Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book Review: The Magician's Assistant

I don't know how I missed this Ann Patchett novel. Bel Canto was amazing and State of Wonder was astounding. (I must admit I don't remember Run even after reading my review of it, so that novel must not have made a huge impression on me.) The Magician's Assistant is just delicious. I nearly decided not to read it because magicians are so foreign to me. I have never been mesmerized by their kind of magic. But I'm such a fan of Ann Patchett, and so I began.

Sabine is newly widowed, or more importantly, newly alone and without her best friend of 22 years. The magician Parsifal was her husband by name only. He married Sabine, his assistant, after his partner Phan died solely to provide her with his tremendous inheritance. Parsifal's sudden death throws Sabine into shock and depression. She's alone in a mansion with the memory of a lifetime with Parsifal, and all she wants to do is sleep. But the funeral is barely over when her lawyer reveals to her another shock: Parsifal the magician was indeed a master of deception.

Sabine discovers that Parsifal, her elegant and polished magician who claimed to have been orphaned as a child, was a farm boy named Guy from Nebraska with a living family. Sabine is certain that his family must be cretins for him to have completely erased their existence. When she meets his mother and youngest sister, however, she realizes that they adored Parsifal/Guy. She leaves the comforts of California for Nebraska in the winter, to bask in the adoration of Parsifal's family—including another sister and two nephews— and find out why he left them all behind.

Ann Patchett is a beautiful writer. Her sentences are constructed like the most delicious desserts, to be savored and lingered upon. And what a storyteller! Every character, even the manager of Parsifal's store, is clearly depicted and richly drawn. I can still see even that minor character and smell the rugs at the store. Phan and Parsifal reveal specific information to Sabine often in dreams, adding an Isabel Allende-like magical realism quality to the novel. I don't usually love this kind of thing, probably mostly because no one ever comes to me and reveals vital information in dreams, but it completely works in this novel.

Highly recommended.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Review: The Keeper of Secrets

I read this book a few weeks ago and remember it well, but not because of the title. Sometimes a title just doesn't fit a book, and this is one of those times.

But I digress, and I haven't even started. I liked this book by Julie Thomasin spite of the title that I could never remember. (Maybe that has something to do with reading Kate Morton's The Secret Keeper earlier this year.) The story follows a 1742 Guarneri del Gesú violin as it is passed—and stolen—from person to person across several generations.

It begins in 1942 with the Horowitz family, a wealthy, cultured Jewish family of gifted musicians. Everything changes for them on Krystallnacht, when all of the family's possessions are confiscated by the Nazis. The family members are sent to concentration camps. Simon, the second son, survives Dachau only because of he is a gifted musician and is forced to play for the guards.

The violin's next life is with a Russian family, who deceptively procured the violin through the horrors of war. Sergei Valentino's beloved aunt believes her father when he tells her that he bought the Guarneri del Gesú, and it is passed on to Sergei when she is murdered. (That's another story line.) Sergei ultimately becomes a billionaire and a great patron of the arts.

Eventually the owners of the violin meet up in the present time, when 14-year-old violin virtuoso Daniel Horowitz decides he'd rather play baseball than the violin. While the stories of Simon Horowitz in Germany and the Valentinos in Russia were superb and positively riveting, this whole plot line was weak. The revealing of the violin's true ownership was confusing and way too complicated. Daniel was a fairly well-defined character, but his interaction with his mother was just silly. And the whole refusing to play violin because he wanted to play backyard baseball was silly, too. I would have liked the novel better without the intrusion of Daniel's story, or with Daniel's story being as compelling as that of the other sections.

That said, I really liked this novel. The Dachau section itself was amazing, even more so for me because my oldest son actually visited Dachau as I was reading the novel. It was terribly sobering to see his pictures of Dachau as I read Simon's story. The author's research on the violin's history was also excellent. Recommended—but be prepared to be annoyed with the contemporary story.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book Review: Ender's Game

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card was our book club choice for December's discussion. Not only was it one of our member's favorite all-time books as a young adult, but we like to do the book-to-movie thing as a group every now and then.

Ender's Game isn't our typical book club read, and that was kind of the point. We are making a deliberate effort to read books this year in each member's favorite genre. I'm not generally a sci-fi, fantasy, horror, detective, or even mystery reader; however, it is an excellent challenge to branch out occasionally and retry a genre.

Unfortunately, few of our members ended up reading the novel. Word got around that it was filled with violent children, and that was enough to send half the members scurrying away. Who wants to read about six-year-olds beating each other senseless? I admit I began as a reluctant reader, but I quickly got sucked into the story.

First, don't let the violent children scare you away. It is immediately obvious that these are not normal kids nor is this the Earth we know. This is a world in which children are bred to be geniuses and soldiers. It is their responsibility to save Earth from the hostile aliens, known as the Buggers.

Ender is chosen, but his brother Peter, who is nearly as brilliant, is not. Ender, though a fierce soldier, has a compassionate side, but Peter is cruel and psychotic. Ender is the absolute cream of the crop, and he is recruited at age 6 to begin the intense training that will turn him from boy to military commander. While he knows he was born for this, Ender must leave his parents and his beloved sister, Valentine, who is the one person that knows him completely and adores him.

Most of the novel goes through Ender's military training at Battle School, which I found surprising engrossing. Again, this is really not my kind of a book, but I loved it. Ender is a sweet, brilliant boy who basically always makes good decisions. You just can't help but root for him.

