A good book makes you want to live in the story. A great book gives you no choice.
Paula McLain has diverged slightly from her wonderfully written historical fiction novels. This is a thoughtful and contemplative thriller with a troubled narrator, Anna, whose life is heavy with loss. The story is fast-paced and the writing excellent. I especially liked the way Anna’s backstory is revealed and the relationship with her foster father. Themes of abandonment and how it can shape a lifetime are expertly done. Be sure to read the author’s note as it is very revealing. You’ll have a hard time putting this down – just like me.
The Last Thing He Told Me starts with a bang and doesn’t let you go. Hannah has a loving new husband, a new home and a teenage step-daughter that is filled with resentment. The only tangible bind between them is their love for Owen, Hannah’s new husband. That bind gets tested when both receive a hasty note from Owen and his subsequent disappearance. Numerous questions arise – Owen is not who they thought. And what’s up with the duffle bag filled with cash? With little choice they band together in search of answers; Can Hannah’s actions alter their tenuous bind and forge a new path? There are themes of abandonment and loss and the overwhelming sense of parenting at all costs. Unputdownable!
Destinies of two dynamic women intersect in a meaningful way. Great Circle is big in scope, lush in prose and is storytelling at its finest. Twins are rescued from a sinking ocean liner in 1908 and their lives circumvent the world. Years later, a fallen movie star becoming entwined with her onscreen character. I loved the toughness and uniqueness of the characters and was intimately drawn into their lives. This story has it all – bootleggers, bush pilots, artists, soldiers - it soars!
This is a story to get lost in. It’s a bygone era when everyone was fascinated by flight. Young Huck is building a plane, his cousin, Annelise a pilot, is sent to Montana to escape some rumors and a gangster is found dead in the river. Beautiful prose, wonderfully formulated characters, a bit of politics, Christian revival history and wonderful relationships – everything needed for a great read.
The Trojan War told through the eyes of the women who were casualties, heroes and muses. The men are in the backdrop of this story, the women shine. Queens, Goddesses and mortals suffered, endured, lived and died. I especially liked the voice of wise Penelope, Trojan Queen Hecabe and the interactions of the Goddesses: Aphrodite, Artemis and Hera. Good if you like mythology and Madeline Miller’s books.
This is a character-driven novel that shows the messiness of life, the tender moments and the losses that alter every dream. Henkin expertly explores the ebbs and flows of the Robin family. I especially appreciated how each member wears many hats; parent, sibling, child and partner and how those relationships mold who they become. This is a contemplative, quiet novel with no perfect ending but rather the promise of what it means to live and love. Good if you like The Most Fun We Ever Had or Anne Lamott.
If you like adventure stories with great children characters this is a magnificent well-written novel. Fish and Bread are on the run from a possible crime. Hot on their heels are Fish’s loving grandfather, the naïve well-meaning sheriff, Fish’s mother whose faith will encircle them and a poet searching for her place in the world. There’s fast-paced action, an unrelenting river, wild animals and the strong moral compass of the boys who long to survive. This is for you if you liked This Tender Land or Secret Wisdom of the Earth. I LOVED it - “sail away from your troubles on a raft made of stars”.
Not your ordinary thriller. Taunt suspense alternating with tender moments of family relations. Tessa is a new mother in Northern Ireland. She has a close relationship with her non-political sister – she can't believe she could be part of the IRA? Secret meetings, double agents, foiled plots make for edge-of-your-seat excitement, while showing the rationale for personal choices and their consequences during historic times. Good web of connection of how noble goals can lead to immoral actions and how the IRA made places of safety not safe. Good if you liked The Expats.
Nine Lives takes one of my favorite premises – “what if” and looks in-depth at, parenting, marriage and relationships. Rose in struggling with the idea of becoming a mother and how to pick the right choice for herself without compromising her relationships. She finds herself at different junctures in her life and each decision forges a new path.
Thoughtful commentary on a personal journey to climb Everest which was thwarted by the devastating earthquake in Nepal in 2015. Jim Davidson writes of this and his subsequent visit to reach his lifetime goal with thrilling detail. The story is enhanced by his personal efforts to support the Nepalese community. Great if you like humanitarian adventure quests.
