Thursday, June 17, 2010


American Gods: A Novel by Neil Gaiman. “Fantasy. It's the story of all the gods American immigrants brought with them and abandoned on our shores. Imagine meeting Thor, or Zeus, or any of the pagan gods. Gaiman insists they're here, among us, and tells a great tale. Another gorgeous writer.”

The Anthologist: A Novel by Nicholson Baker. “The title and subject matter may sound dry (an obscure writer annoys his girlfriend and himself by failing to write the introduction to a poetry anthology), but the book is hilarious. It will also make you think about poetry, and it sent me running back to Amazon to buy some books by the authors that he most admires.”

Apparition & Late Fictions: A Novella and Stories by Thomas Lynch. “Beach reads because it is short story format: Love, memory, family, set in Ohio, from a great poet. High class beach reading.”

Arm Candy by Jill Kargman. “All of Jill Kargman’s books are hilarious but Arm Candy is the newest. It is full of great lines which will make you laugh out loud. The Ex-Mrs. Hedgefundwhich came out last year, also by Jill, is also fun read.”

Beginner's Greek: A Novel by James Collins. "I so enjoyed reading this book. It's a modern novel of manners with some satire and fairy tale thrown in, a romantic story nicely told from a male perspective. Peter is enormously likable. The main female character, Holly, was not as well-drawn, but Collins did a good job with secondary characters. (How much did I loathe Dick Montague!?!) All in all, a good summer read."

The Black Cat: A Richard Jury Mystery (Richard Jury Mysteries) by Martha Grimes. "DC writer Martha Grimes brings back her hero Richard Jury for a moody, funny, twisty-turny mystery. I love the way she writes - it's like Dorothy Sayers meets PG Wodehouse." (Ed: Now I am wondering if Dorothy Sayers ever met PG Wodehouse. They were about the same age.)

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. "Incredible. This book is incredible. It tells the story of a young German girl during WW2 who is orphaned and adopted, has a crush on a neighbor boy, goes to school, and, oh, hides a Jew in the basement. Narrated by Death, this book is magical, gorgeous, difficult, and wonderful."

The Brightest Star in the Sky: A Novel by Marian Keyes. "This book follows the relationships of all the people who live in one small apartment building for 61 days. The fun part about this book is that you have no idea who the narrator is or how he/she fits into the story until the very end, and there are a few little plot twists to keep you interested."

The Carrie Diaries by Candice Bushnell. "Before Manhattan and Manolos, who was Carrie Bradshaw? In her first novel for teens, Bushnell fills in her Sex and the City star's growing-up years with this chronicle of Carrie's senior year of high school in a small New England town. Bushnell maintains believable continuity of character in this teen version of her cultural icon, and fans will enjoy watching Carrie develop her familiar adult traits." (Ed: I think that came from Amazon, but now I don't remember.)

A Catch of Consequence (Makepeace Hedley) by Diana Norman. "I didn't read much about this book prior to reading it, and no ‘in real life’ friend had recommended it. I guess I expected a tolerably written historical fiction. Perhaps because of my low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of writing and by the story (I was up until 1 a.m. trying to get through it). I won't recite the basic story -- it helped my enjoyment to know little beyond the fact that a female tavern owner in pre-Revolutionary Boston plucks a drowning Englishman from the harbor, and that there are (as the title implies) consequences. A great read."

Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn. "A great mother-daughter read!" Amazon’s description: "Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* 'The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.' Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

*pangram: a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet"

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. "An easy, enticing read, a bit odd at times, and a bit astute at most times."

Dune Road: A Novel by Jane Green. "This is one of those finish-it-in-two-afternoons kind of book. Family drama (nothing sinister): a divorce, an unexpected and never-before-met sister, a scandalous yoga instructor, and a reclusive older author with secrets and intrigue. Easy to get through, somewhat predictable, but nonetheless enjoyable. Jane Green's books are a secret, guilty pleasure. I totally lie about reading them. But I've read them all, and like this one better than most."

The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano. "This book is about a girl who has spent 20+ years in Witness Protection because she and her parents witnessed a brutal mob killing. During this time she lived all over the country in small sleepy towns, had eight different aliases and lost faith in the Witness Protection Program after her parents were killed twelve years into protection. The son of the mob boss finds her and a page turning series of events follows. I was hooked from page one and read this in record time. It is a perfect beach read! The twists were unexpected and the conclusion I still think about. I just learned the movie rights have been sold - it will make a great movie. The author is from DC."

