Books Read November 2008

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
Dolores Price is the only child of Bernice and Tony – both of whom continually disappoint and mentally abuse little Delores. Of course they’re dealing with a chorus of their own demons, so when Dad hits the road and Mom lands in a mental hospital; Dolores goes to live with Grandma in Rhode Island. Life is still crap so she tries to eat herself happy. Along the way she’s raped by her Grandmothers tenant, makes friends with the local tattoo artist, and somehow gets to college -- only to become a go-fer for her perfect roommate. Delores ends up stealing said perfect room-mates boyfriend years later but revenge isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
In anticipation of Lamb’s new release (The Hour I First Believed) I re-read She’s Come Undone. It was good but not nearly as good as I remember way back when. This brings to mind that saying, something about not putting your foot in the same river twice.

Skeleton’s at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian
Set during the final months of World War II, an interesting group of people attempt to cross through the Third Reich, from Warsaw to the Rhine to reach the British and American lines. There’s eighteen-year-old Anna Emmerich, the daughter of Prussian aristocrats, her lover, Callum Finella, a twenty-year-old Scottish prisoner of war who was a forced laborer on her family’s farm. And there’s the mysterious twenty-six-year-old Manfred, a Wehrmacht corporal–who’s really Uri Singer, a Jew from Germany who managed to escape a train bound for Auschwitz. A powerful story, and completely different from Bohjalian’s previous work I might add. A war story with a different spin but same lesson -- war doesn’t determine who’s right, just who’s left. Can you say: “Hollywood screen-play?”

The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer & Jim Mason
A really awesome book and whew, none too soon. It may sound text-book-y. It. Is. Not. The book follows three families (bargain shopper, an organic shopper, and a vegan shopper) as they make their food choices, traces back to where the food comes from, how it was raised, who raised it, how the food affects the family, and how those food choices affect the entire world!.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you know that unclean, unethical and horrifying farming practices are what are wrapped up in those nicely packaged cuts of beef, chicken and pork sitting in your grocery store. Singer and Mason take it a step further and give us reason to consider their origins, and how we can use our consumer dollars for change. I thought I knew quite a bit about this subject-- but holy hamburger, this book is the bomb. And for all you locavores out there -- some of their findings are not what you’d expect.

We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Animals That Changed Their Lives Forever by Benjamin Mee
This is the true story of spunky Benjamin Mee and his family who (with Grandma’s entire life savings) buy a rundown zoo in the English countryside. Mee had a dream to refurbish the zoo and run it as a family business. Of course that’s easier said than done especially when you have absolutely no zoo experience. What were they thinking? The book traces the journey which is equal parts humor (to his children: “Quiet. Daddy’s trying to buy a zoo.”), part head scratcher (dangerous animals escape regularly) part magical (the Dartmoor Wildlife Park opens to rave reviews) and part heart-breaker (Mee’s wife dies of glioblastoma.)Hey, this isn’t the next great British novel, but it’s a good, fast read and more than anything I admire someone who focuses on how to achieve a dream instead of coping out and not trying. Think of all the people who die not even having tried.

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien
Ah, yes it must be animal month at Inside the Book – because here’s another true animal story. It’s Valentine's Day 1985. Wesley the owlet is only four days old when he’s adopted by biologist Stacey O'Brien. She unselfishly commits to giving him a home for life which means among other things -- feeding him more than 28,000 mice over Wesley’s 19 year life-span! At the time O’Brien’s working at Caltech in a kind of scientific Hogwarts, where owls fly from office to office and brilliant scientists study animals. Although Wesley has nerve damage and can’t fly, O'Brien makes important discoveries about owl behavior, intelligence, and communication. She talks about "The Way of the Owl" to describe Wesley’s unconditional love, loyalty and trust. O’Brien’s photos are almost as good as the story, but of course the story is thoroughly engaging, heartwarming, and funny.

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Hasn’t everybody read Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince? (If you haven’t, don’t admit it just read it – it takes all of an hour.) So, when I realized his book Wind, Sand, and Stars had been recently named to National Geographic's "Top Ten Adventure Books of All Time" I had to get on the bandwagon. Even though it’s billed as an “adventure book,” it’s got a quiet, thoughtful pace, and brings to mind Beryl Markham’s West with the Night. And perhaps the greatest surprise of all? On page 288 the question of who wrote one of my favorite quotes was revealed because there it was: “Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.” NatGeo got it right – it’s a classic written by a great adventurer.
FYI -- Saint-Exupery, born in Lyon, France in 1900 was known as the "Winged Poet." He took his first flight at age eleven and became a pilot at twenty-six. He was a pioneer of commercial aviation and flew in the Spanish Civil War and World War II. He wrote The Little Prince, Wind, Sand and Stars, Night Flight, Southern Mail, and Airman's Odyssey. In 1944, while serving with a French air squadron, he disappeared during a flight over the Mediterranean.


Books Read October 2008

Flying Changes by Sara Gruen
Annemarie Zimmer's is kind of a neurotic scaredy cat. She worries about her relationship, her daughter Eva's dreams of riding a horse to Olympic glory, and her own demons of a horrible riding accident long ago. This woman just can’t make peace with her past and lets it ruin her present.
Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants was a real gem, so I decided to try one of her earlier works. Sorry Sara, but although Flying Changes was written well, the story was dusty and nothing very special. I’ve got high hopes for her new book Ape House, due out spring 2009.

The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III
April is a stripper with a problem – what to do with her three-year old daughter when the usual babysitter ends up in the hospital. Gee, instead of taking the night off and letting somebody else make a few bucks, she decides to have her daughter watch children's videos in the office while she works. Of course something’s gotta’ go wrong at the Puma Club for Men – like er, her daughter goes missing! Could it be the disgruntled patron, the quirky foreigner with loads of money to burn, or some random pedophile? The story is set weeks and days before 9-11, and I felt the same psychological tension, and realism that Dubus's mastered in his previous book House of Sand and Fog — but the ending was weak-weak-weak.

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
Twelve year-old Ren was left at the Saint Anthony Orpahnage when he was just an infant. He grew up wondering what events could have lead his Mother to abandon him -- especially since he has tangible proof that she loved him dearly. Like all the residents at the orphanage he longs for a home and parents. But once prospective parents see he’s missing his left hand, well, he’s passed over. Miraculously one day a man appears claiming to be his long-lost brother. So, it’s off with his brother and soon he’s introduced to a world of scam artists and petty thieves. The “brothers” end up in the lucrative, if not messy, business of robbing graves – which is difficult for the pious Ren to cope with.
Wow what a story-line! I thought I’d found a great read because the first half was so intriguing. Unfortunately the story ran out of steam and by the last chapter I was really disappointed.

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
O.K. this is what I’m pretty sure of… there’s an unsolved murder in the small off-reservation town of Pluto, North Dakota. The Ojibwe tribe, living on the nearby reservation, and the people of Pluto are at odds for the next generation over this travesty -- even though there are some inner-marriages and their lives intertwine. Everything else is sort of a blur. Maybe I should have taken notes. Help! Is there a Cliff Notes on this book??
Louise Erdrich's is one of my favorite writers and this is her first book in almost three years – but it addles my brain. I honestly don’t think a reader should have to work that hard to keep characters and plot straight. Maybe in college, but not pleasure reading.


Books Read September 2008

Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden
This is a story of five families of varying ethnic backgrounds -- black, white, and Indian--living along one block of Uptown, New Orleans. I know that much from reading the dust jacket and a whole bunch of reviews because after 34 pages I still had no idea of who-what-where-when and finally I ask myself WHY am I subjecting myself to this??
Sad to say but I could not read any further.
Enough said.

Run by Ann Patchett
Bernard Doyle and his adopted African-American sons, Tip and Teddy attended a speech given by Jesse Jackson. Doyle, a former mayor likes to keep his sons engaged in politics -- although the passion is not shared by the boys. As they leave Harvard auditorium one of the boy’s is almost injured in a car accident but a mysterious woman throws herself in its path to save him. Who is this woman and what are they going to do with her small daughter?
Well, gee I can tell you. I could have told you after about page three. Still, a good (not great) book.

The Enders Hotel: A Memoir by Brandon Schrand
Soda Springs, Idaho is the home of the historic Enders Hotel, Café, and Bar, a three-story brick building in the middle of town. Brandon Schrand’s family owned the place. Needless to say he grew up there and every day brought another character through the hotel doors — a drifter, an alcoholic artist, an ex-con, a forgotten boxing champ, a homeless ex-college professor from nearby Idaho State University.
I enjoyed it for the memories it stirred up of growing up in a little Idaho town and all the grace and wonderful simplicity that (looking back) came with the territory. Readers without ties to Soda Springs or Idaho might want to pass. The Enders Hotel did win the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize -- so what do I know.

The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls
Rex and Rose Mary Walls and their four children live like nomads, moving through little desert towns, and camping in the mountains like they’re on some kind of extended vacation. But life with Rex– a drunk but brilliant guy -- who teaches his kids physics and geology, and Rose Mary -- an "excitement addict," is no vacation. Jeannette and her brother and sisters fend for themselves most of the time, and it’s a wonder any of them grew up sane.
As a Mother I have a difficult time with this kind of neglect. I can almost forgive Rex because of his alcoholism, but Rose Mary came off as a spoiled adult who refused to do the right thing for herself and her kids even though she had opportunities handed to her. This is a success story despite great odds, and I mean GREAT odds. It’s also a pretty decent book. These days Jeannette Walls is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com, and lives in New York City. It must have taken a tremendous amount of nerve to write this memoir.

