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Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 2:53pm
Echo is your grandmother’s lemon bars captured in a chapter book – separate layers that when eaten together form a luscious composite of sweet sugar, tart lemons, and crunch all topped with powdered sugar that together surprise your tongue. In Echo, the layers are the three separate stories of Friedrich, a German prodigy, Mike, a Pennsylvania orphan, and Ivy, a bright, worried California girl. Their tales blend via a magical harmonica and a fable from the past that involves a promise and a prophecy. 
Author Pam Muñoz Ryan’s award-winning children’s books, including Esperanza Rising, The Dreamer, Paint the Wind, and Becoming Naomi León, are all narrative treasures but Echo is surely her magnum opus. Echo combines a fairy tale, the three narratives, and music to form a wonder of a classic, yet fresh, novel that will enchant children ages ten to fourteen and their parents and teachers.
The story begins, as so many great fables do, in a dark forest where a boy is reading a book with a title containing his given name: The Thirteenth Harmonica of Otto Messenger. When Otto gets lost in the forest, he meets three mysterious sisters who are under a witch’s curse, receives a special harmonica, makes a promise, hears a prophecy, and returns home to become the messenger and break the curse.
Many, many years later in 1933 in a German town near the Black Forest, Friedrich, the musical prodigy with an unusual birthmark, works alongside his father in a harmonica factory where he discovers an older version of the Marine Band model the company exports to America. It contains a tiny red letter M. The harmonica has a “rich, ethereal quality . . . the more he played, the more the air around him seemed to pulse with energy.  He felt protected by the cloak of the music as if nothing could stand in his way.” Protection may be what Friedrich needs when his beloved sister comes home from nursing school saying that she believes in Hitler and what he stands for and others in his town want to remove him and his imperfection.
Meanwhile in Pennsylvania in 1935, Mike Flannery and his younger brother are starving and fearful in an orphanage.  They have nothing except the love of music passed down from their Granny when they land in what seems like a great opportunity. The brothers soon receive harmonicas and Mike’s seems different.  It has a small, red, hand painted M on one edge and when Mike plays it “the world seems brighter, with more possibilities.”
Later in 1942 in Fresno County, California, Ivy Maria Lopez receives a new harmonica with a tiny red M on one edge. When she plays it her teacher asks her to perform a solo of “America the Beautiful” on the radio with her class, but her family must move to a farm near Los Angeles. Her new school segregates the Latino children in a separate school with no orchestra, but Ivy has high hopes even when she learns of another injustice.
How will the magical harmonica link these stories and will Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy ever achieve their dreams?  Children and adults will savor the delicious blending of these tales into a superb conclusion.
In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Muñoz Ryan said, “Echo is about how music illuminated my characters’ lives during a very bleak time. I think most of my books are about these journeys where the characters have to grow and change drastically, whether the journey is an emotional one or a physical one. And if you look back to Esperanza Rising, even during the darkest time in her journey, there was always something inside her giving her the determination to carry on. I hope that the reader will enjoy the book for the story’s sake, but also that something will remind them that even during the darkest times, something pure and beautiful exists. Like music. "
Summing it Up: The magic of this fairy tale combined with carefully told twentieth-century history will captivate chapter book readers as well as their parents and teachers. The triumphant crescendo of an ending ties the story together in a most satisfying and glorious way. Children’s historical fiction is sometimes bland and saccharine, but Echo is a John Philip Sousa, brass band, cymbal-clapping winner that everyone over the age of ten will love.
Rating: 5 stars    Ages 10 - 14Category: Fiction, Five Stars, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Pigeon Pie, Super Nutrition, Book ClubPublication date: February 24, 2015What Others are Saying:Booklist: http://www.booklistonline.com/Echo-Pam-Munoz-Ryan/pid=7173933
Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/pam-munoz-ryan/echo-Ryan/
Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-439-87402-1

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 4:21pm
The Nightingale opens in 1995 as an unnamed woman packs her belongings to move into a nursing home at the urging of her son. She ponders, “If I have learned anything in this long life of mine it is this. In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are. . . . I find myself thinking about the war and my past, about the people I lost.”  Her receipt of an invitation to a ceremony for the passeurs, the courageous men and women who helped many escape during WWII, leads to more memories. A few pages later, it’s 1939 in a small Loire Valley town where Viann, a young mother, adjusts to life under the German occupation while her husband is away fighting. Meanwhile Viann’s father has sent her impetuous younger sister, Isabelle, away from Paris to live with her. The two sisters haven’t gotten along for years and Isabelle’s defiance that led to her dismissal from school doesn’t bode well for life under the occupation especially when a German captain comes to live with them.

Soon Isabelle is secretly delivering papers for the resistance when a chance encounter with a downed British Airman leads her back to Paris where she joins others in planning ways to get men out of the country. She risks her life to save numerous downed paratroopers and scenes depicting her courage, grit, and strength set this novel apart from other tales of the resistance.
While Isabelle travels the country, the Nazi attitude toward the Jews in the Loire Valley grows more hostile, and Viann finds herself risking her own life and that of her daughter to save the lives of other children. Viann’s growth as a character and her decisions to do what she must to survive strengthen the narrative. The suspense behind which sister’s memories recount the tale and the uncertainty as to whether one or both survived the war makes this more than a simple recounting of their heroics.
Kristin Hannah’s previous novels have primarily been light, domestic dramas – more beach reads than anything serious; The Nightingale is different. While researching her earlier novel The Winter Garden, a book partly set in WWII Russia, Hannah read about Andrée de Jongh, a 19-year-old Belgian woman, who, along with her father, started an escape route through the Pyrenees Mountains to get downed airmen out of Nazi-occupied areas. That story led Hannah to research what ordinary French women had done to help the resistance and The Nightingale emerged.
Author Hannah says that the book became the story of “women in war, period. Our stories and our bravery are not acknowledged and talked about as much when it's over. Perhaps that's because women just come home and go back to their families and their ordinary lives and don't talk about it too much. 

I don't want people to forget the heroism of ordinary people and the prices they were paying. The question of the novel that kept coming back to me was, "When would I do this? When would you be willing to risk your child's life as well as your own?”

Summing it Up: Historical fiction fans will relish reading of the actions of the brave French resistance fighters coupled with both terrible deeds and unselfish love that lead to a fresh new take on World War II in France with a page-turner of an ending that may keep you awake long into the night. If you don’t shed a tear or two at the end, you might just be in need of a new heart
Rating: 4 stars    Category: Fiction, Pigeon Pie, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Super Nutrition, Book ClubPublication date: February 3, 2015Author/Book Website: http://kristinhannah.com/content/books_nightingale.phpRead an Excerpt: http://kristinhannah.com/content/books_nightingale.php?id=ExcerptInterview with the Author: https://www.goodreads.com/interviews/show/1009.Kristin_HannahReading Group Guide: (Spoiler Alert: Don’t read the questions until you finish the book.) http://kristinhannah.com/content/books_nightingale.php?id=Discussion%20Guide What Others are Saying:Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kristin-hannah/the-nightingale-hannah/USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2015/02/08/the-nightingale/22922333/

Principles of Navigation by Lynn Sloan

Sun, 02/15/2015 - 3:35pm
Principles of Navigation is Lynn Sloan’s first novel and the influence of her training as a fine art photographer surfaces on each page. She offers a developing portrait of a marriage that evolves as would a print in a darkroom water bath. This particular marriage between Alice, a small town reporter, and Rolly, an art professor at an undistinguished Indiana college, is seen in separate shots of each character that together form an image of their changing lives.
The book opens with Rolly commenting on their wedding picture:
“We are perfect here, aren’t we?” That’s what Rolly had said not so long ago.
In the picture, they’re standing close, she and Rolly, facing the photographer, grinning at each other, giddy with happiness. She has her arm around his waist, and he towers over her, with his hand draped over her shoulder.  Sun slices through the glass wall behind them, lighting the top of her silly curls and glowing in the space between their tilted faces. The inclination of his head says he can’t imagine loving anyone else, and she shines back. Yes.”
When Alice achieves her goal of becoming pregnant, Rolly seems indifferent and they begin to drift apart and she starts questioning their planned sabbatical year in Norway. Rolly would have his art but she’d have no work and would be isolated.  When Alice miscarries, Rolly realizes that the baby meant more to him than he’d realized but Alice can’t bear to think about the happier times reflected in their wedding picture so she hides it away not even remembering where.
Later when she sees that Rolly has been using the baby’s intended nursery, she loses control:
“You have no right,” she said, over her shoulder, then turned to face him. He didn’t get it. His uncomprehending eyes searched hers.
“I’ve had it,” she said, stepping away from him onto something sharp. “You’ve got your damn studio out back.  You’ve got one at the college.  Isn’t that enough?  How much goddamn space do you need?  I can’t breathe in my own house, and now this.”
She pushed her hands at him, to make sure he didn’t come closer. “You spoiled this. This wasn’t supposed to be touched. Why did you set your crap up in here?  Just get out. Get the hell out.”  . . .
“I didn’t know. . .”
He knew. He didn’t care. His teary eyes were a pretense of caring. He tried to put his arms around her.
“Don’t touch me.” She slid down, pressing her back against the wall. “Get away from me.”
“I didn’t know.”  He knelt beside her.  “I was trying to keep the construction chaos contained.  It wasn’t a secret.” He spoke softly, murmuring that they’d try again, when her body was back to normal, when they were away from all this. “You’ll see.  In Norway, you’ll sleep late, drink lots of milk, and become a hausfrau.  We’ll make love all the time.  You’ll get pregnant.”
She hated him.
His fingers touched her cheek.  She raised her eyes to meet his. “I don’t know you anymore.”
“Alice, I’m sorry.  Come on now, come lie down.”
He had really never wanted the baby at all. This fact held her steady as she allowed him to guide her to their bedroom and lift her legs between the sheets and fold the blankets under her chin. Beneath his tenderness, she recognized treachery.”
As these two broken people make damaging decisions while struggling to find a way to either fix or abandon their marriage, Sloan’s evocative pictures of them and their lives, offer a new way of seeing ordinary people.  And then comes the unexpected twist and it’s a twist that makes this a novel that book clubs will find irresistible. Long after you read the last joyful paragraph, you’ll be talking about the ways these two unlikely characters found to navigate their lives.
Summing it Up: Step into Principles of Navigation, a stunning photograph of a marriage that debut novelist Sloan develops before your eyes.  Fall into the lives of two broken, imperfect individuals and stick with them as they find new ways to navigate the lives they’ve created so they can become whole. Select this for your book club and enjoy discussing the unexpected twists and turns that lead to the evolving image of an unconventional family.
(Note: this is a paperback original with a correspondingly low price making it an easy choice for book clubs.)
Rating: 4 stars   
Category: Fiction, Gourmet, Book Club
Publication date: February 15, 2015
Author’s Website: http://www.lynnsloan.com/principles-of-navigation
Publisher’s Website: http://www.fomitepress.com/FOMITE/Navigation.html
What Others are Saying:
Centered on Books: https://centeredonbooks.wordpress.com/tag/lynn-sloan/

Windy City Reviews: http://windycityreviews.org/book-reviews/2015/1/10/book-review-principles-of-navigation.html

Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke

Wed, 02/11/2015 - 8:32am
Mind of Winter chronicles a single Christmas day in a Detroit suburban home. Holly’s sleep is interrupted by a strange sensation that “Something had followed them home from Russia.” When Holly and her husband Eric oversleep, Eric must race to the airport to pick up his parents while Holly finds that their 15-year-old daughter, Tatiana, hasn’t gotten out of bed either. Holly ruminates on her unsettled feelings throughout the day while remembering the Christmas when she and Eric had gone to Siberia to adopt Tatiana. As the day’s snowstorm turns into a blizzard, none of their family or friends are able to come for the planned feast and Eric has to detour to a hospital when his mother’s confusion needs attention. Left alone with Tatiana all day, Holly ruminates on her daughter’s shortcomings – she hasn’t even set the table – as well as her rare Russian beauty and her kindness toward everyone but Holly.
As the day wanes and the blizzard gains strength, the house appears to be haunted with a strange aura or could it be that Holly is imagining it?  Author Kasischke is an accomplished poet and the rhythmic language she weaves to highlight Holly’s repetitive cogitations gives the novel an eerie feeling that escalates as evening approaches.The reader begins to wonder if Holly is truly disturbed or just neurotic and anxious because of the unforeseen changes in the day. Holly’s bizarre behavior continues and ultimately leads to an unexpected and chillingly horrifying ending.
Kasischke sets each word as if she were a mosaic artist placing intricately shaped and colored tiles to form a mural that won’t reveal its subject until the viewer steps back and views it in its entirety.The disturbing conclusion will appeal to Gone Girl and Stephen King fans as well as to readers looking for a smart, fast-paced, disconcerting tale. 
Summing it Up: If you’re looking for a searing psychological thriller that will leave you shaking with its shocking conclusion, read this book. You’ll want to devour it in one sitting and if you’re anything like this reader, you’ll immediately turn back to page one and start again to appreciate the craft and to examine the way the puzzle pieces fit together.
Rating: 4 stars    Category: Fiction, Mysteries and Thrillers, Book ClubPublication date: March 25, 2014Read an Excerpt: http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062284396/mind-of-winter/web-sampler What Others are Saying:The Boston Globe: http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2014/03/30/book-review-mind-winter-laura-kasischke/LZbyV0ASYCxgQ4V5Nj57nL/story.htmlKirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/laura-kasischke/mind-of-winter/Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/9780062284396

