my reading lists
I've loved reading since I was a child. When my brothers and I were kids, our dad would hide books in his closet to give to us at his whim. Those books were a brilliant gift that built a lifetime habit for all of us: reading! I am lost without a book, or three, to read. I love talking about books. I love helping other readers find their next read. Which makes sense because, along with haircutting, I am work part time at Literati Bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor, where I am surrounded by books and people who love reading and talking about books. I also curate the reading lists on the Literati Bookstore website blog, which you can find right here. They are not always books I've read, but the lists are always interesting themes and timely topics that feed my curiosity about books of all subjects.
Through my job at Literati Bookstore I am extremely fortunate to have access to more books to add to my library than one could imagine, including advance reader copies of books (ARCs.) Below are my curated reading lists of current releases, soon to be released titles, as well as books I've read over the years, that I recommend. Enjoy . . . let's talk about the books!
— SPRING/SUMMER 2023 RELEASES — posted juy 2023
Tom Lake - Ann Patchett
As though we are reading a diary of her 20-something self, Lara, aka Emily Webb of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," details to her daughters her brief acting history in a Northern Michigan summer stock theater company and her one Hollywood hit film, as they wait out the pandemic while picking cherries on the family's Leelanau Peninsula orchard. Urged on by the three young women who are longing to get a glimpse of their mother from that former exotic part of her life, Ann Patchett lovingly fuses family lore with family dynamics, as they each examine their own lives and the world around them. Ann Patchett at her very best as a storyteller and lens to family dynamics.
Banyon Moon - Thao Thai
This debut novel jumps from present-day rural Florida to life before, during, and after the Vietnam War, which was an eye-opener to grasping the experience of the horrible unnecessary war from the Vietnamese perspective. The novel is about three generations of Vietnamese American women who are forced to confront their demons and family dysfunction after the death of their matriarch. It is one of those debut novels that reads like it's at least a third or fourth novel, the writing is so strong and the storytelling so exceptional. The reader becomes caught up in the power, self-sufficiancy, and independence each of the women possesses, along with the power of a story that focuses solely on dynamic, though complicated, women.
Spring Rain - Marc Hamer
This joyous memoir of childhood, old age, and a life loving gardens and gardening is a respite from thoughts of the frustrations of life that clutter our minds. A retired professional gardener and author, Hamer says this of his book, "Spring Rain is about the joy of your own back garden. It is a story about the joy of small things, the world in a grain of sand, a universe in a small garden, with love for all the insects and slugs and flowers and weeds and seeds and roots and boundaries and shade and weather that the garden contains." I agree wholeheartedly and offer this to readers who find joy in all forms of the natural world.
Brave the Wild River - Melissa L. Sevigny
In the summer 1938, two female botanists from the University of Michigan found a river runner and boatbuilder to guide them down the mighty and ferocious Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, where they researched and collected plants for the U/M's botany catalogue. Their four-month adventure, during which they risked their lives, was lampooned by journalists, politicians, and the public because this was no place for women. But were they ever wrong! Author/science journalist Melissa L. Sevigny's meticulous research and storytelling offers a page-turner bit of history in this terrific biography.
The Bookbinder - Pip Williams
Riding on the heels of her terrific historical novel about the making of the Oxford dictionary, "The Dictionary of Lost Words," Pip Williams returns to Oxford of 1914 with a story of how books are bound, literally, and the people — mostly the women — behind the process. "The Bookbinder" is about British class inequities as much as it is about observation and know-how and persevering against all odds, as we are brought into the lives of a set of twin sisters who follow in their deceased mother's footsteps, painstakingly and meticulously working in the town's bookbinding factory.
The Covenant of Water - Abraham Verghese
Set in South India's Malabar Coast, spanning from 1900-1977, three-generations of a family suffer from an odd affliction: at least one person drowns in every generation, despite the family's fear of the water that surrounds them. Not only is this a novel of the strength of family and the depths of tradition in a changing world, it's a deep insight into medical research and how head-scratching over medical ailments lead to discovery and prevention, with physician/aughor Abraham Verghese’s sensitive attention to character and sense of place.
The Wind Knows My Name - Isabel Allende
Isabel Allende's novels are about the people throughout history and to this day who flee their homes from political and religious persecution, using her personal experience of survival, after her husband Chilean President Salvador Allende's government was overthrown in the 1973 Pinochet coup. She fled to Venezuela where she helped her family and many others who were on Pinchot's death lists get safe passage out of Chile. A staunch feminist, her history gave her the voice to write about women who challenge the injustice of patriarchal leaders and the struggles they and their children endure to find safety. Her 20th book, "The Wind Knows My Name," the story about 5-year old Samuel Adler, who, after being put on the Kindertransport train by his mother in 1938, loses his entire Viennese family to the Holocaust is woven with the story of 7-year-old Anita Diaz, who, seeking refuge from El Salvador in Nogales, Arizona with her mother, walks into the 2019 trap of the US family separation policy, splitting apart mother and daughter. Samuel and Anita's lives beautifully intersect in Samuel's 80th year, after both their unfortunate experiences are told throughout the book, in past and present, in what is a gripping book about finding salvation from fear and hate through love, family, and hope that there are good people in the world.
The Hero's Way - Tim Parks
In the insufferably hot summer of 2019, author Tim Parks and his partner, Eleonara, walked 400 miles from southern Rome to northern Ravenna, retracing the steps of Italian revolutionary general Guiseppe Girabaldi. "The Hero of Two Worlds," as he was known, Girabaldi led his 4,000 volunteer renegade army, "the garibaldini," along with his pregnant wife, Anita, on a crusade for the unification of Italy. Parks' captivating travelogue includes historical notes of Girabaldi's maneuvers, along with his observations of current-day Italy and Italians. A most enjoyable picturesque read.
Return to Valetto - Dominic Smith
How wonderful that I was in northern Italy while reading this lovely novel set in the central Italian region of Umbria. Picturesque descriptions of a (fictionalized) mostly abandoned little Italian village where the book takes place do not require being in Italy to enjoy the story! The character development is spot-on, the storyline is spot-on, and the setting is spot-on. Dominic Smith's writing is, for me, on par with authors such as Amor Towles, Sara Winman, and Anthony Doerr — he's excellent at storytelling and creating a sense of place and time.
The Last Lifeboat - Hazel Gaynor
Hazel Gaynor's impeccable story-telling and character development kept me on the edge of my seat with this deeply moving story that follows the leading up to, during, and after the WWII sea evacuation of young British children. This book is historical fiction at its best.
The Little Village of Book Lovers - Nina George
On the heels of the wonderful "The Little Paris Bookshop," Nina George's novel that I termed "a love letter to books," is her latest homage to love and to books. Nina George has gifted readers with another sweet story that takes place in southern France in 1960, in which Marie-Jeanne, a young orphan, plays matchmaker, bringing kindred souls together through books. She and her foster father create a mobile library, delivering books throughout the small mountain towns where they live. In the process they bring lonely people together through the written word. This feel-good story is a perfect pick-me-up read.
The House is On Fire - Rachel Beanland
A flaming expose of just how heartless and despicable people can be, this historical novel is based on the real-life events of the devastating Richmond, Virginia theater fire that killed over 100 people in winter of 1811. Though burning with rage as I read the book, the depth of the research and strength in the storytelling kept me thoroughly engaged. I strongly recommend.
The Best Strangers in the Wold: Stories from a Life Spent Listening
Ari Shapiro's autobiography is an entertaining trip down his own memory lane and a hats-off to the exciting life his two career's have gifted him: as a host on NPR's "All Things Considered" and as a singer in the fabulous band Pink Martini. He's as skilled a storyteller as he is in pulling stories out of people. A refreshing read from a talented guy.
— EARLY 2023 NEW RELEASES — posted march 2023
One of the perks of my job at Literati Bookstore is having access to ARCs: Advance Reader Copies. These are pre-published versions of books for early access to professional reviewers, book bloggers, bookstore reviewers, and libraries to start a buzz about books. The majority of what I've been reading this winter has been ARCs that are coming out later this year . . . and there's some wonderful books I look forward to sharing with you! For now, here's a few titles available now for you to check out.
The Woman With the Cure - Lynn Cullen
Meet the woman you very likely have never heard of: the woman who made it possible for Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin to develop the polio vaccine. Dr. Dorothy Horstmann spent 10 years of her career trying tirelessly to get her male colleagues to hear her and to respect her discoveries. In this historical novel she is represented as having given up her personal life, and literally the love of her life, to stop the incessant spread of polio. Detailed research, along with Cullen's freedom to extrapolate on the interpersonal relationships within the teams of researchers, made this an eye-opening read.
Looking for Jane - Heather Marshall
With the 2022 end of Roe v. Wade, this book is a powerfully important reality check of what the world looks like for women who are unable to get safe, legal abortions. 'Looking for Jane' was the codeword women used to gain access to doctor-provided illegal abortions before abortion legalization. Marshall has painted a very clear picture of that world in this story about three women whose lives intersect due to unwanted pregnancies. We can only hope that women won't be forced to look for Jane as politicians and religious leaders yet again attempt to take away women's right to choose.
A Book of Days - Patti Smith
From her first Instagram posts in 2018, musician/artist/writer/photographer/counterculture icon Patti Smith has been documenting, with either her vintage Land 100 or a Land 250 Poloraid camera, the banal and the captivating in her everyday life. The book is some of these images with little notes associated to the photo or the stream-of-consciousness thought that came to her mind in relationship to the photo. "A Book of Days" is one year of Patti Smith's life, a window into her visionary mind and eye. "Each photograph is like a diary entry of my life." — Patti Smith
— WINTER 2022 NEW RELEASES & SUGGESTED READS — posted december 2022
The Philosophy of Modern Song - Bob Dylan
Wow o wow. Dylan has gone way out over the top with this absolutely beautifully produced book of over 60 of his essays about the songs of 20th century musicians, ranging from the Grateful Dead to Vic Damone, Willie Nelson to the Fugs, Rosemary Clooney to Nina Simone, Ray Charles to Johnny Paycheck, Marty Robbins to Cher . . . and many many, happily, more! His take on the songs, the artists, the messages, and the timeframes are true Dylan, with his eclectic voice and worldview, connecting musical genres and time periods within the music industry. Wonderful archival photos and graphics make this a coffee-table treat beyond treats.
Women Holding Things - Maira Kalman
Not only is Maira Kalman #1 Illustrator Supreme (to me), she also has a delightfully keen and quirky sense of humor that shines in her latest book. Author and illustrator of over 30 childrens and adult books, she continues to embrace the tiny things that make up the world as she sees it. "You hold in your hands a thing I hold most dear. A Book. If there was ever a time to hold onto something, this is it. Hold on, dear friends. Hold on." — Maira Kalman
The Light Pirate - Lily Brooks-Dalton
This gripping work of literary fiction, an apocalyptic story about the devastating effects of climate change, reveals how one woman survives in the Florida wilderness after the entire state is, literally, swallowed up by water. Though it's frightening to read of a future we've been warned of, this story provides a sense of hope that survival is possible when the world offers little to believe in and to live for.
Stay True - Hua Hsu
This is the sweetest, while at the same time the saddest, memoir about growing up and of having to come to terms with the inexplicable death of a best friend. New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu recounts his college years, at UC Berkeley in the 1990's, where he and Ken nurtured an opposites-attract friendship. The tiniest details bring Hua and Ken's story alive in what I found to be a page-turning, gripping anecdote of a time and the power of friendship.
Lucy By the Sea - Elizabeth Strout
Thank you Elizabeth Strout for keeping Lucy Barton alive! This newest novel about Lucy ("My Name is Lucy Barton" and "Anything is Possible") and her former husband, William ("Oh William!") finds them leaving NYC for Maine, at the cusp of the pandemic, where they share a house on the sea. A loving story about family and the efforts, as many of us can relate to, Lucy and William go through to keep themselves and their adult children from getting Covid. More than that, the story is about childhood memories, loss and forgiveness, and watching nature slowly undergo its seasonal changes as the world is put on hold by the pandemic.
