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The Geometry of Love by Jessica Levine

Sun, 04/06/2014 - 9:09am
Julia’s a poet but in the decade since she was a grad student at Yale she hasn’t written a single poem. She lives in Princeton with her long-time boyfriend Ben. She's a secretary in the math department and he’s teaching, writing, and conducting research in his frenzied quest for tenure. It’s 1987 and Julia visits Manhattan to see her parents and perhaps rent an apartment and take over her father’s accounting practice. While there she runs into Michael, Ben’s college roommate, and finds herself attracted to him both sexually and as a muse for her artistic passions. Michael asks Julia tough questions and makes her wonder whether she’s trying to force Ben into marriage.  She loves the security and comfortable sex life she has with Ben but seeing Michael makes her yearn for more. Michael asks her if she thinks people can choose to be happy and she answers,
“What is it we want, if not happiness?” “More.”“More of what?” I asked.
Later Michael tells Julia that her relationship with Ben is like a Möbius strip – it would keep going infinitely. He tore a piece of paper out of a notebook, flipped one end of it, and created a model for her. “It’s a metaphor, don’t you see?” he said. . . “Every time you feel you’ve gotten to the end of it – emotionally or sexually – you’re going to find yourself back at the beginning, with the feeling of things being new.” I stared at the Möbius strip. 
“I hope you’re right,” I said.
Thus, Julia continues to repress the impulse to lean into Michael and change her future. But is that what she should do especially when she learns that Michael is composing again after a five-year hiatus and that she is his muse. Could he be her muse as well?
It’s readily apparent that author Jessica Levine is poet and a translator.  Her graceful phrasing and her attention to just the right word guide the reader into the novel’s deliberate pace. She writes erotic, yet still poetic, sex scenes that serve as an impetus and connection to the question Julia is constantly asking herself: Is this enough?
When Julia talks of love she compares it to animals who become imprinted and can no longer survive in the wild:
“We’re not so different in matters of the heart.  There are experiences of connection so deep they mark and change you forever. After excessive joy there’s the knowledge that everything to come can only be less than; that the happiness experienced is now gone forever, carried away by the torrential river of time, that the rest of life, as a result, can only disappoint. The bliss becomes a traumatic initiation into the ultimate insufficiency of life.  Whatever the future has to offer, one thing is clear: it won’t be enough.”
The Geometry of Love is divided into two parts with the second section taking place in 2004 when the reader can see where Julia’s choices have led her.   Readers then learn if her choices were enough or if she must begin again within the Möbius strip or step out into another mathematical dimension.
Julia’s not an easy character to like and readers will be cheering for her to stay with Ben, to run to Michael, or to find an entirely new life.  Occasionally this reader was torn between wanting her to be happy and wanting her to simply make up her mind.  Making readers sympathetic to conflicted characters who seem on the verge of bad choices isn’t easy. So when Levine implants us in Julia’s head, she gets extra points for “degree of difficulty.”  If this novel were a diving event, Levine’s writing would be a complicated reverse somersault with a twist.
Summing it Up: Dive into this complex Möbius strip of a novel to enter Julia’s mind as she contends with thoughts of creativity’s source, of the importance of erotic love, of family, and of the price of infidelity. Read this novel to see how the geometry of love with its triangles and linear equations can lead to one plus one becoming two or perhaps to much more.
Rating:  4 stars    Category: Gourmet, Fiction, Book ClubPublication date: April 8, 2013Author Website: http://www.jessicalevine.com/Reading Group Guide: http://www.jessicalevine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/The_Geometry_of_Love_Reading_Group_Guide.pdf
Jessica Levine will be glad to visit book clubs in person or schedule a conference by speakerphone or Skype when you're discussing the book. What Others are Saying:"Jessica Levine knows relationships. In THE GEOMETRY OF LOVE, Levine artfully weaves the story of one woman's desire for passion, art and love and her conflicting needs of comfort, security and stability. A universal tale written by a compassionate writer whose gentle love of her characters shines throughout this book."--Ann Garvin, author of ON MAGGIE'S WATCH

