My Favorite Books of 2009

The Longest Trip Home
(Reviewed January 2009)

The Reader
(Reviewed February 2009)

Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched The World
When You Are Engulfed By Flames
The Blood of Flowers
(Reviewed March 2009)

City of Thieves
(Reviewed Jue 2009)

The Time It Takes To Fall
Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale
(Reviewed July 2009)

The Book Thief
(Reviewed August 2009)

The Blue Notebook
(Reviewed September 2009)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
Little Bee
(Reviewed Ocotber 2009)

November Books

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, and to piss off her twin sister she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two semi-normal American girls never met their English aunt; but they jump at the chance to leave Chicago. Elspeth's flat borders Highgate Cemetery – but spooky stuff is happening in the apartment not in the cemetery. The girls get to know Elspeth's former lover who lives in the building, works at the cemetery and is still very much in love with the deceased. Who returns the favor…are you creeped out yet? Niffenegger wrote The Time Traveler’s Wife, so I was dumbfounded when Her Fearful Symmetry was rinky-dink.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
Robert Langdon, that shrewd Harvard symbologist is back. He’s ask to deliver a lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building, but within minutes of his arrival things begin to get crazy. A strange object encoded with five symbols is discovered in the building. How can something this big get past security? Not difficult, just ask the couple who crashed Obama’s State Dinner. Anyway, Langdon recognizes the ancient symbols and when Peter Solomon -- a prominent Mason -- is kidnapped, Langdon plummets into the world of Masonic secrets and hidden history. I’m not a Dan Brown junky but he’s always readable and his stories are good. This is no exception. ♥♥

Spooner by Pete Dexter
This is the story of the lifelong tie between two men. Spooner, who has a troubled life, and Calmer, a once a brilliant navel officer, and Spooner’s step-dad.
The first few chapters were stock full – too full – of spunk and bite, but Dexter calms down by Part Two, and next 400 pages are pure genius.♥♥♥

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Something like 20 years before The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society made news with telling a story through correspondence, 84, Charing Cross Road nailed the genre. It begins with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff who’s living in New York City and desperate for books. Hanff’s lithe and witty letters are responded to by the proper Englishman, Frank Doel – an employee at the book shop located at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. A 20-year friendship is born and after Doel’s death, the letters were published. Ahh, I love a true story! ♥♥♥

A Partisan’s Daughter by Louis De Bernieres
De Bernières who wrote Corelli's Mandolin, wrote this quirky love story of Roza, a beautiful and mysterious born-again prostitute and Chris, a salesman by day and husband of “the Great White Loaf” by night. During the long dreary London winter, Roza tells her snappy life story to Chris, who eagerly listens and hopes for more. No, it’s not a Corelli’s Mandolin, but it’s not bad either. The word ‘sparse’ comes to mind, and I love the idea that Roza’s crazy stories are the glue that bind the two.


October Books

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
When a person reads as much as I do, it takes a humdinger to really knock my socks off. This is one of those very special stories and I don’t want to spoil it, but I will tell you it’s funny, and it’s horrific. After you read it you may want to tell everyone about it but please don't tell them what happens. Just tell them it’s about Little Bee, a young Nigerian refugee, and Sarah, the British widow who takes her in, and Sarah’s two-year-old son. ♥ ♥ ♥

Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates
When Zoë Kruller is found murdered, the police have two suspects: her estranged husband, Delray, and her lover, Eddy Diehl. As the story unfolds, the Krullers' son, Aaron, and Eddy Diehl's daughter, Krista, become obsessed with each other, each believing the other's father is the guilty party. Alternatively told in the very different voices of Krista and Aaron, Little Bird of Heaven is classic Oates -- dark, cruel, haunting and believable. Although not one of my favorite Oates books, it’s a good read and fans will like it regardless of what I say.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
It’s January 1946 and writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The story continues as Juliet writes back and gets to know (and love) the other members of the group. And so the remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation unfolds. With each new letter in the series I realized how much we have lost with our modern TXT and flurry of email -- the beauty and art of the written letter. Although it brought to mind the lovely 84, Charing Cross Road, which I read many years ago – TGLPPS is a lovely book and one that I highly recommend.
As a side note -- Mary Ann Shaffer worked as an editor, and a librarian, and this was her first --and sadly, last -- novel. Annie Barrows is her niece, and stepped in to help finish the novel when Shaffer became ill and eventually died. As Barrows said, “The only flaw in the feast is that it ends.” ♥ ♥ ♥

The Sand Castle by Rita Mae Brown
This little novel brings back the infamous Hunsenmeir sisters, introduced to readers in Six of One (1978), Bingo (1988), yadda yadda. The Sand Castle focuses on a day in 1952 as sisters Wheezie and Juts; Juts's seven-year-old daughter, Nickel and Leroy, her eight-year-old cousin head to the seashore. As the day progresses, everyone fights and the ‘big blow-up’ is meant to show the importance of family. The story has a bad case of the doldrums – even for fans of the Hunsenmeir sisters.


