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


2004 & Before

I've read hundred's, perhaps thousand's of books in my life; but not until I began reviewing books for a local radio station did I keep any kind of record. So, dear friend, the following is a short list of books from 2004 and many years before, that I remember and recommend:

A Lady’s Life in The Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird
A Lost Lady by Willa Cather
An Unfinished Life by Mark Spragg
Anthem by Ayn Rand
A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris
A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

Before Women had Wings by Connie May Fowler

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Cloud Chamber by Michael Dorris

Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn

Eventide by Kent Haruf

Finding True Love

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
In The Wilderness by Kim Barnes

Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison

Man's Search For Meaning
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus

Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Portrait of An Artist

Riding the White Horse Home by Teresa Jordan
Reunion by Fred Uhlman

Simplify Your LIfe
Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson

The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve
The Christmas Box
The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman
The Forrrest Lover
The Best Christmas Pagent Ever
The Catcher in the Rye
The Trouble With Poetry
The Discovery of the Titantic
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
This House of Sky by Ivan Doig
The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall
Tuesday’s With Morrie by Mitch Albom
The Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland

West With The Night by Beryl Markham
We the Living by Ayn Rand
When Elephants Weep by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson