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Display Name: EmilyEm
About me: I think I'm a Minnesotan now; I've lived in the Twin Cities most of my adult life. If I'm not reading, gardening is the next best thing.
Reading Interests: Reading has always been among my favorite pastimes. I love fiction mostly; good writing is a must.

EmilyEm's Book Lists
Inspired by Art and Artists (15 titles)
These books have at their heart a love of art or inspiration from a work of art. Those based on real people and works of art are the best as are stories of art work stolen and found.
2013 Best Reads--A Short List (10 titles)
We moved a few miles down the road--still in Hennepin County--and renovated our house. Somehow that interfered with the usual number of books read. But, there were certainly good ones read and a long list to enjoy in the months ahead.
Immigrant Stories (18 titles)
Drawn to these stories for years, partly for my own history and my interest in genealogy, I am always touched by the character's search for 'home' even in not very welcoming circumstances. I first read books of people coming to America, but have long known this is not the only place immigrants come. That has led me to places far and wide.
Best Coming-of-Age Novels So Far This Year (7 titles)
I'm drawn to books--sometimes inadvertently--about young people on the cusp of adulthood. These may not be perfect genre examples but they certainly are good reading!
EmilyEm's Best 12 in 2012 [out of 50] (12 titles)
It was a remarkable year for two of my favorite types of reading: the coming of age story and those about the immigrant experience.
Show all 7 booklists by EmilyEm

EmilyEm's Comments    
Cover ArtThe cartographer of no man’s land
by Duffy, P. S.
A Nova Scotia man joins Canadian troops headed to the Great War, promised with his sailing, artistic and navigation skills he’ll be a cartographer. On the home front his son Simon watches the war and its effects on his family and neighbors. Duffy has written a wonderful story that appealed to me on many levels. The mystery of brother-in-law Ebbin, thought missing in action, gives the narrative page-turning intensity. But, Simon’s coming-of-age age story, particularly as he confronts the prejudice against his German heritage teacher is touching. And, the widow and son where Angus billets behind the lines gives the story both humor and pathos. Good first effort from this Minnesota writer.   posted Apr 20, 2014 at 3:48PM

Cover ArtBy its cover
by Leon, Donna.
A book thief is at work in an historic library. Brunetti finds himself looking for clues among the few people who have even used its reading rooms. Leon’s readers will find another well-thought-out, very contemplative, mystery for Brunetti and his team. Of course, I’m always forlorn to come to the end of her wonderful tales; this one seemed particularly short without much going on other than the main story!   posted Apr 9, 2014 at 7:36AM

Cover ArtHow the light gets in
by Louise Penny
Armand Gamache returns to Three Pines when a house guest of the town’s bookshop owner goes missing. Gamache’s troubles with the powers that be in the department and with Jean-Guy Beauvoir continue. The homicide victim turns out to be the last of five quintuplet girls known to everyone—at least by name—throughout the province. The problems in the police department are enormous and deadly. You hope for the best, but wonder who might not make it to the book’s end. Just keep turning pages; no wonder Penny’s latest book was on so many 2013 ‘Best Books’ lists.   posted Apr 4, 2014 at 9:57PM

Cover ArtThe beautiful mystery
by Louise Penny
Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir arrive at a remote Quebec monastery recently made famous for a recording of Gregorian chants where one of the 24 monks has been murdered. The men uncover much about the lives of these mostly silent—except for singing—monks but are stymied for a motive and the curious piece of old music that the choirmaster monk who died had clutched in his hand. There’s a secondary story of unresolved police issues that somewhat parallel the main story. But, I’ve not read that earlier book so was a bit at a loss. Still, a very good whodunit.   posted Apr 1, 2014 at 7:29PM

Cover ArtOrphan train : a novel
by Christina Baker Kline
Teenager Molly is about to age out of foster care, but lands in trouble when the school librarian catches her stealing Jane Eyre from the library. The community service her boyfriend helps her arrange with the 90-some-year-old Vivian, to clean out years of belongings in the attic of the house where his mother also works, turns into life-changing experiences for both women. This heartfelt historical novel, partly told from a Minnesota setting, gives an account of the experience of one little Irish girl put on an Orphan Train. Thousands of children given up to strangers hundreds of miles from any familiar territory are an American experience worth knowing. No wonder there’s a long list of people wanting to read this!   posted Mar 18, 2014 at 7:15AM

Cover ArtProvence, 1970 : M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the reinvention of
by Luke Barr
M.F.K. Fisher’s nephew writes a tribute to five giants of the world of food—the legendary editor Judith Jones is also included—at what he sees as a seminal moment in America’s changing tastes. It’s well-documented and based on collections of these writers’ journals and correspondence. I think the author pushed his notion about this moment in time a bit far although he did have some people still living to interview. But, as someone who was a budding foodie at this time I can attest to their influence on me as their books graced my shelves-and in some cases, still do. Interesting if don’t take too seriously!   posted Mar 16, 2014 at 6:45AM

Cover ArtThe cuckoo’s calling
by Robert Galbraith
Cormoran Strike is a private investigator down on his luck when a case involving a recently deceased supermodel Lulu Landry and a temporary secretary named Robin Ellacott enter his life. That J. K. Rowling can write a fine mystery. Strike is just the kind of damaged goods that makes him a sympathetic character and Robin is just the right counterpoint to his shambling ways. We can hope for more of this pair.   posted Mar 11, 2014 at 10:48PM

Cover ArtMy life in Middlemarch
by Rebecca Mead
Mead uses George Eliot’s book Middlemarch to consider the lives of its characters, particularly Dorothea Brooke’s, in light of her own and that of George Eliot. It’s an interesting proposition to take your favorite book and look at its influence on your life. Parts of it were wonderful, but the digressions into other of Eliot’s work made me feel the author didn’t have enough to say about Middlemarch and was stretching her subject. But, it could just be me. [I’ve not read all Eliot’s books.] Definitely worth reading if you loved Middlemarch.   posted Mar 7, 2014 at 4:02PM

Cover ArtThe Daughters of Mars : A Novel
by Keneally, Thomas.
Naomi and Sally, two sisters who are also nurses, leave New South Wales for nursing assignments in the Great war. Their first work is in Alexandria in Egypt, then off the Dardanelles and finally in northern France. Their relationships with each other, with the nurses with whom they serve, the wounded soldiers they encounter and the men they come reluctantly to love all play out in a book that is always hopeful even in the midst of carnage. I wondered if this book of nursing terribly damaged soldiers would get too grim. It doesn’t. It’s as good as Pat Barker’s Great War trilogy I think among the best of that era. And, oh, what an ending Keneally’s book has. A very good book.   posted Mar 7, 2014 at 3:58PM

Cover ArtA constellation of vital phenomena : a novel
by Anthony Marra
This story of interrelated characters and experiences in war-torn Chechnya during five days in 2004 is like no book on war ever read. We follow the choices people make to survive and their unrelenting search for meaning even when surrounded with insurmountable odds. Marra’s debut novel deserves all the acclaim it received. His prose is unbelievably beautiful, the story has a bit of mystery and all of us who live charmed lives need to ask ourselves what we would do put in this place and time. I’ll be thinking about these people for awhile.   posted Feb 14, 2014 at 8:27AM

Cover ArtThe new countess
by Weldon, Fay.
The New Countess is the final book in Weldon’s trilogy about the Dilberne family during the Edwardian era in England. The new countess Maggie suffers some growing pains and the king is coming for a December shooting weekend. Different characters tell this upstairs-downstairs tale, giving the story a bright and breezy narrative with plenty of humor. But, by the time I finished I didn’t really care about the outcomes for any of them! I expected better from Weldon.   posted Feb 1, 2014 at 7:29AM

Cover ArtSongs of Willow Frost : a novel
by Jamie Ford
A Chinese boy William is left in a Seattle orphanage in the 1920s. In 1934, when he sees a poster advertising a variety show with a singer named Willow Frost, he believes it’s his mother. That begins his journey to discover who she is and why she left him. Jamie Ford tells another wonderful story about families; what ties them together and tears them apart. It’s a cruel tale of what society thought morally right for young women bearing children out of wedlock. In the course of this one readers will also be immersed in 1930s Seattle’s Chinese community, Prohibition, the Great Depression and the changing world of the music and movie industry when radios came to people’s homes and movies became ‘talkies.’   posted Jan 19, 2014 at 7:16AM

Cover ArtSpider woman’s daughter : [a Leaphorn & Chee novel]
by Anne Hillerman
A continuation of Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee stories, featuring Chee’s wife and fellow police officer Bernie Manuelito, told flawlessly. I was excited to find this book as I’ve loved these mysteries. You’ll revisit some of the people from A Thief of Time, one of her father’s best. Excellent.   posted Jan 12, 2014 at 7:03AM

Cover ArtLongbourn
by Baker, Jo
We meet both familiar and new characters in the downstairs story of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. There’s Mrs. Hill, of course, but housemaids Sarah and Polly along with Mr. Hill and the mysterious new footman James Smith. Oh, yes, and there’s Mr. Bingley’s footman with many reasons to come to call at Longbourn. If people fault Jo Baker it will be for her slightly too contemporary sensibilities. But, I liked this alot. She’s stays close to Austen’s narrative, but infuses much more history—the war with the French, the triangle of trade that brought sugar to England, but took enslaved people to the Caribbean. James and Sarah are wonderful protagonists who you so hope have a happy ending, too.   posted Jan 8, 2014 at 10:15AM

Cover ArtSense & sensibility
by Trollope, Joanna.
It is Jane Austen’s story told in contemporary times. Joanna Trollope did well in this first of The Austen Project offerings. Despite setting an Eighteenth Century tale in the Twenty-first Century, I thought this well done enough if not taken too seriously. Of course, I can’t imagine anyone reading it wouldn’t have enjoyed the real thing more.   posted Jan 2, 2014 at 4:47PM

Cover ArtThe monuments men : Allied heroes, Nazi thieves, and the greatest treasure hunt
by Edsel, Robert M.
Readers travel through just liberated territory as the Allies cross Europe following D-Day. We’re in the company the Monuments Men who are tasked with assessing and saving the cultural treasures damaged in the fighting and looted by Nazi Germany. I read this now as it is a soon-to-be-released movie with a good cast. It’s page-turning good although I enjoyed Sara Houghteling’s Pictures at an Exhibition, which covers similar territory more.   posted Dec 30, 2013 at 2:40PM

Cover ArtKinsey and me : stories
by Sue Grafton
A series of short stories featuring Kinsey Millhone fills the first half of this book and Kit Blue’s—Sue Grafton’s own persona—memoir of growing up with alcoholic parents—a functioning father and not-so-functioning mother—comprises the second. It was fun reading Kinsey stories in short form and interesting reading of Grafton’s early life since she believes Kinsey is much like she would have been, had early marriage and motherhood not taken her life on another path.   posted Dec 26, 2013 at 8:01PM

Cover ArtElsewhere : [a memoir]
by Richard Russo
The hardscrabble place, Gloversville, literally an old glove-making manufacturing town in NY, that is the setting for much that we’ve read by Richard Russo through the years takes center stage in his memoir as well. It was both a place you wanted to leave but one you could not leave behind even when gone many years. This was especially true for Russo’s mother. At its heart, this is Russo’s story, but for much of the book it’s his mother’s and her curious obsessions that fill the chapters. I almost wondered who would pull the basket off these stories about a mother he clearly loved and cared for, but who was also such a thorn in his side! The last few chapters explain all, leaving me feeling more than a little sad for women like her.   posted Dec 9, 2013 at 7:26AM

Cover ArtSweet thunder : a novel
by Doig, Ivan.
Morrie Morgan and new wife Grace are back in Butte, living in the Sandison mansion and with Morrie at work on the labor-supportive newspaper, the Thunder. Labor shenanigans drive the plot of this tale with lots of verbal skirmishes from Morrie, the editorial writer. I like the characters in this now third book with Morrie center stage. This one fell a little short for me with all the old-time news writing, although there’s much to love with the literary references between Morrie and the book-loving library director Sandison. Doig knows and loves the West; so do I.   posted Dec 1, 2013 at 9:43PM

Cover ArtW is for wasted
by Sue Grafton
Since I always eagerly wait for the next Kinsey Millhone adventure, this one certainly satisfied. It was longer and more nuanced than some so it wasn’t over in a day or two for one thing! I’d call this tale of homeless people, lost relatives and pharmaceutical misadventure one of Grafton’s best. I’ll be reading her Kinsey and Me memoir soon.   posted Nov 10, 2013 at 6:19PM

Cover ArtProof of guilt
by Charles Todd
A man is seemingly run down on a street in Chelsea and a watch on the victim leads Inspector Rutledge to a family that produces and ships Madeira and who seem to suddenly have people gone missing. While a good procedural, I missed the more personal aspects of some of the earlier books in the series. This one had lots of characters—in more ways than one—but I lost interest in keeping them all straight and I was left a little disappointed.   posted Oct 26, 2013 at 10:14PM

Cover ArtHotel on the corner of bitter and sweet : a novel
by Jamie Ford
Seattle’s ‘International District’ in 1942 is the story’s setting. We meet twelve-year-old Henry as he heads to the all-white prep school where he is the only Asian scholarship student, handing his lunch off to street musician Sheldon on the way. When his lunch-serving duties come one day he finds another student waiting to help. It’s Keiko; she’s Japanese. Henry wears an ‘I am Chinese’ button at his father’s insistence and has never met a Japanese person before. We also meet Henry in 1986 when he is still deep in grief from the death of his wife, but also when he becomes curious about the possessions of Japanese families found in a long-closed hotel being renovated in the neighborhood. Or is he curious about a long-lost jazz record, one that holds meaning for all the book’s principle characters. This book fulfilled the ‘good book’ criteria on many levels. We see the first generation-second generation immigrant struggles and what ‘becoming American’ without losing your past meant. The treatment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast after Pearl Harbor and during the Internment is vividly described. We learn about African Americans making music. But most of all this is a story of a boy on the cusp of manhood doing the right thing and falling in love. I look forward to Ford’s new book Songs of Willow Frost.   posted Oct 1, 2013 at 7:47AM

Cover ArtThe Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls
by Anton Disclafani
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book written in first person. Thea is a girl on the cusp of womanhood who after something happens—it takes most of the book to find out what—in her family finds herself sent from her Florida home to The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s the 1930s and life becomes increasingly uncertain for many girls there. But, Thea is fearless and passionate about riding and soon becomes recognized for her skills, giving her both friendships and a certain cachet among the other students. Thea and her twin brother live isolated, but charmed, lives in Florida so Thea’s ‘camp’ experience is one of learning to live with lots of girls. What ‘camp’ means is elusive at first, but Thea learns at summer’s end that there’s no going home for her. Coping and charting a rocky road to growing up, this novel is an unusual coming-of-age story, one with a lot of suspense and revelations peeled back layer by layer. A good debut novel for the writer.   posted Sep 21, 2013 at 5:30PM

Cover ArtThe light in the ruins : a novel
by Chris Bohjalian
We are caught up in a series of moral choices and survival tactics made by the Rosati family. The novel jumps back and forth in time from WW II in Tuscany to 1955 when some surviving members of this aristocratic family are brutally murdered. A young investigator Serafina has her own wartime experiences to draw from as she seeks to understand the killings. I am always impressed with Bohjalian’s historical research that is the basis for his writing. It makes his storytelling seem so believable. This book is much more suspenseful than others of his I’ve read, making it hard to put aside. I was reminded while reading, and he references at the end, another book on this time in Italy I thought wonderful: Mary Doria Russell’s A Thread of Grace.   posted Sep 5, 2013 at 11:01AM

Cover ArtLong live the king
by Fay Weldon
A niece Adela whose parents die in a fire is just what this trilogy needed. Spiritualism in its many guises is all the rage and what a production it is to have a Coronation! Weldon mixes lots of the era’s real people with the fictional family, making it fun reading. Now I can’t wait for the next one.   posted Aug 27, 2013 at 12:45PM

Cover ArtBenediction
by Kent Haruf
Dad Lewis will not live through the summer. We follow his days with his wife Mary, his daughter Lorraine, townspeople and a little girl named Alice who changes some lives for the better. Benediction is an elegy to a life lived on its own terms with few regrets. Haruf captures time, place and the rhythms of High Plains life and character so well. He writes sparely but so elegantly, a treasure.   posted Aug 23, 2013 at 9:51PM

Cover ArtHabits of the house
by Fay Weldon
Part One of Weldon’s trilogy introduces us to the a somewhat clichéd upper class British family—both upstairs and down—at the turn of the 20th century, short on cash, feeling change in the air, restless in many ways. Enter Minnie O’Brien, wealthy heiress from Chicago with ideas of her own, and the story gets more interesting. Weldon introduces a lot of characters and gives plenty of historical contexts, all written in an easy, breezy way that made this fun reading. I’m sure I’ll have all the downstairs staff figured out by the time I’ve finished the next installment!   posted Aug 17, 2013 at 9:34PM

Cover ArtThe Garden of Evening Mists [electronic resource].
Yun Ling Teoh is a woman, quite literally, scarred by war, a WW II Japanese labor camp in Malaya, who years afterward is still seeking answers to where she was and coming to terms with her sister’s death in the camp. Can a garden heal? Can the unique construct of a Japanese garden built by master gardener Aritomo once in the Emperor’s employ bring peace to all the souls touched by brutality? What lovely prose and beautiful images the author makes; all the time casting an air of mystery and intrigue around the characters that makes the book a page turner.   posted Aug 3, 2013 at 3:52PM

Cover ArtThe poet and the murderer : a true story of literary crime and the art of forger
by Worrall, Simon.
Intrigued by this title after reading The Art Forger and having read some of Emily Dickinson a few years ago, I gave this book a go. You’ll certainly learn about forging literary documents and master forger Mark Hoffman. But, I realized soon enough that this was a not-so-well-edited book put together from magazine articles. There’s not quite enough about Emily, way too much about Mark and lots of the author’s antipathy for the Mormons, deserved or not.   posted Aug 3, 2013 at 3:49PM

Cover ArtLeaving everything most loved : a novel
by Jacqueline Winspear
Maisie Dobbs steps into to a Scotland Yard investigation that’s gone nowhere, investigating the unsolved death of an Indian woman who came to England as a governess. Her assistant Billy is investigating a schoolboy who has disappeared. These are intriguing investigations, but the heart of the story, as the title says, is Maisie’s decision to use some of her newly acquired financial independence to follow in her mentor’s footsteps in India. There seems to be a tying up of many story lines in this book except the one regarding James Compton. Will there be more to this series?   posted Jul 19, 2013 at 6:47AM

Cover ArtThe painted girls
by Cathy Marie Buchanan
This book of historical fiction tells the back story surrounding the creation of Edgar Degas sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen and lets us into the lives of the struggling Van Goethem family of model Marie and her sisters Antoinette and Charlotte. This popular book is worth the wait! Belle époque Paris comes alive not only with the lives of the dancers hoping to move up the ranks of the Ballet at the Paris Opéra, but through the writing of Émile Zola’s masterpiece L’Assommoir. It reminded me of the summer literature class I took reading French writers of this period, a good thing.   posted Jul 14, 2013 at 6:58AM

Cover ArtThe art forger : a novel
by B. A. Shapiro
Claire Roth is a recent MFA graduate and painter living in Boston with a controversial past. She makes ends meet by painting reproductions. When one of the city’s best art dealers commissions her to copy an Edgar Degas painting After the Bath that was one stolen in the unsolved heist from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and offers her a show of her own paintings at his gallery Claire makes a bargain that sets all kinds of action in motion. Shapiro’s book is ambitious told in three threads—the current, three years in the past and through letters of Gardner’s to her Boston niece. I liked how she set up the story but thought she had trouble making her ending very plausible and many of the characters involved got a little clichéd in the end. But, I’ve read a lot about the real Gardner heist and visited the museum so enjoyed this novel visit and play on that event despite the flaws.   posted Jul 2, 2013 at 7:22AM

Cover ArtUnder a wing : a memoir
by Lindbergh, Reeve.
The youngest daughter of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh tells about growing up in this famous, but very private, family. Reeve Lindbergh looks at various aspects of her parents’ character and history to fully fathom growing up in her family. Having a father who is in all the history books, but whose life has had its darker moments, makes interesting reading.   posted Jun 24, 2013 at 8:09AM

Cover ArtDressing the Queen : the Jubilee wardrobe
by Kelly, Angela.
Written by the woman who sees to the staff of the Queen’s Dressers, designs some of her clothes and curates her remarkable jewelry collection, we peek into the process that creates and maintains her remarkable wardrobe for the Jubilee year. This is a beautifully done picture book, lovingly rendered. You only need an hour or two with it, but I’m glad I took the time. Who knew umbrellas came in all those colors!   posted Jun 10, 2013 at 10:03PM

Cover ArtElizabeth the Queen : the life of a modern monarch
by Smith, Sally Bedell
Smith’s book is a touching tribute to the Queen and her years of service to the Commonwealth along with stories of her family and her passion for horses and horse racing. This author is kinder to Prince Phillip than most writers about the royal family. I didn’t learn a lot new—being a long-time royal watcher--except about the horse racing and horse breeding. It’s hard not to admire her.   posted Jun 1, 2013 at 3:25PM

Cover ArtLife after life : a novel
by Atkinson, Kate.
We follow the lives—and lives they are—of Ursula Todd and her family and friends at Fox Corner, a little corner in the English countryside, during all the years of her life, which encompasses much of the last century but particularly her young adulthood during WWII. How interesting that today when I read this day’s The Writer’s Almanac it would close with this quote of Ralph Waldo Emerson [who] wrote: "Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense." It could have been Ursula saying this. This book will disappoint many of Kate Atkinson’s mystery fans, but I came to love it after a slow start.   posted May 25, 2013 at 5:55AM

Cover ArtA foreign country
by Cumming, Charles
‘Retired’ SIS officer Thomas Kell is called into to follow the new ‘C’ when she seemingly disappears from a painting class in France and heads to Tunisia. Who is the young man Kell sees her with? Lover? Or, someone more important? I’ve heard this is the first of three thrillers for Cumming with this character. That’s great. I couldn’t put this book down! Better yet, Colin Firth is in line to play Thomas Kell in a movie version. Perfect. Now we just have to wait for more.   posted May 17, 2013 at 12:36PM

Cover ArtYes, chef
by Samuelsson, Marcus.
Samuelsson tells the story of his life so far, born in Ethiopia, adopted into a Swedish family, a globe-trotting young man learning the chef’s trade to the award-winning New York restaurateur we’ve come to know. He’s so self-deprecating and funny, passionate and competitive, a real citizen of the world. I’m his new biggest fan.   posted May 13, 2013 at 9:30PM

Cover ArtThe greatcoat
by Dunmore, Helen
It’s the 1950s in Yorkshire; rationing is still in effect. Newlywed Isabel Carey is cold. She and her doctor husband Philip have just moved to Kirby Mintern to a flat with a heavy-footed landlord upstairs. When Isabel finds an RAF greatcoat and begins to add it to blankets at night she finds herself visited by Alec, an RAF captain, and this ghost story is on its way… I’m glad this was just novella size. I’m not sure the author or me as the reader could sustain this little tale in longer form. It had an unraveling affect on Isabel and on me!   posted May 4, 2013 at 9:26PM

Cover ArtThe kitchen house
by Grissom, Kathleen
Six-year-old Lavinia arrives at Tall Oaks, a Virginia plantation, late in the 1700s. It is home to the ship’s captain, who has her on his hands because of money owed him, following her family’s immigration from Ireland when her parents die at sea. She’s taken to the plantation’s kitchen house to live as an indentured servant among the enslaved people who become her family. Belle, a daughter of the captain and his liaison with a servant who died in childbirth, who cooks for the big house becomes one of the house servants who see that she thrives in this new place. The indentured immigrant girl with red hair and freckles is an interesting story angle to what is a not-so-new tale of the hardships experienced on an Old South plantation and the complicated family relationships that bind both black and white. Her struggle to find her place takes an uncharacteristic turn when she marries the captain’s son Marshall. This book is a page turner. Lavinia is a naïve young woman; Belle is challenged to get what she’s been promised. What will the future hold for each of them?   posted May 2, 2013 at 9:39PM

Cover ArtThe dressmaker : a novel
by Alcott, Kate
Tess, a young girl in service and with dressmaking ambitions, manages to board the Titanic on its fateful voyage. What happens on the voyage and its aftermath of investigations tests her sense of morality, loyalty and self discovery. This book was page-turning enjoyable reading written by a journalist turned fiction writer so we shouldn’t be surprised that one of her characters is an enterprising female reporter at the New York Times! I enjoyed spending a few days with these characters in this nearly hundredth anniversary year of the Titanic’s sinking.   posted Apr 21, 2013 at 3:31PM

Cover ArtEight girls taking pictures : a novel
by Otto, Whitney.
The lives of eight women who pursued the art of photography during the Twentieth Century are examined—in fictional form although based on real lives. The women all must marry the expectations of domestic life with their art. And, in their musing and what they accomplish reflect much that professional women aspired to and questioned in those times. Otto has given readers a wonderful window into the lives and times of these ground-breaking photographers. And, for those of us who came of age at some of those times, she gives us a chance to think on those ‘what if’ questions we had once more.   posted Apr 19, 2013 at 9:35AM

Cover ArtThe golden egg
by Leon, Donna.
Paola, Brunetti’s wife, expresses concern when the seeming deaf-mute man who works at their cleaners dies. She asks Brunetti to look into it. This is all about language—a beautiful rendering of expression in all its nuances. These books are always so much more than just a good mystery although it’s that, too.   posted Apr 6, 2013 at 11:20PM

Cover ArtLittle wolves
by Maltman, Thomas James
Local writer Thomas Maltman tells a small town Minnesota story that puts an event decades past into fresh light when a young Lutheran minister and his wife move to this prairie town. When the sheriff is murdered by a high school boy, old secrets and long-held grievances percolate into the present, changing everyone as the mystery unfolds. Wonderful storytelling, characters and sense of place.   posted Mar 20, 2013 at 11:36AM

Cover ArtMr. Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore
by Sloan, Robin
They say there are only so many book themes. This one takes us on one of them, a quest, when an out-of-work web developer stumbles into a job on the late night shift of a San Francisco indie bookstore. There are few customers and those who come are mostly interested in books found on the Waybacklist! What’s going on? It is fun finding out. ‘Such a wonderful book for a fantasy-quest-loving, secret-society-loving, typophile, bibliophile web developer :-),’ says someone at a website Thoughtstreams and ‘I liked it – a good mix of adult fantasy, mystery – and, of course, books,’ says another person at the NoChargeBookbunch. I thought it was fun, very in-the-moment reading set in a great city.   posted Mar 18, 2013 at 5:59AM

Cover ArtSweet tooth : a novel
by McEwan, Ian.
Serena Frome is a compulsive reader and a recent Cambridge graduate in 1970s Cold War Great Britain. She’s mentored to find a job in MI5—and there begins this spy caper known as Sweet Tooth. McEwan spins this tale of love and revenge like the master he is, dropping all kinds of literary tidbits along the way. He’s such a gifted storyteller and every book he writes takes you to the unexpected. Great ride!   posted Feb 26, 2013 at 11:39AM

Cover ArtLady Almina and the real Downton Abbey : the lost legacy of Highclere Castle
by Carnarvon, Fiona
This book is a nice companion to those of us addicted to watching ’Downton Abbey’ on Sunday evenings. Money buys lots of things in the Gilded Age! Fun reading.   posted Feb 6, 2013 at 12:48PM

Cover ArtEmma : an annotated edition
by Austen, Jane
Jane Austen’s faultless story of meddling Emma Woodhouse has gotten a new annotated version. The annotation runs from very scholarly as regards her writing style to notes on what various movie adaptations have done to bring the story to film. There’s something for everyone in this hefty volume.   posted Feb 2, 2013 at 5:51AM

Cover ArtA fatal grace
by Penny, Louise.
Armand Gamache is back in Three Pines when another death, in fact two that seem curiously connected, happen one right after another. I’m still not sure I’ll keep reading these.   posted Jan 17, 2013 at 4:08PM

Cover ArtStill life
by Penny, Louise.
All the women I know who love mysteries have highly recommended this series set in Three Pines, Quebec. I like the poetry attributed to crotchety Ruth, but am not yet hooked on these cozies.   posted Jan 17, 2013 at 4:01PM

Cover ArtThe bartender’s tale
by Doig, Ivan.
Rusty Harry is 12 in the summer of 1960, one that is full of surprises for he and his father. Ivan Doig writes again from the fabled Two Medicine country of Montana. The Bartender’s Tale is about Rusty’s father, the proprietor of the legendary Medicine Lodge saloon and the example he sets for his motherless son. I love coming-of-age stories; this is one of the best.   posted Nov 25, 2012 at 9:14PM

Cover ArtThe American heiress : a novel
by Goodwin, Daisy.
Cora Cash believes herself like Emma Woodhouse to be ‘handsome, clever and rich;’ but her destiny is more likely to be charted by her mother. Nothing less than a British title will do. When she literally falls into the hands of the enigmatic Duke of Wareham when she falls from her horse, the story takes readers though a year or so of her maiden voyage learning about expectations in the upper class world of fin de siècle England. Some of the characters are a bit stereotyped, but it’s a great page-turning read while we wait for another year of ‘Downton Abbey!’   posted Nov 21, 2012 at 9:38AM

Cover ArtSan Miguel
by Boyle, T. Coraghessan.
Boyle tells this story of two families living on San Miguel, one of the Channel Islands off coast of California at Santa Barbara. They are told through the eyes of women, reluctant adventurers in this lonely place during the 1880s and the 1930s. As he did in his book The Women, Boyle uses real lives, journals and articles to create his fictional tale. But, I had an uneasy feeling this time. Marantha, the woman from an earlier time, is dying of TB, making the first part very grim. By contrast, Elise embraces her life on this remote island, seemingly happier than could be possible. Disappointing for me   posted Nov 18, 2012 at 2:14PM

Cover ArtCanada : [a novel]
by Ford, Richard
Dell Parsons, just 15 in 1960, is about to experience events that will color his views of life forever. His parents rob a bank. To call this a coming-of-age book diminishes it. Ford makes you think about living your life whatever you’ve been handed. In his acknowledgments Ford calls out Wallace Stegner, the work of William Maxwell and Blake Morrison’s memoir And When Did You Last See Your Father as work that inspired him. No wonder I got so much pleasure from his wonderful prose; those are some of my favorite authors. Highly recommended.   posted Nov 6, 2012 at 6:58AM

Cover ArtMore baths, less talking
by Hornby, Nick.
The book is the years 2010 and 2011 of Hornby’s columns in Believer magazine. I always enjoy these. This one incorporated his being caught up in the Oscar whirl as his screenplay for An Education was nominated. He is also researching background and beginning to think of a screenplay for Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn, a book I loved. He does spend a fair amount of time reading and reading about Dickens, which took a bit away from his customary look at more contemporary fiction.   posted Oct 31, 2012 at 9:45PM

Cover ArtThe prisoner of heaven : a novel
by Ruiz Zafon, Carlos
Threads of the past float through all the Ruiz books and this one is no different. [I wish I’d reviewed those books’ summaries.] This one moves between the repressionist 1940s and 1957 in Barcelona. Daniel Sempere tells this part of the story, but it is the book when we’ll get to know his enigmatic friend Fermin Romero de Torres. That was good. A mystery runs through this book, at times frightening in it capacity to send both these men to seek revenge. And, like all books in this series, the author lays out where the next book may go. My only complaint: The Cemetery of Lost Books had only a very small part.   posted Oct 24, 2012 at 5:02PM

Cover ArtToby’s room : a novel
by Barker, Pat
Barker’s Life Class characters Elinor Brooke and Paul Tarrant find their paths crossing again when Paul returns to London after an injury and becomes a ‘war painter,’ a government endeavor to capture images of WW I. But, Elinor seeks him out not for himself but for what he can help her find out about her brother Toby, also lost in the war when serving as a medical officer with a fellow Slade student Kit Neville who becomes one of his stretcher bearers. Kit seems to know something about Toby’s death. Now horribly disfigured himself, will he tell Elinor what she wants to know? Elinor’s family, particularly her close relationship with Toby, drives the plot of this book. Elinor ambivalence and keeping her distance from the war is challenged. Whether staying home or being in the war, lives will never be what they were. We see Elinor mature as she pursues answers from questions that arise from a note to her found in her brother’s returned jacket pocket. Barker has such talent. It’s a pleasure reading her fiction, enjoying some of the real Bloomsbury artists who appear and learning about some of the medical men who tried to give new faces to horribly disfigured soldiers. Highly recommended.   posted Oct 18, 2012 at 9:45PM

Cover ArtThe sandcastle girls
by Bohjalian, Chris
Chris Bohjalian has written what could be a very personal story that explores events in Turkey during WW I and one of his ancestors, the Armenians. While fiction these characters seemed very real and the storytelling superb. It’s one of this author’s talents. I’m sure this will make my top ten reading list for 2012.   posted Oct 12, 2012 at 1:34PM

Cover ArtThe jewels of paradise
by Leon, Donna.
This stand-alone story follows a month of research by a young woman musicologist anxious for any job in her hometown Venice. But, what has she gotten herself into? Leon’s love of history and opera are evident in this tale of possible treasure in two centuries-old trunks of documents. If the story starts a little slowly, when compared to her other books, it picks up momentum soon enough. Fun for a change.   posted Oct 9, 2012 at 2:07PM

Cover ArtThe light between oceans : a novel
by Stedman, M. L.
Who would think the story of a lighthouse keeper on a remote island in Western Australia just after the Great War could be such a gripping tale! It is when a dinghy comes ashore with a dead man and a very alive baby girl. We follow the lives of Tom and Isabel, the baby Lucy and all the remarkably well-drawn characters of Stedman’s debut novel through joys, sorrows, moral dilemmas, things said and unsaid. No wonder everyone is reading and wants to read this. Warning: Tissue needed at the end.   posted Sep 28, 2012 at 3:15PM

Cover ArtRequiem
by Itani, Frances
Bin Okuma goes on a journey, crossing Canada east to west, revisiting a past that includes his experience as a Japanese internee, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, pushed inland from his family home in a coastal fishing village. He is also grieving for his wife Lena who has recently died and preparing for an exhibit of his paintings. Itani’s beautiful prose carries a book that lags in plot until about halfway through. It is very much like a requiem. {Listening to Beethoven while you read is completely appropriate!] It is very like reading a recent bestseller, Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses. I liked her novel Deafening more.   posted Sep 22, 2012 at 10:48PM

Cover ArtCrossing the borders of time : a true story of war, exile, and love reclaimed
by Maitland, Leslie
The author calls this a ‘contextualized memoir’ in her notes. It’s a new term to me but aptly describes this well-paced account of her mother Janine, her German Jewish family’s escape from the Nazis and the poignant story of the young man named Roland, seemingly left behind, but the love of her mother’s life. It’s quite a story. I had a hard time putting this book down.   posted Sep 4, 2012 at 12:29PM

Cover ArtThe age of desire : a novel
by Fields, Jennie.
This historical fiction follows the lives of Edith Wharton and her governess-now-secretary Anna Bahlmann and the people in their lives in the years 1907 through 1910, just following the publication of The House of Mirth and while living in Paris and the Wharton’s summer home The Mount. It’s a book with love and loyalty as its themes and which uses actual correspondence between Wharton and Bahlmann as part of the text. Interesting, but not a favorite. The author just seems to be trying too hard for something magical.   posted Aug 28, 2012 at 10:08AM

Cover ArtCoral Glynn
by Cameron, Peter
Coral Glynn works as a private nurse and finds herself caring for the elderly Mrs. Hart at Hart House in Leicestershire, England, in 1950. When Mrs. Hart dies sooner than expected Coral is left at loose ends, but these are not ordinary times for Coral or the other cast of characters in this finely wrought book. Cameron’s book has all the hallmarks of slightly eccentric Englishness I have loved in masters of the domestic novel like the English Elizabeth Taylor or Penelope Lively. Well done.   posted Aug 22, 2012 at 9:42PM

Cover ArtThe world of Downton Abbey
by Fellowes, Jessica
Fellowes book provides background on various aspects of life in a great house during the Edwardian period through the aftermath of WWI. We see that the Crawley’s way of life is on shaky ground. Being a devoted Anglophile, there’s not much I didn’t know, but it was a nice book with great photos and a chance to re-visit this fictional world as we wait for season three!   posted Aug 20, 2012 at 11:48AM

Cover ArtThe keeper of lost causes
by Adler-Olsen, Jussi
Disgruntled detective Carl Mørck gets assigned to a new Department Q to investigate cold cases. Olsen is a master of this genre—it’s quite a journey solving this case of the young legislator that disappeared one weekend five years earlier on a trip with her brother to Berlin.   posted Aug 17, 2012 at 9:41PM

Cover ArtThe uninvited guests
by Jones, Sadie.
Emerald Torrington is celebrating her 20th birthday and, oh, what a birthday to remember this will be. Part comedy of manners in the best British tradition, part suspense—who are those ‘guests’ and why doesn’t the telephone work—makes this fun summer reading.   posted Aug 14, 2012 at 8:59PM

Cover ArtThe chaperone
by Moriarty, Laura
Cora Carlisle signs on to chaperone 15-year-old Louise Brooks when she goes to NYC to study dance, a summer that would launch Louise as a 1920s ‘It’ Girl. Cora has her own reasons for going to NYC. The book is interesting on two levels. There’s the slice of 1920s life in a Middle Western town—Wichita, KS, in this case—and the look at silent screen star Louise Brooks’ life—fictional though this account is. There’s also a story of secrets and transcending them to be true to oneself. Sometimes Moriarty succeeds in her telling; sometimes she falls a bit short.   posted Aug 10, 2012 at 9:24PM

Cover ArtCloud atlas : a novel
by Mitchell, David
Why did I wait so long? I’ve read David Mitchell’s writing and loved it so have had this award-winning book on my own library shelf four years. I even started it once. It is six stories loosely bound over many years in the past and into the future. I think the future—not enjoying science fiction—may have turned me away. Then, I heard it would be a movie. Then, I saw the first movie trailer, pulled the book off the shelf and couldn’t stop reading. Wow.   posted Aug 6, 2012 at 9:55AM

Cover ArtThe beginner’s goodbye : a novel
by Tyler, Anne.
Aaron and Dorothy seem an unlikely married couple; a marriage that ends too soon when a tree falls into their sunroom where Dorothy is sitting causing her death. What comprises this story is Aaron’s look at their life together as he grieves for Dorothy. When I read about this latest Anne Tyler book I wondered if the subject would just be too sad. But, I trust this author. And, you’ve got to love a guy like Aaron and all the characters who fill this book. They are so like all of us and will leave you smiling.   posted Jul 20, 2012 at 5:03PM

Cover ArtHeading out to wonderful : a novel
by Goolrick, Robert
Charlie Beale is the mysterious stranger who comes to a small Virginia town in 1948 with only two suitcases, one unknown to any but us readers that is full of money. So begins a remarkable love story—Charlie’s love of a married woman named Sylvan and, just as remarkable, his love of his employer’s small son Sam. You’ll love all the characters that inhabit this small town, its microcosm of small town life, both good and bad, and its viewpoint of this time of change in America. I’ll just say it now. I hope this book is nominated for the Pulitzer prize. It’s that good.   posted Jul 15, 2012 at 5:08PM

Cover ArtWaiting for sunrise : a novel
by Boyd, William
Lysander Reif goes to Vienna in 1914 for a ‘cure’ and finds his world in a tangle as the guns of August rumble into his world and across Europe. This is a spy story and about one man’s coming of age. William Boyd just keeps coming up with books worth reading for so many reasons.   posted Jul 1, 2012 at 4:32PM

Cover ArtThe lost art of keeping secrets : a novel
by Rice, Eva
Penelope Wallace has just come of age in 1950s England. We’ll watch her in a year when she casts aside caution and accepts an invitation to tea from complete stranger Charlotte at her Aunt Clare’s. From the enigmatic Harry to the worldly Rocky Dakota, from her too-young-to-be-a-widow mother and the crumbling stately home, from the obsession with a singer named Johnnie Ray to her brother’s new love of grittier rocker Elvis, Rice’s debut just draws you into its story of secrets and makes you laugh at Penelope’s triumphs and tribulations in the search for the love of her life. No wonder it’s been a great favorite. I was reminded a lot of a recent favorite: Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility.   posted Jun 22, 2012 at 2:18PM

Cover ArtThe cellist of Sarajevo
by Galloway, Steven
Steven Galloway writes a novel based on actual events and stories from people who lived through the Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s. I read this, in part, to get a sense for what those in other culture wars are experiencing even as I write this. That the human spirit can endure is amazing. This isn’t the easiest reading, but I’m glad I read it. Galloway really takes you into the heart of his characters.   posted Jun 16, 2012 at 3:24PM

Cover ArtThe hare with amber eyes : a family’s century of art and loss
by De Waal, Edmund.
The author is the fourth generation of his family to possess a collection of Japanese netsuke. He combines his search for their story with a remarkable memoir of his Ephrussi family of Odessa, Paris, Vienna and Japan with many more sojourns along the way. It’s an engaging way to tell a story. I, along with the author, just wanted to keep making discoveries and not have this story end.   posted Jun 8, 2012 at 4:10PM

Cover Art"V" is for vengeance
by Grafton, Sue
Kinsey turns in a shoplifter while buying new ‘undies’ on sale and so begins her twenty-second story on her nearly 38th birthday. It’s a tangled web of plots involving stolen goods, the Mob, unexplained suicides, betrayal, and revenge with characters both new and appearing again. This mystery has more pages and a more intricate plot than some of Grafton’s series. I thought it was very well done and just turned page after page to the finish.   posted Jun 2, 2012 at 4:40PM

Cover ArtThe sense of an ending
by Barnes, Julian.
I’ve been saving this book since the holidays to a time I could relish its contemplative prose. While Tony seemed to have those ’every man’ qualities in all of us I just lost patience with him and skipped to the end. I hardly ever do that. As I commented to a friend, it’s the longest 161-page book I’ve ever almost read.   posted May 26, 2012 at 3:11PM

Cover ArtRules of civility
by Towles, Amor
We look at the life of an ambitious young woman, Kate Kontent, in 1938 NYC and the lives of four more characters who inhabit that world with her. Terrific sense of place, wonderful dialogue, great evocation of this time and a good story. It looks at the role of choice and chance in the lives of these characters. It certainly made me think of their roles in my own. No wonder Rules of Civility was one of the highly rated books of 2011.   posted May 22, 2012 at 3:52PM

Cover ArtAfterwards : a novel
by Lupton, Rosamund
A fire in a Chiswick school in suburban London leaves a mother and daughter fighting for their lives. This book is all about fighting for those you love, fighting for the truth, fighting to be heard. It’s a fast-paced thriller and touching family saga rolled into one. Told from an unusual point of view and written with understated humor, Lupton has a winner of a read for us. Warning: I needed plenty of Kleenex by the end.   posted May 16, 2012 at 12:41PM

Cover ArtThe girl in the blue beret : a novel
by Mason, Bobbie Ann.
Reaching mandatory retirement age in his job as an airline pilot and recently widowed, Marshall Stone decides to spend some time in France. He wants to find and thank those people in the Resistance who sheltered and moved him through France to Spain after his plane was shot down in WWII. One in particular is the girl in the blue beret. When Stone discovers the back story of his adventure, he hears tales told through their eyes that are very different than he’s ever considered. He finally grows up, I think. It’s quite a compelling novel based on several real life stories, including that of the author’s uncle. Highly recommended.   posted May 11, 2012 at 6:41AM

Cover ArtWish you were here
by Swift, Graham
Jack Luxton grieves for his younger brother Tom who has been killed in the Iraq war and in the process visits and re-visits other losses in his life. Talented writer Swift misses a bit on this one. It’s a book about the past written in past tense. It’s a page turner of sorts, but I wasn’t sure if I thought something would move the action into the present or just wanted to be finished!   posted May 1, 2012 at 5:28AM

Cover ArtElegy for Eddie : a Maisie Dobbs novel
by Winspear, Jacqueline
Maisie Dobbs is asked by a group of men she knew in her childhood to investigate the seeming accidental death of Eddie—a young man with unusual skill with horses. But, so much more is going on in Maisie’s life. James Compton is front and center again, but this book is really about Maisie’s coming to terms with all her own inherited wealth. While that’s good reading for those of us who love Maisie, the ‘whodunit’ gets a little lost.   posted Apr 24, 2012 at 5:12AM

Cover ArtBeastly things
by Leon, Donna.
Guido Brunetti and his team of fellow officers investigate a murdered man—a veterinarian who moonlighted inspecting animals and meat at a slaughterhouse. ‘Beastly things’ is a good title that has more to do with how some people live their lives than about animals. One will either think of eating meat much more carefully or rush to the humane society to give an abandoned pet a home after reading Leon’s well-thought-out mystery. It’s another good book; beautiful rambles through Venice are always a bonus.   posted Apr 24, 2012 at 4:57AM

Cover ArtSmut : stories
by Bennett, Alan
Two novellas are contained in this book that may surprise readers expecting something like Bennett’s recent An Uncommon Reader. Middle age, middle class women are the subjects of both, tales charmingly told if a bit ‘R rated.’ But, if you laugh out loud at British humor or consider yourself an anglophile, these stories will probably make you smile. I did.   posted Apr 18, 2012 at 6:32AM

Cover Art22 Britannia Road
by Hodgkinson, Amanda
Meet the Nowaks—Silvana, Janusz and their son Aurek—who have come to live at 22 Britannia Road in Ipswich, England after WWII. Earlier this winter I read Ben Shephard’s The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War. Hodgkinson’s literary debut about displaced Silvana and Aurek who come from Poland to England to join RAF veteran Janusz is probably a more true-to-life tale than we know. Such heartbreak, such secrets. I won’t forget these characters—survivors in the truest sense—soon. A masterful novel of finding ‘home.’   posted Apr 10, 2012 at 3:40PM

Cover ArtThe confession
by Todd, Charles.
Ian Rutledge investigates why a young man becomes an imposter and confesses a crime he didn’t commit. Ian’s reception in the isolated Essex fishing village is unaccountably cold and the prosperous family who inhabited the remote estate River’s Edge seem surrounded by tragedy. It’s another of these fine mysteries by the Todd team. I didn’t see the resolution coming at all.   posted Apr 7, 2012 at 8:23PM

Cover ArtA game of hide and seek
by Taylor, Elizabeth
Just like most of Elizabeth Taylor’s characters Vesey and Harriet, teenagers when we are introduced to them, are a little flawed. But, that’s what makes them so like people you might know. This re-issue of the book—this year is the hundredth since her birth—follows Vesey and Harriet into middle age. It’s a book where little happens; it’s a book where everything happens. I’ve read every novel and short story of hers I’ve been able to find. This other Elizabeth Taylor’s writing is like reading Jane Austen, had she written in the 1950s.   posted Apr 5, 2012 at 6:05AM

Cover ArtTabloid city : a novel
by Hamill, Pete
A day in NYC described from the points of view of a fascinating cast of characters. Their stories intermingle. You feel like it could be a day in NYC today; it feels very contemporary. Hamill writes a flawless gripping tale about two things he knows well—newspapers and New York City—and there may be a third, random acts of kindness, those that make it worth getting up and seeing another day dawn.   posted Mar 28, 2012 at 4:55PM

Cover ArtThe ice princess
by Lackberg, Camilla
Friends recommended this writer as someone their mystery book group liked reading. It’s all the rage to read Scandinavian mysteries these days. Part crime story, part romance; it’s pretty good, but I felt the translation a little flawed. I doubt I’ll read more.   posted Mar 28, 2012 at 4:53PM

Cover ArtGirl reading : a novel
by Ward, Katie
Each chapter could stand alone, but, oh, what a delight to read as a novel and see how these readers influence the action of their stories and seemingly inspired great art. What a wonderful debut novel for Katie Ward. I think book groups will love this book. Find Katie’s website for links to all the artworks that influenced her stories; I just happened upon it using the list in the notes at the end, searching artworks one by one.   posted Mar 12, 2012 at 12:46PM

Cover ArtHow it all began
by Lively, Penelope
How It All Began starts with Charlotte getting knocked down in a purse snatching, breaks her hip and adjusts her life for awhile. We move on to other lives and other characters, all of whom get a little surprise in their lives. Every story has a connection to the other. I felt bereft when I finished. I didn’t want to step out of their lives just yet. Such good writing.   posted Mar 7, 2012 at 10:24AM

Cover ArtThe long road home : the aftermath of the Second World War
by Shephard, Ben
Having had relatives who were uprooted and made their way to Germany’s western zone, this had more than just historical relevance to me. But, it was fascinating reading. So many people with so many agendas caught in a process that took years of sorting out. Very readable and even handed in its treatment of this subject.   posted Feb 6, 2012 at 6:14AM

Cover ArtRussian winter : a novel
by Kalotay, Daphne.
Russian by birth Grigori has carried to adulthood beliefs about his birth parents that have made even his career choice inevitable. Now, a widower, he is at a crossroads. Drew, with her own seeming failed past, works for an auction house that has just acquired the jewelry collection of a once famous Russian ballerina who defected to the West in the 1950s. Kalotay takes us into the lives of three people looking for answers. What they find will surprise them—and even more, those of us along for the reading. Who wouldn’t like a book with lovely jewelry, ballet, intrigue and secrets? Plus, it’s a love story—several people’s love stories. Beautiful.   posted Jan 25, 2012 at 10:36PM

Cover ArtThe cat’s table
by Ondaatje, Michael
An 11-year-old Michael makes the journey by ship from Ceylon to England to join his mother and attend school. It’s a stolen season spent with two other coming-of-age boys with lots of time and active imaginations. But, people observed and experiences encountered are not always what they seem. I savored every word of this book over a week—at once a seeming memoir—it turns into an adventure with life-long repercussions. Amazing writing and storytelling.   posted Jan 21, 2012 at 8:08PM

Cover ArtMy new American life
by Prose, Francine
Lula, a young immigrant from Albania, navigates life in the US in the post-9/11 Bush years. This book is entertaining, the comic moments—and there are many—are satirical. I just wish the characters and the situations hadn’t seemed stereotypes. But, maybe that’s how it is when every situation is fraught with all kinds of nuance a person new to living here sees differently than those who have been here all their lives.   posted Jan 3, 2012 at 2:53PM

Cover ArtTo be sung underwater : a novel
by McNeal, Tom.
Judith Whitman goes to live with her college teacher father in the Great Plains of northwest Nebraska and meets a slightly older local boy Willy Blunt. Yes, it’s a love story. McNeal is not someone I’d read before, but like others taught under Wallace Stegner’s influence at Stanford, I’ll seek out his books at every opportunity. He’s imagined characters and plot to perfection; his sentences are beautiful. A favorite goes something like this: To Willy’s mind Judith’s summer with him was simply one of her life’s chapters; for Willy it had been the whole book. Just read it!   posted Dec 30, 2011 at 5:52AM

Cover ArtDeath comes to Pemberley
by James, P. D.
One of the world’s best mystery writers pens a crime novel and sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. James certainly takes us for an engaging ride back to Pemberley and events one autumn surrounding an annual event called Lady Anne’s Ball. The questions those who love Austen’s book always have at the ending get answers. Will Wickham and Lydia ever be satisfied with life? Can Darcy overcome his fear for sister Georgiana? Will Georgiana find a husband to love as much as her brother and Elizabeth have? It’s not exactly like reading P. D. James or Jane Austen, but it’s enough. I’m happy the Baroness James of Holland Park put her love of Jane into one more book for all of us.   posted Dec 27, 2011 at 3:47PM

Cover ArtRodin’s debutante
by Just, Ward S.
We follow Lee Goodell from small town Illinois through prep school at Ogden Hall to the University of Chicago, where he follows his dream, inspired by a Rodin sculpture, to become a sculptor himself. I enjoyed it until I got near the end and now agree with this reviewer: "The writing is splendid, the scene impeccably set--but you can’t help wondering where the novel is heading and what, exactly, it’s about. ... Increasingly, the narrative goes from enjoyably unpredictable to bafflingly random." Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times.   posted Dec 17, 2011 at 10:05AM

Cover ArtThe thousand autumns of Jacob De Zoet : a novel
by Mitchell, David
Title character Jacob arrives as a clerk at the Dutch trading island of Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor in Japan as the eighteenth century comes to an end. Isolated and at the mercy of both the Dutch East India Company’s fortunes and isolationist Japan’s scheming; the follies and foibles of those who share in the island’s activities, Jacob chooses the high moral ground. It’s not without a price to pay. Mitchell’s characters are so appealing and so touching when good and so realistic of every schemer known to any nation or age when bad. The ups and downs of the story take the reader through a roller coaster of emotions. You hope so much that this good man will be rewarded. He deserves some kind of happiness. It’s a wonderful start to reading this year.   posted Dec 11, 2011 at 11:48AM

Cover ArtWhite truffles in winter : a novel
by Kelby, N. M.
Although fiction, local writer Kelby’s book, evokes a time, place and quality of life in the extravagant Belle Epoch, then onward to the years before WWII, through the eyes of renowned chef Escoffier and his circle of family and friends. Her imagining of the characters, their passions, fears, dreams and dreams denied is wonderful. And the food, it’s foodie heaven, although maybe better to read about than eat the rich offerings described. My fault with the book is that the principal characters, Escoffier, his wife and his longtime love actress Sarah Bernhardt inspired little sympathy. On the other hand, the family’s cook Sabine just lights up the entire book whenever she enters the scene!   posted Dec 9, 2011 at 8:27PM

Cover ArtThe language of flowers : a novel
by Diffenbaugh, Vanessa
With a foster child as inspiration and obvious love of the notion that flowers can change the course of lives, Diffenbaugh tells a page-turning story I loved. Victoria ages out of foster care and uses her one seeming talent to find work. But, a visit to the flower market introduces the enigmatic Grant. What sorrows both have had; but what kindness and patience Grant brings to this friendship. Read on. It’s a good one.   posted Dec 3, 2011 at 11:26AM

Cover ArtThe report : a novel
by Kane, Jessica Francis
Documentary filmmaker Paul Barber looks up Sir Laurence Dunne, the magistrate who wrote the report of a tube-station shelter disaster in Bethnal Green, London, one night in 1943. Secrets and lies, blame and forgiveness, memory and remembering. You’ll see how deceptive these qualities can be, even with the best of intentions. A very good book.   posted Nov 27, 2011 at 4:41PM

Cover ArtThe railway man : a pow’s searing account of war, brutality and forgiveness
by Lomax, Eric.
The title tells the story of this British serviceman’s experience as a POW and suspected spy on the ill-fated Siam-Burma Railway, made famous in the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, during WWII. Thank goodness there is recognition now of post-traumatic stress from wartime experiences and services for the healing of victims of torture. His journey and that of his Japanese interrogator is amazing. And, if you’re a train buff you’ll love his boyhood fascination and lifelong love of them. This is a movie in the works, I’ve heard.   posted Nov 19, 2011 at 10:45AM

Cover ArtForbidden bread : a memoir
by Johnson-Debeljak, Erica.
Erica, California girl turned New Yorker, falls in love with a poet, not just any poet, but one known and esteemed in his newly-emerged-from-Yugoslavia country, Slovakia. It’s not a ‘new’ country, but one emerging from one more instance in its history of being a border land or buffer between Western Europe and the Balkans. This book is Erica’s memoir of her first ten years coming to terms with what love has wrought. It’s a cultural journey few Americans experience. I read it on recommendation of a friend who traveled there this summer. I recommend it—charming, engaging, thought provoking.   posted Nov 12, 2011 at 8:54AM

Cover ArtSnowdrops : a novel
by Miller, Andrew
Wow! So good on many levels—plot, prose, characters, setting. It has nothing to do with flowers! That’s a cautionary note before reading this ‘tremendously assured, cool, complex, slow burn of a novel’ as one of the book jacket’s words of praise say. For once, those notes are all true!   posted Nov 6, 2011 at 9:15AM

Cover ArtThe Paris wife : a novel
by McLain, Paula.
I’m not sure why people find these historical fictions so compelling. It’s written well but a little slow getting to the ending when you know the ending! Just read the real things—Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises.   posted Nov 3, 2011 at 10:55AM

Cover ArtThe long-shining waters
by Sosin, Danielle
Oh, the big lake! How beautifully Sosin writes of Lake Superior. But, the three women in three times while sharply characterized just had stories that went nowhere for me. This isn’t a plot-driven novel. I needed a bit more of that.   posted Oct 30, 2011 at 10:24AM

Cover ArtAmerican boy
by Watson, Larry
We spend a few months in a fictitious southwest Minnesota town, Willow Falls, and watch two friends in their senior year of high school. Watson has written a coming-of-age story that looks at adolescent boys’ struggles for love and meaning in a small town at the beginning of the 1960s. It should have hit home for me as my high school graduation was nearly the same year as theirs. But, I’m female; Matt and Johnny are male. It made all the difference. I just couldn’t see what attracted their lust for Louisa Lindahl. But, my husband got it right away! So, read it for all that’s wonderful about a Larry Watson book, but if this is the first you pick up I suggest starting with ’Montana 1948.’ Then, you’ll read every Larry Watson novel you can find.   posted Oct 24, 2011 at 8:01PM

Cover ArtCase histories
by Atkinson, Kate.
We’re introduced to Jackson Brodie as he unravels some cold cases. The best thing about starting to read this book now is that you know there are more of Atkinson’s Brodie books waiting to be read—and a PBS miniseries in the wings to watch.   posted Oct 14, 2011 at 8:50AM

Cover ArtThe art of fielding : a novel
by Harbach, Chad
This is a book about the ’everyman’ in all of us. Your heart goes out to the strivers, characters so real you think you’ve met them somewhere. Harbach’s is a remarkable first effort; its Door County ’almost’ Wisconsin setting is a familiar one for many of us.   posted Oct 14, 2011 at 8:29AM

Cover ArtRagtime
by Doctorow, E. L.
I’d missed reading this Doctorow book 35 years ago and came across it this summer when reading other books set in NYC. This entertaining tale set just after the turn of the 20th century up to WWI shines a light on those changing times. Doctorow blends fictional and real life people in his story. You wonder how all these seeming independent stories will come together. But, they do. The book’s a classic. And, now I’ll watch the movie!   posted Oct 2, 2011 at 9:45AM

Cover ArtNovels and stories
by Jewett, Sarah Orne
Having spent a summer on the Maine coast many years ago, Jewett’s sketches in ’The Country of the Pointed Firs,’ told by an unnamed narrator, tell of another summer spent in a small coastal town, although 75 years earlier than mine. What characters these people are; what lovely prose. I was there again. I’ve always heard her writing puts her among the top of American writers. Now, I know why. I was reminded of Elizabeth Gaskell’s ’Cranford’—same small town, same ordinary lives richly described.   posted Sep 26, 2011 at 10:16AM

Cover ArtThe anthologist
by Baker, Nicholson.
A book that starts, ‘Hello, this is Paul Chowder, and I’m going to tell you everything I know’ must be a bit tongue in cheek. After all Paul is a second-rate poet writing the introduction to a poetry anthology and he lives in Maine. I spent years waking to Garrison Keillor’s ’The Writers’ Almanac’ and now get my poem of the day online. So, Paul’s procrastination, his hoping to win back former girlfriend Roz and his musing on poets and poetry are just plain fun. I’m glad books like this still get published! It’s a gem.   posted Sep 20, 2011 at 10:50AM

Cover ArtDreamers of the day : a novel
by Russell, Mary Doria
Recently wealthy Agnes Shanklin travels to Egypt, just happening to arrive at the time of the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference post-WWI that sets in motion the Middle East and the conflicts we know today. Agnes is fictional but many of the people she comes to know are real people. The engaging memoir-like qualities of late-bloomer Agnes’s finding herself on a journey is simply enjoyable reading. And, you must love dogs! But, there are other messages being conveyed in Russell’s book, those about nation building and meddling in a country’s self determination that she renders well without getting too moralizing about it all!   posted Sep 15, 2011 at 10:03AM

Cover ArtA death in summer : a novel
by Black, Benjamin
It’s unseasonably warm this 1950s summer in Dublin. Inspector Hackett takes pathologist Quirke with him when he goes to investigate what’s made to seem like the suicide of a prominent Dublin businessman. They find and interview the ever-so-cool Mrs. Jewell and her sister-in-law fragile Dannie. Clues take Quirke back to his orphanage past. This is a wonderful mystery series, though I didn’t care much for the last one ‘Elegy for April’. Black, or John Banville, his real name, is in fine form in this one, bringing in all the family members those reading this series will grow fond of—flaws and all. Thankfully, Quirke is somewhat ‘on the wagon’ this book, making it easier for me to like him!   posted Sep 12, 2011 at 9:29AM

Cover ArtThe year we left home
by Thompson, Jean
I was so looking forward to this book set in Iowa and covering years contemporary to my own growing up and leaving home. The first two chapters were great—great short stories—but then the storytelling of this family and their individual lives just bogged down for me and seemed a bit forced to cover all the big themes of the past 40 years. I loved Elizabeth Strout’s 2009 Pulitzer winner Olive Kitteridge, written in the same way, but I just didn’t care too much for any of Thompson’s characters. I found myself skimming to get to the end. Many of you are waiting to read this one.   posted Sep 10, 2011 at 9:40AM

Cover ArtNothing daunted : the unexpected education of two society girls in the West
by Wickenden, Dorothy.
Two childhood friends, both Smith College grads, accept teaching jobs at a new school on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains in northwestern Colorado in 1915. It’s more than just about that year; it’s really a family memoir of the author’s grandmother, also Dorothy, and her friend Roz. It’s a good story. The enterprising Ferry Carpenter who gets them to Colorado is the more interesting character!   posted Sep 1, 2011 at 9:56PM

Cover ArtThe wake of forgiveness
by Machart, Bruce
Here’s a stellar debut novel flawlessly written—lyrical prose, realistic characters, and terrific sense of place. The story centers on a motherless boy, Karel Skala, his father and older brothers in three time periods from 1900 to 1924 in a Czech immigrant community in southeast Texas. Machart has used his knowledge of these people, their time and place to full advantage, building his tale on a classic ‘stranger comes to town’ plot. There’s horseracing, regret, revenge, beer smuggling, women who are strong and men who are good looking! What else does a story need! Some may have just a little trouble staying with a story that jumps back and forth in the three time periods and varying points of view. To me, it just made this superb book more interesting.   posted Aug 22, 2011 at 8:22AM

Cover ArtSnow in August : a novel
by Hamill, Pete
Michael Devlin, is a boy just coming of age in post-war [1947] Brooklyn, the same year Jackie Robinson joins the Dodgers. He makes the acquaintance of Rabbi Judah Hirsch, fortuitous for many reasons, and an unlikely one for this Irish-Catholic boy. Hamill is a master of this time and place; great realistic characters with all the joys and disappointments of growing up in an immigrant neighborhood. A page-turner for me.   posted Aug 15, 2011 at 5:16PM

Cover ArtLove and summer
by Trevor, William
Small towns and circumscribed lives are this book subjects, the setting Ireland sometime mid century. Ellie and Florian are the central characters, but Trevor writes in a whole town of people with unrealized hopes and dreams. Trevor is a master storyteller; this one is no different than all the wonderful ones read before. The book is a quiet little gem; great for a reading moment in summer.   posted Aug 10, 2011 at 8:40AM

Cover ArtA Venetian affair
by Di Robilant, Andrea
Di Robilant’s story of star-crossed lovers with connections to his father’s family in eighteenth century Venice is a beautiful tribute to his father’s search for more letters and his wish that this story be published. If you are intrigued by Venice and upper class lives this is a well-written truthful tale although not one I could stay with word for word!   posted Aug 7, 2011 at 2:32PM

Cover ArtThe Aspern papers
by James, Henry
What price will one pay for an obsession? That’s the crux of a man of letters’ search for a poet’s papers thought in possession of a now elderly woman in Venice. Henry James is once again adept at giving us unforgettable characters.   posted Aug 6, 2011 at 8:37PM

Cover ArtOne of our Thursdays is missing
by Fforde, Jasper.
The ‘book version’ of Thursday steps in to solve a Book World mystery along with a delightful new character named Sprokett. What an imagination. Glad I got to be along for the ride. [You might be a little lost if you read this one prior to some of the others in the Thursday Next series.]   posted Aug 5, 2011 at 8:41PM

Cover ArtA day in the life of a smiling woman : complete short stories
by Drabble, Margaret
I got this collection because of the Jane Austen-related story ’Dower House at Kellynch: A Somerset Romance.’ The collection covers many years in Drabble’s writing life; many little jewels to read in it.   posted Aug 2, 2011 at 8:30AM

Cover ArtThe warmth of other suns : the epic story of America’s great migration
by Wilkerson, Isabel
The Great Migration of African Americans from southern states to northern ones in the years of WWI though the 1960s is told through the eyes of three participants, Americans all, who made this internal migration to Chicago, New York and Los Angeles in the 1930s and 1940s. Wilkerson’s book is engaging told; she clearly was passionate about her subjects, being a child of Great Migration parents and an award-winning journalist. I loved this quote at the end of the book: ‘In the simple process of walking away one by one millions of African-American southerners have altered the course of their own, and all of America’s history.’ [Lawrence R. Rogers]   posted Jul 31, 2011 at 3:38PM

Cover ArtClara and Mr. Tiffany : a novel
by Vreeland, Susan.
Vreeland writes another of her novels based on real people, this time Louis Tiffany, one of his designers Clara Driscoll and ‘her girls’ who crafted his windows and lampshades. It’s also a beautifully told story of New York City in the Gilded Age at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The unfairness of being a professional woman is central to this book but has parallels even now a hundred years later. Think about it. Otherwise, it’s a good story of friendship, loyalty and beautiful things.   posted Jul 19, 2011 at 9:53PM

Cover ArtWait for me! : memoirs
by Devonshire, Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford Cavendish
The youngest of the famous Mitford sisters, known as Debo, married Andrew Cavendish, has lived 90 years through all kinds of legendary events and known a who’s who of people. She tells her story with grace and humor. Some stories that were new to me in this memoir added to what I’ve read about her and her sisters through the years. Her world is fascinating to me.   posted Jul 16, 2011 at 9:12PM

Cover ArtGreat house
by Krauss, Nicole
Krauss is one of the finest prose writers we have writing today, but this book’s sadness and lack of plot just lost me half way through. ’The History of Love’ was so much better! Read it if you haven’t. Read this if you are feeling very literary!   posted Jul 8, 2011 at 4:45PM

Cover ArtOne day
by Nicholls, David
Em and Dex; Dex and Em. One day, two friends, 20 years. Such a touching story of growing up and, just maybe, learning how to live. Soon to be a movie.   posted Jul 4, 2011 at 10:49AM

Cover ArtA lonely death
by Todd, Charles.
Ian Rutledge goes to Surrey to investigate a death by garroting, which is followed in rapid succession by two more. With a serial killer on the loose, someone leaving no clues, and the usual politics between Scotland Yard and the local police, this is a satisfying mystery on many levels. And, if one set of killings isn’t enough, his just retired boss Cummins laments the one case he never solved. Can Rutledge help him out on that, too? Rutledge is a character you need to know. His psyche is scarred by WWI and his old comrade Hamish is never far away. Fascinating.   posted Jun 29, 2011 at 4:43PM

Cover ArtA presumption of death
by Paton Walsh, Jill
A lot of complications in this one. How will Peter and Harriet figure it out? The book also uses some of Dorothy Sayers own WWII writing to augment this story in the time of the Blitz.   posted Jun 27, 2011 at 10:48AM

Cover ArtPersuasion
by Austen, Jane
Jane’s last book and one of my favorites to read again and again. Who cannot love Anne Elliott and Captain Wentworth for their errors in judgment finally righted? It’s her ode to second chances, her naval brothers and her lovely visions of days spent in lovely Lyme on the sea.   posted Jun 25, 2011 at 9:54AM

Cover ArtThe Attenbury emeralds : the new Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane mystery
by Paton Walsh, Jill
Re-visiting Dorothy Sayer’s Lord and Lady Peter Wimsey [Harriet Vane] is great fun. Now they are married with children as is Bunter! But, they are all still solving cases. I, frankly, wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was. Delightful.   posted Jun 21, 2011 at 8:52PM

Cover ArtSister : a novel
by Lupton, Rosamund
Older sister Beatrice can’t believe her younger sister Tess has committed suicide as the police conclude. Their family history, and Tess’s beliefs and actions, just make this verdict unbelievable to her sister. Who knows best? There’s plenty of suspense as Bea takes on the task of investigating the circumstances surrounding the event and men in her sister’s life. The plotting of this book is unique: Bea writes her sister a posthumous letter; she is being interviewed by a solicitor for a court case; she is coming to terms with all the messy details and grief death of a loved sister entails. The author weaves this all together pretty flawlessly and her screenwriter skill makes the dialogue sing. But, as Bea’s life begins to unravel from the strain, what’s real and what’s not unraveled this reader. Read it for the suspense; it’s a page turner. As a classic mystery, not so much.   posted Jun 19, 2011 at 4:04PM

Cover ArtSouth Riding; a novel
The county of South Riding in Yorkshire is the beautifully rendered setting of a novel set in the mid 1930s—and written at that time—featuring a cast of memorable characters. At the center are two strong females, Sarah Burton and Mrs. Beddows. The men are no less vivid, but maybe more flawed. It’s a book about hard times, change, expectations and passion—what else does a good book need! I wanted to read this book after this spring’s Masterpiece Classic ’South Riding’ production. Some reviewers familiar with the book said the ending was rushed and many characters had back stories you just didn’t get from the miniseries. All that is true, but not as much as I expected. It is worth the read, if only to re-visit a hauntingly beautiful place and these characters.   posted Jun 14, 2011 at 4:06PM

Cover ArtVendetta
by Dibdin, Michael.
Aurelio Zen is still adjusting to his new situation in Rome, not quite ‘one of the boys’ and knowing he has a keen rival in one of his colleagues. He’s sent to Sardinia to put together evidence that will implicate another person, thus freeing a politically savvy suspect, in a murder. Zen enters dangerous territory but, of course, solves the crime and may have found someone to love as the book comes to a close. This is my introduction to the late English writer Michael Dibdin’s work. I am reading--my own, not library copy--because the first three Aurelio Zen mysteries will be PBS Masterpiece Mysteries this summer [2011]. Actor Rufus Sewell plays Zen, in my mind, a perfect choice. It’s a good mystery.   posted Jun 3, 2011 at 2:44PM

Cover ArtVirginia Woolf’s nose : essays on biography
by Lee, Hermione.
Biographers take ‘facts’ and write a ‘story’ that’s interesting for us readers. I read this book for the Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen essays as they are authors about which I’ve read and read their writing. If you have, too, you’ll find these engaging and interesting.   posted May 28, 2011 at 10:28AM

Cover ArtThe long song
by Levy, Andrea
Like Levy’s award-winning book ‘Small Island’ Jamaica is the setting of this new book. July’s son Thomas wants her to write a memoir of her life in the 1840s as slavery was abolished in England and her colonies. July is a wonderful character, a survivor in a world where cunning and deceit were required to navigate a very uncertain existence. Stylistically Levy’s book is a triumph of storytelling and memoir making, taking lives about which very little is known and bringing it to life. No wonder this book was nominated for the Man Booker prize this year. It fulfills on many levels.   posted May 26, 2011 at 9:40PM

Cover ArtCollected stories
by Kipling, Rudyard
Anyone who reads and loves Jane Austen has heard of Kipling’s story ‘The Janeites’ about the WWI soldiers with their secret Jane society. I’d read references to the story and phrases like ‘Tilneys and trapdoors’, but never read the entire story until now. A must for one’s complete Jane Austen education!   posted May 22, 2011 at 7:01AM

Cover ArtAnd furthermore
by Dench, Judi
Dame Judi Dench recalls her career so far, recounting every play, television and movie with snapshots of her work with notable directors and actors. This book seems to be a revision of an earlier ‘told to’ biography, hence its name. I am more familiar with her films. It was enlightening to read about them, the context of when they were done. The charm and wit we see in some parts she’s done seems very like the person she is.   posted May 21, 2011 at 4:07PM

Cover ArtThe tragedy of Arthur : a novel
by Phillips, Arthur
What I like about reading Arthur Phillips’ books: every one is a different imaginative journey written with great flair and verve. And, he always includes his hometown, Minneapolis, somewhere in the story! His latest is another wonderful ride of a story. Such fun.   posted May 10, 2011 at 7:58AM

Cover ArtThe tiger’s wife : a novel
by Obreht, Tea
A doctor’s granddaughter explores the secrets of her grandfather’s life, why a copy of ’The Jungle Book’ was always in his jacket pocket and the meaning of his lifelong passion for tigers. Two stories, the granddaughter’s set in a time after the recent conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and her grandfather’s early in the 20th century, are woven seamlessly. Her characters and characterizations are richly drawn. It’s a book steeped in its time and place, lyrically written. An amazing first book.   posted May 3, 2011 at 5:49PM

Cover ArtDrawing conclusions
by Leon, Donna.
Brunetti and his team investigate a retired woman’s death. Was it a heart attack or something more? With Brunetti it is always something more! Oh, the paths his mind takes. His meditations on fairness and justice are as thought provoking as his walks through lovely Venice.   posted Apr 25, 2011 at 10:19AM

Cover ArtThe book of other people
by Smith, Zadie.
Short stories by many writers I like or have heard of, but not read. Liked some; skipped some. Compilation done for a good cause!   posted Apr 22, 2011 at 10:53AM

Cover ArtSonata for Miriam
by Olsson, Linda.
And I thought ’Astrid & Veronika’ was the best book I’d read so far this year! This one is as good or better. What a writer Linda Olsson is.   posted Apr 17, 2011 at 10:17AM

Cover ArtThe lacuna : a novel
by Kingsolver, Barbara.
Novel written as the journals and letters of a young boy who grew to manhood in Mexico and associated with the household of painter Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo. It also means he knew Lev Trotsky when he spent his final months in Mexico City. Our young Harrison Shepherd returns to his father in Washington, DC, and finding him deceased, takes a young man’s road trip and ends up living and writing in Asheville, NC. Who puts this book together is a mystery known only as V. B. for nearly half the book! But, you’ll love Violet Brown once you get to know her. Kingsolver is at her best with this historical fiction covering a span of nearly 30 years—the 1930s to 1950s—and seeing many things change in American life. This book, with its historical characters takes a look at Communism and the many ways it was viewed in those years, including the despicable activities of the McCarthy era.   posted Apr 8, 2011 at 5:15PM

Cover ArtMolly Fox’s birthday
by Madden, Deirdre
A long-time friend of Molly’s is staying at her Dublin home and spends the day of Molly’s birthday, the summer solstice, contemplating her friendship with Molly and another friend they have in common, Andrew. This is a beautiful understated book on the meaning of friendships that last many years and of families, what they give to us and what they take from us. Its structure will remind you of ’Mrs. Dalloway’; Madden’s insights and contemplations were one’s I’ve had many times. I liked reading this very much.   posted Apr 2, 2011 at 4:54PM

Cover ArtTulip fever
by Moggach, Deborah.
Reading that this book was being slated as a movie that might star Jude Law, Keira Knightley and Jim Broadbent, I gave it a read. If you liked the book ’Girl with a Pearl Earring’ [or have an interest in the golden age of Dutch painting], this one will remind you of it. I skimmed to the end, something I rarely do. Fun to think of the movie though! Moggach is associated with some good ones.   posted Mar 29, 2011 at 10:23AM

Cover ArtAt home : a short history of private life
by Bryson, Bill.
Bryson uses his home, an English rectory built in Norfolk in the pivotal year 1851, as the starting point to look at people’s private lives in the time we would call the Industrial Revolution and times proceeding it that influenced all that came after. This is engaging social history. Each chapter centers on a different room in the house, but as my husband said after reading it, where Bryson takes you can be widely afield of that room and time! There’s great trivia that could make one very entertaining at a dinner gathering.   posted Mar 28, 2011 at 10:36AM

Cover ArtGardens in the dunes : a novel
by Silko, Leslie
Two young sisters from a tiny Colorado River plateau tribe navigate survival in a turn-of-the-twentieth-century story. One, Sister Salt, comes of age in the camps supporting the building of the water diversion canal that will take water to LA; another, Indigo, finds herself ‘befriended’ by Hattie and botanist Edward, a recently married ‘enlightened’ couple about to embark on a trip to Italy and Corsica. And, yes, gardens, gardens, gardens are everywhere. This book strives a little hard with too many story lines and too much scholarly information about ancient religions and plant propagation. I felt I was either in a feminist, religion or botany class! And, that’s not even half of it! I found it fascinating though as I’m an avid gardener and loved Indigo for her fierce love of family, animals and plants.   posted Mar 15, 2011 at 7:16PM

Cover ArtUnaccustomed earth
by Lahiri, Jhumpa.
I loved these stories. The three related stories that are the second half of the book tell of Hema and Kaushik, two young people acquainted with each others because of their parents. We meet them again as they approach their 40s. Sometimes I put off picking up books of short stories. Then, reading hers, I wonder why I’ve waited. She’s quite a writer. One shouldn’t wait!   posted Mar 9, 2011 at 7:57PM

Cover ArtAn object of beauty : a novel
by Martin, Steve
Lacey Yeager is a young ambitious woman working in the New York art world in the last 20 years. You see what it takes to make it and lose it. It’s all told by her college friend, an art critic, Daniel. The book contains illustrations of many pieces collected, bought and sold, so there’s no need to look them up as you sometimes have to do in books about art! Steve Martin has written another entertaining little book.   posted Mar 5, 2011 at 6:05PM

Cover ArtThe imperfectionists : a novel
by Rachman, Tom
The newsroom of an English-language international newspaper based in Rome is the setting for this touching and satiric story. The cast of characters and their lives are told in interconnected stories with headlines we’ll all remember. There’s also the running back-story of how this newspaper came to be in the 1950s. I’m glad the author chose to go from journalism to fiction. His writing is fresh, readable and just plain fun. No wonder so many people like this book!   posted Mar 4, 2011 at 10:53AM

Cover ArtAstrid & Veronika
by Olsson, Linda.
Two ‘motherless’ women, generations apart, become neighbors near a small Swedish village. The year that ensues will change both their lives as they both learn to share hidden aspects of their lives—one long, another just starting with some bumps to overcome. This poetic and elegiac book uses the seasons as one of its gently unfolding themes to examine the ‘why do we live as we do’ question. You’ll love Astrid and Veronika, wishing you lived next door, too.   posted Feb 23, 2011 at 9:15AM

Cover ArtThe distant hours : a novel
by Morton, Kate
The sisters Blythe and young Meredith who is an evacuee from the Blitz form the centerpiece of another of Morton’s stories of family connections and secrets. Enter Meredith’s daughter Edie who has come to Kent and Milderhurst Castle, the Blythe family estate, years later quite by chance. This is a well-paced Gothic tale that is Morton’s best book yet. Her characters are always interesting and this time the story will raise the hair on your arms! Loved it. Read her other books if you haven’t!   posted Feb 16, 2011 at 8:47PM

Cover ArtSpirit car : journey to a Dakota past
by Wilson, Diane
Part memoir and part history, Wilson looks for her mother’s family, one not talked about by her mother and siblings while Wilson was growing up. My own family genealogy has a similar—though not quite so painful—past. It took my own mother many years to talk about her early life. I thought Wilson’s book might help me write this story. She uses both context and fact to tell it; it’s something genealogists sometimes need to do. She did it well, although I found parts repetitive.   posted Feb 11, 2011 at 9:50AM

Cover ArtThe postmistress
by Blake, Sarah
The year is 1941 and war is tearing apart Europe, the Blitz is destroying England, while in America the news is about something happening somewhere else. What has it to do with them? We watch three interrelated stories with three women, one a correspondent Frankie whose voice enters the small Cape Cod town on the radio, another the town’s postmistress Iris and the third, the young doctor’s wife Emma who sees her husband idealistically go to help those suffering in London. This is an intriguing well-written tale. It is a story of war through the lens of those on the edges of action. It is the story that took many a long time for many to hear, that of what was happening to the Jews of Europe. It is what you say or don’t say and how or when that makes all the difference. Highly recommended.   posted Feb 8, 2011 at 12:42PM

Cover ArtThe King’s speech
by Logue, Mark
This is Mark Logue’s story of his grandfather’s experiences with the man who would become Britain’s King George VI. It’s an interesting story and fleshes out what you know from seeing the movie. It’s also amazing what treasures you may find that your family has saved through the years!   posted Feb 5, 2011 at 10:59PM

Cover ArtThe cookbook collector : a novel
by Goodman, Allegra.
Two sisters, Emily and Jess, find their way in the competing sensibility of millennium America: one is CEO of an internet start-up while the other studies philosophy at Cal Berkeley and works in an antiquarian bookshop owned by a Microsoft millionaire. Both are looking for love and the fulfillment that such a relationship might give them. This is a story of coincidences and decisions, secrets and lies. In the cookbook part—a collection George, the bookshop owner buys—Goodman’s writing is Proustian and in the high tech world of Silicon Valley and Cambridge high fliers we’re taken to a time when possibilities seemed ripe for the picking. These competing stories, while connected, made this book disjointed and not quite as enjoyable as I’d hoped.   posted Feb 5, 2011 at 9:44AM

Cover ArtThe three Weissmanns of Westport
by Schine, Cathleen.
A mother and her two fiftyish daughters in current-day New York find themselves forced into some uncomfortable life changes, just like the characters in Jane Austen’s ’Sense and Sensibility’ faced in the eighteenth century. Well, similar, but not quite the same. This is pure chick lit for woman of a certain age. Don’t take it too seriously; just enjoy it for the ride! You can move on to something better soon enough!   posted Jan 31, 2011 at 11:00AM

Cover ArtOrdinary thunderstorms : a novel
by Boyd, William
Adam, a climatologist on a job interview in London, becomes the innocent suspect in the murder of a renowned immunologist, Dr. Wang. He also seems to be targeted as the person with information ‘someone’ wants kept under wraps. His going underground to elude arrest leads him to life in London he could never have envisioned. Boyd is such an articulate writer. This book has engaging characters and plotting. It was hard to put down. I love his writing, having read much that he’s written. You cheer for Adam in his many guises. Will he ever be able to live his old ‘normal’ life? I think there may be more books with Adam and Rita, the woman who knows more about him than he thinks.   posted Jan 27, 2011 at 9:12AM

Cover ArtStarted Early, Took My Dog : a Jackson Brodie Novel
by Atkinson, Kate.
Jackson Brodie helps an adopted woman find her birth family while he looks for a new home and evidence of his former spouse Tessa. Oh, the twists this one takes. It’s great. And, he’s still thinking of Louise. That’s good.   posted Jan 20, 2011 at 8:15AM

Cover ArtThe grace of silence
by Norris, Michele
Michele Norris looks at her own life and her parents’ lives as a means to understanding how their experiences colored her own growing up and view of the world. Their groundbreaking move to south Minneapolis is just one thing that will make this interesting to local readers. For anyone who wants to look at their own history through a different lens, Michele gives us tools to emulate. I read this in one day, yesterday, the day we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King. I’m glad this was on my Christmas list and proved to be as wonderful as I thought it would be.   posted Jan 18, 2011 at 9:10AM

Cover ArtTinker, tailor, soldier, spy
by Le Carre, John
George Smiley is called out of retirement to find a Soviet mole in the Circus—the term used for Britain’s version of the CIA—during the Cold War. Because a new film of the book with a great cast is being filmed in the UK, it was time to read this book, which my spouse couldn’t believe I’d never read. Spy jargon a bit hard for me to follow but a whooping good story! Now, hopefully, we’ll see the film get distribution here in 2011.   posted Dec 2, 2010 at 10:16AM

Cover ArtTinkers
by Harding, Paul
A book that begins ‘George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died’ might seem off putting and grim. But, it’s what passes through his mind and that of his father Howard that tells us just about all there is to know about valuing our lives and not just for when the inevitable clocks winds down. Beautifully written. Read it aloud; it’s poetry. Read it again it’s worth it.   posted Nov 28, 2010 at 1:49PM

Cover ArtTinkers
by Harding, Paul
A book that begins ‘George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died’ might seem off putting and grim. But, it’s what passes through his mind and that of his father Howard that tells us just about all there is to know about valuing our lives and not just for when the inevitable clocks winds down. Beautifully written. Read it aloud; it’s poetry. Read it again it’s worth it.   posted Nov 24, 2010 at 8:12PM

Cover ArtBenny & Shrimp
by Mazetti, Katarina.
Two star-crossed people with biological clocks running—one a young widow and the other a farmer who’s recently lost his mother—meet as they tend the graves of their loved ones. While Benny and Desiree [Shrimp] find their relationship satisfying on a physical level, only time will tell if this very different couple will find common ground. This is a touching, funny book. You’ll have so much sympathy for these lonely people and hope things work out. [Mazetti says she’s written a sequel. Even she wanted to know. Hope the success of this book leads the sequel into English translation, too.]   posted Nov 20, 2010 at 9:45PM

Cover ArtTrial by fire
by Jance, Judith A.
A traumatized woman awakes terribly injured from a fire with no memories of what came before. Ali Reynolds, filling in temporarily as the sheriff’s department media relations spokesperson, finds herself in the middle, both in terms of office politics and her role to keep an eye on the mysterious woman. The fifth book in the series but the first for me. I can take these or leave them although I did stay up until midnight—very unusual for me—to finish it!   posted Nov 12, 2010 at 1:36PM

