s enjoyable. CC/D
Kimmell, Haven, The Used WorldI love Hazel, Claudia, and Rebekah and their life at the Used World Antique Emporium.  I love the way Kimmell evokes babies, church, and places but the disjointed plot didn’t grab me or make me care about the related plot twists. S/G
Kinsella, Sophie, Shopaholic & Sister, Pure fun and clever twists make this chick-lit fantasy of Becky Bloomwood’s shopping “problems” and her desire to change a fun read.  Shopaholic and Baby is a fun addition to the series D
Krueger, William Kent, Iron LakeA former sheriff in a northern Minnesota town tries to figure out an Eagle Scout’s disappearance and the death of a judge while struggling with a failing marriage and involvement with bad-girl waitress Molly.  Nevada Barr mysteries are similar. CC
Lee, Linda Francis, The Devil in the Junior League, A chick-lit lark as a wealthy Texas society girl encounters what’s real. The ending set it apart from the usual. D/CC
Litzenberger, Liesel, Now You Love Me, I liked 9-year-old Annie’s voice in this fictionalized Harbor Springs, MI, novel and  I laughed at the story of boiling porcupines to make quill jewelry but it seemed more like interrelated short stories than a connected novel. CC
Lott, Bret, A Song I Knew by Heart, An overwrought novel based on the Bible’s Book of Ruth. The theology is good but the story lags and the characters just didn’t seem real to me. SF
McCauley, Roisin, Singing Bird, Lena Molloy travels throughout Ireland in search of clues about her adopted daughter’s birth in a contrived domestic mystery/soap opera drama... CC
McNamer, Deidra, Red Rover, spare, eloquent prose in a compelling story of the old West, World War II, the FBI, and the one fact we all must face – death. It’s similar to Thomas Savage’s The Power of the Dog. G
Merullo, Roland, Golfing with God: a novel of heaven and earth, In this “golf is a metaphor for life” novel, Herman, a golf pro, leaves heaven in an earthly fantasy. It’s not as cloying as Mitch Albom but will appeal to his fans.  It’s a bit overdone but the humor helps it along.  SF/GPR/CC
Messud, Claire, The Emperor’s Children, Perhaps I read this too soon after loving Zadie Smith’s similar On Beauty.  The writing is exceptional but the narcissistic characters bothered me. G
Minot, Susan, Evening, A lovely, searing, poignant page-turner that made me slow down to appreciate  the way she revealed her past and her feelings so beautifully. Ann Grant is 65 and dying and she looks back at her first love and her life in a series of flashbacks. GPR/G, BC
Moriarty, Laura, The Rest of Her Life, a page turner similar to Jodi Picoult’s books. A popular, smart girl hits and kills another teen in one moment of not paying attention and everything changes for “the rest of her life.” Good characterizations make it work. CC/GPR, BC
*Nemirovsky, Irene, Suite Française, The author wrote this novel in France before being sent to Auschwitz in 1942.  Her view of families fleeing Paris and of a village surviving the German occupation always reveals and never preaches. The book is subtle, ironic, and understated as it provides insightful portraits of a variety of characters. That the book survived is a miracle. Make sure you read the appendices.   The book is a universal symphony of human nature and the times. G/SN, BC
Packer, Ann, Songs Without WordsLiz is the perfect mother with the perfect family. But everything changes when 16-year-old Lauren slits her wrists.  Their growth and anguish after the suicide attempt is beautifully told especially in the absolutely on-target dialogue. The ending is hopeful without being trite. GPR/BC
*Patchett, Ann, Run, Tip and Teddy are black college student brothers who were adopted by a white, Boston, political family.  An accident changes everything in their careful world when Kenya, a charming girl, is thrust upon them. I adored Kenya and Mr. Doyle. G/GPR, BC
*Patron, Susan, The Higher Power of Lucky, Brigitte moves to America to take care of Lucky when her mother dies and she and Lucky’s friends Miles and Lincoln are quirky and charming. This year’s Newbery winner was controversial because some couldn’t see that the word “scrotum” belongs in a children’s book and that a family is much more than a sac of sperm.  PBJ, BC
Pecora, James J., Dead End,  a novel based on the unsolved murder of a family a mile from my summer home forty years ago is poorly written. The grammatical errors are laughable. CC
Pickard, Nancy, The Virgin of Small Plains, This novel compels you to read it in one sitting as a girl is found naked and frozen in a blizzard and the town worships her grave for years afterward although no one wants to know how she really died.   It’s an Edgar nominee that makes you think. CC
Quindlen, Anna, Rise and Shine, Meghan, the host of a “Today Show” type program is disgraced on air and her sister Bridget tries to help in this unsatisfying novel. CC
Radish, Kris, The Elegant Gathering of White Swans, The premise of a group of women running away from life to walk and share themselves is great.  It shows the need for friends, for time, for love and for facing truth. But, the characters are flat, and the descriptions go on forever. CC
Roosevelt, Kermit, In the Shadow of the Law, Teddy’s great-grandson’s clever mystery examines the character and motivation of lawyers in a large D.C. firm. It’s similar to Turow and Grisham. CC
*Russo, Richard, Bridge of SighsPerfect characters you could swear you’ve known.  The bridge as a metaphor into and out of despair ties everything together.  It’s as good as Empire Falls G/BC 
Ryan, Pam Munoz, Becoming Naomi Leon, When Naomi’s no-good mother shows up, she and her great-grandmother and brother escape to Mexico in search of Naomi’s father.  They find a delightful Christmas festival and family traditions.  Esperanza Rising, When a spoiled, wealthy child’s father dies, she and her mother must escape Mexico and become migrant workers in California where she rises to the occasion. Great on culture and philosophy, PBJ/SN
Salzman, Mark, Lying Awake, What happens when a famous nun/poet finds that her ecstatic experiences may be due to a tumor in her brain?  Will she lose her faith when the tumor is removed? Will she still be able to write?  This reads so true; you’ll swear it’s real. GPR/SF, BC
See. Lisa, Peony in Love, Peony is a fifteen-year-old girl in 17th Century China who loves opera. As her story unfolds, she and other women write of their yearnings, hopes, and fears. GPR/SN, BC
*Selznick, Brian, The Invention of Hugo Cabret,  An elaborate, magical, mystical invention of an art book/children’s novel in which the drawings convey and move the story until words become necessary.  A clock maker’s drawings and early films are the basis of the story. PBJ/SN
*Setterfield, Diane, The Thirteenth Tale, This is a seductively written adult fairy tale that celebrates books and reading. Vida Winter, a famous British writer and recluse, summons Margaret Lea to write her story. What unfolds is a suspenseful tale with haunting subplots as Margaret searches for her story. Grab a cup of tea and an afghan and enjoy this gem. GPRBC
Shreve, Anita, Body SurfingI didn’t find this drama involving a summer tutor and her involvement with the family at their oceanside cottage to be up to her usual standards. CC
*Silko, Leslie Marmon, Ceremony Written in 1977, this book was the first by a female to define the American Indian experience. Following Tayo, a half Mexican, half Laguna man who has returned from a Japanese POW camp, we learn poetically of the native connection to the earth.  The metaphors of purging and ceremonies are hard to both read and digest but it’s worth it. G/SN
Smith, Alexander McCall, Blue Shoes.,  More from Mma Ramotswe in the least satisfying of the Number One Ladies Detective Agency series yet.  It seemed too formulaic. CC
*Smith, Zadie, On Beauty, Two academic rivals’ families form the basis of this riff on Forster’s Howard’s End that is stunningly original. Her voice and use of the perfect word and phrase to evoke a view of beauty as seen by the beholder is quietly inferred. G, BC
Spencer-Fleming, Julia, To Darkness and To Death, I love this series with the priest and the cop but this one had too many twists and killings to seem real. Still the ending worked very well.  All Mortal Flesh, In the fourth in the series, red herrings make finding a killer difficult. CC
Tan, Amy, Saving Fish From Drowning, A complete departure from her earlier work, this farce packed with irony follows a “Canterbury Tales” like group of ugly Americans in China and Myanmar where they wreak havoc. Our book club’s discussion was great. S/GPR, BC
Turner, Jamie, Langston, Winter Birds, I liked the clever characters and the use of birds at the feeder as epigraphs describing the action. Watching an old, overweight woman rejoin society was heart-warming and makes it a perfect fit for church-based book clubs. SF/GPR, BC
Umrigar, Thrity, If Today Be Sweet,   Unlike her previous novels, this one tells of Tehmina who has moved from her home in India to live with her successful son in America. Her observations are charming but some of the minor characters aren’t at all believable. Still, it’ does look at the problems immigrants face. GPR
Viate, Celestine, Breadfruit, This prequel to Frangipani affords a view of life in Tahiti but isn’t as heart-felt or well-written. Tiare in BloomFans of Frangipani will love seeing life in Tahiti from husband Pito’s point of view. It’s sweet, happy, and caring. CC
