Sunday, December 20, 2015

Book Review: Everything I Never Told You

Finally, at the end of the year, I've hit upon a good streak of books. Last week was Anton diScalfani's The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, and this week it's Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You. First of all, this book is scary if you are a parent of  teens. It reminds me just a tiny bit of Anne Lamott's Imperfect Birds in that "what do we not know about our kids" feeling. It's disconcerting, to say the least.

This novel, set in the 1970s, is the story of the Lee family, and, the opening line puts us right there: "Lydia is dead." The Lees are an interracial couple long before it was generally acceptable to be so in the midwest: James is Chinese-American and Marilyn is white. Lydia is their middle child, and clearly their favorite. She's the one they pin all their hopes and dreams on. For Marilyn, Lydia will stand out. She will be the doctor that Marilyn never became—a woman of intelligence and power. For James, Lydia will be the quintessential American teen. She'll be the most popular girl in school. She'll have more friends and boyfriends than she could ever hope for.

But Lydia's just a 16-year-old girl who wants to please her parents, and so she fakes it all. No one knows who Lydia really is, including Lydia. The novel is a journey of discovery in a family that was precariously balanced before Lydia's death and possibly redemptive after her death. It's beautifully written but alarming at times. So many secrets— not huge ones, but the little ones that add up to that eerie feeling of "do I really even know you?"

Highly recommended.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book Review: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

This hasn't been the most thrilling year for reading nor reviewing books. Few novels this year stand out for me: Paula Hawkins' Girl on the Train is one, and Anton diScalfani's The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls will definitely be another.

I didn't know what I was getting into with this novel. I thought it was a coming-of-age novel, maybe even a light read. I didn't expect this dark, mesmerizing novel of loss, rejection, and perseverance.

Set in the 1930s, the story centers on 15-year-old Thea Atwell, who has done something bad. We don't know what she's done, only that it involved her twin brother and their cousin, who was like another brother to them. As the book opens, Thea is being deposited at Yonahlossee Riding Camp, which is really just a name for a boarding school for rich girls—or, in Thea's case, a home for girls who have been bad. Her parents can't stand to be around her anymore, and sending her off to school seems like the only option.

Thea has never been around anyone besides her family: her parents, brother, aunt, uncle, and cousin. She's never had a girlfriend, never attended a fancy dinner, didn't know the codes between girls or that they even existed. She's thrown from a comfortable home in which she was the beloved only daughter into a world she didn't know existed.

And she loves it. She loves being part of this sisterhood and, most of all, loves that she gets to spend hours and hours each day riding her horse. She also loves that she is the best rider in the school. But Thea has an insatiable need to be loved and to prove that she is a person of value— she needs to reclaim her position as one who is prized. Why did her world fall apart back in Florida? Why did her parents toss her aside like trash?

Flashbacks lead up to the story of  the Big Event that sent The and her family into a downward spiral. As Thea pieces together what she did wrong, she continues on a similar path at the boarding school. Thea is a complex protagonist, bent on self-preservation but mired in self-destructive behavior. She's selfish with flashes of compassion, unstable yet admiring of stability. She's a 15-year-old girl who doesn't know how to contain her passions and enjoys the power she has over men.

While Thea is a strangely likable character is spite of her self-absorption. The novel is graphic and violent at times, but it's incredibly compelling. I stayed up way past my bedtime a couple of nights reading it. If you're in the mood for something complex and a little dark, this is a great choice.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Book Review: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

Heidi Durrow's The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is a survivor's story. Rachel is the 11-year-old girl who fell, except she didn't fall accidentally: her mother, chased by her own demons and bad decisions, takes flight with all the kids from the top of a roof. Rachel lives.

The daughter of a white Danish woman and a black GI, Rachel now has to learn who she is. Is she black or is she white? Is she poor Rachel or lucky Rachel? And why did her mother do it?

After recovering from her severe injuries, Rachel goes to live with her black grandmother in Oregon. This is a whole new world to her, and her sense of "otherness" is almost more than she can bear. She struggles to find her place in this new world and also to attempt to grasp why her mother could possibly have thought that killing herself and her children was the only solution. The story of Rachel's mother is told through the points-of-view of the grandmother, the neighbor boy who saw the family's fall from the roof, and her mother's employer, who packed up her possessions and read her journals.

