Staff Recommended Reads



selection of engaging titles to peruse. A mix of fiction and non-fiction, hard and soft covers..
2016

Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Pena. 

This 2016 NewberyAward winning book tells the story of young CJ and his grandmother as they are leaving church and walking around town in the rain. As they walk, CJ asks many questions about why they need to take the bus, why he doesn’t own an ipod like other boys, and why their neighborhood is so dirty. With a gentle tone, his grandmother answers CJ’s questions, helping him to see the beauty and goodness all around him. When they finally arrive at the soup kitchen and see familiar faces, CJ feels glad to be right where he is. The love and mutual respect between CJ and his grandmother is evident throughout. The brightly colored illustrations add to the feeling of warmth in this lovely story, while addressing issues of race, poverty, envy and inequality. 

                    

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, by Lindsay Mattick. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. 

In this 2016 Caldecott award-wining book, readers learn the story of how the beloved character Winnie the Pooh came to be. We discover the true story of veterinarian Harry Coleburn’s purchase of a black bear cub while on his way to fight in World War I. Winnie and Harry spent many wartime years together. Harry’s great- great granddaughter shares the stories of Winnie (short for Winnepeg, Harry’s hometown) with her son Cole, and reveals with loving illustrations and soft colors how Winnie ended up living at the London Zoo and meeting a young boy named Christopher Robin Milne. It would be Christopher Robin’s imaginary play with his own stuffed bear that formed the basis for Milne’s Pooh stories.

 

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

 From the moment she opened the email, Nora knew she should decline the invitation. Why would she accept a request from a complete stranger to attend a hen weekend ( British bride's pre-wedding celebration) at a remote location hours from home, for a friend who had long been estranged? When the on line guest list reveals acceptances from only one person Nora, a reclusive writer, even knows, her decision feels right. But, then, is this a long awaited opportunity for reconciliation? Should she pass up a chance to heal an old wound? Will she renew a friendship or regret forever a decision to try? The author introduces the reader to Nora and a cast of strong characters while weaving the threads of this taut, tension filled psychological thriller.


The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

Each of these compelling, strong, intelligent, yet broken characters carried me along in this fast paced, witty, sharp edged story with heart.  This bittersweet novel is ultimately about the stories that bind us and break us and heal us. I truly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.


Dog On It by Spencer Quinn

Attention dog lovers and mystery buffs:  you must read Spencer Quinn's Dog on It.  Told from the point of view of the dog Chet, this engaging and often hilarious tail (pardon the pun) will keep you turning pages. The author's attention to doggy details is as boundless as Chet's appetite for food and his devotion to his owner Bernie, a private detective down on his luck. The two are a perfect team: Bernie relies on his intelligence and self-control while Chet supplies olfactory superiority and teeth to solve the case of a missing teenager. This is the first in Quinn's Chet and Bernie Mystery Series begun in 2009 and added to each year. You will want to get going on this series, especially since the latest addition, Paw and Order, is scheduled for release in paperback this summer. 

 

Black Flags The Rise of Isis by Joby Warrick
For all those who are concerned about the world's condition, this book is a must read. Warrick, a Washington Post reporter and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, thoroughly traces the origins of Isis from a young boy in a small Jordanian village to his time in a remote and primitive desert prison. The evolution of this barbaric group from a single disaffected street thug to an organization employing the efforts of hundreds, if not thousands, of supporters so dedicated that they are willing to die for their cause is rivetingly documented by Warrick. The reader learns of years of dire warnings from Jordan's King Abdullah and his struggle to contain this growing threat and how the chaos in the Middle East provided the perfect environment for this dark movement to flourish. Highly recommended.

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

This charming picture book will definitely become a classic. It is beautifully illustrated with a simple text about enjoying the "beauty of nature". An orphaned boy, William, wakes up one morning to find a tree outside his window transformed into an owl topiary overnight. Over time more topiaries of animals begin appearing in his neighborhood. Someone, The Night Gardener, is working his magic. You'll have to read this wonderful book to find out more. This is a book for readers of all ages.

 
The Expatriates by Janice YK Lee

This novel is set in the American expatriate community in Hong Kong, focusing on three women who attempt to form a new kind of family far removed from their differing backgrounds. Their new life is one of privilege, exotic travel, wealth and servants which none of them had experienced in the past. When their lives intersect more personally as a result of a terrible inexplicable event, the questions of friendship, community, and motherhood are explored, with complicated answers.

 

Hemingway in Love by A.E. Hotchner
Celebrated author Ernest Hemingway had one story he felt he could not tell, but did not want lost. Over the years of his close friendship with A.E. Hotchner, (author, Connecticut native, partner of Paul Newman in Newman's Own), Hemingway revealed his regret and heartbreak over the loss of Hadley, his first wife and love of his life. His involvement with another woman led to a divorce he did not want and his unhappy remarriage. For the rest of his life Hemingway's longing for the woman he had wronged added to the demons that haunted his life and eventually led to his suicide.

Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub
In Emma Straub’s newest book since The Vacationers, she explores the interwoven relationship between two couples. Both couples are now married, and were college friends who (with the exception of one) started a band together while at Oberlin. As Elizabeth, Andrew, Zoe and Jane try to come to terms with their current identity as parent, musician, chef, realtor and friend, they are faced with the making an important decision about the now deceased yet most preeminent member of their band, Lydia. As they wrestle with how this decision will impact their lives, their two teenage children begin a relationship which is filled with all of the angst of their time in life, magnified by their parents’ history and friendships. You will empathize with each character at different times in the book, and ultimately enjoy this well-told story that doesn’t avoid some of the true ugliness of real relationships.

 

The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner

 You will love reading The Bridge Ladies, Betsy Lerner's  memoir of her mother's bridge club of fifty years and still playing.  The memoir takes you to places you may have been and some you may not:  the bridge table, a Jewish kitchen, your mother's living room, New Haven, the Manhattan Bridge Club. On the surface this is a reporter's way into the lives of her mother and the four women with whom she plays bridge, women she has known her whole life but doesn't know at all. Beneath that is Lerner's desire to understand her mother and to improve their generally adversarial relationship while there is still time. Lerner crosses the bridge to her mother's generation through the game of bridge, attending the group's regular games, taking bridge lessons, sitting in at her mother's bridge table, learning to love the game.  Meanwhile she begins to understand the social, economic, and ethnic pressures that shaped these women's lives, beliefs, and behaviors and the personal upheavals they have faced and overcome.  She learns to value her mother as well as love her, and she learns patience. Finally she sees her mother in herself.

 

The Silent Wife by A. Harrison
Jody and Todd enjoyed a loving partnership. Their long term relationship, while not a legal marriage, was shared in a beautiful lake view apartment in Chicago. Each had a successful career and a comfortable, satisfying life. Everything was perfect - until it wasn't. This compelling story, soon to be a movie, engages the reader until the last page. A riveting psychological thriller, this book brings to mind Gone Girl, but could really happen. The reader is invited to question what, given the circumstances, they would be willing and capable of doing. 