I am not sure this was the best book club choice since half (or fewer) of the members actually read it; however, I am really glad that I stepped outside my usual genre for this. And I really can't wait to see the movie!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Book Review: The Taste of Apple Seeds

I absolutely love the title and the cover of Katharina Hagena's The Taste of Apple Seeds, which spent two years as a bestseller in Germany and was recently translated into English. As an orchardist's daughter, I well know the taste of apple seeds: bitter and woody, a disappointing end that should be spit out. I'd like to say I could make an analogy to a character in the book, but I didn't quite get there.

The story focuses on three generations of women: Iris and her cousin, Iris's mother and her sisters, and Iris's grandmother and her sister. Unfortunately, I kept getting the names mixed up. Had the author used the terms "Grandmother" and "Mom" and "Aunt So-and-So," I would have been able to follow the story better. As it was, I had to keep flipping back to figure out the placement of Anna, Bertha, Christa, Inga and Harriet. That, no doubt, is my own fault as a reader who falls asleep after 15 minutes, night after night. But still, it is distracting and takes away from the fluidity of the novel.

Iris, as the sole survivor of the third generation and heiress of her grandmother's estate, is the collector of family stories. Anna, Bertha, Christa, Inga and Harriet all had stories that Iris needed to discover and tell. Anna and Bertha loved the same man; Inga sparks, literally; Christa misses home; and Harriet's beloved daughter, Iris's cousin, dies in an accident I never quite understood. The stories were all interesting, although told in a confusing fashion. I was left with many questions, a sense of being unfulfilled by the vignettes. (Again, that could be my lack of proper concentration.)

But I really liked the story of Iris and Max, a childhood friend with whom she reunites. I love that Iris dressed in all the old dresses and rode her bike around town. I liked that she was clumsy and unsure of herself.  But I found some things so perplexing that I got hung up on them. Like why, for example, Iris loves to swim in the lake in one paragraph ("I always felt secure when I swam") and yet was terrified of what was under the water in another ("I was afraid of the dead stretching out their soft white hands to me, huge pikes that might be swimming under me, places where the water suddenly turned very cold")? Those kinds of contradictions in character confuse me.

I'm not giving a rousing recommendation, I know. I actually liked the novel. The stories of the women were all intriguing and unique. I just had trouble following them. Perhaps I am too orderly and lack proper concentration skills.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Book Review: Ghost on Black Mountain

Ann Hite's Ghost on Black Mountain was our book club pick for October. Our book club usually runs 25% discussion about the book and 75% general chatting about other things, but Ghost on Black Mountain generated quite a lot of book talk. And, amazingly, for we are a diverse group of readers, we all loved the novel.

The novel begins with Nellie, a 17-year-old Appalachian girl who falls in love with the wrong guy, Hobbs Pritchard. He sweeps her away from her mother and the only home she's ever known and takes her way up the mountain. She quickly discovers that he is Black Mountain's resident tyrant, hated and feared by everyone. Left alone in their big house while Hobbs goes off to do his dirty work, Nellie begins encountering ghosts who seem to want to warn her, not harm her.

Nellie is a sweet, likeable girl married to pure evil; fortunately, the people on Black Mountain, although suspicious of her at first, realize this and rally around her eventually. But I can't reveal any of that part of the story without spoilers.

The second part of the book is told from various POVs, including Nellie's mother and Hobbs's girlfriend. Nellie comes back at the end to tell the rest of her story—and her daughter's story. The novel is filled with all kinds of twists, sprinklings of Appalachian folklore and traditions, rich characters, and lyrical storytelling.

With this novel, Ann Hite joins Amy Greene (Bloodroot) and Sharyn McCrumb (She Walks These Hills) as a distinctive Appalachian voice, one who can flawlessly weave together ghosts, folklore, and everyday characters in a book that the reader just doesn't want to put down. Highly recommended.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Book Review: Nowhere but Home

I loved Liza Palmer's Conversations with the Fat Girl and liked her More Like Her, so I was excited to get a chance to review Nowhere but Home (published by William Morrow 2013).  I like coming home tales, ones that challenge the "you can't go home again" conversation.

In this novel, Texan-turned-Yankee Queenie Wake is fired from her chef's job once again, and she finally admits a sort of defeat and heads back to her tiny Texas town. She's the daughter of the town's deceased tramp, who bestowed upon her the unfortunate name, Queen Elizabeth. She and her sister—the mother of the town's quarterback— have always been considered the city's trash. But she's been gone for a decade, and Queenie realizes that she doesn't have to accept that title anymore.

The novel takes a fascinating twist as Queenie accepts a job at the local prison, cooking last meals for death-row inmates. I found this part of the novel particularly intriguing. I never considered that this  is actually a job, and yet it must be fulfilled. I appreciated Palmer's thoughtful and insightful treatment of both Queenie, the inmates, and the prison staff.

Besides the coming-home theme and the wonderful look into last meals, Palmer includes a satisfying romance. As one might predict, the daughter of the town tramp and the son of the town's richest family once had a secret and powerful romance.  The are bound to meet up again, and their story unfolds bit by bit.

I think what I loved the most about this novel, besides the death-row parts, was the unraveling of all of Queenie's assumptions. She realizes in the course of the novel that she didn't always know the whole story and that many of her decisions and choices were based on only partial information. This is generally true for all of us, of course, but I enjoyed watching a character have "a-ha!" moments, moments of redemption.