There’s a dead body in the library of a country estate and lots of suspects. Sounds a bit like the game Clue! Lonely, likeable detective Stafford endeavors to uncover the killer and in the process unearths alarming family, church and town secrets. I appreciated the social and political undercurrent of 1950 Ireland that Banville depicts. With distinctions of class, lots of motives, and dubious characters Banville has the Agatha Christie plot down. Dark and menacing!
Kieran and his new family come home to small-town Evelyn Bay, Tasmania. There are long covered-up secrets, an unanswered disappearance and enough rumors and guilt to go around. I love Harper’s atmospheric writing and her unfurrowing of revelations. A layered mystery that will keep you guessing.
I found this a tender story that shows the innocence of youth and the cattiness of adolescence through the eyes of a forthright teenage girl who I grew to love and admire. Eulabee is on the verge of finding her true self in an eccentric San Francisco neighborhood in a time when kids run free. I found the first-person plural perfect, loved the nuances of individual vs. group, and think Bee’s inner voice is spot on and adds much depth. Poignant and compelling.
This is one of the best books I’ve ever read! It is an eloquent story, telling of broken people who tugged at my heartstrings, and their search for absolution and redemption. It’s a mystery, and a study of small town America. Duchess will be mentioned in the same sentence as Scout and Kya and I’d like Walk as a friend (he is pure goodness). It illustrates to what ends people will go for those they love. This is only the 3rd book I’ve immediately started again after finishing – the second time I listened to the extremely well done audio version. Everyone will love this!
Naive 22-year old American-raised Afghan goes on a quest to do good and to research a rural Afghan village. With echoes of the Three Cups of Tea scandal Waldman expertly depicts gaping holes in what Parveen was led to believe by an American doctor's memoir of his time and heroic(?) efforts in Afghanistan. This memoir also spurred the American Army to bring progress to this village. This is an excellent exploration into the grey areas of American influence and sheds light on misunderstanding, misguided intentions and differing cultures. Superb!
This moving memoir is a honest portrayal of Suleika ‘s relationships with her family, friends and herself after a devastating cancer diagnosis and her challenging treatment. During her illness she writes a column for the NYTimes and gets support from strangers around the world. Later she and Oscar, her dog, road trip around the US visiting some of these individuals. Shows how she moved forward as well as co-exist with her past and how her discharge didn’t come with instructions of how to live. The analogy of between the kingdoms of illness and being well is very good. I appreciated her being brave enough to share her story and strong enough to live not just survive. Good if you liked Educated.
Another epic tale by Hannah. Set during the Great Depression Four Winds is atmospheric with great character development. There is a fierceness to the female characters that I loved and their growth throughout the story is uplifting despite their dire circumstances. This is a great tale of fighting for what is right, resilience and the power of a mothers love.
The third in the installment about the real life philanthropic Ferriday/Woolsey women, Sunflower Sisters is a page turner. As with her previous two novels Kelly engages the reader through three different narrators. This method leads to effective understanding of different sides of a conflict, in this case the Civil War. I enjoyed learning about nursing through Georgy especially her time near Gettysburg and on hospital boats; I loved Jemma, the tenacious, brave slave and Anne-May the cruel plantation owner is a colorful, conniving character. There’s a bit on espionage plots, the Underground Railroad, the Irish riots in NYC and deftly shows a country and families torn apart. It is not necessary to have read Lilac Girls or Lost Roses but this will appeal to those readers. Don’t skip the author’s informative note.
I find anything Simon Winchester writes fascinating. Here he weaves elements of geography, history, and science into a depiction of our world. He touches on climate change but mostly the ways man has impacted land since the beginning of civilization. I like Winchesters chapter divisions in Land and am amazed of the engagement he constructs.