Tomboy Bride: A Woman’s Personal Account of Life in Mining Camps of the West
by Harriet Fish Backus & Pam Houston
Harriet Backus was a pioneer who lived, traveled and experienced more adventures in the wilderness than you and I could ever imagine. This story of her amusing and difficult experiences following her much-loved husband around mining camps is not only an awesome autobiographical account, but a clear picture of life in the wild west -- when roads were dirt, you hauled your water from a well, and the nearest railroad was a “mere” 50 miles away. What a great picture she paints of the Tomboy Mine above Telluride, the copper mines of British Columbia, the remote regions of Idaho, and Leadville, Colorado.


Books Read in August 2008

America America by Ethan Canin
Set in the1970s, Corey Sifter becomes a yard boy for the powerful Metarey family. And because he’s an exceptional young man, soon finds himself a student at a private boarding school thanks to the Metareys. Eventually he becomes involved with one of the Metarey daughters, and needless to say he leaves behind the world of his upbringing. Before long, Corey finds himself working for the great New York senator Henry Bonwiller, who is running for president of the United States. As the campaign gains momentum, Corey finds himself caught up in a web of events that eventually culminate in a tragic death.
I’m not a fan of political fiction, but this book is an exception. Even though the story was a classic “poor-boy-gets-taken-in-by-rich-family-and-falls-in-love-with-daughter” story, the characters were great, with enough turns and twists to keep me interested.

Another Thing to Fall by Laura Lippman
Private investigator Tess Monaghan lands an assignment with a movie company shooting a series in Baltimore. It seems the company has been haunted by a series of petty crimes and other mysterious incidents, and they’re concerned for the safety of the young female lead. Tess soon realizes she’s been hired as a body guard and babysitter to a spoiled movie starlet. It’s all pretty ho-hum until someone gets the axe.
Actually it’s pretty ho-hum all the way through. I’ve never read other Lippman books but they come highly recommended by her fans. That said – this one was not a great book. Too easy to figure out, too many clichés, and the characters would be great cartoon personalities but didn’t resonate in real life.

Entre Nous, a Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl by Debra Ollivier
Ollivier is an American, married to a Frenchman, who spent ten years living in France -- so she knows a thing or two about the French. It’s no big secret (whether you believe it or not) that the world thinks French girls have it going on. So, how can an American girl tap into that mystic – a certain je ne sais quoi – that French girls are born with? Ollivier gives us lovely stories about fashion icons and fabulous food, French movies (watch and learn) and a list of must-dos. Thankfully, Ollivier's advice isn’t about buying more stuff. It has a hefty dose of making do with what you have, living life purposefully, defining your personal fashion sense and purchasing that one great item that’s meant to be worn for a long time. Quality not quantity. So refreshing! Every American woman should read this book -- it’s delightful with a plethora of great sidebars.

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman
Chessman undertakes a lofty goal – telling the story behind some of the most famous paintings ever done by a woman. The story is set in the 1880’s. American impressionist Mary Cassatt and her sister, Lydia live in Paris -- and the Paris art world is thriving. Lydia narrates the story and even though she is very ill with Bright's disease, and conscious of her impending death, she poses for five of her sister's paintings.
I enjoyed this book. Some may find it boring, but it matches Mary Cassatt’s paintings -- quiet, contemplative and beautiful – interwoven with the very real story of a woman looking at death while very much still alive. Historical art fiction.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Enzo is different from other dogs. First and foremost he narrates a damn good book. He’s also a philosopher with an obsession with opposable thumbs. He’s educated himself by watching television and by listening to his master -- weekend race car driver Denny Swift. It’s through Denny he learns that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. We meet Enzo on a very special evening, as he looks back on his life, recalling all the sacrifices Denny made; and the unexpected losses along the way. In the end Enzo, well, never mind what he does– I’m leaving this intentionally vague because I don’t want to spoil this book for you!
A heart-squeezing but really and truly funny story of life, love, family loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is my new FAVORITE BOOK to recommend. A beautifully written story that explores the wonders and absurdities of human life from a dog’s eye point of view. ♥♥♥


Books Read in July 2008

A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas
When Thomas’s husband Rich, was hit by a car, his brain shattered and now he has no memory. His rages and hallucinations make it impossible for Thomas to care for him, and she sadly realizes he must live in an institution. This book is the blue-print of how she re-builds her life around a great tragedy that came from nowhere and changed her life. She does so with patience, grace; courage, and great guilt. Her new support system is composed of three dogs who keep her warm at night and moving during the day.
This little book reveals that you might not find meaning in disaster, but you might, with effort, make something useful of it.

The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman
This is the story of three women, who are all in love with the wrong men. Madeleine is attracted to her sister’s fiancé. Frieda, a runaway, becomes the muse of a loser rock star. And Bryn, who is set to marry an Englishman, finds herself still in love with her ex-husband. Then there’s Lucy, who witnessed a tragic accident at the age of twelve, and spends four decades searching for the “Third Angel” who her Father insists is real.
Although it sounds like it could be a great book -- it was a dud. I waited for the stories to come smashing together and the Third Angel to rise and give me a big “ah-ha” moment, but alas (!) only got a mediocre “ho-hum.” Great cover art though.

So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Enger
Set in 1915 Minnesota, novelist Monte Becket is living the soft life, and can’t seem to get another book written. His best-selling first book is years behind him and he lacks inspiration. Enter Glendon Hale, outlaw, and wise old boat-maker. Hale’s looking for forgiveness and decides to find the wife he abandoned years ago. Becket decides to travel with him to the Wild West not only for adventure, but perhaps the inspiration he needs for a new book. But traveling with a fugitive has its challenges, and although he misses the quiet Minnesota life with his wife and son, he may never get home.
The tone of this book reminds me of writers Kent Harup and Mark Spragg. Unfortunately it’s not nearly as well crafted. It’s an adequate story but who wants to invest time for just adequate?

The Sister’s Mortland by Sally Beauman
Summer, 1967. 13 year-old Maisie and her older sisters are having their portrait painted by starving artist, Lucas -- who eventually becomes famous. All three sisters live with their Mother and Grandfather in a medieval abbey that has been in the family for generations. Of course no medieval abbey is complete without the ghosts of Nun’s and a history of recurring tragedy. The tragedy de-jour will haunt the family for twenty years until a close friend sets out to unravel what really took place that summer.
The writing is fine. It’s a perfectly acceptable read. If, however you only read three or four books a year save yourself for something better.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Kostova's first novel, ten years in the writing, is a pretty decent retelling of the ever popular Dracula tale. Late one night (it has to be, right?) a16-year-old girl discovers a mysterious book in her father's library and is launched on a journey to find her father who has mysteriously disappeared. As she searches, she begins to understand her family has a connection to Vlad the Impaler – and that could have something to do with why she’s never met her Mother. Appetizers anyone?
This is a well-written book, with absorbing history of the Impaler. I’m not a Dracula fan, but found it a good solid read. Dracula fans would love it. Also if you have the attention span of a spoon be warned – it’s a long, long book.

Fear of Fifty by Erica Jong
From the author of Fear of Flying (18 million copies in print worldwide BTW) this is Erica Jong’s midlife memoir and begins appropriately on her fiftieth birthday. It’s sprinkled with witty and honest glimpses into her life as a Jewish American princess, her rise to fame, her quirky and sometimes wild thoughts on sex and marriage (yes, even after all these years,) aging, identity, motherhood and family life.
When this book was first published in 1994 I was a mere 30-something – so it’s no wonder I missed it. Now at fifty-something, I can identify. Buy this book for all your women friends in the appropriate age-group and have a party.

The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea
The hummingbird’s daughter is Teresita Urrea, the author’s aunt and ancestor. Teresita was a medicine woman of the Yaquis and Mayo tribes whose magical healing power was legendary in Mexico. She became Saint of Cabora, and during her lifetime inspires revolution in Mexico – sort of a Mexican Joan of Arc. Urrea spent 20 years writing and researching the story – which spans 1873 to 1906.
This is the kind of book you become so interested in, that once you’ve finished reading it you spend hours researching the characters, the history, and the landscape – anything to stay connected with the story. Great book.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson’s 1962 book started a new environmental movement in America. Her research was stellar, and her love of the natural world legendary. Thanks to her, ten years after the publication of Silent Spring, DDT was banned in the U.S. I re-read this classic as a belated tribute to Carson’s 100th birthday. She was born in 1907. Just call her the “Godmother of Green.”


Books Read in June 2008

A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs
Burroughs is every boy – just wants the love his father. Unfortunately we know this family from Running with Scissors and the love ain’t there kiddo. Besides a wacko Mother, he’s strapped to a philosophy professor father who has alcoholic rages, and stays in his downstairs bedroom most the time. Mooning for a Dad (any Dad) he crafts a ‘surrogate’ with pillows and discarded clothing. Sad-sad-sad.
This is another jaw-dropping Burroughs memoir – sans the signature humor – but it has way too much wining. One can only hope this book is a healing balm for Burroughs and he starts to explore his creativity and expand his repertoire. Enough of the family.

Earth: The Sequel by Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn
Finally -- a book that gives us a little hope! American entrepreneurs work best when unfettered and with a big pay-off looming, so why not give those smart folks some incentive?? Lot’s of people around the globe are working on innovative technologies that will help solve the energy/pollution/global warming crisis.