The God of Animals: A Novel by Aryn Kyle. "This is a great coming-of-age story by first-time novelist Aryn Kyle. I just bought her latest book of short stories. Anyone who loves horses will love this book." (This contributor also liked Boys and Girls Like You and Me: Stories by this author).

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Myths) by Philip Pullman. "A masterful re-telling of the story of Jesus. Imagine if the duality of Christ could be explained by the birth of twins that night in Bethlehem. A book for the broad-minded. Beautifully written."

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. "A bit dark but delicious -- where does that man get his inspiration?"

Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeanette Walls. "This is the second memoir by Jeanette Walls, author of The Glass Castle (your runaway pick in 2007). Not quite as shocking, but equally engaging."

Her Fearful Symmetry: A Novel by Audry Niffenegger. "I loved The Time Traveler's Wife by the same author so I thought I would give this a try. It does not come close to that book, but it was still a nice read." (Ed: That seemed to be the consensus on – the book is a grave disappointment - pun intended - to readers devoted to The Time Traveler's Wife. I hadn’t read that one, and I thought this was a decent read. It didn’t hang together perfectly, but it’s a serviceable beachy ghost story.)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. "A sweet book - you could read with your 12 / 13 year old."

How to Talk to a Widower: A Novel (Bantam Discovery) by Jonathan Tropper. "Despite its title, this book isn't dark and depressing. Well, maybe one or two pages might be a little sad and wistful, but not the rest. Man loses young wife. Loses then regains teenage stepson. Has a whackadoo extended family. Is pressured to write a book and start dating again. Not sappy, not too tender. Great comedic writing. Easy to get through in two or three afternoons."

Innocent by Scott Turow. "LOVE IT. Page turner. The sequel to Presumed Innocent. Scott Turow not only crafts a brilliant plot but he writes poetically."

The Invisible Bridge by Julia Orringer. I’m 60% of the way through this highly anticipated novel. It is an epic tale and love story about Jewish Hungarians before and during WWII. I'm struggling with how good the good characters are. But if you like historical fiction about this era, it is probably worth your while." Update: I finished it. Highbrow critics from the Washington Post and other outlets have insisted that Orringer could not have spared ONE WORD from the epic tale. I beg to differ. She could have spared about 100 pages of words. HOWEVER, it is still a very good book, enormously important I think, and well worth the effort.

La's Orchestra Saves the World: A Novel by Alexander McCall Smith. "Not the most profound book I've ever read, but he does a wonderful job of taking you back to what life was like in the English countryside during WWII - bittersweet. Listen to this song on YouTube just to reinforce that period of time. Most of these young men never did 'meet again....' As I said - bittersweet:"

Let the Great World Spin: A Novel by Colum Mcann. "Follows the lives of a group of individuals immediately before and after Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. Although the book does not feature Petit as one of its central characters, the lives of all of the main characters intersect with Petit's walk in a key way, creating a neat puzzle around the event.” And, "We read this for the book group I joined. We all really liked it. It is a National Book Award Winner and a New York Times Bestseller. I'm new to the book group, but it was mentioned how unusual it was that each person had nothing but good things to say about this book.”

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name: A Novel (P.S.) by Vendela Vida. "Vida co-wrote the film ‘Away We Go’ (starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph), and I was curious to see what her literary footprint looked like. Let the Northern Lights was a fascinating read. Vida's imagery is astounding, and you will feel both the bone-chilling cold of the story's setting (Lapland) and of the main character's mother."

Little Bee: A Novel by Chris Cleave. "This is great storytelling; skillful foreshadowing, the careful scattering of clues, building suspense and dread.” And “I’m not sure how I feel about this book. I’m glad I read it." (Ed: there’s some "love it v. hate it" stuff going on in the Amazon and Goodreads reviews of this book.)

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker. "This is a dramatic tale about a girl who grows up enormous and an outcast even in her own family but whose kindness and forgiveness of the most detestable deeds enables her to solve a town mystery that dates back generations."

