Sunday, June 21, 2009

The 2009 List: FICTION

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. From Amazon: "This sweeping epic is a compelling and original work set in 1875, when one woman attempts to rid America of polygamy."

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. "A sweet, allegorical novel. Quick read." And: “The type of book I'll read and reread, it inspires one to waste no time in pursuing their dreams.”

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfield. "Fun easy read – Laura Bush story with a Midwest twist! High school tragedy, survival, falling in love to someone out of your element, questioning a marriage, repenting husband, finding religion, power, wealth, white house Read the 500 page book in four days. A real ego boost when you haven’t finished a book in a year. Very light, but not Danielle Steele." And, “am embarrassed, but whipped through American Wife and fully enjoyed the trash.”

Beneath the Marble Sky by John Shors. "a love story of the building of the Taj Mahal.....most excellent read."

Body and Soul by Frank Conroy. "Unusual subject matter (story of a piano prodigy growing up poor in NYC and how his talent sets his life in various different directions) but very compelling -- a good read."

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. "The most elegantly written, takes you to the depths of life, book I have read in years.

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

The Castaways (and other titles) by Elin Hilderbrand. "This is perfect beach reading. She writes well, her characters, dialogue and plots ring true, and they are all set on Nantucket, so it’s like a mini-vacation just reading her books."

Cost by Roxana Robinson "This carried my book club through two meetings. No one could put it down, and we couldn't stop talking about it. Problem is, if I tell you too much of what it's about, you won't want to read it. But here's the basic premise: a mother of two grown sons finds herself sandwiched between their tremendous problems and her aging parents' aches and dementia. The tension runs so high in this novel that after every page you want just one more... a little like what drug addiction must be. Very well done, and deeply interesting as it explores the bonds between parents and children, and how they're broken."

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. This is a Today Show Book Club pick, and is also on the list for one contributor's book club. From Amazon: "Four children living in northern Ontario struggle to stay together after their parents die in an auto accident in Lawson's fascinating debut, a compelling and lovely study of sibling rivalry and family dynamics in which the land literally becomes a character. Kate Morrison narrates the tale in flashback mode, starting with the fatal car accident that leaves seven-year-old Kate; her toddler sister, Bo; 19-year-old Luke; and 17-year-old Matt to fend for themselves. At first they are divided up among relatives, but the plan changes when Luke gives up his teaching college scholarship to get a job and try to keep them together."

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. Gripping beach read. Drew and I listened to it on CD on a car trip, but didn't finish it on that voyage. I had to go buy a "real" copy of it because Drew got first dibs to finish it in the car on HIS commute, and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened. This is not great literature, but neither is it trash. From Amazon: "If all that Tom Rob Smith had done was to re-create Stalinist Russia, with all its double-speak hypocrisy, he would have written a worthwhile novel. He did so much more than that in Child 44, a frightening, chilling, almost unbelievable horror story about the very worst that Stalin's henchmen could manage."

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese My goodness, I loved this book. Sweeping, yet intimate family saga of twin brothers born to a doctor and a nun-nurse and how their lives unfold. Stranger in a strange land, what is home, what is family -- all themes in this beautifully written book.

Death in Holy Orders by PD James. "a beach read for fans of Adam Dalgliesh."

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo By Stieg Larssen. From Amazon: Once you start The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, there's no turning back. This debut thriller--the first in a trilogy from the late Stieg Larsson--is a serious page-turner ... Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch--and there's always a catch--is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues. Little is as it seems in Larsson's novel, but there is at least one constant: you really don't want to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo.

Home by Marilynne Robinson "Gilead, Housekeeping, the Death of Adam--I've read pretty much everything she's written and held on to each word for dear life. I really enjoyed Home--it's easier though perhaps, in my opinion, not as profound as Gilead. Just won the Orange Prize in England. Its main character, Glory Boughton, is a marvelous creation."

