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Ever since I was a child, I've loved reading. 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 employed as a part time bookseller 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. 
 
Through my Literati job I am extremely fortunate to have access to advance reader copies of books. Below are reading lists of current releases, along with books I've read over the years, that I highly recommend. Enjoy . . . let's talk about the books!

    — 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.

   — 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.

 

 

   — 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" is my end of 2020 all-time favorite novel!

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

All 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.

 

saac'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 as we've changed our pace has been a good time for some to go inward. 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
It’s springtime and 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

Want to become a beekeeper? Here is the perfect introduction to get started and become a good host to a bee colony. Written by veteran beekepers, this accessible and comprehensive resource guide comes complete with color photos and graphics. Learn how to plan a hive, acquire bees, install a colony, keep bees healthy, maintain a healthy hive, understand and prevent new diseases, and harvest honey crops. Includes resource and supplier information. A must-read for an aspiring beekeeper.

   — NOIR —                                                                                                                               posted april 2020

crime fiction featuring hard-boiled characters and dark sleazy settings

This is as perfect a time as any to get completely lost in the highly entertaining genre of 20th century American noir 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.

 

DASHIELL HAMMETT

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:

 

Red Harvest

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.

 

 JAMES CAIN

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.

 

Mildred Pierce

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.

 

Double Indemnity 

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.

 

RAYMOND CHANDLER

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?

 

JAMES ELLROY

L.A. Confidential

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".

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