Cover ArtWork song
by Doig, Ivan.
Morrie Morgan, the colorful schoolteacher from Doig’s ’The Whistling Season’ is back in Montana after an absence of ten years. He arrives in Butte in 1919 to see what he can gain from ‘The Richest Hill on Earth.’ His bookkeeping skills first find use in the mortuary business; then at the public library where he finds a repository of fine volumes and an irascible director. Meanwhile, he finds lodging with widow Grace Faraday along with retired miners Hoop and Griff and meets up with former student from Marais Coulee, ‘Rabrab’ Rellis, now a Butte teacher. There’s more. The book’s rounded out with all kinds of characters! And, how Doig plays us along to the gripping climax is rich storytelling at its best. What Doig does so well he does again in this book that’s both a great story and one firmly placed in Butte’s copper mining story of immigrant miners and bosses, unions, the Wobblies, strikes and the toll it took on lives in ways seen and unseen. There’s even a little about baseball as the 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Redlegs runs in the background, linking Morrie to his Chicago past. You get a dose of history, but a rollicking story when one is narrated by Morrie Morgan! These last two books by Doig now rank right up there to me with his ’Dancing at the Rascal Fair’ and ’English Creek,’ high praise.   posted Nov 8, 2010 at 8:20AM

Cover ArtThe forgotten garden : a novel
by Morton, Kate
A little girl arrives alone in Australia. What an intriguing beginning to this family story that tells of three generations of women and their seeming connection to the Montrachet family at Blackhurst Manor on the coast of Cornwall in England. But, therein is the mystery! The Authoress is perhaps the central character, a teller of children’s fairy stories and much, much more. I liked Morton’s first book, The House at Riverton, with its theme of secrets. This one is similar, a good read. Some might find this 500+-page book hard to follow if not read in long settings. It skips back and forth in time and while the characters are all inter-connected, it would be easy to lose the story, I think. Since I couldn’t stop seeing what came next for these women that wasn’t an issue for me!   posted Oct 27, 2010 at 8:42AM

Cover ArtFamily album
by Lively, Penelope
Gina, second eldest daughter in family of six siblings, narrates the story of life at Allersmead with parents Alison and Charles along with au pair Ingrid. The story is one of memory as each family member in turn relates their take on family events and their own coping being part of Alison’s large brood. If you’ve ever had a sibling say, ‘That’s not what happened. It was like this,’ then Family Album is for you. While I agree with reviewers who say this is not among Lively’s best, it’s still very good for its tale-telling of a time recently past for many of us just reaching retirement age. And, with Lively’s brilliant satire you’ll certainly be entertained for a little while.   posted Oct 22, 2010 at 8:37AM

Cover ArtA question of belief
by Leon, Donna.
Brunetti’s partner Vianello’s aunt is withdrawing large sums of money from her bank; an acquaintance from the Commune comes with evidence of disturbing delays in court cases. The Brunettis plan to escape Venice for an August vacation in the Alps as this is Europe’s very hot summer. Paola is making her reading choices! Then, there is a good man’s murder… As always Brunetti, Vianello, the remarkable Signorina Elettra and the familiar cast of colleagues—the good and not so good—in the Questura are back at solving crimes, whether or not there is ever evidence or political will to bring about justice. This series of detective fiction just never fails to satisfy and this one makes you think a little about the things people do for love.   posted Oct 17, 2010 at 4:16PM

Cover ArtFreedom
by Franzen, Jonathan.
So many people want to read this book set right here in Minnesota and about a family named the Berglunds. It spans several decades but concentrates on the 1970s to the current time. If you came of age here in that time you’ll have plenty to relate to when reading it. If you politics lean left rather than right you’ll get more chuckles. It’s a family story—warts and all—about good intentions and how various characters view our country’s notions about the freedom we seek, expect, cherish and sometimes squander in our pursuit of the American dream. It’s easy to see yourself and some of your own mistakes in judgment when reading this. I found all the sexual exploits a bit much at times, but kept thinking they must symbolize something bigger than mere personal gratification. Maybe not. Other than those parts, loved it. I am a 35-year member of The Nature Conservancy! Love his way of telling a story and his pace is perfect.   posted Oct 13, 2010 at 3:29PM

Cover ArtEchoes from the dead
by Theorin, Johan
Julia’s son and Gerlof’s grandson Jens disappeared in the fog one September day 20 years ago. He was only five. No trace of him was ever found; but now Gerlof has received a boy’s sandal anonymously through the mail. Gerlof and his old friends have puzzled over Jens disappearance amid rumors that surround a troubled boy Nils Kant, charged with murder and seemingly disappeared. Did he return at some point? As Julia and Gerlof follow the trail of these bits and pieces of information, things heat up and Gerlof’s friend Ernst is found dead. This very atmospheric mystery set on an island off the coast of Sweden started slowly for me. It gets to be a page turner! The ending was quite a surprise.   posted Sep 20, 2010 at 3:37PM

Cover ArtMajor Pettigrew’s last stand : a novel
by Simonson, Helen
Major Pettigrew lives a quiet life in a Sussex town. When he nearly faints after returning from his brother’s funeral, he’s befriended by Mrs. Ali, a widow who keeps the town’s convenience store and happened to be out for a walk. They’ve much in common as they come to find out, but will the town’s and their own preconceptions and assumptions keep them apart? The Shakespeare quote:   posted Sep 10, 2010 at 7:54PM

Cover ArtThe Street of a Thousand Blossoms
by Tsukiyama, Gail.
Two young boys, Hiroshi and Kenji, are raised by their grandparents—wise and wonderful—in a suburb of Tokyo in the years leading up to Pearl Harbor and WWII. After the war both follow long-held dreams: Hiroshi becomes a sumo champion and Kenji becomes a mask artist for actors in the Noh theater. The story follows their triumphs and sorrows through 20 years of their lives and the lives of people near and dear to them. It’s also a story of Japan and its people’s coping with a war that ultimately strikes at civilians and leaves them defeated and occupied. Tsukiyama can tell a story and teach you something along the way, her characters are nuanced and full of life’s realities, and her writing is beautiful though a little meandering and repetitive at times. Some readers writing reviews say it’s hard to keep track of all the characters. If you find that difficult, keep a list! By all means, keep reading.   posted Sep 1, 2010 at 12:05PM

Cover ArtSo brave, young, and handsome
by Enger, Leif.
Set in the West in 1915 and involving a journey, Enger takes a writer with writer’s block, Monte Becket, and Glendon Hale, a man with a sketchy past on a journey to find the love of Glendon’s life, a woman known as Blue. It reads like a potboiler in a way, but is so full of characters you’ll love getting to know and lots of writerly references that will make any fan of fiction smile. If you’ve cowboys or cowgirls in your past, you’ll love this tale. If you think taking a trip may help you find yourself, you may be right. I just felt disconcerted that the book’s title didn’t relate to a principal character.   posted Aug 28, 2010 at 11:56AM

Cover ArtThat old cape magic
by Russo, Richard
Jack Griffin, son of two academics, looks at his life in the year that will see his parents die, his daughter wed, his own career seem iffy as does his marriage to Joy. What’s a guy to do? How does anyone cope with these life-altering events? It seems he’ll do just like the rest of us have or will—the best we can given the circumstances and history that’s gone before. Readers who are a certain age with some of Griffin’s life experiences behind them are sure to relish this look into a year in someone’s life. As with most families we’ll laugh, we’ll cry, we’ll shout and we’ll love these flawed people for whatever they may have done to seemingly ‘ruin our lives.’ It also seemed an elegy to a place and to a writer’s life. Good to read at end of summer.   posted Aug 28, 2010 at 11:51AM

Cover ArtCamilla
by L'Engle, Madeleine.
Camilla finds she’s growing up and coming into her own in her fifteenth year when her life seems all of a sudden not quite so idyllic and secure as it was just a few months before this fall and winter. The story is set in NYC just after WWII, which is interesting as a set piece of what it was like growing up there and in a privileged Upper East Side setting with friends who live in the Village. I’m not sure I’d have even known the authors referred to in this book at the same time—and wonder how Frank’s discussions about God would have struck me then. The book seemed a little ‘preachy’ to me now—like Heidi was when reading it when nearly 60! I’m glad I read it and can’t quite remember why it was recommended to me. L’Engle is a treasure; everyone should read her books.   posted Aug 5, 2010 at 9:06AM

Cover ArtThe swan thieves : a novel
by Kostova, Elizabeth.
A complicated tale of painters and painting, stretching from the time of the first Impressionists in Paris and in our own time in this country. Robert Oliver is the contemporary painter with the obsession for the dark haired woman he paints time and again. Book is written as homage to Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, with its principal character, the psychiatrist, an Andrew Marlow, too. Wow! I liked Andrew, even though he broke all the rules, and Mary and Kate and even the damaged Robert. And Beatrice and Olivier—even Yves—who could not like all these characters. Truly, a story of love and betrayal—and for several—obsession. Highly recommended. So well conceived and written.   posted Aug 5, 2010 at 9:02AM

Cover ArtThe vanishing act of Esme Lennox
by O'Farrell, Maggie
Sisters Esme and Kitty have lived lives with secrets closely guarded until one day when Esme leaves an asylum where she’s been kept for years and years. Her great niece Iris will have to put this seemingly Gothic puzzle together. Fascinating. No chapters in this one. You’re just pulled along in the lives of these three women. It’s good. Full of revelations that are revealed layer by layer. Great for book discussion. How could this happen?   posted Jul 24, 2010 at 2:49PM

Cover ArtThe particular sadness of lemon cake : a novel
by Bender, Aimee.
Rose Edelstein has a special gift—or curse—of taste! Aimee Bender’s book about Rose and her family is a bit mind-bending, but worth the journey. Perfect summer reading. I didn’t expect to like this book when reviews of it had descriptions like ’magical realism’ in them. But, for those of us who taste--or wish we could taste--for a living, it’s a sweet story for sure. I almost believed this was happening to real people; its LA setting becomes like home. Wonderful coming of age story, which is always a fave of mine. So, I say, put on your library list!   posted Jul 20, 2010 at 8:34AM

Cover ArtThe glass room
by Mawer, Simon.
An affluent forward-thinking couple in Czechoslovakia builds a house designed by an up-and-coming modernist architect in the 1920s. For ten years the house centers their lives and loves. Then they must flee the Nazis. Others come to the building, now in Soviet times seen as merely utilitarian, but it still touches all who enter. The author brings the people and their lives full circle. Chance and circumstance—what part they have in lives—and history. A beautiful book on its own, made even more poignant as it parallels the lives of a real house and real people, that of Villa Tugendhat, designed by Mies van der Rohe, in Brno in the Czech Republic.   posted Jul 17, 2010 at 8:52AM

Cover ArtNot becoming my mother : and other things she taught me along the way
by Reichl, Ruth
A memoir of her mother written after reading her mother’s diaries and letters years following her death. Reichl has a much deeper understanding of her mother’s generation, her struggles as an educated ambitious woman whom everyone said should be fulfilled as a wife and mother. After regaling us in her funny ’Tender at the Bone’ about her mother who could not cook and had little sense about food, Reichl’s take here has a depth of understanding for her mother quite different.   posted Jul 11, 2010 at 4:32PM

Cover ArtThe lonely polygamist : a novel
by Udall, Brady.
This book reminds me a lot of a good Ann Tyler one, like ’Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant’ or ’Saint Maybe.’ But,as Dorothy in ’The Wizard of Oz’ might say, "I’ve a feeling we’re not in Baltimore any more." I was also reminded of Nick Hornby’s "How to Be Good." Such great reading.   posted Jul 2, 2010 at 4:54PM

Cover ArtThe hearts of horses
by Gloss, Molly.
Set in eastern Oregon in 1917, it tells the story of 19-year-old Martha Lessen who pictures herself a cowgirl—horse girl really—who will strike out on her own and break horses in an unconventional way for the times. We find ourselves in a small community with Martha breaking a circle of horses and getting to know the families associated with them in the year the US enters WWI. Fairly balanced between history and romance, Gloss’s goals for her writing are a bit transparent from her depiction of strong women to one farmer’s death from cancer. But, aside from that a nice little novel for a summer day. Of course, I thought of Patches, the pinto pony in my life, and the good horsemen I knew growing up—Dad, neighbor Harry and, most of all Uncle Fred who not only trained at Fort Riley, Ks, but worked with horses in the army during WWI in France.   posted Jun 28, 2010 at 12:41PM

Cover ArtThe zookeeper’s wife : a war story
by Ackerman, Diane.
During WWII Antonina and Jan Zabinski used their positions at Warsaw’s renowned zoo to support Poland’s Underground and aid Jewish people escaping the Nazi’s particularly harsh treatment of them or anyone who aided them. It’s also the story of animals and our relationships with them—what we know, think we know and can learn. Amazing and true! Loved it. It’s more than a Holocaust story.   posted Jun 22, 2010 at 11:48AM

Cover ArtThe cry of the sloth : the mostly tragic story of Andrew Whittaker being his col
by Savage, Sam
A times, biting satire; at times, just dreary. Andrew Whitaker, whose life you follow for several months through ALL his writing is among the least sympathetic characters I’ve ever read. That this was the author’s intention is amazing. I found it hard to stay with by the end. So delusional. So self-centered. But, funny in a way.   posted Jun 13, 2010 at 6:29PM

Cover ArtThe book of William : how Shakespeare’s first folio conquered the world
by Collins, Paul
Wow! What an engaging book about a book! Collins follows the literary journey of the efforts, rivalries and gigantic personalities involved in collecting and publishing Shakespeare’s plays and the subsequent revisions and editions. Then, we follow the paths of these first folios take as they become the most collected books in the world to the current efforts to make books like it available digitally. Fascinating on so many levels—a must read for Shakespeare fans, book lovers and for those interested in the book trade. It’s truly a page turner.   posted Jun 11, 2010 at 8:18AM

Cover ArtHow to paint a dead man
by Hall, Sarah
Four interconnected stories make up this book that was shortlisted for last year’s Man Booker prize. Hall’s writing from four perspectives is pitch perfect—the young blind girl and aging artist in 1960s Italy and the father and daughter in contemporary north-east England mourning the loss of her twin brother. Exquisite. I’m sorry I waited so long to read it although Peter was a raunchy bugger and a little larger than life. Interesting both he and Italian artist characters were homage to real people.   posted Jun 8, 2010 at 4:57PM