Mending Matters - Katrina Rodabaugh
I confess: I love mending blue jeans! This book is the coolest how-to for patching jeans using the Japanese hand-stiching method known as shishiko. Now one of my craft bibles, I cannot imagine how I lived without it! Learn techniques and get ideas for adding way-cool stiching embellishments to your clothing.
Now Is Not the Time to Panic - Kevin Wilson
Kevin Wilson is so good at creating eccentric characters, so irresistible in their oddballness you can't help falling in love with them. As intriguing and brazen a story as his "Nothing to See Here," his new novel occurs during one eventful summer during which two lonely teenagers create a piece of art that changes them and the world around them.
The Keeper of Stories - Sally Page
A heartfelt story about a house cleaner who is so much more than a house cleaner. A wise, observant person, Janice is a storyteller, a collector of stories she hears, creates in her mind, and overhears as she listens in on conversations on the bus and elsewhere in her day-to-day life. Her honesty and wit contribute to positively changing the lives of the few people she engages with and will make you wish she was your house cleaner too.
The Other Side of Night - Adam Hamdy
A can't-put-down mystery that turns into a twisting fantasy story, starring a disgraced female police officer and the mysterious poet she is in love with and the young boy he fosters, both of whom turn out to not be who they appear to be. The deviating plot is a real head-scratcher but totally worth what comes into play when all the pieces start to come together.
We Are the Ark - Mary Reynolds
"A few years ago, my increasing awareness of the collapse in biodiversity and the lack of safe space for wildlife led me to start a movement called "We Are the ARK," landscape designer Mary Reynolds. According to her, an ARK is a restored, native ecosystem — Acts of Restorative Kindness. With beautiful hand-drawn illustrations by artist Ruth Evans, this precious and inspiring book is a how-to on bringing about change in one's own backyard and mind-set.
— FALL 2022 NEW RELEASES & SUGGESTED READS — posted october 2022
The Dictionary of Lost Words - Pip Williams
One of the more meaningful and compelling books I've read recently, this historical novel takes us into the life and mind of Esme, who is consumed within a world of words. Beginning as a very young child, she is a spectator to the work of her father and a team of lexicographers who collect words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Esme gathers the rejected words, written on slips of paper that drop to the floor as they work . . . as an adult, those words become Esme's own dictionary: the Dictionary of Lost Words. The story, set at the birth of the UK women's suffrage movement and of WWI, is a lovely homage to the human language. A most moving work of fiction — and a debut novel, at that — which will remain with you well past the very last page. Highly recommended!
The River You Touch - Chris Dombroski
This is a touching tribute to nature and fatherhood. A poet and fly-fishing guide in love with the wilds of Montana, Detroit transplant Chris Dombroski's sensitive treatise on the birth and raising of his three children and being a good citizen to the planet is a lesson on paying attention to the natural world in which we reside.
Demon Copperhead - Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver's jaw-dropping saga takes place in the midst of the opioid crisis in Appalachian Virginia, following the life of a boy born in a trailer to a teenaged single mom. Deadbeats, debauchery, and self-destruction are the general themes in this sad-but-true American slice-of-life. Inspired by Dickens' "David Copperfield," the Victorian novel about displaced boy/childhood, Kingsolver attests to the poverty and hardships of rural Southern America in what will surely be another award-winning novel for the author.
Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir of Friendship - Nina Totenberg
An engaging memoir by NPR's Nina Totenberg about her 50-year friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, recounting how the two larger-than-life women paved the way for the changes that brought about professional and legal rights for women in the male-dominated world in which they both struggled through in their rising careers. A sheer delight to hear Nina Totenberg's voice in your head as she unmasks her path to success and the charming shared stories between two dear friends: not only is Nina Totenberg an amazing journalist with an unforgettable voice, she's also a good storyteller!
One Hundred Saturdays - Michael Franks
Writer Michael Franks spent 100 Saturdays interviewing Stella Levi, a 98-year old holocaust survivor who lived an idyllic life in the Jewish sector of Juderia, on the Island of Rhodes . . . until 1944 when nearly every Jew was deported to the German camps. This is Stella's captivating storytelling of her life before, during, and after her encampment. Maira Kalman's iconic illustrations provide colorful images of the quaint island life that Stella reverently remembers and mourns for.
The Floating Girls - Lo Patrick
Ever since reading Kelly Mustian's haunting Southern debut The Girls in the Stilt House I've been longing for a strong new Southern book: The Floating Girls is that book. With its portrayal of the culture of poverty and the tiny slice of life of an ignored people in the deep southern Georgia inter coastal waterway and barrier islands, was the right read. Young Kay and her brothers (and a sister who may or may not really be their sister) come from a sad-sack of a family. Kay is constantly being berated for being a loud mouth and for acting against her father's wishes. Curiosity gets the best of her as she insists on getting to the bottom of a mysterious death, her odd sister's sudden disappearance, and her mother's abnormally strange behavior. But, curiosity does not get the cat in this debut in which Kay gets to the bottom of things.
Our Little World - Karen Winn
Hard to believe this takes-your-breath-away novel is the author's debut. A heart-wrenching and impeccably written story of the push and pull of tween-age sisters who are entwined in the mysterious disappearance of sweet Sally, their 4-year old neighbor, and the love/hate relationship that builds between them following that tragedy. Add on the tension between them when the younger of the two sisters becomes ill with diabetes, and you find yourself utterly immersed in a story you hope is not told from a true life experience. A page-turner from an author worth following.
Musical Tables - Billy Collins
Followers of my most favorite American poet, Billy Collins, will be surprised and humored by this new collection of what he refers to as "small poems." His inspiration is quoted here: “Whenever I pick up a new book of poems, I flip through the pages looking for small ones. Just as I might have trust in an abstract painter more if I knew he or she could draw a credible chicken, I have faith in poets who can go short.” The subject matters in this collection run the gamut, as is his style. Some are laugh out loud funny, others not, but every one is a delight to discover.
Our Missing Hearts - Celeste Ng
An all-too-real story about how people are easily swayed into fear by a government in power and how that fear destroys families, friendships, and overall trust. In her newest novel, Ng's U.S. White House bans anything and everything Chinese, going so far as to condoning ostracizing, attacking, and killing Chinese-American citizens and making it legal to remove children from their homes. The underlying story is about a mother's love for her child and the task she takes on to find all the other aggrieved mothers who've lost their children to this horrific heart-wrenching government rule.
— SPRING/SUMMER 2022 NEW RELEASES & SUGGESTED READS — posted june 2022
Remarkably Bright Creatures - Shelby Van Pelt
A remarkably bright twist of a story that lovingly honors the brightest of creatures in the sea: octopuses. The back story of family lost and found is, in and of itself, quite moving, but having octopus Marcellus reveal that story through his eye and tentacles was a delight beyond delights. A joy of a novel.
Drawn to Birds - Jenny deFouw Geuder
There are many wonderful books about birds that feature drawings, photos, illustrations, and bird facts . . . but this one is truly special. The hand-painted illustrations are realistically spot-on and large enough to really see each bird's features. Details and facts for each bird variety includes interesting data and tidbits. The book also includes information on pollinators, backyard bird feeding, and so much more on how to be a friend to birds, providing readers all that is needed to create a healthy and eco-friendly garden for bird visitors. Kudos to artist and naturalist Jenny deFouw Geuder for coming up with a unique addition for bird lovers to add to their library of bird books.
Horse - Geraldine Brooks
What a story! Part historical, part fiction, Geraldine Brooks has written a fascinating love story to the greatest racehorse in American history, Lexington, and his fictionalized enslaved groomer in 1850s Kentucky and New Orleans; a NYC gallery owner in the mid-50s who becomes obsessed with a 19th century oil painting of what turns out to be that racehorse; and, in 2019, an Australian Smithsonian scientist and the Nigerian-American art historian she winds up collaborating with as they uncover information about the horse they share an interest in — who they discover is the famous Lexington. This well-researched story turns out to be as much about racism as it is about the greedy business behind horse racing — and the beauty of those horses. A wonderful read.
Light on Bone - Kathryn Lasky
How clever to turn famous painter Georgia O'Keefe into a greenhorn sleuth as she uncovers murders and wrongdoings in her 1930s retreat at Ghost Ranch. Stunningly capturing the New Mexican landscape, especially the gardens O'Keefe paints, the story is also wrapped around pre-WWII Nazi espionage she uncovers during her ranch sleuthing. I enjoyed getting to know this side of Georgia O'Keefe who is presented as an empathetic artist with an enormous heart.
The Book Woman's Daughter - Kim Michele Richardson
Riding on the success of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, this sequel is as strong a statement on the ill treatment of women in the back hills of Kentucky in the 1930’s and 1940’s and the prejudice towards the "Blues" (blue-skinned people of the Fugate ancestry) as it is a lovely homage to the Pack Horse Library Project, a WPA program that delivered library books to remote areas in the Appalachian Mountains, mostly women traveling on mule or horseback. Read them both!
Bloomsbury Girls - Natalie Jenner
Take a trip back in time to post-war London when hopes to further yourself in life seem impossible — if you're a woman, and especially if you're a woman hoping to have a career, be recognized, get published. Natalie Jenner's three bookstore shopgirls' connections with literary figures and a few gentle-souled men make this an enticing and delightful historical novel, loaded with literary name-dropping and references. Which of Jenner's shopgirls would you wish to be? Me, I'll take Vivien!
The Dolphin House - Audrey Schulman
An historical novel based on the true story of the “Dolphin House” experiment that took place in 1965 on St. Thomas. Cora, fed up with life as she knows it in the States, moves to the island and happens upon four dolphins being held in captivity in a lagoon by a crazed scientist, Dr. Blum. Cora’s curiosity leads her to “play” with the dolphins, while at the same time she realizes Dr. Blum is conducting cruel and painful experiments on the dolphins brains. He sees that she is connecting to the dolphins and hires her to teach the dolphins human language. Using her own research methodology, Cora’s work became one of the most intriguing experiments in modern science, though with controversy and a scandal surrounding it. A riveting read that led me to research the facts and true story around the dolphin house and the woman who dedicated herself to speaking with dolphins.
Riverman - Ben McGrath
I thrive on reading books that take place on a river and rejoice in the beauty in the kindness and curiosity of strangers, as much as I do in the beauty and kindness of rivers. Riverman is New Yorker magazine staff writer Ben McGrath’s precisely well-researched account of folk-hero Dick Conant, who spent over 20 years solo canoeing American rivers before he disappeared. A fascinating tale about an even more fascinating man — thank you Ben McGrath for writing this book.
Up North in Michigan: A Portrait of Place In Four Seasons - Jerry Dennis
This book of essays is the loveliest love letter to the State of Michigan I have ever read. Jerry Dennis grew up and continues to live in the Traverse City area, what we Michiganders refer to as “Up North.” His descriptions of the rivers, lakes, and woods he has spent his lifetime fishing, playing in, and camping in and canoeing on took my breath away. The four chapters illuminate on each season in which Jerry Dennis creates picture-perfect images for the reader to ride with, as he eloquently details the sights and sounds of Michigan’s seasons. If you’ve never been Up North, become curious by reading this book. I assure you that you will find it necessary to get up there as soon as possible. Jerry Dennis doesn’t give away any of the exact locations he writes about . . . you’ll have to discover your own special spots to put to memory and to return to once you’ve become hooked, which, I also assure you, you will be!