The story of Rachel's mother is really never fully explained, but I was okay with that, mostly. I didn't feel like her story was fleshed out enough to come even close to "justifying" her crime, but I suppose that's another story. Likewise, why Rachel's father never comes back for her isn't really clear at all, and I was mostly okay with that. Mostly.

That said, Durrow's writing is wonderful, and Rachel's story is intriguing enough on its own. Perhaps the novel would have lost some of its lovely, sparse narrative had the stories of the parents been deeper. I definitely recommend this one!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Book Review: Secrets of Eden

Chris Bohjalian has got to be one of today’s best American authors. When I think about each of his novels that I’ve read, I’m astounded at the depth and breadth of his subjects, from midwifery to post WW2 to the Great Gatsby to domestic violence, the focus of Secrets of Eden.

Secrets of Eden tells the story of the murder of Alice Hayward by her abusive husband and his subsequent suicide. Well, apparent suicide.  It’s told in four sections by four narrators: the pastor, the state's attorney, an author who writes about angels, and the Hayward’s 15-year-old daughter. The questions each of them asks: what really happened here? 

It is obvious that George killed Alice. But who killed George? The angle of the gun wasn't quite right for a suicide and, although everyone agrees that George was a scumbag, the state's attorney has an obligation to find his killer. The four narrators, who have four distinct voices, provide different perspectives on the life of George and Alice while investigating and analyzing their own lives.

I thought Bohjalian treated all his characters with unusual respect without any of the usual stereotypes. The Baptist preacher was not a fire-and-brimstone psycho; the attorney was not cold-hearted; the teenage girl wasn't cold and rebellious; and the author angel, while kooky, had her own serious issues that balanced that out.

It's a good psychological thriller, although certainly sad and disturbing, that's beautifully written.

Other Bohjalian novels I've reviewed:
The Double Bind
The Buffalo Soldier
Skeletons at the Feast

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Book Review: Under the Same Blue Sky

Pamela Schoenewaldt features an era that few novelists explore in Under the Same Blue Sky — World War 1. I’ve read dozens of World War 2 era novels, but I can’t think of a single novel of the Great War I’ve read other than a children’s book or two.

The novel begins in Pittsburgh in 1914, before America enters the European conflict. Hazel Renner is a young woman on the brink of adulthood. She’s ready to venture into the world, although she isn’t sure what that looks like yet. She’s had a comfortable, loving childhood in a German-American neighborhood.

As the war in Europe escalates, animosity toward German-Americans also rises. Hazel and her parents fall under suspicion and hatred. Neighbors turn against them as the war wages. Hazel’s father becomes obsessed and depressed over the war casualties, and Hazel’s life changes drastically as she uncovers a family secret.

Hazel leaves home to become a teacher in a small town. This whole part of the novel was strange to me. While she is in this town, Hazel discovers she has healing powers. When she touches people and touches her blue house simultaneously, she is able to miraculously heal people. This was an odd addition to the novel, and I can’t say I understand why it was necessary. For me personally, the novel would have been stronger without this foray into healing of the sick. I think the author was working toward a theme of healing in many forms, but this never jelled in my mind.

Hazel loses her healing power quickly, however, and moves to the next phase of her journey: back to the castle where she was born. This is a castle built by a reclusive German baron, who came to America to escape his tyrannical father. Here Hazel puts the pieces of her early years together and falls in love with the gardener.

But all can’t be happily-ever-after: the War rages in Europe, killing millions. And influenza rages everywhere, killing even more than the war. Those that are left behind are shell-shocked, struggling to make sense of what has happened and to forge a new life in the midst of so much loss. Hazel loses many loved ones, but ultimately she finds happiness and learns to navigate in a world ravaged by war and disease.