Keene has a lot to say in Say Nothing. It is an excellent history lesson on the conflicts in Northern Ireland over the last 100 years told thru intertwining events and personal stories of many involved. Keene has done years of research and his excellent writing makes reading Say Nothing seem like a novel. The disappearance of Jean McConville is at the center of the story as well as the lives of the Price sisters, Brendan Hughes, Gerry Adams and Bobby Sands. The Good Friday Agreement, The Troubles, and many of the armed struggles are explained but the personal damage these people endured was the most compelling part of the book. The book finishes with an interesting look at a possible future.
I loved this gritty, powerful debut novel! I felt the heat and dust of West Texas and the perils of the women trying to survive and even thrive. Odessa is full of racism and abuse and justice isn’t blind during the 1970’s and the despair of the economic downturn has intensified actions. The dire circumstances of the desperate oil-town is superbly shown through the eyes of its female inhabitants. They are so real and human and Wetmore is unafraid of showing a myriad of emotions about motherhood, abandonment and the cold-hard fears about abuse. The inter dialogue of the women is personal and gives the book an intimate feel that enveloped me. I loved the differing voices of Corrine, Debra Ann, Gloria and Mary Ann and the wisdom of Victor made a perfect counter-balance ending. Highly recommended.
A unique, fresh fantasy - Black Sun is the beginning of a trilogy. Inspired by Aztec and Mayan culture with lots of political plotting, magic and good characters. Will a God will return with the eclipse or will Earth become unhinged? Good for GOT readers.
An intimate, tender story despite bleak circumstances. The story talks place over three days in 1918 Dublin, mostly in a maternity ward for women with the flu. Julia is a nurse who witnesses death but also helps new life appear. Julia and her volunteer assistant Bridie are wonderful characters who in such a short time learn much from each other. The story is detailed regarding birth, but it also gives an insight into the status of women in Ireland one hundred years ago, and the institutions which were expected to look after orphans but which in fact profited from them. Donoghue began this story in 2018, and the timing is uncanny – it serves as a reminder that there is still love and compassion in the world. Don’t miss the author’s note at the end.
Need a feel-good, laugh-out-loud, quirky fun story? If so, Good Eggs is for you. Three generations of the Irish Gogarty family will have you engaged. They all make mistakes, but can they make amends? I joyfully laughed at their antics and rooted for their success. Good if you liked: Harriet Change, 100 Year Old Man, or Bernadette.
Hart is a southern version of Cormac McCarthy. He is an excellent writer and storyteller. In Unwilling, I especially appreciated his complex relationships between brothers Jason and Gibby, and their father. Chance is a wonderful side kick. Unwilling has some of the worst bad guys…think Hannibal Lector. It’s a bit gory but the intensity pulses off each page. The timeframe of the Vietnam War and how the horrors of war change men adds much depth to the story. Hard to put down!
There is nothing like a good historical novel to escape the present and Code Name Helene is a great one. I had run across the “White Mouse” in other readings but was not familiar with details and her great leadership. I enjoy Ariel Lawhon’s writing especially her use of chronology to add suspense - she is one of the best I’ve come across at this writing technique. Nancy/Helene’s dry wit made me smile, her courage inspired me and her leadership awed me. I loved her life and love with Henri, her spunk and determination, her red lipstick and how I was totally lost in her story. Fabulous!
Fast-paced and easy to get into. Blake is a non-conformist LDS with three wives. Blake is dead – evidence points to the murderer being one of them - which one killed him? They all have motives, and murky backstories. The differing backgrounds of the women made for interesting reading. The dynamics between the sister-wives is well done and added much to the story. Good if you liked The Wife Between Us.
1941 - Belfast is already divided by Protestants and Catholics with tensions running high and then Germany starts bombing. Based on the real life of an elephant and her care-giver this is an easy to read story of Hettie, who is just finding her way in the world and Violet the elephant who gives her purpose. There’s a bit of romance, little-known history and shows resilience of a city and its people. Interesting and enjoyable.
Philosophical fantasy – maybe! Intelligent, quirky mythology – maybe! Dreamlike – definitely! This is a pleasant surprise if you like something different and I found it was enhanced by conversation. Good if you liked A Starless Sea. Step through the wardrobe and be enchanted. “May the House fill your eyes with Beauty”.