 Lust and Wonder by Augusten Burroughs

 After a long hiatus, Augusten Burroughs, author of This is How, Dry and Running With Scissors has returned to his craft.  In this latest memoir, he chronicles a variety of relationships while living primarily in New York City.  Sharing a range of experiences, often hilarious, at time heartbreaking and profound, Burroughs reveals all with characteristic candor and caustic wit whether he is contending with a neurotic Greyhound, revisiting the outrageously oddball circumstances of his youth or lamenting the fate of an AIDS stricken partner. Fans will not be disappointed.  

 

Language Arts - by Stephanie Kallos
The sad irony of Charles Marlowe's life is that his greatest strength fails him in his greatest need and desire. Charles teaches Seattle high school English students the power of language, but words do not help him connect to his autistic son, Cody. To add to the discontent Charles feels in his life is his failed marriage to Alison. The only close, satisfying relationship Charles feels is that with his daughter, Emmy, who has left the nest for college. Kallos powerfully explores the path Charles travels from the influence of an elementary school teacher, a disabled classmate, and a difficult home life, to his struggle to establish a balanced, happy adult life while caring for his son. The author skillfully guides the reader through unpredictable twists and turns that enrich this moving story. 

Finale by Thomas Mallon
The presidential administration of Ronald Reagan might not immediately appeal when choosing a book, but think twice. The reader will experience not only important events of the 80's, but also the White House intrigue of the era through the eyes of several fictitious witnesses to history. The author describes Nancy Reagan's desperate dependence on an astrologer in scheduling the president's travels as well as meetings with other heads of state. We learn of her confidence that the timing of the Reykjavik summit would insure success, and their disappointment in it's subsequent failure. The author utilizes historical documents, presidential library archives, personal visits to relevant sites, and interviews with people present at various events to create a fascinating work of historical fiction.
  

The Bartender's Tale  by Ivan Doig

This is a story about a young boy (Rusty) who is abandoned by his mother as an infant and left with an aunt until he is six years old. At that time, his Dad (Tom) arrives and takes him back to northern Montana to live with him at the Medicine Lodge where he is the bartender.  Rusty and his Dad make an odd kind of family but get along well until the summer of 1960 when Rusty turns 12. It is a summer of change with the arrival of several interesting "outsiders".  Doig's quirky characters and his feel for the landscape are realistically portrayed.  He is definitely a skilled storyteller.




2015




Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen 

     When four strangers from New York agree to rent a Maine island cottage for the month of August, each anticipates solitude and respite from personal heartbreak. Instead, they discover strength and healing in an unexpected community. This is a feet in the sand summer read that will have you searching the classifieds for your own Maine retreat. 

 

Outline, by Rachel Cusk

     When the narrator, a British writing instructor, travels to Athens to teach for a week in summer, she leaves behind two young sons and a former husband. From this outline, several explanations are possible, as is the case with the friends, strangers, and students whose stories are confided over the duration of the week. Despite our modern reliance on facts, one's personal history is partly - maybe mostly - interpretation, a point well made in this spare and affecting novel.

 

Missoula by John Krakauer                                

     This is an absorbing but disturbing study of sexual assault on the campus of a respected American university. Many of the cases examined, spanning several years, involved the university's football team. The accusations from women against members of the team were often met with denial or skepticism by university officials, fans, and law enforcement. Krakauer's findings beg many questions surrounding the sports culture at U.S. Colleges. 

 

 

The Unfortunates by Sophie McManus

     This novel received far too little media attention. What could have been a light romp about the contrast between privileged wealth and those "less fortunate", is instead a moving account of CeCe Somner, the philanthropic heiress of a vast rubber industry fortune. CeCe is reminiscent of an Edith Wharton or F. Scott Fitzgerald doyenne, and her relationships with her misguided and delusional son and his formerly working class wife, as well as with her staff, are believably portrayed. The dialogue and CeCe's interior monologues are engaging and often humorous, and the plot moves quickly through conflicts and heartbreak. A remarkable first novel.

 

 

Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman

     A young man and two young women, all from significantly different backgrounds, with widely divergent goals, meet as freshmen at Harvard. An unsolved murder and  predatory professor alter their anticipated life paths and haunt their futures while keeping their lives intertwined long after their college years end. 

 

 

Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County  By Kristen Green

    The Supreme Court, through Brown vs Board of Education,

mandated  the desegregation of American public schools in 1954. Rather than complying, Prince Edward County, Virginia, responded by shutting down their public school system and opening Prince Edward Academy, a private school that welcomed only white children. This deplorable situation stood for five years, during which time black and poor white families faced heartbreaking decisions. Their choices were to keep their children at home without schooling, homeschooling, which most felt ill equipped to achieve, move across county lines, or send their children to live elsewhere in order to be educated. The author, a graduate of P.E.A. returns to her hometown in a quest to examine how this situation impacted lives in those years through to the present day, and the role played by her own family. 

 

 

Bright Lights Paris, by Angie Niles

     Whether you have booked a trip to Paris, are a die-hard Francophile or an armchair traveler, this fully illustrated and photographed collection is the book for you. Sip a glass of rose while you lose yourself in this guide to each of Paris’ distinct neighborhoods. Learn where to eat, drink, shop, stroll and find the true hidden gems of Paris.

 

 

I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers

     Another under-reviewed novel that proved to be a great reading experience. Set mostly in London, it is the story of Michael, grieving for his recently killed journalist wife, and his next door neighbors who welcome him into their family with devastating consequences. A novel of loss, friendship and betrayal, as well as details about drone warfare, it is best read without knowing plot details and allowing the reader to be swept along, caught up in the suspense, knowing a happy ending will not ensue. 

 

 

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

   With a single shattering event June Reid's life, as well as the lives of many in her small Connecticut town, are changed forever. June's unbearable grief propels her across the country seeking a reason to keep living. Those left behind struggle to deal with the aftermath of tragedy. Lydia, whose loss is as devastating as June's, must also endure the scrutiny of the town as well as her own crushing guilt. This elegantly written book explores    not only  loss and grief, but also hope, redemption, and human connection.  This is an exceptionally moving, thought provoking story  whose characters will stay with you long after the last page is read.  

 

 

Last Bus to Wisdom, by Ivan Doig

     Ivan Doig's final novel, is a leisurely coming of age story set in the Montana Rockies of the early 1950's. Donal Cameron is a likable, 11-year-old red-head with dreams of becoming  a champion bronc rider. Because his Gram is having an operation, he is sent to Wisconsin to stay for the summer with her sister Kate.  As he makes the long trip on the dog bus, AKA Greyhound, Donal collects friends, and the reader is treated to a large and varied cast of bus riders, each with his own story. Aunt Kate turns out to be a controlling, uncompromising  woman who intends to send him back to Montana. Fearing that the authorities there will place him in an orphanage, Donal runs away. Again he finds himself on the dog bus, this time with an unexpected companion and protector, Herman the German, Kate's husband! 

 

 

 

 

The Last of the President's Men by Bob Woodward

      For those who study the Nixon era as well as those who remember it, this is a must read. The shocking revelation by Col. Alexander Butterfield before the Senate Watergate Committee that listening devices had been installed in Nixon's Oval Office had a fascinating backstory. Over forty years after the tapes produced by those devices led to the only presidential resignation in our history, Col. Butterfield gave Watergate reporter Bob Woodward access to his extensive files from his years in the Nixon White House. Much of this story will be familiar, but Butterfield's observations of the inner workings of the administration add to our understanding of this momentous period in our nations's history. 




Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango

Henry Hayden is a celebrated but reclusive author, devoted husband to Martha, lover to Betty, and expectant father. Or is he? This fascinating tale, translated from German, will keep you riveted. Don't even try to predict what will happen next, just enjoy the ride.


Ongoingness the End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso

 This book will be meaningful for those who journal on a daily or occasional basis as a means of personal reflection or spiritual practice. The author, admittedly compulsive, includes nothing of the content of her thousands of pages kept over 25 years, but focuses on her progression as a diarist over time, and how her understanding of the process and necessity to write changes and why. I could have earmarked almost every page. It is a deeply thoughtful and meditative book to read and reread.  

 

 Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

This is the story of three middle school girls and four high school girls as they experience the trials of what friendship means at this delicate age. Writing with both humor and sensitivity about real life and the difficult situations that this age group faces, whether it involves physically maturing, loyalty or internet safety, we are made to feel the pull of the characters toward each other. A wonderful book that middle grade readers will enjoy, relate to and not want to put down.

 

The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida

 Hoping to escape the pain of divorce, a young woman travels to Casablanca, Morocco. While checking into a disappointing hotel, her backpack is stolen, leaving her without passport, cash, credit cards, or any form of identification. Everywhere she turns for help, rather than providing comfort or hope, only heightens her suspicion and anxiety. When authorities appear to be part of the problem, relying on wits and whatever resources can be gathered is the only answer. This is an unusual story told with a twist.

 

Radiant Angel  by Nelson DeMillle

Fans of John Corey will be glad to learn that John is back in the US and now employed by the FBI's Diplomatic Surveillance Group. His current task is to tail a member of Russia's UN delegation. When he slips away from a dinner party in Southampton, Corey's search takes over and we learn of a possible nuclear threat.  The story is filled with fast-paced action and many tense moments.This is thriller fiction at its best

 

The Marriage of Opposites  by Alice Hoffman

  In The Marriage of Opposites , which takes place in the early nineteenth century on the lush island of St. Thomas, the settings are so vivid, the lushness is almost palpable. Alice Hoffman once more spins her magic as she weaves the story of Rachel Pomié Pizzarro, a young Jewish woman, the daughter of Danish refugees, who follows her heart and mind, despite being shunned by her community for her scandalous ways. Desperately dreaming of going to Paris, Rachel struggles daily as she holds fast to her beliefs, her family and friends. Eventually, she gives birth to Camille Pissarro, the great impressionist artist.  A beautiful tale of a rebellious woman who never lost sight of her dreams despite the obstacles that challenged her along the way.


The Speechwriter  by Barton Swaim

The author served as a speechwriter for an unnamed southern governor infamous for actually NOT hiking the Appalachian Trail. The tales told of the governor's office and the state legislature are often hilarious, but, while creating sympathy for political staffs, will do little to improve the public's opinion of politicians. This book invites readers to think deeply about who should be elected to public office.

 

Lake House by Kate Morton

Publication of Kate Morton 's The Lake House  is cause for celebration for those of us who loved her other novels: The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours, and The Secret Keeper.         Here is another wonderfully tangled story growing around and about an unforgettable house in Britain. Plenty of characters, lush description, and a plot that stretches over a hundred years and nearly 600 pages of mystery, romance, and surprise . . . Morton's fans will be delighted.    

 

 World Gone By   by Dennis Lehane

Fans of Lehane's historical series about Joe Coughlin won't be disappointed with this novel. Set in Florida and Cuba during World War II, it begins ten years after Joe's enemies killed his wife and ruined his bootlegging business. He is now struggling to raise his son in the Tampa underworld. He has become a respected member of society in spite of his connections to the mob and his criminal past. However, things change when Joe hears a rumor that there is a "hit" out on his life. The pace of the story picks up as he tries to figure out who he can trust. Lehane's characterization of Coughlin is well written.


Mosquitoland  by David Arnold

Sixteen year old Mary Iris Malone, or Mim, has a voice that you do not want to stop hearing. As the eccentrically witty narrator of this story, she takes us on a physical (to Cleveland to find her mother) and emotional road trip filled with issues including mental illness, loss, fear and compassion, not to mention bus accidents. But what makes this book so hard to put down is that despite Mim's outwardly protective armor, it is impossible not to root for her the entire way. 



The Elephant Company  by Vicki Constantine Croke

 This true portrayal of the courage and intelligence of the elephants used in the teak industry in Burma in the 1920's, and their subsequent acts of heroism during WWII is both moving and informative describing human and elephant relationship. Billy Williams is sent from Britain to Burma to manage both the teak forests and the working elephants and becomes their fiercest advocate, developing humane training methods and medical care. Although not part of this book, we develop an understanding of how elephants became circus animals, and applaud the recent news that their acts will be phased out from Ringling Bros


Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

Throughout this story for middle readers, twelve year old Twig and her friends attempt to undue a centuries old curse that has been put on her family. As Twig’s journey for the truth progresses throughout one magical summer, she also discovers friendship, loyalty, romance and hope. As in Alice Hoffman’s other novels, as the story concludes, one almost believes that magic can indeed be possible. 


H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

This is a beautifully written book of love and loss.  Helen Macdonald reconnects with an earlier interest of flying hawks to deal with the loss of her father. Through raising and training her goshawk, Mabel, we learn about the long history of flying hawks and the connections between the generations.  Her descriptions of both the natural world and the healing it can bring is masterful.  Woven into her story is that of author TH White, and his struggles and triumphs, and the enlightenment of flying hawks.


Falling From Horses by Molly Gloss

A combination of hope and heartbreak in the 1930's

Hollywood movie industry during its heyday of producing Western films. Bud

Frazer, a 19 year old ranch hand and rodeo rider from Oregon sets his sights on

becoming a stunt rider, while seeking solace from the loss of his sister. His

encounters with various filmmakers and hardships endured by both the horses and

their riders provide a backstory for the popular Westerns.



A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler writes about real people in ordinary circumstances and she does it extremely well. In this her twentieth novel, she writes about the Whitshanks: Abby and Red and their two daughters and two sons. The story takes place in Baltimore in the house that Red's father built and where three generations of their family were raised.  Abby and Red are growing older and the time is coming for decisions to be made concerning how to look after them and the house. As the story unfolds, we share their celebrations, secrets, jealousies and disappointments. As usual, Anne Tyler writes with humor and compassion and she makes you care about what happens to this family.


Leaving Before the Rains Come
by Alexandra Fuller
This is the third memoir by Alexandra Fuller, who was raised on farms in post-colonial southeastern Africa by eccentric British parents, marries an American adventurer, and begins a new life as a wife and mother in suburban Wyoming. Having thoroughly explored her family's background in her previous work, this one belongs to her, and it is no less absorbing. With take-no-prisoners honesty and a gift for the telling detail she explores her inner landscape - how her ex-pat heritage influenced her choices for better or worse - and the result is a brave portrayal of the costs of coming into her own life.