Unlikely Animals - Annie Hartnett
This rather delightful novel is told through the "Greek chorus" voices of some of the deceased townspeople buried in the small New Hampshire town's cemetery. Despite the underlying story being about the devastation on the town from the opioid crisis, the "Greek chorus" provides humor to this story about a dysfunctional family and how compassion heals in spite of how life can be a living hell.
Susan, Linda, Nina, & Cokie - Lisa Napoli
We know them as the four founding women of NPR, the names and voices who branded radical change in American news broadcasting. This impeccably-researched and detailed group biography shares the defining back story of each woman, their differences and the similarities that led them to work together at the best job anyone could ask for in public radio. A truly inspiring read and captivating inside look at four utterly fabulous and brilliant women.
The Hurting Kind - Ada Limon
Absolutely lovely poetry that reads like a love letter to our flying feathered friends. Not entirely poems about birds, the entire collection exquisitely touches on grief and pain as well as the beauty to be found in nature.
Conversations - Steve Reich
Composer Steve Reich, pioneer of the 1960s minimalist movement and a legend in the world of contemporary classical music, sat down with fellow composers, colleagues, and musicians to reflect on his career and how his work had impact on theirs. I found these conversations absolutely captivating — to the point that, while reading the book, I was compelled to listen to each piece of Reich’s beautifully mesmerizing music as it was being discussed.
Taste - Stanley Tucci
The inspiring foodie (oh, and actor!) Stanley Tucci makes dining on Italian food look oh-so-delectable. Author of three cookbooks, Tucci’s autobiography begins with stories about growing up in an Italian American family who took to heart cooking and eating together around the kitchen table as a family. But, there’s so much more to his life story than that, though it’s always been in and out of a kitchen. This is a lovely memoir full of sweet anecdotes and delicious recipes. Buon appetito!
Forest Walking- Peter Wohlleben & Jane Billinghurst
An enchanting lesson on what to discover in a forest and how to uncover those discoveries. Tree expert-supreme Peter Wohlleben, has teamed up with his longtime editor, Jane Billinghurst, to write their first book together in which they reveal how to be a “forest detective.” They explain why everything laying on the forest floor and hanging from and attached to trees is connected to each other. Using all your senses, you’ll learn how to identify and unearth teeming life from the largest tree to the smallest organism that lives within a forest’s ecosystem by seeing, smelling, feeling, and even tasting. A delightful book.
Artists in Residence - Melissa Wyse & Kate Lewis
This delightfully lovely book is a peek inside 17 artists’ homes, featuring the sweetest illustrations by Chicago artist Kate Lewis and charming descriptions by author Melissa Wyse. Enjoy a little glimpse into the living spaces and gardens of such artists as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Georgia O’Keefe, Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. A dear little inspiring walk through some pretty places.
A History of Wild Places - Shea Ernshaw
The Wicked Deep YA author Shea Ernshaw is quoted as saying: “I live in an imaginary world. And sometimes, I live in a small mountain town in Oregon. I have been writing stories and crafting characters since I was young — filling notebooks with stories about magical horses and eerie underworlds.” Her new adult fiction novel is at first a seat-of-your-pants mystery that slowly reveals itself to be a story about one strong-willed person who turns a group of gullible cult followers into brainwashed weaklings. The setting is as beautiful as the story is haunting.
French Braid - Anne Tyler
Pulitzer Prize awarded novelist (Breathing Lessons, 1989) Anne Tyler writes about the minutiae of families, every little bit of the good, the bad, and the ugly. The symbolic title of the book refers to the weaving in and out of life, like the weaving in and out of hair in making a French braid, and how sometimes not every hair gets included in the braid . . and sometimes the braid turns out just fine.
People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks
This utterly intriguing historical novel is the true story of one of the oldest Sepharic Haggadahs that originated around 1350 in Barcelona. After being taken out of Spain during the 1492 Inquisition, the Hebrew codex became lost. It mysteriously turned up in Italy in the 17th century where it was kept in hiding until it found its way to the National Museum of Sarajevo in 1894, becoming known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. Again, mysteriously, it escaped the hands of the Nazis during WWII when all Jewish books were being burned. Yet the puzzle still remains: how and when did the Haggadah make its way from Spain to Italy to Sarajevo, who created its beautiful illustrations, and who saw to all its safe-hidings? Geraldine Brooks took these questions and created a fascinating tale around the Haggadah, using her thorough research skills to give us a great story and an amazing unfolding of a piece of history.
Funny Farm - Laurie Zaleski
A delightful read and discovery of one amazing human being who is exceptionally kind and good to rescue animals....600 of them! Laurie's childhood story is heartbreaking but gave her the backbone to make her animal sanctuary a life-changer for every animal imaginable. The world and animal kingdom need more people like her. Enjoy this heart-lifting read.
— WINTER 2021/2022 NEW RELEASES & SUGGESTED READS — posted january 2022
Still Life - Sarah Winman
An epic character-driven love story to the city of Florence, Italy and the captivating bohemian stars of Sarah Winman's new novel, a saga spanning 40 decades. Good luck not falling in love with each and every one of them, to wish you were seated at their table dining on every delicious meal they cook together, and to fantasize that these are the people you get to call "family." If you aren’t already a fan of her writing, Sarah Winman’s "Still Life" will win you over! This novel is my Literati Bookstore 2021 Book of the Year pick.
These Precious Days - Ann Patchett
I don't think it's possible for me to not be moved beyond measure by anything written by novelist and essayist Ann Patchett. Her latest collection of personal essays, some of which have been previously published in various periodicals, is a precious unzipping from moments in Patchett's life and a precious privilege for her readers to come away with a much deeper understanding of her. The most profound is her laying bare her admiration for and friendship with Tom Hanks' assistant Sooki, an elusive woman who is at the heart of this collection, a friendship that explores “what it means to be seen, to find someone with whom you can be your best and most complete self.” Moving and utterly worth the exploration into the private Ann Patchett.
The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water - Erin Bartels
The quiet setting in an old rustic cottage on a small Michigan inland lake will appeal to anybody who has summered in Northern Michigan. This heart-wrenching story of childhood friendship, found and lost, is told through the voice of a writer struggling to begin her next book, which she can’t write until she comes to terms with that friendship and the ravages her first novel caused to her friend and her friend’s family across the lake. Really good writing and really good storytelling, and really nice to spend time up north while immersed in this story.
These Silent Woods - Kimi Cunningham Grant
The bond between father and daughter and their loving dependence upon each other, their means of survival in isolated Appalachia, the beautiful descriptions of their woods and surrounding wilderness, the entangled truth and ultimate mystery made this a two-day can't-put-down page-turner for me. Every detail of how they made a life in an utterly remote place was poetically described, including the seasonal hardness and hardships of living off the grid. I highly recommend this compelling novel.
Three Sisters - Heather Morris
Heather Morris’ “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” is an historical novel, written in 2018, that has to be remembered through time. It wasn’t until the end of her newest book “Three Sisters” that I was fully able to grasp that YES! this is another true story, narrated by three Jewish sisters who, miraculously together, survived the death camps. Morris documented their childhood Slovakian lives and the lives they endured while imprisoned for three years: how they were deathly ill and starving and petrified and constantly on guard, yet determined to survive. The novel ends with a lifeline update on each sister, their spouses and their extended families. How remarkable these victims of Nazi persecution were able to recount the brutality of Birkenau and Auschwitz to Morris and the “happy-ending” story that the hell they endured eventually led them to their freedom and lives in Israel.
Vivian Maier: The Untold Story of the Photographer Nanny - Ann Marks
Street photographer/nanny Vivian Maier was an unknown artist until 2007, when her body of work was discovered in a Chicago storage locker. That discovery opened up a mystery: who was Vivian Maier and why did she shoot 140,000 images over her 85 years and not do anything with them? Through meticulous research and interviews, writer Ann Marks has brought Vivan’s history and story to light in a most fascinating read, complete with explanations for the 400 photos included in the book. If you’re not familiar with this world-class photographer whose work and keen eye are compared to those of Robert Frank, Weegee Lisette Model, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, introduce yourself to her photographs with the knowledge that every picture she shot were kept to herself until after her death, and be grateful that we now have access to see what she saw behind her camera lens.
The Violin Conspiracy- Brendan Slocumb
A young virtuoso violinist from rural North Carolina, being Black as that violinist, and the violin he was gifted by his grandmother that turns out to be a Stradivarius. This captivating read about the world of classical music and musicians develops into a head-scratching twister when the Strad, valued at $10 million, is stolen early on in the novel. Was it the wealthy Southern descendants of the man who enslaved his great-great grandfather who claim the violin as theirs or his own greedy family who feel contempt towards his rising career? Shameless racism is as much a part of the story as is the violinist’s outstanding skill and his passion for the exquisite music he performs. I highly recommend this genuinely original story.
The Christie Affair - Nna de Gramont
A scintillating historical novel that brings to life the famous unsolved mystery of Agatha Christie’s eleven day disappearance by creating it into a love story and murder mystery, a la Agatha Christie herself. A fun read!
Beethoven Variations - Ruth Padel
“Darwin: A Life in Poems” poet Ruth Padel presents another poetry collection about a larger-than-life person, this one about composer Ludwig von Beethoven. She reveals Beethoven’s life and his lore in four movements, touching on the man behind the music. I enjoyed this unique biographical method, in the form of poetry, and Padel’s honoring the man whose work is music to many ears.
The Conference of Birds - Peter Sis
Author/illustrator’s delightful adaptation of the classic 12th century Persian epic poem is, simply, a joy and a treasure of a book. The Sufi poem is the story of a flock of birds in search of the “true king” Simorgh who lives on the mountain of Kaf. The birds that make it learn a profound lesson that this king is, in fact, each of and all of them. This edition is full of charming illustrations that add to the beauty of the lyrical poem.
— SPRING 2021 NEW RELEASES — posted april 2021
Raft of Stars - Andrew Graff
This story is a deeply haunting, heart-pounding thriller about two young boys who flee into the woods of northern Wisconsin, absolutely sure that they've committed a horrific crime. It is also a deeply touching story of friendship and love, and how blindfolding fear can be. Andrew Graff does a terrific job pulling the reader into the minds of the two ten-year olds, building tension between them, along with building tension around the underlying story of what led them to wind up escaping to the woods. A page-turner written with the skill one would expect from really good literary fiction.
Girl A - Abigail Dean
As painful and horrific as it was to read the story of this family of seven children and their over-the-top-dysfunctional and diabolically abusive parents, it's beautifully written, with impeccable emotional insights. Though the reader isn't privy to the real-life crimes that inspired the book, one can't help but feel like a voyeur . . and perhaps wonder if this is a true story . . . reading the details of the childhood abuse, but Abigail Dean leads the reader to care deeply for Girl A, compelling you to root for her rather than pity her. Go-girl, Abigail Dean!, that this is your debut novel, and sure to be a must-read that will be passed through the hands of many readers who will be grateful for your skilled writing and storytelling and pining for more!
The Four Winds - Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah's newest historical novel is painfully accurate about a time in US history that beat people to a pulp and literally filled their mouths with the dust of dry earth, rather than food: the Dust Bowl storms and the Great Depression of the 1930's. As achingly honest as The Grapes of Wrath, Hannah has written a quiet tear-jerker about Elsa Martinelli, her daughter Loreda, and her mother-in-law Rosa's dysfunctional personal and family relationships and their struggle to survive the unrelenting storms, with descriptions so real you feel like the dust is swirling around you as you read.
The New York Times Cooking No-Recipes Recipe - Sam Sifton
Every morning my iPhone receives a recipe from the New York Times. Throughout the past year of shutdowns and avoiding restaurants, I've used these recipes to make meals I otherwise would not have considered creating. Not one to use cookbooks or recipes, I've always made "refrigerator meals" in which I use what's on hand in the fridge and cupboard to make my made-up dishes. In his "No-Recipe Recipes" cookbook, Sam Sifton of the NYT newsletter "What to Cook," shares this same method of using what's on hand to create meals. The book opens with a list of must-have ingredients and their versatility and function. Each dish features a simple list of ingredients and even simpler cooking instructions and a gorgeous full-page color photo of the finished dish. "Join me in cooking this new, improvisational way, without recipes," says Sifton, who also provides tips and modifications so you can truly come up with your own interpretation of his 100 delicious dish suggestions.