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Mon, 02/09/2015 - 3:18pm
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption is a book EVERYONE needs to read. Desmond Tutu calls Stevenson “America’s young Nelson Mandela” and John Grisham compares him to a living Atticus Finch. Yesterday I co-led a discussion of Just Mercy at my church. Twenty-eight people showed up (in the Chicago suburbs in February) and our spirited discussion of the disparities in our justice system led to many comments and questions about the book, about Stevenson, and about what ordinary people can do to help.
Bryan Stevenson is a crusader but he’s also a fine storyteller who personalizes the lives of the incarcerated and those on death row to make the reader care deeply about them and him. The story of Walter McMillan, a man wrongly sentenced to die for a crime he clearly didn’t commit, is the tale that ties the book together. Everything about his wrongful conviction from the fact that he was put on death row BEFORE his trial, to the intimidation of witnesses and Stevenson himself, depict a story so very wrong that it seemed almost over the top. It took Walter’s appearance on “60 Minutes” to set the wheels of justice moving in his case. Other stories portray injustice in many forms. Those of children sentenced to life in prison, of a mistreated veteran suffering from PTSD and a head injury, of the mentally ill put in solitary confinement, and of a woman charged with killing her stillborn baby - will make you cheer for Stevenson’s resolve. This book is a memoir as well as the telling of what happens to the powerless and the glimpses into Stevenson’s personal life enhance the story and its message.
Stevenson presents facts that make all of us, regardless of politics, see that this is a problem that affects our economy as well as our desire to do what’s right. 
“Today we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. . . . We’ve created laws that make writing a bad check or committing a petty theft or minor property crime an offense that can result in life imprisonment.  . . . There are more than a half-million people in state or federal prisons for drug offenses today, up from just 41,000 in 1980. . . . We make terrible mistakes. . . . we spend lots of money.”
Bryan Stevenson believes that “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” He points out bad people in the system who are protecting their own power by ruining the lives of the powerless, but he also presents hope.
“The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent – strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration.”
Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, an advocacy group, and this book touched me so deeply that I wrote a check to fund their work. (FYI: I never make donations without checking Charity Navigator and the Equal Justice Initiative is the highest ranked charity in its category.)
I encourage you to get your book club, your neighbors, or your faith community to read this book with you.  Our group began by watching Jon Stewart’s six-minute interview with Stevenson on the Daily Show, but you could also ask your fellow readers to watch Stevenson’s TED Talk on Injustice before reading the book.  It’s one of the best twenty minutes I’ve ever seen on the internet as supported by its 2,059,213 views. Exactly six months after Michael Brown died in Ferguson, Missouri, this is a book that can help all of us talk without rancor about what can happen if any part of our population sees itself as marginalized. This is a book that can help us do better.  
Summing it Up: Just Mercy is the powerful memoir of one man’s quest to work for the poor, the oppressed, the mentally ill, and the powerless. It will make you mad and it will make you cheer. As a citizen of the world, you must read it.Rating: 5 stars   
Category: Five Stars, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Nonfiction, Soul Food, Super Nutrition, Book Club
Publication date: October 21, 2014
Read an Excerpt: http://www.npr.org/books/titles/356964333/just-mercy-a-story-of-justice-and-redemption#excerpt
Interviews with the Author: http://www.npr.org/2014/10/20/356964925/one-lawyers-fight-for-young-blacks-and-just-mercy
http://www.c-span.org/video/?322794-6/interview-bryan-stevenson
Reading Group Guide: http://www.randomhouse.com/book/224792/just-mercy-by-bryan-stevenson#reader'sguide
What Others are Saying:Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/bryan-stevenson/just-mercy/
Minneapolis Star Tribune: http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/books/285133231.html
New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/books/review/just-mercy-by-bryan-stevenson.html
Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/book-review-just-mercy-a-story-of-justice-and-redemption-by-bryan-stevenson/2014/10/23/5d590580-3f67-11e4-9587-5dafd96295f0_story.html

Descent by Tim Johnston

Sat, 02/07/2015 - 2:34pm
Descent is a compelling literary thriller that illuminates the lives of a family falling apart after their daughter disappears on what should have been a happy vacation.
“Her name was Caitlin, she was eighteen, and her own heart would sometimes wake her – flying away in that dream-race where finish lines grew farther away, not nearer, where knees turned to taffy, or feet to stones.” 
Caitlin’s fifteen-year-old brother, Sean, follows her on a rented mountain bike as she runs through the Rocky Mountains on her pre-college trip.  He crashes and breaks his leg and since there’s no cell service, Caitlin accepts a stranger’s offer to drive her into town to get help.
Soon their parents receive a call that Sean is in the local hospital and they realize that Caitlin is missing. As Sean recuperates from his physical wounds, the search continues and the family disintegrates. Angela, the mother, returns to their Wisconsin home while Grant, the father, and Sean remain to search for Caitlin. During the following two years, when there doesn’t seem to be any hope of finding Caitlin, Angela attempts suicide, Sean wanders through the west getting into skirmishes, and Grant stays in the resort town where Caitlin disappeared and builds a life of odd jobs, drinking, and monitoring the search for Caitlin.

The climax builds when a minor character acts recklessly to set the thrilling denouement into motion. As I held my breath, wiped my tears, and thanked the stars for an author like Johnston, the book put me on a roller coaster ride that held a twist I could never have imagined. The minute I finished this book, I wanted to find someone, somewhere, who’d read it so we could talk about hope, courage, and determination.  
We’ve all read tales with similar plots, but we rarely read books with both the exquisitely evocative language of this novel and with a hold-your-breath, take-no-prisoners ending.  Descent has the gothic feel of something by Dennis Lehane, Ron Rash, or Russell Banks coupled with the immediacy and psychological drama of Emma Donoghue’s searing novel Room. At times this novel is painful; I set it down and walked away twice needing to do something ordinary. After I folded laundry and looked outside my window to convince myself that I wasn’t being held captive in a mountain cabin, I returned to Descent anxiously awaiting Caitlin’s fate. Despite my forays into the quotidian, I finished the book in just over a day and predict a similar fate for most readers.
Summing it Up: Descent is a rare mixture of poetic words, heart-rending action, courageous exploits, superhuman survival tactics, fear, and hope. Don’t start this novel if you have any pending commitments as you won’t be able to walk away from the last hundred pages.
Rating:  5 stars    Category: Mysteries and Thrillers, Fiction, Gourmet, Book Club Publication date: January 6, 2015Read an Excerpt: https://aerbook.com/books/Descent_Excerpt-9258.htmlInterview with the Author: https://www.bookbrowse.com/author_interviews/full/index.cfm/author_number/2579/tim-johnstonWhat Others are Saying:Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/tim-johnston/descent-johnston/Minneapolis Star Tribune: http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/books/287988991.htmlPublishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-61620-304-7Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/book-review-descent-by-tim-johnston/2015/01/04/7919d716-8f69-11e4-ba53-a477d66580ed_story.html

Dear Father: Breaking the Cycle of Pain by J. Ivy

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 3:48pm
Dear Father is not a book anyone would expect me – an older, suburban, white woman – to read.  Author J. Ivy is a hip-hop poet and a Grammy Award winner for his work with Jay-Z and Kanye West and my musical interests tend toward Gershwin, The Beach Boys, The Temptations, and Mozart. To write this review I had to “Google” how to spell Kanyeand Jay-Z. In addition I grew up in a small town with not only my father and mother but all four of my grandparents close by to rear and cherish me. So what is it about this hip-hop poet’s words about learning to forgive his absent father that resonated with me so?
First, understand how I came to this book.  I select most titles based on what publicists think I might like or on what I read in publications like Publishers Weekly. This book was different; I learned of it a few days ago as I listened to J. Ivy’s interview on NPR while heading down the expressway. By the time I got out of my car, J. Ivy had captured my heart.  I wanted to know more about his work to get children to write. I wanted to learn about his family, and I really wanted to know how forgiveness had saved him. Later that day I downloaded his book onto my e-reader and entered J. Ivy’s world.  I found myself reading his poetry out loud so his words encircled me with their rhythm, emotion, ebullience, and melancholy.
I soon learned that Ivy had transferred to the high school my children attended where he was a year ahead of my daughter. His description of moving from the south side of Chicago to the suburbs where a teacher encouraged his poetry and where he received a standing ovation in a student show reinforced my beliefs in the power of equal education for all and in encouraging everyone to use their talents.
“The school had its cool kids, its nerds, its athletes – all sorts of cliques – just like my other schools had; only difference was, some were black, some were white, some were Chinese, some were Puerto Rican, and some were Mexican. . . . It was my first time talking to white kids at length. We were actually sitting next to each other, holding conversations, realizing that some of us were neighbors. . . .  We were eating the same food together at lunch. We were learning together. . . . We were breaking down the transparent barriers that society had historically placed between us. . . .  What I was experiencing had to be a microcosm of what the pioneers of integration lived. . . . Sitting in a classroom that used to be all white. Unifying with cultures that you had barely spoken to before this time. . . .  I finally understood what Dr. King meant by his I Have a Dream speech. I felt like a soldier for equality seeing clearly that culture was actually a prism of many different facets and many different faces that were from many different places and backgrounds. I got it, but my young mind was shocked by the discovery.”
This book made me care about J. Ivy. I was grateful for his faith and how it grounded him. I mourned with him when his father died and if I ever meet his mother she’s in for a very big hug. I’ve long been a student of forgiveness and have often wondered why it’s so hard to explain the concept to the young.  J. Ivy is reaching a generation that needs to learn to forgive.  His Dear Father Letter Writing Workshops help children learn to write away their problems and see that there’s a way out and his wisdom is for everyone. He writes:
“We all make mistakes. We all will make more. The key is not to judge but to focus on your purpose. Despite what anyone may have done in the past, you’re still standing. You’re still able to move forward in your life. You are still awarded with the ability to dream, create, and find happiness. But in order for us to find these joys, we have to forgive. And when the mechanics of our mind flash back to yesteryear, we have to remember that . . .ForgivenessIsREMEMBERINGTo forgive again,And again,And again,And . . .”Summing it Up: Read this book for a pure emotional ride that will make you glad you live in a country that values education.  Tumble into the world of words J. Ivy creates. Read his words aloud and allow them to seep into your consciousness. If you aren't sure if this is for you, watch this interview on PBS, listen to him on NPR, or read an excerpt of his book.
Rating: 4 stars   
Category: Nonfiction, Memoir, Soul Food, Book Club
Publication date: January 27, 2015
Author Website: http://www.j-ivy.com
Read an Excerpt: http://dearfatherletters.com/welcome/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Dear-Father_Excerpt-Book-Sample.pdf
Book Trailer: http://www.beyondword.com/product/dear-father
Interview on Public Television’s Chicago Tonight: http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2015/01/28/chicago-poet-j-ivy#.VMldDegacO8.twitter
NPR Interview: http://www.npr.org/2015/01/25/379329879/in-dear-father-a-poet-disrupts-the-cycle-of-pain
What Others are Saying:“A Grammy-winning performance poet often seen on HBO’s Def Poetry, Ivy writes about his negligent father, his own life as a black male, living in a poor, rough Chicago neighborhood, his devotion to hip hop, and being in love and all the trials and tribulations that come with it. His memoir is a mixture of short, narrative, first-person chapters and some of the poems that he has performed across the country. Clever in his telling of stories, Ivy appeals to our sense of empathy and plays with our notions of fame in contrast to his own uncommon path of hard work and aesthetic endurance. What stands out most here is the redemption and escape Ivy found in language and art, in his commitment to writing poems and perfecting performance. Ivy finds solace in the title poem and in conversations with his friends and mentors, including performers Kanye West and Jay-Z, whose inspiration he shares. Ivy is a focused poet and entertainer discovering, in poetry and prose alike, the power and necessity of words.” (Mark Eleveld Booklist)
“In his book, Dear Father, J. Ivy delivers a powerful message of hope, transforming his pain into power. This book represents his life stories, and how poetry has helped him overcome adversity, allowing his to make an impactful contribution to humanity.”  Deepak Chopra

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 4:16pm
When life hands you lemons one of the best cures is to read a book that’s both tart and sweet just like a glass of lemonade served on an old-fashioned southern porch. The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is just such a novel.  Debut author Christopher Scotton opens the story with these assuredly simple, yet evocative words: “The Appalachian Mountains rise a darker blue on the washed horizon if you’re driving east from Indiana in the morning. The green hills of the piedmont brace the wooded peaks like sandbags against a rising tide. The first settlers were hunters, trappers, and then farmers when the game went west. In between the hills and mountains are long, narrow hollows where farmers and cattle scratch a living with equal frustration. And under them, from the Tug Fork to the Clinch Valley, a thick plate of the purest bituminous coal on the Eastern Seaboard.”Fourteen-year-old Kevin Gilooly takes the reader back to the summer of 1985: “It had been two months since my brother, Joshua, was killed, and the invulnerability I had felt as a teenager was only a curl of memory. Mom had folded into herself on the way back from the hospital and had barely spoken since. My father emerged from silent disbelief and was diligently weaving his anger into a smothering blanket for everyone he touched, especially me. My life then was an inventory of eggshells and expectations unmet.”So Kevin’s father drives Kevin and his mother to Medgar, Kentucky, the small coal town where his mother grew up. Everyone hopes that the town and Kevin’s grandfather, known as “Pops,” will heal them. Pops is a veterinarian, a man almost universally respected in Medgar. He’s a true hero, as courageous when standing up for what’s right as he is tireless in handling large animals and climbing up the face of vertical rock. Kevin also finds a friend in Buzzy Fink, a kid from the hollows with problems of his own. Pops says, “The Finks are poor, but they’re proud poor. Esmer runs the Hollow hard. Kids stay in school, they truck their garbage out once a week. These are solid people.”  As Kevin heals while assisting Pops on veterinary calls and listening as Pops’ friends banter over sour mash on the porch, controversy brews.  Boyd, the evil owner of the local mine, a mine that employs a large number of the men in the area, is buying up land surrounding the town next to the National Forest. He’s already destroyed the “knobs” or tops of two mountains and poisoned drinking water nearby. Now Paul Pierce, a local businessman has information that can stop him so Boyd attempts to smear Pierce by announcing that he’s gay. To most of the town, this isn’t news but to some having it out in the open is trouble. When Pierce is brutally attacked, the question isn’t whether Boyd had anything to do with the crime, but who he used to do the deed. Soon new facts surface and Kevin and Buzzy worry.Pops takes the boys on his annual “tramp” to climb, explore, fish, and camp the land that’s been in his family for generations. After an almost mythical climb and a dangerous creek crossing the boys feel safe, strong, and confident.
While Pops and Buzzy sleep, Kevin encounters the “The White Stag” – a legendary creature that even Pops has never seen. The imposing stag had “kind, sad eyes that seemed to carry with them the secret wisdom of the earth.”  It’s that wisdom that forms not only the book’s title but also the novel’s basic tenets – wisdom comes from being attuned to nature and from knowing ourselves and our capabilities. Soon Kevin and Buzzy will need their newly found confidence to escape a dangerous sniper hell bent on hurting one of them. Summing it Up: If you enjoyed the mystical landscape of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, the Southern gothic feel and characters in Ron Rash’s Serena, or watching a town and a boy fight evil in Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind Than Home, then The Secret Wisdom of the Earth will have you holding your breath as you make it down the mountain alongside these authentic characters. It’s a debut novel and there are some credibility-defying actions so the book isn’t perfect but it’s quite simply an old-fashioned good read.
Rating: 4 stars    Category: Fiction, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Grits, Book ClubPublication date: January 6, 2015Author Website: http://christopherscotton.com/Read an Excerpt: http://www.readinggroupguides.com/reviews/the-secret-wisdom-of-the-earth/excerptInterviews with the Author: http://christopherscotton.com/watch-a-reading/Reading Group Questions: http://www.readinggroupguides.com/reviews/the-secret-wisdom-of-the-earth/guideWhat Others are Saying:Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/books/ct-books-editors-choice-secret-wisdom-earth-20150115-story.html
Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/christopher-scotton/secret-wisdom-of-the-earth/
New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/books/review/the-secret-wisdom-of-the-earth-by-christopher-scotton.html?_r=1
Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4555-5192-7

USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2015/01/11/the-secret-wisdom-of-the-earth/21350369/

My Mother Taught Me . . .