Love in Mid Air by Kim Wright. "I am currently reading this fairly well-written but kind of trashy novel. It is a total beach read!!!!"

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos. I found this book, the first novel by poet de los Santos, extremely engaging, and I stayed up way too late finishing it. (What else is new?) It's dually narrated by Clare, an 11-year-old dealing with her mother's intense emotional difficulties, and a 32-year-old lost-ish soul named Cornelia. How their lives intersect is the crux of the story. This would be an excellent beach read. Nice writing, entertaining (if improbable) tale.

Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln by Janis Cooke Newman. My sister-in-law really enjoyed this book. From Amazon: "Mary is a novel written in the first person, comprised of notes composed by Mary Todd Lincoln when she was an inmate of a lunatic asylum. She takes up her pen to block out the screams and moans of the other inmates and to save her own sanity. According to these notes, although she held séances in the White House and drove her family deeply into debt because of compulsive shopping, she was perfectly sane. She makes a good case for herself, despite occasional manic behavior and often uncontrollable grief." From an Amazon reviewer: "It is a cracking good read; rich in detail, engrossing, and an interesting take on an historical figure who continues to be controversial. Like Margaret George's "Autobiography of Henry VIII"--another great example of looking at familiar events through the eyes of its often-maligned main character--Newman allows Mary Todd Lincoln writes her own story, this time from the asylum where her son Robert has committed her."

The Most Beautiful Book in the World: 8 Novellas by Erik Emmanuel Schmitt. "Eight quirky, interesting short stories translated from French. Each is centered around strong, often charismatic (and sometimes slightly mad) women characters. An international bestseller. Good fun."

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk's. "Please give this a try, and don't listen to Virginia complaining that it is sad. By the Nobel Prize winner, and author of Snow, it is sad, but it is astonishing." (Ed: Yes, I did say it was too sad. Of course, I hadn’t actually READ it, just read ABOUT it. I might, as soon as I meet my 2010 quota of happily-ever-afters).

The Overnight Socialite by Bridie Clark. "A modern day Pygmalian. It takes place on Park paced and full of laughs. It may be chick lit but it isn’t without character."

The Passage by Justin Cronin. I almost made this a top pick, but that would have been weird, since none of you has read it. It is SO buzzy (already in the top 10 at Amazon and front and center at bookstores) that I sense in another month it would have been a top pick. From Amazon: "You don't have to be a fan of vampire fiction to be enthralled by The Passage, Justin Cronin's blazing new novel. Cronin is a remarkable storyteller (just ask adoring fans of his award-winning Mary and O'Neil), whose gorgeous writing brings depth and vitality to this ambitious epic about a virus that nearly destroys the world, and a six-year-old girl who holds the key to bringing it back."

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. "Blake is a DC writer (& Sidwell mom , as it turns out). She's read at Politics & Prose. A NC friend recommended the book to me completely out of the blue. Haven't read but it's on my list!" (Another contributor also said she hadn't read it but had it on her list.)

Pearl of China: A Novel by Anchee Min. "Not quite a biography but this fictionalized retelling of Pearl Buck's life was reviewed as a relatively accurate retelling, augmented by some new characters and, of course, dialogue that never was recorded. Pick up this book and while you are at it get a copy of The Good Earth to re-read."

The Power of One: A Novel by Bryce Courtenay. "Episodic and bursting with incident, this sprawling memoir of an English boy's lonely childhood in South Africa during WW II pays moderate attention to questions of race but concerns itself primarily with epic melodrama." The New York Times: "The Power of One has everything: suspense, the exotic, violence; mysticism, psychology and magic; schoolboy adventures, drama in the boxing ring."

The Privileges: A Novel by Jonathan Dee. "You won't put it down. This is brilliant writing, on wealth and family, inside of New York society."

The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1) by Rick Riordan. "The first book in the new series by Rick Riordan of Percy Jackson fame . I've always been fascinated with ancient Egypt, so this one is a great fit." This is technically a children's book, but I know Drew enjoyed reading the Percy Jackson books with the girls.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. This is a creepy tale set in early 1900s Wisconsin. A beautiful woman, having come across a newspaper ad from a wealthy businessman who needs a "reliable wife," and hatches a dastardly plan. A lot of you have been reading this. Two friends at a swim meet just told me that the "key is to stick with it."