*Vreeland, Susan, Luncheon of the Boating Party, I couldn’t wait to read this book based on those in my favorite Renoir painting but I couldn’t imagine that it could live up to my expectations yet it far exceeded them. I learned of Renoir himself and how he fell in love with his models, of poor Caillabotte and his suffering, of the Parisian neighborhoods, and of the restaurant and its owners where he painted.  I hated for it to end and will reread it for the insight into his work. G/SN, BC
Ward, Amanda Eyre, How to Be Lost, In a psycho-drama with strong characters and suspense, Caroline is a waitress who doesn’t want to grow up and face her past when her father drank and abused her family and her little sister was kidnapped.  It’s a great story. GPR/CC Sleep Toward Heaven connects Karen, a serial killer on death row with a young doctor and the widow of one of her victims.  It’s filled with grace, courage, redemption, and eventually peace – all in a book that begs to be read in one sitting.  GPR/CC
Wiggins, Marianne, The Shadow Catcher, The life of Edward Curtis, famed photographer of western Indians from 1900 – 1940, is viewed through an imaginative lens.  It’s weird, beautiful, odd, and a finelycrafted composition of a truly unusual man and his family. G/S
Winspear, Jacqueline, Maisie Dobbs, History, mystery, philosophy and a touch of romance set in 1929 London all illustrate charming Maisie, a detective, whose investigations illuminate class struggles and the horrors of war. Birds of a Feather shows the traumas of World War I veterans and those they left behind. It’s somewhat predictable but enjoyable. GPR/CC

Adamczyk, Wesley, When God Looked the other Way:  An Odyssey of War, Exile, and Redemption, Telling the story of his family’s ten-year journey from Poland through the Soviet Union after World War II, Adamczyk sheds light on Stalin’s killing of more of his own people than Hitler killed in the holocaust.  Without a country after the war, the author ended up in Chicago with relatives where he continued to wonder if God had given up on his family as he searched for redemption and forgiveness. SN/SF, BC
Anderson, Joan, A Walk on the Beach: Tales of Wisdom from an Unconventional Woman, Anderson tells of her friendship with 92-year-old Joan Erikson, wife of notable psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. It offers a series of lessons on living and being attuned to life. SF
Bass, Diana Butler, Christianity for the Rest of Us, The author suggests hope for churches offering religious faith that engages the mind and encourages openness, tolerance, and generosity. This is must reading for anyone in church leadership at any level. SF
Bryson, Bill, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid:  A Memoir, A humorous tribute to the pop culture of the 1950’s and 60’s in a just-for-fun reminiscence. D
Ephron, Nora, I Feel Bad About My Neck and other Thoughts on Being a Woman, Ephron is wise, witty, egotistical, shallow, vain, and honest about her feelings as a woman in her 60’s. D
Geist, Bill, Way Off the Road: Discovering the Peculiar Charms of Small-Town America, A witty, ironic look at the odd and quirky places Geist encounters in his travels for CBS. CC
Gershman, Suzy, C’est la Vie, Dessert with little substance. This successful 52-year-old business woman seemed like an older but not wiser Brittany Spears living in Paris. D
Gilbert, Elizabeth, Eat, Pray, Love, A fascinating, fun, thought-provoking, sexy, hedonistic, wild, yet soulful, deeply felt, and prayerful journey through Italy, India and Bali that works. S/SF, BC
Goldberg, Natalie, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the writer Within, If you want to write, read this. Its explicit, spare advice will help you “tell the truth and depict it in detail.” SN
Gopnick, Adam, Paris to the Moon, I read this because I was going to Paris; I loved it for its humanity. Gopnik shows the difference between living and LIVING.  Like the diffused light of Paris, he slowly enlightened me.   His stories of son Luke were adorable yet never too cute.  SN/D
*Kingsolver, Barbara, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a Year of Food Life, Kingsolver takes biology, animal husbandry, weeding, turkey mating, and canning and weaves them into a narrative I couldn’t put down. Her biologist husband adds instructive inserts and daughter Camille tosses in perspective and recipes.  It’s a funny, informative look at a family’s quest to grow almost everything they eat for one year. SN/GPR, BC
Kurzon, Robert, Crashing Through: a True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See, a successful man’s sight is restored but he still can’t see.  It explains why sight is so much more than seeing.
Lamott, Anne, Grace Eventually, Lamott has mellowed and matured so she’s less strident and manic.  That’s good for her but I miss the old Annie.  I loved many of the essays but as a whole they didn’t seem to work together.  I wanted more connection and clarity.  SF/S, BC
*Lynch, Thomas, Booking Passage, , Lynch shows his transition from an aimless 22-year-old to a caring writer who helps his Aunt Nora claim her Irish land.  He depicts the turf fires, wakes, and other quotidian details that make this lyrical, humorous tale of Irish-American life sing.  GPR
Mitchell, Andrea, Talking Back, An enjoyable look at the reporter’s early years, of the White House’s attempts to intimidate and silence her, and of her marriage to Alan Greenspan. SN
*Mortenson Greg and Relin, David Oliver, Three Cups of Tea, I cried then laughed at the irony of a mountain climber who promised to build schools along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border and in his fumbling, yet sincere, manner made it happen.  I adore this book.  GPR/SN, BC
*Obama, Barack, Dreams from My Father, This compelling memoir of Obama’s early years in HawaiiIndonesia, and Chicago written when he finished law school is beautifully written and heart-warming.  His unflinching honesty may hurt his career but it makes great reading. SN/GPR
Piper, Don, 90 Minutes in HeavenOnly ten percent of the book is about Piper’s experience in heaven; the rest is his painful recovery. I found his condescending brand of Christianity offensive.  SF
Powell, Julie, Julie and Julia, Julie is a foundering 29-year-old government agency temp who can’t figure out what to do with her life so she decides to cook all 682 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking  in one year. It’s a lark and she’s annoying but by the end she’s grown and I liked her.  She’s like Bridget Jones with a big heart. D/GPR
Roberts, Cokie, Founding Mothers, boring, boring, boring – Roberts took interesting women like Abigail Adams and presented few new facts while writing annoying, gossipy trivia.  SN
Rodriquez, Deborah with Kristin Ohlson, Kabul Beauty School,  Debbie is like teenager who wants to do good but whose lust for excitement puts her at risk as she tries to establish beauty schools to help Afghan women become self-sufficient. It’s more “Debbie Does Kabul” than literature.  CC/SN
Roorbach, Bill, Writing Life Stories, His mapmaking exercise is worth the price alone. Lots of good advice for people who want to recapture memories and document their lives on paper. SN
Shields, Charles J., Mockingbird: a Portrait of Harper Lee is an enjoyable glimpse into the life of my literary hero. I loved reading of her research and work with Truman Capote on In Cold Blood as well as other details of her life.  People in Chicago’s south suburbs will recognize Shields as a former journalist and teacher in the area. SN/GPR, BC
*Trillin, Calvin, About Alice, Alice Trillin was her husband’s muse, and he lovingly writes of this feisty, funny, smart, pretty woman who died too soon. GPRBC. It made me reread Alice Let’s Eat which I adored. Both are portraits of a real marriage packed with humor and love.  GPR

Wright, Vinita Hampton, The Soul Tells a Story, good ideas about becoming more spiritual through writing and with a great metaphor of digging into the well of your soul but the last half isn’t great. SF/SN

Hungry for Good Books?   November, 2008
After each selection, letters  designate the title as G:  Gourmet (perfectly written, 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 (kids books adults will like), S: Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet (acquired taste, satire, irony, black humor), SF: Soul Food (spirituality, theology, books for your soul), SN: Super Nutrition (lots of information, yet tasty as fresh blueberries), D: Desserts (sheer delights, chick-lit).  The letters BC denote books that are book club favorites.   My fiction favorites this year were The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Born to Read, The Commoner, The Dark Room, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, The Echo Maker, the Elizabeth George mysteries, The Garden of Lost Days, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Home, The Maytrees, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Remembering the Bones, The Road, Sarah’s Key, The Seville Communion, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, That Book Woman, Unaccustomed Earth, The Uncommon Reader, Wave, The Whistling Season,  and Wild About Books.  In non-fiction, they were Here If You Need Me, The Legend of Colton H. Bryant,  Measure of the Heart, Saving Graces, Waiting for Snow in Havana,  and When Evil Came to Good Hart.  *Asterisks depict favorites. 