Mon, 01/12/2015 - 11:42am
Today would have been my mother’s 93rdbirthday.  She died almost twenty years ago and I still miss her.  When I see an egregious grammatical error, I almost expect to hear the phone ring with her calling to laugh about it.  I miss her sitting on her porch steps awaiting our arrival as she didn’t want to give up a single moment of our visits.  I miss her saying “lovely” with dripping sarcasm and accompanying eye rolls when she saw something tasteless.  She was smart; she was fun; and she epitomized what my grandfather said was our family motto: “Often wrong but never in doubt.” 
I caught my love of reading from her.  She also modeled a disdain for what she called drivel.  When she was recovering from surgery, three of her friends brought her copies Bridges of Madison County to keep her occupied.  She looked at me with fear in her eyes and said, “Jesus Katie, do they think the cancer’s gone to my brain?”
Mom would have enjoyed reading Facebook if only for Grammarly.com’s posts.  She’d be an evangelist for the disappearing Oxford comma and would be appalled at the increasing use of “I” instead of “me” when used as an object.  She had no respect for her church’s interim pastor because he used “irregardless” as if it were an actual word and I can almost hear her asking me to give her one good reason why anyone would ever say “Where is it at?”
She’d be happy that I still love to read and write and that I share my lists of books with others. She’d be glad that the copy of Little Women that she inscribed “because you love to read” as a gift for my eighth birthday is on a nearby shelf where I can see it. She’d remind me that she reared me well then bemoan the fact that no one remembers that one raises cattle and rears children.
*The photo above is of the Wells Memorial Library, where I went at least once a week with my mother when I was a child. 

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 2:06pm
I’m flat out, over-the-top, madly in love with my friends (sorry, but they aren’t characters) Theodore Finch and Violet Markey.  Finch and Violet are going to keep you up late at night, they‘re going to interrupt your work, and they’re going to make you wonder why the rest of the world is acting like nothing happened.
All the Bright Places opens with Finch standing at the edge of his school’s bell tower, six stories above the ground. He wonders if this will be the day – the day he lets the air carry him away “until there’s nothing.” The ledge he’s on is about four inches wide and he’s holding his arms out and shouting when he notices a girl, also on the ledge. He realizes that he knows who she is and says. “Come her often? Because this is kind of my spot and I don’t remember seeing you here before.”
Back on terra firma, and no, I’m not going to tell you how they got down, Finch and Violet are paired together on a geography project exploring the natural wonders of Indiana. They begin wandering and discover each other. They shouldn’t fall in love:  Violet is popular; Finch isn’t. Half the school calls him “Theodore Freak” and a good girl like Violet doesn’t belong with someone like him. Finch may be suicidal but he lives in the present and appreciates new experiences. Violet is living just to finish the school year, graduate, and get out of their small Indiana town.  She’s grieving her sister’s death and can’t embrace the present. As they wander, Violet opens up to new experiences and love and Finch’s world becomes “ultraviolet.”  
Wandering Indiana’s bizarre, out-of-the-way places leads to finding the out-of-the way places within. This reader was surprised that one of those places was the monastery and gardens just a few blocks from my home. It’s where I vote and sometimes where my walks lead me and it’s what some of us call “interesting.”  Niven’s description of it is quite simply perfect.  That she could so precisely capture this spot explained why all the other places she described, places I’d never been, seemed so real to me. I had visited them all – I saw them through Violet and Finch’s eyes.
Summing it Up: All the Bright Places is a universal love story yet it’s as fresh as biting into an orange on a cold winter’s day. As each section explodes in your mouth, you’re reminded of the beauty of simply living.  A novel dealing with mental illness, depression and suicide doesn’t usually surprise you and make you laugh but All the Bright Places will do that and more.  If you enjoy reading Gayle Forman, John Green, and Rainbow Rowell, you’ll want to read All the Bright Places. This book is simply “lovely” as Violet and Finch might say.  It makes me want to hug my kids, eat carryout from Happy Family Chinese, go on a picnic, and remember that it isn't what you take, it’s what you leave that matters. Read the first chapter and I can almost guarantee you’ll read the book.
Note: Yes, All the Bright Places will be a movie and Elle Fanning will play Violet. 
Rating: 5 stars   
Ages 15 and Up
Category: Diet Coke and Gummi Bears, Fiction, Five Stars, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Book Club
Publication date: January 6, 2014
Author Website: http://www.jenniferniven.com/
Read the first chapter: http://www.scribd.com/doc/244131564/All-the-Bright-Places-by-Jennifer-Niven#scribd
Interview with the Author: http://bookishantics.com/2015/01/06/interview-giveaway-bright-places-jennifer-niven/
Discussion Group Guide: http://www.jenniferniven.com/download/ATBP_DiscussionGuide.pdf
Educator Guide: http://www.randomhouse.com/teachers/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ATBP_EducatorGuide.pdf
Tumbler: http://allthebrightplaces.tumblr.com/

What Others are Saying:
Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jennifer-niven/all-the-bright-places/
New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/books/review/jennifer-nivens-all-the-bright-places.html?emc=edit_bk_20150116&nl=books&nlid=14504126&_r=0

Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-385-75588-7
School Library Journal: http://www.slj.com/2014/12/reviews/grades-5-up/highly-anticipated-titles-from-printz-winning-authors-fiction-grades-9-up/#_

Best Mysteries and Thrillers - 2014

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:52pm
The bread pictured here is Tomato Ciabatta with Olives and Onions.  I made it this fall because Food & Wine Magazine's recipe stated that it "comes together very easily and requires no kneading."  I knew I had to try this recipe but wondered if it would really turn out well. Even after the dough doubled in size, it seemed quite dense. Still I shaped the loaves and placed them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and popped them in the oven. As the loaves baked, I resisted the urge to open the oven to see what they were doing and if they might really become bread with ingredients like tomato paste and quartered cherry tomatoes inside them. Twenty-five minutes later, I opened the oven to a delight -  a bread that was savory, chewy, colorful, and with surprises inside. I loved it. A similar experience greeted me when I read the best mysteries and thrillers this year.  They delivered tantalizing, colorful stories that I quickly devoured. The best mysteries and thrillers offer surprising twists along with good ingredients: colorful characters, plots that make you wonder if things will turn out well, and inevitably - surprises inside.  

2014 – Best MysteryNatchez Burning by Greg IlesDr. Tom Cage, revered as "Atticus Finch with a stethoscope,” is accused of murdering his former nurse so his son Penn, town mayor and former prosecutor (who’s appeared in three previous Iles novels), tries to help him and finds clues going back to1968 and a group more evil than the KKK.  Local reporter Henry Sexton uncovers ties to the atrocities and Dr. Cage disappears.  Is the doctor guilty and will Penn choose family loyalty over justice? 
Iles credits the investigative reporting of true crimes with inspiring the novel. Some might think the evil deeds in the book were exaggerated, but reading Iles’ research confirms their existence and why the book rings so true. As Iles himself says, he’s “telling you what it felt like to be black or white during that time." At 791 pages it’s just the right length and this reader hopes the next two volumes of the planned trilogy offer more of the same.
Note: It’s Ile’s first book in five years and comes after he almost died in an accident in 2011. Iles was working on Natchez Burning at the time of the car wreck and the emotional impact of his own survival is clear in the immediacy of his characters and their reactions to what happens around them.  
Runner-Up The Long Way Home by Louise PennyMysteries don’t usually elicit tranquility but A Long Way Home filled me with melancholy then peace. This novel, unlike any other mystery I’ve ever read, showed how important it is for humans to feel useful, to be brave, and to be kind. Inspector Gamache doesn’t want to leave Three Pines especially to solve a mystery or, possibly, to find that something terrible had happened to neighbor Peter Morrow. Using art and creativity as a metaphor, Penny shows how nothing great can be created without heart or without feeling. It’s absolutely perfect.

2014 – Best Suspense Novel The Farm by Tom Rob SmithThe Farmis a psychological thriller similar to Gone Girl or Tana French’s novels. When Daniel’s father calls from Sweden to say that Daniel’s mother is in hospital as she’s psychotic and delusional, Daniel hurries to Heathrow to fly to see her. Before he boards his mother calls that she’s on her way to London. She says his father is involved in a criminal conspiracy and wants here out of the way. Who can Daniel believe?  His mother, Tilde, carefully lays out a tale packed with facts that may or may not prove her allegations. Smith, known for his espionage thrillers set in Russia, takes a new tack with this riveting tale of trolls, elk, strangely carved wood, and the darkness of Sweden.  Read my full review.
2014 – Best Thriller and Best Debut Mystery/ThrillerI Am Pilgrim by Terry HayesThis fast-paced espionage thriller is sure to please. Scott Murdoch, “the Pilgrim,” retired as one of America’s best secret agents but duty calls him back when an extremist, dubbed “The Saracen,” plots to destroy the U.S. as revenge against the Saudi’s for his father’s beheading. Captivating side stories packed with detail and great minor characters work well. It seemed about 100 pages too long but it’s still a great read.
Runner-UpOne of Us by Tawni O’DellO’Dell’s suspenseful thriller asks if psychopaths are born or bred and forces the reader to ponder the difference between evil and mental illness.  Sheridan Doyle, a famed forensic psychologist returns to the coal-mining town where he’s simply Danny Doyle, grandson of Tommy and son of a mentally ill mother.  There he confronts buried truths and a cold-hearted heiress.  O’Dell is well known for her Back Roads, an Oprah selection.
2014 – Best Mystery that Makes You Wonder if Time Stands StillCop Town by Karin SlaughterKate Murphy is the pretty, privileged new cop on the Atlanta PD in 1974.  Excellent period references especially the playing of Carole King’s Tapestry album in the background set the stage. There’s a cop killer on the loose and another cop has died. The police are racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, woman-hating creeps. They treat the law like a smorgasbord, taking what they want regardless of who gets hurt. Readers will wonder how much has changed in forty years.  Read my full review.
2014 – Best Mystery that Really Gets PTSD  One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming (published in 2011)This is the best yet in this series. Clare Fergusson, Episcopal priest, has just returned from a tour as a helicopter pilot in Iraq and she’s drinking too much and having nightmares. This seventh title is from the hymn “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” with the words: “one was a soldier, and one was a priest, and one was slain by a fierce wild beast;” It’s an apt title as the returning soldier/priest and her Police Chief boyfriend are facing a beast that threatens their well-being. Clare reluctantly joins a support group to get a young amputee to attend and there she meets other returning soldiers trying to fight the beast in differing ways.  When one of them commits suicide (or was it murder?) the group finds that the problems of Iraq have followed them all home.

2014 – Best Mystery that Takes Place in One DayThe Secret Place by Tana FrenchThis girls’ boarding school mystery is typical of French’s strength in delivering conflicted, believable characters. The book shares the viewpoints of a close knit group of Irish teens and the “outsider” detectives called in to investigate a year-old case when a new clue appears. The girl reporting the clue is the daughter of Frank Mackey, a detective who appeared in French’s first Dublin Murder Squad tale. She goes to Stephen Moran, Mackey’s former protégé, with the clue found on the school bulletin board. During Detective Moran and partner Antoinette Conway’s single day at the school, flashbacks and self-absorbed teens help build tension toward the denouement while Mackey’s jabs keep things on edge.
2014 – Best Mystery with Irony Sharing the Stage  The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Diker  Quebert is pronounced Kuh-bear thus rhyming with “affair.”  Also think Stephen Colbert for a hint to this tongue-in-cheek whodunit with a famous young author’s novel coming to life in a tragic way.  It was a mega hit in Europe but the author’s childhood summers in Maine and the setting give it an American flair.  It’s a big, 643-page book you’ll probably read in one weekend because the twists and switchbacks will keep you flippin’ those pages and enjoying the wild ride
2014 – Best Mystery about Small Towns and OutsidersCover of Snow by Jenny Milchman
This cold, piercing debut in which small town newbie Nora Hamilton searches for answers to why Brendan, her policeman husband, would have killed himself is a winner. When the police and her mother-in-law freeze her out and homes are set afire she finds clues in a 25-year-old death, an autistic man’s rhymes, and a reporter’s research.  

The Best Books of 2014!