This is not the normal type of book I pick up, but during 2020, a year full of loss and uncertainty, this was a delightful, meditative type book. I found it a beautiful mix of memoir and philosophy. I especially appreciated the explorations of nature, and lessons from literature. Katherine May eloquently describes how acceptance of sadness does not have to be permanent and how we can look for solace in unlikely places. Like seasons, change is a certainty and something to embrace.
Part true crime thriller, part wildlife/ornithology study and a bit of history and adventure. Like the author I was late to appreciating birds but now I’m interested in all sorts, and am amazed by their resilience, diversity and amazing feats. Hammer has a keen observation and writes in a fast-paced catchy way that will keep you enthralled even if you don’t think you will be. Good if you like unusual real stories.
An idyllic family vacation in the Hamptons goes haywire when the owners of their rental house show up stating NYC has a blackout. Are they really the owners? A blackout? But….cell and TV service is disrupted and things are getting weird. Has there been a terrorist attack? A nuclear disaster? What’s up with the animals? There is an escalating sense of dread and I especially liked the point of view of all the characters and the author's showing of their insecurities and shortcomings. Plus the thrown-in all knowing voice leads to great suspense.
A wonderful imaginative tale of the family of one of England’s most famous writers – who is never named, but of course you know immediately who it is. O’Farrell has a beautiful style of language, with astute observations and lovely vivid descriptions. At the core it is a story of shared grief and how each family member deals with loss but it is so much more – it captures Elizabethan times, all the sights, smells and nuances and the characters, especially Agnes and the twins are wonderful. Good if you liked Year of Wonders, Pope Joan or period pieces. Brilliant!
With feelings of Alexander Fuller, J.R. Moehringer and Jeannette Walls (all favorites) Kirkland Hamill has written an honest, open look at his family. They are torn apart and thrown together over and over as alcoholism dictates their lives. Kirkland's dry wit and engaging writing is as addictive as the issues his family faced. There are laugh out loud scenes - wait til you get to Winnie and poignant moments. Each brother takes a different path and Kirkland learns to love himself and to become himself despite circumstances that could have drowned him.
Unquestionably transcendent! I loved Yaas first book and Transcendent Kingdom is just as GREAT in a different way. An honest, almost biographic feel of a young woman surviving the grief of losing her brother and watching her mother struggle with the consequences. Gifty is a young girl when her life and family fall apart even God stopped listening to her. Later as a neuroscientist she hides in her lab working to unlock the mystery that plagued her family. This explores loss, science, faith, love and loyalty. Will be one of the best books of 2020!
A bit spooky with some underlining themes of science and the power of racism. There’s a feel of modern Bronte sisters here which adds to the intrigue of this original gothic tale. I loved Noemi, the well-educated bright young protagonist who has a great sense of justice and can stare down evil all while being sophisticated and alluring.
Historian Jill Lapore tells us that “Fiction does what history should do, but doesn’t”. Christine Baker Kline has written a wonderful and absorbing book that does just that. Exiles takes us to England and the long journey to far away Tasmania in the 1840’s, where people are expected to forge a new beginning after paying their debt to society (often for the most petty of crimes and false accusations). These characters survived by their wits and fortitude. Kline has created memorable characters, mastered the language of the times and has somehow written beautifully of their hardships and friendships. My favorite of her books to date. I found Exiles WONDERFUL, an intimate yet epic story.
Unputdownable! I’ve enjoyed lots of Beatriz Williams’s stories and this is my favorite! It’s the 20’s and 30’s and no one is more famous than those that captured the imagination by taking to the skies. Inspired by Amelia Earhart, Williams has written a story full of adventure. It has the right amount of history, mystery, steamy romance, unstoppable passion, and women who long to define themselves. The format of the book was very effective in creating suspense and even includes a couple of twists that made for a great ending. I stayed up way too late and loved every minute.
Barry has an outstanding command of language and is a master of time and place. His writing is lyrical and beautiful. I loved Days without End and A Thousand Moons is a satisfying sequel or a stand-alone coming-of –age story set in post-Civil War Tennessee. He captures the spirit of a young Lakota girl on her way to becoming a warrior. Set in a time of great prejudice and racism, Barry shows us two sides of complex characters – cruelty and goodness. Wonderful!