*Alexie, Sherman, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Everyone should read this book and all teens MUST read this book.  It shows how Reservation Indians are destroying themselves with alcohol and no one cares because of low expectations.  It’ll make you laugh and cry.  The characters are so real.   PBJ/S
Atta, Sefi, Everything Good Will Come, This novel explores the life of Enitan, a young woman in male-oriented LagosNigeria.  It portrays Yoruba culture and examines identity.  Powerful imagery SN/BC
*Bennett, Alan, The Uncommon Reader is a charming novella that wryly depicts the way the world opens to those who read.  In it Queen Elizabeth II discovers books and her world turns  upside down.  I love it!  G/S, BC
Berlinski, Mischa, Fieldwork, 2007 National Book Award finalist, This is a very strange novel that I found slow and clumsy yet I kept returning to it’s odd story of an American anthropologist in northern Thailand who murdered an American missionary.  It’s clever and examines the way Americans see other cultures but I found the long passages about the imagined Dyalo culture and rituals too contrived. S
Buchan, ElizabethConsider the Lily, Kit, the heir to a British estate, is about to lose everything due to the depression so he accepts Matty’s marriage proposal.  Matty is unhappy until she discovers the estate garden and begins to flower.  The book is written to follow the garden seasons and it’s reminiscent of The Secret Garden, Daisy Miller, and Anne Tyler novels. The metaphors and characters are wonderful.  GPR
Burke, James Lee, Tin Roof Breakdown, This Dave Robicheaux mystery is set in New Orleans after Katrina.  Powerful language evokes evil and greed as thieves loot a mafia home then look for escape. CC/SN Burning Angel is another hit from Burke who may be America’s best mystery writer, CC
Chabon, Michael, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, This Pulitzer Prize winner is bizarre, inventive, and at 636 pages of symbolic prose is just the right length.  Joe escapes from Prague in 1939 and lives with his cousin Sammy who is also 17.  Joe and Sammy invent a new comic hero – The Escapist, make big money and are living large but then tragedy strikes leaving Joe despondent.  Exquisite writing, G/S
Chiaverini, Jennifer, Circle of Quilters is the best in this series of quilt mysteries. The characterizations of the quilters, particularly the men, set this entry apart.  CC The New Year’s Quilt is a rehash of previous books with a schmaltzy, feel-good ending.  Skip it. CC
Curtis, Christopher Paul, Elijah of Buxton, Eleven-year-old Elijah is the first child born into freedom in a runaway slave settlement in Canada across the border from Detroit.  Not as good as his previous books. PBJ
*Dillard, Annie, The Maytrees, You’ll want to stop to look up all the words Dillard introduces and you’ll surely read some of the poetic phrases aloud but nothing will stop you from caring about Toby and Lou Maytree and their unusual life and marriage. This is what a novel should be – love, friendship, loyalty, sense of place, and fine characterizations set on the coast at Provincetown.  Her spare descriptions including: “She lowered without fuss like a pilot light” will leave you breathless.  Enjoy!  G, BC
*Doig, Ivan, The Whistling Season, In 1909, Rose and her brother move to Montana where she becomes a housekeeper for a widower and his three boys.  This novel is evocative, eloquent, timeless, funny, poignant, charming and loving.  It has it all – real boys, a one-room schoolhouse, farm life, and surprises.  G, BC
*Dubus III, Andre, The Garden of Lost Days is still haunting me months after reading it.   Dubus made me care about a stripper, a terrorist, and a kidnapper by presenting them as multi-dimensional people. The stripper’s daughter is “kidnapped” while her mother performs for Bassam, a Saudi, who is part of the 9/11 attacks.  I loved Lonnie, the dyslexic bouncer, who quotes T.S. Eliot. It’s a moving, can’t-put-it-down tale of fear, grief, and the universality of isolated people.  His tone is similar to Richard Russo’s in Empire Falls.  G/CC, BC
Early, Tony, The Blue Star, I wanted this sequel to Jim, the Boy, to be great  but Jim as a teenager who loves a half Cherokee girl and goes off to World War II just didn’t measure up.  It’s a comforting tale of love, family, war and community but it isn’t as exceptional as Jim, the Boy was.  GPR
Evanovich, Janet, One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly, Four to Score, etc.  I finally read several (seven) of the series of Stephanie Plum mysteries and found them to be fun and feisty. CC
Falcones, Ildefonso, Cathedral of the Sea is very similar to Pillars of the Earth and is an incredibly fast read despite its more than 600 pages. It tells of the building of a Barcelona Cathedral during the Inquisition.  I really enjoyed learning about the early Jewish community and the “peoples” cathedral.  SN/GPR/CC
Follett, Ken, The Pillars of the Earth, Beginning in 1123 A.D., this epic tells of the building of Knightsbridge Cathedral and all its innovations.  At 983 pages this book never seems long since it evokes history through the stories of Tom, the builder, and his family. The evil characters are particularly well done.  SN/GPR
Fowler, Earlene, Sunshine and Shadow, the tenth novel in the Agatha Award-winning series about a quilter/crime solver is different because Benni depicts old California and Latino life in a clever mystery. CC
Franklin, Ariana, Mistress of the Art of Death, Set in Cambridge, England in 1170 A.D. ,when Jews are blamed for the disappearance and death of young children, Adelia, a young medical pathologist, arrives from Salerno, Italy and determines how the children have died and who killed them.  It’s a medieval CSI.  GPR/SN
French, Tana, In the Woods, a psychological mystery similar to those of Dennis LeHane,  In a remote Dublin suburb, a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered on the site of an archeological dig. One of the detectives assigned to the case is the lone survivor of another crime that took place in the same wooded area when he was twelve.  Are the two related?  Will the detective cope?  It’s a great read.  CC/S
*George, ElizabethFor the Sake of Elena, This Inspector Lynley (basis for the PBS Mystery series) mystery is beautifully written.  The deaf Elena is murdered while jogging near her college.  The characters, language and descriptions set this apart from the usual whodunit.  G/CC, Missing Joseph, Deborah St. James meets a vicar from Lancashire and later learns that he’s died in an “accidental” poisoning. When her husband notes the shoddy investigation of the crime he calls in Inspector Lynley and the result is 567 wonderful pages of great characters and writing. G/CC Playing for the Ashes, one of England’s top cricket players is killed and his friends and family are fascinating people to investigate.  I love watching Lynley, Lady Helen, and Barbara Havers evolve. Livie, a character with ALS disease, is compelling as are all the others. G/CC, In the Presence of the Enemy, Lynley and Havers solve the murder of the ten-year-old child of a conservative MP and a liberal publisher.  The portrait of the politician mother is chillingly good. G/CC Deception on His Mind, Havers is on her own in a seaside town in solving the murder of the fiancé of a wealthy Pakistani businessman’s daughter.  The town’s prejudices and Havers’ delightful neighbor set this apart from the usual.  It kept me happy on an overnight flight.  G/CC
Glancy, Diane, Pushing the Bear: A Novel of the Trail of Tears is an imagined diary in the voices of the Cherokee travelers on the forced Trail of Tears from North Carolina to Oklahoma. The main thread in this poetic odyssey is Maritole, a young mother.  It’s thought-provoking, sad, and beautifully explored. G/SN, BC
Gordon, Mary, Pearl, I had trouble getting to know and care about Pearl, a 20 year-old, who chained herself outside the American Embassy in Dublin while trying to starve to death.  Her mother seemed distracted and distant but then I realized that the book was asking me to examine maternal love, selflessness, sacrifice and forgiveness.  The ending is beautiful and Pearl’s atonement is a powerful symbol of love.  GPR/SF
*Grushin, Olga, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, Wow, this starts slowly but always with magnificent language.  Sukhanov is a Soviet artist who sells out to become an art critic.  I underlined this novel the way I would a textbook. Surrealism symbolizes the culture and things are seldom what they seem in this amazing novel. G/S
Gunning,, Sally, The Widow’s War, My book club had a great discussion about women’s rights, the plight of widows, and about what attracts us to others in this saga of Lyddie whose husband dies at sea in 1760.  When Lyddie asserts her independence, she gets in trouble.  I liked the history but found the plot contrived and melodramatic.  Some in our group agreed but most adored the book.  SN/CC, BC
*Hamid, Mohsin, The Reluctant Fundamentalist,  The entire novel consists of Changez telling his tale to an unnamed American sitting across from him in a market café in Lahore, Pakistan.  Changez was a top Princeton grad and management consultant whose life changed after 9/11 when he became resentful of the U.S. role as a world aggressor and he returned to Pakistan to teach.  So many questions – is he a terrorist? What happens? My book club had a phenomenal discussion of this novel and all the questions it raises.  G/SN, BC
Hamilton, Steve, A Stolen Season, This murder mystery has exceptional characters and evokes a cold, dreary summer in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula but it didn’t seem as good as his previous efforts. CC
Hannah, Kristin, Firefly Lane, friendships, cancer, and success at all costs are explored in this novel that will be a women’s book club winner.  Lifelong friends separate but love and cancer intervenes.  GPRBC
Harris, Joanne, The Girl with No Shadow, the sequel to Chocolat begins with the same evocative feeling of Chocolat.  Vianne Roche is now posing as a Montmarte widow with Anouk, now called Annie, and 3 ½ -year-old Rosette who is obviously Roux’s daughter.  She’s opened a chocolaterie and is to marry respectable, wealthy Thierry but in blows Zozie, a con artist, who enchants everyone.  Good but I expected more.  GPR/CC
Hempel, Amy, The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, an amazing collection by one of America’s best short story writers.  They are spare, ironic and challenging.  S
*Henson, Heather, with pictures by David Small, That Book Woman is a picture book celebrating the pack horse librarians who delivered books to remote Kentucky homes in the 1930’s.  I adore the inventive illustrations that make this a winner for book loving parents and children.  PBJ
Heywood, Joseph, Snowfly, Despite good descriptive writing and a fine beginning, this mystery has too many red herrings and undeveloped characters.  If Hemingway had faked his suicide as this novel supposes, he’d surely want get away from these crazies who live only for the “big fish.” It’s bizarre and much too long.  CC
Hobbs, Will, Crossing the Wire, Leave it to a children’s author to capture all the nuances of how and why so many “cross the wire” border from Mexico to the U.S.  illegally.  Great for reluctant boys 9 and older.  PBJ