Books for September 2009

Life List: A Woman’s Quest for the World’s Most Amazing Birds by Olivia Gentile
When Phoebe Snetsinger (amateur bird watcher extraordinaire) was told she was dying of cancer, she decided to spend the time she had left seeing as many birds as possible around the world. Of course that took a toll on her marriage and her four kids, but she ended up seeing more species than anyone in history – and I believe still holds that world record. Once a disgruntled housewife, Snetsinger ends up fulfilling her obsession and doing exactly what made her happy. All-in-all a good book with some interesting life-lessons. Don’t be surprised if you have an urge to run out and buy binoculars.

The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine
Batuk is sold into sexual slavery by her father when she was nine. Definitely not ‘Father-of-the-Year’ material. Now 15, she lives on Common Street -- a street of prostitution in Mumbai, India where children are kept in cages as they wait for customers. She finds hope and beauty while writing in her blue diary. Author James Levine, a doctor at the Mayo clinic, was inspired to write this novel when he was interviewing homeless children in Mumbai as part of his medical research and saw a young girl sitting outside her cage writing in a notebook. All U.S. proceeds from the book will be donated to helping exploited children. A powerful and heartbreaking story that needs to be read. ♥♥♥

The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal by Lilly Koppel
For more than half a century, the little red diary laid along-side trunks and suitcases in the basement of a posh New York apartment building. Then one day all this fabulous history is thrown in a dumpster. By chance the red leather diary is recovered by Lily Koppel, a young writer working at the New York Times. As Koppel reads Florence Wolfson’s entries, her life in1930s New York comes to life – horseback riding in Central Park, summer excursions to the Catskills, tea at Schrafft's, trips to London and Paris. With the help of a private investigator, Koppel try’s to find Florence (who would be a ninety-year-old woman) to return the diary. Does she succeed? Well, you’ll have to read this incredible true story to find out. A very cool glimpse into NYC circa 1929-1934.

What’s Left of Us: A Memoir of Addiction
by Richard Farrell
Filmmaker and journalist Farrell writes about a week of state-imposed rehab as a result of a failed attempt to overdose on heroin. Set in Lowell, Mass., in the late '80s Farrell acknowledges he was a liar, thief, bum, arsonist, absent father of two small children, an estranged husband and a mooching son. The book resonates with truth and is well-written. I could not put it down, but let me tell you -- I felt nauseated most the time. Point made Farrell.

Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa by Mark Seal
Joan Root, a sixty-nine-year-old naturalist and Oscar-nominated wildlife filmmaker, was murdered by two masked men armed with an AK-47. Veteran journalist Mark Seal traveled to Kenya to investigate this real-life murder mystery–and found an unforgettable story not only of a tragic death but of her remarkable life. A completely inspirational history of Joan Root from her early days in Kenya to her courtship and marriage to Alan Root, and twenty years of groundbreaking wildlife filmmaking they did, both in Africa and around the world. Many believe her attempts to save the eco-system of her beloved Lake Naivasha was the reason she was murdered in January 2006. Fabulous non-fiction -- a worthy book. ♥♥♥


Books Read August 2009

A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Solider
by Ishmael Beah
Ishmael Beah came to the United States when he was seventeen and graduated from Oberlin College in 2004. He’s a member of Human Rights Watch Children’s Division Advisory Committee and has spoken before the United Nations. He now lives in New York City, but years ago…in1993 to be exact, when he was just twelve, rebel forces attacked his town, Sierra Leone. He was separated from his parents and for months, he wandered through the countryside. Eventually he’s hijacked by the government army and taught to shoot an AK-47 and slaughter the enemy – while being fed a balanced diet of amphetamines. The enemy, more often than not, were boys his own age. Beah’s memoir follows the heart-breaking journey from a good hearted child, into a hardened soldier who “felt no pity for anyone.” Although it’s a sad tale, things turn out well for Ishmael and the take-away is just how resilient children are given the opportunity and the right circumstance. ♥♥

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Stalin's Soviet Union is supposed to be a paradise -- its citizens live free from the fear of crime and their basic needs are taken care of. But millions know the truth: suspicion of owning a book from the decadent West, or the wrong word at the wrong time can mean execution. Enter MGB officer Leo Demidov -- war hero, supporter of the system, beautiful wife, and nice apartment. Then a different kind of criminal is on the loose. The only problem is Leo is the only one who wants to track him down. Soon he’s demoted and denounced, and exiled from his home. This may be the spoiled brat approach, but I didn’t want to read this book. After all, I’d never heard of it, didn’t like crime thrillers, and it wasn’t even a trade paperback. It was a little tiny paperback with little tiny print -- but it was the only thing I had at my fingertips. And gee, it was pretty good. Not really-really-knock-your-socks-off-good, but a solid read.

