Thursday, May 19, 2016

Books Read in April

One Plus One by JoJo Moyes
The story: Jess is a single mom raising a brilliant, quirky daughter as well as her ex-husband's teenage son. She works hard as a housecleaner/bartender and barely has enough money to feed the kids, much less send her daughter to the exclusive private school that has offered her a nearly full scholarship for her math skills. And then she crosses paths with Ed, a multimillionaire who is about to lose everything. The four of them accidentally embark on a journey to get to the Math Olympiad and end up becoming a family.
Me: This was a fun book. It's a beach read. Nothing terribly amazing, just fun and happy for the most part. Great for summer!

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.
The story: French sisters Vianne and Isabelle, daughters raised by an emotionally cold father, have approached life completely differently. Vianne is careful, comfortable in her marriage, but fearful; Isabelle, 10 years younger, is impetuous, rebellious, and reckless. When the Nazis invade France, they must both make impossible choices. Vianne's husband is drafted, and she and her young daughter must survive without food or money—and with a German captain living with them. Isabelle joins the Resistance and risks her life daily to save others.
Me: I loved this epic tale of survival during World War II. Isabelle gets more attention; her choices are flashier and more dramatic. But Vianne is the character I can identify with more: the one who does anything she can to provide for her family, the one who doesn't know how strong she is until she is forced to protect those she loves— the one who sometimes makes bad decisions because she doesn't understand how cruel people can be. I am fascinated with WWII stories, largely because there are so many aspects of the war to explore: soldiers on all sides, families and individuals in all kinds of circumstances, the home front, the Holocaust, the Japanese-American experience, the unsung heroes, post-war, etc. And while I've read similar stories, The Nightingale takes a fresh look at how two small people can make a huge difference in a war that encompassed the whole world. Highly recommended.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks.
The story: The Zombie Wars are over—what really happened? This is the history of the Zombie Wars as told by various key players as well as regular people—all survivors of the unthinkable. Around the world, various governments, families, and individuals handled the zombie attacks in different ways. These are their stories of survival, pieced together in interview form.
Me: Meh. I found the interview style of the book to be tedious and confusing. I found myself constantly turning back a page or two, wondering whose POV I was currently reading. I should say that I love zombie movies and shows; I just didn't enjoy the style of this book. I would have loved reading a regular novel chronicling the events, but this left me mostly just feeling meh

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Multiple re-read of my favorite novel. With only one exception, this gets the "book of the year" award from my literature class.
Other posts here on TKAM:
• My Favorite Ever.
Happy 50th to TKAM

Our Town by Thornton Wilder.
Re-read of a wonderful play. My high school students absolutely loved this play! Although it's a portrayal of small-town life in the early 1900s, my kids found it to be both universal and contemporary. Highly recommended reading, even if you've seen the play.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Books Read in March

March was a month of extraordinarily enjoyable books. If every month were like this one for reading, I would never get anything done. Ever. And yet… I only hope that April brings as many fantastic reads.

 Me Before You by JoJo Moyes.
The Story: Although she’s in her late 20s, Louisa takes her very ordinary life day-by-day. She really has no goals or plans for the future. She’s happy with the status quo, which includes living with her parents, her sister, and her baby nephew; continuing her long-term, comfortable though dull relationship with Patrick; and working at the coffee shop. And then the coffee shop closes, and she has to find a new job. She answers an ad for a companion for a quadriplegic, a job for which she is terribly unqualified. She knows nothing about medical care and nothing about the world that once belonged to Will. She’s never left her tiny English village; he traveled in the world of millionaires, seeking extreme adventure whenever he wasn’t closing multimillion dollar business deals. Will is trapped by his paralyzed body, depressed, angry, and suicidal. Louisa finds him rude and cold, but she desperately needs the money. Eventually, they learn to respect and depend on each other, and ultimately they fall in love. But is their love enough to convince Will that life is worth living?
Me: This was our March book club pick, partly because the movie is coming out soon, and it made for great discussion. I must admit that I never before considered what it would be like to live as a quadriplegic. I’m not convinced that Will’s argument was valid: he insisted that his life as a quadriplegic was worse than many other people’s because he lived for high adventure. He was really kind of a selfish jerk. Louisa notes that he never would have even noticed her in his old life—that she would have been part of the woodwork.  The book was full of topics for discussion. Moyes probably tried to encompass too many subjects and used too many stereotypes, but she knows how to write a great page-turner. We’re looking forward to the movie in June!

