November is Chilly -- Read a Good Book!

Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Sixteen-year-old Margo Crane fancies herself a modern day Annie Oakley who can shoot her own food and take care of herself. Pretty smart except she regularly has sex with the wrong kind of men. After the violent death of her father, she takes to…drum roll….The River, in search of her long-lost mother. Yawner. Even the sex is a yawner.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
15-year-old Esch struggles with trying to snag a man who only wants her for sex. Her brother Skeetah struggles with saving his beloved pit bull, China. Meanwhile Hurricane Katrina is moving in. I didn’t like the book. I couldn’t put it down but I didn’t like it. Which brings to mind some kind of food addict who knows the Ding Dongs aren’t healthy but they can’t stop shoving them in their mouth.

The Litigators by John Grisham
Finley & Figg is a dumpy law office strategically located on a busy street corner with lots of accidents. Perfect for ambulance chasers. The two partners, Oscar Finley and Wally Figg are like an old married couple whose future looks pretty boring. That is until Harvard-educated, up-town lawyer David Zinc, stumbles drunk as a skunk into their office. Grisham like the old days – darn good book. ♥♥

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
Natalia’s life is woven from the thread of her Grandfathers tale about the Tiger’s Wife. And her life is also unraveling as she follows in her Grandfathers footsteps to become a doctor. Anyway, between her current project of inoculating orphans against disease and trying to find her dead Grandfathers belongings, the true “Tale” reveals itself. ♥♥♥

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Victoria Jones has one good memory – the knowledge she gathered while at her last foster home. When she ages out of the foster program, she becomes homeless but manages to maintain a small flower garden. Somehow (it is fiction after-all) she lands a job selling flowers, where she meets her match in the secret language of flowers – a guy named Grant. Sometimes sappy but all-in-all great book. ♥♥♥♥

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Where just yesterday was a simple farmer’s field -- now stands a wonderful black and white circus that mysteriously appeared during the night. The Le Cirque des Rêves is so entertaining, the food so indescribable that a flock of people follow it – think rock band groupies. But within the circus wall there is much more going on than animal acts and yummy circus food. The circus is a stage for a competition between two young magicians, Celia and Marco. I had visions of this being the best book of the year, until half-way through when the thought vanished like Celia’s Dad. Not number one or even a close second -- but worth reading. ♥♥


October: Scary Good Books

Don’t Let’s Go To the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
Alexandra actually lives how we all dream of as children – little or no parental supervision in a wild country filled with animals and open spaces to explore. If even half of it is true she’s lucky to have lived through it.

Faith by Jennifer Haigh
No matter what I write it doesn’t do justice to the story. So, the basics -- Art is a popular pastor and finds himself in the middle of some unsavory accusations. Faith is a sharply-written book about family and how far loyalty goes.

The Abbey by Chris Culver
Ash Rashid is almost ready to retire, when his niece is killed and he’s forced to look at a case that doesn’t stack up.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Every once in a while there comes along a book written in a way that is so fresh and new that describing it will not only NOT do it justice, but sound so different and weird as to actually drive potential readers away. So…know this is a wonderful book with the force of poetry and a story that is steeped in culture, sadness, lightness, and hope. ♥♥♥

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmm
Full disclosure: I read that this was a soon-to-be-released motion picture with George Clooney so I simply had to read it. Set in Hawaii, the King family, descendants of Hawaiian royalty are deciding to sell a huge chunk of the islands. Unfortunately Matthew King’s wife Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat-racing accident. ♥♥♥

Unsaid by Neil Abramson
During Helena’s career as a vet, she had escorted thousands of animals to the other side. But newly dead, she’s not doing so well and is basically haunting her husband. She not only leaves him a houseful of animals, but a not-so-loving mysterious life as an animal researcher. Enter Cindy-- a ‘signing’ chimpanzee who is scheduled for a research experiment that will undoubtedly kill her. Quite possibly the best book of the year. ♥♥♥♥

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
Julie Otsuka’s debut novel (2003) is about the Japanese internment camps. See full glowing review about her style above. ♥♥♥

White Heat by M.J. McGrath
Set in the Arctic, White Heat is the story of half Inuit and half outsider, Edie Kiglatuk – who makes her living as a guide. When a man is shot and killed on one of her "authentic" adventures she is suspicious of the events and tries to discover what actually happened.