Palmer is funny, insightful, and a great writer of dialogue. Highly recommended!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Book Review: Autobiography of Us

This debut novel by Aria Beth Sloss tells the story of a lifelong friendship that probably should have been ditched in college. One friend is independent, the other is clingy and needy. The setting: California in the 1960s, and, yes, it is just as stereotypical as all those 60s images floating in your head right now. I believe the main character even hangs out in Haight-Ashbury at some point in the novel.

But still, I read the whole novel, and I have gotten to the point in my life that I will toss aside novels that feel like a complete waste of time. Sloss writes well, but she tried to cram way too much into this novel. The characters were really quite defined in themselves, but their relationships were not clear. Why were these women even friends ever? She skipped over that whole part mostly. I needed their friendship to have a more solid foundation in order to justify such a relationship that one's whole life revolves around. The motivations were unclear. I ended the novel feeling like I missed something—the essence of the story was lost. Everyone was just too depressing and resigned without any clear reasons. I want some kind of resolution in a novel, some redeeming quality. 

I always feel apologetic when I give a negative review, so let me end on a positive note: Aria Beth Sloss has it in her to write a fantastic novel, and even now she's published a novel that a lot of people really like, according to the amazon reviews.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Book Review: State of Wonder

It was my lucky day when I found Ann Patchett's State of Wonder at a thrift store. I've had this on my reading list for a year—who would donate it to a thrift store? This book should be passed from friend to friend with a strong "you MUST read this!"

The story opens when pharmaceutical researcher Marina Singh gets the cryptic news that her colleague and friend, Anders, died of a fever while trying to find a fellow researcher who's gone AWOL in the Amazon. Now Marina must take Anders' place, trying to find the elusive Dr. Swenson, who has spent years on the Amazon perfecting a drug that will allow women to continue having children into old age. Mr. Fox, CEO of the pharmaceutical company that is fully financing the project, wants Dr. Swenson to hold up her end of the deal.

Once in the Amazon and among the Lakashi people, Marina adjusts admirably and is approved of by the elusive, sometimes brutal Dr. Swenson. The secret fertility "drug" of the Lakashi people is revealed, and Marina understands that she can never report the truth back to Mr. Fox.

And that's really all I can reveal about the plot. Patchett's writing is beautiful. Her description of the Amazon and life in the tribe is fantastic. She is a beautiful, lyrical writer. I've read reviews that criticize Patchett's lack of expertise in the medical and pharmaceutical field, but I didn't care one bit. I thought the story whole plausible and beautifully written.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Book Review: And the Mountains Echoed

I was thrilled to get my hands on Khaled Hosseini's newest novel last week. I loved The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns in the way that one can love incredibly sad books. Hosseini's third novel does not disappoint. This is the kind of book that, when I at last finished and put it down, I just sat on the couch thinking about it, remembering characters and stories and how they all tied together.

This incredible novel follows many paths, characters wind in and out, sometimes barely linked but always going back to the theme of family, home, sacrifice, loss, and redemption. The novel starts with Pari and her big brother Abdullah on a journey with their father. The siblings have an unusually strong bond, and an early twist in the novel leaves the reader feeling the sting of their separation.

From there, the stories follow various characters who are somehow linked to Pari and Abdullah, and we return to Pari and Abdullah several times as well. These are characters who make both terrible and wonderful choices, who struggle and fail—or succeed, who find love or lose love, who find a place to call home or lose home, who break bonds and sometimes forge new, stronger ones. Hosseini is a master storyteller, a poet, an artist of the finest degree. I could have read 800 more pages of this novel if Hosseini had written them and never tired of the stories. And yet I was completely satisfied when I finished, even though not all the endings were happy by far.

As with Hosseini's other novels, much of the narrative takes place in Kabul, but the setting isn't as critical to this novel. Still, the Afghanistan landscape and culture, its poverty and violence, play significantly into most of the stories. This novel is full of loss but it's much less tragic than the other two novels. Highly recommended.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review: Bloom

Kelle Hampton of Enjoying the Small Things had everything ready for her new baby girl, down to party favors for delivery room visitors and a chalkboard sign ready at home welcoming the baby to their perfect American family: two half-brothers and a sister already at home.

What never entered Kelle's mind is that Nella Cordelia might not be who Kelle thought she would be—something she knew intuitively the minute Nella was placed in her arms. In this memoir, Kelle takes us through her journey from the moment she realized Nella had Down syndrome through their first year together: a year filled with heartache, acceptance, incredible joy, and a more accurate definition of perfection.

Kelle is an upbeat, young, hip mom. She wears cute clothes and makes party favors for delivery room visitors. (People do that?) The last thing she would have imagined is that her daughter isn't…"perfect." This is not what she signed up for; this does not fit her dreams. Kelle is honest about her initial disappointment. She never glosses over the shock of being told her baby has Down syndrome. She admits the terrible burden of guilt of wishing Nella were someone else. I think that must be really hard to do, knowing you are going to have critical readers who call you a selfish person.