Sat, 01/03/2015 - 12:05pm
For me a Happy New Year means looking back at the best books of the year and thinking about all the great new books to come. Here are the books I consider the best of 2014 by category. If I've written a complete review or more than is on my annual list about any of the books listed, I’ve put a link in the title or in the section heading. Short descriptions of all the titles listed below are also here
2014 – The Best NovelAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer
Runners-up:The Bird Skinner by Alice Greenway, Let Him Go by Larry Watson, Lila by Marilynne Robinson, The Painter by Peter Heller, Redeployment by Phil Klay, The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach, Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, and We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride
2014 – Best Nonfiction – It’s a Tie
Being Mortal by Atun Gawande and In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides
Runners-up:After the Wind by Lou Kasischke, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods by Christine Byl (published in 2013), Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans (Originally titled: Evolving in Monkeytown in 2012, reissued  in 2014), Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War by Helen Thorpe, and The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less by Jana Riess (published in 2013)
2014 – The Most Important Book I Read This YearBeing Mortal by Atun Gawande
2014 – Best Historical Fiction
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer
Runners-Up:Euphoria by Lily King, Let Him Go by Larry Watson (published in 2013), Lila by Marilynne Robinson, Lucky Us by Amy Bloom, The Powers by Valerie Sayers (published in 2013), The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak (published in 2011)
2014 – Best Debut Novels – A Three-Way Tie
Redeployment by Phil Klay, Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler, and We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride
Runners Up: Byrd by Kim Church, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre, Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson, and A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman
2014 – Best MemoirBrown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson (Yes, it’s for ages 10 – 14 and it’s written in free verse but it’s just plain amazing and you’ll want to read it.)
2014 – Best Book for BibliophilesThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
2014 – Best Post-Pandemic/Post-Apocalyptic Novel Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
2014 – Best Children’s or Young Adult Book for Everyone Ten or OlderBrown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson
2014 - Best Books to Help You Think about WarRedeployment by Phil Klay, Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre, Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War by Helen Thorpe and We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride
2014 – Best Books to Discuss in a Book Club in 2015
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer, Being Mortal by Atun Gawande, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson, Byrd by Kim Church, Euphoria by Lily King, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, The Farm by Tom RobSmith, Fives and Twenty-Fivesby Michael Pitre, Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson, Let Him Go by Larry Watson, Natchez Burning by Greg Iles, Redeployment by Phil Klay, The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach, The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak (published in 2011), Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War by Helen Thorpe, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, and We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride
2014 – The Best “Tapas” Books of the Year (short stories, novellas, poetry)
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson, Incarnadine by Mary Szybist, and Redeployment by Phil Klay
2014 – Best Love Story
The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach
Runner-UpThe Rosie Project by Dan Simsion (published in 2013)
2014 – Best Suspense NovelThe Farm by Tom Rob Smith
2014 – Best Espionage ThrillerI Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
2014 – Best Mystery
Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
Runners- UpCop Town by Karen Slaughter, The Long Way Home by Louise Penny, One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming (published in 2011), The Secret Place by Tana French, and The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Diker
2014 – Best “Escape” or “Cure for a Bad Day” BooksDelicious! by Ruth Reichl, A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman, and The Rosie Project by Dan Simsion (published in 2013)
2014 – Best Quirky Novel (Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet Category)How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer
2014 – Best “Soul Food” Books (spirituality, growth, and faith)
Coaltown Jesus by Ron Koertge (published in 2013), Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (published in 2012), Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans (reissued in 2014),The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper, Gabi Swiatkowska, illustrator (published in 2007), Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor, and My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. (published in 2000)
2014 – Best Children’s and Young Adult Book (for everyone over the age of 10)Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson
2014 – Best Picture Book for Kids 9 and upAviary Wonders, Inc. by Kate Samworth
2014 – Best Book to Read AloudThe Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
2014 – Best Picture Book That I Missed for Seven YearsThe Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper, Gabi Swiatkowska, illustrator (published in 2007)
2014 – Best Chapter Book
Ophelia and the Magic Boy by Karen Foxlee
2014 – Best Debut Young Adult NovelWords and Their Meanings by Kate Bassett
2014 – Best Young Adult Suspense Novel (Adults Love it too.)
The Liar’s Club by E. Lockhart
2014 – Best Young Adult Graphic NovelBoxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
2014 – Best Young Adult Hybrid Graphic NovelChasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi
2014 – Best Humorous Young Adult NovelCoaltown Jesus by Ron Koertge (published in 2013)





The Best Nonfiction of 2014

Wed, 12/31/2014 - 6:53pm
Some readers think of nonfiction as “what you should read” not what you enjoy. The best nonfiction books I read in the last year dispel that notion. Forget the old adage that you need to read a particular book just as you need to eat your vegetables. Vegetables are no longer grayish green, limp morsels with no taste. They’re tasty treats like roasted Brussels sprouts, grilled asparagus, and scrumptious kale chips.The best nonfiction titles offer delectable tales that combine information about history, war, survival, health, adventure, religion, and more with writing that places the reader in the story. These page-turning tales will inform, amuse, enlighten, frighten, and maybe even enrage you. Other fine nonfiction titles I read this year are on the annual list. The best of 2014 are:·         In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides·         Being Mortal by Atun Gawande·         Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War by Helen Thorpe·       Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods by Christine Byl (published in 2013)  After the Wind by Lou Kasischke·         Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans (Originally titled: Evolving in Monkeytown in 2012, reissued in 2014)·    The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less by Jana Riess (published in 2013)     
The Best Nonfiction Book of 2014 - It's a tie:
In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides is a page-turning tale of the 1879 voyage of the SS. Jeannette in the Arctic waters north of the Bering Strait where the crew searched for a sea passage to the North Pole.  It puts you on the ship, in the frozen ice, and deep in the darkness of the Arctic winter during the years the voyagers were at sea. Sides shows the remarkable courage and thought that the exhibition commander and his crew demonstrated. I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this adventure. Read the full review.

Being Mortal by Atun Gawande is a book everyone needs to read yet the stories Gawande tells make it engaging and filled with hope. This book will make you think honestly about medical choices and help you ask good questions about independence and what’s truly important to you or someone you love. Start by watching Gawande’s interview on The John Stewart Show or listen to his NPR interview with Diane Rehm.  Listening to his story about his daughter’s piano teacher’s choices made me stop the car to grab a tissue then immediately rush to the nearest bookstore to buy the book. The research that people tend to live longer with palliative care than with many interventions will make you think and ask good questions. Promise yourself that you'll read this even if you have to make it a New Year's resolution. 
The Runners-Up:
The Best Book that Explains War, Poverty, and Human Capital:Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War by Helen Thorpe tells the compelling stories of three Indiana women joining the National Guard before 9/11 then of their unexpected service in Iraq. The upheaval in their lives and their adjustment after will cause you to ponder. This is a fine piece of reporting that reads like a great novel. Poverty and the increasing cost of higher education means that our military is changing. Seeing that through these three women’s lives brings it home to those of us who don’t think about what we ask of our troops. One slight quibble: I’m from Indiana so the inconsistent editing of Indiana details bothered me. Louisville, KY is NOT south of Evansville, IN, nor is the college in Bloomington called the University of Indiana (She gets it right twice, wrong once). I’m hoping future editions correct these minor errors that detract from this phenomenal book.
The Best Nature Memoir that Will Make You Appreciate Work and Words: Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods by Christine Byl is a straight-talking, poetic, humorous look at the work of a seasonal “traildog,” a person who clears and maintains trails in remote areas of National Parks.  Byl tells of digging holes, dropping trees, building stairs, moving boulders,  hauling chainsaws on her shoulders, wearing out countless pairs of boots, drinking lots of Pabst Blue Ribbon, consuming 1000s of calories, and crossing streams by slithering along logs on her butt.  Byl, traildog extraordinaire, honors her idols – Willa Cather, Jim Harrison and Thoreau - as she weaves this authentic, gritty, gripping tale. This woman can flat out write. (published in 2013)
The Best Book about What Happened on Mount Everest in 1996:After the Wind by Lou Kasischke tells the story of what really happened on May 10, 1995 on Mount Everest. Learn why Kasischke survived when many others didn’t.  I edited this book so I’m biased but even Kirkus Reviews named it one of the best of the year. Read the full review


The Best Book about Surviving Religion and Keeping the Faith:Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans (Originally titled: Evolving in Monkeytown in 2012, reissued in 2014) I love, love, love the preface in which Evans lists several things about herself. “People tell me I exaggerate. I’ve been hurt by Christians. As a Christian, I’ve been hurtful. I’m judgmental of people I think are judgmental. At twenty-seven, I almost always root for the underdog, and sometimes I get the feeling that God does too.” With that I fell down the rabbit hole and adored every minute of her journey.  Read this book!
The Most Reverent, Irreverent Book that Will Make You Want to Read the Bible:The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less by Jana Riess When a kid said “The Emperor has no clothes,” everyone’s eyes opened.  When Riess reverently applies irreverence to her shortened chapters of the Bible she illuminates them in a way that’s difficult to ignore. Only someone with her knowledge could hone in so clearly on what each chapter says in so few words. Deuteronomy 18: “Don’t fry up your kids, cast spells, visit astrologers, or talk to the dead.  You’re special, Israel, so straighten up and fly right.”  Pithy summations make the reader ponder and then perhaps even consult the big book itself. (published in 2013)

The Best Historical Fiction of 2014

Tue, 12/30/2014 - 3:40pm
Historical fiction is often just a guilty pleasure.  Sadly, many writers unable to imagine their own great story hide behind history and contrive a story to match their research.  But when historical fiction is well written it isn’t a bit contrived; it’s entertaining and enlightening. Reading fine historical fiction is like taking your grandmother’s timeless recipes and creating your own stock from the bones left from your holiday prime ribs of beef and tasting cornbread made in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. These novels are as satisfying as anything made with fresh ingredients in your grandmother’s ageless skillet. (My definition of historical fiction is fiction set at least fifty years ago.) The best of 2014 are:·         All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer·         Euphoria by Lily King·         Let Him Go by Larry Watson (published in 2013)·         Lila by Marilynne Robinson·         Lucky Us by Amy Bloom·         The Powers by Valerie Sayers (published in 2013)·         The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak (published in 2011)
Yes, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings is missing from my list and yes, it’s on many other “best of” lists but while I found the abolitionists in 1922 South Carolina and the story of Handful, the slave, to be compelling, I was less intrigued by Sarah Grimké’s tale. I liked each of the novels I’ve listed better. 
The Best Historical Fiction Novel of 2014
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer is a book about the past that is certain to be read far into the future. This National Book Award Finalist blends the lives of two teenagers during World War II in a way that absolutely soars. Marie-Laure, a blind girl, lives in Paris with her father, a locksmith at the Natural History Museum. He builds her an intricate model of their neighborhood that she memorizes at home then confidently navigates Paris with her cane. They escape the German occupation in San-Malo, a walled French village, where her eccentric uncle won’t leave their house by the sea. At the same time brilliant German orphan Werner’s expertise with radio transmitters lands him in the Wehrmacht tracking illegal radio transmissions and he ends up in Russia and then in Sant-Malo. A sub plot involving a missing diamond brings in more intriguing characters. There’s old-fashioned magic in this book with its intricate puzzle boxes, thoughts of survival with dignity, and the power of the human spirit to endure.
The Runners-Up
Euphoria by Lily King, Anthropologists Nell Stone (inspired by Margaret Mead), Stone’s husband Fen, and Englishman Bankston canoe up New Guinea’s Sepik River to record tribal culture.  A 1930s love triangle sets this distinctive trio on their way to find euphoria. Reminiscent of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Patchett’s State of Wonder, this novel is entirely unique and will leave the reader unsettled, captivated, and in awe of King’s immense talent.

Let Him Go by Larry Watson, George, a retired sheriff, and his wife, Martha, head off to reclaim their grandson from their daughter-in-law who’s remarried after their son’s death in this novel set in the early 1950s in North Dakota and Montana. The new in-laws, a violent, evil crew, set the stage for a frightening climax while George and Martha’s relationship stars. If you loved Watson’s Montana, 1948 or are a fan of Kent Haruf and Leif Enger, you’ll adore this. (2013)

Lila by Marilynne Robinson, If you loved Gilead, read this prequel. It’s more essay and theology than it is narrative yet Lila and her early life and the world of 1920s and 1930s poverty as seen through the lives of Midwestern migrant workers are beautifully rendered and the love that builds between Lila and Rev. Ames is almost mystical. A National Book Award finalist, it’s on many “Best Book” lists. 

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom is a quirky, witty, beautiful novel that opens with “My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”  Then 11-year-old Eva’s mother abandons her on her Dad’s doorstep where she meets her half-sister Iris.  The girls go to California where Iris is in movies until a scandal forces their move to NYC in a Thelma and Louise-style road trip. Capturing the prejudices and pulse of the 1939–1948 period, it shows that family is more than genetics. Read my full review.

The Powers by Valerie Sayers is set in New York in 1941 as war looms and Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak seizes everyone.  It captures 17-year-old Agnes O’Leary and her grandmother, the indomitable Babe, who has cared for Agnes’ family since her mother’s suicide. Babe, a diehard Yankee fan, knows that herprayers and powers fuel DiMaggio and the Yanks. The Washington Post’s Ron Charles aptly calls Babe a “baseball loving Olive Kitteridge.” The narrative grips; Babe and DiMaggio reign, and the photographs that are imaginatively interspersed throughout the text make the reader feel the era. (2013)

The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak, Baby Jozef survives after his mother tosses him into a Colorado river in 1899 in the bold opening of this story of war, forgiveness, and dreams. Jozef’s father takes him back to his Slovakian homeland where they live as shepherds. Cousin Zlee becomes Jozef’s adopted brother and their sharpshooting and English language skills move them to the front in World War I’s stark battles. It’s a spare, Cormac McCarthy-like rendering of war, survival, love, and forgiveness that was a National Book Award finalist.  It’s sad how few people know about this great novel. (2011)