A lot happens within these 300+ pages. I was especially intrigued in the first half of the novel, as all my mother’s grandparents emigrated from Germany to America in the late 1800s. With very German names, they surely must have faced persecution during World War 1. My mother’s Uncle Grover fought in the war and came back disabled by poison gas. My grandfather, Uncle Grover’s youngest brother, was saved from the ravages of war only because he contracted influenza and nearly died. It occurred to me as I read this novel that those are the only two family stories I know of this time. I’ll have to see if my mother had any others passed down to her, as her solidly German family must have suffered many of the same horrors as do Hazel’s family in the novel.

This is a great read, especially if you enjoy delving into a bit of history that doesn't get much attention.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Book Review: Love Anthony

Lisa Genova never disappoints. I adored Still Alice and Left Neglected, both stories that explore neurological disorders, and Love Anthony was nearly as good. I say “nearly” because it didn’t hold the same medical fascination nor seem quite as emotionally wrenching as the first two novels did for me, although it does involve the death of a child. But it was still excellent. I plowed through it in one day at the beach. I gave it to my friend Caroline to read as soon as I finished. After a day she handed me the book, wiping away tears, and said, "I don't think it's very nice for a friend to make a friend cry at the beach!" While she was crying, her sister called and asked why she was crying, then asked to borrow the book as well. Why do we like to cry so much?

The story focuses on two women: Olivia, whose autistic son has just died, and Beth, whose life unexpectedly unravels. They have little in common on the surface. The past eight years of Olivia’s life were wrapped up in the frustration and sadness of having a son with severe autism. Beth, on the other hand, seems to be one of those women that Olivia so despises: mothers with “normal” children.

But their paths cross, and they end up unintentionally healing together, although in separate ways. I can’t really reveal more of the hows and whys without giving away the plot, but Genova treats autism with respect and a beautiful understanding. I think the chapters that are devoted to Olivia and the pain of her motherhood are especially powerful.

Genova is a brilliant writer, and I’m always impressed at the way she shares her medical knowledge without ever seeming didactic or as if she’s just throwing information in for the sake if it. I can’t wait for her next novel!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review: The Tenth Gift

The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson is our most recent book club pick. We haven't met to discuss it yet, but so far I've heard a few "I liked it!" comments from fellow members. It took me a long time to get into the book—probably close to 100 pages. But I was traveling and reading only a few pages at night, exhausted mentally and physically. Once I found that I had only two days left to read before it was due at the library, I committed myself to sticking with it and found that I became totally absorbed in the story.

The novel flips between two stories that eventually become intertwined. Julia Lovat is a 30-year-old woman who is dumped by her married boyfriend. As a parting gift, he gives her what he thinks is a book of embroidery patterns, written in 1625. The book turns out to actually be a diary of an English woman, Cat, who was kidnapped by Muslim pirates and sold as a slave in Morocco. The Cat entries leading up to her kidnapping were slow moving and confusing to me, but once she is kidnapped, the pace picked up and the direction became clear.

Julia becomes obsessed with Cat's story and travels to Morocco to trace Cat's path and see if the diary really is authentic. In the course of her investigation, she finds that these events really did happen, and a nice discussion of the history of Muslim raiders in the 17th century is included in the novel. I loved the historical perspective. There is, of course, a healthy dose of romance for both Julia and Cat as the novel progresses.

I'm a big fan of historical novels, especially ones that highlight a particular set of events of which I held little or no previous knowledge. I know almost nothing about Morocco and never thought about Christian Europeans being sold as slaves to Muslims. Julia's part of the story was less enthralling but necessary to tell the story. In all, this is an interesting novel for those who enjoy historical fiction/romance.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Book Review: Healing Stones

This novel by Nancy Rue and Stephen Arterburn was this month's book club choice. Billed as the first in a series that feature the psychologist Sullivan Crisp, Healing Stones deals with how a family reacts and recovers after adultery.

Demitria Costanas, a professor at a Christian college, is caught in an affair with a colleague. She is fired from her job, her husband and kids reject her, the guy disappears, and basically her whole life falls apart. She moves out on her own and begins to make a little progress, only to have something else happen that sets her back. Eventually she seeks the counsel of Sullivan Crisp, who has a unique "game show" method of counseling.