This memoir isn't so much about Nella; it is almost entirely about Kelle's personal journey. I admit that I skipped large portions of the second half of the book because it seemed redundant, and I didn't need to know all the organizations she'd spoken to, parties she had attended, etc. Kelle is less of a lyrical memoir writer and more Pioneer-Womanish, so if you like a hip, sometimes flippant and less poetic style, this is a great memoir to read.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Book Review: A Land More Kind Than Home

The front cover declares this novel by Wiley Cash "as if Cormac McCarthy decided to rewrite Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird." And so of course, because I love both of those authors—Harper Lee much more than McCarthy—I was intrigued.

And if that comparison wasn't enough, the novel has snake handlers, and I am fascinated and repulsed by the notion of snake-handling churches. I read Fred Brown's nonfiction The Serpent Handlers several years ago, so I had a basic understanding of the whys and hows of the snake-handling tradition.

This is the story of nine-year-old Jess and how his family fell apart—how he lost everything at the hands of one evil man, disguised as a pastor. It's also the story of love gone awry, selfishness and sacrifice, children lost, revenge and forgiveness, and redemption.

The story unfolds through three voices: Adelaide, the town's midwife who knows children shouldn't watching adults handling writing serpents; Jess, the fierce protector of his older brother, Stump, who can't speak for himself; and Clem, the sheriff who can't prevent tragic outcomes. The center of all the evil is Pastor Chambliss, a low-life crook who is charismatic enough to seduce a whole congregation into snake-handling—and covering up his mistakes.

There are a lot of "how coulds" in this novel: how could Jess's mother…, how could his father…, how could all these people… —but I can't spoil the novel by investigating those specifically. The question really is: what is lost inside a person that makes them follow a single person so blindly?

It's a tragic book, really, but so beautifully written. The reader wants to best for nearly everyone who is left at the end, and I can't say I like to think about how Jess will turn out as an adult. If Cash writes a sequel, I'd snatch it up in a second.

Highly recommended. Cash is a fantastic writer and storyteller. There was nothing distracting about this novel, and I could have read twice as much of it. I also recommend Brown's book The Serpent Handlers alongside Cash's novel. This is our book club's choice for next month, so I look forward to the discussion and reactions.

Linked up at Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale

I read this book by Diane Setterfield many years ago and absolutely loved it. (My woefully short review is here.) I just spent a lovely weekend re-reading it for book club. This is one of those times I am grateful that I can rarely remember what happens in books and movies because I had forgotten everything that happens in this wonderful novel.

First of all, Setterfield is a beautiful writer. Her prose is poetry, her insight speaks to my core. Next, Setterfield is a masterful storyteller. This is a book that is hard to put down, the kind you keep thinking about as you go about your day and can't wait to get back to when your day's activities are finished. I even took the luxury of reading this one on the couch during the day, which I don't usually do.

This is a kind of ghost story, a mystery, a love story, a story of families gone horribly wrong and also being repaired or forged anew.  It's a story of discoveries and confirmations. Famous author Vida Winter is dying, and she wants someone to tell her true story. She picks Margaret, a quiet young woman who works in her father's bookstore.  Margaret reluctantly enters into this relationship as Vida Winter's biographer but ultimately does everything she can to find the truth in Vida's tale.

The novel was a big hit in our book club, and we rarely all love a book. One of our members pointed out that it is extremely disturbing. There are scenes that are hard to scrub out of one's memory, although I assured her that I had no recollection of those scenes these many years after reading it for the first time. We all agreed that we wanted to underline whole paragraphs because Setterfield's writing is so beautiful, especially when she is talking about the power of families and the necessity of books.

I'm glad I had a chance to read The Thirteenth Tale again, and I am excited to see that Setterfield finally has another novel due to be published in November, Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story. If you like Kate Morton, you'll love Diane Setterfield.

Linked up at Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books

Friday, June 28, 2013

Book Review: Breakfast at Tiffany's and Other Voices, Other Rooms

I have had these two novellas on my TBR list forever—at least for 20 years. It was about 20 years ago that Nanci Griffith came out with the album "Other Voices, Other Rooms." On the cover photo, she is holding that book by Truman Capote, so I've always known I need to read it.

So when we were in Paris, we went to the famous Shakespeare and Company, and we each wanted to buy a special book there. I saw a beautiful hardback copy of these two Truman Capote novellas together, and I snatched it up. And I'm glad I did, although I can't say I love either one, as much as I wanted to.

Breakfast at Tiffany's: When I was a little girl, I played "Moon River"—from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's— on the piano, and I've always meant to see the movie. I still haven't (I know, I know, and it's even on Netflix) but I will soon. The book was not was I expected. To be clear, Capote is a beautiful writer. There is no doubt about that. He is lyrical and lovely. But the novel itself... Somehow I just always see Audrey Hepburn and hear "Moon River," so I wasn't prepared for this very sad and disturbing story of Holly Golightly, a 19-year-old orphan-turned-society-girl who will do just about anything to climb higher up the social ladder. She wraps everyone around her little finger, completely disregarding their feelings, and then discards them when they are no longer useful. She's so often called "endearing" by critics for her eccentricity and flightiness, but I just found her to be selfish.

Other Voices, Other Rooms: One word—creepy. Joel is a 13-year-old boy who hasn't seen his father since he was an infant but must go live with him when his mother dies. Joel, a city boy, must adjust to a bizarre household in a rotting plantation manor that includes his stepmother, creepy cousin Randolph, and two servants, all wrapped up in secrets. This is southern Gothic for sure, and I never knew what weirdness was lurking around the corner. There was quite a bit of a freak show feel to the novel, with those kind of wonderful southern characters that are one step away from an asylum.