The Best Debut Fiction of 2014

Mon, 12/29/2014 - 5:51pm
Usually I choose one, or at most, two debut novels as the best of the year but the debut fiction category for 2014 is exceptionally strong and it deserves a list of its own.  I love debut fiction as it almost always shows the heart and soul of an author.  Sometimes in first novels the author’s ebullience comes at the expense of polished prose but not this year.  Redeployment by Phil Klay won the National Book Award and Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng was Amazon’s Best Book of the Year Choice. Both are also on my short list along with five other terrific tales.
·         Byrd by Kim Church·         Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng·         Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre·         Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson·         A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman·         Redeployment by Phil Klay·         Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
·         We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBrideI love them all as well as several other strong debut titles that you’ll find on my annual list so selecting a best of the best seems like trying to decide which of my kidneys I like better than the other. So with that not-so-appetizing picture in mind, the winners are:
Best Debut Novels of 2014 – A Three-Way Tie
Redeployment by Philip Klay is a smorgasbord of hurt delivered with a one-two punch. Klay’s vivid debut delivers interconnected short stories that punctuate the Iraqi landscape with the lives of those attempting to serve. Chaplains, soldiers, Foreign Service flunkies, and more deliver searing tales   Klay’s pen is a scalpel that cuts through the horror to deliver an eloquent portrait of a unique war. Every member of Congress and those in the Cabinet need to read this year’s National Book Award winner.
Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler delivers the reader into the lives of four men in their thirties that grew up together in Little Wing, a small Wisconsin town.  Hank stayed to farm his family’s land and rear his children with his wife Beth.  The others left: one to Chicago to trade commodities and make money, one to take risks riding in rodeos, and one to become a famous rock star. Shotgun not only captures their lives and the truth and beauty of life in the Midwest (yet it’s NOT a regional novel), it’s also funny, passionate and real.  Some of the people I care most about in this world are in their thirties and from the Midwest and this novel is them. Still Shotgun is more; it’s a novel with minor characters and their own powerful stories. The tale of Harvey Bunyan, an old farmer that Kip, the broker, met at a gas station, reads like a fine Cheever short story and it miraculously appears just when we need to know more about who Kip is. The writing chops that make something like Harvey’s story work with Kip’s are why Butler is a writer to watch and Shotgun Lovesongs is a book you must read.
We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride tells the hope-filled story of Bashkim, an 8-year-old Albanian boy; Luis, a soldier injured in Iraq; and two women who try to help in the face of tragic mistakes. This wonder of a novel is set in a Las Vegas no one knows. Only a gifted writer could make poverty, war, and prejudice this engaging and positive. McBride says, “I wanted to tell a story that might make a reader have a big feeling, the sense that no matter how cruel life could be in a given moment, no matter how terrible the consequences of a tiny mistake, it was ultimately beautiful to live.  I didn’t set out to write a book about war or poverty or racism, I just wanted the reader to love a child enough to feel devastated when that child’s heart was broken and euphoric when that child got a chance at hope.” Debut author McBride accomplished her goal.
This year my heart has bled because of what’s happened in Ferguson, MO and other towns across America and every time I try to think what we could do to make things better, my mind goes back to We Are Called to Rise and people who work to improve lives.  If ever there were a year when we simply need to read about a child getting a chance at hope this year is it.  Read the full review.
The Runners-Up
Byrd by Kim Church, As Addie writes letters to the baby she gave up for adoption she slowly reveals herself and her story.  Byrd is her name for the boy who she’s let soar into a good life without her. This superb debut novel quietly builds toward Addie’s becoming herself. It’s a wonder!  Read the full review.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng opens with: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”  When teenaged Lydia can’t be found, the lack of communication in her Chinese-American family shows that things left unsaid can damage. By exploring what it means to be an outsider, this tense, page-turning debut novel makes you read slowly to get every morsel.  This is the book I’d give to intelligent teens who feel that they don’t fit.

Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre embeds the reader into a group of Marines in Iraq charged with identifying, disabling, and filling mined potholes. They also must recognize and cope with the danger and despair of a war that has made cavities inside each of them and what that means when they get home.  This tough read is insanely beautiful. I wanted to personally rescue the young Iraqi interpreter who reads Huck Finn to calm himself.


Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson is as gourmet as a book can be.  The writing is so smooth it reads like lobster dipped in melted butter. It’s a brutally shattering tale of families that go off track without knowing they’re slipping. Pete Snow is a rural Montana social worker whose own family is a mess. When he meets mountain man Jeremiah Pearl through Pearl’s son Benjamin who has scurvy and giardia, he hopes to gain Pearl’s trust but trust is a rare commodity in this strange country. A brilliant debut! Read the full review. 
A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman, Ove, a grumpy Swedish curmudgeon, annoyingly tells everyone the right way to do things, won’t allow what he considers unseemly behavior in histerrace, and wants to be left alone. Ove’s backstory reveals itself as he’s forced to interact with his neighbors, the mail carrier, and a cat. I’m madly in love with Ove. If you loved Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, you’re in for a treat.

The Annual Book List - 2014 Edition

Sun, 11/30/2014 - 5:09pm
Readers,
The 2014 list of the books I've read in the last year is shown below. The list has one new category: OC: Over Cooked (good ingredients, but overwritten). You may print the list to take with you to your favorite book store or library to make selections for yourself or for holiday giving. If you wish to share it, please share the link to to this post. I'll share what I consider the best books of the year in each category throughout the month of December.
Happy Reading, Trina

Find a printable version here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwL5MZWpvBg6cWhtTE96U3NuczA/view?usp=sharing


