Books I’ve Enjoyed Reading in 2017

The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille
An entertaining thriller with plenty of twists & turns, armchair travel to Cuba, and a hot romance.

Endurance by Scott Kelly
Astronaut’s record-setting stay on the International Space Station, along with growing up with twin Mark.

Gap Year Girl by Marianne Bohm
I don’t think the title was a good fit, but it’s an entertaining memoir about an empty-nester couple that travels around Europe for a year, focusing on France, to help Marianne fulfill her dream of becoming a French teacher.

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
Unexpectedly charming, as the premise of a young widow attending a Saturday gardening class with her girls and sister for a work project didn’t grab me. The book did, and my sister liked it, too.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn
Time travellers on a project try to meet Jane Austen and recover some papers for the future.

A Tale of Two Kitties and other Magical Cats mysteries by Sofie Kelly
Boston librarian moves to small Minnesota town to oversee library renovations. She misses her family, mostly involved in the theater, but finds friends, a possible love interest, and adopts to very unusual kitties. Appealing characters and setting, even a bit about tai chi, food, and art. The first book is Curiosity Thrilled the Cat.

Caroline: Little House, Revisted by Sarah Miller
Authorized by the Little House Trust, this reimagines the book Little House on the Prairie from the point of view of Laura’s mother, including a pregnancy. Also excellent to reread.

Artemis by Andy Weir
Second science fiction book by the author of The Martian. Artemis is the only colony on the moon, and Jazz Bashara is a courier and small-time smuggler who ends up in big trouble and has to save the colony with help from her friends and her estranged father.

Break Up by Dana Stabenow
A dark and very funny mystery set in small town Alaska. The ice thawing brings out the crazy in everyone and every thing, and private investigator Kate Shugak has to bring order out of chaos. This is still fun to reread.

Jackie’s Girl by Kathy McKeon
This memoir of Jackie’s young, Irish personal assistant is charming. Madam, her family and household are fun to read about, along with visits to the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
A long, leisurely read set mainly in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, from the point of view of a former count on house arrest. Just lovely!

The Penric and Desdemona novellas by Lois McMaster Bujold, set in the world of the Five Gods
For readers who like fantasy, humor, adventure, and a little romance with a very appealing protagonist.
“Penric’s Demon” (2015)
“Penric and the Shaman” (2016)
“Penric’s Fox” (2017) (3rd story chronologically)
“Penric’s Mission” (2016)
“Mira’s Last Dance” (2017)
“The Prisoner of Limnos” (2017)

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston
Real life adventure in the Honduran rain forest.

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
Adventure story set in 1876, with two competing paleontologists hunting dinosaur fossils in the American west. The manuscript for Dragon Teeth predates Jurassic Park.

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper
Little Women author’s little sister, May, who does not enjoy being mistaken for Amy March or having her book illustrations panned. May takes art lessons in Boston and Europe, clashing frequently with family breadwinner Louisa.

Design for Dying by Rene Patrick
Enjoyable historical mystery set in Hollywood, with salesgirl Lillian teaming up with costume designer Edith Head to solve a murder.

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer
Accidental time travel by Beatrice, an overworked neurosurgeon, to Italy right before the plague strikes; full of art, romance, and suspense.

 

This list is full of some of the books I really enjoyed reading this year. There are so many list of best books and literary award-winners, that I wanted to focus on enjoyable books. I also read quite a few children’s books this year, but that’s outside the scope of this blog.

Enjoy!

Brenda


November 2017 Book Discussions

It’s strange to be writing about November discussions when it’s warm and sunny outside. The Tuesday Morning Book Group will meet at 10am on November 21 to talk about Lab Girl: A Story of Trees, Science, and Love by Hope Jahren, a memoir on several best books of 2016 lists, including mine.

On November 28 at 7pm the Tuesday Evening Book Group will discuss The Second Mrs. Hockaday, by Susan Rivers, a historical novel set during and after the Civil War.

On Thursday, November 16, the Crime Readers will meet at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien to discuss The Round House, by Louise Erdrich. Co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library, the Crime Readers gather at 6 pm for optional dinner.

Copies of the books are available at the Adult & Teen Services Reference Desk.

Brenda


Gap Year Girl

Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure across 21 Countries by Marianne Bohr

Marianne and her husband Joe are preparing to do what many dream about but few accomplish: take a year to explore Europe. They are turning 55, and their children, Chris and Caroline, have finished college. They sell their Maryland house after a year, and camp out with friends until it’s time to give notice at work, get their long-term French visas, and head for a studio apartment in Paris. Marianne loves all things French and is changing careers to become a French teacher, so Paris is where they start and end their year abroad, with a week in the middle to run the Paris Marathon. Joe, a marine engineer, doesn’t speak much French, but loves history and is willing to drive rental cars as needed. They run, hike, and canoe because they enjoy being active, but also to indulge their love of food and wine. I like Marianne’s writing style, sketching the places they visit in a few sentences, focusing on the people they encounter as well as the scenery. It’s easier to share what they didn’t enjoy in their whole year of travel: a lonely town in France, the markets in Morocco, and train stations in Austria. Otherwise, they find kind, helpful people wherever they go, along with wonderful food. They mix budget accommodations and picnic food with the occasional splurge, and get very tired of their limited wardrobe. Highlights include skiing with their children in Italy’s Dolomites, and hiking the Tour de Mont Blanc with a guide and other travelers. Greece wins the award for friendliest country.  In the end, Marianne’s favorite country is still France, although Joe likes the food in Italy best. A very enjoyable travel memoir.
Brenda