Hood, Ann, The Knitting Circle, Mary Baxter is unable to cope after her five-year-old daughter’s death when she joins a knitting circle where she learns all the women have experienced tragedy.  The author lost her own child and presents a compelling portrait of grief that’s achy and poignant yet offers hope. GPR/SF
Horan, Nancy, Loving Frank, historical fiction based on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mameh Cheney, his client who became his lover.  They left their families and ran away to Europe then lived in Wisconsin.  I didn’t love either one as they were so selfish but it’s a fine portrait of Wright and his work. SN/GPR, BC
*ItaniFrancesRemembering the Bones, Because Georgie was born on the same day as Queen Elizabeth II, she’s invited to London to the Queen’s 80th birthday lunch.  On her way to the Ottawa airport, she loses control of her car and lands at the bottom of a ravine where she remembers her life.  It’s a wise, compelling monologue with perfect pitch language and extreme literary tension.  I stayed up half the night to see what happened.  I can’t understand why this isn’t a best-seller; it’s so good.  G/GPR, BC
Johnson, Diane, L’Affaire, Amy, a 30-year-old dot-com billionaire, is skiing in France where she naively befriends a young boy.  This droll, dry, comedic satire ends quite believably. Delectable literary fiction, D/S
Kagen, Lesley, Whistling in the Dark, a charmingly evocative novel of 1959 life in which two tough sisters fend for themselves and  try to convince people that a murderer is after them. Sally is delightful. GPR, Land of a Hundred Wonders isn’t as good but Gibby McGraw, the 20-year-old protagonist who is NQR (not quite right) after brain damage from the car wreck that killed her parents, is a great character. She tries to solve a murder mystery and regain her memory in this 1960’s portrait of a small town in Kentucky.  GPR
Karon, Jan, Home to Holly Springs, Father Tim returns to his boyhood home and it takes more than 200 pages of sappiness to get to the point.  What happened to Father Tim’s usual sense of humor?  CC
Kasischke, Laura, Be Mine, weird and creepy, definitely not recommended SN
Konigsburg, E. L., The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place., Twelve-year-old Margaret leaves an oppressive summer camp and uses her imagination to save the three towers in her uncles’ back yard – witty and thoughtful.  PBJ
*Lahiri, Jhumpa, Unaccustomed Earth, The writing is exquisite yet I devoured this book of short stories like a bag of potato chips.  The title story is about Ruma who has just moved to Seattle with her American husband and son. Her father’s visit makes them both examine their beliefs and feelings.  The rest of the book consists of three inter-related stories about Hema and Kaushik who meet as children in the first story when Kaushik’s mother becomes ill. The second story is about Kaushik’s feelings of displacement when he comes home from college to his father’s new family.  The third story is about Hema, now a professor on a trip in Rome, who encounters Kaushik and falls for him. It’s one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read.   G/CC, BC
*Lee, Suzy, Wave is a wonder of a wordless book depicting a joyful day at the beach for a charming girl who encounters all the delights of the sea.  It makes me smile every time I pick it up.  PBJ
Litzenburger, Liesel, The Widower, When Swan Robey’s wife dies in an accident, he can’t cope.  Grace, a Native American, nurses him.  It’s  too disjointed but the descriptions of northern Michigan are well done.  GPR
Mazzarella, Nicole, This Heavy Silence, I zoomed through this in less than a day but continued to think about it long after.  Dottie is a single, self-reliant farmer who fights to keep her land while raising her best friend’s daughter with rules and little overt love. Dottie’s inability to trust is her downfall.   It’s very good.  SF/CC. BC
*McCarthy, Cormac, The Road, The 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner is bleak and haunting but you can’t possibly put it down.  It’s about a man’s love for his son as they journey to find safety after a nuclear war.  The boy is a powerful symbol of good in an evil world.  It’s not possible to “enjoy” this book but you must read it. G, BC
Offill, Jenny with pictures by Nancy Carpenter, 17 Things I’m not allowed to do anymore tells the story of a girl who has great ideas that aren’t understood by the grown-ups in her life.  The illustrations will make every parent and teacher laugh.  Rambunctious 4 – 8 year-olds should love it.  PBJ
Pastan, Rachel, Lady of the Snakes, Jane., a perfectionist scholar and first-year professor, loves her husband and daughter but seems to live more in the imagined world of her research than in reality.  When her babysitter has an affair with her husband, Jane begins to evolve and become less rigid.  I really liked this but had trouble with some of the best scenes because of my irrational fear of snakes. G/S, BC
Patterson, Richard North, Exile, this long, page-turner needed more dialogue and stories to develop the characters so we’d understand why a Jew would give up everything to defend a Palestinian accused of assassination.  It helps explain Israeli-Palestinian hatred and is a pleasant way to learn history. CC/SN
Penney, Stef, The Tenderness of Wolves, Almost everyone in my book club adored this story of a fur trader’s brutal murder in a small settlement in the northern end of Georgian BayOntario in 1867.  The characters, especially Mrs. Ross, who sets off to find her son, are great, the setting is spectacular, and the interweaving of history and an inventive story were well plotted but it just didn’t mesh for me.  Historical fiction lovers will really like it but I thought too many “important” clues and people weren’t developed. SN/GPR/BC
Perez-Reverte, Arturo, The Painter of Battles starts slowly then bang as Faulques, a famous war photographer, is visited by a Croatian survivor who hates him because of a photo he took.  Faulques is painting a fresco of battles on the tower walls of his home on Spain’s south coast. The language is hauntingly beautiful and the symbolism of war photography and survival are exquisitely rendered. G, *The Seville Communion also starts slowly as it builds the mystery of a hacker who’s gotten into the Pope’s computer and their possible connection to the archbishop and banker who want to raze an old Seville church to make way for a development.  It evokes old and new Seville with wonderfully original characters including Father Quart, the elegant priest sent by the Vatican to investigate.  The ending is pure perfection. CC/G
*Powers, Richard, The Echo Maker, National Book Award winner and Pulitzer finalist, When Mark, a 27-year-old immature Nebraska man, is in a car wreck his head injury is diagnosed as Capgras syndrome.  He believes that his sister Karen is an imposter in a government conspiracy.  It has great characters and language and made me think about my identity and what it is that makes us real.  G/BC
*Robinson, Marilynne,  Home features some of the same characters as the wonderful Gilead but the style is very different.  I love them both and adore Glory who returns to Gilead to care for her father and then copes with her “black sheep” brother in this deserving Natl. Book Award nominee that evokes the 1950’s.  G/SF, BC
Rosenthal, Amy Krause, Little Pea, Who wouldn’t love a story about a young pea who must eat all his sweets before he can have vegetables for dessert?  It’s a fun twist for parents and picky eaters. PBJ
*de Rosnay, Tatiana, Sarah’s Key explores the little known story of France’s role in rounding up Jewish families in 1942.  It intersperses ten-year-old Sarah’s search for her brother with that of an American journalist investigating the roundup sixty years later. I loved Sarah’s story and her refusal to give up.  It makes you wonder what you would have done and is a great companion piece to Suite Francaise. GPR/SN, BC
*Shaffer, Mary Ann and Barrows, Annie, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is absolutely delightful.  I’ve already read it twice and will read it again.  It’s charming, acerbic, and poignant.  It reminds me of 84 Charing Cross Road.  It’s written in letters from a British writer to and from the residents of the Isle of Guernsey in 1946 after the German occupation of their island.  I love the characters in this winner. GPRBC
Schmidt, Gary, The Wednesday Wars, a Newbery Honor book in 2008, Holling spends Wednesday afternoons with Mrs. Baker because all the other seventh graders have gone for religious training.  Mrs. Baker begins teaching Holling Shakespeare and both learn to see through Shakespearean metaphor.  It’s a bit contrived but is still enjoyable and bright preteen boys are really liking it.  PBJ
*Schwartz, John Burnham, The Commoner spectacularly evokes the life of Haruko, the Japanese commoner, who marries the Crown Prince and loses herself. She is terrorized by the Empress and her staff.  When her own son marries a commoner, Haruko must decide how to act.  Beautiful language, haunting characters, history, and an improbable ending that I adored.  G/SN, BC
*Seiffert, Rachel, The Dark Room, the 2001 Booker Prize finalist consists of three thematically related novellas of ordinary Germans’ lives in World War II and today.  Helmut, a loner, photographs the changes in Berlin but refuses to accept them. Lore, a fourteen-year-old girl, leads her siblings north from Bavaria where she confronts the truth and Micha struggles to learn if his grandfather killed Jews.  It constantly asks what responsibility we must bear when evil threatens.  It’s haunting and won’t let you go. G/SN BC
*Sierra, Judy, Wild About Books,  When a librarian mistakenly drives the bookmobile into the zoo, the animals get hooked on reading and even begin writing their own books.  Spectacular!  PBJ, Born to Read is Sierra’s latest that tells the story of Sam who has loved to read since he was a baby when his mother read him a book “then another, then another . . . such a perfect patient mother.”  It’s ideal for 3 – 8 year olds although the dialogue may seem a bit overdone to adults. Kids will invent their own words for the pictures.  PBJ
*Tsukiyama, Gail, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms presents World War II from the perspective of those in Japan; shows why sumo wrestling is honored, respected and revered; and explains Noh theatre and mask making.  Throughout it all Tsukiyama infuses the novel with her characteristic serenity via grandparents who rear their grandsons.  So much grief was difficult to read about but it helped me feel the way the Japanese would have felt as they experienced loss upon loss. The characters are really strong.  GPR/SN, BC
Ward, Amanda Eyre, Forgive Me is a confusing, convoluted mystery novel about a journalist who goes to South Africa for the amnesty trial of a girl who killed a man from her home town. Not the author’s best.  S
Wargin, Kathy-jo, P is for Pumpkin, God’s Harvest Alphabet  is a charming book for preschoolers.  SF/PBJ
Weiler, Julia, and Leo, Jennifer, editors, More Sand in My Bra, This is probably the worst book I’ve ever read. These supposedly comic stories about women travelers aren’t funny and have no redeeming qualities.