Black River by S.M. Hulse

Black River Montana is most aptly described as a prison town where

generations of men have made their living as correction officers. Wes Carver was

held hostage and brutally harmed during a prison riot 20 years prior to the

events in this book, and now his captor is up for parole. Wes must come to terms

with the past, finding an elusive forgiveness with the prisoner, and mending a

strained relationship with his stepson.



West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan
 This is a fictional biography about F. Scott Fitzgerald set in Hollywood during the last three years of his life. After a string of literary failures and with financial problems, Fitzgerald becomes a screenwriter struggling to make a living. His wife, Zelda, is in a mental hospital, his daughter, Scottie, is in a boarding school back East and he is afflicted with an alcohol addiction. While working in the movie industry he meets and falls in love with Sheilah Graham, the famous gossip columnist. O'Nan writes beautifully about this great writer's last years.




Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I do not ordinarily gravitate toward post-apocalyptic fiction, but this

highly acclaimed National Book Award Finalist was compelling. The plot moves

back and forth in time before, during and after the Georgia Flu, a fast-moving

pandemic, kills perhaps 99% of the world's population. The focus is on a

traveling theater company in the Great Lakes region which steadfastly refuses to

let the arts die. The interconnection of those who perished and the survivors

provides many memorable characters. New communities are formed, and use all

skills and resources available to them to move on and look forward.



      2014


Midnight at the Pera Palace, by Charles King 

Istanbul's most famous hotel is the backdrop to this fascinating account of the city's political and social history as the juncture of East and West at a time when spies thronged the lobby and jazz filled the air. Though this history is wildly complex, King pulls out the very best stories to illustrate Istanbul's transformation to modernity and proves why Turkey is so crucial to the global balance to the present day.
My Accidental Jihad – A Love Story by Krista Bremer
A memoir to hold close as a love story unfolds marrying two very different cultures. I was moved by this couple and truly admired their commitment.   Kerry at  Breakwater Books
Fellow Mortals by Dennis Mahoney
 
In this debut novel, Mahoney explores the different ways a tragic accident can change a suburban neighborhood. Henry Cooper is a mailman, husband and very decent guy. One morning, while on his route. he lights a cigar and tosses the match to the ground. He has no idea how that one innocent act will start a fire that destroys 2 homes on the street, kills a young wife and disrupts the lives of everyone on the block. How each character in this novel handles the aftermath of the tragedy is well worth reading. Henry wants nothing more than to help those whose lives he has affected. Many reviewers of this novel have compared Mahoney's writing to that of an early Stewart O'Nan and I heartily agree.  Sue at Breakwater Books
My Accidental Jihad – A Love Story by Krista Bremer
A memoir to hold close as a love story unfolds marrying two very different cultures. I was moved by this couple and truly admired their commitment.   Kerry at  Breakwater Books
Fellow Mortals by Dennis Mahoney
 
In this debut novel, Mahoney explores the different ways a tragic accident can change a suburban neighborhood. Henry Cooper is a mailman, husband and very decent guy. One morning, while on his route. he lights a cigar and tosses the match to the ground. He has no idea how that one innocent act will start a fire that destroys 2 homes on the street, kills a young wife and disrupts the lives of everyone on the block. How each character in this novel handles the aftermath of the tragedy is well worth reading. Henry wants nothing more than to help those whose lives he has affected. Many reviewers of this novel have compared Mahoney's writing to that of an early Stewart O'Nan and I heartily agree.  Sue at Breakwater Books
My Accidental Jihad – A Love Story by Krista Bremer
A memoir to hold close as a love story unfolds marrying two very different cultures. I was moved by this couple and truly admired their commitment.   Kerry at  Breakwater Books
Fellow Mortals by Dennis Mahoney
 
In this debut novel, Mahoney explores the different ways a tragic accident can change a suburban neighborhood. Henry Cooper is a mailman, husband and very decent guy. One morning, while on his route. he lights a cigar and tosses the match to the ground. He has no idea how that one innocent act will start a fire that destroys 2 homes on the street, kills a young wife and disrupts the lives of everyone on the block. How each character in this novel handles the aftermath of the tragedy is well worth reading. Henry wants nothing more than to help those whose lives he has affected. Many reviewers of this novel have compared Mahoney's writing to that of an early Stewart O'Nan and I heartily agree.  Sue at Breakwater Books


Windfallen by Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You, engages the reader immediately.  Set in an art deco home aptly named Arcadia overlooking the ocean in the small village of Merham, the story encompasses two romances 40 years apart. Lottie and Daisy and other carefully drawn characters representing nearly all levels of British society display the many faces of love  from passion, devotion and responsibility to despair, disappointment and resignation.  Read it, you'll love it! 


Amy Poehler's book, Yes Please, is very funny, which is pretty much what you would expect from the former SNL cast member and star of Parks and Recreation. What you might not expect is for it to be moving, inspiring and a bit like reading your best friend's diary. Poehler's book at times reads like late night sleepover advice from your girlfriend, a trait that will only endear her more to her readers.



The World Without You by Joshua Henkin

This is the story of the Frankel family. It takes place over the course of three days during the summer of 2005 at their summer home in the Berkshires. They have come together to hold a memorial for Leo who was killed in Iraq while on assignment one year ago. He is the youngest son of Marilyn and David and leaves behind three older sisters, a wife and a son. This is a moving novel about family relationships and how the loss of Leo has changed them.  It explores the different ways in which each family member tries to find their  place in a world without Leo.


 


Sparta by Roxana Robinson

This is a moving portrait of one U.S.Marine's struggle to survive in civilian life after he returns from war. Conrad Farrell has served a four-year tour in Iraq and returns home whole in body but damaged mentally. He must learn to deal with his traumas while struggling to reconnect with his family and girl friend. Sadly, the author's depiction of the incompetency of our Department of Veterans Affairs brings to light the shameful treatment of our returning soldiers.




Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast

Roz Chast, a veteran cartoonist for The New Yorker, takes on a subject painfully familiar to many of us - the decline and demise of elderly parents - but the genius in her work is the application of her trademark candor and wit, even a 4-color cartoon format, to the whole dire predicament.  Though the parental quirks may be personal, not so the theme of mortality and its final indignities.  You don't know whether to laugh or cry, but you can't walk away unscathed. I loved it.



My Accidental Jihad – A Love Story by Krista Bremer

A memoir to hold close as a love story unfolds marrying two very different cultures. I was moved by this couple and truly admired their commitment.   




Fellow Mortals by Dennis Mahoney

 In this debut novel, Mahoney explores the different ways a tragic accident can change a suburban neighborhood. Henry Cooper is a mailman, husband and very decent guy. One morning, while on his route. he lights a cigar and tosses the match to the ground. He has no idea how that one innocent act will start a fire that destroys 2 homes on the street, kills a young wife and disrupts the lives of everyone on the block. How each character in this novel handles the aftermath of the tragedy is well worth reading. Henry wants nothing more than to help those whose lives he has affected. Many reviewers of this novel have compared Mahoney's writing to that of an early Stewart O'Nan and I heartily agree. 