The Story: The story takes place during World War II in France and Germany. Marie-Laure has been blind since childhood. Her father, the locksmith for the Museum of National History in Paris, takes tender care of her. Because he wanted Marie-Laure to have some independence, he constructed a miniature replica of their neighborhood so that she could memorize each twist and turn, eventually learning to navigate the real neighborhood. Their lives are happy enough until they are forced to flee Nazi-occupied Paris and move in with her great-uncle, who suffers from agoraphobia brought on my PTSD, to Saint-Malo in Normandy. Werner grew up in a German orphanage and is discovered by the Hitler Youth to be a genius at electronics. He is forced to track the Resistance movement. He is disgusted at his part in the war but is too weak to take a stand, which disgusts him even more. Eventually his story converges with Marie-Laure’s, and the results are unforgettable.
Me: Ahhhh. Now this was a beautifully, masterfully written book. I like a good sentimental plot-driven novel now and then, I’ll admit. But what I really love are beautifully written books with a poetic bent to them— books that make me ache with the sadness and the goodness in the world, with the wonder at how people survive terrible, true ordeals. This is a story of survival, of just how good people can be in the darkest of situations. This was a great month of reading, but this was by far the best of the reading list and will no doubt be a contender for my #1 spot this year.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.
The Story: Cadence Sinclair, age 18, begins the story: "Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure. The Sinclairs are athletic, tall, and handsome. We are old-money Democrats. Our smiles are wide, our chins square, and our tennis serves aggressive. It doesn’t matter if divorce shreds the muscles of our hearts so that they will hardly beat without a struggle. It doesn’t matter if trust-fund money is running out; if credit card bills go unpaid on the kitchen counter. It doesn’t matter if there’s a cluster of pill bottles on the bedside table. It doesn’t matter if one of us is desperately, desperately in love. So much in love that equally desperate measures must be taken. We are Sinclairs. No one is needy. No one is wrong. We live, at least in the summertime, on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Perhaps that is all you need to know.” But, of course, there is a lot more to know beneath the surface—more than Cadence can possibly remember. Every summer of her whole life, Cadence and her cousins spend the summer on their family complex on Beechwood Island. They call themselves the Liars: Cadence, Mirren, Johnny, and Gat. They are the privileged children of a privileged family, rich and coddled and completing unraveling. Something happened the summer that Cadence was 15, but a traumatic brain injury prevents her from remembering. The novel moves in and out of her memory, flashing back from summer 18 to various summers, puzzling especially over summer 15. It’s a coming-of-age story of young love, family secrets, and carelessness.
Me: I whipped through this young adult novel in an afternoon or two. I seriously could not stop reading it. Lockhart is a beautiful writer: poetic and oh-so-lovely with powerful language and vivid images.  I had absolutely no idea what was coming and had to go back and read several chapters to see what clues I might have missed. I almost didn’t read this book because of the cheesy description: “beautiful, privileged, damaged. We are the Sinclairs.” But I am so glad I did. The writing was beautiful and the story riveting. Great for adults and older teens.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
The story: Victoria is a lost soul. She’s just aged out of the foster care system, and, at 18, is ready to live on her own. She is tough, distrustful, and angry except when it comes to flowers. During one year of her young life, she lived with Renata, a woman who taught her the language of flowers: that yarrow, for example, is a cure for a broken heart; that winter cherry indicates deception; that a wisteria stands for welcome. In a lifetime of foster care, this year was the only one in which Victoria was truly loved and accepted, and so, because it’s the only thing Victoria knows how to do, she sabotages her future as Renata’s daughter and heads back into the foster care system. Upon her emancipation at 18, she slowly begins to trust herself and trust people as she discovers that knowing the language of flowers can change lives.  She meets Grant, a young man who also understands flowers, and together they begin healing and restoring their brokenness.
Me: This was a fascinating book. I loved the lesson on the language of flowers and the thought of what carefully chosen flowers can do for people and relationships. (Bonus: Victoria’s “Dictionary of Flowers” is included at the end of the book.) I thought this was a fantastic portrayal of the challenges of foster care, for the child with an attachment disorder, for the social worker, and for foster parents. Victoria sabotages her happiness over and over again because she considers herself so unworthy of love, not because she wants to hurt other people. Her story is handled with tenderness but without romanticizing her future and the lengthy healing process. And I loved the charter of Renata, the woman who loved Victoria as a daughter. Highly recommended—but warning: you’ll want to have flowers in your house all the time, and you’ll wonder what they are saying about you.