So… I'm not a big fan of what's billed as Christian fiction. With a few exceptions (Francine Rivers, Jamie Langston Turner), it's often not particularly well written, sentimental, and dogmatic. This novel was not at all dogmatic, but it all just seemed so contrived. There wasn't anything particularly terrible about it. Many of the women in my book club absolutely loved it. I think if you like Christian fiction in general, this is probably a great series.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Book Review: The Devil and Miss Prym

“You're a man who has suffered and wants revenge,' she said. 'Your heart is dead, your soul is in darkness. The devil by your side is smiling because you are playing the game he invented.” 

A stranger arrives in the isolated village of Viscos, and Paulo Coelho's parable of good and evil begins. The stranger has a bag full of gold bars and a question he demands be answered: are humans good or evil?

The Devil and Miss Prym is called a "novel of temptation," and that temptation is in ancient one. The stranger offers this impoverished, dying village enough gold to change their lives and save their village—but they have to murder one of their own to get the gold.

Will they sacrifice one of their own, or will they spit in the face of the manipulator? The stranger wants Miss Prym to find out. She is the only young person left in the village, and she is confident that they are good people who will refuse to murder a fellow villager. The stranger is skeptical. He's seen the worst in mankind, and he is convinced that all men are inherently greedy and evil.

“So you see, Good and Evil have the same face; it all depends on when they cross the path of each individual human being.”

Coelho's approach to this classic battle of good and evil is lovely. I wanted to underline sentences on every page. He captures profound truths in simple dialogue, and I wanted to make big canvases for my walls out of some of his phrases. The details of the story itself were excellent. It's the kind of novel I can close my eyes and still picture certain scenes. To be fair, the story didn't always capture me—it took me a good half of the book to really delve into it and become interested in the characters and their dilemma. But once I really immersed myself in it, I loved it.

This is a novel a friend and I are considering for a book club at our church. The book took me awhile to really get into, and sometimes I didn't understand everything that was going on because of my initial lack of attention; but I but I think it will be excellent fodder for lots of good discussion.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book Review: The Night Strangers

Phew! It's been a long time since I've read a book as eerie as Chris Bohjalian's The Night Strangers. The night I began reading it, I had actual nightmares—the creepy, ghosty kind of nightmares. I know: this isn't a rousing endorsement of the book. But this book is creepy!

The story opens with a terrible plane crash. The pilot, Chip Linton, faces paralyzing guilt after his plane crashes, killing 39 passengers. He and his wife and twin daughters move to a small New England town with hopes of restoring some peace in their lives. But, well, there's an old house with a basement. And ghosts. And twins. And a coven of witches. And did I mention New England, where all creepy stories take place? Yep.

I was terrified, but I couldn't stop reading. OK, this isn't terror on the level of 'Salem's Lot or The Shining, but for me it was reminiscent of that love/hate relationship I once had with Stephen King's horror novels. (I saw "once had" because I've generally stayed away from horror novels in the past 25 years.) I loved to get scared, and yet I hated to get scared.

This novel went in places I wasn't expecting at all—murders, poisoning, seances, and all kinds of crazy stuff. But Chris Bohjalian is an incredible storyteller, and I kept reading in spite of my queasiness. Am I glad I read this book? I'm not sure. It was much different than anything I've read in a long, long time. The Thirteenth Tale would be perhaps the only story I've read in a while with scary ghosts and twins. (Why are twins often in horror stories?)

So, my recommendation: it's eerie and dark, incredibly well written, and mesmerizing. I mean, just look at that book cover. You decide.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Book Review: This Boy's Life

I've had this memoir by Tobias Wolff on my TBR list forever. I saw the movie years ago and always meant to read the book, but I just never got around to it. I'm so glad I finally did. I love memoirs, especially ones that read like this— poetic but not sentimental, filled with insights but not didactic. It's really exactly what the title promises: one boy's life.

As the book opens Toby Wolff, soon to become Jack, and his mother are running away from an abusive man. She's divorced from Toby's father, who lives on the East Coast with his older brother. Toby and his mother clearly adore each other, but he can't seem to be "good," in spite of his desire to please his mother. Toby gravitates toward the wrong crowd and finds himself doing all the things he knows he should do: fighting, vandalizing, lying, cheating. Eventually his mom remarries, and they move to a desolate town in Washington. Dwight, the stepfather, is a controlling dictator who is often proud of Toby for his transgressions, yet punishes him severely. Much of the tension in the book is between Toby and himself and Toby and Dwight, his stepfather.