I'm glad I read these two short novels finally. I loved In Cold Blood, even though I know it's not "typical" of Capote's writings. I've also read several of his short stories and especially loved the collection The Grass Harp. Tiffany's and Other Voices are not among my favorites of Capote, but I'm still glad I read them.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Sunday Salon: Mid-Year Review

My book blogging has reached a new low in these past six months, but I'm trying to catch up with regular reviews! I am slowly, slowly catching up, but some of these links will go to rather than my own review.

Books Read January 1–June 1

Best Books So Far
  • Unbroken: an absolutely stunning novel about survival and resilience during WWII (nonfiction)
  • The Story of Beautiful Girl: Absolutely mesmerizing story of  Lynnie, a beautiful inmate at the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded; Homan, a deaf man who is also locked away there; and Martha, a widow in her 70s who becomes tangled in their lives.
  • Expecting Adam:  Martha and John, young Harvard graduate students, find out the life-changing news: their unborn baby, a boy, has Down Syndrome. They are shocked beyond words. This is Harvard, the land of geniuses and IQs off the charts. There is no room in Harvard for anything "less" than "perfect." Terminate now, they are told over and over again. This is their family's beautiful story. (memoir)
  • And, well, of course I have to add To Kill a Mockingbird, which I read again while teaching American Lit. It just never loses it's magic for me.

Biggest Surprises
The good: What Alice Forgot. I almost put this one back on the shelf because the jacket description sounded silly, but I absolutely loved this story of what we'd like to keep forgotten.

The bad: Other Voices, Other Rooms. I've been wanting to read this Truman Capote novel for decades—since singer/songwriter Nanci Griffith came out with her album by the same name. She's holding a copy of the novel on the album cover. (Yes, I know there aren't "albums" anymore, but you know what I mean.) I was pretty disappointed in this short novel, which I actually bought with delight at Shakespeare and Co. Bookseller while we were in Paris.

Books Read in Book Club
  • Interred with Their Bones. Mixed reviews in book club, but the general consensus was similar to my review.
  • Moonflower Vine. Well-received. Those who read it loved it!
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Unfortunately that was a book club in which only a few members could come, so we didn't have much discussion. But this is one of my favorites! I did a paper on it in graduate school.
I must admit that I did not read the other two books for Book Club. Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods was one. I detest this book. OK, I actually only read a few chapters of it a few years ago, but I threw it across the room. I just couldn't bear to hear about a guy who can go buy anything he wants to randomly hike the A.T. because he thinks it would be a great story. My husband has a lifelong dream of hiking the A.T., so I have personal issues, I know. The other book was The Paris Wife, the story of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley. I'd still like to read this one, but I thought I was going to be absent from book club that month. And while I didn't read The Paris Wife, we did pay homage to Hemingway's digs and neighborhood while we were in Paris.

Where Hemingway and Hadley lived in Paris

Movies/Plays from Books
• With my American Lit class, I watched The Crucible and Ethan Frome. I loved both of them, although I've seen them both before. We're going to be getting together this summer to watch To Kill a Mockingbird and a few other classic movies based on American literature.
• We also went to see the play A Raisin in the Sun at the Clarence Brown Theatre at the campus of U. Tenn.  The kids seemed to like the play pretty well. I love hearing them discuss how this actor wasn't what he expected, or how a particular scene was done differently that she imagined from reading the play.
• I watched Sarah's Key finally. I liked it well enough, but it's been years since I read the book. I've heard others say they didn't like the movie at all because it deviated so much from the book; fortunately, I have a short memory for such things.
• I'm really looking forward to seeing The Great Gatsby. I re-read the novel (my old college copy) on the train from Paris to Normandy and loved it almost as much as I did way back when. I think I loved it most in college, but I remember some great discussions from my high school English class as well. We got to France right before the movie was released, and the metro was plastered with movie posters. They're excited in France, too!

Added to My TBR List
  1. The Keeper of Secrets by Julie Thomas.
  2. The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls  by Anton Disclafani.
  3. A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
  4. The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls 
  5. 41 False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers by Janet Malcolm 
  6. Ghost Moth by Michele Forbes 
  7. Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
  8. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini 
  9. Riding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel Simon
  10. The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy 
  11. Clair de Lune by Jetta Carleton 
  12. In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab 
  13. Autobiography of Us by Aria Beth Sloss 
  14. Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
  15. Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull 
  16. Astray by Emma Donoghue
  17. The Round House by Louise Erdrich  
  18. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo 
  19. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Mataxas 

And last, but not least, a few more bookish photos from our trip to France!

Jesse at Baudelaire's grave

Samuel Beckett, no longer waiting for Godot

Victor Hugo's tomb marker in the crypt beneath the Pantheon

And a bit about Les Mis while in the Paris sewers. Yes, really.

My oldest, an English major, loved the booksellers along the Seine

Breathing in the history, walking in the footsteps of great writers!

We all had to buy a book or two.

Beneath the Pantheon.

And that is my mid-year update! Now, to get back to regular book reviews!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Book Review: Unbroken

Since starting a year-long World War II study  with my 12-year-old, I've been told many times that I must read Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. I am so glad I finally did.