Playing For Pizza by John Grisham
What does an NFL quarterback, aka “has-been,” who single-handedly loses the game that will take his team to the Super Bowl do? If you’re Rick Dockery, recently out of work and fodder for late-night jokes, you take the first job your agent finds. In this case that’s playing for the Parma Panthers in Italy. Definitely not the same standard as the NFL, but slowly Rick understands he’s not the same snob who left the good old USA either.
Great descriptions of Italian villages and trattorias. Fast read, and even though I’m not a huge football fan it was a decent read.

River God by Wilbur Smith
Oh, goodie – historical fiction. Set against the backdrop of the Hyksos invasion of Egypt, this is a story of war and love circa 1780 BC. Be prepared to fall in love with Taita -- inventor, artist and keeper of Lady Lostris, a beauty who becomes Queen of Egypt even though her true love (and the Father of he child) is NOT the Pharaoh.
This is an old-old book but I loved it years ago and loved it just as much this time around! Smith has written thirty novels, all extraordinarily researched, and he’s a master story-teller.

River of Heaven by Lee Martin
Sammy Brady's quiet life revolves around his basset hound, Stump. All that changes when the next door neighbor, becomes a widower and manages to weddle himself into Sammy's world. Soon they’re building a ship-shaped dog house, and attending cooking classes. Things are good until a reporter shows up to write a story about the dog-house. Alas! The reporter is related to Dewey Finn, Sammy's childhood friend who mysteriously died on a railroad track. Like any good reporter he dives into the un-solved mystery and things get complicated. Not enough? Enter the orphaned grandchild, wayward brother, and sleazy antique dealer.
I’m not a fan of this one. The characters are going in too many directions, people die off and/or disappear for no apparent reason. Maybe I’m getting cynical in my old reading age, but is there anything out there that’s great?? HELP!

The Man Who Fell In Love with the Moon by Tom Spanbauer
This tale of love and loss is told by Shed, a half-breed bisexual Indian, and son of a prostitute, who, at age 12 is raped at gunpoint by the man who then murders his mother. He’s raised by Ida Richilieu—proprietress of the local whorehouse and mayor of Excellent, Idaho.
I read this book when it was first published back in 1992 and it was bizarre. These many years later I find it’s still bizarre, but poetic in a weird sort of way and I can almost guarantee this book is unlike anything you’ve ever read before. Weird sex, strange family connections, weird racial interactions. It’s a captivating, and be warned, bizarre book, but one you won’t be able to put down.

The Last Cowgirl by Jana Richman
Dickie Sinfield is 52, and, well that’s the time you look back on your childhood and realize it was crappier than you care to remember. At age seven, Dickie’s family moves from the suburbs and she’s forced to become a cowgirl. At 18, she takes off, becomes a Salt Lake City newspaper reporter and hardly looks back. But when her brother is killed by poison gas at the U.S. Army's Dugway Proving Grounds, she comes home for the funeral -- where she faces her father's anger, her mother's infidelity, her best friend's betrayal, and her long-lost love, Stumpy Nelson.
What should have been a great book was a huge disappointment. The story had so much potential but Richman delivered a whiny memoir contrasted with a hard look at the government’s handling of chemical accidents. Read The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle instead.


Books Read in May 2008

Ask Again Later by Jill A. Davis
They've “found a lump,” is all it takes for Emily to leave her law career, her boyfriend, and move into her childhood bedroom to be with her Mom.So, you’re in your childhood bedroom, your Mother has cancer, and you’ve left your long-time lover so things can’t get any worse, right? Well, enter the absent Father. Yes, the man who left when she was five is at the door offering to help. She ends up taking a job as a receptionist in his law firm, and slowly gets to know him.
Although this sounds sad and heart-wrenching, let me assure you – it’s a funny, laugh-out-loud tale that confirms once and for all that you can grow up to be a functioning adult despite your parents, and questionable choices in men, yadda yadda..

Empty Nest…Full House by Andrea Van Steenhouse
This is an old-old release, and I have no idea why I picked it up -- except that I have been struggling with how soon my son will be off to college and starting his adult life. It’s a good thing I read it, because I was guilty of many mistakes Van Steenhouse says can make this difficult passage even more difficult. The tale begins with senior year in high school, and ends with the final departure for college and entire freshman year. It offers a humorous look at what can be a turbulent time for parents and children.
This is a must-read for any parent who doesn’t want to make the same mistakes their parents made, although after reading the book, you’ll understand why (and how easily) they made them! I highly recommend this simple, yet powerful, little book to help guide you in making the journey positive and happy. On both sides of the generation fence.

Forgive Me by Amanda Eyre Ward
Nadine Morgan is a globe-trotting journalist, covering historic events, and placing herself in danger to get the “real” story. Once a resident of Cape Town, she left after a tragic event and hasn’t been back -- until she hears the story of American student, Jason Irving who was beaten to death by local youths at the height of the apartheid era. Now, years later, Jason’s killers have applied for amnesty. Nadine, who is recovering from a brutal attack, can’t stay away from a good story and leaves a would-be lover to follows Jason’s parents to South Africa for the trial.
To my surprise, I found feelings of sympathy for the victim’s parents and the killer’s parents -- both having “lost” children. Forgiveness is a powerful thing and Ward provides a haunting story to gently push us toward the process.

Girls Poker Night by Jill A. Davis
Another hilarious Jill A. Davis book! This is an older release, but after discovering “Ask Again Later” I simply had to read it.
Ruby Capote is tired of her boyfriend, Boston, and life in general, so she shoots a resume and a 6-pack of beer to an editor in New York City, landing herself a job. As soon as her Boston relationship is over she takes up with her editor boss Michael. She gets advice from friends during weekly poker nights and her life is played out before thousands of readers in her humor column. The book reads like a “Lifestyle-Humor” column, and although it’s definitely a chick-lit book it’s one of the more well-written ones. Nice balance of laugh-out-loud funny and I-wish-that-hadn’t-happened-sad.

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
Children are being murdered in a medieval England town, and the Jewish community is being blamed. The citizens say this proves that Jews sacrifice Christian children in creepy, secret ceremonies. King Henry I is concerned about the Jew’s fate -- mainly because without their taxes he would be bankrupt. Henry calls on his cousin the King of Sicily to import the best medical expert in Europe. He’s sent a young doctor named Adelia -- a "mistress of the art of death," AKA early version of the medical examiner.
Truth be told, this book started out as a yawner. I kept with it and after the first chapter was rewarded with a novel I couldn’t put down. Yes, some parts are corny and unbelievable, but it’s a nice blend of historical fiction with a shot of medieval CSI.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
A new hardcover edition came out late 2007 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the novel first published in 1957. Fifty years later, I venture to say Kerouac’s book still has what it takes to inspire young people in America to hit the road in search of, well, whatever it is they think they need to find but don’t know until they find it. Kerouac's novel is a great window to the rhythms of 1950s underground America, including jazz, sex, illicit drugs, the lure of the open road, of being “beat,” and that elusive “something” that can set you free. Based on Kerouac's real-life adventures.
If I were young, single, and daring I’d take off today.

The Night Journal by Elizabeth Crook
In the 1890s Hannah Bass began writing in her journals about her great Western adventure -- first as the survivor of a horrific train wreck, then as a Harvey Girl at the fancy Montezuma Resort, and finally as the wife of Elliott Bass, a railway engineer. Fast forward to Hannah's daughter, Claudia Bass, a renowned historian who edited and published the diaries and basically rode her Mother’s written word to fame. However the great grand-daughter, Meg Mabry –hasn’t bothered reading them. That is until an excavation on the old family property reveals a discovery that can underscore the diaries and the family’s history.
I loved how Crook spun the modern-day professional Meg who has a cushy life, around the 1890’s frontier woman Hannah whose life consisted of Indian ruins, grand desert hotels, and hardships. Before your eyes, the stories collide and you see how several generations of women deal with family secrets, death, and creating your own life.

The Zookeepers Wife by Diane Ackerman
O.K. by now you may realize I’m a sucker for a true story, and this is the true story about the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, during World War II. They also happened to be an incredible husband and wife team who helped save hundreds of people from the Nazi’s.
Antonina is the zookeeper's wife, and although her husband fights in the resistance, it is really Antonina who shows us what true heroism is all about. It’s not about killing and guns, but more about daring, attitude, and creating joy in the face of hardship. This is a solid book. My only complaint is that Ackerman interjects too heavy a dose of the Warsaw Holocaust with Antonina’s own poetic writing and it didn’t work for me.


Books Read April 2008

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff
There are times, yea, verily, when life sucks and this is the true story of such a time. Sheff's son Nic was an athlete, honor student, and award-winning journalist – that is before meth. After meth, he lived on the streets and stole (even from his eight year old brother) to support his habit. As grievous as meth addiction is for the addict, it can also destroy the very thread that holds a family together. Meth is the most addictive and fastest-growing drug in the United States, as well as the most dangerous. And, as Sheff’s story clearly points out, it has invaded every nook, cranny and demographic in America.
Heart-breakingly good read.

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos
Cornelia Brown, seemingly happy city-dweller, up and decides to head for an idyllic suburb. Her husband Teo fits right in, but Cornelia struggles to find friends, and her neighbor Piper Truitt hates her. I actually know someone like Piper so I sympathize. Desperate for good pasta and a friend, Cornelia forms a friendship with a waitress named Lake and her son Dev. Add a few more couples – each facing life challenges and changes -- and you end up with a book filled with an unlikely group who most likely would never come together in the first place.
This book has a great cover which brings up the argument that you can’t judge the contents of a book by the design prowess of a graphic artist. Case in point.