The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl "A historical mystery, this is a lovely, exciting read. Charles Dickens has died during the writing of Edwin Drood, leaving the work unfinished. Or did he finish it? You'll see."

The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa. “Seems like a good summertime read. Mid-19th century Sicily, summer house, sunny and blue, and crumbling, with good food descriptions even, while from it the famous quote about in order to stay the same everything had to change.‘’

The Manny by Holly Peterson. "The ultimate junky, funny, easy beach read."

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. In case you (like me) have a vague sense you've heard of this book, it was made famous when Barack Obama told the New York Times Magazine he was reading it. " This is a good one. Haven't finished it yet, but like it so far." It is not to be confused with …

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman "If you like weird fantasy, this is the book for you. Honest. I loved it."

The Nose by Nikolai Gogol. “A little fantasy and a lot reality about bureaucrats (not in DC)”

Sacred Games by Vikram Seth. "One of the best books I’ve read in a LONG time. Completely got lost in it. Fell in love with one of the characters – it won’t take you 5 pages before you figure out who – and became mesmerized by the relationship btw India and Pakistan that the book traces. Maxing out around 900 pages, it is a commitment – not a beach fling – but you won’t regret it."

Sara's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. " De Rosnay's U.S. debut fictionalizes the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, in which thousands of Jewish families were arrested, held at the VĂ©lodrome d'Hiver outside the city, then transported to Auschwitz."

Secrets of My Hollywood Life by Jen Calonita. "Tween Mother-Daughter reading. There are four books in this series and my daughter and I have read each one and talk about them. In depth. No swear words, some kissing, no sex, no weirdness. Just a fun story of a girl (think Miley Cyrus) who is a huge TV star and longs for a normal life. Light, fluffy, fun."

The Shack by William P. Young. (Christian). From Amazon: "Mackenzie Allen Philips' youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later … Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend… What he finds there will change Mack's world forever. In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant "The Shack" wrestles with the timeless question, 'Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?'

Song Yet Sung by James McBride. "A beautiful writer – also the author of Miracle at St. Anna’s. This book is about the Underground Railroad on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (Harriet Tubman’s route, btw) and tells the story of whites and blacks living there during the 1850’s against the backdrop of the gorgeous forests and waterways that make the area unique. It provides some of the contentious history of slavery in Maryland within an interesting fictional story.

The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt “Great family storytelling with Siri Hustvedt's "The Sorrows of An American". What a nuanced telling of an immigrant family, with a little mystery, great page turner.

The Sot Weed Factor by John Barth "a really hard read but worth it."

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. This book came out last summer, and I read all bazillion pages in about four days (on vacation). You all have probably heard about it, as it's an Oprah book pick. I liked it, but rather wish I'd known it was based on Hamlet. Some of your comments: "I would put it at the top of my list. Absolute favorite book of the last few years. It is one of those absorbing books where you can actually ignore everything around you and read. Perfect vacation book! Amazing character development and story line. I wish I could write or even just imagine like him."

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith. "Another beach read for fans of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency."

What is the What by Dave Eggers. From the Washington Post: "God has a problem with me," complains Valentino Achak Deng, the subject of Dave Eggers's extraordinary new novel, What Is the What. Coming from almost any other person on the planet, this lament would appear hopelessly self-pitying. But coming from Valentino, a Sudanese refugee, it sounds almost like an understatement. At a time when the field of autobiography seems dominated by hyperbolic accounts of what might be called dramas of privilege (substance abuse, eating disorders, unloving parents, etc.), [this] is a story of real global catastrophe -- a work of such simple power, straightforward emotion and genuine gravitas that it reminds us how memoirs can transcend the personal to illuminate large, public tragedies as well."

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. This book came close to "top pick" status this year. Many of you mentioned that you were reading it or planned to. "This is about modern day India but another side that is not exposed in Slumdog Millionaire. An interesting read that I might not have chosen if not for book group but very glad I read it."

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