Willig, Lauren, The History of the Pink Carnation is a silly, chick lit, historical romance.  The 428 pages of twittering females trying to assist the Scarlet Pimpernel in Napoleon’s court bored me.  D
Wood, Patricia, Lottery is a warm, funny novel about Perry, a boy who is NOT retarded because he knows that his IQ is 76.  Perry’s Gram made him work hard, learn words, and think so while he may be slow, he always gets things done. After he wins the lottery, his family tries to cheat him and his friends help him but in the end his resilience and confidence wins the day.  It’s a delightful escape.  GPRBC
*Wroblewski, David, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Wow, Edgar, who was born mute, is a compelling character who communicates with the family’s special breed of dogs through sign language.  The novel is a modern telling of Hamlet set in the woods of Wisconsin.  It’s old-fashioned storytelling at its best.  Lovers of Watership Down and The Life of Pi will enjoy the universal truths told in this beautifully written thriller.  G, BC
Young, William P., The Shack, I found this story of a man who meets God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to be shallow and stilted.  Its convoluted writing style was difficult for me to read.  I also found it too preachy and overdone. SF
Allende, Isabel, My Invented Country, Allende evokes the SantiagoChile of her childhood.  It’s a love letter to the world of her grandparents and shows that we are the stories we hear.  SN/SF
Beah, Ishmael, A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Forced to be a killer/soldier at twelve, the erudite Beah came to the U.S. and graduated from Oberlin at 17.  There are questions about the validity of his story. SN
*Braestrup, Kate, Here If You Need Me, Braestrup tells of her life after her husband, a state trooper, died and she was left with four children to rear.  She fulfilled her husband’s dream and became a minister, then became the Chaplain for the Maine Warden Service who went on search and rescue missions and accompanied people in their grief and in their relief.  Her descriptions put me on the site as a chopper landed and her raw emotions left me in tears several times.  I love her telling of universal truths as well as her humor. G/SF. BC
*Edwards, ElizabethSaving Graces, I cried as Edwards told of her son Wade’s death, of her grief, and then of her cancer.  She’s tough with a platinum heart and deserves better than all the hits she’s taken.  GPR
*Eire, Carlos, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy: The National Book Award winner is a passionate, lyrical, funny, sad, descriptive account of Eire’s childhood in Havana before and during Castro’s first years intermingled with his years in the US as one of the boys sent into exile.  His  strange father, creepy adopted brother, and other relatives come alive in this amazing memoir.  Watching as Eire’s life of privilege as a judge’s son evolves into his being called a “spic” as a 16-year-old busboy in Chicago was eye-opening.   G/SN/SF, BC
Falsani, Cathleen, The God Factor contains interviews with famous people who share what they believe.  SF/SN
*Fuller, Alexandra, The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, Fuller says “This is a work of nonfiction, but I have taken narrative liberties with the text.”  In this treasure of a book, we get to know and love imperfect Colton. He is all the mistakes, youthful indiscretions, and unrealistic optimism that almost every American young man both sweetly and swaggeringly possesses.  So when we learn of his life and the oil company’s disregard for safety, we take notice and care.  This book is a wonder, please read it. G/SN
*Geist, Mary Ellen, Measure of the Heart:  A Father’s Alzheimer’s, a Daughter’s Return, Oliver Sacks’ forward aptly calls it “a tender, but tough-minded, and beautifully written memoir.”  It’s a moving portrait of Woody Geist’s cruel dementia and of Mary Ellen who gave up her life as the CBS news radio anchor in New York to come home to a father who cannot recall her name.  It’s spare, gentle and everyone should read it especially for the way the family connects through music.  Disclosure:  the author is my friend.  SF/SN
Hiaasen, Carl, The Downhill Lie is a hysterical look at the author’s return to golf.  Buy it for every golfer.  S/D
Kalish, Mildred Armstrong, Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on and Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, Kalish is clever, informative, and unsentimental in describing everything from her beloved books to butchering.  Her language is precise and charming and she uses detail to carefully describe nature on the farm and town life in the winter.  It’s a happy but true memoir of a forgotten time and place. SN/GPR, BC
Kamen, Henry, The Disinherited: Exile and the Making of Spanish Culture, 1492-1975, Kamen tells the truths of the Inquisition, the exile of the Jews, the persistence of the Moors, religious identity, and artists like Picasso and Pablo Casals who fled under Franco’s rule.  Booklist calls it one of this year’s best history books. SN
Larsen, Erik, Thunderstruck, this true murder mystery that interweaves the story of an amoral murderer who seems like a modest nerd and Marconi, the young entrepreneur and “creator” of the wireless, is both bizarre and packed with history and suspense.  The writing is similar to his The Devil and the White City.  SN
*Link, Mardi, When Evil Came to Good Hart: an Up North Michigan Cold Case, I’m  recommending a book that I’m in because it’s a compelling read about a family of six murdered in their remote log cabin near my summer home forty years ago. The case was never officially solved and the book presents the evidence and allows the reader to determine “whodunit.”  It also weaves in stories of the town today including one about the book club I started.  It evokes the beauty and serenity of a small town and some of the wonderful people in it.  SN/CC
Pollan, Michael, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, It’s basically common sense, - skip refined foods, eat more plants and leaves, and eat whole foods. I like his reasoned approach. SN, BC

Tippett, Krista, Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters and How to Talk About It, the host of the public radio program tells of her belief that we can talk about our faith together without attacking each other. The conversations about religion and science, natural disasters, quantum physics, fundamentalism, justice, and love ask us to think and listen while honoring the mystery of the convictions of others. It’s powerful. SF/SN

Hungry for Good Books?   November, 2009
After each selection, letters  designate the title as G: Gourmet (perfectly written, 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 (kids books adults will like), S: Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet (acquired taste, satire, irony, black humor), SF: Soul Food (spirituality, theology, books for your soul), SN: Super Nutrition (lots of information, yet tasty as fresh blueberries), D: Desserts (sheer delights, chick-lit).  The letters BC denote books that are book club favorites.  My fiction favorites this year were America, America; Child 44, City of Thieves, Cutting for Stone, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Every Last Cuckoo, Incendiary, The Forgotten Garden, Gardens of Water, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, The House at Riverton, I See You Everywhere, Little Bee, The Magician’s Elephant, Olive Kitteridge, Out Stealing Horses, People of the Book, The Secret River, Tallgrass, That Old Cape Magic, The Weight of Heaven, and The White Tiger,   In non-fiction, they were First Darling of the Morning, The Florist’s Daughter, The Invisible Wall, Isadore’s Secret, Istanbul, The Mighty Queens of Freeville, and My Own Country.   * Asterisks depict favorites. 