Instructions for a Heatwave Maggie O'Farrell

 It is during the sweltering summer of 1976 in London when Gretta Riordan's newly retired husband disappears. Clueless as to where he has gone, Gretta calls her adult children home to help her with the search. Michael Francis, Monica and Aoife are all dealing with various issues of their own: a troubled marriage, a strained relationship and a long held secret. As the siblings seek to discover the mystery surrounding their father's disappearance, O'Farrell draws a vivid portrait of a family struggling to stay together. 

 



Bittersweet: A Novel Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

I looked forward to getting home from work to return to reading this book.  The themes are tangled relationships, suspense and the desire to belong.  Mabel Dagmar from a middle class, disconnected family is on scholarship at college.  Her roommate, the beautiful Generva Winslow comes from a world of the super rich. When Mabel is invited to Bittersweet, the Vermont vacation home of the Winslow’s, she is met with secrets, betrayal and a need to belong.  I was lost in this book – distracted from everything and wished I could read slower to make it last. 


The Empathy Exams, by Leslie Jamison

These essays - on such diverse topics as ultramarathon contestants, incarcerated young men, phantom illness, Mexican poverty, the peculiar pain of women - examine the common thread of empathy (or its lack) in our culture. The author is unsparing in her analysis of her own feelings and responses to the circumstances of others, demonstrating the possibilities and also the limitations of true empathy. It is one of the most interesting books I've read recently. 


The Last Days of California, by Mary Miller

This is Miller's debut novel, in which she captures beautifully what it's like to be 15 year old Jess taking a road trip with her family. But this is not any road trip, it's the road trip to the end of the world! Her evangelical father has enticed his wife and their two daughters, Jess and Elise, to drive west to California to experience the rapture. This story, told from Jess's point of view, is funny and poignant, a modern day coming-of-age story at its best.


2013

 

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon de Booy

This short novel manages to weave many disparate stories together to create a whole, revealing that we are all connected in ways we may never realize. Acts of kindness and cruelty, love and forgiveness have causal effects for generations. De Booy's writing is concise and poetic depicting  his characters' lives from World War II to the present.


We are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Sometimes foreknowledge of a book's plot is a bad thing, and in this case if I had known the premise of this book I would never have read it. And I would have missed some of the best writing I've experienced in a long time. Fowler's prose is at times very funny, and then poignantly sad. Rosemary the narrator is honest, self-aware, and eagerly searching for answers about her strangely dysfunctional family.


TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

Blending real-life characters with four generations of Irish women over 150 years between two continents, this novel provides a summary of Irish-American history beginning with the trip by Frederick Douglass to Ireland in 1845 where he speaks of abolition. The transatlantic flight of Alcock and Brown connects the countries physically, and Senator George Mitchell becomes a key figure in the Northern Ireland peace negotiations. Douglass has met Lily, a housemaid, on his trip, and her descendants form a continuity to the present day.


We All Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

In Zimbabwe during Mugabe's corrupt regime, Darling is 10 years old at the beginning of this novel. She and her friends endure harsh impoverishment, but are very culturally savvy about all things American. When Darling goes to America to live with her aunt she is aware of her new advantages, but feels displaced in much the same way her family had been displaced in Zimbabwe.



Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

In Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth we follow the exploits of Serena Plume, an unlikely new recruit for M15, as she delves into a new literary endeavor akin to the CIA’S involvement with Encounter. This spy novel brings the reader through an interesting chapter of England's espionage history as seen through the eyes of our heroine, a Cambridge graduate whose predilection for falling in love brings an element of drama and intrigue to this beautifully written and satisfying tale. When Plume falls for one of M15's writers, we are brought along on her journey and struggle with deception and duplicity. The novel delivers a surprising twist at the end that is reminiscent of Atonement's ending, however this is where the comparison with McEwan's other novel ends.  Sweet Tooth is a refreshing and involving tale, set at a time in England's past where disillusionment with government and society was settling in, a time of reevaluation not unlike our own today.


Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray

This is a funny and witty novel about Clover, a mom in her early fifties, who wakes up one morning to find herself invisible. As if this isn't enough, her family doesn't realize it! Only her best friend, Gilda, is aware of her predicament. With Gilda's help and a support group of other invisible women, Clover seeks to find a way to use her unique invisibility to do some good acts from monitoring a school bus to stopping a bank robbery. Enjoy this lighthearted story.


 




The Panther by Nelson DeMille

This is a fast paced thriller that definitely qualifies as a "page turner"!  John Corey, an Anti-Terrorist Task Force agent, and Kate Mayfield, an FBI agent, are sent overseas to Yemen. Their mission is to find the person responsible for masterminding the USS Cole bombing. This assignment turns out to be more complicated than they ever expected. With plenty of twists and turns, DeMille keeps your attention focused on how this mission will be resolved.



Testament of Mary, Colm Toibin

Toibin has written a first-person novelization of the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, reimagining the humble and willing figure of western history as a spirited contrarian who, from the perspective of later life, condemns the manipulation of her son at the hands of unsavory religious and political figures, and judges her own actions at his death with similar severity. It is powerful and unsettling and yet the author allows the reader a full measure of empathy as well.  Maureen 

 


The Racketeer, John Grisham

As usual, Grisham tells a good story.  The main character, Malcolm Bannister, is serving time in a federal prison camp in Maryland.  He is a lawyer who pleaded "Not Guilty" to a racketeering charge by the federal government but was convicted. While in jail, Malcolm serves as a "jailhouse lawyer" and learns many criminal secrets.  With this knowledge, he comes up with a plan to escape.  This legal thriller is cleverly written and holds your interest until the very last page.

Sue

 

Live By Night, Dennis Lehane

In Lehane's newest novel, the sequel to Any Given Day, we leave the Coughlin family's Boston world and follow Joe to Tampa, Florida, as his fortune rises from small town crimijnal to one of the East Coast's most highly respected gangsters in a plot that looks at the world of rum running, the ties of family loyalty, and the immigrant community of Florida.  All in all, Live by Night is a dark and satisfying noir thriller, written eloquently and seen through the eyes of an endearing protagonist.




The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

As the title indicates, this novel is filled with many secrets which Laurel Nicolson will try to uncover during the course of the story. When she was 16 years old, Laurel witnessed a shocking murder which involved her mother, Dorothy. This crime haunts Laurel her entire life.  Fifty years later, she returns to her childhood home for her Mother's 90th birthday. Her Mother's health is failing and Laurel senses that she must ask questions and try to unravel the secrets surrounding the crime she witnessed. The story fluctuates between London in 2011 and London in 1941. As her Mother's past unfolds and Laurel searches for answers, the reader will be kept guessing until the very end.



Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg

I think of Elizabeth Berg as a woman's writer and in this novel she is right on.  She tells the story of four women who take a "road trip" together to revisit their pasts. The women hail from different backgrounds and are in different stages of their lives. They connect to rediscover past relationships with the people they miss. As always, Berg writes very well about the importance of female friendships. 


 



2012



Emily, Alone, by Stewart O'Nan

As the title describes, Emily Maxwell is an 80 year old widowed mother who lives alone. Dependent on her family, she leads a quiet routine in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.  However, when her sister-in-law suffers a stroke while dining at their favorite restaurant together, Emily begins to discover her possibilities in a newfound independence.  