Walking the Himalayas

himalayas jacketWalking the Himalayas by Levison Wood

A spellbinding journey through parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indian, Nepal, and Bhutan. Life in London is getting boring, so Wood is challenged to complete another trek. His earlier book is Walking the Nile, and he was a Major in the British Parachute Regiment. Not trying to climb the Himalayan peaks, Wood plans to walk the whole length of them. Most of the journey is full of spectacular scenery and curious villagers. Accompanied by various guides, including an old friend, he also encounters the Dalai Lama, a cobra, shamans, tigers, a landslide, and honey gathering on a mountain cliff. Wood is nearly killed in a jeep crash, and his journey’s end is uncertain. Part of his trek was filmed for British television, and some of it is available online. This is an excellent choice for fans of real life adventure.
Brenda


Between Shades of Gray

ruta jacket

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray is a harrowing story about a young girl, her family and her neighbors being forced from their home in Lithuania and imprisoned in a brutal Siberian encampment under Stalin’s rule. As one would expect, this wartime story is horribly sad and disturbing. However, there are moments in the imprisoned people’s lives where they remind one another that they are indeed compassionate human beings who are capable of empowering themselves and one another by sharing happy and peaceful memories. These moments better enable them to survive–spiritually and physically. On one occasion the “prisoners” free themselves from several months of endless burden and physical wear with the use of what can be called, collective memory. They secretly gather on Christmas Eve and recreate a scene that resembles a traditional Lithuanian Christmas dinner celebration—Kucios. During this commemoration they have only the small stolen rations of stale food from the farming camp that they are temporarily enslaved at. Yet, with these very limited means the group manages to capture the spirit of the holiday celebration, perhaps in a more powerful manner than any Christmas past.

Lina, the protagonist of the story, is a gifted artist and seizes every opportunity to capture, on bark or stolen paper, such moments of beauty. She also uses her artistic abilities to record the destruction and obscenities she has witnessed and experienced. Lina draws with an understanding that her depictions are recorded evidence as well as an act of defiance and freedom of expression. Moreover, she holds onto the hope that her drawings are a conduit through which her separated family can communicate and reunite. The characters in this story, and their small amount of personal belongings, are up-heaved and moved from place to place further away from their homeland and from the peaceful lives they once knew. Lina’s story, and her art, balances a wanting of what once was, with a need to move forward.

Jeanne

Readalikes:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (especially for those moments of beauty amidst despair)

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (which also emphasizes the survival of people’s traditions and culture)

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (another story that presents complex individuals who are capable of doing good and of creating harm)

 


The Song Remains the Same and What Alice Forgot

song remains jacketThe Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch

Nell is one of only two survivors of a plane crash. She remembers nothing of her life, but learns that she runs an art gallery with her sister, and is married to (but separated from) Peter, and is the daughter of a famous reclusive painter who abandoned the family years ago. She is surprised to find that she’s a control freak who only wears neutral colors, and that she and her sister weren’t speaking before the accident. She used to like music, and her sister makes a recording of music to help prompt her memory. It seems that no one is telling her the whole truth, and she turns to fellow survivor, actor Anderson, to help her find out who she really is. I was really interested in Nell’s story, but found the lies her family and friends told somewhat unbelievable, more so than the amnesia itself. A real page-turner.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty alice jacket

Alice hits her head during spin class one morning, and loses a decade of her life. She thinks she’s pregnant with her first child, and is stunned to find out that she and Nick have three kids, and are separated. Her sister Elizabeth is married but seems distant, and her mother has remarried, to the most surprising person ever, and enjoys salsa dancing. Alice only gradually remembers flashes of the last decade, and frankly doesn’t like the older Alice. She’s a super mom, very involved at the kids’ school, but they don’t seem that happy. Why is everyone asking her about plans to break the world record for lemon meringue pie? And is she really dating Dominick, the school principal? I really liked the early Alice, and was rooting for her to remain true to herself as she regained her memories. Besides the lemon meringue pie scene, some of my favorite funny parts were how she handles a child’s getting kicked out of school, and salsa dancing.

If you’d like to read more novels about people starting over after a memory loss, try these recent books:

Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson

The Last Letter from Your Lover, by Jojo Moyes

The Shadow of Your Smile, by Susan May Warren

Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

Brenda


Raising Stony Mayhall

Raising Stony Mayhall, by Daryl Gregory

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I don’t usually read books about zombies, but this is not your typical zombie story. Are you ready for the zombie apocalypse? Me, neither. In fact, I think the existence of zombies is impossible. Oddly, so does Stony Mayhall, Daryl Gregory’s living dead protagonist. In 1968, Wanda Mayhall is driving her three girls home through an Iowa snowstorm when she sees a body by the side of the road. Wanda finds the frozen body of a young woman, with a cold baby in her arms. Then the baby opens his eyes, and Wanda takes him home, where she and the girls keep Stony’s existence secret from everybody but their Korean neighbors. After young Kwang comes to visit, Stony grows in size to match him, and they grow up together. While frustrated because he’s stuck at home, Stony loves his family. After a tragedy, Stony is separated from his family and taken to a safe house with other living dead (LDs), and even to a secret LD convention, which ends badly. LDs have different political views, and are really dangerous for only a few days after they are bitten and become LD. They can eat and drink, but don’t need to, and smoke a lot. Some even fall in love.

Stony studies the origins and science of LDs and meets a wealthy entrepreneur on a desert island who wants to send LDs into space. Stony longs for contact with his human family, and tries to prevent a faction of LDs from starting the Big Bite, or zombie apocalypse. A funny, sweet, and frightening story of self-discovery, family love, and zombies.

Brenda