"Unfulfilled love and attraction can resonate over decades, affecting our choices of who we love, what we create, and ultimately who we are. In his novel of relationships, Jessica Levine offers a strong heroine in Julia, a woman who wants to be honorable even as she wrestles with her wilder side and the undertow of longing. We root for her as she tries to do the right thing, which in the end is best chosen by the heart
…a fine literary debut that weaves psychological wisdom into an entertaining love story."--Virginia Pye, author of RIVER OF DUST
The Geometry of Love charts the love triangle between Julia, Ben, and Michael as all three search for the answers to life’s most heartfelt questions. Spanning 1987 to 2004, the novel’s scope and sweeping character arcs will appeal to fans of Meg Wolitzer’s  The Interestings…. Julia’s emotions, insecurities, and pleasures are laid bare and recall Isadora Wing in Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying….An outstanding first novel.”—Booklist, starred review 
The Geometry of Love will be one of five novels showcased in ForeWord Magazine's Debut Fiction ForeSight editorial article planned for their Summer Issue.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Sun, 03/30/2014 - 4:50pm
This witty, heartwarming, yet fast-paced tale will appeal to book lovers as it features A.J. Fikry, a curmudgeonly bookstore owner on fictional Alice Island (similar to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard). Fikry is 39 and he’s grieving the death of his wife in an automobile accident. He isolates himself like an island by drinking too much and ignoring his customers.  His only joy comes from gazing at his rare copy of an Edgar Allan Poe poem, Tamarlane. Since so few copies were printed, it’s worth $400,000 but Fikry hasn't insured it. The poem with its themes of pride, independence, and loss fits Fikry’s state of mind. When the poem is stolen, Fikry faces more loss and may be forced into bankruptcy as his lack of attention to the store and his customers have left his bottom line seriously lacking.
Soon an adorable toddler is abandoned in the store with a note: “This is Maya. She is twenty-five months old. She is VERY SMART, exceptionally verbal for her age, and a sweet, good girl.  I want her to grow up to be a reader.  I want her to grow up in a place with books and among people who care about those things. I love her very much but I can no longer take care of her. The father cannot be in her life, and I do not have a family that can help. I am desperate.  Yours, Maya’s mother.”
Fikry takes Maya to the police station where Chief Lambiase explains that with the snow and it being a Friday night with a diminished ferry schedule that no one from the Department of Children and Family Services would come for Maya until at least Monday so Fikry takes her back to his home above the store and by Monday she’s wormed her way into his cold, hard heart and he soon adopts her. Business picks up as islanders visit to see the child and offer advice on her care.  Fikry adds new children’s books and the women who visit form a book club. The absolute delight of this novel is the many wonderful books it introduces. Each chapter opens with the title of a short story or book and Fikry’s depiction of why he loves it that then introduces characters by what they read. 

Chief Lambiase visits the store often to check on Maya but to justify those visits he buys books and since he’s frugal, he reads them.  He starts with mass market paperbacks by James Patterson then Fikry directs him to Jo Nesbo, Elmore Leonard, Walter Mosley, Cormac McCarthy and eventually to Kate Atkinson. Lambiase loves talking about the books so he starts a book club for law enforcement officers. Touches like Lambiase's book club and the ways people connect through books make this a sure bet for avid readers. 
Fikry's new life means that he abandons his old lifestyle in which he claims that he’s not an alcoholic, “but I do like to drink until I pass out at least once a week. I smoke occasionally and subsist on a diet of frozen entrees. I rarely floss.”  He then realizes that “the most annoying thing about it is that once a person gives a shit about one thing, he finds he has to start giving a shit about everything.”
A novel highlighting a man reentering life needs a love interest and the charming Amelia Loman, a publisher’s rep for a small press, is his and she and Fikry slowly fall in love and the book begins to wend its way toward “happily ever after.” Complications ensue though in this always entertaining novel that’s sure to find its way to beaches everywhere this summer. Comparisons to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with its cast of lovable eccentrics are inevitable and apt as book-loving readers will immerse themselves in the lives of these bookish islanders.
Summing it Up:  Readers will flock to this page-turning look at literature and love.  Zevin’s dry humor and absolute love of the literary rescue The Storied Life of A.J. Fikryfrom being a Nicholas Sparks-like snorer. Instead, it’s a delectable dessert of a romance that even men (especially men who love books) can enjoy. Primarily though, this will be thebook every woman you know reads this summer. 

Footnote: As this is one of the big books of the spring, with everyone wanting copies for Mother's Day, the author may be coming to a town near you. Grab an autographed copy for your mother or yourself at one of her appearances. This captivating novel is an homage to independent bookstores so, if possible, buy your copy at a real bricks-and-mortar bookstore where you can share your love of books with real people.  