The story: The novel tells of two young people whose lives become intertwined. the sections switch between Coralie, the mermaid girl, and Eddie, the finder. Coralie’s father is the owner of The Museum of Extraordinary Things in Coney Island in the early 1900s. He is a collector of unusual things, like a dwarf albino alligator, and of unusual people: Siamese twins, a wolf-man, the Butterfly girl, the bird lady. Coralie is unusual too: she has webbed fingers, which she keeps hidden always beneath white gloves. On her tenth birthday, Coralie’s father presents her with her destiny: she is to be the museum’s “human mermaid.” For a while, she becomes the star of the museum, but then things change.
Eddie, born Ezekiel, is a young Jewish man who has renounced— or tried to renounce— his faith and his name. As a child, he and his father escaped their Ukrainian village during a pogrom and made it to Brooklyn, where they are employed as tailors in a factory. Eddie, full of anger at their circumstances, strikes out on his own in a business he things his father would be ashamed of: he works for a “fortune teller.” His job is to track down lost people, errant spouses, missing children. He is good at his job, and for years he mingles with the dregs of society, listening to “loathsome” tales and encountering all kinds of things that a young boy should never see. But in his late teens he encounters a photographer who changes the course of his life, and he quits finding lost people on seedy streets and instead begins finding beauty through photography.
Me: I loved this novel. There are some graphic parts in Coralie’s story that are truly horrifying and difficult to read. Her father is an unscrupulous monster who will do anything for money. But Coralie is a precious, lovely character with an innocent heart and a great capacity for love. Eddie is a rough character at times, but his heart ultimately matches Coralie’s. There are so many kind and compassionate characters in this novel that her father’s cruelty is ultimately defeated. I think I can say that without giving away too much of the book. This was a fascinating story. There were parts that were extremely disturbing, but the triumph of good over evil is clear and satisfying.

Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry.
The story: On a ferry ride, a young woman named Troy sees a child in the water, presumably fallen from a passing ferry. Without thinking, she dives into the water and rescues the child. The little boy seems to be an orphan at first, but gradually the story comes out that he was kidnapped. Troy finds his rich father eventually, and she takes the little boy back to him. The mystery, then, becomes finding the kidnappers. Somehow, Troy takes this into her own hands to do. Ultimately, she does discover the mystery and nearly dies doing so. Yawn.
Me: Meh. I liked the narrator/main character, Troy. I liked the little boy and his Dad. But the whole story just fell kind of flat for me. I kept thinking that something really exciting and surprising was going to happen as I slogged through details of Troy cleaning and repairing her bike, teaching computer skills, and shopping. I was looking forward to that "Ah! I didn't see that coming" moment, as I wondered why this rich father and the police weren't able to locate his son during his 5 months of captivity. Instead, the story became laughable when all is revealed. I think I actually shook my head in astonishment, and I know I rolled my eyes. It was all so contrived and so neatly wrapped up in about 10 pages at the end. What?? I had to go back and skim a few chapters to see if I'd missed a bit of foreshadowing or something. Nope. Apparently this is the first in a series featuring Troy, and I will not be reading the series.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

My Ever-Growing TBR List (2016)

