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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I dont read much but armed with your reviews I fake it...I have to say its working for me...the other day at a cocktail party I rattled off a dozen books I had 'read' and suddenly I was the life of the party, I now have this mystic about me...and Im very popular...all thanks to the Dancing Be!