Farm City, the Education of an Urban Farmer
by Novella Carpenter
You know I love authors from the Northwest and particularly Idaho, so it will come as no surprise that I grabbed this book soon after it was published. Novella Carpenter grew up in Idaho and Washington State. In her memoir, she gets in touch with her inner farm girl and turns a vacant lot in downtown Oakland into a thriving farm. (I’ve been in downtown Oakland, and believe me this would be no small feat.) Carpenter starts with a few chickens, adds some bees, until she’s got a full-blown farm complete with goats, ducks, veggies and pigs. Carpenter really scores a coup—not only does she revitalize a neglected lot, but she feeds herself, a few neighbors and in the process gently reminds us that even people who live in cars are worthy of friendship. Not bad for a girl from rural Idaho.♥♥

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
How cool is this? Suite Francaise was discovered 62 years after the author's tragic death at Auschwitz in 1942. Her daughter Denise put the manuscript into a suitcase as she and her sister fled Issy l’Eveque. That the manuscript survived years of moving between hiding places, and was later entrusted to an organization dedicated to documenting memories of the war, is extraordinary. Beginning with "A Storm in June," Nemirovsky gives us a glimpse of the chaos and mayhem of the massive 1940 exodus from Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion. Part two, "Dolce," chronicles the town of Bussy during the first influx of German soldiers. Simply elegant writing, especially considering the subject matter.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Liesel Meminger, is a girl living outside of Munich and this is her story. I’m not going to tell you much because you’ve really got to read this one. Okay….here’s a snippet: Death is the narrator (who does a good job BTW) telling this rather ordinary tale about a girl, some words painted on a basement wall, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans who like to burn books, a Jewish boy on the doorstep, and quite a lot of thievery. With the help of her foster father, Liesel learns to read, but unfortunately they have no money for books and well, the best ones are banned anyway. That’s where the thievery comes in. This book is perfect for “ages 12 and up,” but to tell you the truth it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year – or any year for that matter. And I’m not 12. ♥♥♥


Books Read July 2009

Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky
Written in 1941, the manuscript of Fire in the Blood was entrusted in pieces to family and friends when Nemirovsky was sent to her death at Auschwitz. Recently it was found in an archive in France and published. The story is narrated by Silvio, who left his tiny village as a young man, and had a life filled with adventure. Now, older and back where he started, he lives in a hovel in the woods – but he’s perfectly happy. That is until his young cousins wedding and he is drawn into small town scandals and secrets of the past.
Very nice read.

Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies
Gillies left her recurring role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to follow her husband to small-town Oberlin, Ohio, when he got a position in the English department. She was happily caring for their two sons, renovating an old house and teaching drama part-time when one day her husband decided he didn't want to be married anymore. He then turns around and marries the professor he’s been having an affair with. The novel is a much deserved twist of the knife for Gillies -- but somehow it gets winy and not that great to read.

Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale. Or How I Learned About Love & Life with a Blind Wonder Cat by Gwen Cooper
The world is full of people with good intentions, but author Gwen Cooper is the real deal.
Homer, blind since he was two weeks old, luckily finds a forever home when Cooper takes him in, but it’s Homer who captures Cooper’s heart and teaches her what fearlessness really means. Homer is 100% blind; Cooper’s memoir is 100% pure inspiration. The story is funny, optimistic and heartbreaking. Yes, I cried several times, but mostly tears of joy -- knowing there are people in the world who despite potential hardship, step up and do the right thing. Even if you’re not a cat lover you can’t help but admire Homer. Read it. ♥♥♥

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
The Panama Hotel, once an elegant hotel in Seattle’s Japan-town has been boarded up for decades. One day, as 50-something Henry Lee walks by, the new owner is out front opening up a Japanese parasol recently discovered in the hotel basement. It is one of thousands of articles stowed away by 37 families as they were rounded up and taken to internment camps during World War II. Henry flashes back to his preteen years when he was forced to attend the exclusive Rainier Elementary, and his only friend was Keiko, a young Japanese American student. The friendship is complicated by Henry’s father’s ill regard for the Japanese. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to sort out his relationship with his Chinese father and the Japanese girl he loved. Is the answer in the basement of the old hotel?