Rating:  5 stars   
Category: Dessert, Fiction, Five Stars, Book ClubPublication Date:  April 1, 2014

Author Website: http://gabriellezevin.com/

Author Interview: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/profiles/article/59892-by-the-book-gabrielle-zevin.html

Read an Excerpt: http://www.scribd.com/doc/206147464/The-Storied-Life-of-A-J-Fikry-Free-Preview-plus-Bonus-Material
What Others are Saying:
Foreword Reviews: https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/the-storied-life-of-a-j-fikry/
Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/gabrielle-zevin/storied-life-of-a-j-fikry/
Library Journal: http://reviews.libraryjournal.com/2013/12/readers-advisory/books-for-dudes/living-large-and-defying-death-books-for-dudes/
National Public Radio (NPR): http://www.npr.org/2014/03/28/294393870/in-storied-life-characters-come-with-a-reading-list?utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=npr&utm_campaign=nprnews&utm_content=03032014

Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-61620-321-4

Byrd by Kim Church

Sun, 03/16/2014 - 9:28am
Byrd is a quiet book that evokes timeless feelings about ordinary people, isolation, and identity while presenting an original take on a bookish young woman’s growth.  Addie Lockwood is a reader and Roland Rhodes is not.  Growing up together in a small North Carolina town in the 1970s, Roland is Addie’s first love.  They meet again in their thirties when a lonely and somewhat isolated Addie visits Roland in California.  When Addie has a baby and gives it up to adoption she doesn’t tell Roland who assumes she’s had the abortion that he’d encouraged. But who is Addie and why exactly does she give up the baby?  That and more is revealed in a series of letters Addie writes to her son, the boy she calls Byrd, the baby she’s given away so he can soar. Because the book is written in the third person, we see Addie both as she sees herself and as the universal “Addie” we might be in letters like this one:
Dear Byrd,What’s your name now, I wonder.  Not Blake, I hope, or Blair, or Smitty. Please, not Smitty.  I can guess what you’re thinking: what mother would name her child Byrd? But I knew the name wouldn’t follow you.  Which is partly why I chose it – I wanted a name no one else would ever call you. One thing about you that would be mine.
Debut author Kim Church peppers this novel with pithy, short-sentence gems that help the reader get to know each character well:
About Addie herself: “Addie believes in books. They are more interesting than real life and easier to understand.  Sometimes you can guess the ending. Things usually work out, and if they don’t you can always tell yourself it was only a book.” 
Addie won silver dollars in first grade for every 25 books she read.  She collected enough silver dollars to fill a peanut butter jar. “It makes her feel rich and important, like someone you might read about in a book.”
About Addie’s mother: “Addie’s mother works at the Carousel Shoppe selling expensive girls’ dresses to mothers who don’t have to work.”
About Addie’s brother: “Sam is four years younger than Addie, with eyes gray as nickels and hair so short you can’t tell what color it is.”
About Addie’s father: Addie’s father drinks.  A lot.
About Addie’s teen years: “High School.  Girls huddle in the hall talking in whispers . . . they wear makeup.  . . Boys love and fear them . . . Addie sometimes wishes she were one of them. She wishes she were one of anything.
When she writes, the rest of the world disappears.”
When Addie goes away to college, her brother Sam writes her:Dear Addie, this time he fell in the street and Mr. Davenport had to help us bring him in. Dear Addie, when are you coming home?Dear Addie, I can’t wait to be the one who leaves.
Addie’s letters made this reader “know” her and her family and friends by depicting them as commonplace people much as Emily in the play “Our Town” offered a true portrait of the family she left behind as seen when she returned to earth for a day.  Addie, too, looks back and states her philosophy:
Dear Byrd, I have learned that it’s possible to become satisfied with your life too soon.
One joy of this book is that as Addie matures and steps out of her isolation and her satisfaction with a half-lived life, the reader gets to step into that growth with her. Addie’s love for the child she gave up grows to include a world she was previously afraid of exploring.
This novel fits my Gourmet category because it proves that nothing is more gourmet than one perfect raspberry and Church’s simple, yet not simplistic, sentences are like perfect raspberries – small, yet filled with delight. It also fits the Grandma’s Pot Roast category because Addie is a character who will stick with you and satisfy you just as the curry stew she prepares will bring nourishment to those she loves.
Summing it Up: Devour this book because it shows how loneliness can be overcome if you live with hope but without expectations. Select it because you love books and books with a book-loving main character are like enjoying an all-day sucker in your favorite flavor. Read it for the richness and joy that leap off the final pages. Choose it for your book club; it’s an original paperback so all can buy it or download it the day it comes out. If your book club reads debut novels - and they should - this would be a good choice with much to discuss.
P.S. I rarely comment on book covers but this one is special. The striking title font and the solid bird perched on a leafless tree pull the reader into a story that shows how a child can rise like a bird and impact those left behind. Designer ilsa Brink deserves an award for capturing the book’s essence.
Rating:  5 stars
Category: Fiction, 5 Stars, Grandma’s Pot Roast/Gourmet, Book Club
Publication date: March 18, 2014
Author’s Website: http://www.kimchurch.com/index.html
Read an Excerpt:  http://kimchurch.com/author/book/excerpt/
Reading Group Guide: http://kimchurch.com/author/book-clubs/
What Others are Saying: BookPage: http://bookpage.com/reviews/16233-kim-church-byrd#.Uwd2GvldXNl