This is the true story of Louis Zamperini, a punk kid turned Olympic athlete turned bombardier—and then POW. Zamperini's story is an incredible story of strength, faith, and determination on so many levels. After his plane crashes into the sea while searching for another plane, Zamperini and two other men survive and drift in a tiny raft for 47 days, drinking only rainwater, eating birds and an occasional fish, and fighting off sharks. One man dies, and eventually Zamperini and Phil wash up on land, only to find themselves at the mercy of the Japanese.

For the next two and a half years, Zamperini endures unbelievable atrocities at the hands of his Japanese captors. Although nearly all the guards are brutal, Louis becomes the particular favorite of Mutsuhiro "The Bird" Watanabe, a psychotic sadist who finds particular pleasure in torturing Louis. Starved and diseased in general, Louis endures daily beatings that leave him unconscious and psychological battering that leave him terrified but determined to survive.

When the camp was liberated in 1945, the 700 men were skeletons, battered almost beyond recognition. Louis had been pronounced dead years before, but his family refused to believe it. The world was shocked and skeptical to hear that this beloved Olympic athlete was still alive. But Louis has years of torture still to come, as his life after the war was haunted by The Bird.

To say this was an incredible story is an understatement. I don't often weep while reading, but I wept during many parts of this book. What these men endured is just mind-boggling—and how their captors could be so cruel is equally mind-boggling. It is uplifting to see how the human spirit can be so resilient, yet terrifying to imagine the flip side of that: that humans can be so vicious and inhumane.

Don't miss this book. It is an incredible story, and in spite of the subject matter, an incredibly uplifting one.

More World War II books reviewed here.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Book Review: The Dovekeepers

I didn't know what I was getting into with Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers, but I had been told by a friend that this was her book club's favorite. And wow! She was right—this was an absolutely stunning novel.

First of all, I didn't realize when I began the novel that all roads were leading to the real story of Masada, a mountain fortress where 900 Jewish rebels held out against the Roman army until it was no longer feasible. I probably skimmed the book flaps, so I was through at least a quarter of the book before it clicked. I had to read up on Masada a bit to get some context, and that helped tremendously.

The Dovekeepers tells the stories of four extraordinary women who end up at Masada: Yael, a young woman whose father despises her because her mother died in childbirth; Revka, the Baker's Wife, who watched her daughter brutally murdered; Azizah, who is more comfortable as a warrior than as a woman; and Shirah, known as "the witch of Moab." The stories are told separately but are interconnected, all touching each other and building to an incredible ending. All but two women and five children killed themselves at Masada. As the reader figures out, two of these four women will survive. But who?

I loved Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion series, which chronicles a similar time period. I've been immersed in Old Testament stories my entire life, but I love having the culture—the religious and social customs—fleshed out and vividly portrayed. Hoffman is simply masterful at creating this world with all its violence, passion, religious fervor, sorrow, and utter despair.

The book takes work for the reader. You have to really concentrate on the characters and carry them through from section to section, remembering who is who. This is a novel to concentrate on, not to read in snippets here and there. But it is so worth it. Highly recommended, both on a historical level and as a novel of the endurance of the human spirit.

Linked up with Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Book Review: What Alice Forgot

I almost put this book by Liane Moriarty back on the shelf. After reading the inside flap, I thought it sounded silly and wondered why I had it on my TBR list. Plus, I didn't like the cover. But because I am determined to make a dent in my TBR list this year, I checked it out. And I'm so glad I did!

The book's description makes it sound silly and flippant, but this book is anything but silly. Alice has a terrible fall, bangs her head, and wakes up in the hospital—and she's lost 10 terrible years of her life. Alice has no memory of having become a cold, brittle, callous woman who wears expensive clothes, has a personal trainer, does her kids' science projects so they'll win everything, and has filed for divorce. She remembers only that she is expecting her first child and is blissfully married to the love of her life.

It isn't one of those terrible amnesia stories but an incredibly thought-provoking tale of: how did I become this person? How did I stray so far from who I really am—and who am I, really? I found myself rooting for the old Alice, cheering for her as she ditches her rich and snotty friends. At the same time I felt incredibly sad, knowing that her lifestyle before her head injury is so common and so damaging to kids and marriages.

In the end, it's a book largely of do-overs. What if you had the gift of being able to forget all the horrible mistakes you made in a decade—but had to forget the births of your children and all those precious memories, too?

Highly recommended.

Linked up with the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book Review: City of Thieves

Lots and lots of people have told me that I need to read David Benioff's City of Thieves, and they were right. The novel is based on the author's grandfather's stories of surviving WWII in Russia. It's a stark, frightening picture of survival, but there was something terribly heartwarming about the novel.

It's during the Seige in Leningrad. People are starving, doing anything to survive. Seventeen-year-old Lev Beniov is caught trying to steal from a German paratrooper's dead body. Rather than being executed, he and another young prisoner are charged with what seems to be an impossible task: they must find a dozen eggs for the colonel's daughter's wedding cake. Lev is a shy, articulate son of a famous Russian poet; his unlikely partner is the boisterous, reckless Kolya, an army deserter.

The two take off across the city and through the countryside in search of eggs. People are starving everywhere. Lev and Kolya take incredible risks, but both are so certain that they are going to die, it doesn't seem to matter. The are completely mismatched. Where Lev lacks confidence, Kolya is bold. Where Kolya is rash, Lev is cautious and thoughtful. I liked both of them tremendously.