Migrations - Charlotte McConaghy
This was one of the hardest books for me to read. I started reading my ARC copy 6 months ago but had to put it down. I would see it in on my shelf, wanting to return to it but afraid of it. This week I finally made myself commit to reading and finishing it, despite the wrenching pain and anger I knew it would cause. OK . . . not the most positive beginning to a review, but the subject matter is heartbreaking. I'll just point out that I am a fanatic bird lover. Migrations is a novel about loss in the largest sense: mass extinction of the natural world. Charlotte McConaghy's perspective on our world's future is not in any way far-fetched; sadly it's only too true. She does a fine job weaving a love story around a bit of intrigue and a lot of science-world reality. I'm ready to start her newest novel about wolves, Once There Were Wolves, which will be another hard read for me, but necessary for accepting our changed world.
Let Them Be Left: Isle Royale Poems - Keith Taylor
Ann Arbor writer Keith Taylor spent several weeks, at two different times in his life, on Isle Royale in northern Michigan as a part of the National Park Service's Artist-in-Residence program, in 1991 and again in 2019. This sweet chapbook, published by Alice Greene & Co., is Taylor's prose and poetry ruminations written during his wilderness immersion and his reemergence into "Twenty-first Century Wild." From the gorgeous front and back cover painting by Kathleen M. Heideman to the lovely and visually alert words on each page, this little gem of a book is a must-have companion to take along on hikes and camping out in the Michigan woods.
All the Young Men - Ruth Coker Burks, Kevin Carr O'Leary
This is an incredibly moving and enlightening memoir honoring the life of Ruth Coker Burks, who dedicated herself to recognizing and caring for AIDS-inflicted men who, left utterly alone, literally battled for their lives during the heinous and ignorant time in America when AIDS patients were viewed as having the cooties. Ms. Burks is not a household name in the history of AIDS, but she should be — her altruistic advocacy led her to advising Governor Bill Clinton on the national HIV-AIDS crisis.
Vera - Carol Edgarian
A tangled twist of events and people who are all connected to one powerful woman, Rose, who is the notorious proprietor of San Francisco’s most legendary bordello. Vera, her illegitimate daughter, is the valiant heroine of this nail-biting, heartbreaking historic novel that takes place during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires that ravished the city.
We Run the Tides - Vendela Vida
As I read this book I realized how delightfully funny it was, despite some drama that quickly unfolds. The main protagonist, Eulabee, a bright 13-year old private girls school student in the fancy Sea Cliff neighborhood of 1980's San Francisco, is outright witty and is with-it about the world and people around her, especially about her teachers --- though everyone is clueless to that wit. Not as wealthy or popular as the other girls, and early on ostracized by the girls for her honesty, she rather delights the reader with her literary and life awareness and her biting sense of humor, despite being a geeky 13-year old who everyone seems to misunderstand. The poor rich families with their blah-blah-blah day-in-day-out lives are so amusing through her eyes, as is her perception of the banality of her teachers. The thing is, Eula is a good person; she's why I adored this book. Yes some "bad" things happen and yes she makes 13-year-old-girl poor choices, but Eula's character is not to be missed. I hope you find this book, and her, as delightful as I did
Unsettled Ground - Claire Fuller
The sadness of this book remained deep in my heart from page one, to the very end. Fifty-one year old twins Julius and Jeanie, living in a small rustic cottage in the remote English countryside they share with their mother, wake one morning to discover their mother dead in the parlor from a stroke, turning their entire lives turned upside down. One unfortunate event after another very quickly leaves them homeless, penniless and hungry, misjudged and mistreated. Wanting to scream at them to do something to help themselves, we witness their situation only gets worse . . . and worse. Deep into the story we learn they have been fed one lie after another from their mother, who was trying to protect them and to keep herself surrounded by their company, lies that forever impacted the "normal' lives the twins might have led. One pitiful affront to the twins leads to another and another, and when you think it can't get worse, it does. The story ends with a teeny bit of salvation. but not enough to erase the feeling of hopelessness and sorrow for these poor people. Incredibly well written, but not for the weak of heart.
At the Edge of the Haight - Katherine Seligman
At a time when more people than ever are on the edge of homelessness due to the pandemic and 2021's catastrophic winter storms that are causing devastation the country, this novel is an eye-opener into an out-of-sight/out-of-mind population. A timeless story, reading this book one can't help but assume this book is about the homeless and drug abuse culture of the Haight of the 1960's, though the novel actually speaks to the current day culture of homelessness in SF. The story follows Maddy, a homeless 20-year old young woman who becomes caught up in the drama of identifying (and staying clear of) the killer of a murder she happens upon, and the "family" she creates on the streets of San Francisco and in Golden Gate Parks. One can't help but embrace and cheer on many of the characters who we come to know, youths who choose to live off the grid and find their own way.
The Midnight Library - Matt Haig
Nora Seed is facing a life-or-death decision, literally, when she suddenly finds herself in an otherworld “library” in which she is forced to search deep within herself. In The Midnight Library she travels through different times in her life, where she is exposed to the what-if’s we all ponder over . . . and how her life impacted others. Much like Frank Capra’s holiday film “It’s A Wonderful Life,” she learns why life is worth living and how those she met along the way would not have been the same without her. This Big Hit of a book is ultimately a feel-good reminder to embrace the choices we make and to not live a life full of regrets.
— FALL 2021 NEW RELEASES & SOME SUGGESTED READS — posted september 2021
A Slow Fire Burning - Paula Hawkins
Get ready to have the rug pulled out from under you with this rollercoaster of a who-dun-it. Paula Hawkins has yet again come up with an entangled thriller complete with a bloody murder on page one, and full of creepy people, seemingly normal people, and truly messed up people who fill the pages of this brilliant new page-turner. Needing to put all the pieces together in my head, I read it in one day, getting more and more creeped out as the truth started to unravel. Wow! What a page-turner!
The Book of Form and Emptiness - Ruth Ozeki
I admire Ruth Ozeki for the quirky characters she creates, people I am compelled to reach out to and take care of. In her newest novel, misfits are shaped by the tragedies that take them down, cause them to wallow in their weirdness. Benny Oh is a likable 14 year-old boy who begins to hear voices after his beloved jazz musician father dies in a stupid disastrous manner. Those voices have emotions that range from pleasant to painful; they are insistent and belong to everyday items (like his shoes) and they are making him freakier by the day. Meanwhile his mother, a well-meaning over-bearing woman, becomes a hoarder in her grief, making Benny even more agitated and dysfunctional. He finds solace and friends who are just as flawed in the public library where he escapes to where he gives in to the voices that are taking over his mind. The main voice he hears is The Book, a "character" in the novel we eventually realize is the narrator of the story, and that eventually helps Benny make sense of his madness. Ozeki's vivid imagery jumps off the page and into the heart of the reader. It's easy to feel compassion rather than pity for the eccentric people we encounter, which is a lovely gift from Ozeki. I am grateful for the glimpse I had into her respect for humanity.
Cloud Cuckoo Land - Anthony Doerr
Author of Pulitzer Prize Awarded “All the Light We Cannot See”, Anthony Doerr's writing skills shine brightly in this mind-boggling novel that is utterly unique to his other writings. Is it historical fiction, fantasy, suspense, or science fiction? In fact, it's all of them! The story follows five children on the brink of becoming adults, during three different timeframes in which the reader travels from ancient history and mythology to modern times and far into the future. Built around an ancient Greek text that each child encounters in their journeys, the reader is as curious as the children are in seeking an interpretation of the text's story of Aethon. who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky, Doerr brilliantly ties everyone and everything together, concluding this epic story with a sigh of relief and a perfect ending. Dedicated to “the librarians then, now, and in the years to come,” get ready for a rare novel about the meaning and preservation of the ancient text's message that is tied to the preservation of humanity and Mother Earth.
The Lincoln Highway - Amor Towles
This charming story takes place in 1954 over ten days, though it feels like it's a lifetime as each character's background stories are revealed in the novel's process. Besides learning about the Lincoln Highway, which stretches from Times Square to San Francisco, a great deal of fascinating data is shared through the voice of the delightful 8-year old Billy Watson. I devoured the hefty 600-page book, though I wished I could have made it last longer . . . but I was too drawn in to not soak up every word. It's a treasure of a read.
The Magician - Colm Tolbin
A biographical novel imagining/recreating the life of the renowned writer Thomas Mann, who lived a life of prosperity and deep dark secrets. The Mann family saga spans 50 years in this deeply private portrayal of Thomas Mann, his commanding wife Katia (who bore 6 children during their lifetime), and how they endured living through WW I, Hitler's WWII, the Cold War, and Thomas Mann's sexual desire for men. An exquisitely written novel.
The FSG Poetry Anthology - Jonathan Galssi, editor
Founded in 1946, the small independent publishing house Farrar and Straus added literary editor Robert Giroux to their firm in 1955. He brought with him leading writers, especially poets, which elicited FSG’s identity as publishers of poetry. This collection marks FSG’s 75th anniversary to honor Robert Giroux and includes nearly all the poets they published from the 1950’s to present. What a treat.
The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven - Nathaniel Ian Miller
My curiosity about the Norwegian fjords in the Arctic Circle has been sated with this stunningly honest historical novel that depicts the hardships of life in the frigid far north. Stockholm Sven's story of his self-banishment in the 1900’s to a life of solitary confinement in the frozen wild is a moving tale of the people and family who come and go in and out of his life and give him strength as he struggles mentally and physically to make a go of the harsh environment he calls home. Written with the kind of tenderness that makes you want to put your arms around the people who make this lovely book a treasure to read.
Paradise: One Town's Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire - Lizzie Johnson
As a staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, Lizzie Johnson reported on fifteen of the deadliest, largest, and most destructive blazes in modern-day California history. Garnered from interviews of some of those who managed to find safety, on-the-ground reporting, and public records and 911 calls, this book is a spell-binding minute-by-minute firsthand account of the California Camp Fire that burnt to the ground the mountain community of Paradise, California. Along with revealing what went wrong, she provides the reader with intimate details of a handful of residents and first responders and the ordeals they went through to get out alive and unscathed by the fires.
A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles
A brilliantly witty, laugh out loud, absolutely perfect piece of literature about aristocracy, bolshevik russia, gentlemanly manners, the courtesy of good manners, and the preparation of and dining on fabulous meals while drinking the perfectly paired wine. "A Gentleman in Moscow" is exactly the kind of charming novel I seek, to remind me that such writing exists. Just read it. You will thank me for my encouragement!
All God's Children - Aaron Gwyn
This is a powerfully honest novel that takes place between 1827 and 1861 about the founding of Texas and the appalling hatred, racism, and violence towards slaves, Indians, and anybody who didn’t think like the Evil White Men who formed this country. The protagonists both fled their homes for a better life: young Duncan fled his Kentucky home and parents after his father discovered him having sexual relations with another man and Cecilia, a Virginia slave who fled to find her freedom. Thoroughly researched with strong character development, the story read so accurate, Western actor Sam Elliott was Duncan’s voice in my mind. I highly recommend this book as a significant read, as well as being a slice of life from American history.
The Arrival - Shaun Tan
A compelling somber graphic story about an immigrant man’s journey to a foreign, imaginary land, told entirely in drawings without the use of words or text. The beautiful sepia-toned illustrations contribute to the melancholy and surreal tone of the novel. This book is lovely in how each frame vividly and poignantly portrays the story’s emotions. Not a fan of graphic novels? This one is a very special addition to the genre and not to be overlooked.