*Indicates books added in 2016

41 False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers by Janet Malcolm
Alena by Rachel Pastan
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (read 3/16)
An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
Americanah by Adichie.
Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg.
Aprons on a Clothesline by T. DePree
Arctic Dreams
by Barry Lopez
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
* At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen
Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story as Told by Jody M. Roy, Ph.D. (reviewed at Musings of a Bookish Kitty)
The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy 
Barefoot in Baghdad by Manal M. Omar (reviewed at Bookworm's Dinner)
* Bastards by Mary Anna King
Before the Storm by Diane Chamberlain
The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
Behind the Burqa by Sulima and Hala (reviewed by Semicolon)
Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story by Diane Setterfield.
Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio
Blood of Flowers
by A. Amirrezvani
Blood Work
by M Connelly
Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior.
Book of a Thousand Days by S. Hale (reviewed on Semicolon and Maw Books)
Book of Lost Things by J. Connelly
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Bootletter’s Daughter by M. Maron
Born on a Blue Day by D. Tammet
The Children Act by Ian McEwan
China Dolls by Lisa See
Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. 
Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eye Ward
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Coming Up for Air by Patti Callahan Henry
Commoner by J.B. Schwarz
Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
A Country Doctor’s Casebook by R. MacDonald
The Dawning of the Day: A Jerusalem Tale by Haim Sabato
Departed, The by K. Mackel
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
Dinner with a Perfect Stranger by D. Gregory
Dough: A Memoir by Mort Zachter (reviewed by Lisa at 5 Minutes for Books)
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (The World As Home) by Janisse Ray.
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (Reviewed at S. Krishna's Books)
Executioner's Song by Mailer
Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad by Waris Darie (reviewed at Maw Books)
Far to Go by Alison Pick (Reviewed by Kristina at The Book Keeper)
Family Nobody Wanted by Doss
Fatal Vision by J. McGinnis
Father, Mother, God: My Journey Out of Christian Science by Lucia Greenhouse
First Wife by Emily Barr (recommended by Fleur Fisher)
Flowers by D. Gilb
Fortune Cookie Chronicles by J. Lee
Franklin and Lucy by Joseph Persico
Gentle Rain by Deborah Smith (reviewed by Leah at Good Reads)
Ghost Map
by S. Jackson
Ghost Moth by Michele Forbes 
Ghost Writer, The by J. Harwood
The Girl in the Italian Bakery by Kenneth Tingle
The Girls by Lori Lansens
Giving Up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel
Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton
Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli:
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
Guests on Earth  by Lee Smith
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Hava: The Story of Eve by Tosca Lee
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent (reviewed by Gautami at Reading Room)
High House, The
by James Stoddard
by John Hershey
Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan C. Bartoletti (reviewed by Natasha at Maw Books)
Hot Zone by R. Preston (reviewed by Semicolon)
The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons
How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen (mentioned by The Magic Lasso)
Human Cargo by C. Moorehead
A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams.
I Am Scout by Charles J. Shields (reviewed by Becky)
* I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab 
Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh
The Invention of Wings by  Sue Monk Kidd
Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas
by E. Southwark
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me
by Ian Morgan Cron (reviewed at Rachel Held Evans)
Keeping the House by E. Baker
* Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh(read 3/16)
Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones (reviewed by Bookeywookey)
Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger (reviewed at Thoughts of Joy)
Last Storyteller by D. Noble
Leave it to Claire
by T. Bateman
Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan (reviewed by Literary Feline)
Left To Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza (reviewed at Maw Books and Just a Reading Fool)
Liar’s Diary by P. Francis (reviewed by Semicolon)
Life Among Savages
by Shirley Jackson (reviewed at Dwell in Possibility)
Life Is So Good
by R. Glaubman
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian. 
Lila by Marianne Robinson
Little Altars Everywhere by R. Wells
* The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life by Rod Dreher
Living End by L. Samson
A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka (reviewed at The Lost Entwife)
Lost Children of Wilder by N. Bernstein
Loving Frank by N. Horan
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Mad Girls in Love by M. West
Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut
Many Sleepless Nights
by Lee Gutkind
* Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy 
Mariner's Compass by E. Fowler
The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok
Mercy Falls by WK Krueger
Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Minding the South by J. Reed
Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills
Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway (Reviewed at The Bluestocking Society)
Murder in the Name of Honor by Rana Husseini (Reviewed at Reading Through Life)
Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman (read 3/16)