Is The American Dream Killing You? by Paul Stiles
Stiles is a former Wall Street Trader that maintains that American capitalism "has become the driving force of American decline. The market is the heart that pumps the blood of America's ever more demanding cycle of work-buy-work and its social problems, from increased levels of stress to divorce, latchkey kids and the decline in spiritual and moral values. Stiles has a plethora of statistical data that document all that and more. He touches on many facets of how the market is killing us and also shows how advertisers use the media manipulates us to suit the market's needs.
Stiles illuminates the dark side of the free enterprise system and how many social ills can be traced back to one underlying principle. Some chapters were a bit difficult to get through, but I was mostly captivated – and mostly convinced.

Taft by Ann Patchett
John Nickel runs a bar called Muddy's on Memphis's Beale Street. Although is is/was a talented musician, he took the job to prove to his lover, Marion he could provide for her and their son. Marion and Franklin end up moving to Florida, but John stayed at the bar and let his passion for music die. Life is simple until Fay Taft shows up at Muddy's, lies about her age and asks for a job. What he gets is a needy girl, her drug-dealer brother Carl, and the sad story of their father’s death.
Parts of this book were brilliant, but for the most part it was draggingly slow.

The Magicians Assistant by Ann Patchett
And now ladies and gentlemen, watch closely as I pull an old book, circa 1998, out of my sleeve and reveal it for you today! It’s the story of Sabine, who, for many years, has been assistant and wanna-be lover to famous magician Parsifal. After his death she is lost and leaves sunny LA to discover the ‘real’ Parsifal with his grieving family in the snowy, windy mid-west.
Although I like Ann Patchett, this is not one of my fav’s. The magic is lost somewhere along the way, and even apparitions of the dead can’t help.

The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho
This is the story of Coelho’s journey across Spain along the legendary road of San Tiago -- which pilgrims have traveled since the Middle Ages -- and is the second most important pilgrimage for Catholics. In this contemporary quest, Coelho battles his own mind as well as real and present dangers from the dark side in an effort to retrieve his sword, and ultimately understand the nature of truth. His knowledge of Secret Society Initiation rites and actual experiences has you traveling along with him on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. I read somewhere that it is the first written account in the last 500 years. Regardless, Coelho once again blows our mind and reminds us there is a huge world waiting for us to discover, and I don’t mean vacation spots.


Books Read March 2008

A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
Eckhart Tolle’s new book presents readers with a look at how he sees the current state of humanity – namely that our reality has been created and continues to be ruled by the egoic mind. The good news is humanity is ready -- perhaps more than in any previous time --to create a new, more loving world.
I’m not saying I totally ‘got’ this book and I’m not saying I have suddenly awoken to my life’s purpose, but I found my breathe, and that’s no shabby start.

The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho
Brazilian author Paulo Coelho does it again! Although he writes a book just every two years – when he finds a white feather, it seems every book is a beautiful treasure well worth the wait.
The title of the book comes from London's Portobello Road, where Sherine Khalil, aka Athena, holds worship meetings, but this book truly spans the globe. The story recounts her birth in Transylvania to a Gypsy mother, her adoption by wealthy Lebanese Christians; her short, early marriage to a man she meets at a London college, her son Viorel's birth; and her stint selling real estate in Dubai. Once back in London, Athena learns to share her powers, which may lead to her demise. The Witch of Portobello is another masterful blend of religious-like miracles, moral principles, and the beauty, and difficulties of following your destiny.

Perfect Weight by Jordan Rubin
I’m not one of the majority of Americans who feel they are 29 pounds overweight. Actually if I could shed seven to ten pounds I’d be happy, but I’m not obsessing on how to do it. So, why a diet book? Well, it discusses eating less processed foods and that’s something I’m interested in. It doesn’t tell the story as beautifully as Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, but it does get the message across.
However, if you are looking for a weight-loss guide, then this is a great book. Jordan Rubin debuted this 16-week program in Toledo, Ohio, one of the unhealthiest cities in the country. It was a success and showed remarkable results that even made national news. According to participants, you'll burn unhealthy fat, experience incredible energy, cleanse built-up toxins from your body, and learn steps for simple sustainability to take weight off our planet.


Books Read February 2008

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown
Susan Fletcher is a brilliant code breaker and works with the NSA – which some people think stands for “No Such Agency.” It seems a disgruntled ex-employee is trying to hold the NSA hostage by releasing a code so complex that if it was released world-wide would cripple US intelligence, and destroy the NSA. Fletcher, along with her fiancé and co-workers work to save the agency, the country, and as it turns out her man.
O.K. I know this book has been out a long time, but I’ve just gotten around to reading it! It’s got a killer plot (in more ways than one) and I was really excited as I got into it especially after I got past the corny love dream. There are some interesting twists and turns but all-in-all it was disappointing.

Perfect Match by Jody Picoult
Nina Frost is an assistant district attorney with a great husband and equally wonderful five-year-old son, Nathaniel. She prosecutes child molesters and does a decent job -- that is until the victim is her own son.
Picoult writes about hot issues, intertwined with moral and ethical questions – usually things we don’t want to imagine are possible, but never-the-less, her stories are powerful and spellbinding. Desperate for something to read, I snatched this book from my Mother’s bookcase. It’s an older Picoult novel, but I must say it’s now one of my favorites!

The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich
Faye Travers is hired to appraise the estate of a family in her small New Hampshire town, and because the deceased is an ex-Indian reservation official, she isn't surprised to discover valuable Native American artifacts. However, when she finds a rare drum -- made from a huge moose skin stretched across a hollow of cedar, and finely ornamented – she knows she must return it to its rightful owner’s descendants. This is a beautiful story of the Ojibwa tribe and a drum so powerful some people can hear it sound with out it being touched.
Erdrich traces the drum's passage backward and forward in time, and we discover how powerful it is and the effect it has on the lives of those whose paths it crosses.
This book is as much about basic human relationships and how choices in life affect those relationships, as it is a beautiful narrative on Native American beliefs. Erdrich is a wonderful writer.


Books Read January 2008

Body Surfing by Anita Shreve
At the ripe old age of 29, Sydney has been divorced once and widowed once. To get things together she agrees to tutor the teenage daughter of a well-to-do couple during their summer at an oceanfront cottage. This particular cottage has appeared in many of Shreve’s books, and it’s really the most interesting about the book. Can you tell I was disappointed? Especially since the story had so much to offer. For instance -- the ruttish older brothers’ visit and Sydney is courted by both, the daughter runs away to Canada with an older woman, and the only truly nice guy ends up dead.

Cage of Stars by Jacquelyn Mitchard
Veronica Swan is twelve years old when her peaceful life in a close-knit Mormon community is changed forever. While babysitting her two younger sisters, they are brutally murdered. In true Christian fashion, the parents eventually forgive the killer. Veronica starts the sad process of trying to avenge her sisters' deaths, and tracks down the murderer.
There’s fiction, and then there’s fiction written by Jacquelyn Mitchard, of Deep End of the Ocean fame. She manages to pull your heartstrings without being patronizing. Good solid fiction.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Hanna Heath, a rare-book expert, finds herself face to face with the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. The book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. While she repairs it, she discovers some interesting items in its ancient binding—an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, and a white hair. Through each tiny artifact she begins tracing the book's journey from the present to its creation in 1480.
Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is a perfect example of great historical fiction. In my mind, no other author attacks this genre with such vigor.

The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
This is no ordinary story. Henry DeTamble is an adventuresome librarian who, at a young age realizes he can (and does quite frequently) travel through time. These travels are not voluntary and are actually quite frightening since they usually leave him naked, mangled and looking for clothes. On one such journey he meets young Clare Abshire. I won’t say more except it is an enchanting tale, and you should read it -- even though some of the chronology is spongy.

Thought to Exist in the Wild by Derrick Jensen
Every so often a book lands in your lap with no rhyme ‘nor reason. I actually bought this book as a present for my step-daughter. When it arrived I glanced at the pages and started reading. I could not put it down. Jensen captivated me with his incredible insight and reason. If you’ve ever walked through a zoo with a pit in your stomach feeling “this isn’t right,” then buy this book and share it with as many people as possible.

Books Read in 2007

Animal Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
This is the true story of the Kingsolver family, and the year they left Arizona for a farm in southwestern Virginia. They left behind a processed-food life -- one that gives 85 cents of every food dollar to processors, marketers and transporters – to a life where they plant, raise, eat, and subsist on what they are able to grow on the farm.
It’s an inspirational read, but also chronicles the often humorous journey, like in July when she gladly took some tomatoes from a neighbor. Three weeks later (after being crowned “the tomato queen” by her daughter) she had harvested more than 400 pounds of tomatoes from her own garden! Everyone who cares about their health and the health of the planet should read this book. Highly recommended.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Set in war-torn Afghanistan, A Thousand Splendid Suns is about two women married to the same man. Mariam was forced to marry 40-year-old Rasheed when she was only 15. Then, 18 years later, Rasheed takes another young wife – in hopes having a son. After a somewhat rocky beginning (imagine that) the women become close.
The book covers 30 years of Afghan history (Translation: lots of war,) but despite the horrors, it really shows the incredible depth of a woman's love for her family. Remember a few years ago the media showed an Afghani woman being taken to the stadium and shot? Hosseini wondered what events had led her to such a fate, and used that as a premise for the story. Honestly, parts of it were brilliant, but I didn’t like it as much as The Kite Runner.