Alex George is an amazing storyteller and writer. I've loved all his books, including The Paris Hours, his third. This is 1927 Paris, when the city was teeming with the likes of Hemingway, Josephine Baker, Gertrude Stein, Maurice Ravel - all who have cameos. Lindbergh just flew across the Atlantic; It's the Roaring twenties and a time of great social and creative awakening. But, it's also the time between wars and The Paris Hours follows 4 ordinary people, who are searching for something they'd lost. The characters are complex and interesting, their back stories are heart wrenching and beautiful. Past and present is seamlessly woven together. Their 4 lives seem unlinked but like Passacaille, the piano music of Ravel, come together in an amazing ending. Allow yourself to get caught-up in these extraordinary characters and the wonderful writing of Alex George. Outstanding!
The Sweeney Sisters is delightful. Three very different sisters support each other, love each other and are annoyed by each other’s flaws. The death of their famous father is the catalyst for change: examination of priorities, dealing with grief, and coming to terms with a surprise sister. Despite these heavy issues Sweeney Sisters is lighthearted, made me happy and is a great vacation read. Woven stories of the four sisters kept me equally involved in each of them and I found myself cheering for all. Emotions, new and old loves and family messiness amongst a heartfelt reunion. Good if you liked The Most Fun We Ever Had.
This is an outstanding sophisticated novel of a conflicted nun that twice is coerced into investigating a scandal in Iceland. This covers the abuse of power in many forms. Sister Johanna is a wonderful character; she wrestles with her faith and has lots of personal reckoning to grapple with. Pall, George Harrison and Jesus add lighthearted moments that add much depth to this back and forth interweaving mystery. Excellent!
This is a tale of sisterhood and the fight for rights that is great to get lost in. I enjoyed the cross of folklore, witchcraft and rebellious suffragists. Harrow’s specialty is her world building settings and lyrical prose. It’s a bit magical inspiration with an old-fashioned yet modern feel. Good for those who like enchanting stories or borderline fantasy.
Hold on and enjoy the ride! This is my recent favorite crime/action novel. Bug is an engaging multi-layered protagonist; he’s a loving husband and father, a crazy-good car driver and mechanic, but….. Despite his desperation to be better than his former self, fraught economic times return him to his dubious past. This is great fast-paced writing with non-stop action. You’ll call shotgun!
This is a great espionage tale with lots of twists and the bonus of a beautiful love story. Hannah is a brilliant German physicist working on splitting atoms in Berlin in the 30’s, but being a Jewish woman in Nazi territory is dangerous. Her brain gets her a job in Los Alamos, but is she sending secrets back to Germany? Up and coming CIA agent Jack, is hunting to find out. I loved the interaction between Hannah and Jack, the mix of suspense, science and passion in this fast-paced well done novel.
This is a rich, propulsive story that I was immediately drawn into. The Preston family is living in Bangkok in the 70’s when tragedy befalls them. Both the beautiful and dark side of Southeast Asia and American involvement is expertly mixed in this family drama. What Could be Saved is a perceptive story that shows the bonds of family, how we are defined by our childhood and the emotional complexities of siblings and parents. This is full of vivid descriptions, lovey writing and expertly revealed secrets.
It’s early in the 20th century and vagabond brothers Rye and Gig are looking for their next meal, a safe place to sleep, a fair job and maybe a bit of romance. This is the time when union workers are speaking out against the corrupt industrial owners, who make their riches off the Cold Millions who are unfairly worked to the bone for little pay. The brothers are very different, but both dream of a better world and get drawn into the free speech riots in Spokane; Gig supports IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) and quiet Rye becomes a pawn of anarchists and hired goons. Walters is a genius of first person narrative and characterization. The individuals who come in and out of Rye and Gig’s life are bigger than life (some are real) and I’ll loved them all. There is suspense, ganger-style adventure and terrific writing portraying brotherhood, social injustice and pure humanity. SUPER!
My favorite gift book! Inspiring, lovely, meaningful! A gem of kindness, friendship and love!