*Adiga, Aaravind, The White Tiger, 2008 Booker winner, Balram, an uneducated, half-baked, low caste boy sarcastically portrays the horrors of getting by in the underbelly of Indian society in this  novel written as a letter to the Premier of China.  He’s charming yet slippery and his antics reminded me of pay-to-play politics in Illinois.  The black humor and irony make the horrors palatable. It’s an amazing first novel by a new literary star. G, S/BC
Atkinson, Kate, When Will There Be Good News?  Joanna, the lone survivor of her family’s murder is now a mother and doctor. There are many surprises, twists, and wonderful characters especially Reggie.  CC
Baker, Ellen, Keeping the House, Dolly is a young housewife in the 1950’s who thinks that restoring the abandoned Mickelson house to its former glory will make her life perfect. I thought the novel bogged down in the middle but enjoyed the stories of the lives of all who’d lived in the house. Historical fiction fans will love it.  GPR
Baldacci, David, The Whole Truth, one of the world’s wealthiest men tries to create chaos to sell weapons in this escapist lark of a plot-driven page turner with no character development that’s good for a long flight.  CC
*Barbery, Muriel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Wow, this unusual satirical tale of Renee, the concierge, who hides her intelligence but is found out by Paloma, a quiet girl in the building, and who begins to open herself to a wealthy Japanese businessman is actually a philosophical treatise.  You’ll laugh, cry, and use your dictionary often in this story of a hedgehog of a woman who makes herself a fortress to avoid being hurt. G, SF/BC
Barry, Brunonia, The Lace Reader is a psychological thriller with fascinating twists and an unexpected ending that makes perfect sense.  Towner, the narrator and protagonist of the book, says that she “lies all the time and is a crazy woman” in this fast-paced tale of bobbin lace, a Calvinist sect, and odd characters.  CC, GPR/ BC
*Benioff, David, City of Thieves is a spectacular novel about Lev, a teen-aged Jew, who refuses to leave Leningrad in 1941 with his family. He gets caught looting and is forced into a thrilling escapade with Vika, a young sniper.  When Lev reveals his story the surprises and ending are a wonder. GPR/BC
Bradley, Alan, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieFlavia is a droll, 11-year-old chemist in 1950 who solves crimes ingeniously. It’s clever but seemed a little too cute to me and needed a bit more tweaking. CC, GPR
*Brooks, Geraldine, People of the Book traces the life of a Hebrew codex rescued by a Muslim scholar and a Muslim librarian from its beginning in 1480’s SevilleSpain.  It’s a rollicking good story that makes the people of the book the focus and the Sarajevo Haggadah a vehicle for a great ride through history. GPR, SN/BC
Bunn, DavisMy Soul to Keep, An alcoholic former movie star gets out of prison and joins with a praying group of tycoons to make a movie and jolt the Hollywood establishment in this simplistic Christian novel.  The thoughts on prayer and forgiveness were good but most characters seemed too predictable. SF
*Canin, EthanAmericaAmerica is a big saga about Corey, a poor, hard working, brilliant teen, and his entrée into a very wealthy family and a Teddy Kennedy/Bill Clinton-type politician in a story that seamlessly flows back and forth in time while revealing secrets in just the right places.  It’s a bit like Gatsby with writing similar to Russo at his best. This is prize-winning fare – a modern day All the King’s Men. G, CC/BC
Carter, Stephen L., The Emperor of Ocean Park is a fast-paced thriller with fascinating twists. A law professor’s father, a Supreme Court nominee who was forced out due to a scandal, has just died. His wife is under consideration for the US Court of Appeals and their marriage is in trouble in this look at elite African-American families, the inner machinations of top law schools and the part that faith plays in their lives. It’s good. CC/GPR
    The Palace Council is a suspense-filled story of political intrigue, secret Harlem social societies and parties in the 1950’s and writer Eddie Wesley’s search for his sister that may involve Nixon’s White House. CC
*Cleave, Chris, *Little Bee, this amazing novel of a Nigerian teen who leaves an immigration detention center to find that the husband of the only family she knows in England has killed himself just a few days after her release is a haunting, searing look at survival and truth.  It wouldn’t let me go. Who are the “baddies?” G, SN/BC
  *Incendiary is the raw, mesmerizing story of a London women told in a satirical “letter” to Osama bin Laden after her husband and young son were killed in a terrorist bombing at a soccer game.  The woman is unhinged and uses sex to overcome her compulsive nervous disorder. Anyone wanting a definition of black humor should read this book as she’s the driest heroine imaginable. The sex is raw and compelling and the entire book is simply brilliant yet frightening. Without the humor it would have been brutal. S
Coban, Harlan, The Woodsa disappointing drama about a county prosecutor and his lost love who relive the night his sister disappeared and find that the case may be tied to a current rape trial. CC
Coelho, Paulo, The Alchemist, Millions love this allegory of a shepherd who seeks treasure and spiritual truth but I think it’s simplistic and preachy.  It’s just not my cup of tea. SF
Connelly, Michael, The Scarecrow, a computer hacking killer and a smart reporter aren’t enough to make this more than a fast-paced page-turning thriller.  Given more insight into the killer - this could have been great. CC
Connor, Leslie, Waiting for Normal, Poor Allie - her life with a mother who is all or nothing is anything but normal. This poignant portrait of a sixth grade survivor will be a great read for preteens. PBJ
Conroy, Pat, South of Broad is typical Conroy – great dialogue, snappy characters and a literary love affair with the city of CharlestonSC.  Leo King narrates the story from his 1969 high school days to the tragedies of Hurricane Hugo as seen through his friends: a group of orphans, socialites, a gay musical prodigy, a sexy movie star, and white football players who hate blacks but become “family.”  It’s a good yarn but a tad contrived.  CC
*Dallas, Sandra, Tallgrass is a compelling, uplifting, sensitive, kind novel about 13-year-old Rennie and her father who are caught in the controversies in a tiny Colorado town where a Japanese internment camp is built and people behave very badly.  It’s reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird and is a wonderful tale of women’s friendships against the odds in an insular, bigoted community.  Everyone will love it. GPR, SN/BC
*di Camillo, Kate, The Magician’s Elephant is a magical fable about orphan Peter who visits a fortune teller and learns that his sister is alive and that he can find her by “following the elephant.”  It’s enchanting and while 8 to 13-year-olds will devour it, I’d savor it as a family read aloud. It’s even better than The Tale of Despereaux. PBJ
*Drew, Alan, Gardens of WaterI love this” Romeo and Juliet” first novel that takes place in Istanbul after the 1999 earthquakes.  Neighboring families – one Kurdish Muslim and one American Christian live in a Red Cross tent city where some try to convert Muslim children to Christianity.  This novel asks so many questions about grief, religion, class, and cultural beliefs. Despite their actions the characters will haunt you.  GPR, SN/BC
Dunning, John, The Sign of the Book is the fourth in the series featuring a rare book dealer detective who finds a forger selling fake autographed books.  It has great dialogue, unusual characters, and quite a story. CC
Enger, Leif, So Brave, Young, and Handsome is a picaresque yarn with crisp, short chapters about a circa 1900 author following an old train robber who’s on the run. It has charming characters but is short on plot. GPR
Ford, Jamie, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, In 1986 Henry remembers 1942 when he was a 12-year-old Seattle boy wearing a button declaring “I am Chinese” because the Japanese were so hated.  Henry falls in love with a Japanese girl who he follows to an internment camp incurring his father’s wrath.  GPR, SN/BC
French, Tana, The Likeness, Dublin detective Cassie Maddox is called in when a murdered girl is found with her undercover ID and is her double.  Cassie assumes the victim’s life and falls into risky and strange situations. CC
Gaiman, Neil, The Graveyard Book, This year’s Newbury winner is a surprising, eerie, spooky story of Bod who is raised and protected by the dead in a graveyard.  It’s perfect for 10 to 13-year-old boys.  PBJ
Gardener, Lisa, The Neighbor, When Sandra disappears her husband Jason, a loner, is suspected as is the sexual predator that lives across the street.  This mystery is filled with twists and bad guys. CC
George, Elizabeth, The Great Deliverance is the best of all the Inspector Lynley mysteries.  It’s the first and it explains why Lynley and Havers behave as they do.  It’s emotion filled and perfect for a plane ride. CC
       In Pursuit of a Proper Sinner tells of a former undercover cop’s daughter who is found murdered.  Red herrings fool Lynley and Barbara Havers is demoted in this typically great George mystery. CC
       Careless in Red is very different as Lynley himself is at odds after a personal loss when he finds a dead body by the sea in Cornwall.  I want the old Inspector back. CC
*Glass, Julia, I See You Everywhere, Louisa has breast cancer in her thirties and has to deal with sister Clem’s demons as revealed by each sister in alternating chapters that end by offering abundant hope. Loss never leaves us yet we persevere whether one-armed or supposedly able bodied.  We all have handicaps. G/BC