HOT September. HOT Books.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Holy cow this trilogy is so good it’ll be a movie soon! Panem is the Capitol of twelve districts who long ago were very bad and tried to overthrow said Capitol. So to keep order, each year every district must send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games. No, it’s not about how many hot dogs you can stuff in your starving little mouth, but a fight to the death on live TV. And we thought our reality TV was cut-throat! Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to represent her district in the Games to save her little sister. Read this book first. ♥♥♥♥♥

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (second: Hunger Games Trilogy)
Thanks goodness for wireless delivery via Kindle. Read this book next. ♥♥♥♥♥

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (third: Hunger Games Trilogy)
Ditto above at midnight last week. Read this book last. ♥♥♥♥♥

August Back to School...But Not Textbooks

Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan
Ellie and John are just a couple Irish lads, living happily in the heather until John, who is in the Irish Republican Army is injured. Ellie packs her bags and heads to the promised land. In the 1920’s that would be New York City baby! I didn’t know this, but many Irish women in the 20's jumped the pond in order to work as maids for wealthy families. Of course Ellie catches the eye of a wealthy man – don’t you just love fiction? It’s so, well, fictional!

The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls
Who can ignore the charms of an incredibly handsome Irish musician? Certainly not thirty-five year old Bess Gray on the fast-track to spinsterhood. The only bummer is he’s been married eight times, and even in my dysfunctional math world that amounts to a hell of a lot. So, what’s a girl to do? Obviously she hops in a car and crosses the country to talk with all eight wives.

The Miraculous Journey Kate DiCamillo
O.K. I bought this on a Kindle special before I realized it was a children’s book. But let me tell you it was a heck of a story so get it for your kids or grandkids, or yourself. BTW -- Edward Tulane is a china rabbit who needs a good talking to before his little china heart breaks.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams
On July 24, 1911 young Yale professor Hiram Bingham III climbed into the Mountains of Peru and discovered an ancient city in the clouds: Machu Picchu. But, hey, not everybody loves a hero. Lately Bingham has been accused of not only smuggling out priceless artifacts, but that he actually stole credit for finding one of the world's greatest archaeological sites. Enter present day adventure writer Mark Adams. Adams spent months investigating the allegations against Bingham – mainly by retracing his path to Machu Picchu. The book is an incredible read, written by a word smith and colored with characters so weird they’ve got to be real. ♥♥♥♥


Sizzlin' Hot July

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
The next book in the apparent series of the Shanghai Girls is mostly about Pearl’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy. When Joy discovers some unsavory family secrets (why is it always family secrets?) she decides to runs away to Shanghai. It’s early 1957 and the New Society of Red China is about the last place I’d want to be, but Joy is an idealistic college student. She finds her birth father, artist Z.G. Li, who still lives in Shanghai but never knew he had a daughter.

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo
O.K. I’ll admit it, I thought this would be a pretty dumb book, but four-year old Colton made a believer out of me. Colton has emergency surgery, they almost lose him but he survives and begins talking about heaven and all the people and things he saw – like his miscarried sister, whom he had no knowledge of, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born. He describes the horse that only Jesus gets to ride, his purple sash and the power that "shoots down" from heaven to help us out. Fingers crossed it’s all true.