Hungry for Good Books? Annual Book List for 2014Find these and more at: www.hungryforgoodbooks.blogspot.com©Copyright November, 2014 by Trina HayesLetters after each selection designate the book as CC: Chinese Carryout (page-turners, great for plane rides), D: Desserts (delightful indulgences), DC: Diet Coke and Gummi Bears (books for teens and young adults), G: Gourmet (exquisite writing, requires concentration), GPR: Grandma’s Pot Roast (books that get your attention and stick with you), GS: Grits (evocative of the American south), OC: Over Cooked (good ingredients, but overwritten), PBJ: Peanut Butter and Jelly (children’s books adults will like), PP: Pigeon Pie (historical fiction set at least 50 years ago),  S: Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet (satire, irony, black humor, acquired taste), SF: Soul Food (spirituality, theology, books for your soul), SN: Super Nutrition (lots of information, yet tasty as fresh blueberries), and T: Tapas (small bites including short stories, novellas, essays, and poetry). The letters BC denote books for book clubs.  Asterisks (*) depict the most outstanding titles in each designation. The plus sign (+) is for books I recommend as “very good,” The number sign (#) is for books with full reviews on my blog. All books listed were published in the last year unless noted otherwise.
General Fiction
*Akpan, Uwem, Say You’re One of Them, Akpan, a Jesuit priest, relates emotionally draining stories about children in sub-Saharan Africa.  “Ex-mas” highlights the trinkets NGOs give that families sell to buy food. Children affected by war tell each story thus “a child will lead them.” Mary Karr called this "a new language—both for horror and for the relentless persistence of light in war-torn countries." T/SN, BC (2012)*Backman, Fredrick, A Man Called Ove, a grumpy Swedish curmudgeon, annoyingly tells everyone the right way to do things, won’t allow what he considers unseemly behavior in histerrace, and wants to be left alone. Ove’s backstory reveals itself as he’s forced to interact with his neighbors, the mail carrier, and a cat. I’m madly in love with Ove. If you loved Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, you’re in for a treat. GPR, BC+Baker, Tiffany, Mercy Snow arrives in a dying mill town with her brother and sister to claim their father’s land. The orphaned children have nothing and a terrible school bus accident is blamed on Zeke Snow despite conflicting evidence. A dose of magical realism and careful plotting make these North Woods characters come alive. You’ll cheer for them to prevail. GPR, BC*#Bloom, Amy, Lucky Us, a quirky, witty, beautiful novel opens with “My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”  Then 11-year-old Eva’s mother abandons her on her Dad’s doorstep where she meets her half-sister Iris.  The girls go to California where Iris is in movies until a scandal forces their move to NYC in a Thelma and Louise-style road trip. Capturing the prejudices of the 1939–1948 period, it shows that family is more than genetics. GPR/PP, BC*Butler, Nickolas, Shotgun Lovesongs, four men grew up together in Little Wing, a small Wisconsin town. Hank stayed to farm his family’s land and raise a family with wife Beth.  The others left: one to trade commodities in Chicago, one to ride in rodeos, and one to become a rock star. This debut novel captures their lives and the truth and beauty of the Midwest.  It’s funny, passionate, poignant, and real. Read this gem. It’s an archetype for a changing culture and Butler is an author to watch. G/GPR, BC*#Church, Kim, Byrd, as Addie writes letters to the baby she gave up for adoption she slowly reveals herself and her story.  Byrd is her name for the boy who she’s let soar into a good life without her. This superb debut novel quietly builds toward Addie’s becoming herself. It’s a wonder! GPR, BCDiSclafani, Anton, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, a coming-of-age novel set in 1930 in northern Florida and a remote Blue Ridge Mountain camp, begins with an unrevealed scandal exiling 13-year-old Thea to the camp. Thea is an engaging character and a compelling narrator yet the book reads like a soap opera. Horse lovers will enjoy the accurate depiction of competitive riding.  The explicit sexual scenes are inappropriate for teen readers. PP (2013) *Doeer, Anthony, All the Light We Cannot See absolutely soars. Two stories set during World War II intersect as the war wanes. Marie-Laure, a 16-year-old blind girl who lives in a Brittany village having escaped Paris with her father, reads Jules Verne over the radio.  At the same time brilliant German orphan Werner’s expertise with radio transmitters puts him into the Wehrmacht to track illegal radio transmissions like Marie-Laure’s. A sub plot involving a missing diamond brings in more amazing characters. This is a war book that celebrates good over evil.  It’s a Natl. Book Award Finalist. G/PP, BC+Fowler, Karen Joy, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a phenomenal discussion book about what it means to be human, to grieve, to separate, to suffer unintended consequences.  The characters appropriately flat affect fits their circumstances. I found the university town setting and people to be perfect as I grew up in a similar town only 90 miles away. Don’t read the back cover; let the book reveal its secrets.  Pen Faulkner Winner, Man/Booker Finalist G/GPR/SN, BC (2013)#Glass, Julia, And the Dark and Sacred Night,I loved greeting favorite characters from Glass’s wonderful Three Junes but a terrible twist and an inexplicable ending ruined an otherwise good read for me. GPR*Greenway, Alice, The Bird Skinneris reminiscent of The English Patient. Jim, a bitter, retired ornithologist, retires to a Maine island after the amputation of his leg.  He plans to drink, smoke, and live away from people but his scout during World War II in the South Pacific sends his daughter to stay with Jim for a few weeks before she goes to Yale and his plans must change. Gorgeous prose and some of the best imagery ever blend nature, love, regret, and war into something very special. G, BC+Guzeman, Tracy, The Gravity of Birds shows how art illuminates and hides truth. Thomas Bayber, one of America’s greatest living painters, lives penniless in a tiny apartment assisted by Mr. Finch. Steven, a wayward art expert, and Finch must find the Kessler sisters, subjects of an unknown Bayber painting, before the painting can be sold. A brilliant puzzle told in alternating chapters slowly reveals each character’s connections and history.  G/GPR, BC (2013)+#Harnisch, Kristen, The Vintner’s Daughter, Sara, the vintner’s daughter, is brilliant at making wine in the Loire Valley in 1895 but she must move to California’s Napa Valley. This will appeal to Adriana Trigiani fans. It’s a page-turning romantic, historical story for oenophiles. Try the audio version too. D/PP/SN, BC  *Heller, Peter, The Painter, Jim Stegner is a renowned expressionist painter as well as an ex-con who almost killed a pervert in a bar after the man implied that he’d molest Jim‘s daughter.  Years later Jim does kill and the victim’s cohorts try to exhort revenge while Jim’s paintings increasingly show his torment.  In our strange celebrity-driven society, the fact that Jim may have killed enhances the value of his art. It brilliantly evokes fishing, nature, and art.  G, BC+#Henderson, Smith, Fourth of July Creek is as gourmet as a book can be.  The writing is so smooth it reads like lobster dipped in melted butter. It’s a brutally shattering tale of families that go off track without knowing they’re slipping. Pete Snow is a rural Montana social worker whose own family is a mess. When he meets mountain man Jeremiah Pearl through Pearl’s son Benjamin who has scurvy and giardia, he hopes to gain Pearl’s trust but trust is a rare commodity in this strange country. A brilliant debut! G, BC +Ironmonger, J. W., Coincidence is a clever play on the meaning of luck, providence, and coincidence at work in the life of Azalea Lewis as it traces her through Great Britain and East Africa. Her mother dies when she’s three and exactly ten years later her adoptive parents are killed so she seeks out an authority on coincidence to debunk her fears. CC/GPR, BC +Jackson, Joshilyn, Someone Else’s Love Story is both escape and a way of looking at how we become our assumptions. Shandi, a college student, believes her son Natty is the result of a “virgin” birth.  She won’t face that she was raped since she was still “intact” so Natty’s birth must be the miracle that he is. At a convenience store during a robbery a customer takes a bullet that could have killed Natty and Shandi begins to rethink her life and her destiny.  You think this page turner is going to turn out predictably but believable twists make it shine.  GPR/GS/D, BC (2012)+Johnson, Deborah, The Secret of Magic is set in1946 when Regina Robichard, a new lawyer working with Thurgood Marshall in the New York NAACP legal offices, heads to a small Mississippi town to investigate the death of an African-American GI who died as he returned from the war. Regina is intrigued by a letter about the case from the reclusive white author who wrote her favorite childhood book. She learns that racism is different in the south but not in the ways she expected.  She doesn’t feel alone in her blackness here but is wary of the almost magical forces that control the town and its people. GPR /PP, BC +Joyce, Rachel, Perfectis unlike Joyce’s debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which shows that this writer has guts and talent. Two 11-year-old British boys wonder about the two seconds that will be added to the year 1972 and Bryan is sure that his mother has hit a child on a bicycle with her Jaguar during those extra seconds. Bryan’s friend James tries to help and the girl’s family initiates a scam.  A separate story of a mentally disabled man intersects in a very clever and haunting way.  The novel eerily explores perfection and destiny. G, BC+Kelly, Elizabeth, The Last Summer of the Camperdowns is a great beach read. It’s 1972 on Cape Cod and 12-year-old Riddle’s father is running for Congress. Riddle watches a crime being committed in a neighboring barn, but she’s afraid to report it. The repartee of Riddle and her parents is reminiscent of Hepburn and Tracy but with dramatic undercurrents.  CC (2013)Kidd, Sue Monk, The Invention of Wings was informative regarding Angelina and Sarah Grimké, Charleston S.C. sisters, who moved north and worked with abolitionists and of Charleston, SC’s 1822 slave uprising led by Denmark Vesey.  The twinned story of Handful, Sarah’s slave, who was given to Sarah on her 11thbirthday in 1803 was strong but the story lagged from their childhood until Sarah’s actions forty years hence and I’d rather have read the history.  PP/SN  +King, Lily, Euphoria, anthropologists Nell Stone (inspired by Margaret Mead), Stone’s husband Fen, and Englishman Bankston canoe up New Guinea’s Sepik River to record tribal culture.  A 1930s love triangle sets this distinctive trio on their way to find euphoria. Reminiscent of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Patchett’s State of Wonder, this novel is entirely unique and will leave the reader unsettled, captivated, and in awe of King’s talent.  It’s no wonder Kirkus named it the best fiction of the year.  G/PP/SN, BC *Klay, Phil, Redeployment is a smorgasbord of hurt delivered with a one-two punch. Klay’s vivid debut delivers interconnected short stories that punctuate the Iraqi landscape with the lives of those attempting to serve. Chaplains, soldiers, Foreign Service flunkies, and more deliver searing tales   Klay’s pen is a scalpel that cuts through the horror to deliver an eloquent portrait of a unique war. Every member of Congress and those in the Cabinet need to read this year’s National Book Award winner, G/SN/T, BCKoch, Herman, The Dinner, two disturbing brothers and their equally disquieting wives, meet for dinner to discuss what their 15-year-old sons have done. Why have these boys set fire to a homeless woman in an ATM kiosk? This disturbingly dark novel will leave you reeling and feeling like you need to take a shower to rid yourself of its hold.  S, BC (2013)*Krivak, Andrew, The Sojourn, baby Jozef survives after his mother tosses him into a Colorado river in 1899 in the bold opening of this story of war, forgiveness, and dreams. Jozef’s father takes him back to his Slovakian homeland where they live as shepherds. Cousin Zlee becomes Jozef’s adopted brother and their sharpshooting and English language skills move them to the front in World War I’s stark battles. It’s a spare, Cormac McCarthy-like rendering of war, survival, love, and forgiveness that was a National Book Award finalist. G/PP, BC (2011)+# Levine, Jessica, The Geometry of Love, should Julia stay in a safe relationship or seek more? Dive into this complex Mobius strip of a novel to enter her mind as she struggles with balancing creativity, erotic love, and family while contending with the price of infidelity. G, BC+Mandel, Emily St. John, Station Eleven, a National Book Award Finalist, looks at the world before and 20 years after a flu plague kills most. The survivors in a wandering Shakespearean crew preserve art, friendship, love, and kindness. They’re tied by coincidence and destiny as is seen in their lives before the disaster. They battle acute shortages, a changing climate, and a cult that threatens them. Set in the “new” northern Michigan, this novel makes you consider what you’d miss most in a post-pandemic world. It’s a compelling, page-turning, haunting, masterful piece of writing that isn’t one bit bleak.  G, BC*Marra, Anthony, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a tough read, tender yet merciless in its evocation of war and loss. Eight-year-old Havaa is loved enough to overcome desolation in war-torn Chechnya. Akhmed paints portraits of the dead he’s too incompetent as a doctor to save and Sonja, a hospital doctor trying to keep things together, doesn’t need more problems. The “landmine,” the place where people are “taken,” is almost beyond something the human mind can accept. The writing makes this soar. Everyone should read and discuss it. G/SN, BC (2013)*#McBride, Laura, We Are Called to Rise tells the hope-filled story of Bashkim, an 8-year-old Albanian boy; Luis, a soldier injured in Iraq; and two women who try to help in the face of tragic mistakes. This wonder of a debut novel is set in a Las Vegas no one knows. Only a gifted writer could make poverty, war, and prejudice this engaging and positive.  GPR, BC +#Messud, Claire, The Woman Upstairs, Nora, a third grade teacher, exists on the edges of other peoples’ lives yet she’s angry and the novel slowly reveals the source of her anger. She meets and falls in love with the hybrid Palestinian/Lebanese/Italian Shahid family. This brilliant novel of envy, desire, invisibility, betrayal, and emergence is one requiring patience as it evolves slowly yet assuredly until it suddenly bursts from its cocoon. G, BC (2013)Meyers, Randy Susan, Accidents of Marriage is a page-turning glimpse of marriage and what happens when one or both partners don’t notice what’s broken.  Maddy, a social worker, knows the damage domestic violence can do but she tiptoes around her own husband then he drives too fast and Maddy ends up brain injured and confused. This novel about second chances, healing, facing problems, loving, and learning to forgive will appeal to Kristen Hannah and Jodi Picoult fans. CC/GPR/SN, BC +Moriarty, Liane, Big Little Liesis a delectable tale about friendship and kindness.  Yes, it also shows that domestic violence can happen to anyone and there’s a mystery but it’s primarily a slice of real life among caring friends – three different Australian mothers who meet through their kindergarten children.  It’s similar to Tom Perotta in its satirical look at suburbia – even in Australia. GPR/S, BC+Netzer, Lydia, How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky,  Irene and George are like mythical figures residing, yet not really living, in the world. Irene, an astrophysicist, is a star in the astronomy world as she’s just created a black hole in her lab. She’s isolated herself from her recently deceased alcoholic mother, a practicing psychic but she returns to Toledo to take a job at the premier Toledo Institute of Astronomy where George has always been the hotshot.  Irene and George meet and fall for each other but later learn that their mothers had plotted to birth and rear them to be each other’s soul mates so can this really be love? This is a peculiar read that only a writer with Netzer’s abilities could make work. S  *Ng, Celeste, Everything I Never Told You opens with: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”  When teenaged Lydia can’t be found, the lack of communication in her Chinese-American family shows that things left unsaid can damage. By exploring what it means to be an outsider, this tense, page-turning debut novel makes you read slowly to get every morsel. Amazon named it the best book of 2014. G, BC +Nicholls, David, Us, a Man Booker Prize nominee, looks back at the 25 years of Doug and Connie Peterson’s marriage after Connie tells Doug that she thinks she wants a divorce.  But first they embark on a long-planned European arts tour with their 17-year-old son Albie. Doug thinks of it as a second chance but he quickly alienates Albie and Connie so the marriage seems doomed.  Doug lays out his hopes and fears as the reader follows the trip and his and Connie’s past. This is a very funny, sometimes sad, and always kind-hearted look at marriage and life. Will the marriage last and more importantly should it? Nicholls, best known for One Day, has been an actor and screenwriter which shows in the cinematic scope of Us. You’ll alternately cheer for and be exasperated by Doug but you’ll never be bored. GPR, BCOyeyemi, Helen, Mr. Fox was far too clever for me. While I admired the artful language and the ingenious rendering of Bluebeard in his many guises, reading it felt more like piecing a jigsaw puzzle than falling into a narrative.  These fox-filled fables of love and literary striving were too contrived for this reader. S (2011)+Phillips., Jayne Anne, Quiet Dell, This story, based on a gruesome, true crime in 1931, is beautifully written.  I liked Emily Thornhill, the protagonist, Chicago Tribune reporter, but didn’t feel that all her actions fit her or the era especially her rescue of a street urchin. Otherwise it’s an evocative, elegant tale about an intriguing criminal mind. PP/GPR, BC (2013)Picoult, Jodi, Leaving Timeis a lackluster story that’s almost saved by a compelling, realistic teen heroine. Thirteen-year-old Jenna is searching for her mother who is either missing or dead.  Alice, the mother, studies elephant behavior particularly mothering and grief - the book’s main themes. A stereotypical psychic, a noir detective, Alice, and Jenna are the book’s uneven narrators.  Picoult is known for endings with an unexpected twist but others have used this strange variation with more success. GPR, BC*Pitre, Michael, Fives and Twenty-Fives is a debut novel about a group of Marines in Iraq charged with identifying, disabling, and filling mined potholes. They also must recognize and cope with the danger and despair of a war that has made cavities inside each of them and what that means when they get home.  This tough read is insanely beautiful. I wanted to personally rescue the young Iraqi interpreter who reads Huck Finn to calm himself. G/S, BC+Quindlan, Anna, Still Life with Bread Crumbs,Rebecca is 60 and is renowned for the photographs taken in her thirties that chronicled her domestic life.  Featured everywhere, they’ve paid her bills but the money is running out so she sublets her NYC apartment and rents an isolated country cottage. She uses her camera to stay afloat as she searches for a new life and love in a world that offers second chances. Thanks to Quindlan for creating a realistic 60-year-old protagonist. GPR, BC+#Reichl, Ruth, Delicious! is happiness distilled in former Gourmet editor, Reichl’s first novel -- a foodie romp. Billie moves to New York for a dream job at Delicious! magazine, a Gourmet-like publication.. When the magazine closes, Billie is kept on and she finds a trove of WWII letters to James Beard hidden in a secret room.  Puzzles abound as Billie falls for man known affectionately as “the complainer.”  D/GPR
+Robinson, Marilynne, Lila, If you loved Gilead, read this prequel. It’s more essay and theology than it is narrative though. Lila and her early life are beautifully rendered and the love that builds between her and Rev. Ames is almost mystical. I found the last third of the novel less compelling than the beginning.  It’s a National Book Award finalist and is on many “Best Book” lists.  SF/SN+Roorbach, Bill, Life Among Giants stars “Lizard,” an almost seven-foot tall football player heading to Princeton then the NFL when his parents are murdered. He and his sister and the famed ballerina next door are all giants of a sort in this coming-of-age, mystery saga that follows the trajectory of their strange lives. This is a novel to sink into like a feather bed with its bold, genuine, quirky cast of memorable characters. GPR, BC (2011)*#Roorbach, Bill, The Remedy for Love, Eric, an upright lawyer, meets dirty, disheveled Danielle in the grocery store and drives her to a remote cabin as a winter storm brews and they end up snowbound. Roorbach weaves equal parts survival adventure, poignant romance, slapstick comedy, and brilliantly worded nature scenes in an evocative tapestry to entice even the most cynical reader. You won’t be able to put it down once you start reading. GPR/G, BC+Sayers, Valerie, The Powers, set in New York in 1941 as war looms and Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak seizes everyone, captures 17-year-old Agnes O’Leary and her grandmother, the indomitable Babe, who has cared for her family since her mother’s suicide. Babe, a diehard Yankee fan, knows that her prayers and powers fuel DiMaggio and the Yanks. The Washington Post’s Ron Charles aptly calls Babe a “baseball loving Olive Kitteridge.” The narrative grips; Babe and DiMaggio reign. GPR/SN/PP, BC (2013)*Simsion, Graeme, The Rosie Project  Don Tillman can explain anything scientifically even his own spot on the autism spectrum so he’s utterly at a loss when love intervenes and disrupts his attempt to find a woman to marry via his “Wife Project” questionnaire. Rosie is the antithesis of what he wants but could that make her the perfect match?  It’s sheer delight. D/GPR, BC (2013) Simses, Mary, The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Café is a sugar cookie, blueberry tart dessert of a romance that will appeal to Nicholas Sparks and Mary Kay Andrews fans.  New York attorney, soon-to-be married Ellen’s beloved grandmother has died and her last wish was for Ellen to deliver a letter to a man in a small Maine. Ellen almost drowns and her rescuer enchants her but her upstanding fiancé and good life beckon as well. It’s simplistic escape. DSullivan, J. Courtney, The Engagementsdepicts the DeBeers empire and the history of the “A Diamond is Forever” ad campaign that made diamonds for everyone as seen through Fran, the copywriter, who wrote the line.  Featuring engagements through the diamond rings and the people who wore them, it shows how marriage has changed.  CC/D/PP (2013)Sussman, Ellen, A Wedding in Provence is a light summer romance.  Profane language and sexual indiscretion abound. Skip this one as there’s not much to it except the lovely setting. CC*Szybist, Mary, Incarnadinewon the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry and features the Biblical Mary, Mary, the author, and simple life settings in gorgeous, lyrical, inventive poems. A poem shown as a diagrammed sentence and my favorite - one done in a circle leading to God - form a collection that readers will return to often. T/G, BC+Tartt, Donna, The Goldfinchis a slightly confusing journey of over 750 pages leading to a sublime twelve pages explicating the meaning of life.  Those pages are as Theo states earlier “the keystone that held the whole cathedral up.”  Theo is thirteen when a bomb explodes and his mother dies. In the confusion Theo steals a famous painting. He moves to Las Vegas with his negligent father then seeks solace with kind antique furniture restorer Hobie who may be able to restore Theo. G with a touch of OC, BC (2013)*Watson, Larry, Let Him Go, George, a retired sheriff, and his wife, Martha, head off to reclaim their grandson from their daughter-in-law who’s remarried after their son’s death in this novel set in the early 1950s in North Dakota and Montana. The new in-laws, a violent, evil crew, set the stage for a frightening climax but George and Martha’s relationship stars. If you loved Watson’s Montana, 1948 or are a fan of Kent Haruf and Leif Enger, you’ll adore this. GPR/PP, BC (2013)+Williams, John, Stoner goes to college to learn agronomy but literature beckons and he leaves the farm behind at the beginning of the 20th century.  His proper wife turns his daughter against him and his academic career is foiled so he falls deeper into solitude. This is a stark, unrelenting classic that begs for discussion. G/PP, BC (2006 reissue of the1965 classic)*#Zevin, Gabrielle, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a delightful glimpse into a place many of us would love to live – a small bookstore on an island. Fikry, a 39-year-old bookseller /curmudgeon, hasn’t cared about life or his customers since his wife’s recent death.  When a too-cute-by-miles, 2-year-old is left in his store, he rejoins the human race. Maya introduces him to others in his town who care about him and he falls in love.  Dry humor elevates it from the saccharine. I adore Zevin’s enthusiasm for books and reading and I rejoice in her humor. GPR/D, BC