*Grenville, Kate, The Secret River, this 2006 Booker finalist and Commonwealth Prize winner is historical fiction at its best. William Thornhill and his wife are in dire straits in England in 1806 – they’re starving and their baby is ill so he steals a load of wood and gets sent to the penal colony in New South Wales (now Australia) where he finds a new world along a secret river with a small group of battling settlers and natives.  It’s riveting, yet elegant, both a page turner and an almost Dickensian look at poverty and fear with flat-out poetic writing.  G, GPR, SN
Gruley, Bryan, Starvation Lake is a satisfying mystery with a twist that will particularly appeal to hockey lovers. Great characters show the fallacy in revering coaches who use their players to win despite the costs.  CC
Gutcheon, Beth, Good-Bye and Amenthis sequel to Leeway Cottage is very different in that it’s the story of three grown children dividing their parents’ belongings.  It’s most imaginative but a bit strange. GPR
Haigh, Jennifer, The Condition ostensibly refers to daughter Gwen’s Turner’s Syndrome that prevents her maturation but it’s really about the family’s inability to grow beyond the summer of Gwen’s diagnosis.  GPR
Hardie, Titania, The Rose LabyrinthLucy gets a new heart and the donor’s memories, friends, and desire to learn about a Da Vinci Code-like mystery that goes back to Queen Elizabeth and leads to Chartres. GPR
Harris, Robie, The Day Leo Said I HATE YOU! Molly Bang’s paper cut outs and photographic illustrations make this tale of a young boy who says I hate you to his mother a winner for kids from 4 – 8 (and their Moms).  PBJ
Hart, Carolyn, Death Walked InMax and Annie Darling find a bizarre family and stolen gold coins in this predictable whodunit that requires little thought.  CC
Hay, Sheridan, The Secret of Lost Things revolves around Rosemary, a young Tasmanian, who moves to New York knowing no one and ends up working with an odd crew at a rare bookstore where an undiscovered, possible Melville manuscript creates intrigue.  It’s beautifully written with literary subplots and strangeness. G, S
Horn, Dara, All Other Nights is a love story with spies and amazing women plus insights into the involvement of Jews in both the North and South during the Civil War that makes this page-turning historical fiction. SN, GPR
Jiles, Paulette, The Color of Lightening presents a poetic, accurate, sad, yet beautiful portrait of the life of Britt Johnson, a freed slave, who delivered freight in northern Texas just after the Civil War.  It shows the fallacy of the Indian policies of the time and takes the reader into a world most never knew existed. G, SN/BC
Johnston, Jan, Wrapped in Love is a warm, fuzzy (literally – the cover is fuzzy) story that reinforces that “Mom is here to protect you. You are wrapped in my love.”  It’s perfect for wary preschoolers. PBJ
*Jordan, Hillary, Mudbound  is page-turning tale set on a white family’s farm in 1946 rural Mississippi that depicts the owner’s brother and his black tenant farmer’s son’s return from the war to an unchanged world.  The last chapter is exceptional and will haunt you long after you finish this compelling story of silence, racial injustice, and the strength and fears of the women at home. It’s a perfect book club selection. GPR/BC
Kallos, Stephanie, Sing Them Homean eerie novel evoking the electric feeling air carries in a tornado, is the story of the three grown children of Hope Jones who was whisked away, never to be found, in a 1978 twister. 
Larken, an overweight professor, Gaelen, a body-building TV weatherman, and Bonnie, the miracle survivor, are all searching for their identities in this quirky tale of a small town imbued with obscure Welsh customs. GPR
Kelly, Jacqueline, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate tells of 11-year-old Callie’s life in 1899 as the only girl in a big family who’s expected to do “girlie” things but who wants to learn about science and the natural world that she soon explores with her curmudgeonly grandfather.  It’s delightful and 8 to 13-year-olds will love it.   PBJ
Lamb, Wally, The Hour I First Believed tells the story of a Columbine High teacher who is with his dying aunt as his wife, Maureen, a nurse at the school, sits hidden in a cabinet during the shootings. Maureen can’t recover from the trauma and her life spirals out of control in this big saga packed with secrets and tragedy. GPR
*Larsson, Stieg, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a unique mystery about a disgraced Swedish journalist and a spooky, brilliant, 24-year-old hacker who bond to solve a forty-year-old murder and uncover corruption, sadism, a serial killer, and ethics gone awry in this genre-bending thriller. I can’t wait to read the sequels. CC, S
Lee, Janice K., The Piano TeacherDespite the well-described glimpse of Hong Kong in 1942 and 1953, I just didn’t care about the piano teacher and her affair or about the other characters. GPR
Lehane, Dennis, The Given Day is an unusual story about Danny, a Boston Irish cop, his love Nora and Luther, a Negro League baseball player who is on the lam. Fold in Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge, and the Boston Police Strike and you have a fascinating picture of the way history evolved in the early 1900’s. GPR, SN
Lockhart, E., The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is a great book for teens that addresses peer pressure, boarding schools, parental expectations, and the many things that make teenage girls feel that they have to be pretty and sublimate themselves to their boyfriends.  PBJ
*Maloy, Kate, Every Last Cuckoo, Sarah’s husband dies and she builds community with a houseful of stragglers. She’s tough, tender, caring and open to new possibilities. Peace oozes from Sarah and the lovely Tess in this story of emotional stamina and growth – finally a strong, intriguing main character in her seventies.  GPR/BC
Morrison, Toni, A Mercyonly 167 pages yet this evocation of the new world emerging in 1680 manages to portray the horror, degradation, alienation, and cruelty that slavery causes.  G/BC
*Morton, Kate,The House at Riverton is something of an “Upstairs, Downstairs” with a mystery added. Grace is 99 and is remembering her years as a housemaid at Riverton when a famous World War I poet killed himself. I love Grace and Ursula, a filmmaker, who wants to tell the story. It’s great, page-turning historical fiction. GPR
      *The Forgotten Garden is an old-fashioned Dickensian tale that seems like a grown up Secret Garden meandering between 1900 Cornwall and London to present day Australia and Cornwall.  It’s a fairy tale, a mystery, and a flat out good story that makes you want to read all 645 pages in one sitting. I love Cassie. GPR
Nelson, Antonya, Living to Tell, Winston returns from prison for killing his grandmother while driving drunk to live with his dysfunctional family.  The novel drifts and the fine ending wasn’t enough to save it for me. GPR
O’Nan, Stewart, Last Night at the Lobster,  146 pitch-perfect pages of reality make up this novella of the last day of a Red Lobster restaurant that’s been closed due to lack of business. It’s a glimpse into the lives of those who work hard, put in their time, forge relationships, and get along inside the soon-to-close restaurant. It’s an exquisitely written slice of life as many Americans live it.  G/BC
Peck, Richard, A Season of Gifts, this sequel to A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago isn’t nearly as good and is only for those who want to revisit Grandma Dowdel in downstate Illinois. PBJ
*Petterson, Per, Out Stealing Horses is a spectacular novel of grace, anguish, and solitude. Trond moves to a remote Norway cabin and relives his fifteenth summer in 1948 when his father, a resistance fighter, changes their lives. It’s packed with passages I just had to read aloud and asks tons of questions of the reader. G, SN/BC
Picoult, Jodi, Nineteen Minutes portrays the victims and their families including a judge and her daughter after a Columbine-like killing.  It’s a page-turner that focuses on bullying and popularity and has a surprise ending.  CC
Pollan, Bella, Hunting Unicorns is a sweet, yet sarcastic mystery about Rory who rents castles to visitors to help his parents and others hang onto them. He and a journalist fall in love while discovering a family secret. GPR, S
Price, Richard, Lush Life, the dialogue and word pictures in this literary depiction of a seemingly random shooting were incredible but they weren’t enough to elevate the endless dirge of hopeless situations. G, S
*Russo, Richard, That Old Cape Magic, Jack Griffen recalls visits to various Cape Cod locations with his complaining professor parents during a turbulent year when he’s separated from his wife. It’s pure Russo - packed with irony and people leading neurotic lives while making costly mistakes.  I loved the ending. GPR
Schachner, Judy, Skippyjon Jonesthankfully there are sequels to this rhyme-rich story about a very silly Spanish-speaking cat with an extremely active imagination.  Kids will love the goofiness of it. PBJ
See, Lisa, Shanghai Girls, The story of sisters May and Pearl who leave Shanghai in the 1930’s to live in Los Angeles would have been perfect if not for the abrupt, ambiguous, unfinished ending. I still liked it though. GPR 
Shreve, Anita, Testimony is the compelling, disturbing, and poignant story of the aftermath of the rape of a fourteen-year-old “Lolita” by three boys at a prestigious prep school.  This book is chilling and forces the reader to consider the impact of alcohol on teens today.  GPR, CC/ BC
       A Change in Altitude presents Shreve’s common theme of betrayal in a story of a young couple who encounter tragedy while climbing Mt. Kenya.  There’s no support for the characters’ actions in this slow novel.