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (Reviewed by Reading to Know)
The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls
Not without My Daughter
by B. Mahmoody
The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley
Perfect Example by John Porcellino (reviewed at The Hidden Side of the Leaf)
The Plague of Doves  by Louise Erdrich.
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (reviewed at Reader Buzz)
A Pool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler.
Prairie Tale by Melissa Gilbert
A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Connor
Promise Not To Tell by Jennifer McMahon (reviewed at Missy's Book Nook)
Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett
Property by Valerie Martin (reviewed by The Magic Lasso)
Quaker Summer
by Lisa Samson
Quilter’s Apprentice
by J. Chiaverini
A Quilt for Christmas  by Sandra Dallas
The Quilt Walk by Sandra Dallas
Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah
Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson
Reading Lolita in Tehran by
Azar Nafisi
Refuge on Crescent Hill by Melanie Dobson (Reviewed at Reading to Know)
The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson
The Rest of the Story by Phan Thi Kim Phuc.
Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen
Rises the Night
by C. Gleason
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books by Lynne Schwartz (reviewed on Shelf Life)
by Shactman
Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens
Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall
Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins (reviewed by Just a Reading Fool)
Same Kind of Different As Me
by Ron Hall and Denver Moore (recommended by Stray Thoughts)
Saving Levi Left to Die
by Lisa Bently
 The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins (Reviewed by Word Lily)
Seven Loves by Trueblood
* Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel
Slaves, Women & Homosexuals by William J. Webb 
Snow by Orhan Pamuk
 So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy (reviewed at Polishing Mud Balls)
Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf (reviewed at Maw Books)
Some Girls by Jillian Lauren (reviewed by Book Club Classics)
Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi
Song Yet Sung
by James McBride
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture by Donna Partow
Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner:
Stillwater by William Weld
by John Williams (suggested by JoAnn at Every Day Matters)
The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump by Sandra Hempel
Summer Crossing by Truman Capote (reviewed by CaribousMom)
by M. Cabon
Teahouse Fire, The
by Ellis Avery
Stones Cry Out
by M Szymusiak
Testament of Youth
by Vera Brittain (recommended at Musings)
There Are No Children Here
by A. Kotlowitz
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself
by Alan Alda
Thousand Years of Good Prayers
by Yiyun Li
The Threadbare Heart
by Jenny Nash (reviewed at Maw Books)
Three Cups of Tea
by G. Mortenson
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres
A Thousand Mornings: Poems by Mary Oliver
Time Between by Mary Duenas
To My Senses by A. Weis (reviewed by J. Kaye)
Tomorrow, the River by D. Gray
Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur
by D. Hari (reviewed by CaribousMom and Maw Books)
Trauma and Ghost Town by P. McGrath
Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera
Uprising by Margaret Haddix (reviewed by Semicolon)
Undress me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman (reviewed by Book Zombie)
The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
* The War That Saved My Life
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (read 3/16)
Well and the Mine, The by Gin Phillips (reviewed by Semicolon)
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
What I Though I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen
What Is What by D. Eggers (reviewed at Maw Books)
What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage
What Peace There May Be by Susanna Brarlow
What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn (Reviewed at Big A, Little A)
When I Lay My Isaac Down by C. Kent
When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewalt
Wherever you Go by Joan Leegant (reviewed by Bibliophiliac)
Whistling in the Dark by L. Kagen
Who Killed My Daughter by Lois Duncan (Reviewed at Nonfiction Lover)
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
Winter Seeking by V. Wright
Winter Walk
by L. Cox
Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (recommended at Rebecca Reads)
Women of the Silk by G. Tsuriyama
Year of Living Biblically
by AJ Jacobs (reviewed by Andi Lit)
Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes  

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Books Read in February

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout (pub 2014)
The story: Jim and Bob Burgess are middle-aged NYC lawyers, brothers who are as different as they can be. Jim is brisk, successful, rich, well-respected. Bob can't seem to do anything right. He's divorced, childless, sad, and lonely. Also, he accidentally killed their father when he was four-years-old. When their sister Susan's son accidentally commits a hate crime, Jim and Bob have to return to their tiny hometown in Maine to take care of things. Nothing works out right, and all their lives seems to crumble after they reunite in Shirley Falls to "fix" things with Susan.
Me: Oh man. I really loved this book. I had one of those glorious read-on-the-couch all afternoon days, and I was so bummed when I came to the end of the book—even though it was a great ending. Strout's last novel was the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge, which was fantastic, so I was really excited to read this one. This is one dysfunctional family, this Burgess clan, but you really have to root for them. Strout has created some big personalities that we come to know intimately. I miss them already, even though they were often kind of jerks— especially to each other. In the end, it's a story of redemption and family bonds that is beautifully, powerfully written.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. (multiple reread)
The story: Ah, the terrible tale of Ethan Frome, the quiet, desperate man who falls in love with his wife's cousin. If you don't know the story, you probably had a terrible high school English experience. ;)
Me: I've read and taught this so many times, but I still love it. It's so sad. So desperate. So hopeless. It's always great fodder for discussion with young minds who are reading it for the first time. We watched the movie together, too, and the kids found it hysterical.