Killer Stuff and Tons of Money:
Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America
by Maureen Stanton
I actually collect old vintage junk, with an occasional nice little bona fide antique thrown in, but I wasn’t sure I could handle a BOOK about it! But Stanton conveys the story so honestly and simply that you find yourself immersed in travels; and yearning to learn more about the history of some strange object. I now know about six-board blanket chests and people who actually collect human body parts. One thing that’s for certain – Avery (the main ‘character’) is ‘fresh’ and 100% real, which makes us root for him as he continues to search out that one perfect hidden gem that he can parlay into a cool million. Part story, part history, part philosophy.
Indulge a lengthy quote:
“But when I see the lamp on my kitchen table, I have that feeling that Avery and other collectors and dealers have, a blush of warmth, pride, and even something that feels like-I'm slightly embarrassed to admit-affection. Since I bought the lamp, I've grown to love it more. If my house were on fire, I'd take the things I cherish most, family photos, drawings by my nieces and nephews, original paintings by my sister, Sally, an artist, and now the lamp. I'm convinced that I'll own the lamp until I die, after which I hope someone else will love it, too, and then pass it forward, this beautiful antique handmade thing that brings a glow to my kitchen, and my spirits." ♥♥♥

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
A Minnesota pharmaceutical company is working on a strange and powerful new drug in the heart of the Amazon. The problem is, Dr. Annick Swenson won’t share any research with the parent company and the last person they sent to find her has mysteriously disappeared. Beautiful, young research scientist Dr. Marina Singh travels to the Dark Continent to find out what is really going on – and boy does she -- complete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, and cannibals. May I say this is not Patchett’s best effort, but still, a nice little summer read. ♥♥

The Girl in the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason
Inspired by her late father-in-law, Mason writes a great little historical fiction novel about an American World War II pilot shot down in Occupied Europe. Decades later and newly widowed, Marshall Stone returns to his crash site and looks for the brave people who helped him escape from the Nazis. One person in particular -- the girl in the blue beret, is someone he’ll never forget.

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio
Emily Wilson had a bestselling novel and a GQ husband but that was before. NOW she can’t write a sentence let alone a book, is divorced and camping out with her great-aunt Bee on Bainbridge Island in Washington State. She settles into the ancient house and discovers a sixty year old red velvet diary in her night table. Will it open old wounds or is it a ticket to a bright future? Not a great book -- unless you are on a beach with nothing else to do.

To Be Sung Under Water by Tom McNeal
One of my favorite book lines EVER – Judith Whitman always believed in the kind of love that:  "picks you up in Akron and sets you down in Rio." Willy Blunt and Judith Whitman’s love story is a beautiful thing and one that stands the test of time. Just not with each other, and that might be the saddest thing. Make time for the best epic love story of the summer! ♥♥♥


June. Is It Summer Yet?

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Author of one of my all-time favorite books -- People of the Book -- Geraldine does it up in fair fashion again; writing about the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Although the book is based on fact, Brooks takes huge literary license when Caleb, the Wampanoag chief’s son, befriends the pastor’s daughter Bethia Mayfield. The two grow up exploring Martha’s Vineyard which is a nice romantic tale, even though Bethia is an entirely fictional character. Caleb eventually lands in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek. That’s the truth. ♥♥

In The Garden of Beasts:
Love, Terror and An American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
When Professor William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in 1933 he is (along with the rest of the world) naive about Hitler’s true mission. As time goes by he cannot ignore the Third Reich and their quest to restore Germany to a position of world prominence. His flamboyant daughter, Martha is the most interesting character in this historical fiction book, as she has one affair after another, including first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels.

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison
Willa Jackson’s family should have been wealthy and living in the town’s finest home, The Blue Ridge Madam – built by Will’s great-great-grandfather. Instead the Madam has stood empty for years as a derelict monument to misfortune and scandal. Willa has returned and unwillingly unlocks the mystery of the peace tree on the property. Yawn.

The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom
by Slavomir Rawicz
OMG this is a good book. In 1941, Rawicz and six fellow prisoners of war escaped a Soviet labor camp in Siberia. Their trek is over thousands of miles by foot -- out of Siberia, through China, the Gobi Desert, Tibet, and over the Himalayas to British India. Holy crap it’s amazing. ♥♥


May Books

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Take one hot professor who happens to be centuries-old vampire, one cute witch, and one ancient magical manuscript. Add a horde of daemons, stir well, and what do you have? Not much.