City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology: 60th Anniversary Edition - Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Lawrence Ferlinghetti founded City Lights Bookstore and its publishing house in San Francisco in 1955, launching the press with the Pocket Poets Series. Allen Ginsberg's "Howl & Other Poems," Number Four in the series, was such a success, the Pocket Poets Series became the vanguard of the literary counterculture. This 60th anniversary edition is a milestone retrospective of City Lights’ 60-year history of publishing, representing poets from each of the 60 volumes, many of whom were members of the Beat Generation and the San Francisco Renaissance, as well as writers translated from Spanish, German, Russian, and Dutch. A gem of an anthology.
Here We Are - Oliver Jeffers
I love love love this precious book that Oliver Jeffers wrote and illustrated to welcome his son, his first child. Jeffers, a talented, charming, and clever writer/illustrator, is one of my all-time favorites (alongside Maira Kalman!) This picture book is a beautifully magical introduction to the wonders of Earth and everything beyond ,with the most gorgeous images and sentiment. Did I say I love this book?! Yes, I did!
Joni - Selina Alko
What a sweet way to introduce a youngster to the life and music of the legendary Joni Mitchell. This picture book captures Joni’s creative life as a painter and as a singer using lyrics from her songs and images from her albums in the lovely illustrations that are a dear homage to the great Joni Mitchell.
— SUMMER 2021 NEW RELEASES & SUGGESTIONS — posted july 2021
Saved by a Song - Mary Gauthier
This book is singer/songwriter Grammy nominated Mary Gauthier unzipped, where she reveals everything and all about her journey away from alcohol, drug, and sex addiction to learning how to, and becoming, a successful songwriter and singer who found herself on the Stage of Success. Mary is one of those few storytellers whose down to earth words ring true and familiar to other creative minds, words that do not proselytize or reek of ego. This is a fine confessional autobiography that has a way of calming the soul as we witness the life lessons Mary picked up along the way. Her voice is strong and enticing. The reader cannot help but feel invited to sit by her side as she takes us onto the ride that is her life story. For the uninitiated, Mary’s voice and messages....and now her book....are not to be overlooked. This moving and honest autobiography/memoir by one of America's most talented singer/songwriters is a must-read. If you've ever wondered how a songwriter's song is born, here’s the answer.
The Girls in the Stilt House - Kelly Mustian
This book deserves to be up at the top of the list of must-read Southern writers. Remarkably, it's a debut novel! Set in the Natchez Trace of the 1920's, not far from the author's Mississippi childhood home, she painted vivid pictures of the Trace, not exactly romantic because of the abject poverty in which most of the people lived, but lovely images of the natural environment. I felt an affinity to the two females characters, a single poor abused pregnant young white woman and a headstrong poor Black women, finding myself captivated by the way their disparate, yet sadly similar life stories were intertwined. A distressing story about male chauvinism, racism, and abuse, "The Girls in the Stilt House" is also moving and truly beautifully written, giving insight into the bonds women are capable of creating despite their cultural, physical, and economic opportunities and differences.
Circe - Madeline Miller
I was intimated by this book for nearly a year before actually putting it in my hands. I mistakenly thought it would be a heady intellectual read, required reading for college literature and Greek Mythology courses. Oh, but was I wrong! Madeline Miller ingeniously wove the relationships and stories around the Greek gods and goddesses and mortals into a provocative and suspenseful page-turner. Her colorful writing and portrayal of the larger than life Circe as a feminist in the world of ancient Greek mythology turned this one of my favorite reads this year. No wonder it is still a Bestseller since it’s 2018 publication. Read this book! You’ll thank me!
The Dutch House - Ann Patchett
Recently I found myself in need of being taken to a certain kind of a place unlike where I'd been spending time with books about climate crisis, pain, and angst. Thank goodness for Ann Patchett, one of my very favorite authors, for her charming and quirky five decades-long story about the Conroy family. Patchett, so adept at character development, painted for her readers relatable, larger-than-life people – perhaps your next-door neighbors. I instantly felt at home with each member of the extended Conroy family, as well as fantasizing about moving into the Dutch House with them. “The Dutch House” is a love affair with the “good” Conroys, as much as it is a love affair with the glorious Philadelphia mansion in which it takes places. I'd love to live with this delightful group of people in the house Ann Patchett created with such great imagination. Now what am I going to read?!
Deep Dark Down: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free - Hector Tobar
On August 5, 2010 in Copiapó, Chile, thirty-three San José miners became trapped under thousands of feet of rock for sixty-nine days. It took, literally, months of experts worldwide to configure a means to save the starving men, as the world mourned for, and then, witnessed them being brought to surface one at a time from the depths of the mountain at the end of their ordeal. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Héctor Tobar received exclusive access to the miners and their stories in this testament to the horrors of imprisonment inside a pitch-black crumbling mountain and the power of the human spirit. Tobar proves his skills as a journalist as he retells the incident in this honest, non-sensational page-turner true story.
When the Stars Go Dark - Paula McClain
Page-turner alert! Paula McLain's part-historical tragic suspense novel captured my attention beginning on page one. With breathtaking descriptions of the coastline and woods of Northern California and harrowing images of a desperation for survival, the real-life tragedy of Polly Klass' abduction from her bedroom makes for a nail-biting first-rate novel. Part autobiographical, McLain allows us a glimpse at her own childhood as she uses that memory, along with her imagination, to build a sense of healing and to construct honest-to-goodness good storytelling.
All the Young Men - Ruth Coker Burks
This is an incredibly moving and enlightening memoir honoring the work of Ruth Coker Burks who dedicated herself to recognizing and caring for AIDS-inflicted men. Left utterly alone in their hospital or hospice beds, literally battling for their lives during the heinous and ignorant time in America when AIDS patients were viewed and treated as having the cooties, Ruth Coker Burks became their caretaker, savior, advocate, and friend. Burks is not a household name in the history of AIDS, but it should be — her altruistic advocacy led to her advising Governor Bill Clinton on the national HIV-AIDS crisis. Kudos to her sharing her work with us and to the heartache she endured in reaching out to help complete strangers.
Where the Truth Lies - Anna Bailey
Sad, unbelievably sad, who-dun-it, but a page-turner that I was so drawn in to, I read it straight through in one 6-hour sitting (it helps that I have a hard time sleeping.) We learn at the very start about the beautiful red-head teenage Abigail going missing and we assume she's not coming back — from the dead or wherever she ran off to. Our reading time is spent suffering the racist, homophobic, misogynist, abusive, and out-right despicable bible-thumping residents, who go back generations, of Whistling Ridge, a small town near Estes Park, Colorado. The kids party, the poverty is deep, and the line between good and evil is strong, especially when all the town's secrets are revealed. I won't give the ending away, but justice does prevail, after lots of spilt blood and spewed wicked anger.
What Comes After - JoAnne Tompkins
What a story, what a page-turner, what a surprise outcome. The pull-the-rug-out-from-under-you shocking death of childhood best friends and the homeless teenage girl who may or may not have had a part in their deaths makes for a story not to be believed. The girl, pregnant from one of the boys — or not ‑ pretty much adopts one of the boys’ grieving father who has a heart of gold and a need to take care of this girl who appears at his doorstep from nowhere, from the woods of the great Northwest where the story takes place, with no knowledge of where she came from or her history with his son. This is a moving story and a really good cliffhanger. Enjoy and embrace. Love is love.
We Begin at the End - Chris Whitaker
Looking to get completely lost in a good thick book? Look no further. This tragic story about love, family, honor, and betrayal is chock full of twists and surprises that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Get ready to spend some time with Duchess Day Radley, self-proclaimed Outlaw and bad-ass 13-year old who steals the show in this murder cliffhanger. You won’t regret spending some time with this f****ing awesome girl.
The Woman With the Blue Star - Pam Jenoff
I can't get enough historical fiction that around WWII, and especially anything having to do with atrocities inflicted on Jews. Pam Jenoff's earlier books The Orphan's Tale and The Lost Girls of Paris are high on my list of books that I recommend to friends and Literati shoppers. The Woman with the Blue Star is just as compelling and as emotional and historically accurate, and, now, one I've now added to my list of favorites in the WWII genre. The juxtaposition of the two characters whose lives intersect makes for a strong, heartfelt story: an 18-year Jewish girl and her pregnant mother, in utter fear and desperation as Nazis overtake the Polish Ghetto where they live, jump for safety into a city sewer. When a rich Polish girl, friends to Nazis, happens to discover them, a rare relationship is formed . . . and a beautiful story unfolds.
— WINTER 2020/2021 NEW RELEASES — posted january 2021
Perestroika in Paris - Jane Smiley
It's been many years since author Jane Smiley, whose 1991 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award bestseller "A Thousand Acres," has been in my book radar. What a Big Treat it was to discover that not only has Jane Smiley published a new novel to share with her fan base, she's written a story with delightfully unique voices who have a timely message to share with the world. From page one and through the last page, I found myself utterly hooked, falling head over heels in love with each and every character who include a racehorse, a raven, two ducks, two rats, and an 8-year old Parisian boy. Smiley rejoices in the animal world and their commanding communication skills, showing her readers that all living things desire freedom, love, and understanding. I highly recommend this absolutely charming read and can't say it loud enough: "Perestroika in Paris" was my end of 2020 all-time favorite novel and still is!
A Crooked Tree - Una Mannion
Una, you got me with the first sentence: "The night we left Ellen on the road, we were driving north up 252 near where it meets 2020 and then crosses the Pennsylvania Turnpike." I knew instantly this was going to be a page turner and would be about either a dog or a girl. Either way, I was ready. Oh, and it probably would be taking place in the mountains, and it would take place outdoors. Una Mannion, how can this be your debut novel? It's got so much depth to it, yet it's like an old familiar story. Suspenseful, yes. Empathetic, yes that too. Admiration for nature, totally. Spending time with this small community of young people who are witness to family dysfunctions based on fears and deep needs for privacy is like reading about any neighborhood, USA. The bonds and the bitterness, the grief and anger, the secrets . . . all these emotions are so tenderly expressed — in the voice of coming-of-age teenagers who could have been me or my brothers or my friends. Well done Una.
When the Stars Go Dark - Paula McClain
Page-turner alert! Paula McLain's part-historical tragic suspense novel captured my attention beginning on page one. With breathtaking descriptions of the coastline and woods of Northern California and harrowing images of a desperation for survival, the real-life tragedy of Polly Klass' abduction makes for a nail-biting first-rate novel. Part autobiographical, McLain allows us a glimpse at her own childhood as she uses that memory, along with her imagination, to build a sense of healing and to construct honest-to-goodness good storytelling.
The Paris Library - Janet Skeslien Charles
It's not hard to appreciate historical fiction when it is as well-researched and captivating as Janet Charles' The Paris Library. As an obsessive reader and lover of libraries — I grew up visiting Detroit's beautiful downtown Main Library, on Woodward Avenue, every Saturday and Sunday while a Detroit high school student — the story of Odile Souchet's pains and joys as a Parisian librarian before and during the Nazi occupation of Paris is vividly descriptive of her library patrons, her own personal struggles, and the bookshelves themselves. A heart wrenching story that switches from Odile's 1939 through 1944 France and the heartwarming relationship we watch develop with her teenage next door neighbor, Lily, and Lily's family, in rural Montana of 1983-1989.
The Music of Bees: A Novel - Eileen Garvin
It's hard to believe this is a debut novel for writer Eileen Garvin, who has been compared to author Eleanor Oliphant. A lovingly told story rich with characters I would enjoy having as my next-door neighbors or best friend's kids, the story takes place on a bee farm in rural Oregon. Having the utmost respect for bees and beekeepers, it was an extra special treat to be taken to that world. The protagonist's father's destructive revilement of his son is utterly horrific but that's what makes the story the story. It is heartbreaking, yet this tender novel redeems itself in a heartwarming way.