Train to Trieste by Domnica Radulescu (pub. 2009)
The story: Mona Manoliu is a young Romanian girl who falls madly in love with Mihai, a young man she meets while on summer vacation in the mountains. They have a wild, passionate love affair before she returns home to Bucharest. It's 1977, and Romania is a mess as the Ceausescu regime starves and bleeds its people. Mona's father is a revolutionary, and they live in constant fear that he will be arrested, tortured, and executed. Over the next few years Mona falls more in love with Mihai, but at the same time she suspects that he is part of the secret police. Her life is a constant torment of love and fear, suspicion and regret. Eventually she realizes that her life is in danger, and she flees to the U.S. as an indigent immigrant. She has absolutely nothing but her college transcripts, and she manages to make a solid, but quite sad, life for herself in America. She discovers from friends that Mihai was shot, and eventually she returns to Romania to find out what happened to him.
Me: I loved this book. My son actually found it in a thrift store, read it, and thought I would love it. I did. Radulescu is a beautiful writer. The novel is filled with passion and color while Mona was in Romania, but it was drab and rather depressing in America. I thought that seemed fitting, though, as Mona's life as an immigrant was just hard. I'm not sure I've ever read a novel before that takes place in Romania, and I really appreciated the vivid descriptions of a beautiful country in a brutal political time.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Books Read in January

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The story: In an little English village in the 1950s, an 11-year-old girl stumbles upon a murder scene in her own backyard and resolves to solve the mystery. Dubbed "a combination of Harriet the Spy and Sherlock Holmes," Flavia de Luce goes about the village and outskirts finding clues and digging into the past. She's also a budding chemist with a special penchant for poisons, which could have been interesting but wasn't.
Me: T-e-d-i-o-u-s. I don't have a proper appreciation of precocious 11-year-olds, bumbling and blustering, or British wit. This is one of those books that has been recommended to me several times and I've always meant to read it; however, I cannot even fathom the obsession with this book. Yawn. (This was our January book club pick.)

The Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter
The story: Mouse is an orphan, raised in an Abbey in 13th century Bohemia. Her past is shrouded in mystery. She doesn't know where she came from or who her parents were—or why she has strange and amazing powers. She is training to be a healer, and when the young King Ottakar shows up at the Abbey with life-threatening injuries, she must put her skills to use to save him—or else. When he's healed enough to travel, he orders that she accompany him back to his kingdom as his personal healer. Things heat up between them, despite the difference in their social class, but this isn't a Cinderella story. Ottakar's life is in danger, and Mouse must contend with her own set of horrible problems. The story is filled with mystery, a love story, a tragedy, and supernatural elements that make it quite fascinating.
Me: This isn't my usual genre—a mixture of magical realism, fantasy, and historical fiction—but I loved it. Carpenter is a wonderful storyteller. Her writing is beautiful, and Mouse was a fascinating character. I felt immediately immersed in Mouse's world. It felt kind of enchanted, kind of horrifying, and very entrancing. I was a little confused at a few points in the novel, but I didn't care. I was reminded greatly of Isabelle Allende's novels, and also of Shannon Hale's The Princess Academy. Highly recommended.

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova
The story: The O'Briens are a typical family—they go to work, they fight, they make up, they plan for the future. Joe is a Boston cop, and lately he's been prone to fits of anger and exhaustion. His wife is worried and insists that he see a doctor. What they find out shocks them to their core: Joe has Huntington's disease—and there is a 50% chance that each of their four adult children might also have it. The novel takes us through Joe's diagnosis and subsequent story and also follows his children as they decide whether to find out if they do or don't have the gene.
Me: Lisa Genova never disappoints! Still Alice was incredible. Love Anthony was sad and lovely. Left Neglected was fascinating. Genova holds a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard, and, naturally, her books all explore neurological disorders. That could sound tedious or didactic, but she is neither. Ever. Genova has a gift for making her characters so knowable, so relatable. And then: WHAM! These characters must contend with a medical disorder that Genova explains so wonderfully. I always feel more knowledgeable and more compassionate with each book I finish. I'm greedy, I know, but I can't wait for her next one. Highly recommended.

