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 University of Michigan'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.
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-sufficiency, 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.
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/author 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.