A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindberg
Called one of the most beloved books of our time, Anne Lindberg wrote this book while on a vacation, by herself, at the sea shore. She questions “modern” time saving devices and contemplates life-style choices that take parents away from homes and families. Lindberg was an incredible woman –writer, aviator, mother of five and wife of Charles Lindberg.
Oh-my-gosh I’m old! I read this book ages ago and re-read it recently. I can’t remember what I thought of it way back then, but this time around I was pleasantly surprised. This book, written more than 50 years ago, questions the same things we are questioning now, which is either an endorsement for Lindberg’s foresight or our lack of listening.

Blaze by Richard Bachman
Blaze is the story of Clayton Blaisdell, Jr. who was once a smart student, but since his father liked to throw him down the stairs, he became a “slow thinker.” He’s shipped off to a boy’s home and eventually meets up with George, a real seedy guy. They commit a plethora of crimes – but the story is as much about the crimes committed against Clayton as the crimes he and George pull-off -- i.e. kidnapping a baby heir worth millions of dollars.
Written circa 1973, this "trunk novel," is really by Stephen King. I did not want to read this because scary books are not my thing, but a friend convinced me this wasn’t usual Stephen King fare, and she was right! It’s a great read.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
At the age of thirty-one, Gilbert was married and trying to get pregnant until she realizes she doesn’t want either. Instead, she embarks on a year-long trip to confront the “twin goons” of depression and loneliness, with three main stops: Italy, to master the art of pleasure; an Indian ashram, to experience the liberation of mediation; and finally Bali, where she finds love and achieves a kind of balance.
Whew! What a choice Gilbert made -- to leave modern America (and success) to tramp around the world to find what she truly wanted from life. This memoir is not only beautifully and honestly written, but funny.

Idle Banter by Chris Bohjalian
In 1986, while living in Brooklyn, Chris Bohjalian and his wife were cab-napped and then dumped on a deserted street, where police officers were about to storm a crack house. They were told to hit the ground, and while lying on the pavement, Bohjalian's wife suggested that it was time to move to New England. They moved to Lincoln, Vermont (population 975), and Bohjalian began chronicling small town life in magazine essays and in his newspaper column, "Idyll Banter."
I have enjoyed every Bohjalian book I’ve ever read – including the first one-- “Midwives” which was so well-written I thought Chris was a woman! Idle Banter is a great collection of stories, and perfect for your night-stand.

If Today Be Sweet by Thrity N. Umrigar
Tehmina Sethna's ancestors were let into India almost a millennium ago because of their promise to "sweeten" and enrich the lives of the people in their adopted country. Tehmina takes this ancient promise seriously, so when her husband dies and her son, Sorab wants her to move to America with him, his American wife, and their child she has to really ponder the move.
This little novel celebrates family and community, deals with issues of immigration, identity, family life, and hope. It is a novel that shows how cultures can collide and become better for it.

Mississippi Sissy by Kevin Sessums
Sessums is a writer in real life -- one who has achieved success in his field – and this is his memoir about growing up in 1960’s Mississippi. Orphaned at an early age, and victimized by bullies and molesters, his life was very lonely until journalist Frank Hains becomes his friend. Hains's is murdered which gave Sessums the courage to confront his sexual identity, leave the small town, and pursue his journalistic career.
I’m usually a sucker for true stories and this one is a whopper with tons of potential -- but darn it -- it didn’t deliver!

Once Upon a Day by Lisa Tucker
Nineteen years ago, a famous man disappeared from Hollywood, taking his two children to a desolate corner of New Mexico. He raises them in complete isolation and tells them their mother is dead. One day the son, Jimmy, has had enough and strikes out to discover the world. His sister Dorothea is worried about him and leaves the 35-acre estate to search for him. Luckily she meets a doctor-turned-cabbie, who helps her navigate the modern world.
There are several parallel stories going and all of them are pretty darn good!

Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison
Donald is dying of Lou Gehrig's disease at the ripe old age of 45, so he dictates his family history to his wife, Cynthia. The story begins with Donald's half-Chippewa great-grandfather, Clarence, who set out in 1871 at age 13 for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Clarence worked the farms and mines of the northern Midwest, and finally arrived in Michigan 35 years later. Very adventurous compared to Donald’s life which has been steady and settled. Or has it?
Started like a trip to Disneyland, ended like a back-yard swing. Don’t get me wrong, a back-yard swing is o.k. – it’s just not Disneyland.

Small Moments by Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum
A collection of short stories, each chapter is a moment in time in the life of a different woman. One woman decides she really should be French; another woman gets a new spin on family politics during an outing with mysterious Aunt Vivian, another woman finds her life disrupted when a young violin prodigy enters her life. All the stories were good, and packed a powerful message: the bullets we dodge can be the direct result of a good choice or just good luck. It’s a fine line and this book explores it very well.

She Got up off the Couch by Haven Kimmel
This installment takes up where Kimmel left us in A Girl Named Zippy. Funny delicious stories about her family and friends and her hometown of Mooreland, IN., once again narrated from a child's point of view. Mainly about her mother, Delonda, who after 20 years of marriage, takes a television ad as a sign from God that the time has come for her to take a College Level Entrance Placement test. She learns to drive, gets a bachelor's degree and becomes a teacher to support her family. While that doesn’t sound too earth shattering remember it’s the '60s! With stories ranging from Zippy's run-in with a territorial cow on a friend's farm to "A Short List of Records My Father Threatened to Break Over My Head If I Played Them One More Time,” her characters are quirky and real. As hilarious as the book is, it’s also honest. What happens to their family is common and sad.

Sufficient Grace by Darnell Arnout
One fine day, Gracie Hollaman, who has been married for ages and leads a normal life, hears voices telling her to get in her car and leave her entire life behind. But not before she paints Jesus scenes all over her house.
I loved this book! It covers about everything: menopause-coming-of-age, mental illness, love, forgiveness, race issues, food, and art -- and does it with tenderness and humor.

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
Jemubhai Popatlal, a retired Cambridge-educated judge, lives at the foot of the Himalayas, with his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, and his cook. The neighborhood enjoys a quiet life, well that is until the revolution. You say you want a revolution? Well, besides threatening their lives, the revolution disturbs the romance between 16-year-old Sai and her tutor, Gyan. Meanwhile we hear from the cook's son, Biju, who is living as an illegal alien in New York.
It’s interesting to follow these characters as they struggle with their cultural identity, economic standing and the forces around them: modernization, revolution, romance, and loss. It may sound hard to follow and depressing, but it’s actually quite good with a bit of comic relief.

The Grave Diggers Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates
The Schwarts family, desperate to escape Nazi Germany, settles in a small town in upstate New York. The father, a former teacher can only get one job there and it’s the gravedigger and cemetery caretaker. After her father kills her mother, Rebecca begins her journey into America, which includes a marriage where she almost gets beaten to death, escape into a new identity, and finally a triumph -- of sorts.
I was looking forward to this, Oates’ 36th novel, and it delivered somewhat. The story-line was splendid, but why make it so difficult to follow? To me that’s not “intellectual” but trying too hard to appear intellectual.

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson
Set in Edwardian London and on the coasts of Cornwall, Cape Cod, and Nova Scotia, Thunderstruck brings to life the years when great shipping companies were building bigger, faster ocean liners, scientific exhibits dazzled the public and rich folks blatantly displayed their booty. This is the story of two men: Hawley Crippen, a mild-mannered murderer; and Guglielmo Marconi, creator of the wireless --whose lives intersect during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time.This book opens a magic door to the era of séances, and science inhabited by inventors, magicians, and Scotland Yard detectives. Rich with detail. I was engrossed immediately and learned a thing or two!

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
Laurel Estabrook was the victim of a brutal attack. Despite her emotional scars, she throws herself into her job at a homeless shelter. One of her clients is Bobbie Crocker, who has a history of mental illness, but also alludes to an earlier life as a very successful photographer. Laurel finds it hard to believe that he could have once chronicled the lives of musicians and celebrities, but a box of photographs and negatives discovered among his possessions after his death may prove otherwise.
While Bobbie Crocker, the photographer in The Double Bind, is fictitious, the photographs that appear in the book are real. They were taken by a man named Bob "Soupy" Campbell, who, as Chris Bohaljian explains in his Author's Note, "had gone from photographing luminaries from the 1950s and 1960s to winding up at a homeless shelter in northern Vermont." Great book – Bohaljian’s best ever.

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
The “Great Secret” has been documented in oral traditions, literature, religions and philosophies throughout the centuries. In this book, all the pieces come together and Byrne (along with a cast of real-life practitioners) guide us on how to use the ancient secrets, and include chapters on money, health, relationships, and the pursuit of happiness.
Holy-moly! After I got over the “woo-woo” introduction music I really got into the message. It’s not a typical self-help book, but how to create the life you want – whatever that might be. I actually apply the knowledge everyday with some pretty great results. I bought this book on CD, which I highly recommend. I keep my copy in my car and re-listen during drive-time.

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich Award-winning author Louise Erdrich is German-American and Turtle Mountain Ojibwe, and she uses her incredible heritage in this story. This is a big story -- spanning the 20th century from 1910 to 1996, and revolves around Father Damien Modeste, who is actually a woman. As the title indicates there are miracles in this epic tale. Father Damien writes long letters to the Pope seeking guidance and when at last the Vatican sends somebody to the tiny North Dakota reservation the Father is more than 100 years old.
Sublime book.