The Cure for Modern Life by Lisa Tucker
Once madly in love, Matthew and Amelia have chosen different sides of the medical coin. Amelia has dedicated her life to medical ethics, while Matthew is a heartless pharmaceutical executive who doesn't care about anything but money. However, one night Matthew comes face-to-face with a homeless boy in need of help. Now this part is far-fetched even by Lisa Tucker standards. Matthew takes the boy and his sister to his expensive apartment and lets them live there while he’s out of the country. Possibly one of the worst books I’ve read this year.

The Foreigner by Francie Lin
Emerson Chang is a San Francisco financial analyst who doesn't speak a word of Chinese, but finds himself in Taiwan searching for his long-lost brother. His mission? Carry out his dead mother’s wishes and find the elusive Little P, hand over the deed to the cheap hotel their mother owned, and then scatter her ashes in her native land. Sounds simple enough, but Little P is involved in some very shady Taiwanese criminal activity. This may come as a complete surprise, but Emerson finds himself mixed up in this world of crime. He loses his job back in California, and the property he's inherited in Taipei turns out to be less than auspicious. There’s nothing really wrong with this book – I just couldn’t get into it.

The Time it Takes to Fall by Margaret Lazarus Dean
Dolores Gray dreams of becoming an astronaut. Since she’s smart as a whip, lives close to Cape Canaveral, her father works for NASA, and she sees most of the launches in person -- her dream seems attainable. But on the morning of January 28, 1986, seventy-three seconds after liftoff, the space shuttle Challenger explodes, killing all seven astronauts on board. The Time It Takes to Fall is a coming-of-age/historical fiction novel that also weaves the story of a family's drama into the larger picture of a huge event in American history. What sounded like a hokey story line turned out to be a real gem of a book. ♥♥


Books Read June 2009

City of Thieves by David Benioff
Growing up has always had its challenges, but usually that doesn’t include dodging bullets and wondering where your next meal will come from. During the infamous siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov and Kolya meet in prison where it appears they will surely die. Instead, they’re given a single chance to gain their freedom if they can successfully complete a secret mission: find a dozen eggs for the colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. Their adventures through the war-torn city and devastated countryside not only create a bond between the two, but tell the story of how boys become men. A beautifully written novel. ♥ ♥

Dakota by Martha Grimes
Martha Grimes fans have waited something like nine years for the return of Andi Oliver, the amnesiac heroine of Biting Moon. In this latest installment Andi finds herself in North Dakota and hires on with a pig-farm factory. Two mysterious people are on her trail, but of course she has no recollection of who they are or why they want to kill her. The only worthwhile part of this book is the eye opening education about inhumane animal treatment in factory farming, but even that doesn’t save this book. I will gladly wait another ten years to hear from Andi Oliver again.

First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria
by Eve Brown-Waite
Brown-Waite interviews for the Peace Corp after college, and falls in love with her recruiter -- just in time to be shipped off to Ecuador for two years. Eventually, married to said recruiter, Brown-Waite moves with her husband to Uganda, where she not only catches malaria when she was pregnant, but has to deal with rebel bombings. Lucky for readers who want the Peace Corp experience without actually going somewhere, Brown-Waite wrote a memoir that is insightful, inspirational and at times very funny.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
In 1937, Shanghai is the place to be – lots of fun-loving millionaires, gangsters, revolutionaries, and artists. Twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, daughters of a wealthy rickshaw business owner, and part-time models, take full advantage of everything the city has to offer. That is, until they learn their father has sold them to pay off gambling debts. As the Japanese bomb Shanghai, Pearl and May leave for California, and the husbands they’ve met just once. They must struggle to get out of the country and eventually end up in an American detention center, with a mysterious baby. Ultimately they meet the strangers they’ve married, rub shoulders with tinsel town, and try to embrace American life. Pretty darn good historical fiction.

The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson
You may recognize the author – she was chosen as is the next Ann Landers, by the Chicago Tribune a few years ago. Her column, "Ask Amy," appears in more than 150 newspapers nationwide, seen by more than 22 million readers. The Mighty Queens of Freeville, is the story the women in her family and how they rallied around Dickinson and her young daughter after her husband does a no-show. Freeville, NY (pop, 458) is a village where Dickinson’s family has lived for over 200 years, and a community not many people get to experience. The insight, love and “dorkitude” that resides there is a testament that bigger is not necessarily better, and a life of great consequence does not automatically equate to leaving your hometown. A nicely written book full of humor, heartbreak and great advice. One line in the book still resonates: “We are not our best intentions. We are what we do.”