Hamnet - Maggie O'Farrell
Such a sad little story. Hamnet was the only son of William Shakespeare and the fraternal twin of Judith Shakespeare. Sweet to read of the deep love between Shakespeare and his naturalist wife Agnes, a woman disliked and misunderstood for her affinity to the natural world, and bittersweet to read this short tale of Hamnet's early death at the age of 11 during the plague of the 1500's. According to Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt, the names Hamnet and Hamlet were entirely interchangeable at the time, though there is no definitive clue that they were one and the same. I found the beautiful writing to be a perfect tonic to the news of the day, an escape from the political reality one finds difficult to ignore. If you find yourself drawn to real life stories, fiction or not, about life's hardships, be sure to read Maggie O'Farrell's newest novel.
The Secret Life of Dorothy Soames - Justine Cowan
I am grateful to Justine Cowan for writing this incredibly difficult biography of her mother's life. It's hard to believe that human beings — children — can be so ill-treated and unloved, uncared for, disrespected, as was her mother's childhood experience. Cowan's brutal honesty might provide strength to all of us children who, like Justine, and like Dorothy, suffered from the cruelty described as she reveals her mother's regrettable story. "Without tenderness and security in early childhood, the ability to form meaningful and healthy attachments is irrevocably damaged" was my own mother's childhood reality. Cowan's discoveries lit a lightbulb in my mind that finding forgiveness is never too late.
Margreete's Harbor - Eleanor Morse
This novel is on par with every literary novel I've read over the past 40 years that has remained a part of me. Beautifully written with an obvious love and admiration for strong families, the story is a microscopic unzipping of a family at the end of the 1950's and the tumultuous 1960's on their entire family structure. The story takes place on the nature-battered coast of Maine, in the home of Margreete, the matriarchal grandmother who the story is built around and each member of the family's relationship to and with her. The children are young when they move into their grandmother's home. We witness their growth, their insecurities, and the changing family dynamics on this loving family that are impacted by the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the Vietnam War. Everything about the characters is believable and realistic and very touching.
The Book of Two Ways: A Novel - Jodi Picoult
I've never given an ounce of thought to ancient Egyptian history. After devouring this complicated love story built around an archeological dig site, I'm totally in! Incredibly fascinating behind-the-scenes who/what/where/how data surrounding Ancient Egypt and digs are detailed thanks to Jodi Picoult's thorough research on everything Ancient Egypt: death and dying, mummies, grammar and prose and hieroglyphics, Egyptian society, the gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt, plus physics and so much more. First and foremost "The Book of Two Ways" is an entangled love story complete with intrigue around the fully-developed cast of characters. The captivating Egypt I lesson is an added treat. I tend to avoid mushy-gushy love stories, but this is one I can say "read on and enjoy the ride!"
Let Them Be Left: Isle Royale Poems - Keith Taylor
Ann Arbor writer Keith Taylor spent several weeks, at two different times in his life, on Isle Royale in northern Michigan as a part of the National Park Service's Artist-in-Residence program, in 1991 and again in 2019. This sweet chapbook, published by Alice Greene & Co., is Taylor's prose and poetry ruminations written during his wilderness immersion and his reemergence into "Twenty-first Century Wild." From the gorgeous front and back cover painting by Kathleen M. Heideman to the lovely and visually alert words on each page, this little gem of a book is a must-have companion to take along on hikes and camping out in the Michigan woods.
Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America's Poets Respond to the Pandemic
Alice Quinn, former executive director of the Poetry Society of America and poetry editor at The New Yorker contacted poets around the country to see what they were writing while under the covid-19 quarantine. What she gathered is this collection around grief, strength, anger, worries, politics, wisdom, and humanity as poets expressed their experiences while sheltering in place. This is an important collaboration of American writers sharing their voices during this year of surreal reality.
Dearly: New Poems - Margaret Atwood
A different take on story-telling, it is a pleasure to be treated to fiction writers works of poetry. Margaret Atwood's new collection begins with a glance back at her life, losses, and the things we collect throughout a lifetime. Moving on from human life she addresses nature with both humor and tenderness as in "Cicadas," her recognition of the orchestra we are treated to in the heat of the summer. The 8-part "Songs for Murdered Sisters," a song cycle written for baritone Joshua Hopkins in honor of his murdered sister, is in-your-face real and tragic. What I appreciate in this collection is how Ms. Atwood moves from aging and life's endings, to her gratefulness to life's treasures.
Whale Day: And Other Poems - Billy Collins
I've said it before, I'll say it again: I am a huge Billy Collins fan. I find his writing to be comforting and . . . "natural." He writes about everyday things, like watching an ant walk across a kitchen table, or the annoyance of the neighbor's barking dog. Collins has a delightful sense of humor, though his work is in no way "comedic." This is his 13th book of poetry and every bit as good and delightful as the last one — which is always my most treasured — until the next collection comes out. I can't say that any one of them is my all-time favorite, although currently this new collection just knocks me out. I do adore them all equally. Read "Anniversary" on page 99 to get a sense of the serious and sentimental side of Billy Collins. Then, go to page 42 for a good chuckle over "Listening to Hank Mobley Around 11 O'Clock After a Long Fun Boozy Dinner, the Four of Us, at Captain Pig's, Our Favorite Restaurant in Town." There you go. Enjoy.
How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons): Poetry - Barbara Kingsolver
This is Barbara Kingsolver's second collection of poetry. I carried with me and read in parks, in trees, on benches, in bed, on a little boat her first collection, published in 1992, "Another America: Otra America." I read it out loud for only myself to hear. At that point Ms. Kingsolver had published four books: two novels, "Animal Dreams" and "Bean Trees," a collection of short stories, and a book about the women of the 1983 Arizona Mine Strike. I fell in love with her writing. Now, dozens of years and bestsellers later, she has written her second poetry collection, in which she reflects on the practical, the spiritual, and the wild. The collection opens with how-to poems that touch on everyday life such as marriage and divorce, shearing a sheep, doing absolutely nothing, and flying! In the middle are poems about making peace. She finishes the collection with poems honoring the natural world. As she has done throughout her accomplished writing career, Barbara Kingsolver has presented the reader with questions and answers that are ultimately about evolution and hope.
The Oak Papers - James Canton
A love letter to an 800-year old oak tree in North Essex, England and a meditation on nature's beauty, curiosities, and healing powers. The prose in this lovely book is poetic in its tender descriptions and history lesson on this great tree. Journal entries detail changes in the air, the birds, and the insects who inhabit, feed on, and nurture the tree. I could write on and on about the majesty of the tree and the joy of reading Canton's discoveries and what he's learned about this colossal tree that would have been a sapling when the Magna Carta was signed. A perfect companion to take on walks in the woods, bird watching or simply embracing the beauty and mysteries of old trees.
— SUMMER / FALL 2020 NEW RELEASES — posted august 2020
The Pull of the Stars - Emma Donoghue
There couldn't be a more timely novel to read during the world-wide coronavirus crisis. "Room" novelist Emma Donoghue has written an eye-opener of a story about midwife Nurse Julia Power on the frontline of the devastating 1918 flu epidemic in the maternity ward of the Dublin hospital where she works. Riveting no-holds-barred descriptions of birthing, and life and death scenarios, this is a deeply compassionate book of hope and courage against all odds.
Vesper Flights - Helen MacDonald
Naturalist writer Helen MacDonald shares her deep love for birds and nature in this new essay collection of her observations of the world of birds. Each piece is a delicate vignette of minute, sensitive discoveries in the natural world. I so admire Helen MacDonald for her heatfelt appreciation of all the things in nature that pull at my own heart. I nominate her "Queen of Nature Writing."
The Exiles: A Novel - Christina Baker Kline
Bestselling author Christina Baker Kline does it again! The prolific author of "Orphan Train" and "A Piece of the World" has written another compelling and emotional historical novel. "The Exiles" follows the horrific overseas journey young imprisoned women, many pregnant, of 19th century London are forced to take when they are moved away from the UK to a penal colony in Australia. Revealing the oppression, sexism, hardship, and hope of three women’s lives who intersect on the ship, it was eye-opening to read Christina Baker Kline's take of the vile treatment of underprivileged women. I highly recommend this book that is a sad reminder of misogyny that continues to exist yet ends with hope and faith that good people do exist.
The Book of Longings - Sue Monk Kidd
"I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth." So begins Sue Monk Kidd's newest novel, "The Book of Longings," crafted around the premise "would the Judea/Christian world have been different if Jesus had had a wife like Ana and she had been a part of his story?" Ana is an erudite, self-confident, and spirited woman with chutzpah to use her voice and speak her mind. Through Jesus' teachings and utter acceptance of all people, would the first-century patriarchy have embraced women as equals?
Kidd's Ana is not a typical first-century Jewish woman. Thoroughly researched, Kidd exposes that very early period in history when women weren't allowed to be fearless and articulate, much less use ink and a reed pen on precious papyrus to put thoughts onto paper. Ana is a brilliant writer and she secretly uses ink and pen to document her life and her friends' stories. She is willful. She adamently opposes the choices made for her future by the men in her family. She could care less about society's rules and opinions. Set in ancient Jewish/Roman history, written in a modern tone, I found it captivating to follow Ana's journey, at the start of the Roman occupation of Israel, from Galilee to Nazareth to Alexandria where she fled from her family, married and lived with the man she loved, and then fled for her personal safety when he became an outspoken Messiah, ostracized by the Roman republic.
The Patron Saint of Pregnant Girls- Ursula Hegi
I've been a fan of Ursula Hegi's writing since reading "Floating in My Mother's Palm," just one of her many novels that take a unique look at mother/daughter relationships. Her writing is exquisite, her storytelling captivating. I was immediately drawn into the tragic beginning of "The Patron Saint of Pregnant Girls," finding St. Margaret's Home for Pregnant Girls to be a sweet distraction from the story's start. Hegi is adept at building and intertwining characters, and at realistically presenting women in a women's world.
The Last Great Road Bum - Hector Tobar
Pultizer Prize awarded Hector Tobar culled together vagabond world-traveler Joe Sanderson's lifetime of writing in "The Last Great Road Bum." Joe's journey began in Mexico City in 1960 at the age of 18. He spent the next 22 years traveling to war-torn countries from Vietnam to Nigeria and everywhere in between, in his quest for a life worth writing about. Joe died in El Salvador, writing about and fighting side by side with the guerilla rebels during the Salvadoran Civil War. Tobar has posthumously created Sanderson's great American novel taken verbatim, and with extrapolation, from the two decades of writing about Sanderson's world travels and experiences as a road bum, as well as interviewing the people across the globe who Joe wrote about in his journals. I can't recommend it highly enough.
— CELEBRATING SUMMERTIME - SUMMER READING — posted july 2020
Every winter I look out the window and ponder over what beach I'm going to set my little chair on, when I spend my one-week summer
vacation absorbed in a few good books by the sea. I introduce to you some dear old friends, books that went to the beach with me and books that were good company.
Just Kids - Patti Smith
I devoured this book in one day, seated in my rickety old camp chair on a dock that was mostly submerged in a small Michigan lake: sun shining, birds singing, my dog nearby. It was the right book, at the right time, in the right place. Patti Smith is an exceptional writer and a wonderful storyteller. Her honesty and revelations about that special time in American cultural history, NYC of the 60's and 70's, was eye-opening, sweet and bittersweet, and absolutely full of love.