The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle
After her older sister runs away to marry a rodeo cowboy, eleven year old Alice Winston is left alone with her really, truly dysfunctional family. For example, her mother never gets out of bed. It’s the hottest summer in fifteen years and the bills are piling up on their run-down horse farm. Things look pretty bad until a wealthy girl shows up for riding lessons.
This is Kyle's first novel and superb! Don’t fight it. Go out and find it, buy it, borrow it – just read it! One of my favorite books of 2007.
Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain) has written another tale from the 19th century. This one stars a 12-year-old boy named Will who is given a horse, a key, and a map, and sent alone into Indian country to run a trading post. He befriends a Cherokee chief named Bear and places his allegiance on the side of the embattled Indian Nation -- along with a young woman he won in a card game
I loved this book -- historical fiction set in the western wilderness, infused with a great (if quirky) love story. Of course there’s heartbreak and loss – oh man, it’s great!

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
Jewish refugees and their descendants, including detective Meyer Landsman, have lived in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe location created after the Holocaust, for many years. But the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and they are once again facing the great unknown. Things get interesting when Landsman discovers the body of his neighbor (a former chess prodigy) in the cheap hotel where they both live. As the investigation continues, word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately.
Sounds great right?? Wrong. It’s full of Yiddish slang – and there’s no reference dictionary. All in all one of the most difficult to follow books I’ve read in ages. How do you say YUKE in Yiddish?

The Expected One by Kathleen McGowan
Thanks to the movie adaptation of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, Mary Magdalene and her relationship to Jesus is a hot topic in the biblical/ancient mystery/thriller genre. Maureen Pascal, a journalist researches her new book on misunderstood heroines of the past. She discovers her family has been involved – namely with a secret society linked to Mary Magdalene. It seems Mary hid a set of scrolls containing her own version of the events of the New Testament in the foothills of the French Pyrenees.
McGowan’s book is fantastic, and although historical fiction, it is based on 20 years of research, and addresses not only the possibility that Jesus and Mary Magdalene produced offspring but also that other biblical relationships may have differed from what the Catholic Church had ordained to be true.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Jurgis Rudkus, his fiancée, and her family came to America expecting a new life full of everything they’ve been told America has offer. Instead they find a machine that has no regard for human life. It paints a grim picture of the conditions in the meat packing plants in 1906 and big city (Chicago) life at that time.
In 2006 Upton Sinclair’s masterpiece “The Jungle” turned 100 years old! Sinclair was 27 years old when he was catapulted to fame with his novel on the meatpacking industry – which by the way instigated the Pure Food and Drug Act. I loved this book just as much as I loved it the first time I read it 20-odd years ago.

What You Have Left by Will Allison It’s 1976, and Wylie Greer has just buried his wife. He drops off his five-year-old daughter, Holly, at his father-in-law's dairy farm cause he needs a little time to clear his head. The next thing you know 30 years have past and Holly still hasn’t seen her father.
This story takes us through nearly four decades in the lives of this southern family – and what a family it is/was. How many girls can say their mother was a pioneer NASCAR driver? The measure of this book is not so much in lack of tiny detail and descriptions, but in the keenness of that lack.

World Changing edited by Alex Steffen
World Changing just may be the Whole Earth Catalog for today’s earth-sensitive folk. It’s packed with information, resources, reviews, and ideas that give you the tools to make a difference. Brought together by Alex Steffen, writers include Cameron Sinclair, founder of Architecture for Humanity, Geek corps founder Ethan Zuckerman, sustainable food expert Anna Lappe, and many others.
Because of the sharp lay-out, it’s easy to find the topics you’re interested in. Such as: why buying locally produced food makes sense, what steps to take to influence workplace sustainability, eco-building, responsible shopping and humanitarian relief to name a few. If you’re baffled by what you can do to help our earth just read this book.

Why You Crying? by George Lopez
Sitcom star George Lopez and Emmy Award-winning correspondent Armen Keteyian combine talents to tell the story of Lopez's rocky road to fame. He started out being poor and fatherless; had problems with drinking and depression; and finally ended up with a showbiz career.
I admire Lopez and his ability to overcome great odds. That said, unless you love George Lopez and want to find out all about him, or can’t get enough tell-all Hollywood stories, read something else.

And these others, some of which I really enjoyed marked with**
**First Light by Sue Monk Kidd
Idle Banter by Chris Bohalian
**Gentleman & Players by Joanne Harris
**Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
The Art of Friendship by Horchow
**The Painted Veil by Sommerset Maughan
The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Nineteen Mintues by Jody Picholt
**Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir
**The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery
Flight by Sherman Alexie
Dream When You're Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Smith
**Thirteen Moons
Too Soon Old Too Late Smart
If Today Be Sweet by Thrity Umrigar
Special Places of Washington
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
**Breakable You by Brian Morton
Utopia Parkway by D. Solomon
Jesus Land
Blessed Unrest
**Last Night I Dreamed of Peace
**The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
**People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Ana's Story by Jenna Bush
Home to Holly Sprongs by Jan Karon
**Three Cups of Tea by Mortenson
The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritson
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
Loving Frank
The Choice by Nicholas Sparks
A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon


Books Read in 2006

Dispatches from the Edge by Anderson Cooper
O.K., so I didn’t know Anderson Cooper is the son of heiress and designer Gloria Vanderbilt. Or that he grew up on Manhattan's Upper East Side, and could have continued living a cushy life – but instead, as a freelance reporter, traveled to the most dangerous parts of the world. His dispatches from war-torn countries helped launch him to fame.
Some people say this book is smart and heart felt while some think he’s gaining glory through the suffering of others. I personally think it takes a lot of courage to look closely at your past -- especially when that past involves loosing your father (at age ten) to heart disease and a few years later your older brother to suicide. Yes, there’s suffering but also a healthy dose of human goodness.

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
Set in Renaissance Italy. Fiammetta and her dwarf companion, Bucino barely escape Rome in 1527, and head for Venice. They survive by selling off the jewels swallowed before the exodus. They are a great literary partnership: the sharp-witted dwarf, and his beautiful mistress, trained to satisfy men with money. Dunant paints a portrait of one of the world's greatest cities at one of the most potent moments in history and does it in splendid fashion. I really enjoyed this book but I’m a sucker for romantic historical fiction.

Leaving Mother Lake by Yang Erche Namu and Christine Mathiew
Namu writes her memoir – one that truly transports us to the Himalayas and a remote place the Chinese call "the country of daughters." The Moso is a society where women rule men. Doesn’t sound like a bad place, really, but Namu is restless and chooses to leave her mother's house, defying the tradition that holds Moso culture together.
I was looking forward to a compelling story, and it is. Unfortunately it’s not well-crafted and becomes an awkward dance between a great story and not-so-great writing.

Modoc -- The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived by Ralph Helfer
In a small German circus town, in 1896, a boy and an elephant were born. The boy was named Bram, the elephant Modoc. Bram was the son of a local elephant handler, and of course grows up to become a master handler. Modoc grew up along side him and was an elephant of exceptional intelligence, massive size, and gentleness. The two were inseparable until the day when news came that the circus was being sold.
O.K. so here’s a non-fiction book about an elephant and I know what you’re thinking –‘Oh, really? How could that possibly be a good book?’ And then you read the first chapter and your socks will be knocked off.

Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs
This is a collection of true stories in the same laugh-till-you-cry style Burroughs's (Running with Scissors) is famous for. From killing a rodent to fifteen minutes of fame in Tang commercial – he lets us in on his crazy life. Funny? Oh, yeah. Twisted? Check. Heartwarming? You got it.

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick
Philbrick not only tracks the Pilgrims from the 1620 transatlantic crossing, but during the next fifty-five years that ends around the time of the battles of King Philip's War (1675-76). The 102 people on the Mayflower were a most unusual group of colonists. Instead of noblemen, craftsmen, and servants -- the types of people who had founded Jamestown -- these were men, women, and children willing to endure almost anything if it meant they could worship as they pleased.
Everything you learned about the Pilgrims in grade school is skewed just a wee bit. I mean, yes, there was a first Thanksgiving and for more than 50 years the Wampanoags and Pilgrims lived in peace. The book is full of historical facts but it reads like a great adventure novel. If you like history and/or historical fiction you’ll love this book.

Night by Elie Wiesel; a new translation by Marion Wiesel
Night is Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece and this new translation by his wife Marion presents the memoir in the spirit truest to the author’s original intent. Born in the town of Sighet, Transylvania, Wiesel was a teenager when he and his family were taken from their home to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and then to Buchenwald. This is his terrifying record of the death of his family, lose of his innocence, and his despair as he confronts the evil of man.
Great book the first time around; great book this time around.

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran
This is Mehran’s debut novel. Set in the Irish hamlet of Ballinacroagh, three Iranian sisters open the Babylon Cafe. Soon the natives fall under the spell of the cafe's cardamom and rosewater scented fare. All is good until the ex-husband and the town bully make an appearance.
Pomegranate Soup is a wonderful story blended with a healthy dose of overcoming challenges, simmered with romance, and seasoned with cultural insights. Not bad for a first novel.

Pigtopia by Kitty Fitzgerald
Jack Plum was born with a disfigurement. He is teased by thoughtless neighbors, labeled a monster by children, and rejected by his abusive mother. Needless to say Jack hides from the world in a haven he’s created – his “Pigtopia,” a shelter where he hangs out with his beloved pet pigs. Then Jack meets Holly, a teenager who lives nearby, and he introduces her to “Pigtopia.” They forge a wonderful friendship, until society intervenes.
This is Fitzgerld’s debut novel and it’s really inventive. She creates original and believable characters and puts them in a world that is heartbreaking and beautiful. I recommend this book – but be prepared to stretch your mind a bit.