 - Sue


 

How To Live, by Sarah Bakewell

Had enough summer reading?  In How to Live, Sarah Bakewell introduces the illustrious 16th century French nobleman and essayist Michel Eyquem de Montaigne to a new generation, melding biography, history, and philosophy in a thorough and fresh attempt to answer the age-old question in the title. Great stuff.

 - Maureen

 

To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery by Gail MacColl and Carol Wallace is every bit as entertaining as its title. Illustrated with period photographs of titled Englishmen, their American heiress wives, and their lavish homes, this examination of the upper crust on both sides of the Atlantic will appeal to Downton Abbey devotees, history buffs, Newport tourists, and fashion mavens. Tales of intrigue in the marriage market and insights into the lives of women like Jenny Jerome (Lady Randolph Churchill) and Consuelo Vanderbilt (Duchess of Marlborough) painted by Sargent and gowned by Worth make this book informative and fun.

Nancy


Miss Fuller, by April Bernard

Margaret Fuller's unorthodox life as an advocate for women's and slaves' rights in 19th century New England is imagined in this little gem of a novel.  Through letters discovered by Henry Thoreau following her tragic death, the reader enters the world of a feminist pioneer on an intimate and public scale.  April Bernard is best known for her poetry, and the writing is original, coherent, and profound.

Maureen 




A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers

     In A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers presents protagonist Alan Clay, a 54 year old business exec struggling with debt and a deflated career. We meet Alan as he travels to Saudi Arabia in an attempt to sell IT to an emergent city outside of Jeddah. As he awaits the King and a prognosis for a lump he has discovered on his neck, Clay encounters a cast of vibrant and intriguing Saudi characters. Through their friendships, Alan is extracted from his insular world and drawn out of a downward spiral. At times brutally honest, A Hologram for the King is a touchingly honest and direct novel that examines the times we live in with clarity and refreshing wit.

 Louisa


The Book Lover, Maryann McFadden

     This is a story of a friendship between a bookseller and a writer.  Ruth owns and operates "The Book Lover", and Lucy is a first-time author struggling to publish her first book. Both women have suffered loss and betrayal and manage, over the course of the novel, to come to terms with the choices they made.

 Sue


Blood, Bones and Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton

     This gorgeous memoir of food and family made me want to call all of my loved ones together and cook madly for them. From her mother's French kitchen in rural Pennsylvania to her mother-in-law's in Puglia, Hamilton's deepest memories inform her life's choices, and cooking becomes a metaphor for abundance or despair.

 Maureen


In Zanesville, Jo Ann Beard

     It's easy to remember being 14 again, as the narrator and her best friend navigate the trials of domestic life in small town America in the 70's. The girls' friendship is tested in familiar ways, blending teenage hilarity and pathos in the narrator's endearing voice. This is a fun summer read for teens and adults alike and renews your faith in the ability to survive adolescence with dignity.

 Maureen


The Tiger's Wife, Tea Obreht

     The author seamlessly weaves legend, fairy tale, and reality in this beautiful novel set in an unnamed Balkan country recovering from a disastrous civil war. In her search to understand her grandfather, the narrator unravels the rich complexity of his native village, in language so powerful and poetic, it has been compared to Tolstoy's.

 Maureen


The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka

     The author's first book, When the Emperor Was Divine, was focused on the incomprehensible japanese internment camps in our country doring WWII.  The Buddha in the Attic is written in the same prose style - spare, unsentimental and poetic - about the Japanese "picture brides" who arrived in search of love and the American dream and,while some were successful, many endured heartache and disappointment. Both

novels provide insight into the Japanese-American immigrant experience, and thier messages and beautiful style remain with the reader.

 Kathy


The Submission, Amy Waldman

     Two years after the 9/11 attacks when emotions are still raw, a committee is formed to choose the architect for a memorial to the victims in NYC. The applications are anonymous, and the committe makes its choice only to learn that the winning entry is from an American Muslim.  The ensuing controversy escalates, and profound questions are raised about what it means to be American.

 Kathy




The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    This is the story of a middle-aged man who is crippled from a childhood illness and faced with the sudden death of his wife. He is helped along during the grieving process by frequent visits from his dead wife. Tyler manages to make this story unexpectedly funny and entertaining.



22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

    This is an historical novel set in England after World War II. The story focuses on a Polish couple who are separated at the beginning of the war. During the course of the war, they both endure many hardships and are finally reunited, however their ordeal impacts their future together. It is a powerful story of survival and redemption.



Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

     Don't be deterred by the setting, a very small impoverished Southern town, or the main characters, an alcoholic father still grieving for his late wife after many years and his four dirt poor but resourceful children. By the time Hurricane Katrina makes landfall, this National Book Award winner becomes a powerful treatise on hope, spirit and, especially, love.



Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

     This novel, set in Manhattan and Long Island in the 30's, will remind you of F.Scott Fitzgerald with its depiction of the very privileged and the working class aspiring to become part of that world. Katey Kontent is the wisecracking and nervy main character, and the reader will be rooting for her until the very end.



The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

     Once the reader picks up The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach’s novel about a phenomenally talented and dedicated college baseball player, it is impossible to put down. Harbach’s lyrical descriptions of a shortstop’s fielding will enthrall even those readers with no passion for the game, and his development of characters and their relationships stretches beyond the national pastime.



The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

     The most beautiful, pure love story I have read.  The tale begins with the disappearance of a well known, New York attorney.  When his wife and daughter find the only evidence of his whereabouts -- a love letter he addressed but never sent to a woman in Burma -- his daughter sets off to the village in Burma to find him.  Once there she encounters Uba, a man who reveals to her the story of her father’s tragic childhood and the extraordinary love that sustained him and then pulled him back home again to Burma.  Months after reading, I still feel softened having experienced this book.


 


Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

Life in Annawadi, a slum of 3000 people on the outskirts of Mumbai airport, is populated with colorful, resourceful characters who dumpster-dive and thieve to survive.  Although bleak, the story is illuminating in its depiction of the pervasive corruption, feuds, and redemption of the residents. Ms. Boo has been credited with writing the best piece of reportage on India in at least a half century



The Housekeeper and the Professor , by Yoko Ogawa, is a lovely, small Japanese novel about a brilliant math professor who was involved in a car accident.  As a result he now has an 80 mintue short term memory.  The story is about the relationship that develops between the professor and his caring housekeeper and her son.  Everyday she and her son must re-introduce themselves to him.  A special bond develops between the boy and the professor through math and baseball. SP

 

What is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman

    The story, written as a letter from father to daughter, flows gently and beautifully.  This is a quiet book that touches deeply.  A father, previously unknown to his daughter, reveals himself completely, honestly and desperately in the later years of his life through the story of his life. A lovely writer. KC

 

 

Love and Summer by William Trevor  

    A fine Irish love story set in the timeless countryside, you can rely on Trevor's unfailing skill to present the ambiguities of the human heart.  For another wonderful Irish read, I recommend Claire Keegan's Walk the Blue Fields.  MC

 

Still Alice by Lisa Genova, is a gripping novel about a who is in her early 50's and learns she has early-onset Alzheimer's.  Alice a successful professor at Harvard who has led a very productive life and is suddenly faced with a diagnosis that is most dreaded.  As the story unfolds, Alice discovers her disease and must deal with telling her family and her colleagues.  I felt this novel was quite powerful and would recommend it for care givers who have to face living with a loved one who has this horrible illness. SP