His Dark Materials Trilogy - Phillip Pullman
Pullman's "His Dark Material's Trilogy" consists of three books: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. I absolutely cherish this series, which I read while undergoing cancer treatment I found a safe haven in the characters. The series follows two children, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, as they travel across parallel universes. Visually rich, utterly captivating, I was happily lost in the series and then found myself lost when I finished them; I didn't want to return to the real world. Though it was written for young adults, I highly recommend Pullman's trilogy for any and all ages,
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer
Looking for something light and sweet to read at the beach or during your stay-cay in your garden? I give you a little gem of a story about love, war, and the boundless support found in good books and good friends. Told through a series of letters exchanged between residents of Guernsey Island, enter the lives of the charming, kooky, and heroic citizens of the island as they share their experiences with a London writer who learns and writes about the book club they formed during the Nazi occupation of the island.
The Chronicles of Narnia - Clive Staples Lewis
What more could a reader ask for in a good summer read? Does getting lost in journeys to the end of the world, a world chock-full of fantastic creatures, heroic deeds and epic battles in the war between good and evil sound fun? Lewis' 1949 book "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," has all that, but after completing it, he went on and wrote six more. Together the seven books are known as "The Chronicles of Narnia," transcending the fantasy fiction genre to become a literary classic. A delightful series for all ages to get happily lost in while getting sunburnt.
Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History - Erik Larson
September 8, 1900 began as a beautiful day in the seaside town of Galveston, Texas. U. S. Weather Bureau resident meteorologist, Isaac Cline, didn't notice the strange deep-sea swells and peculiar winds that moved in later that morning. Mere hours later, Galveston was submerged in a monster hurricane that completely destroyed the town, killing over six thousand people in what remains the greatest natural disaster in American history. Using Cline's telegrams, letters, and reports, survivors testimonies, and current understanding of the science of hurricanes, Erik Larson chronicles one man's heroic struggle and fatal miscalculation in the face of a storm of unimaginable magnitude. He does a remarkable job of putting the reader smack in the middle of the storm, where one feels like they are right there experiencing the devastation and horror of the hurricane.
The Little Paris Bookshop - Nina George
“The settings are ideal for a summer-romance read. Who can resist floating on a barge through France surrounded by books, wine, love, and great conversation?" The Little Paris Bookshop is a love letter to books. Monsieur Perdu refers to himself as a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life, using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, mending broken hearts and souls. Sweet.
Four Seasons In Rome - Anthony Doerr
The day his twins were born, Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See) received even more great news: he'd won the Rome Prize, one of the most prestigious awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. This jewel of a book is Doerr's evocative memoir of the timeless beauty of Rome and the day-to-day amazement of living, writing, and raising twin boys in a foreign city. It's a visual treat, as Doerr shares his visits to piazzas, temples, the vigil of a dying Pope John Paul II, and his sweet tales of the American family being embraced by the butchers, grocers, and bakers of their neighborhood.
Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence - Irene Pepperberg
The captivating true story of the unique relationship between psychologist Irene M. Pepperberg and Alex, an African Grey parrot. Their story proves scientist's and accepted wisdom wrong, demonstrating an astonishing ability for a bird to communicate and understand complex ideas. More than a scientific breakthrough, "Alex & Me" is a touching love story and an affectionate remembrance of the irascible, unforgettable, and always surprising Alex.
The Hidden Life of Trees - Peter Wohlleben
Making the case that the forest is a social network, naturalist Peter Wohlleben shares his deep love of forests and trees. Like human families, he believes, tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, and support them as they grow, sharing nutrients with those who are sick or struggling and creating a healthy ecosystem. He also believes a happy forest is a healthy forest that benefits the health of our planet and the mental and physical health of all who share it.
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit - Michael Finkel
Have you ever found yourself wishing you could escape modern life and society? Twenty-year old Christopher Knight did just that, leaving his Massachusetts home in 1986, when he drove to Maine, left his car on the side of a road, and disappeared into the forest for the next 27 years. Living in a tent through brutal winters and hot summers, he survived by his wits and courage, creating clever ways to store food and water, and to avoid freezing to death, Taking only what he needed, he survived by breaking into nearby cottages for food, clothing, reading material, and other provisions. A captivating story of survival, solitude and community, and an incredible portrayal of a man who was bent to live his own way, and succeeded.
Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier
Not much is known about Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, artist of the famous 1665 painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring." Tracy Chevalier took creative license to write a fascinating historical novel about the painting, the artist, and the unknown woman who modeled for the painting. Merging history and fiction, the beautiful story is about 16-year old Griet, her sensual awakening and her brief encounter with genius. A good story for whiling away sunny afternoons.
— BOOKS THAT TOOK MY BREATH AWAY — posted june 2020
Sheltering in place and limiting our activities and socializing during the early days of the pandemic caused us to change our pace and was a good time to be quiet and reflective. Here's a selection of very strong writing I've gotten lost in while seeking solace over the years.
Plainsong - Kent Haruf
The first of a trilogy, this haunting and beautifully written novel takes place in a rural Colorado town. With quiet, elegant, and simple writing, Haruf gracefully brings together a small cast of characters who struggle with the challenges and disasters of life, while exploring their forgiving capacity for love. This is one of those book that makes me put my hand on my heart and be grateful for such talented and elegant writing.
Floating In My Mothers Palm - Ursula Hegi
Absolutely exquisite writing, this 1998 book consists of connected short stories about the town of Burgdorf in 1950's Germany. Hanna Malter is the only living child of a beautiful artist mother and a much older dentist father. This is Hanna's story of her complex and loving relationship with her mother, and the warmth and pains of the people in her town. When I first read these this, I felt it goes hand-in-hand with Michael Dorri's "Yellow Raft in Blue Water." Both are haunting and heartbreaking poetic writing from the mid-1980's.
Yellow Raft In Blue Water - Michael Dorris
Michael Dorris' debut novel bares his uncanny ability to write about the tragic vulnerability of human nature in this cross-generational story about three Native American women living on a Montana reservation. He eloquently weaves their complicated story and the love they have for one another that is, sadly, obscured by ill will, deep secrets and misunderstanding. The image of a yellow raft in blue water has followed me for years, since1987, when I first read this astute book.
The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey
found this sweet and simple story to be a breathtaking retreat to the Alaskan outdoors and frontier. Deeply touching, exquisitely written, this bewitching tale is based on the Russian fairy tale Snegurochka, starring the Snow Maiden, a young girl who is believed to be half-human and half made of snow. From the very beginning, I found myself tearing up as I read this enchanting heart- wrenching story about an aging couple, the bleak Alaskan wilderness and a mystery child who appears before them one day in the woods.
Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry
I am a huge fan of "western" writing, especially Cormac McCarthy, Jim Harrison, and Zane Grey . McMurtry lovingly shares with us characters who touch our hearts, make us laugh, and especially make us cry. We follow an Old West cattle drive from Texas to Montana in the 1860's full of endearing, funny, and deeply connected cowboys. It's a big book, a long epic story. I love this Goodreads review: "Warning: This book will destroy you. I have never been so completely and utterly decimated by a novel. I don't need a book club; I need a support group." One of my all-time favorite books, I can't say this loud enough: allow yourself to get lost in this Great American Novel written by a Great American Novelist.
Sophies Choice - William Styron
Styron's 1979 novel about three people sharing a boarding house in 1940's Brooklyn is a tear-jerker of a love story with its brilliant plot and retelling of Sophie's heart wrenching story of her Auschwitz internment. Full of love, despair, lust, grief, guilt, coming-of-age, and madness, this book is a masterpiece of American Southern writing. It's an amazing story, it's beautifully written, and it's incredibly sad sad sad. I cried my heart out. The 1982 film starring Merryl Streep as Sophie was a big-time tear-jerker.
The Soul Of An Octopus - Sy Montgomery
I absolutely adored this delightful book. I had no idea how brilliant octopuses are. I am now deeply respectful of them for their ability to communicate and express themselves as humble beings. This is a heart-warming read that will change your way of thinking about the non-human lives we share this planet with.
A Thousand Acres - Jane Smiley
Winner of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 1991 National Book Critics Circle fiction award, Smiley's dark novel about life in Zebulon County, Iowa on a large farm is a beautifully and sensitively written book. A modern version of Shakespeares King Lear, with slight retelling, the story envelopes a family's inevitable tragedy. The depth of character and writing style make this timeless book a well-deserved award-winner. Read the book before seeing the 1997 Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Robards film.
Shipping News - Annie Proulx
Annie Proulx's second novel, written in 1993, received both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize Award. It's not the easiest of books to read. I would never want to meet the characters or share their lives, but her descriptions are impeccable. You can feel the weather. You are right there in her landscape details. You can ride on her slow pacing. She shows the true colors of life in a Newfoundland sea town, the local culture, language, and grim climate. The beauty of this book is the writer's subtle use of words, along with her unique voice, and sparse sentences.
The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
Four damaged lives converge in an Italian villa at the end of WWII in this hauntingly exquisite book that reads like a slow-mo poetic dream. Michael Ondaatje's exceptional writing is well-deserved of the 1992 Man Booker Prize. Sensual and cerebral, the storytelling is utterly melancholic in its beautiful characterizations and poetic depictions of love and war.
News Of The World - Paulette Jilles
The little bit of time I spent with the two main characters in this novel left me feeling calm and safe. It’s a quiet read that takes one far far away from the crisis in which we are currently living. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is an honorable elderly widower who earns his living in northern Texas giving newspaper readings to live audiences who are eager for news of the world. In the winter of 1870 he agrees to transport a 10-year old white girl captured as a child by an Indian tribe back to her family, undertaking a dangerous 400-mile mission in post-Civil War Texas. Having to learn how to communicate with this girl who does not remember the English language, we witness Captain Kidd's vulnerabilities as he tenderly cares for his young passenger on their long journey. This gentle and comforting story, so elegantly written, explores the limits of trust, responsibility, and honor. It is a hopeful book, the perfect read during these weeks of coronavirus self-isolation.
The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstein
'm not a circus fan nor am I into magic, but this magical book about a circus set in the Victorian era, totally blew me away. Elegantly and ethereally written, it is charming and mystifying, poetic and lyrical, vividly dream-like tale. Oh if only I could attend this spectacular circus that only takes place in the dark of the night. This is one of those books that I look forward to re-reading. It's an enchanting read.
Snow Falling On Cedars - David Guterson
An exquisitely written novel complete with romance, suspense, heartache, horrific injustices, and drama. Taking place in the Pacific Northwest, the story centers around the horrible treatment of interned Japanese Americans during WW II. The captivating courtroom drama mixed with memories of a disgraceful chapter in 1950's American history makes for a compelling read that is magnificently written.
Truth And Beauty - Ann Patchett
Author Ann Patchett's memoir is an unzipped homage to her loyal, loving, heartbreaking, and fiercely annoying friendship with poet Lucy Grealy. A beautiful testament to the powers of friendship, this is Patchett's incredibly honest portrayal of true love for, and utter distaste of, a best friend.
A Piece Of The World - Christina Baker Kline
For me, New York Times Christina Baker Kline's bestseller "Orphan Train" comes in second to this absolutely gorgeous piece of writing that was inspired by Andrew Wyeth's iconic painting "Christinas World." A heart wrenching story taking place in Cushing, Maine, this fictional memoir is the real life story of Christina Olson and the painting of her by her friend Andrew Wyeth. Restricted by a crippling disease, Christina's sad and tragic story is beautifully revealed in this quiet read that offers a delicate sense of place and explanation of the mystery of the painting.
About Grace - Anthony Doerr
Written 10 years before being awarded a Pulitzer Prize for "All the Light We Cannot See," the author's first novel, "About Grace," is just as word-perfect a book and stunning accomplishment. Doerr's moving storytelling captures a world of human frailties, full of grief and longing, along with the power and mystery of nature. Burdened by agonizing dreams that later come true, David Winkler lives despite every reason for him to die. In his journey to find truth he brings tiny bits of joy to the people he encounters. Full of so many sentences I wish I could carry around with me in my pocket, this is one of my most recommended books.