Toby isn't a run-of-the-mill bad boy. He's smart about things. He carefully erases his report cards to show excellent grades, makes excuses that somehow seem legitimate, and even forges recommendations so that he can get into a prep school. In his heart he truly believes that he's a good kid, a smart kid, one destined for a better life as soon as he gets out of his podunk town. But he just can't stop making bad decisions.

I read in an interview with Wolff in The Paris Review that "Though a private man, Wolff is open about his nagging suspicion that his good fortune in life—his arrival at the age of fifty-eight with his family intact, a home in a warm climate, a place to write and teach, even a dog—is a fabrication that could burn to the ground at any moment." That makes perfect sense after reading this memoir. A good, stable life seems always just out of reach to the boy Toby, and yet he knows that he is somehow made for that life.

I thoroughly enjoyed Wolff's boyhood story and plan to add the memoir of his tour of Vietnam to my TBR list.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Book Review: The Beekeeper's Apprentice

One of the best things about being part of a book club is that I get to read genres that I wouldn't usually read. We are a diverse group in terms of our preferred genres; and in order to give everyone an opportunity to read from "their" genre, we have a yearly meeting in which we pick our upcoming reading year. We each come to book club with three books we'd like to read, and we explain our books. From there, we vote on one book from each person's list, so we end up with 10 books for the next year. We've been doing this for two years, and I've really enjoyed stepping outside my reading zone. But at the same time, this has reaffirmed my love for my usual reading zone!

All that to say, Laurie King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice is a mystery—not my usual genre—and I loved it. I didn't love it so much that I'll rush out and read any others in the series, but it was refreshing, fun, engaging and quite well written. This novel introduces Mary Russell, a brilliant teenager who is soon to become the apprentice of none other than Sherlock Holmes. I am not a Sherlock Holmes aficionado, and I'm sure this book would be even more meaningful to those who are, but I loved the concept of fiction taking place inside another fictional world.

When I was a teenager, I read through nearly all of Agatha Christie's mysteries in one summer, and this novel reminded me of those wonderful days when I had nothing else to do but bask in the sun (ignorant of the harmful UV rays) and read, breaking occasionally for a dip in the lake. My reading is done now in 30-minute chunks at most before I go to sleep each night. This novel, however, did absolutely hold my attention.

And I take it back. I just might read through all the Mary Russell books. There is something intensely comforting about a solid, clean, well written mystery.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

My Ever-Growing TBR List (2015)

*Indicates books added in 2015

41 False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers by Janet Malcolm
Alena by Rachel Pastan
*All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
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
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)
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 Hollow by W. Krueger
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 Boston Girl by Anita Diamant [read 2015}
*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)
*Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (read and reviewed 2015)
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 Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins [read 2015}
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)
In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason
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
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
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)
Lost Children of Wilder by N. Bernstein
Love Anthony by Lisa Genova (read and reviewed 6/15)
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
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
Moloka’I by A. Brennert [read 2015}
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)
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (Reviewed by Reading to Know)
Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian (read and reviewed 2/15)
The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls
Not without My Daughter
by B. Mahmoody
The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley
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)
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)
Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian {read 2015)
Seven Loves by Trueblood
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
This Boy's Life
by Tobias Wolff (read and reviewed 2/15)
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 Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
*We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
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  
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls  by Anton Disclafani {read 11/15}

2014: The Year in Books

This was my worst reading year, quantitatively, in years. I read 36 books, down 2 books books from last year, which was a considerably slower year than others. I'd like to say I'm starting off better this year, but so far I've only finished a few books by mid-February. Nonetheless, I read some great books this year and a lot of OK books.

Top 10 Books Read in 2014
Blessings (Anna Quindlen)****
The Book Thief (Marcus Zusak)***** {multiple reread}
Burial Rites (Hannah Kent)****
Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)*****
The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)****
In the Sanctuary of Outcasts (Neil White)****
Last Girls (Lee Smith)****
Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman)****
Riding the Bus with my Sister (Rachel Simon)*****
Sycamore Row (John Grisham)****

I think I would have to say that Gone Girl was my favorite book of 2014. It's a super disturbing book, but absolutely engrossing and so well written. I thought the movie was quite well done, too.