Skeletons at the Feast: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian. “Bohjalian got me with this one, as he has in the two other books of his I've read. It took me about 1/4 of the way into it to get hooked, but I stayed up until 1 am last finishing it. His writing is really quite nice, possibly underrated. His storytelling is incredibly compelling. There are several stories woven together in this book, the main being the plight of an aristocratic Prussian family forced to march west in the waning months of WWII. The horrors and atrocities of the war are on full display -- almost, but somehow not quite, unbearable to read about. Really good read, really good reminder.” (Ed: I also really liked Bohjalian's previous works, Midwives (Oprah's Book Club) and The Double Bind (Vintage Contemporaries.)

So Brave, Young and Handsome: A Novel by Leif Enger. "Gorgeous, gorgeous writing by the author of Peace Like a River. A story about couple of fugitives, a lot of close escapes, and some fascinating secondary characters. A sympathetically written allegory similar in tone and feel to the movie ‘Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.’" (Ed: Peace Like a River is one of my all-time favorite books. Please read it if you haven't already!)

Someone Knows My Name: A Novel by Lawrence Hill. "A book about slavery that is ‘stunning, wrenching and inspiring.’ The main character will forever be seared into my brain. I couldn’t put it down I was so mesmerized. This book to me was like watching Roots when I was a teenager."

Sookie Stackhouse 8-copy Boxed Set (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood) by Charlaine Harris. "Love these books. My guilty pleasure. What's not to like about a Southern vampire mystery romance? The basis of the hit HBO series 'True Blood', these books have sex, humor, puzzles, mythology - the whole enchilada. Excellent beach reading."

The Spellmans Strike Again: A Novel (Izzy Spellman Mysteries)
by Lisa Lutz. "Fun series of mysteries featuring a mediocre PI with a crazy family. Good beach reading."

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart. "Read this on a Vamoose ride to NYC. Set in NYC during the latter part of WWII, the book tells of the life changing adventures (in that 1940's kind of way) of two Iowa college students who move to Manhattan for a summer and secure jobs at Tiffany's. The cute tone is as if your 80 something year old grandmother were recounting favorite memories with that far away smile on her face. In fact, the book is a memoir, albeit quite light." (Ed: I should start a category, "Books You Can Finish in on Vamoose ride.")

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery by Alan Bradley. "I realized I could enjoy this book more if I pretended that the protagonist was NOT an 11 year old girl since there was no way an 11 year old would ever have this vocabulary, knowledge of poisons, or chutzpah. Once past Flavia's age (and name) I was able to relax and enjoy the mystery. I liked the setting - a small English village in the 1950's - and I liked the relationship that Flavia had with the old gardener, Dogger. Descriptions like ‘quaint’, ‘quirky’, and ‘cozy’ could be used to describe this book." (Ed: This is a first novel by a 70-year-old author. There is hope for us all!)

Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd. No specific comments, but a couple of you listed it.

The Various Flavors of Coffee: A Novel by Anthony Capella. "I didn't like this as much as his other books, which really made me starving for good Italian food. The book is about a foppish English coffee trader in the late 19th century who travels to the wilds of Africa. It's a fun read while you drink a good cup of coffee, and I learned a bit in the process." (Ed: I enjoyed The Wedding Officer: A Novel (Bantam Discovery), which was on last year’s list. Raunchy but good!)

The White Queen: A Novel (Cousins' War)by Phillippa Gregory. "If you like this genre, this is a quick, fun read about Queen Elizabeth and Tudors v Yorks ('War of the Roses' or the 'Cousins Wars.') A summer Harlequin in that British royal history kind of way."

Wolf Hall: A Novel (Man Booker Prize) by Hillary Mantel. Winner of the Booker prize, a novel about Thomas Cromwell, the villain of "A Man for all Seasons" (but not of Wolf Hall). "Lovely tempo and atmospheric style of writing in an historical setting. Quite a successful combination." (Ed: I'm about 60% of the way through. It is indeed brilliant, but I have been annoyed by Mantel’s ambiguous use of the pronoun "he." I guess it's because there were too many Thomases. So here's a hint to increase your enjoyment: If she says "he," she generally means Cromwell.)

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