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Balram Halwal is a poor, tea pouring villager who dreams of living a rich life. Sounds strangely familiar. Things begin to look up when a rich village landlord hires him as a chauffeur for his son who has returned from the United States. They move to the Indian capital New Delhi and Balram sees his chance to become a self-made man. The plot construction unfolds as a series of emails Balram writes a foreign head-of-state with tips on the make-up of rural and metropolitan India after he has become “The White Tiger.”


May 2009

Brida by Paulo Coelho
Every girl I know morphs into a witch sometime during her life – usually around October 31st. Brida is an Irish girl who makes good on the promise and becomes an honest to goodness practicing witch 24/7/365 -- but not after a training period that rivals the Naval Academy. Brida is an older release, but still has the great Coelho message: you can do and accomplish whatever your heart desires. If that’s brewing up spells then so be it. Paulo Coelho wrote The Alchemist, which is still my favorite.

Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult
Charlotte and Sean O'Keefe thought they were in great hands with pregnancy care since their OBGYN was a close friend. Their daughter, Willow is born a special needs child and although they adore her, their life becomes one challenge after another. The family unit survives -- well, until Charlotte starts asking herself who was to blame for Willow’s condition? Is it just me or has this story line has been “done” quite a bit lately?

In The Image by Dara Horn
This is actually two incredible stories, made perfect by weaving them together. One is the tale of Bill Landsmann, avid photographer and elderly Jewish refugee. The other chronicles Leora’s life – who happens to be a friend of Landsmann’s granddaughter. As their life stories unfold – his past and her future—the reader realizes that six degrees of Kevin Bacon isn’t as far-fetched as one might believe. I almost put this book down, until the big “ah-ha” moment, then I was hooked.

Little Lost River by Pamela Johnston
Gosh I love books about Idaho or written by Idaho authors, so imagine my anticipation since Little Lost River is set in Boise, and written by an Idaho author! Cindy Morgan has lost her Mother and if that weren’t enough, she’s involved in an accident that leaves her injured, and her boyfriend presumed drowned. Frances Rogers happens upon the accident site and stays with Cindy until help arrives. They are entirely different, but eventually become friends. Their paths are not easy or entirely conventional, but they do find their own way. Beautiful book.

Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein
Stephanie Klein needs to gain fifty pounds. After hearing those words (uttered from the mouth of her doctor) she has an intense flash-back to adolescence. Klein was fat. Imagine being an eighth grader with a weight problem walking the halls of a school. The boys called her "Moose," her father told her, "No one likes fat girls." Klein's parents enrolled her for a summer at fat camp where she hoped to lose weight and find that special something that would magically help her be popular. As I was reading this book, the thought came to me…..a good read has become as difficult to find as true love on a reality dating show.

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee
Who doesn’t love a book set in early 40’s Hong Kong? Ah, the mystic, the romance the war-torn landscape. Will Truesdale, dashing Englishman falls into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. Of course the Japanese invasion puts a slight damper on the whole affair since Will is sent to an internment camp. Fast forward ten years. Newlywed Claire Pendleton moves to Hong Kong and is hired by the wealthy Chen family to teach their daughter piano. She meets Truesdale, and well, if a smoky, slow-paced historical fiction book is your cup of Chinese tea, then go for it my friend. I enjoyed the story.


April Books

Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs
Cooking show host Augusta Simpson is turning 50 (ugh!) and discovers that her network wants to team her up with a young new co-host. So, throw in a few other ingredients – aka hunky assistant – and while in pursuit of higher ratings and foodie delights, she finds more than she bargained for. This book is a definite warm fuzzy – so if you need one of those have at it.

Lincoln as I Knew Him by Harold Holzer
Lincoln was a terrible dresser, rarely combed his hair, constantly read out loud, told a raunchy story with the best (or worst) of them, and let his kids run amuck in the White House. Who knew?
Holzer (who just happens to be an authority on Lincoln) snooped through nineteenth-century letters, diary entries, books, and speeches written by people who were Lincoln’s contemporaries -- which offers a tad bit different version than those history books we read in school. I like this guy Lincoln and the fact he freed the slaves is totally icing on the cake. Besides I’m actually related to him. He may be honest Abe to you but he’s Uncle Abe to me.

Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts
What is it with Letts and Wal Mart? Perhaps she thought it was her lucky-charm-book -setting, since her bestseller Where the Heart Is had a big Wal Mart connection. Well, not so fast Billie – Made in the U.S.A. was a trite yawner for me. 15-year-old Lutie McFee and her 11-year-old brother, Fate, take off to find their long-gone Dad by stealing a car and hot footing it to Las Vegas. Of course they become targets for child predators and it looks like they just won’t catch a break. Of course those of you who read Letts knows that things will turn out pretty sweet (aka: unbelievable) in the end.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz has a way with words -- which kept me reading this wacky story about Oscar the 300-lb loser-geek brother of, you guessed it – a perfect sister. Oscar does eventually end up with a girl – but only long enough to know, truly know heartbreak and loneliness.
Winner of the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, for Fiction – so, besides my endorsement its got that going for it.

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
From Star Wars icon and marrying Paul Simon, to dousing herself in drugs to combat bi-polar disorder, Carrie Fisher has had a charmed and chaotic life. I mean really – were you a bestselling action figure at the age of nineteen?
Wishful Drinking is a memoir of her life as she remembers it – parts have obviously gotten a bit fuzzy, what with the electroshock therapy…
Fisher has a great sense of humor -- no doubt why she’s still alive. My favorite part is when she learns the father of her daughter forgot to tell her he was gay (!), and the time she woke up one morning to find a friend dead beside her in bed.


Books Read March 2009

Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicky Myron
This story is about the author as much as it is about Dewey, the beloved library cat of Spencer Iowa. And that’s not a bad thing. Vicky Myron grew up on a family farm in Iowa and after her divorce she worked as an assistant librarian at the Spencer library. A single mother, Vicky worked towards a master’s degree during weekends and nights. A few years later she was promoted to director of the library. Things were, well, boringly librarian-ish until one freezing January morning when Myron discovers a half-dead kitten in the book drop slot. Named Dewey Readmore Books, the kitten charms the community and becomes the world’s most famous cat to live in a library. Through his nineteen years of inspiration and antics, the reader grows to know and love him, as well as many of the colorful people of Spencer.

Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos
Hope Jones, the physician’s wife is literally swept up and disappears in the tornado of 1978. For her three young children, life becomes a storm without end. Years later, Larken, the eldest, is now an art history professor who overeats to fill the empty space; Gaelan, the son, is a weatherman who tries to predict the future; and the youngest, Bonnie, is a small-town entrepreneur who collects roadside treasures, er, junk that the tornado picked up and put down – in hopes of finding the one clue that will tell her what really happened to her Mother. Gathered together again after their father’s death, each is forced to revisit the tragedy that has defined their lives.
For an outlandish story line this book is firmly rooted in the real world and might I add -- believable. Great quirky story.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
O.K. I’ll admit right now this is my first Sedaris book. Somehow I’ve missed the other five, but how can you take one look at this cover and not want to read it? As it turns out it’s a collection of frenetic essays inspired by his life – very funny and valiant. Finding the water shut off in his house in Normandy he uses the water in a flower vase to make coffee, and well, I won’t tell you more except that David Sedaris uses his life's most bizarre moments to thoroughly entertain and wisen us up. Brilliant, funny.

The Turtle Catcher by Nicole Helget
Helget tells the story of German immigrants who have landed in a rural Minnesota town in the days of World War I. Liesel, the only girl in the family of Richter boys, has a secret about her body that was protected until her mother dies. Her closest friend is Lester, the “slow” boy in the rough Sutter family, who spends his days trapping turtles in the lake. Ruh Roh…sounds like trouble to me. Needing to break away from her predictable and boring life, Liesel puts her friend in danger.
I was in a constant state of expectation but the big pay-off never came. In the world of novels Helget is a tyros, so perhaps her next attempt will be more fulfilling.

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani
A fourteen year old girl in 17th-century Persia believes she will be married within the year. But then her father dies, and alone and penniless Mother and daughter are forced to sell the beautiful rug she had woven for her dowry. With the dowry money they travel to Isfahan to work as servants for her uncle Gostaham, who happens to be a rich rug designer in the court of the Shah. She becomes a brilliant weaver of carpets, but even so, is forced into a secret marriage as a lowly second wife. Ugh. The quandary -- risk everything to be a rug weaver in a world dominated by men, or live a lie? The novel is infused with the sights and sounds of 17th-century Isfahan, it’s historical fiction, and a darn good read.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys 1660-1669 an Abridgment Edited by Isabel Ely Lord
This is so cool! Samuel Pepys, a tailor's son who climbed up the ladder of the royal bureaucracy, wrote a shorthand account of his often scandalous experiences in London between 1660 and 1669. First deciphered in 1825, it has subsequently become one of the main sources for the social life of the Restoration and the years encompassing some of the most dramatic events of London’s history. Pepys witnessed the London Fire, the Great Plague, the Restoration of Charles II, and the Dutch Wars. He was a patron of the arts, especially fond of the theater, loved good clothes, music and food almost as much as his dalliance with women. What a lovable cad!
Dear reader…don’t make the mistake I made by reading an early version. I was on the brink of pulling my hair out trying to understand old English. Little did I know that in 1970 Robert Latham and William Matthews went back to the 300-year-old original manuscript and deciphered each passage and phrase and came away with a reliable, full text, with commentary and notation. Read. That. One.