A Tale For The Time Being - Ruth Ozeki
"A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be." Oh how I loved this book! It's a riveting tale of a woman writer in a remote coastal village in British Columbia, whose writers-block gets distracted when she discovers the journals of a Japanese girl that wash up on the shore in a barnacle-encassed waterproof box. A beautiful and poetic book built on many levels and complexities that include school bullying, suicidal thoughts, the Japanese-version of WWII, the elderly nuns inhabiting a beautiful ancient Buddhist temple, and the horrific deadly 2011 Japanese tsunami.
— THE BIRDS AND THE BEES — posted may 2020
Springtime is when our fair little feathered and winged friends are back to share the season with us. Learn more about them here.
Birds of Michigan Field Guide - Stan Tekiela
I do alot of backyard and neighborhood bird watching. I own more bird books than one person needs, but my very most favorite is nature photographer Stan Tekiela's perfect pocket-size Field Guide to the Birds of Michigan. His clear and concise color photos are spot-on, making it easy to quickly identify birds. The book is sensibly organized by color of birds. A color-coded range map of Michigan identifies the seasons birds can be seen around the State. Stan's Notes, featured on every page, add even more helpful information.
H Is For Hawk - Helen Macdonald
Following the sudden death of her father, nature author and poet Helen Macdonald adopted Mabel, a Goshawk, as a means to cope with her grief. The book is a painful eulogy, a heartbreaking memoir, a training manual, and a journey into the heaing process. Macdonald changed her life as she projected herself "in the hawk's wild mind to tame her." Recipient of the 2014 Costa Book Award for Biography and the Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction.
The Meaning of Birds - Simon Barnes
Have you ever pondered over how birds survive, what their songs mean, where they go on their travels, and basically, why they exist? This enchanting look at the connection between birds and mankind teaches us about birds' flights, colors, songs, feathers, and their place in the natural world. Black and white vintage illustrations complement each bird story. An absolute must book for bird lovers and watchers.
American Birds: A Literary Companion - edited by Andrew Rubenfeld
A delightful anthology of pasionate writings about birds, collected by literature professor and avid birder Andrew Rubenfeld from a wide assortment of America's greatest poets and writers. Discover their dedication to Native American birds and their songs in the poems, essays, memoirs, short stories, and travel writing of reknowned writers such as Rachel Carson, Roger Tory Peterson, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Oliver, Louise Erdrich, Emerson, and Thoreau, and more.
What It's Like to Be a Bird - David Allen Sibley
Well that certainly is a very good question! From flying to nesting, eating to singing, discover what birds are doing and why in this accessible book by the author of "Sibley's Guide to Birds." One can't have too many books that delve into the mystery of our feathered friends. Share this one with your family and than start paying attention to the birds out your window!
Little Book of Bees - Hilary Kearney
Do you love bees? You’ll find this book is not only informative, it is also a charming look at all things bees — from evolution, to beekeeping, to saving bees, to why the 20,000 bee species that live on every continent are so important in our ecosystem. The beautiful artwork goes hand in hand with this lovely little book. A full-time beekeeper in her home town of San Diego, California, writer Hilary Hearney’s urban beekeeping business, Girl Next Door Honey, provides educational opportunities for hundreds of new beekeepers each year. A must-read for gardeners.
The Lives of Bees - Thomas Seeley
Want to know more about bees? Thomas Seeley, a world authority on honey bees, is skilled at explaining the behavior of bees. He sheds light on why wild honey bees are able to thrive in the natural world, while beekeeping colonies are in crisis. In this light, he teaches "how we can become better custodians of honey bees and make use of their resources in ways that enrich their lives as well as our own." A must-read for beekeepers.
Storey's Guide To Keeping Honey Bees- Malcolm Sanford, Richard Bonney
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— NOIR — posted april 2020
crime fiction featuring hard-boiled characters and dark sleazy settings
I've always been a fan of 50's noir fiction. Looking to get completely lost in a highly entertaining genre of 20th century American writing? Discover this vivid hard-boiled subset of the mystery genre — dark fiction featuring femme fatales, PI’s, and great murder mysteries. These authors are the best of the best, featuring a hand-picked selection of my favorites written by my favorites.
The Maltese Falcon
Sam Spade is hired by the fragrant Miss Wonderley to track down her sister, who has eloped with a louse called Floyd Thursby. But Miss Wonderley is in fact the beautiful and treacherous Brigid O'Shaughnessy, and when Spade's partner Miles Archer is shot while on Thursby's trail, Spade finds himself both hunter and hunted: can he track down the jewel-encrusted bird, a treasure worth killing for, before the Fat Man finds him? First published in 1930, The Maltese Falcon stands today as one of the classics of both suspense literature and American writing.
The Thin Man
Originally published in 1933, The Thin Man is the story of respectable people who are prepared to murder between drinks — and do just tha. Nick and Nora Charles are Hammett's most enchanting creations, a rich and glamorous couple who solve homicides in between wisecracks and martinis. At once knowing and unabashedly romantic, The Thin Man is a murder mystery that doubles as a sophisticated comedy of manners.
The Continental Op, one of Hammett’s fictional characters, is a private investigator employed as an operative of the Continental Detective Agency's San Francisco office. The stories are all told in the first person and his name is never given. These two novels feature him:
Considered to be one of Hammett's masterpieces, this is the most vivid and realistic picture of gang war ever written — and one of the most exciting of all suspense novels. When the last honest citizen of Poisonville was murdered, the Continental Op stayed on to punish the guilty--even if that meant taking on an entire town. More than a superb crime novel, it is a classic exploration of corruption and violence in the American grain.
The Dain Curse
Everything about the Leggett diamond heist indicated to the Continental Op that it was an inside job. From the stray diamond found in the yard to the eyewitness accounts of a "strange man" casing the house, everything was just too pat. Gabrielle Dain-Leggett has enough secrets to fill a closet, and when she disappears shortly after the robbery, she becomes the Op's prime suspect. But her father, Edgar Leggett, keeps some strange company himself and has a dark side the moon would envy. Before he can solve the riddle of the diamond theft, the Continental Op must first solve the mystery of this strange family.
The Glass Key
Paul Madvig was a cheerfully corrupt ward-heeler who aspired to something better: the daughter of Senator Ralph Bancroft Henry, the heiress to a dynasty of political purebreds. Did he want her badly enough to commit murder? And if Madvig was innocent, which of his dozens of enemies was doing an awfully good job of framing him? Dashiell Hammett's tour de force of detective fiction combines an airtight plot, authentically venal characters, and writing of telegraphic crispness.
— HAMMETT COLLECTIONS —
The Maltese Falcon, the Thin Man, Red Harvest (Everyman's Library Contemporary Classics )
These three classic novels, published here in one volume, are rich with the crisp prose, subtle characters, and intricate plots that made Dashiell Hammett one of the most admired writers of the 20th century.
The Dain Curse, the Glass Key, and Selected Stories ( Everyman's Library Contemporary Classics )
Dashiell Hammett gave us crime fiction stripped down to its most subtle and searing essentials and, at the same time, elevated to literature. The diamond-sharp prose and artfully manipulated intrigue for which he is known are on full display in the four classic short stories and two riveting novels published here in one volume.
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Cain's first novel - the subject of an obscenity trial in Boston and the inspiration for Camus's The Stranger - is the fever-pitched tale of a drifter who stumbles into a job, into an erotic obsession, and into a murder.
Noir master James M. Cain creates a novel of acute social observation and devastating emotional violence, with a heroine whose ambitions and sufferings are never less than recognizable. Mildred Pierce had gorgeous legs, a way with a skillet, and a bone-deep core of toughness. She used those attributes to survive a divorce and poverty and to claw her way out of the lower middle class. But Mildred also had two weaknesses: a yen for shiftless men, and an unreasoning devotion to a monstrous daughter.
Tautly narrated and excruciatingly suspenseful, Double Indemnity gives us an X-ray view of guilt, of duplicity, and of the kind of obsessive, loveless love that devastates everything it touches. First published in 1935, this novel reaffirmed James M. Cain as a virtuoso of the roman noir.
Double Indemnity (The Hollywood Film)
This is one of the most admired and loved--if you can use that word for a movie about murder--films ever, the quintessential film noir/femme fatale/existential LA movie, from 1944. It also has one of the greatest pedigrees of any Hollywood film; a screenplay by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, based on a novel by James M. Cain.
Philip Marlowe is Chandler’s fictional character, Philip Marlowe, is a a Los Angeles P.I. who is well-connected to the underworld and sleazy side of the city. Chandler wrote a number of books featuring Marlowe.
The Big Sleep
Chandler's first novel, published in 1939, introduces Marlowe, as a 38-year-old P.I. moving through the seamy side of 1930s LA. The Big Sleep is a classic case involving a paralyzed California millionaire and his two psychotic daughters, complete with blackmail and murder. This book established Chandler as the master of the 'hard-boiled' detective novel, and his articulate and literary style of writing won him a large audience, which ranged from the man in the street to the most sophisticated intellectual.
The Lady in the Lake
A couple of missing wives—one a rich man's and one a poor man's—become the objects of Marlowe's investigation. One of them may have gotten a Mexican divorce and married a gigolo and the other may be dead. Marlowe's not sure he cares about either one, but he's not paid to care.
Farewell, My Lovely
Marlowe's about to give up on a completely routine case when he finds himself in the wrong place at the right time to get caught up in a murder that leads to a ring of jewel thieves, another murder, a fortune-teller, a couple more murders, and more corruption than your average graveyard.
The Long Goodbye
Down-and-out drunk Terry Lennox has a problem: his millionaire wife is dead and he needs to get out of LA fast. So he turns to the only friend he can trust: private investigator Philip Marlowe. Marlowe is willing to help a man down on his luck, but later Lennox commits suicide in Mexico and things start to turn nasty. Marlowe is drawn into a sordid crowd of adulterers and alcoholics in LA's Idle Valley, where the rich are suffering one big suntanned hangover. Marlowe is sure Lennox didn't kill his wife, but how many stiffs will turn up before he gets to the truth?
Christmas 1951, Los Angeles: a city where the police are as corrupt as the criminals. Six prisoners are beaten senseless in their cells by cops crazed on alcohol. For the three LAPD detectives involved, it will expose the guilty secrets on which they have built their corrupt and violent careers. The novel takes these cops on a sprawling epic of brutal violence and the murderous seedy side of Hollywood. One of the best crime novels ever written, it is the heart of Ellroy's four-novel masterpiece, the LA Quartet, and an example of crime writing at its most powerful.
The Black Dahlia
On January 15, 1947, the torture-ravished body of a beautiful young woman is found in a vacant lot. The victim makes headlines as the Black Dahlia—and so begins the greatest manhunt in California history. Caught up in the investigation are Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard: Warrants Squad cops, friends, and rivals in love with the same woman. But both are obsessed with the Dahlia—driven by dark needs to know everything about her past, to capture her killer, to possess the woman even in death. Their quest will take them on a hellish journey through the underbelly of postwar Hollywood, to the core of the dead girl's twisted life, past the extremes of their own psyches—into a region of total madness.
Because the Night
A botched liquor store heist leaves three grisly dead. A hero cop is missing. Nobody could see a pattern in these two stray bits of information-no one except Detective Sergeant Lloyd Hopkins, a brilliant and disturbed L.A. cop with an obsessive desire to protect the innocent. To him they lead to one horrifying conclusion — a killer is on the loose and preying on his city. From the master of L.A. noir comes this beautiful and brutal tale of a cop and a criminal squared off in a life and death struggle.
The Big Nowhere
From the widely acclaimed author of "L.A. Confidential" comes the absorbing story of three man caught in a massive web of ambition, perversion, and deceit in the Hollywood of 1950".