The story is incredibly heartbreaking but still uplifting. It's a coming of age story for Lev, a war story, and a romance all tied into one tight, beautifully written novel. Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Book Review: Expecting Adam—A True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic

"Now I think that the vast majority of us 'normal' people spend our lives trashing our treasures and treasuring our trash. We bustle around trying to create the impression that we are hip, imperturbable, omniscient, in perfect control, when in fact we are awkward and scared and bewildered. … Living with Adam, loving Adam, has taught me a lot about the truth. He has taught me to look at things in themselves, not at the value a brutal and often senseless world assigns to them."

In the memoir Expecting Adam, Martha Beck and her husband John are a young couple caught up in the crazy haze of graduate school at Harvard and new parenthood. Harvard looms like an overbearing, impossible-to-please parent in every corner of their world; the pressure to succeed at Harvard eclipses everything else in their lives. Their world consists of tag-team parenting, little sleep, constant rushing, and determination to stay on top.

And then Martha discovers that she is pregnant again, just as they were starting to figure out how to balance Katie, their toddler, with Harvard and John's new consulting job in Singapore. Martha writes that "motherhood had made me the odd person out among my classmates; they were polite and kind to me but understandably less than fascinated by the details of my life as a nursing mother. I would show up at class after a night in the emergency room, where Katie had been put through a battery of hideously painful tests to determine the cause of some raging illness, and pretend that I really cared abut the contrast between Karl Marx's view of historical necessity and Max Weber's."

Martha is violently ill during pregnancy, barely able to function. A couple of women she barely knew show up at her door, bearing food and emotional support, and she makes actual true friends for the first time in her adult life. Every day is  a struggle for Martha and for John during the weeks that he is at Harvard, but they manage—barely.

Martha was violently ill during her first pregnancy, too, but this one is different. She has all kinds of dreams and intuits that something is not right with this pregnancy, and yet rather than panicking, she feels oddly comforted. She finds out much, much later, even years later, that John had similar experiences.

And then they find out the life-changing news: the unborn baby, a boy, has Down Syndrome. They are shocked beyond words. This is Harvard, the land of geniuses and IQs off the charts. There is no room in Harvard for anything "less" than "perfect." Terminate now, they are told over and over again. John's Harvard mentor, some kind of demi-god, tells John that his career is over if they have this baby.

John and Martha, though both raised in Mormon homes, aren't religious. Both are staunchly pro-choice. But the idea of aborting their baby is abhorrent to Martha and ultimately to John. They have no idea what they will do with a baby with Down Syndrome, but Martha's skills as a researcher kick in, and she finds out everything she can (which, at the time, wasn't much).

From the moment they find out they are expecting Adam, everything changes for Martha and John and Katie. They go from living a life of outrageously high expectations to a life of quiet expectation and joy.

"I really thought there would be a miracle," said John softly… "I really thought God would fix him."
I considered that for a minute. "Maybe he didn't need fixing," I said. "Maybe he's the only one of us who was never broken."
John looked at me. "Are you broken, sweetheart?"
"I was," I said. "Not anymore."
"Same here," said John. He paused, then gave me a smile—not his manic Harvard grin but a real smile, one that contained all the sorrow of the past months, along with the joy. "So," he said, "there's your miracle."

By the time Adam is born, John and Martha are changed people. They are ready to escape the Harvard life and embrace a calmer life focused on nurturing relationships.  As Martha says, "I have had to unlearn virtually everything Harvard taught me about what is precious and what is garbage. I have discovered that many of the things I thought were priceless are as cheap as costume jewelry, and much of what I labeled worthless was, all the time, filled with the kidn of beauty that directly nourishes my soul."

Highly recommended. Martha's writing is fantastic and the story is one you can hardly put down.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Book Review: The Story of Beautiful Girl

Oh my goodness. Having a head cold is kinda miserable but kinda awesome—awesome because I was too miserable to do anything but lie in bed and read for two whole days. I read three novels. I'm thinking about maybe faking a cold each month.

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon: I can hardly even say how much I loved this. The story is about Lynnie, a beautiful inmate at the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded; Homan, a deaf man who is also locked away there; and Martha, a widow in her 70s who becomes tangled in their lives.

Lynnie and Homan are madly in love and have managed to escape the institution—but only for long enough for Lynnie to give birth to a baby girl. They seek refuge briefly with Martha, and Lynnie begs her to hide the baby. Martha does—for decades.

The rest of the novel spans 40 years or more, reflecting on Lynnie's and Homan's childhoods and reasons for being at the institution; detailing their terrible lives within the facility; following Martha and Julia's life together; and unfolding how their lives, forever intertwined, ultimately are restored.

I absolutely loved this novel. Simon is a compassionate but not overly sentimental writer. All the characters were richly drawn and practically palpable. She has obviously done tons of research on this history of mental institutions and institutional reform. I have put her memoir Riding the Bus with My Sister, her journey of riding a bus with her intellectually disabled sister, on my TBR list. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

Like most kids, I was fascinated with the Guinness Book of World Records, especially the editions with the medical anomalies: the Chinese conjoined twin brothers who were married to sisters, the "caterpillar" man, the lady with half a twin coming out of her belly, the tallest man in the world, and the smallest couple ever, General and Mrs. Tom Thumb. I think a part of me, as a child, never really believed those people to be real—they must be some trick of Guinness's.

But Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump—Vinnie—was a real person, and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin is her fictionalized story, based on Vinnie's journals, various historical documents, and lots of imagination.

You've probably see photos of the tiny famous couple, General and Mrs. Tom Thumb. They were tiny humans (she was 2 feet, 8 inches tall), born with a form of proportionate dwarfism, touted by the great P.T. Barnum himself as "perfectly formed people in miniature." This is Vinnie's story, one of defying the odds and become first a schoolteacher and then a worldwide star, known as the "Little Queen of Beauty," who dined with royalty and attended parties with the Astors and other society kings and queens. It's also the story of a young woman torn by her love for his sister and her love for a man she can't have, a woman who can't seem to find her own real identity.

I absolutely loved this novel. Melanie Benjamin is a fabulous storyteller; Vinnie's voice comes through loud and clear. Vinnie is pragmatic, courageous, and terribly smart. I loved the friendship formed between Vinnie and Barnum, as well as the relationship—especially the moments that almost happen— with her husband, Charles Stratton (AKA, Tom Thumb).

I think Vinnie would love to know her story has been told, fictionalized though it is, and I suspect the great P.T. Barnum himself might find it amusing—and partly true. Really excellent read!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Sunday Salon: My Ever-Growing TBR List (2013)

In 2012 I added 38 books to my TBR list and marked off 19. Some year perhaps I'll challenge myself to only reading books from my TBR list so I can actually make some progress! I've adjusted my 2012 list for 2013 by marking off those books I read last year.

If you've reviewed any of these books on your blog, feel free to post a comment with the link and I'll add it to my list.
*Indicates books added in 2013

*41 False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers by Janet Malcolm
An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
*And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (read and reviewed 7/13)
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
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 Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin (read and reviewed 2/13)
*Autobiography of Us by Aria Beth Sloss (read and reviewed 10/13)
*The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy 
Barefoot in Baghdad by Manal M. Omar (reviewed at Bookworm's Dinner)
Before the Storm by Diane Chamberlain
The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (read and reviewed 3/14)
Behind the Burqa by Sulima and Hala (reviewed by Semicolon)
Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio
Blood Hollow by W. Krueger
Blood of Flowers
by A. Amirrezvani
Blood Work
by M Connelly
Book of a Thousand Days by S. Hale (reviewed on Semicolon and Maw Books)
Book of Lost Things by J. Connelly
Bootletter’s Daughter by M. Maron
Born on a Blue Day by D. Tammet (reviewed on Sam’s Book Blog)
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote (read and reviewed 6/13)
*Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. 
City of Thieves by David Benioff (read and reviewed 3/13)
*Clair de Lune by Jetta Carleton 
Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eye Ward
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
Deadline by Randy Alcorn
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)
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (read and reviewed 4/13)
Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew (read and reviewed 3/14) 
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (Reviewed at S. Krishna's Books)
Executioner's Song by Mailer
Expecting Adam by Martha Beck (read and reviewed 3/13)
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
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Hava: The Story of Eve by Tosca Lee (added 1/09; reviewed by My Friend Amy)
by R. Alcorn
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)
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)
In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason
*In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab 
Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh 
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)
*The Keeper of Secrets by Julie Thomas (read and reviewed 12/13)

Keeping the House by E. Baker
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
Little Altars Everywhere
by R. Wells
Living End
by L. Samson
Look Me in the Eye
by John Elder Robison
A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka (reviewed at The Lost Entwife)
* Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull 
Lost Children of Wilder by N. Bernstein
Love Anthony by Lisa Genova
Loving Frank by N. Horan
Mad Girls in Love by M. West
Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut
Many Sleepless Nights
by Lee Gutkind
Mariner's Compass
by E. Fowler
The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok
Mercy Falls by WK Krueger
Minding the South
by J. Reed
by A. Brennert
Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway (Reviewed at The Bluestocking Society)
The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton (read and reviewed 2/13)

Murder in the Name of Honor by Rana Husseini (Reviewed at Reading Through Life)
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (Reviewed by Reading to Know)
Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls
Noah's Compass
by Anne Tyler (read 2013)
Not without My Daughter
by B. Mahmoody
Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote (read and reviewed 6/13)
Papua New Guinea: Notes from a Spinning Planet
by M. Carlson (reviewed by Clean Reads)
Perfect Example by John Porcellino (reviewed at The Hidden Side of the Leaf)
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (reviewed at Reader Buzz)
Prairie Tale by Melissa Gilbert
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
The Quilt Walk by Sandra Dallas
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
*Riding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel Simon.
Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen
Rises the Night
by C. Gleason
*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
*Secret Keeper by Kate Morton (read 2013)
Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins (Reviewed by Word Lily)
Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian (Reviewed at In the Pages)Sentimental, Heartbroken Rednecks by Greg Bottoms (Reviewed by Sage)
Seven Loves by Trueblood
She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel
The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani (read 2013)
*The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls (read 2013)
Slaves, Women & Homosexuals by William J. Webb 
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (read 2013)
 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
State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett (read and reviewed 9/1/13)
by William Weld
by John Williams (suggested by JoAnn at Every Day Matters)
The Story of  Beautiful Girl
by Rachel Simon (read and reviewed 2/13)
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
This Boy's Life
by Tobias Wolff
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
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)
Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
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 She Woke by Hillary Jordan (read and reviewed 1/14
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  
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls  by Anton Disclafani.