Books Read February

Green Chic – Saving the Earth in Style by Christina Matheson
Christie Matheson wants you to think that being chic and environmentally responsible isn’t mutually exclusive. I want to you think about this – just because someone is a writer doesn’t mean they’re an expert. Matheson writes for Glamour, Shape, coauthored The Confetti Cakes Cookbook, and Tea Party – and is now trying to persuade me to save the earth with her cupcake and chamomile credentials. It’s difficult to take her advice seriously – I mean this is a woman who casually dismisses “saving the earth” to suit her sense of fashion or life-style. The acid test? She simply cannot live without her environmentally unfriendly deodorant. Give me a break.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Published in 1940, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is the story of John Singer, a deaf-mute in a Georgia mill town during the 1930s. When his companion of 10 years goes insane, Singer is left alone. He rents a room with the Kelly family, where he is visited by a parade of the town's misfits, who gibber away, and praise his ability to understand them. Of course he has NO idea what they are talking about most of the time. All these individuals are considered outcasts --because of race, politics, or disability – which may have made it a cutting edge work of fiction in the 40’s but just doesn’t bring it today.
Carson McCullers is called a major literary talent and she’s a best selling author – even being hailed as one of the great writers of the American South. Oprah agrees. I don’t.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
The Reade is not just another predictable Postwar Germany story. 15-year-old Michael Berg is helped through an embarrassing situation by Hanna, a woman twice his age. Later he seeks her out to thank her for the kindness and the two become lovers. As the romance winds down, Hanna disappears without a word and Michael continues his life. Many years later, as a law student observing a trial in Germany, he recognizes Hanna as one of the women on trial and ends up in prison. Their relationship grows again –this time a friendship of sorts, and Michael learns her secret.
Are you ready for a great book? Well, here ‘tiz.

The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti by Annie Vanderbilt
Lily Crisp has the ideal life – a cozy farm in Idaho, a loving husband, two wonderful children, and a vacation house on the coast of France. Gee, can life get much better? Maybe, but not until tragedy strikes. Lily is forced to ponder her future by taking the time to relive her past – and what better refuge than the house in France called La Pierre Rouge? Enter Yves, local hunk and handyman, who fixes the tiles on the roof, and, um other stuff too. When she’s alone Lily pounds the keys of Madame Olivetti, her old fashioned manual typewriter in hopes of making sense of her life. She manages to make all the loose ends come together and what results is a nice, ambling story about the strange turns our life takes on the road to find love and happiness.

The Shack by William Paul Young
Missy is abducted during a family vacation, and evidence is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness that indicates she may have been murdered by a serial killer. Four years later and still in deep grief, Missy’s father Mack receives a suspicious note inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. He goes. As it turns out, the note was written by God, so Mack spends a few days with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Hmmm.
Young was born to Canadian missionaries who were assigned to a cannibalistic New Guinea tribe - so he’s got some spiritual savvy. He also stated in an interview that he began to be sexually abused by the men of the tribe at age 4. I guess this book is part of the on-going healing, but I just couldn’t get into it. Although The Shack was written for his family and a few close friends, Young eventually self-published a few hundred copies. Now it’s a New York Times Best Seller. To me, that is the best part of the book. I love a great rags-to-riches story.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Edgar Sawtelle was born mute and speaks only in sign language. He lives on a farm in northern Wisconsin where the Sawtelle family has raised and trained an extraordinary breed of dog for three generations. After an unfortunate series of events, Edgar is forced to leave -- accompanied by three yearling pups. What could have been a riveting family saga falls short. Wroblewski yammers on in places of little concern, and for those of us who valiantly read the entire book, he fails to tie up the loose ends. Is he thinking sequel?

The Truro Bear and Other Adventures by Mary Oliver
Oh great – a book recommended by my Mother – and to top it off it’s a book of poems! My doubt was ephemeral. Oliver makes animals and insects appear magical by taking the time to pay attention to their world. In this book she “made friends with the creatures nearby…” which included a few lonely spiders, some wild grasshoppers, and the bear that haunts the Truo woods. Small and common become large and important when you read Mary Oliver.