 

Consequences by Penelope Lively is a story of  three generations of women in England from 1935 to the present day. Lively creates characters you care about.  KW

Beginner's Greek by James Collins  A classic romantic novel, a la Jane Austen, beautifully written by an editor of Time Magazine, his first novel.  JH

 

Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan.  For gardeners and non-gardeners alike this book introduces five plants and their origins.  Along with the importance of these species to mankind, after reading you will look at plants a bit differently.  BF

Backing into Forward by Jules Feiffer  A memoir fill with famous faces.  Feiffer traces his beginnings as a struggling cartoonist in Greenwich Village to fame in Hollywood rubbing elbows with Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Mike Nichols.  JH

 

Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell 

    The friendship of Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp seemed destined to be.  They were so similar and close, it is hard to know in advance that Gail loses her.  Yet this is a tribute to friendship that stays with you and makes you long for a relationship like this one.  A beautifully told story by a great writer. KC

 

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

    Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960's is told through three female voices, two black and one white.  As their story unfolds, you become caught up in the many injustices that were in the South during this time.  The author portrays with great detail the roles that existed for blacks and whites in Mississippi during this period.  The friendship that results between these three women leaves the reader satisfied and filled with hope. SP

 

 


Enchanted August by 
     When four strangers from New York agree to rent a Maine island cottage for the month of August, each anticipates solitude and respite from personal heartbreak. Instead, they discover strength and healing in an unexpected community. This is a feet in the sand summer read that will have you searching the classifieds for your own Maine retreat. 

Outline, by Rachel Cusk
     When the narrator, a British writing instructor, travels to Athens to teach for a week in summer, she leaves behind two young sons and a former husband. From this outline, several explanations are possible, as is the case with the friends, strangers, and students whose stories are confided over the duration of the week. Despite our modern reliance on facts, one's personal history is partly - maybe mostly - interpretation, a point well made in this spare and affecting novel.

Missoula by John Krakauer                                
     This is an absorbing but disturbing study of sexual assault on the campus of a respected American university. Many of the cases examined, spanning several years, involved the university's football team. The accusations from women against members of the team were often met with denial or skepticism by university officials, fans, and law enforcement. Krakauer's findings beg many questions surrounding the sports culture at U.S. Colleges. 


The Unfortunates by Sophie McManus
     This novel received far too little media attention. What could have been a light romp about the contrast between privileged wealth and those "less fortunate", is instead a moving account of CeCe Somner, the philanthropic heiress of a vast rubber industry fortune. CeCe is reminiscent of an Edith Wharton or F. Scott Fitzgerald doyenne, and her relationships with her misguided and delusional son and his formerly working class wife, as well as with her staff, are believably portrayed. The dialogue and CeCe's interior monologues are engaging and often humorous, and the plot moves quickly through conflicts and heartbreak. A remarkable first novel.


Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman
     A young man and two young women, all from significantly different backgrounds, with widely divergent goals, meet as freshmen at Harvard. An unsolved murder and  predatory professor alter their anticipated life paths and haunt their futures while keeping their lives intertwined long after their college years end. 


Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County  By Kristen Green
    The Supreme Court, through Brown vs Board of Education,
mandated  the desegregation of American public schools in 1954. Rather than complying, Prince Edward County, Virginia, responded by shutting down their public school system and opening Prince Edward Academy, a private school that welcomed only white children. This deplorable situation stood for five years, during which time black and poor white families faced heartbreaking decisions. Their choices were to keep their children at home without schooling, homeschooling, which most felt ill equipped to achieve, move across county lines, or send their children to live elsewhere in order to be educated. The author, a graduate of P.E.A. returns to her hometown in a quest to examine how this situation impacted lives in those years through to the present day, and the role played by her own family. 


Bright Lights Paris, by Angie Niles
     Whether you have booked a trip to Paris, are a die-hard Francophile or an armchair traveler, this fully illustrated and photographed collection is the book for you. Sip a glass of rose while you lose yourself in this guide to each of Paris’ distinct neighborhoods. Learn where to eat, drink, shop, stroll and find the true hidden gems of Paris.





I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers
     Another under-reviewed novel that proved to be a great reading experience. Set mostly in London, it is the story of Michael, grieving for his recently killed journalist wife, and his next door neighbors who welcome him into their family with devastating consequences. A novel of loss, friendship and betrayal, as well as details about drone warfare, it is best read without knowing plot details and allowing the reader to be swept along, caught up in the suspense, knowing a happy ending will not ensue. 


Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
   With a single shattering event June Reid's life, as well as the lives of many in her small Connecticut town, are changed forever. June's unbearable  grief propels her across the country seeking a reason to keep living. Those left behind struggle to deal with the aftermath of tragedy. Lydia, whose loss is as devastating as June's, must also endure the scrutiny of the town as well as her own crushing guilt. This elegantly written book explores    not only  loss and grief, but also hope, redemption, and human connection.  This is an exceptionally moving, thought provoking story  whose characters will stay with you long after the last page is read.  


Last Bus to Wisdom, by Ivan Doig
     Ivan Doig's final novel, is a leisurely coming of age story set in the Montana Rockies of the early 1950's. Donal Cameron is a likable, 11-year-old red-head with dreams of becoming  a champion bronc rider. Because his Gram is having an operation, he is sent to Wisconsin to stay for the summer with her sister Kate.  As he makes the long trip on the dog bus, AKA Greyhound, Donal collects friends, and the reader is treated to a large and varied cast of bus riders, each with his own story. Aunt Kate turns out to be a controlling, uncompromising  woman who intends to send him back to Montana. Fearing that the authorities there will place him in an orphanage, Donal runs away. Again he finds himself on the dog bus, this time with an unexpected companion and protector, Herman the German, Kate's husband! 


The Last of the President's Men by Bob Woodward
      For those who study the Nixon era as well as those who remember it, this is a must read. The shocking revelation by Col. Alexander Butterfield before the Senate Watergate Committee that listening devices had been installed in Nixon's Oval Office had a fascinating backstory. Over forty years after the tapes produced by those devices led to the only presidential resignation in our history, Col. Butterfield gave Watergate reporter Bob Woodward access to his extensive files from his years in the Nixon White House. Much of this story will be familiar, but Butterfield's observations of the inner workings of the administration add to our understanding of this momentous period in our nations's history. 
Enchanted August by 
     When four strangers from New York agree to rent a Maine island cottage for the month of August, each anticipates solitude and respite from personal heartbreak. Instead, they discover strength and healing in an unexpected community. This is a feet in the sand summer read that will have you searching the classifieds for your own Maine retreat. 

Outline, by Rachel Cusk
     When the narrator, a British writing instructor, travels to Athens to teach for a week in summer, she leaves behind two young sons and a former husband. From this outline, several explanations are possible, as is the case with the friends, strangers, and students whose stories are confided over the duration of the week. Despite our modern reliance on facts, one's personal history is partly - maybe mostly - interpretation, a point well made in this spare and affecting novel.