I added 34 books to my TBR list in 2014, and I crossed off only eight.

Below is the total list of books read, minus the juvenile fiction and most of the classics. Each link leads to a review or, rarely, to if I didn't get a chance to review it. My star-ranking system is as follows: 5 stars--absolutely must read; 4 stars--highly recommended; 3 stars--enjoyable; 2 stars--ick; 1 star--no, no, no.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Book Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel

I've heard this book title for what seems my entire life, and I at last read the novel at the encouragement of a friend who said it was the book that made her start loving to read. I was looking for the perfect book for my 9th/10th grade British Lit class, which is composed of 15 boys who shrivel at the name Jane Eyre and six girls. Pride and Prejudice was just not going to work for this particular class. Fortunately, The Scarlet Pimpernel turned out to be exactly what this class needs.

The story takes place in the midst of the French Revolution, when the guillotine seems to never stop its grisly job. The Scarlet Pimpernel is the English hero, a master of disguise who rescues French nobility from their fate right just at the last moment, much to the embarrassment and fury of the revolutionaries. Lady Blakeney is the brilliant but unhappy young wife of Sir Percy, a dunderheaded English aristocrat. In her zeal to save her brother from the guillotine, Lady Blakeney comes up against the Scarlet Pimpernel, and the story goes from there.

I'm starting my students off with a bit of French Revolution history before they begin the book, and I think we'll need a chart to keep all the characters straight at first; but I anticipate that once they are several chapters into the book, they will really love it. We'll plan to watch the movie together when we finish the book.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (by Baroness Orczy) is not on a single "classics" or "top 100" books to read list that I have ever run across, and I'm not sure why. This is a fabulous, entertaining story. True, it's a little slow at places and somewhat contrived, but what a great novel: it's full of adventure, romance, suspense, and history. It really is a perfect British lit book for reluctant readers especially. It's easy to read, although the first part moves slowly, and the twists and turns just don't stop. Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Book Review: The Widower's Tale

This, my first book finished in 2015, was a really wonderful way to start the year. I actually began reading this novel by Julia Glass in December but had to put it away so I could read our book club's book.

Glass's style feels familiar, like Anne Tyler and Gail Godwin mixed with a little John Irving. (Or maybe it's only the "widow" part that is Irving-esque to me.) I read so much Southern lit that it is refreshing to me to read a novel that takes place in New England. (And to I used to think New York and New England were the hub of the world.)

Percy Darling has been a widower for longer than he was married. He's raised two daughters and is settling at last into a quiet retirement from his career as a Harvard librarian. He lives alone in the historic and secluded house that he and his wife bought when they were newlyweds—until his troubled daughter, Clover, begs him to turn the barn into a preschool. Because he feels that the preschool will give Clover a chance to start over, he agrees—and everything about his life changes

I thought this was going to be a  novel with a bumbling older man and an array of preschoolers who change him, but it was absolutely nothing like that. Percy is a thoughtful, quirky man who adores his daughters and their families but is happy to remain somewhat detached from their lives. The proximity of the preschool, howeveer, forces Percy to participate in life.

There are several stories that are intertwined within the novel: the developing relationship between Percy and one of the preschool moms; the life of Celestino, a landscaper (this one was interesting but never felt like it was fully explored/explained); Percy's grandson, Robert, and his involvement in an ecoterrorist group (sounds strange, but it kind of worked); Percy's girlfriend's life; Ira and Anthony, a gay teacher and his partner; and Percy's daughters and their lives. It sounds like a lot, and at times, I had to backtrack a bit to figure out what was going on; however, all the stories were intriguing. Loosely woven together at times, but intriguing.

Julia Glass is a wonderful writer. I found myself really adoring Percy. The side stories were interesting, but I'm not sure how much all of them contributed to the novel. They were perhaps not integral to the story of Percy, but still interesting. Regardless, I will be seeking out other novels by Julia Glass,  in hopes that I'll meet other characters are richly drawn as Percy.