The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede. (Nonfiction)
The story: 15 years post-9/11 and I've never heard this story. On Sept. 11, all air space into the United States was closed after the terrorists' attacks. But all of these planes were in midair—where were they supposed to land? Gander, Newfoundland, had once been an important landing spot, and this seemed to be the best place for 38 passenger planes to land. The people of Gander—a sleepy town of around 10,000 people—were called into action. They turned every available space into living quarters for nearly 7,000 passengers. Hotels were filled with pilots and flight attendants. The people of Gander fed them, clothed them, entertained them, and comforted them.
Me: This is a great story about the goodness of human beings. This community gathered together and organized at a moment's notice, doubling their population for four days. They opened their homes to strangers, brought their own towels and blankets and clothes to these people, and shared their lives with folks who just wanted to get home. In turn, the passengers—many of whom had loved ones in New York City— were grateful and patient, absorbing the goodness of the people of Gander. It was a wonderful story—a great one to read if you think our world is headed downhill. (This was our February book club pick.)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Books Read in 2015

What a sad, sad year for my SmallWorld Reads blog. I am sure I neglected to record lots of books that I read, and many of these on the list I didn't review. I don't know what happened to me! I didn't read as much, and I somehow wasn't motivated to review much.  According to my list, I read 31 books, but I know there were many that I just forgot to record here. I'm determined to do better in 2016!

My favorite 5 books of the year (not including re-reads) were
  1. Love, Anthony (Lisa Genova)
  2. Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins)
  3. What She Knew(Gilly Macmillan)
  4. Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (Anton diScalfani)
  5. Moloka'i (Alan Brennert)
Here are the books I recorded:
  1.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (multiple reread)
  2. Beekeeper's Apprentice (Laurie King)***
  3. Boston Girl (Anita Diamant)****
  4. The Crucible (multiple reread)
  5. Devil and Miss Prym (Paulo Coelho)***
  6. Everything I Never Told You (Celeste Ng)****
  7. Girl Who Fell From the Sky (Heidi Durrow)***
  8. Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins)*****
  9. Go Set a Watchman (Harper Lee)***
  10. Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)***** - multiple reread
  11. Healing Stones (Nancy Rue)**
  12. Little Princes (Connor Grennan)****
  13. Love Anthony (Lisa Genova)*****
  14. Moloka'i (Alan Brennert)*****
  15. Night Strangers (Chris Bohjalian)***
  16. Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck) -- multiple reread
  17. Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)***** re-read
  18. Princess Academy (Shannon Hale)****
  19. Scarlet Letter (multiple re-read)
  20. Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Orczy)***
  21. Season to Taste (Molly Birnbaum)****
  22. Secrets of Eden (Chris Bohjalian)****
  23. Tenth Gift (Jane Johnson)***
  24. This Boy's Life (Tobias Wolff)****
  25. Under the Same Blue Sky (Pamela Schoenewaldt)***
  26. Undomestic Goddess (Sophie Kinsella)***
  27. Uninvited (Cat Winters)**
  28. What She Knew (Gilly Macmillan)*****
  29. When the Moon Is Low (Nadia Hashimi)****
  30. Widower's Tale (Julia Glass)***
  31. Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (Anton diScalfani)****

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What She Knew

Gilly Macmillan's debut novel, What She Knew, turned out to be one of my favorites of 2015— right up there with The Girl on the Train. When I first read the premise—a little boy disappears in the park— I was a bit hesitant to read it. First, the thought of that happening has always terrified me— but my kids are teens or older now, so I figured I could make it through. Second, I didn't want to read about horrible things that happened to the little boy. The author handled this perfectly, and I had no reason to fear.

Ben and his mother, Rachel, are out for their daily walk in the park. Ben asks to run ahead to the rope swing, and Rachel agrees. When she gets to the rope swing, he's gone. I think probably all parents have experienced that moment of terror— and then that sweet moment of relief when you spy your child's feet as he hides in the racks at Target. But Rachel doesn't have that sweet moment of relief. Ben is really gone.

The rest of the novel follows various characters as the search for Ben begins and continues: Rachel, her ex-husband, and the detective in charge of the search. Everyone is a suspect, and, naturally, Rachel becomes an object of suspicion and hate in the public eye. How could this horrible mother have let her child run ahead in a park? Again, I usually avoid novels that involve child abduction, but Macmillan isn't out to instill fear in parents or give us glimpses into terrifying scenarios.

This was a fantastic psychological thriller, a genre I really need to explore more. I loved Gone Girl, although it was pretty gory and graphic, and The Girl on the Train was brilliant. I really felt like What She Knew was a terrific blending of the two books. It had the heart of The Girl on the Train and the mystery of Gone Girl— but it was more uplifting than either of those books (which, again, I absolutely loved). I stayed up way past my bedtime reading this novel and finished quickly.  Highly recommended.