*Smith, Tom Rob, Child 44, The twists almost seem contrived in this mystery about Leo, a smart war hero/ security officer in 1953 Moscow  until they all start to form pieces of a wondrous puzzle. Leo becomes a suspect, himself, when he questions the death of a child as the possible work of a serial killer. Great characters CC, G
Stead, Rebecca, First Light, 12-year-old Peter and his family visit Greenland to study of the effects of global warming and Peter discovers a secret society living under the ice. Kids will like the topic and the suspense.  PBJ
Stockett, Kathryn,The Help is the story of Skeeter, a rebel, who writes the stories of the maids in 1962 JacksonMississippi. I loved maids Aibileen and Minny and I couldn’t put this down and thought the attitudes and dialogue rang true but I just couldn’t get past recent college grads Hilly and her influence and Skeeter and her maturity.  I loved Stockett’s own reminisces at the end of the book.  They’re more what Skeeter’s voice tried yet failed to portray. Still it’s a good story and a first novel so I can accept the flaws but wish it had been more. GPR, CC/BC
*Strout, Elizabeth, Olive Kitteridge, I read this a year ago and it still won’t let me go.  It won the 2009 Pulitzer yet it’s accessible.  Related short stories detail the life of Olive Kitteridge, an annoying, mercurial character.  The way Olive evolves makes one wonder about how all of us are seen by others.  The ending is spectacular. G/BC
Tinti, Hannah, The Good Thief, a charming, old-fashioned Dickensian story about Ren, a one-handed, thieving orphan, who Benjamin “adopts’ and uses in grave robbing and whatever crimes it takes to survive. Ren begins to uncover his past, finds joy in reading, and sees the best in those he meets. It’s delightful. GPR
Toibin, Colm, Brooklyn is a beautifully written story about complex Eilis who moves from Ireland to Brooklyn in 1950 and the secret that forces her to make a tough decision. It’s lovely and would make a great movie. G/GPR
Tolts, Steve, A Fraction of the Wholewhat seems like a farcical comedy about Martin who spends his early years in a coma and his athlete brother Tony who turns to crime then becomes a folk hero after his death in an Australian prison turns into a poignant and absurd look at life. This novel is packed with “aha” twists.  S
*Umrigar, Thrity,The Weight of Heaven, Frank and Ellie lose their only child and move to India to begin a new life but the plant Frank runs is causing community problems and Frank is trying to use their servant’s son as a replacement for Benny.  I won’t reveal the climax but it’s a real “aha.” This is a wonderful novel of grief, fear, blame, and greed that asks so many questions about our role in the world. Just read it. GPR/BC
Van Dusen, Chris, If I Built a Car, this read-aloud wonder will energize and engage little boys as they think about the perfect car. The vocabulary is delightful and Dads should love reading it aloud to preschool sons.  PBJ
*Verghese, Abraham, Cutting for Stone conjoined twins are born in Ethiopia in the 1950’s and since no one realizes that their mother, a nun, is pregnant  - she dies alone while giving birth. Their father, an English surgeon, flees and two eccentric doctors raise them at the hospital. The twins, Shiva and Genet, follow different medical and personal paths in this old-fashioned, exceptional story packed with twists. G, SN/BC
Vonnegut, Kurt, Cat’s Cradle seems more relevant today than in 1963 when it was written. The black humor and irony that has the family of the supposed inventor of the atomic bomb possessing something that can destroy civilization points to life’s absurdity.  Things are seldom what they seem in this classic. S, G/BC
Watson, Larry, Sundown, Yellow Moon, I expected more from this author and felt the story fizzled after a father killed a state senator then himself. The narrator’s obsessions just aren’t that interesting. GPR
 Whitehead, Colson, Sag Harbor is a wry novel about teens in a 1985 African-American enclave in the Hamptons where life renews itself and the prose dazzles while the humor makes the sadness endurable. It’s very funny but is also a stinging commentary on the “bourgie” prep school kids wanting to leave childhood behind. G, S/BC
Zafon, Carlos Ruiz, The Angel’s Game, the prequel to The Shadow of the Wind is exquisitely written but the plot just didn’t hold my interest. G

Barbour, Christine and Hutcheson, Scott, Home Grown Indiana: A Food Lover’s Guide to Good Eating in the Hoosier Statea delightful guide to places to buy, eat and learn about food - even for non-Hoosiers.  SN
*Bernstein, Harry, The Invisible Wall, written by Harry at age 93, tells of growing up in a small English mill town during World War I where the Jewish and Christian families live on opposite sides of the street and hate one another. Harry’s drunken father, his sister’s forbidden love of a Christian, and other tales make this a bittersweet but loving story that reads more like a novel than a memoir.  I can’t wait to read the sequel. GPR, SN/BC
Cahill, Thomas, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter explores classical Greek culture from myths through art, war, the development of the alphabet, music, dance, literature, and philosophers. SN
Colt, George Howe, The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home tells of Colt’s family through the history of a massive Victorian house and the family’s downward economic spiral.  Great writing. SN
*Dickinson, Amy, The Mighty Queens of Freeville is an endearing memoir of advice columnist Dickinson’s reliance on and contribution to family and community.  I want to make everyone read Chapter Five: Making Peanut Jesus – Finding God in the Community of Faith and Casseroles. It’s wise, gentle, and packed with love and great storytelling.  It made me feel like I’d eaten at the diner with Amy and her family. GPR, SF/BC
*Hampl, Patricia, The Florist’s Daughter, an ordinary life explained in an extraordinary way.  It’s universal, loving, acerbic, and magical. The language is exceptional and it reads as much like great essay as it does memoir. G
Idliby, Ranya; Oliver, Suzanne; and Warner, Priscilla, The Faith Club: a Muslim, a Christian, A Jew – Three Women Search for UnderstandingThree mothers set out to write an interfaith children’s book after 9/ll but realize that they need a place to discuss their own concerns and misunderstandings. Watching them explore their own faith journeys as their trust and friendship builds makes this perfect for discussion. SF, SN/BC
Janzen, Rhoda, Mennonite in a Little Black Dressafter fourteen years of marriage Rhoda, a poet and professor dumped by her husband for a man he found on, is injured in a car accident and returns home to her Mennonite roots.  She wryly describes her journey in this sardonic, laugh-out-loud memoir.  S, SF
Katz, Jon, A Good Dog, audio, a charming, bittersweet tale of an irascible dog and the time and money Katz invests in him and the other dogs at Bedlam Farm.  A perfect gift for animal lovers. GPR
Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianitythe classic book on what Christians believe requires that the reader think and it’s held up since WWII for good reason.  It’s a must read for cultural literacy and understanding Christianity. SF
*Link, Mardi, Isadore’s Secret, who’d think that a book about a nun’s disappearance in a small town in 1914 would be so compelling yet I read it in a day in a feverish desire to see what the priest, the housekeeper, and the town might do next to hide the disappearance and murder of young Sister Janina. It’s riveting.   CC, SN
Mathabane, Mark, Kaffir Boy, an autobiography, Mark’s story of using tennis to escape apartheid South Africa should have been compelling but I found it lifeless and had trouble finishing it. SN
Miles, Jonathan, Dear American Airlines tells of Bennie’s slightly funny letter to the airline complaining about being stuck at O’Hare because of weather and of missing of his daughter’s wedding.  It’s boring. S
*Pamuk, Orhan, Istanbul: Memories and the City requires concentration then rewards with a memoir tracing Pamuk’s life as it reveals Istanbul’s emergence from a ruined empire to a modern city.  The old photographs complement the writing beautifully. Pamuk won the 2006 Nobel Prize and his writing shimmers. G, SN
Penner, D’Ann and Ferdinand, Keith, Overcoming Katrina: African American Voices from the Crescent City and BeyondIt’s hard but necessary to read the stories of those we allowed to suffer.  This makes it real. SN, SF
Shell, Ellen Ruppell, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture shows that our desire for a good deal has resulted in cheap products, unhealthy foods, and planned obsolescence.  Learning that there’s an outlet mall in the Amazon rain forest almost broke my heart. This is packed with intriguing information we need to know. SN
Taylor, Jill Bolte, My Stroke of Insight provides scientific and spiritual information about neuroscientist Taylor’s stroke and recovery. I wish this were more concise but loved learning about how she changed.  SN/BC
*Umrigar, Thrity, First Darling of the Morning is a powerful, evocative, and compelling glimpse of a 1960’s childhood in a middle-class family amidst the poverty of Bombay.  The humor and flat-out great writing make this story of a volatile mother, a loving father, a caring aunt, a friend who goads Umrigar into political turmoil, and an examined adolescence under Indira Gandhi’s “Emergency” and its lack of civil liberties soar. G/BC
*Verghese, Abraham, My Own Country is the touching, tender, true story of an African born and reared Indian doctor  practicing internal medicine in Johnson City, TN in the late 1980’s when AIDS takes hold.  He captures the cadence and storytelling of the back country and makes his patients real, diverse individuals. GPR, SN/BC

Zinovieff, Sofka, Eurydice StreetA Place in Athens, Sofka and her Greek husband move to Athens and she recounts their family’s life while revealing the culture and history of Greece.  It’s informative and charming. SN