                    Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers                                   Cash, Wiley, This Dark Road to Mercy, Ruby and Easter are good characters but his first novel A Land More Kind than Home is so much better. If you like baseball, you might like it. The Crime Writers Dagger Award disagrees with me and awarded it a “gold.” GPR/GS *Dicker, Joël, The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair,  Quebert is pronounced Kuh-bear thus rhyming with “affair.”  Also think Stephen Colbert for a hint to this tongue-in-cheek whodunit with a famous young author’s novel coming to life in a tragic way.  It was a mega hit in Europe but the author’s childhood summers in Maine and the setting give it an American flair.  It’s a big, 643-page book you’ll probably read in one weekend because the twists and switchbacks will keep you flippin’ those pages and enjoying the wild ride. CC/S +French, Tanya, The Secret Place is a boarding school mystery seen from the viewpoint of a close knit group of Irish teens and from the “outsider” detectives that investigate the year-old case when a new clue appears. Great, believable characters help build the tension.  CCGrisham, John, Sycamore Row  is a sequel to A Time to Kill, Grisham’s first book, and lawyer Jake must represent a will penned by a man who leaves his fortune to his black housekeeper then hangs himself.  It’s a nuanced portrait of a racially divided Southern town in1988. CC+Hayes, Terry, I Am Pilgrim is a fast-paced espionage thriller. Scott Murdoch, “the Pilgrim,” retired as one of America’s best secret agents but duty calls him back when an extremist, dubbed “The Saracen,” plots to destroy the U.S. as revenge against the Saudi’s for his father’s beheading. Captivating side stories packed with detail and great minor characters work well but the book would have sizzled if it had been 100 pages shorter. CC *Iles, Greg, Natchez Burning, Dr. Tom Cage, revered as "Atticus Finch with a stethoscope,” is accused of murdering his former nurse so his son Penn, town mayor and former prosecutor (who’s appeared in three previous books), tries to help him and soon finds clues going back to1968 and a group more evil than the KKK.  Reporter Henry Sexton uncovers ties to the atrocities and Dr. Cage disappears.  Is he guilty and is family loyalty more important than justice?  Iles credits the investigative reporting of true crimes that inspired the novel.  This is the first in a planned trilogy.  At 791 pages it’s just the right length. CC/SN, BC+Krueger, William Kent, Windigo Island captures the essence of the Ojibwe people of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota in this chilling tale of young teenage Native girls involved in sex trafficking near Duluth. Cork O’Connor and a respected tribal elder try to stop the evil. CC/SN+Mandel. Emily St. John, The Lola Quartetis a literary noir treat that begins with a teenage girl and a stroller with $120,000 taped beneath it and follows the money and four members of a high school quartet in a sprawling south Florida suburb through a web of lies, music, and fear.  This is much more than a crime novel though as it plots how deceit grows like the snakes taking over Florida’s canals that engulf everything in their path.  GPR/CC (2012) +Milchman, Jenny, Cover of Snow is a cold, piercing debut in which small town newbie Nora Hamilton searches for answers to why Brendan, her policeman husband, would have killed himself. When the police and her mother-in-law freeze her out and homes are set afire she finds clues in a 25-year-old death, an autistic man’s rhymes, and a reporter’s research.  CC (2013)+Nesbo, Jo, The Bat is the first of the Harry Hole mysteries in which Swedish police detective Hole travels to Australia to investigate the murder or a well-known Swedish woman.  He works with Aboriginal detective Andrew Kensington and the great series begins. CC (1997)+O’Dell, Tawni, One of Us asks if psychopaths are born or bred and forces the reader to ponder the difference between evil and mental illness.  Sheridan Doyle, a famed forensic psychologist returns to the coal-mining town where he’s simply Danny Doyle, grandson of Tommy and son of a mentally ill mother.  There he confronts buried truths and a cold-hearted heiress.  CC *Penny, Louise, The Long Way Home is a book that imbued me with a feeling of melancholy then peace.  This novel, unlike any other mystery I’ve ever read, showed how important it is for humans to feel useful, to be brave, and to be kind. Inspector Gamache doesn’t want to leave Three Pines especially to solve a mystery or, possibly, to find that something terrible had happened to neighbor Peter Morrow. Using art and creativity as a metaphor, Penny shows how nothing great can be created without heart or without feeling. Absolutely perfect. G, BC *#Slaughter, Karin, Cop Town, Kate Murphy is the pretty, privileged new cop on the Atlanta PD in 1974.  Excellent period references especially the playing of Carole King’s Tapestry album in the background set the stage. There’s a cop killer on the loose and another cop has died. The police are racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, woman-hating creeps. They treat the law like a smorgasbord, taking what they want regardless of who gets hurt. Can Kate prevail? CC, BC  *#Smith, Tom Rob, The Farm is a psychological thriller similar to Gone Girl or Tana French’s novels. When Daniel’s father calls from Sweden to say that Daniel’s mother is in hospital as she’s psychotic and delusional, Daniel hurries to Heathrow to fly to see her. Before he boards his mother calls that she’s on her way to London. She says his father is involved in a criminal conspiracy and wants here out of the way. Who can Daniel believe?  His mother, Tilde, carefully lays out a tale packed with facts that may or may not prove her allegations. Smith, known for his espionage thrillers set in Russia, takes a new tack with this riveting tale of trolls, elk, strangely carved wood, and the darkness of Sweden.  GPR/CC, BC*Spencer-Fleming, Julia, One Was a Soldier is the best yet in this series. Clare Fergusson, Episcopal priest, has just returned from a tour as a helicopter pilot in Iraq and she’s drinking too much and having nightmares. This seventh title is from the hymn “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” with the words: “one was a soldier, and one was a priest, and one was slain by a fierce wild beast;” It’s an apt title as the returning soldier/priest and her Police Chief boyfriend are facing a beast that threatens their well-being. Clare reluctantly joins a support group to get a young amputee to attend and there she meets other returning soldiers trying to fight the beast in differing ways.  When one of them commits suicide (or was it murder?) the group finds that the problems of Iraq have followed them all home. CC/SF, BC (2011)Spencer-Fleming, Julia, Through the Evil Days is the latest in the Clare Fergusson Episcopal priest/detective series and it’s a touch long and has too many wintry chases. Crystal meth, jurisdictional battles, child custody, Native adoption rights – it pulls out all the stops.  It’s good but after One Was a Soldier hit the ball out of the park – this one pales in comparison.  CC/SF+Stevens, Taylor, Doll, Vanessa Michael Munroe has been abducted to help the “Doll Maker” who merchandises young women and girls. It starts slowly and isn’t as good as her stunning debut The Informationist but it’s still a compelling read if you can stomach the violence.  CC (2013)
Peanut Butter and Jelly: Books for Children*Alexander, Rilla, The Best Book in the World has bold, happy, imaginative artwork. It conjures other books that children love, particularly books with bright hues, happy repetitions, and magical graphics.  It will make children smile. PBJ Ages 3 – 7*Aylesworth, Jim and McClintock, Barbara, illustrator, My Grandfather’s Coat tells of an immigrant tailor who makes a special coat then reworks it into a jacket, a vest, and a tie to wear to a special wedding. It’s a warm family tale with great illustrations. PBJ Ages 4 - 8*Brown, Peter, Children Make Terrible Pets, Lucy, a little brown bear wearing pink, takes a cute little boy she finds in the forest to her home and begs to keep him.  Her mom says, "Children make terrible pets," Lucy loves little Squeaker but he’s messy and impossible to potty train. The very funny twist on bringing home a pet will make parents and kids smile. PBJ Ages 3 – 6 (2010)*Brown, Peter, My Teacher is a Monster, when Bobby meets his scary teacher in the park he realizes she may not actually be a monster. Kids and teachers will love it.  PBJ Ages 4 - 8*Cooper, Ilene and Swiatkowska, Gabi, illustrator, The Golden Rule is a gorgeous, luminous book featuring a boy and his grandfather exploring the golden rule as expressed in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and in Shawnee wisdom.  It explores what living the rule means and how it “begins with you!”  It belongs in every family library and would make a wonderful baby gift.  Thanks to author John Green for suggesting it. PBJ/SF Ages 4 - 8 (2007)
*#Foxlee, Karen, Ophelia and the Magic Boy is set in a museum resembling The Hermitage and Ophelia must save a trapped boy in a modern retelling of “The Snow Queen.”  This resembles Harry Potter blended with From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler. It’s a gem! PBJ Ages 8 – 12  Maclear, Kyo and Morstad, Julie, illustrator, Julia, Child is as the author says a story that “should be taken with a grain of salt and perhaps even a generous pat of butter.”  Would-be chefs and Francophiles will relish the illustrations and sentiments.  PBJ Ages 5 - 10*Novak, B.J., The Book with No Pictures,Actor/Comic Novak has penned a book that even boys that “hate to read” will relish.  Having to read ALL the words will make kids and adults roar with laughter.  Pictures would be superfluous in this winner. PBJ Ages 5 - 8*Offill, Jenny, Sparky, A girl wants a pet.  “As long as it doesn’t have to be walked, bathed, or fed,” says her mother.  So the girl gets a sloth, names it Sparky, and tries to teach it non-sloth behaviors. Yes, a sloth is a sloth but love is love as well. PBJ Ages 3 - 6  Pinkwater, Daniel & Pinkwater, Jill, illustrator, Big Bob and the Winter Holiday Potato, Skip it! (1999)*Riordan, Rick, Percy Jackson’s Olympians introduces the Greek gods with Percy Jackson’s wry, humorous narration that will capture his many fans. After reading this they’ll be ready for the D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. A perfect holiday gift for most boys.  PBJ/SN Ages 8 - 12*Samworth, Kate, Aviary Wonders, Inc., this imaginative look at birds, habitats, and extinct species features phenomenal art and a very clever way of looking at consequences. It won the Kirkus Prize, PBJ/SN Ages 9 – 12 (and adults)*Tullet, Hervé, Mix it Up! is an evocative blending of colors that mix, splatter, and disappear into a wonderfully imaginative gift. Get out your finger paints and have fun!  PBJ Ages 3 - 5+Voigt, Cynthia, Mister Max : the Book of Lost Things,Max, a boy in Victorian England, is able to find solutions to peoples’ problems and be independent after his parents disappear. Toss in old-fashioned storytelling without gimmicks and you have the first book in a series both boys and girls will love if they give it a chance. PBJ/PP Ages 8 - 12 (2013)*Woodson, Jaqueline, Brown Girl Dreaming,the National Book Award winner, is a memoir in free verse. It puts readers into Woodson’s childhood homes and makes them feel her sense of belonging and her “otherness.” Yes, it will teach children about the Civil Rights era but mostly it will make them settle into Woodson’s life and help them dream their own dreams.  I love it so much that I may have it memorized soon. The gorgeous writing makes this a must read for everyone. PBJ/G/SN, BC Ages 10 and upDiet Coke and Gummi Bears: Books for Teens and Young Adults
+Avasthi, Swati, Split shows that domestic violence can happen in even the “best” homes. When Jace’s dad kicks him out he moves to New Mexico to be with his brother who left six years previously.  But how will they save their mother? SN/DC Ages 14 and up (2010)*#Avasthi, Swati, Chasing Shadows is a graphic fiction hybrid with a haunting, intense, exhilarating story of grief, friendship and vulnerability set on the south side of Chicago. Hooray for a book set in a realistic multi-cultural and multi-racial setting. DC Ages 14 and up (2013)*#Bassett, Kate, Words and Their Meanings is the story of Anna, a gifted writer, who has lost her desire to write and to care about living since the death of her uncle who was like a brother and best friend to her. Joe’s been gone a year and it’s time for Anna to reenter the world but can she?  This is a wonder of a story that, like an enchanted confection, inhabits the reader and creates a magical place where joy and grief can both abide. This is a debut author to watch especially for her strong voice. G/DC Ages 14 and up*Collins, Suzanne, The Hunger Games (2008), Catching Fire (2009) I finally read the first two in this series and I agree with critics that they’re very well written.  DC Ages 12 and up *Green, John, Looking for Alaska explores the lives of outsider teens at an Alabama boarding school.  Pudge, a new student obsessed with famous last words, meets Alaska Young, a self-named ball of fire who forces Pudge to live life fully. Divided into two parts: Before and After, the novel shows why things can never remain the same.  DC Ages 14 and up (2005)
+Green, John, Paper Townshas authentic characters living the last month of high school in the bubble they know won’t last forever.  Q and Margo are vessels trying to fill each other but is that the way they should live?  Two very funny road trips will make this appeal to male teens. Read it before the movie comes out in June, 2015. DC Ages 14 and up (2008)*Koertge, Ron, Coaltown Jesusis told in free verse which makes it feel immediate.  Walker and his mother live at the nursing home she owns and manages.  They’re grieving the death of his brother and he can’t fathom “why God took Noah.”  Walker prays for help for his mother and a very irreverent, funny Jesus appears in his room. Regardless of your beliefs, read this book. Don’t think it’s religious drivel; it’s a wry treatise on living.  DC/SF, BC Ages 13 and up (2013)+Koertge, Ron, Stoner & Spaz, Ben is sixteen, has no parents, and lives with his perfectionist, protective grandmother and his cerebral palsy makes him feel like a hulking monster . Movies are his escape so when Colleen, a tatted druggie from his school, plants herself in a seat next to him in a theatre things change. Colleen teases Ben about his disability and the two begin to question everything they’ve both assumed about life. It’s a winner. DC Ages 13 and up (2002)*Lockhart, E., We Were Liars is a page turner about a dysfunctional family on the Cape Cod island they own. Cadence and her cousins are “the liars” and it’s hard to distinguish if any of them are telling the truth.  Cadence has migraines and doesn’t recall what happened “that” summer. The riveting, yet haunting, ending is sure to create goose bumps. Adults are devouring this one too. CC/DC, Ages 13 and up+Perkins, Mitali, Bamboo Peopletells the story of two Burmese teen boys on opposite sides of the conflict between the Burmese government and the Karenni people. It shows how treatment of ethnic minorities hurts everyone. This would be a great classroom source. DC/SN Ages 12 - 15 (2010)Roth, Veronica, Divergent, I see why teens love this but the writing didn’t make me want to read the others in the series. DC Ages 13 and up (2011)+Simukka, Salla, As Red as Blood is reminiscent of the “Dragon Tattoo” books with 17-year-old Lumikki as a tough heroine. Lumikki means Snow White in Finnish. When Lumikki finds blood-stained euros in her school dark room her innocent life changes. This first book in a planned trilogy should appeal to seekers of strong female teen protagonists.  I love her ingenuity. DC Ages 14 and up*Supetys, Ruta, Out of the Easy features Josie, a French Quarter prostitute’s daughter, hell bent on escaping to Smith College despite the mob targeting her to repay her mother’s debts. This 1950s tale reads like Dickens and celebrates books and reading in a unique way. DC/PP Ages 14 and up (2012)Van Wagenen, Maya, Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek is a nonfiction memoir detailing 8th grader Maya’s quest to become popular by using advice from a 1951 guide to teen popularity.  Teens, parents, and teachers will enjoy this.  If it had been around when I was 13, my friends and I would have read it aloud over cherry cokes while wondering if pearls might make us more popular than actually practicing kindness. DC Ages 12 – 15. *Woodson, Jaqueline, Brown Girl Dreaming, see PBJ section for the review. Ages 10 and up*Yang, Gene Luen, Boxers and Saints are two companion graphic novels that together tell the tale of the 1898 Boxer Rebellion in China. Boxers is from the Chinese point of view and Saints is from that of the foreign missionaries.  Together they speak the truth. DC/SF, BC Ages 12 and upNonfiction*Brown, Brené, Daring Greatly is a challenging, yet inspiring, way into becoming who you really are.  Watch Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability and read this to allow yourself to become “enough.” We all need to read this book. SF/SN, BC (2012)+Brown, Daniel James, Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for God at the 1936 Berlin Olympics weaves the coming-of-age stories of the college boys who rowed and endeavored to win Olympic gold. These scrappy boys, some living in hunger, sacrificed for their goal in a changing world in this compelling tale. I adore Joe. SN, BC (2013)*Byl, Christine, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods is a straight-talking, poetic, humorous look at the work of a seasonal “traildog,” a person who clears and maintains trails in remote areas of National Parks.  Byl tells of digging holes, dropping trees, building stairs, moving boulders,  hauling chainsaws on her shoulders, wearing out countless pairs of boots, drinking lots of Pabst Blue Ribbon, consuming 1000s of calories, and crossing streams by slithering along logs on her butt.  Byl, traildog extraordinaire, honors her idols – Willa Cather, Jim Harrison and Thoreau - as she weaves this authentic, gritty, gripping tale. SN +Daniel, Lillian, When “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places Even the Church, witty, intelligent anecdotes and logical ideas make this case for church, community, and commitment extremely thought provoking. I hope non-church goers will read it. SF, BC (2013)*Evans, Rachel Held, Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, Original title (2012): Evolving in Monkey Town, I love, love, love the preface in which Evans lists several things about herself. “People tell me I exaggerate. I’ve been hurt by Christians. As a Christian, I’ve been hurtful. I’m judgmental of people I think are judgmental. At twenty-seven, I almost always root for the underdog, and sometimes I get the feeling that God does too.” With that I fell down the rabbit hole and adored every minute of her journey.  Read this book! T SF/S, BC +Evans, Rachel Held, A Year of Biblical Womanhoodhas a great ending and lots of food for thought in this calendar challenge in which Evans used portraits of Biblical women along with the Proverbs 31 admonishments to embody her twelve principles. It’s honest and refreshing. SF/SN (2013)*Gawande, Atul, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End is a book everyone needs to read yet the stories Gawande tells make it an engaging and hopeful read. This book should make you think honestly about medical choices and help you ask good questions about independence and what’s truly important to you or someone you love. SN/GPR, BCGoodman, Matthew, Eighty Days: Nelly Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World,Goodman’s editorializing weakens a fascinating tale of the young women’s 1889 journey. Inflated writing made it tedious but the research was exceptional.  OC (2013) *#Kasischke, Lou, After the Wind tells the story of what really happened on May 10, 1995 on Mount Everest. Learn why Kasischke survived when many others didn’t.  I edited this book so I’m biased but even Kirkus Reviews named it one of the best of the year. SN/SF*Klinkenborg, Verlyn, The Rural Life is a journal-like rendering of a year in American nature.  Klinkenborg is the E.B. White of our era with his lyrical, yet accessible, renderings of the ordinary.  The best way to read it is to read the chapter for the month during that month thus savoring it over at least a year.  It won’t be efficient but it will enhance appreciation. SN/G (2004) +LeDuff, Charlie, Detroit: An American Autopsy, we’re probably all going to end up paying for Detroit’s mistakes and if we don’t note the errors, other cities will be on the verge of death too. So what will make us pay attention to this city we’d all like to ignore?  Charlie LeDuff - brash, wild, annoying, and sarcastic - might just have the words to make us care. S/SN, BC (2013)Reichl, Ruth, Garlic and Sapphires: the Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, the former NY Times Restaurant Critic details her life as a critic and a mother. SN (2005)*Remen, M.D., Rachel Naomi, My Grandfather’s Blessings,beginning with the idea that we’ve all been given more blessings than we allow ourselves to receive, this book helps you notice them and then become a blessing to others too. Just the ideas from the first chapter led to a spirited discussion in a group I led. This is very strong (and tasty) medicine.  SF/GPR, BC (2000)*Riess, Jana, The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less, when a kid said “The Emperor has no clothes,” everyone’s eyes opened.  When Riess reverently applies irreverence to her shortened chapters of the Bible she illuminates them in a way that’s difficult to ignore. Only someone with her knowledge could hone in so clearly on what each chapter says in so few words. Deuteronomy 18: “Don’t fry up your kids, cast spells, visit astrologers, or talk to the dead.  You’re special, Israel, so straighten up and fly right.”  Pithy summations make the reader ponder and then perhaps even consult the big book itself. SF/S, BC (2013)*Scott, Ken, Ice Caves of Leelanau: A Visual Exploration, even if you didn’t suffer through the polar vortex winter of 2014, you’ll want this stunning book featuring photographs of the exceptional beauty of the ice in all its manifestations in northern Michigan.  Scott captures the ice’s magnificence and Jerry Dennis’ opening essay along with meteorologist Ernie Ostuno’s image descriptions make this the perfect winter companion. SN/D
*Sides, Hampton, In the Kingdom of Iceis a page-turning retelling of the voyage of the SS. Jeannette in the Arctic waters north of the Bering Strait as they searched for a sea passage to the North Pole.  It puts you on the ship, in the frozen ice, and deep in the darkness of the Arctic winter during the years the voyagers were at sea. Sides shows the remarkable courage and thought that the exhibition commander De Long and his crew exhibited. GPR/SN. BC +Taylor, Barbara Brown, Learning to Walk in the Dark, God puts out our lights to keep us safe because we are never more in danger of stumbling than when we think we know where we are going says 16th century monk John of the Cross.  Chapters track the phases of the moon, starting and ending with the full moon. Sleep, fear, and living in darkness are the message. SF +Thorpe, Helen, Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War tells the compelling stories of three Indiana women joining the National Guard before 9/11 then of their serving in Iraq.  The upheaval in their lives and their adjustment after will cause you to ponder.  I’m from Indiana so the inconsistent editing of Indiana details bothered me.  Louisville, KY is NOT south of Evansville, IN, nor is the college in Bloomington called the University of Indiana (She gets it right twice, wrong once).  Still, this is a fine piece of reporting that reads like a good novel.  SN/GPR, BC