Books Read January 2009

Peace by Richard Bausch
I’m not particularly drawn to war stories but somehow I ended reading two this month. This little novella only covers a couple nights during the winter of 1944, but it packs quite a punch. Seven young American GIs are sent on a reconnaissance mission up a hill near Cassino in southern Italy. Lead by a seventy year old Italian man with rope-soled shoes, they begin to trek through snow, up what looked like a hill, but is a very steep mountain. During the journey they begin to doubt the old man’s loyalties to them; question if they will survive the freezing night; and try to reconcile their part in killing a Nazi officer’s female companion earlier that day. There is a thread of terror laced with confusion throughout the book and right up to the last page.

Testimony by Anita Shreve
I happen to be a big Anita Shreve fan. She’s got nerves of steel and tends to explore issues, scandals and stories that many writers shy away from. Testimony is no exception. The very first page details a sex party (caught on tape) at a posh Vermont boarding school. As the Headmaster views the tape he wonders how best to handle the incident – which gets more and more complicated once he sees the faces of the participants. I love how Shreve lets the men, women, students, and parents who are involved, use their own voice to tell how their lives are destroyed by one bad decision. An intense drama.

The Eleventh Man by Ivan Doig
Not in a long time have I anticipated a book release more than this one. Not in a long time have I been more disappointed. Revolving around the players of Montana’s undefeated "Supreme Team" we catch up with them a few years later as they do their duty in World War II. Ten of them are stationed around the globe in various dangerous places. The eleventh man, Ben Reinking, has been taken out of pilot training to chronicle the adventures of his teammates for publication in newspapers around the country. The law of averages says all but one of his teammates should come through the war alive. I really tried to read the whole book, but it was like wading in concrete.

The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan
Need to exercise your emotions? I have the perfect plan -- read Grogan’s new book. It will put you through a literary emotional circuit course. One minute you’re laughing (swigs of sacramental wine according to Grogan is the best part of being an alter boy) and the next you’re in tears (we tag along as his parents grow older and pass on).And “pin kisses” from your Mom—what’s up with that?” Imagine the constant state of schizophrenia growing up in a very-very devout Catholic home outside Detroit during the free-love-get-high 1960’s & 70’s. You may remember Grogan from his first book, Marley & Me. Well, this is the story of what came before he got married and picked out a wacky dog. Excellent memoir.


Books Read in December

Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrand
Two sisters and one friend arrive on Nantucket ready to spend the summer sorting through a laundry list of emotional issues. Melanie’s pregnant – but just discovered her husband has been cheating on her. Brenda was fired from her dream job as a college professor after her affair with a student was discovered. Vickie, mother to two small boys, has been diagnosed with cancer. Then there’s Josh, who the women hire to help with babysitting, but he ends up being handy at a whole lot more.
Perhaps since it was the dead of winter and I was mooning for the sea and sunshine and summer, this shallow chick-lit novel – which is what it was -- well, it wasn’t so bad.

Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously
by Julie Powell
Julie Powell did a very cool thing. She resolved to -- in the span of a single year -- cook every one of the 524 recipes in Julia Child's legendary Mastering the Art of French Cooking. That’s a whole lot of weird French food! She started a blog about the experience and her witty style attracted a lot of readers and an unexpected reward: global news coverage and a book deal -- to say nothing of a new-found respect for decent kitchen gadget’s and aspic.
Former temp girl makes good. What a great story. And yes, it’s a great book.

Midnight at the Dragon Café by Judy Fong Bates
The quintessential Chinese restaurant – it’s a fixture in every small to medium town in America. Ever wonder what goes on upstairs in the living quarters where the quintessential Chinese family lives? Well, here’s one version and it’s a doozey. Set in the 1960s, this is the story of Su-Jen and the hard life behind the scenes at the Dragon Café. Judy Fong Bates writes beautifully, and paints a vivid portrait of a childhood torn between two cultures and unspoken secrets.

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
This is Lamb’s first book since the Jurassic age and I was really looking forward to it.
I was immediately pulled in to Caelem and Maureen’s life. They were both teachers at Columbine High School, and Maureen was in the library on that fateful day. Unable to get past the trauma, they move back to the family farm in Connecticut. Soon after, Caelum discovers a file cabinet full of old diaries, letters, and newspaper clippings in an upstairs bedroom. Five generations of his family ancestors, from the Civil War era to Caelum’s own strange childhood spring to life. Sounds great huh? It’s more than enough, right? Unfortunately Wally Lamb didn’t think so and added so many more twists and turns and characters that it made this book read like a mini-series gone bad.