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeir
The people of the City eat at Jim's sandwich shop and read the mimeographed News & Speculation Sheet--never mind that they are all dead! You remain in the City as long as you remain in the memory of someone still alive. Meanwhile, up in the Antarctic, Laura is at a research station until everyone around her dies. She takes off for civilization, unfortunately civilization as she knows it has vanished thanks to a pandemic from Coca-Cola.
I was totally sold when I saw the cover of this book. It’s one of the all-time best covers ever. The first chapter of this book was great and I was looking forward to a very imaginative read. Unfortunately there’s a lot of Antarctic between the first chapter and the end. You just can’t judge a book…

The Boy Who Loved Ann Frank by Ellen Feldman
Anne Frank actually recorded in her diary (February 16, 1944) that Peter, whom she did not like, but eventually came to love, had confided in her that if he got out of the war alive, he would reinvent himself. This is Feldman’s take on what might have happened if the boy had survived to become a man. Peter arrives in America; flourishes in business, marries, and raises a family. When The Diary of a Young Girl is published to worldwide acclaim his past re-emerges. Feldman did extensive research of Peter van Pels.
Great historical fiction – my heart was moved.

The Secret Supper by Javier Sierra
The Da Vinci Code created a sensation and The Secret Supper suggests even more. Sierra believes there may be more to Da Vinci’s code than could be imagined. While Leonardo is completing The Last Supper, Pope Alexander VI is determined to execute him after realizing that the painting contains a blasphemous message. The Holy Grail and the Eucharistic Bread are missing, there is no meat on the table, and the apostles are portraits of well-known heretics.
I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, but it sort of feels like others are riding on the coat-tails of that books wild success. Enough already!

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig
Set in rural Montana (no big surprise here,) and narrated by aging Montana state superintendent of schools, Paul Milliron. As Milliron ponders the fate of the state's last few rural schools, he can’t help but flash back to his own childhood when he attended his own one-room rural school, and when his father, recently widowed and overwhelmed by rearing his three sons, hires a housekeeper from a newspaper ad: "can't cook but doesn't bite." She brings her brother, Morris, which is auspicious. When the original teacher runs away to get married, Morris steps in. He’s new to the West, to children and to teaching children. Great, great book!

The Book of Bright Ideas by Sandra Kring
Wisconsin, 1961. Evelyn "Button" Peters is nine the summer Winnalee and her older sister, Freeda, move to town. Button is fascinated by Winnalee, who carries around a shiny silver urn containing her mother's ashes and a notebook she calls "The Book of Bright Ideas," where she records everything she learns including her answers to the mysteries of life.
Every so often a book comes along that you remember long after you finish it. This is one of those books. I LOVE this clever-funny-sad book and highly recommend it.

The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer
Moehringer won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000, is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, and a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. The Tender Bar is his memoir about struggling to become a man, and his wacky relationship with a bar. At times funny, at times sad – but at all times well written with tenderness.
One of the best memoirs I’ve read in a long, long time.

The King of Mulberry Street by Donna Jo Napoli
When nine-year-old Beniamino, from Napoli, is smuggled aboard a cargo ship heading to America in 1892, he assumes his mother is right behind him. But she’s not, and he arrives in New York alone, where he’s forced to beg on street corners and sleep in barrels. The lesson he learns creates a better life for himself and he realizes that’s why his mother sent him there. This is an imagined tale, although it is based loosely on the author's family history. It’s a grim but real portrait of the struggle many children faced when they first came to America. Highly recommended, and one of my all-time top picks for grades 5 through 8.

The Long Night of Winchell Dear by Robert James Waller
Seventy-seven-year-old Winchell Dear is an honest poker player, and a pretty good one – he actually won his 45,000-acre Texas ranch in a card game. The book follows several characters that include Winchell; a Mexican drug mule; Sonia Dominguez, who works as Winchell's housekeeper; a diamondback snake slithering through the grass; a Native American Indian squatting on the ranch, and a couple drug dealers up to no good. Of course the story culminates in the meeting of all these characters.
I was never a huge fan of Waller, but I enjoyed this Old West meets New West tale. The descriptions are a bit long and cumbersome and, unless you like that sort of thing, I give you permission to skip over the really boring ones and get to the story.

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch Did you experience a summer that changed your life? This is a novel about thirteen-year-old Miles O'Malley and the summer that changed his. Miles lives on Puget Sound and spends his time exploring the shore while hunting for starfish, snails, and clams. One day he finds a beached giant squid. Which may not sound too great, but giant squids have never before been seen! He instantly becomes a local celebrity.
Trying to describe the book is really difficult. No matter what I say it just doesn’t capture the magical world that Jim Lynch created in The Highest Tide. It’s one of my all-time favorite books and I would bet money it will be one of yours too.

The Crimson Portrait by Jody Shields
World War I, 1915, outside London. A great estate is transformed into a military hospital where doctors, surgeons, and artists work together to invent techniques that are not only ground-breaking, but give disfigured soldiers the ability to re-enter the world. Cathrine, the owner of the estate (and recent widow) falls in love with a soldier whose facial trauma is concealed by bandages. Working with the resident artist, she remakes her lover in the image of her lost husband.
This is historical fiction at its most mediocre. The descriptions of early maxillofacial (plastic) surgery and techniques are fascinating, but the story itself is pretty thin. And it had so much potential!

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
This is a thrilling story, told in flashback by a very old man who’s seen it all. Jacob Jankowski recounts his life from when he drops out of veterinary school after learning that his parents have been killed in a car crash -- to the wild, wonderful time he spent with a traveling circus. His job at the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth is caring for Rosie the elephant, who only responds to Polish commands. He falls in love with Marlena, one of the show's star performers. It’s a bit dicey since Marlena is married to the circus boss who beats her and the animals Jankowski cares for.
This book is so much more than a tale about 1930’s circus life – it’s the best fiction I’ve read in years and one of my all-time favorites. I can’t say enough about this book. Everyone I recommend it to loves it.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
In 1666 in the small lead-mining village of Eyam, Derbyshire, the inhabitants voluntarily quarantined themselves for a year when stricken with Bubonic Plague. Brooks uses this piece of history to craft her fictional account of what it might have been like to live through the event. The story is told by Anna Frith who was widowed at 18, and is the mother of two young boys. Through her recollections, it seems as though you are living through the year as well.
Geraldine Brooks is one of my favorite authors – she seems to have the ability to capture interesting historical events and create a believable world, believable characters and make history come alive.

And others, some of which I really enjoyed marked with **
The Naked Truth , The Leaders New Clothes
**In The Company of The Courtesan
The Thralls Tale
The Tenth Circle by Jody Picolt
**Life Of Pi by Martel
Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicolas Sparks
The Craggy Hole in My Heart and The Cat Who Fixed It
88Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
When All the World Was Young
**Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott
The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank
The Crook Factory by Dan Simmons
Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
And You Know You Should Be Glad
Happiness Sold Separately
The Apprentice - My LIfe In The Kitchen
**Red Dog by Loius De Bernieres
The Bingo Palace by Louise Erdrick
**The Girls by Lori Lansens
Counting On Grace
For One More Day by Mitch Albon
Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich
The Guy Not Taken
Accidental Happiness


Books Read in 2005

About Grace by Anthony Doerr
David Winkler is obsessed with snow. Which considering he lives in Anchorage, Alaska, that may be a good thing, however sometimes he sees things before they happen -- a man carrying a hatbox will be hit by a bus for instance. He dreams his infant daughter will drown in a flood. To cope, he moves to a Caribbean island.
I was in a constant state of expectation but was never satisfied. Not much story here – and so much potential!

A Year by the Sea by Joan Anderson
Anderson; real-life journalist and author of children’s books decided not to follow her husband when he was transferred to another state. Instead she took a year off from her marriage and spent it by the sea. She works in a fish market for extra money, finds a mentor, hires on as short-term cook for her nephew's film crew, and at the year's end, voila! she’s a new person.
This book reminded me Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea including shell metaphors. However, Lindbergh has only a brief vacation at the beach and Anderson spends an entire year in relative solitude. Her journey of self-discovery is inspiring -- not your ordinary mid-life crisis book!

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
This Mexican-American family travels back and forth between the two countries -- in a caravan filled with children, parents and grandparents. Lala Reyes’ grandmother is descended from a family of shawl makers, and the most beautiful one she’s ever made has been given to Lala.
This book is so noisy! I have no other way to describe the family gatherings -- way too much going on for me. Some cool historical references to the history of rebozo, or shawl makers.

Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck
Martha Beck shares her program to help you start the journey to your own ideal life. Thought-provoking exercises, play activities help you explore inner thoughts on true happiness. Are you ready to set wildly improbable goals (WIGs) in order to find your personal North Star?
There are a couple self-help books that I routinely give as gifts, and actually use the advice. This is one of them. Beck is smart and funny and her great stories and humor is so refreshing in a self-help book.

He Drowns She in the Sea by Shani Mootoo
This tale of lifelong love, focuses on the barriers of social class. Harry St. George has loved Rose Sangha from the time they were children, when his mother did the laundry for the Sangha family. But Harry is poor and forced time and again, to confront the caste system. He eventually leaves to start a new life in British Columbia. When circumstances bring Rose and her husband to Canada, Rose and Harry reconnect – but not without consequences.
On the fence about this one. Not bad, not great.