The Vintner's Daughter by Kristen Harnisch - Giveaway

Fri, 11/28/2014 - 12:39pm

Win the audio version of The Vintner's Daughter and learn more about this debut novel.  Kristen Harnisch’s The Vintner’s Daughter is just what wine-loving Francophiles will hope is under their tree this season. And as a special gift to kick off the holidays, we have a free copy of the downloadable audio version to give away. (See below.) The Vintner’s Daughter is set near Vouvray in France’s Loire Valley in 1895, then it moves with Sara, the vintner’s daughter, to America.
Sara Thibault is seventeen when the book opens and she wants to become a master winemaker like her father.  She has plans for their Loire Valley family vineyard but after her father’s sudden death in a mudslide, her mother sells their land to a rival whose son, Bastien, marries Sara’s sister.  Sara soon sees that her brother-in-law’s plans are more for evil than for winemaking.  When he dies violently, Sara and her sister flee to New York to escape accusations. Later in California, Sara meets Philippe, Bastien’s brother, who is searching for the person responsible for his brother’s death. Sara wants to avoid Philippe but he’s a committed winemaker and is building the largest vineyard in the Napa region and unlike others, he’s willing to hire Sara for her expertise. Will Sara fall in love with Philippe?  Will Philippe learn of her background? Will she be able to regain her family’s vineyard in France? 
Sara’s courage and fortitude will win over readers that love reading about strong women overcoming betrayals and setbacks.  Harnisch combines meticulous research about the history of the wine industry with a strong love story to create a page-turning novel to be enjoyed with a glass of Vouvray.  I read the print version but to prepare for this giveaway I listened to an audio sample and can attest that Tavia Gilbert’s reading is impeccable.  Her pronunciation of French locales and terms in the portions set in the Loire Valley is flawless and she reads at just the right tempo for the book’s pace. Her reading complements the realistic dialogue and apt descriptions that contribute to the book’s ability to place the reader in the period.
Summing it Up: Read or listen to this charmer if you love wine, France, and historical fiction with a romantic touch and accurate details.  Select this as a gift for Adriana Trigiani fans.  She says it’s: “Lush and evocative, this novel brings the Loire Valley and its glorious vineyards to life in a story that will delight readers everywhere.”   As a bonus, Harnisch plans a sequel with an early 2016 release date.
If you’d like a chance at winning the downloadable audio version of The Vintner’s Daughter, simply email your name to:
trinabookhungry@gmail.com
The contest is closed. Congratulations to Kathleen King, winner of The Vintner's Daughter. Put THE VINTNER’S DAUGHTER in the e-mail subject line. One entry per person, please. This giveaway will be open until midnight on December 1. I’ll announce the lucky listener on December 2.  If you’d like to join the mailing list for this blog and my occasional email commentaries, simply add the words “Sign me up for the email list” in the body of your response. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party. Thanks to Blackstone Audio and Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity for offering this holiday treat.  
Rating:  4 stars    Category: Dessert, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Super Nutrition, Book ClubPublication date: August 5, 2014Author’s Website: http://www.kristenharnisch.com/#sthash.eVCpOH7b.dpbsWhat Others are Saying:Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kristen-harnisch/vintners-daughter/

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 11:18am

Happy Thanksgiving one and all. In addition to family, friends, my potato ricer, refrigerator, and dishwasher; I'm also thankful for several of the many authors that wrote exceptional books this year.  Thanks to Fredrick Bachman, Kate Bassett, Amy Bloom, Nickolas Butler, Kim Church, Joel Dicker, Anthony Doeer, Karen Foxlee, Atul Gawande, Kristen Harnisch, Peter Heller, Smith Henderson, Rachel Joyce, Greg Iles, Deborah Johnson, Lou Kasischke, Lily King, E. Lockhart, Emily St. John Mandel, Laura McBrideCeleste NgLouise PennyMichael PitreRuth Reichl, Marilynne Robinson, Bill Roorbach, Kate Samworth, Ken Scott, Hampton Sides, Karen Slaughter, Tom Rob Smith, Mary Sybist, Larry Watson, Jacqueline Woodson, and Gabrielle Zevin, Click on the links with each author's name to learn more about them and their magical books. 

I'm also most grateful to independent booksellers and publishers' representatives and publicists for their insight and ideas that lead us to great reads.  

Tomorrow I'll have a special giveaway as a way of saying thanks and kicking off the holiday season. 

Words and Their Meanings by Kate Bassett

Sat, 11/15/2014 - 9:53am
Words and Their Meanings is a young adult, debut novel that adults will appreciate as much as teens.  Anna’s Uncle Joe died after a brief illness. A college student only a few years older than Anna, he was raised as her brother, her confidant, and her best friend and Anna can’t cope with the loss in this smart, inventive, insightful tale. Anna’s first-person rendering of her grief makes for a “littmus lozenge” of a story.  If you read Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, you’ll recall that Littmus Lozenges were a special candy that tasted both sweet and sad. They tasted of melancholy and made people recall happiness and sorrow. Words and Their Meanings is a wonder of a story that, like an enchanted “littmus lozenge” confection, inhabits the reader and creates a magical place where joy and grief can both abide.
Anna’s family and friends worry about her and she’s promised that on Joe’s one-year “deadaversary” she’ll stop her peculiar mourning. Does that mean that she’ll quit practicing her invention of “coffin yoga” which means that every day she lies still as if she were dead while concentrating on her morbid thoughts? Will she stop writing unsettling quotes from rocker Patti Smith on her arm?  Will she start writing her own words again? Or will her parents have to take more drastic measures than her current therapy?  
Anna has no desire to reconnect with the world.  She’s always been acknowledged as an amazing writer and she’s lived for her writing but since Joe died, she can’t even consider putting words on paper.  And that’s a real problem because words – and their meanings – were her life. Then a strange note indicates that Joe may have had secrets he’d kept from her and Anna’s grandfather has an accident and Anna must think beyond herself.  That, of course, becomes the right time to give in to romance - again allowing Anna to see the world and its meaning through someone else’s eyes.
This could have been a gloomy tale but it’s a lively, yet intentionally thoughtful, story of Anna’s growth and it’s told in realistic, adolescent language. There’s no dumbing down, just the truth as a word-loving teen would speak it. One reason everything works is that Bassett uses ingenious, yet fitting, devices to relate information.  Anna’s grandfather’s origami paper cranes tell secrets and allow the reader to watch Anna unfold them.
Another wonderful aspect of this novel is that the characters in it reflect the real world especially the setting, a place similar to the author’s hometown.  At the Words and Their Meanings launch, I asked Bassett about her populating the novel with teens of different races and backgrounds not just the upper middle class white teens seen in most YA novels.  She said that since she’d grown up in Saginaw, Michigan, she was writing what she knew.  It shows in her writing and it enriches the book. Buy this book because it’s a great read and will give thoughtful teens and adults much to ponder.  As a bonus, buy this book because it reflects the real America not the “white washed” pretend America often seen in young adult and children’s literature.    
Summing it Up:  Words and Their Meanings will appeal to teens that think, adults that love good writing combined with a strong story, and readers of every age that appreciate a strong voice. 
Note: This paperback original is the perfect stocking stuffer for your favorite teen.
Rating: 5 stars    Category: Book Club, Diet Coke and Gummi Bears, Fiction, Five Stars, GourmetPublication date: September 11, 2014Author Website: http://katebassettbooks.com/Interviews with the Author: ·         http://harborlightnews.com/main.asp?SectionID=11&SubSectionID=57&ArticleID=17367·         http://www.sarazarr.com/archives/3556What Others are Saying:Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kate-bassett/words-and-their-meanings/
School Library Journal: http://www.slj.com/2014/08/reviews/grades-5-up/young-adult-titles-of-tragedy-and-triumph-fiction-grades-9-up/