If you liked Beneath a Scarlet Sky don’t miss Once We Were Here. Greece played a little known pivotal part of WWII with thwarting off the advances of the Italians and forcing the German army to concentrate resources on the Greek peninsula. Once We Were Here is a fast-pace, hard-to-put-down story of friends Alexei and Costa, who along with other fierce warriors fought as bravely as their ancestors. The story line makes up for minor writing inconsistences (I wasn’t bothered). There is a lovely family connection and likeable characters.
End of the Day is a character driven look at human nature and reckoning with past actions. The intertwining connection between characters is expertly revealed. Especially strong showing of how one’s actions have a rippling effect, not only on one’s self, but others as well. Good if you like Elizabeth Strout, Celeste Ng, or Mary Beth Keane. A strong 2nd novel by a talented author.
The Prophets feels like a tribute to Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. I found it a beautiful, poetic literary debut, with some complex religious undertones. This is the Antebellum South and Jones writes of the beauty of the Halifax plantation and the horrors within at the same time. There are difficult subjects, but I was swept up in the lives and love of Samuel and Isaiah. It is heartbreaking, yet full of love, loyalty and resilience. The writing is amazing and will lead to great discussion. I’ll remember this for a long time - bound to be a classic.
This is a powerful story of mental health and how two families deal with a myriad of issues after a tragedy. It is also a love story with strong characters that I was immediate drawn to. I loved the lifelong friendship and the generous gift of forgiveness. This is a wonderful propulsive story that is extremely well done. Great for book clubs.
Wilkerson is an excellent historian and a Pulitzer Prize journalist. In Caste she explores three hierarchies in world history: India, Nazi Germany and American. She explains the shared principles of these beliefs and how they become ingrained in our subconscious and how “caste is the bones, race the skin”. She introduces the theory that as both individuals and as a society we have the choice to be good or evil. It is an extensive and different look at racism, inequality and injustice and one of the important non-fiction books of our time.
An excellent account of “the darkest hour” through the intimate details of the Churchill family, and accounts and diaries of staff and English, German and American leaders and soldiers. Larson expertly shows Churchill’s highs and lows and how his oration skills, charisma and spirit buoyed society at the exact right time. Excellent for WWII buffs or if you are new to reading about defining moments of history. Great reading or audiobook!
LOVED this breathtaking masterpiece! This is a layered story about making your mark on the world, belonging, and what ends humans and gods will go to when desperate. While reading I was reminded of Atkinson’s Life after Life (a favorite) and bam…..V.E. Schwab mentions it in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. This is engaging, escapism reading and I guarantee you will love Addie and Henry - souls longing to be remembered, free and loved. Note - pay attention to the dates at the beginning of each chapter.
Agatha would be proud! Maria Benedict again writes of interesting women and unknown parts or their lives. She chooses to blend in Christie’s puzzling skills to create a memorable easy-read about the 10-day disappearance of one of the world’s most famous mystery writers. Super enjoyable.
This is a non-stop dystopian debut with a bad-a** heroine. It’s also an exploration of motherhood and survival; an excellent portrayal of the joys and overwhelming responsibilities of parenting. Myra and daughter, Pearl will sail to the ends of the world in search of older daughter, Row. They team up with a great diverse cast of characters. After the Flood portrays a world of biblical proportions. This a suspenseful literary fiction at its finest. Good if you liked The Road, Gold Fame Citrus or Mad Max! I’ll remember this for a long time – loved it.
In times when we cook/bake for comfort, for company and for just plain yumminess pies fit the bill. Award-nominated Kate McDermott has written Pie Camp for novices to seasoned bakers. Full of techniques, vegan and gluten free options, traditional to unusual recipes, Pie Camp is mouth-watering. Loved the Apple Tart and Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie. As Kate says “if it comes from your heart, that pie will be full of love!”
The perfect location for an exclusive wedding or a murder! The Guest List is a modern day Murder on the Orient Express with the great set-up for suspense and late night reading. There are plenty of dubious characters, motives, lies, treachery, and deceit. Strong writing and plot and Foley skillfully reveals clues throughout. Entertaining!