March by Geraldine Brooks
This is the imagined Civil War experiences of Mr. March -- the absent father in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. A cleric by trade, March becomes a Union chaplain and is ultimately assigned to be a teacher on a cotton plantation that employs freed slaves.
I’m not a huge fan of the “pre-quill” especially written by someone other than the original author, Brook’s research skills pulls this one off. I enjoyed the book and the story she created is entirely believable.

Saving Alice by David Lewis
Stephen’s goal was to distance himself from his loser dad and family in South Dakota as soon as possible. His efforts paid off -- an ivy-league university, great job offer, and Alice. Then he loses Alice.
I have a difficult time with stories that seem to spiral down-down-down with no good end in sight. I want to think people are smarter than that, immune to temptations and poor choices, but that’s not the case here. The message that it's never too late for miracles saved this one.

Shoot the Moon by Billie Letts
This is a tale of small town DeClare, Oklahoma, and the mystery that has haunted its residents for years. In 1972 Nicky Jack Harjo disappeared when he was a baby, his pajama bottoms found on the banks of Willow Creek. 30 years later, Nicky shows up in DeClare. What’s up with that?
This book had me from the first paragraph. It’s got the usual components: love, mystery, scandal, soul-searching, plus Letts’ is a gifted writer -- one that I enjoy immensely.

The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg
Betta Nolan is a 55 year old successful children's book author who sells her Boston townhouse after her husband John dies of cancer and sets out to see what happens next. She ends up in the Midwest and discovers the joy in perfect things in a perfect place, shared with interesting friends.
Even though this book sounds ho-hum it’s not. Nolan has spunk and my heart was moved by how she goes through the changes in her life and forges a new one. And everyone’s idea of ‘perfect’ is different.

The Ice Chorus by Sarah Stonich
Liselle is a filmmaker who leaves her husband and ends up in Ireland where she starts to document the lives of the small town's residents. It turns out she’s is trying to clear her head after a love affair with Charlie, an artist she met in Mexico – oh, and some childhood issues. Charlie, in the meantime, decides to display the nudes he’s painted of her -- in her hometown!
I expected excellence from this incredible story-line, but it ended up being just words on a page. Liselle was not crafted finely enough to get the sympathy Stonich hoped for, but ended up looking like a spoiled girl.

The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer
How do you choose to spend the rest of your life after you’re told you only months to live? Real-life Henry Stuart, nearly 70 and wracked with illness, leaves Idaho and travels to Alabama, where he builds a house brick by brick –and receives more than 1,000 visitors.
Before the first chapter was finished I had fallen under the spell of Henry Stuart, who, in 1925 found out that tuberculosis would take his life. Brewer’s incredible storytelling shows us how Stuart got ahead of his own parting, writing a primer of sorts for anyone dealing with mortality – something we all must face. I loved this book.

Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman
Gelman was once the married mother of two grown children, living in the suburbs and writing children’s books. After her marriage disintegrated she decides to see the world, and at age 48 takes flight. It’s nearly 17 years later and she’s still without a permanent address. This is her true story as she moves through the world connecting to people and cultures.
Consider, for a moment, the huge leap of faith it would take to leave behind everything familiar, have no itinerary, and no reservations for a place to lay your head. This is a great story made all the better because it’s real.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseni
Set in Kabul, during the Taliban's rise to power. Amir, the son of a wealthy businessman, and Hassan, the son of Amir's household servant, are great friends. They play together, get in trouble together, and fly kites together-- Amir flying the kite, and Hassan running them down as they fall. One day, Amir betrays Hassan, and their lives will never be the same.
The descriptions of Afghanistan before and after the war are haunting, but the real story is what devastation a “friend” can do. It’s a beautifully written book – one that will break your heart. And mend it.

The Memory Keepers Daughter by Kim Edwards
Dr. David Henry has the perfect wife, the perfect life and nearly the perfect family. His son -- born first, is healthy, but the girl twin has Down’s syndrome. He does what he feels is right considering he grew up with a chronically ill sister. But was telling his wife her daughter died at birth the right thing to do?
This story spans 25 years and does a decent job of it, but make no mistake…no matter how well intended, your bad judgment will come back to haunt you. I’m on the fence – it wasn’t a great book but it wasn’t all that bad either. I think it would make a fabulous movie!

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon
Barcelona, 1945. An antique book dealer invites his son, Daniel, into the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library for books forgotten by the world. The book Daniel selects leads him on a quest to find other books by the same author and opens a door to murder, magic and forgotten love.
Some books can be difficult to read and this is a prime example. That said -- it’s well worth the time you have to flip back and forth to figure out what the heck is going on. Read it in winter, by the fire ‘cause it’s not a quick beach read.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauus
Sixty years ago Leo Gursky met a girl named Alma, fell in love and wrote a book. Time passed, Leo fled Poland after WWII and became “invisible” in New York. Unknown to Leo, the book survived and took on a life of its own – changing lives, crossing oceans, and finally finding its way back to Leo.
This love story is fiction, with a healthy does of historical facts and it is an extraordinary book. Take your time --you need to savor it like gourmet fare, not a fast-food burger.

The Summer We Got Saved by Pat Cunningham Devoto
Tab (white) and Maudie (black) were childhood friends. Tab doesn’t know it, but she’s descended from Klan founders. Maudie, the daughter of a neighbor's maid, contracts polio and is sent away for treatment. The girls lose touch. Fast forward to the civil rights movement and the summer that they re-connect and things change forever.
Decent storyline, but not a super book. Don’t get me wrong it’s not bad, just not great. So, if for instance you only read like two books a year just don’t choose this one, choose a super delicious one.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
Christopher is a mathematically-gifted, autistic fifteen-year-old boy, whose very organized world falls apart when he finds his neighbors dog dead -- stuck with a garden fork. He decides to investigate the murder which ultimately brings him face to face with some unexpected truths.
One of the best books I’ve read this year -- funny, sad, and I love it!

The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin
Harry Wainwright, a rich patron for the past 30 years is once again a guest at a fishing camp in Maine. The only difference is this will be his last trip before he dies. Harry had many memories of owner Joe Crosby, his wife, Lucy, and their daughter Kate.
I read this book on a sunny beach, beside a beautiful Idaho lake. It was a great read and the history of three generations of men – men who braved the battlefields of Italy to a Vietnam draft dodger was awesome! Best beach book of the year.

The Wabi-Sabi House by Robyn Griggs Lawrence
Wabi-sabi is the combination of the Japanese wabi, meaning humble, and sabi, which connotes beauty in the natural progression of time. The book teaches us the Japanese art of imperfect beauty – basically to appreciate the simple, unaffected beauty of things as they are.
The Wabi-Sabi House encourages creating a home that is a retreat from the hectic world, and recognizing beauty in ordinary things. There are simple solutions for clearing clutter and blocking noise. Now who couldn’t use some of that?

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
Alessandra is the daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant and wants only to paint, but finds herself in an arranged marriage to 48-year-old Cristoforo. Thankfully he’s a gent well-versed in art and literature, and promises to give her all the freedom she wants. Enter the tormented young artist commissioned to paint her family's chapel.
This is historical fiction about art, love, and betrayal in 15th-century Florence – can it get any better than that??

The Seventh Unicorn by Kelly Jones
Outside Lyon, France, is a convent slated to become a hotel, and the aging nuns are to be shipped off to a nursing home. But might the ancient books and art fetch enough at auction to save the nuns' way of life? American-born Alex Pellier, a curator at Paris's Cluny Museum, is called in to look over the collection and she discovers two drawings that are oddly similar to the set of six medieval unicorn tapestries in the Cluny. She tracks down her old art school flame, Jake Bowman to help her find the mysterious seventh tapestry.
Historical fiction, romantic setting and intriguing mystery – my goodness how could the story go wrong? It doesn't. It’s lovely.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
At a small private college in Vermont, a small tight-knit group of wealthy students majoring in Greek adopt a new student -- Richard Papen. Richard has never fit in before and despite his blue-collar background the wealthy classics group embraces him. Is it genuine kindness or do they have other ideas?
It’s the eighties dude. Every character in the book is stoned and/or recklessly drunk on top of that. No one dies as a result of this, (a miracle) and not terribly intellectual behavior, but I couldn’t put the book down wondering what was going to happen to Richard and his reckless gang.

The Next Big Thing by Johanna Edwards
Kat Larson decides to become a contestant on a new reality show From Fat to Fabulous- not only because she needs to loose a few pounds, but she'd finally be able to arrange a face to face with online sweetie Nick, who thinks she's a size four.
Edwards is a real-live journalist, and the producer of a nationally syndicated radio program "Book Talk." The Next Big Thing is her first novel, and I give her a solid “C” for the effort.

The Drowning Tree
8 simple Rules For Dating My Daughter
This Life She's Chosen
Vanishing Act
How to Be Lost
The Mermaid Chair
The Wild Girl
The Bright Forever
Peter and the Starcatcher
Love in the Driest Season
Not Tonight Honey
Love Me
Out of Season
A Million Pieces
The Pact
The Life All Around Me
Marley and Me
The Year of Magical Thinking
Baker Towers
The Good Man
The Innocent
Raising Adam
The Best Christmas Pagent Ever
Broken For You
Grand Tales From English History
Imagined London
Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie
My Sisters Keeper
Running With Scissors
Hide and Seek
Saving Fish From Drowning