Abused Men, the Hidden Side of Domestic Violence
(Second edition 2009) by Philip W. Cook
It may come as a surprise that almost 40% of domestic violence victims each year are men. Few resources and little support have been given to this issue, however over the past ten years this has begun to change. Philip Cook’s book(s) Abused Men, the Hidden Side of Domestic Violence published in 1997, and second edition published in 2009, along with the television movie Men Don’t Tell have been instrumental in this effort.

Once Upon A Time, There Was You by Elizabeth Berg
John and Irene Marsh have been divorced for many years yet mange to remain adoring parents to Sadie, who is about to start college. Sadie is kidnapped and they are forced to bond to help each other through the trauma. I’m not sure what it was about this book but it felt so trite and rushed. Almost like a first draft. Elizabeth did you send the wrong version to the publisher??

April In Paris With The Hemingway's

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Set mostly in Paris during the 1920’s, Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley are the golden couple in the famous group – the “Lost Generation” that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Hemingway’s career starts to blossom during these years, and as interesting as that piece of the story is – Hadley’s tale is what makes this historical fiction book really shine. ♥♥♥♥

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale
Bruno Littlemore was born in a zoo. He lives there until university primatologist Lydia Littlemore determines he is one remarkable chimp. She eventually takes him home to oversee his education. Ultimately she loses her job, and thus starts a most unforgettable journey. Parts of this book were incredible but most of it was just plain weird.

Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III
Father a famous writer. Parents divorce. Mom gets short end of the stick. Kids grow up deprived. Fights, drugs, and not able to stay in college, the son becomes a writer. This is the soil that grew the author of House of Sand and Fog.

March Madness. Mad There Weren't Any Good Books

10 Things to Do When Your Life Falls Apart
by Daphne Rose Kingma
I met Daphne Rose Kingma on a flight from NYC. She had just appeared on a very famous person’s talk show, and I was heading back to Ketchum, Idaho. Since then I’ve read all her books. Her new release sounded like the perfect salve for my open wound. Unfortunately my life had exploded, not simply fallen apart.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
Oh Boy a new David Sedaris book!!!! I was wetting my pants in anticipation, but his animal-themed short stories are dog’s. Not funny and not interesting.

The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards
Edward’s new book is about strong women and how the most ordinary women can help change history. Lucy Jarrett returns home from Japan, to find herself haunted by her father's unresolved death a decade ago. Her research to solve the mystery will uncover a few family secrets. Not as good as The Memory Keepers Daughter, also by Edwards.


February Books...Sweet!

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger
What a great book. Based on the true story of Lady Duff Gordon and her lady’s maid, Sally. The two women travel alone to Egypt, in hopes of finding relief for LDG’s tuberculosis symptoms. They settle in Luxor and life is good, but both women end up fighting for survival.♥♥♥

The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna
Re-released in 2010, this sweet little book reminds me of Jonathon Livingston Seagull in hare’s clothing, living in Finland and without the sappy lessons served up seagull style. A special little book, a real jewel. ♥♥♥


January 2011

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
It has been called a “magnificent new historical epic” but I call it way too damn long and not that interesting. I wanted to get involved in the lives of the five interrelated families-American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh but I just couldn’t. Sorry Ken

Nemesis by Philip Roth
During the summer of 1944, 23 year old Bucky Cantor thought he was the luckiest guy alive. He was idolized by the kids on the neighborhood playground, and was in love with a wonderful girl. If Polio hadn’t swept through the Jewish community things may have turned out just fine.♥♥

The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz
Haruko is the first non-aristocratic woman to marry into the royal family and finds herself controlled at every turn. Thankfully, she produces a son, but in the process has a nervous breakdown. Interesting story, well researched.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Henrietta Lacks was a poor southern woman who became one of the most important women in medical research. The cells they took from her are known as HeLa and are a now a multi-billion dollar industry – and they were taken without her knowledge. The first "immortal" human cells grown in culture, are still alive today, though Henrietta has been dead for more than sixty years. Sadly, she remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave. ♥♥♥