Cover ArtThe red door
by Todd, Charles.
Handsome Ian Rutledge, a survivor of the Great War who lives with shell shock and the voice of Hamish, one of his men, in his ear solves a complicated crime involving people named Teller, one of them in a house with a red door and a parrot named Jake. Well done. This is the latest in a series written by a mother and son writing team in NC!   posted May 31, 2010 at 2:18PM

Cover ArtThe state of Jones : the small southern county that seceded from the Confederacy
by Jenkins, Sally.
An account of Unionists in one southeastern Mississippi county during the Civil War and after as Jim Crow Laws became the rule. Principally it’s the story of an unheralded leader Newton Knight, a yeoman farmer from the Piney Woods, a man of uncommon courage to do the right thing. Fascinating.   posted May 31, 2010 at 2:16PM

Cover ArtPictures at an exhibition
by Sara Houghteling
Max, son of a legendary Paris art dealer, grows up to see WWII change his privileged life to one of hiding and the loss of all the artwork his family owns as the Nazis systematically try to appropriate artwork for art’s sake and anything Jewish as a matter of course. One person who stands in the way is the remarkable Rose Clermont, whose story is based on a real person. Wonderful first novel.   posted May 31, 2010 at 2:14PM

Cover ArtWas it beautiful? : a novel
by Alison McGhee
William T. grieves for his twenty-seven year old son along with other family and friends in a small Adirondack town in a year when snow is late coming. Beautifully wrought, but much too sad. Even lighter moments with the animals in the run-down barn and with Genghis, the ‘greatest cat in the world’ don’t lighten the mood for long.   posted May 31, 2010 at 2:10PM

Cover ArtAdmission
by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Princeton Admission officer goes through an applicant season of surprising revelations and ghosts of her past. That she needs a little shaking up as someone says is true. And she is! Interesting for anyone with academic counseling in their past.   posted May 31, 2010 at 2:08PM

Cover ArtBlind your ponies
by West, Stanley Gordon
Just like in his book ’Until They Bring the Streetcars Back,’ West writes engaging stories of young people’s lives and invokes a marvelous sense of place. You come to love the people of Willow Creek, Montana, the few indefatigable boys of the basketball team, and Sam, the coach who ends of keeper of many secrets.   posted May 31, 2010 at 2:04PM

Cover ArtToo much happiness : stories
by Munro, Alice.
Short stories mostly set in the 1940s to 1960s Canada, except for the title novella which takes place in 1880s France, Germany, Russia and Sweden. It’s a journey, but then, isn’t that what reading Alice Munro is all about? Life is the journey no matter where she takes us and where we see ourselves in what she creates. Not my favorite collection of hers but certainly compelling to read. The stories will stay with me as they are mostly women—and one man—looking for a chance in life against the odds and with Munro’s usual unexpected surprises.   posted May 6, 2010 at 2:10PM

Cover ArtThe last days of the Romanovs : tragedy at Ekaterinburg
by Helen Rappaport
Rappaport puts together an oft told tale in a readable way without sacrificing the facts. She uses sources that were new and interesting to me. If you’ve read all that’s been written about these ‘last days’ there’s not much new here. But, she does include more on the ‘efforts’ various nations considered to rescue them or give them asylum. Always intriguing to me.   posted May 6, 2010 at 2:08PM

Cover ArtThe virgin of Small Plains : a novel
by Nancy Pickard
Mystery of a seeming unnamed girl’s death during a blizzard in the Flint Hills of Kansas has repercussions in the lives of three families torn apart by the tragedy, yet seemingly loyal to one another. Action shifts from 1987 when principal characters are in high school to 2004 when they are in careers of their own. Well done and great sense of place for me who grew up in that part of Kansas.   posted May 6, 2010 at 2:04PM

Cover ArtMaking an elephant : writing from within
by Ted Morgan
Compilation of articles and interviews on his own writing and that of others plus biographical material about his own life and his family’s story. He’s a good storyteller. That’s what he wants you to know and appreciate about his writing. Interesting. Glad I read it. It’s worth it to find where the book title comes from!   posted May 6, 2010 at 2:01PM

Cover ArtLast orders
by Graham Swift
‘Last Orders’ means more things than the title for this book. Three friends Ray, Lenny and Vic and a ‘son’ Vince accompany the ashes of Jack whose dying request is that they scatter his ashes at sea at Margate. More ‘last orders.’ Missing on this day-long excursion is Amy, his wife. The action takes place in the here and now and in the memories of these characters. The day they drive to Margate, with several diversions on the way, is a trip with lots of memory for these men who participated in WWII or saw their lives changed by it. The 1997 Booker prize winner is a story with little action, great vernacular dialogue, compelling characters and a lot of love for Amy. Agree about the movie. Great cast. Also read his more recent ’Making an Elephant: Writing from Within.’   posted May 6, 2010 at 1:59PM

Cover ArtTalking about detective fiction
by P.D. James
Book she was asked to write on the history and significance of the detective story from its Golden Age in the inter-war years to today. Her thoughts and insights were well worth reading. Made me think what it is I like in a mystery—the plot, the setting, the characters or the themes!   posted May 6, 2010 at 1:55PM

Cover ArtSouth of Broad : a novel
by Conroy, Pat.
Leo King is about to enter his senior year at Peninsula High School in Charleston, SC. Dr. King, his principal, Joyce scholar and mother, gives him an assignment one summer day—Bloomsday—to meet the new African American football coach and his son, tell three runaways at the orphanage about the high school they’ll attend, welcome the new family across the street, including twins, with cookies he’ll bake and meet his parents for lunch at the yacht club to meet two more kids, part of Charleston’s elite, who’ll join him for his senior year. South of Broad, a reference to those from the privileged end of Charleston, follows these kids and their triumphs and tragedies for the next 20 years. It’s also the story of Leo’s very Catholic family and the impact his brother Stephen’s death has on all of them. A beautiful ode to Charleston from the end of the 1960s through the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo. You are immersed in a place of great beauty and southern sensibility—to Conroy and Leo a place like no other. The story verges on melodrama but Conroy keeps it together and his writing just stays true to what story we’re being told, a little like ’Gone with the Wind!’ Good storytelling, good characters.   posted May 6, 2010 at 1:53PM

Cover ArtSalmon fishing in the Yemen
by Torday, Paul
There’s a Dilbert-from-the-Sunday-funnies quality to this book about an unlikely project championed for all the seeming ‘right’ reasons. You’ll laugh, particularly if you’ve ever worked in a big organization. Unfortunately, this book loses it as it approaches its ending. It’s the author’s first book and that sometimes happens. One character—the one I liked the least—had too much to say! If the movie is ever made as I read it might be and if Colin Firth plays Dr. Alfred as reported it’s easy to visualize him as this well-meaning scientist and misunderstood husband!   posted May 6, 2010 at 1:47PM

Cover ArtJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
by Clarke, Susanna.
I’ve been going to read this book for several years and when I saw it this winter on some Best Books of the Decade lists and that Complete Review gave it an A- I finally read it. It’s a big, thick book with many footnotes even though it’s fiction. Amazing first book for this author. Reads really well with lots of homage to other writers and great books. And, I’m not even much of a fan of fantasy. I just like reading that takes place during this Regency time in England.   posted Mar 23, 2010 at 6:23PM

Cover ArtNoah’s compass : a novel
by Anne Tyler
Liam Pennywell is downsized from his teaching job and makes some adjustments in his life. But, oh, what adjustments! Classic Anne Tyler. This is a good one, right up there with favorites like ’Saint Maybe,’ ’Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant’ and ’The Accidental Tourist.’   posted Feb 19, 2010 at 4:27PM

Cover ArtThe vintage caper
by Mayle, Peter.
Sam Levitt, con man turned good guy, is hired to uncover the truth about the theft of some high priced French wine. It’s a good first effort in the mystery genre with lots of good food and wine consumed as you’d expect from a book written by Peter Mayle. There are some good twists and turns in this caper.   posted Feb 6, 2010 at 8:44AM

Cover ArtCutting for stone : a novel
by Abraham Verghese
Marian and Shiva are twins joined at birth and who become orphans when their mother dies and their father abandons them. But what parents--a nun and gifted surgeon! Raised by doctors Hema and Ghosh and a loving cast of godparents, the boys reach adolescence more different than the same--or are they? Genet, daughter of one of the family amahs, figures large in this tale of love, betrayal, revenge and reconciliation--all the things that make a book very worthwhile to read. This book came to my attention from a Naples, FL, book group’s reading suggestions last year. I just finished it this morning--with a box of tissues needed, I might say. It is on many more 2009 best books lists. The characters had become like family in this 500 plus page story of a medical family set in Ethiopia and the US during the 1950’s through the 1980s. All I can say is that it has all a good book should have--great plotting with many unexpected twists, wonderful characters, well-written prose for the literate reader, lots of quotes you’ll savor and a little on art! Just read it. I hope all my New Year reading is as good as this first one.   posted Jan 2, 2010 at 12:03PM

Cover ArtBrooklyn : a novel
by Colm Toibin
There were several New York stories in my reading this year. Here’s another wonderful one. It evokes the time and place so well. I’m a great fan of an English writer of this 1950s period, Elizabeth Taylor, and Toibin has captured that understated style of hers beautifully. You may think very little happens, yet there are life-altering consequences. It’s the closest I’ll get to reading something of Taylor’s this year as I’ve read all she wrote! That made me very happy! I’ve read most of what Toibin has written, too, and he never disappoints. Enjoy.   posted Dec 18, 2009 at 9:06AM

Cover ArtOur boys : a perfect season on the plains with the Smith Center Redmen
by Drape, Joe.
A New York Times sportswriter and Kansas City native takes a year from his New York life, and that of his wife and young son, to chronicle the fortunes of a remarkably successful small town Kansas football team seeking their fifth straight state championship. Having those western Kansas roots myself I could recognize the inherent decency and savvier-than-you-might-think people from the center of this country. It’s not just a football story; it is just a football story. Quick to read. You’re a curmudgeon if you don’t come away feeling good about these coaches, these young men, their families and community.   posted Dec 14, 2009 at 3:52PM

Cover ArtRemarkable Creatures
by Tracy Chevalier
A friend sent me the earlier published UK copy so I have enjoyed a book before others have had the chance. Chevalier takes on such interesting historic characters and these two fossil hunters in Lyme Regis in the early nineteenth century are as remarkable as the prehistoric creatures they extracted from the shoreline. That they are women makes them all the more fascinating. This is a perfect little book for this year recognizing the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species 150 years ago. The naturalists and geologists in this book are his precursors and were asking questions he asked. The book is written in alternating chapters from Elizabeth Philpot’s and Mary Anning’s points of view. That and what seemed like stilted narrative—particularly Elizabeth’s—detracted some for me. Perhaps, it just recognized the tight constraint of women’s lives and my own impatience with their circumscribed circumstances! Jane Austen, living in the area for a time at the same time, is mentioned. Even a letter she wrote to her sister mentioning Mary’s father is revealed in the epilogue. Great fun.   posted Dec 12, 2009 at 7:59AM

Cover ArtJuliet, naked
by Nick Hornby
The book’s opening line ‘They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet’ made me excited that Nick Hornby had placed some event in his new book in our fair city! The book’s key character, 1980s rock musician Tucker Crowe has an obsessive Internet following who concern themselves with many ‘truths’ about his life and work, particularly a break-up album called ’Juliet.’ Duncan is the webmaster at ‘Can Anybody Hear Me?, which chronicles the music and Tucker’s seemingly reclusive life. When an acoustic demo version of ’Juliet’ is released—the ’Juliet, Naked’ reference—and both Duncan and partner Annie write reviews of it, things start to change for all the principal characters. What’s true and what’s not so true about a life—and the obsession some have for celebrity lives—is all revealed in another Hornby winner, using both the music and literature he knows so well to wonderful advantage. He’s razor sharp illuminating these characters foibles and inadequacies, and we love their passion even as we look a little more closely at our own! This book, like all his I’ve read, just makes me laugh and I love him for it. You will, too.   posted Dec 8, 2009 at 9:31AM

Cover ArtThe children’s book : a novel
by Byatt, A. S. 1936-
A web of relationships among several families involved in the arts, science and social movements during England’s and Germany’s Belle Époche. Children’s stories, the Victoria and Albert Museum, craft pottery, puppet theater—Byatt covers an exhaustive range of topics and historical figures from that time. But, to me, she does it flawlessly as always. Her command of subject and her writing is a treasure. Those who have trouble with lots of characters in novels would do well to make a list. The children, particularly, all come and go through the years. It’s not just one person’s story, but Phillip, the apprentice potter ‘rescued’ from the museum, and Dorothy, one family’s determined-to-be-different daughter, give hope that class and circumstance will somehow give way to something more that transcends this time and this place. Highly recommended. One of the best books I’ve read this year.   posted Nov 30, 2009 at 12:31PM

Cover ArtThe lieutenant
by Kate Grenville
Read Kate Grenville if you haven’t and like literary tales based on real lives. I have loved each of her books. Daniel Rooke in this novel is a quietly introspective man who is transformed when he discovers from the young aboriginal girl Tagaran that learning one’s language is much, much more than the words. I was reminded of two other books read: J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country and Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man.   posted Nov 9, 2009 at 8:10AM

Cover ArtThe physick book of Deliverance Dane : a novel
by Katherine Howe
I liked the genealogical aspects of this multi- layered historical fiction, watching Connie unravel the mystery of her grandmother’s house and what she finds there. Sometimes I was reminded of one of my favorite literary mysteries, A. S. Byatt’s ’Possession.’ It’s not that good, but a great debut piece of fiction for Howe, even if it gets a little Harry Potter-ish, well, Hermione Granger-ish and predictable at the end   posted Oct 4, 2009 at 7:49PM

Cover ArtThe reluctant Mr. Darwin : an intimate portrait of Charles Darwin and the making
by David Quammen
David Quammen was a guest of PBS’s The News Hour on the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the Species. I’m so glad I heard about his book. Who would have thought it would be such a page turner for me? You are literally on the edge of your seat encouraging this reluctant scientist to get his book to publication. Highly recommended.   posted Aug 29, 2009 at 1:43PM

Cover ArtOlive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout
Olive and Henry Kitteridge, along with son Christopher and various townspeople inhabit this coastal Maine community. Having been there makes these memorable. The author isn’t Alice Munro or William Trevor, to me the best short story writers today, but these little gems of interrelated stories are very good. “Security” with the born-again parrot was my favorite story of the 13 in the book.   posted Aug 9, 2009 at 3:46PM


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