Missoula by John Krakauer                                
     This is an absorbing but disturbing study of sexual assault on the campus of a respected American university. Many of the cases examined, spanning several years, involved the university's football team. The accusations from women against members of the team were often met with denial or skepticism by university officials, fans, and law enforcement. Krakauer's findings beg many questions surrounding the sports culture at U.S. Colleges. 


The Unfortunates by Sophie McManus
     This novel received far too little media attention. What could have been a light romp about the contrast between privileged wealth and those "less fortunate", is instead a moving account of CeCe Somner, the philanthropic heiress of a vast rubber industry fortune. CeCe is reminiscent of an Edith Wharton or F. Scott Fitzgerald doyenne, and her relationships with her misguided and delusional son and his formerly working class wife, as well as with her staff, are believably portrayed. The dialogue and CeCe's interior monologues are engaging and often humorous, and the plot moves quickly through conflicts and heartbreak. A remarkable first novel.


Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman
     A young man and two young women, all from significantly different backgrounds, with widely divergent goals, meet as freshmen at Harvard. An unsolved murder and  predatory professor alter their anticipated life paths and haunt their futures while keeping their lives intertwined long after their college years end. 


Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County  By Kristen Green
    The Supreme Court, through Brown vs Board of Education,
mandated  the desegregation of American public schools in 1954. Rather than complying, Prince Edward County, Virginia, responded by shutting down their public school system and opening Prince Edward Academy, a private school that welcomed only white children. This deplorable situation stood for five years, during which time black and poor white families faced heartbreaking decisions. Their choices were to keep their children at home without schooling, homeschooling, which most felt ill equipped to achieve, move across county lines, or send their children to live elsewhere in order to be educated. The author, a graduate of P.E.A. returns to her hometown in a quest to examine how this situation impacted lives in those years through to the present day, and the role played by her own family. 


Bright Lights Paris, by Angie Niles
     Whether you have booked a trip to Paris, are a die-hard Francophile or an armchair traveler, this fully illustrated and photographed collection is the book for you. Sip a glass of rose while you lose yourself in this guide to each of Paris’ distinct neighborhoods. Learn where to eat, drink, shop, stroll and find the true hidden gems of Paris.





I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers
     Another under-reviewed novel that proved to be a great reading experience. Set mostly in London, it is the story of Michael, grieving for his recently killed journalist wife, and his next door neighbors who welcome him into their family with devastating consequences. A novel of loss, friendship and betrayal, as well as details about drone warfare, it is best read without knowing plot details and allowing the reader to be swept along, caught up in the suspense, knowing a happy ending will not ensue. 


Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
   With a single shattering event June Reid's life, as well as the lives of many in her small Connecticut town, are changed forever. June's unbearable  grief propels her across the country seeking a reason to keep living. Those left behind struggle to deal with the aftermath of tragedy. Lydia, whose loss is as devastating as June's, must also endure the scrutiny of the town as well as her own crushing guilt. This elegantly written book explores    not only  loss and grief, but also hope, redemption, and human connection.  This is an exceptionally moving, thought provoking story  whose characters will stay with you long after the last page is read.  


Last Bus to Wisdom, by Ivan Doig
     Ivan Doig's final novel, is a leisurely coming of age story set in the Montana Rockies of the early 1950's. Donal Cameron is a likable, 11-year-old red-head with dreams of becoming  a champion bronc rider. Because his Gram is having an operation, he is sent to Wisconsin to stay for the summer with her sister Kate.  As he makes the long trip on the dog bus, AKA Greyhound, Donal collects friends, and the reader is treated to a large and varied cast of bus riders, each with his own story. Aunt Kate turns out to be a controlling, uncompromising  woman who intends to send him back to Montana. Fearing that the authorities there will place him in an orphanage, Donal runs away. Again he finds himself on the dog bus, this time with an unexpected companion and protector, Herman the German, Kate's husband! 


The Last of the President's Men by Bob Woodward
      For those who study the Nixon era as well as those who remember it, this is a must read. The shocking revelation by Col. Alexander Butterfield before the Senate Watergate Committee that listening devices had been installed in Nixon's Oval Office had a fascinating backstory. Over forty years after the tapes produced by those devices led to the only presidential resignation in our history, Col. Butterfield gave Watergate reporter Bob Woodward access to his extensive files from his years in the Nixon White House. Much of this story will be familiar, but Butterfield's observations of the inner workings of the administration add to our understanding of this momentous period in our nations's history. 

The Housekeeper and the Professor , by Yoko Ogawa, is a lovely, small Japanese novel about a brilliant math professor who was involved in a car accident.  As a result he now has an 80 mintue short term memory.  The story is about the relationship that develops between the professor and his caring housekeeper and her son.  Everyday she and her son must re-introduce themselves to him.  A special bond develops between the boy and the professor through math and baseball. SP

 

What is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman

    The story, written as a letter from father to daughter, flows gently and beautifully.  This is a quiet book that touches deeply.  A father, previously unknown to his daughter, reveals himself completely, honestly and desperately in the later years of his life through the story of his life. A lovely writer. KC

 

 

Love and Summer by William Trevor  

    A fine Irish love story set in the timeless countryside, you can rely on Trevor's unfailing skill to present the ambiguities of the human heart.  For another wonderful Irish read, I recommend Claire Keegan's Walk the Blue Fields.  MC

 

Still Alice by Lisa Genova, is a gripping novel about a who is in her early 50's and learns she has early-onset Alzheimer's.  Alice a successful professor at Harvard who has led a very productive life and is suddenly faced with a diagnosis that is most dreaded.  As the story unfolds, Alice discovers her disease and must deal with telling her family and her colleagues.  I felt this novel was quite powerful and would recommend it for care givers who have to face living with a loved one who has this horrible illness. SP

 

Consequences by Penelope Lively is a story of  three generations of women in England from 1935 to the present day. Lively creates characters you care about.  KW

Beginner's Greek by James Collins  A classic romantic novel, a la Jane Austen, beautifully written by an editor of Time Magazine, his first novel.  JH

 

Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan.  For gardeners and non-gardeners alike this book introduces five plants and their origins.  Along with the importance of these species to mankind, after reading you will look at plants a bit differently.  BF

Backing into Forward by Jules Feiffer  A memoir fill with famous faces.  Feiffer traces his beginnings as a struggling cartoonist in Greenwich Village to fame in Hollywood rubbing elbows with Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Mike Nichols.  JH

 

Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell 

    The friendship of Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp seemed destined to be.  They were so similar and close, it is hard to know in advance that Gail loses her.  Yet this is a tribute to friendship that stays with you and makes you long for a relationship like this one.  A beautifully told story by a great writer. KC

 

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

    Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960's is told through three female voices, two black and one white.  As their story unfolds, you become caught up in the many injustices that were in the South during this time.  The author portrays with great detail the roles that existed for blacks and whites in Mississippi during this period.  The friendship that results between these three women leaves the reader satisfied and filled with hope. SP

 

 

 

The Homecoming Party  I was not aware of Carmine Abate's novels in translation before reading a glowing review of the "Homecoming Party" in the New York Times, the book is a treasure, not just for the beautiful cover on the Europa Edition.  The story is set in southern Italy and details the plight of emigrants and their families while incorporating so much of Italian culture in a meaningful and moving way. MC