Charlotte Observer: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/03/28/4802229/book-review-byrd.html#.UzdSKvldWT9

Minneapolis Star Tribune: 
“Brilliant writing – lively and heartbreaking at every turn.”  - Jill McCorkle, New York Times bestselling author of Life After Life and winner of the Dos Passos Prize.
“A riveting debut.  Kim Church is a very talented writer.”  - Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of Serena and The Cove
“Addie is a particular woman—a character that will linger and grow beloved—but she could also be your sister, your roommate from college, a friend in the neighborhood. She’s still struggling in her thirties to make sense of old loves and loss that keeps cycling back into her life. A successful woman in the world, her heart remains in flux until love that can’t be budged finally takes root in her. Kim Church has imagined a world of good people missing the mark as good people sometimes do. They’re familiar, a comfort. I will never forget the impact of the final pages.” – Patricia Henley, National Book Award finalist and author of Hummingbird House

Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi

Wed, 03/05/2014 - 4:00pm
Holly and Corey are twins and Savitri, their neighbor, is dating Corey in this their senior year at a private Chicago high school. They act like family and Savitri who lives alone with her obstetrician mother needs those familial bonds. There are barely any Indian families in their neighborhood so Savitri assimilates and the Paxton twins become her family and the Hindu mythology she adds to their mix seems to enrich them all.  The inseparable trio are “freerunners” who treat the surfaces of Chicago buildings as their own gymnasium and obstacle course. They all live in Morgan Park, a far southwest side Chicago neighborhood peppered with old homes and established families. Savitri is a brilliant student who’s just heard that she’ll get into Princeton but the plan has always been for the three to stay together in Chicago with Holly at UIC for film and video, Corey at DePaul for computer science and Savitri at University of Chicago or Northwestern for “thinking-too-much.” Princeton was a long shot, a fantasy, but now it might threaten their carefully laid plans.
The afternoon Savitri learns about Princeton is an unexpectedly balmy day so Holly celebrates the false spring by dangling from the edge of a roof four stories above ground and the trio then ricochet off the façade of a standard row of Chicago storefronts in their own urban playground. Their “freerunning” antics show the invulnerability teens often express. Later Savitri’s car trails Corey and Holly’s Mini Cooper home and at a stoplight she watches a hooded gunman step out of an SUV and shoot Corey and Holly through their window. Corey dies immediately but Holly survives.  
In her coma and later, Holly dreams vivid scenes of a snake man who is keeping Corey in an eerie world only she  sees – a place called Shadowlands. When she wakes up, Holly won’t move beyond her dreams and Savitri tries to help her by ignoring her own grief and needs. Holly and Corey’s Dad, a cop, thinks Savitri has the clue to the gunman’s identity and presses her to find it. How the two girls and their parents work to overcome the enveloping grief and to learn the difference between a friend someone needs versus a friend someone wants is the beauty of this novel. 
The interspersed illustrated sections pack staccato punches just when simple prose isn’t enough. They bleed the hurt onto the page.  This is an amazing book that I had no idea would sock me in the solar plexus and leave me in tears yet help me think about how vulnerability is essential for growth.          “we are all vulnerable . . . It’s terrifying this life. Its precarious nature, its random un-design.”
Summing it Up: Read this graphic fiction hybrid for an emotional ride that will have you tearing through the pages as you live inside the real Chicago where Italian beef, roti, neighborhoods, families, cops, and sometimes even random acts of violence coexist. It’s too good for adults to ignore. Starred reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal explore the excellence of this genre-bending novel.
Graphic fiction hybrid   Ages 14 and up
Rating:  5 stars
Category: Fiction, 5 Stars, Diet Coke and Gummi Bears, Book Club
Publication date: September 24, 2013
Author’s Website: http://www.swatiavasthi.com/index.html
Read an Excerpt:  http://www.swatiavasthi.com/chasing.html
What Others are Saying:
Kirkus Reviews:  https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/swati-avasthi/chasing-shadows-avasthi/Publishers Weekly:  http://new.publishersweekly.com/978-0-375-86342-4School Library Journal:  http://www.slj.com/2013/11/reviews/pick-of-the-day/pick-of-the-day-chasing-shadows/#_

What's Your Favorite Love Story?

Fri, 02/14/2014 - 4:17pm
What’s your favorite love story?  Is it Pride and Prejudice or do you love something more modern like Chocolat?  Does your idea of a love story mean a romance like The Fault in Our Stars, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Me Before You, or Eleanor & Park or does it mean the kind of love shown in The Book Thief, Hannah Coulter, or The Summer Book?  One of my favorite love stories, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, has a touch of humor in addition to romance.  
What do your favorite love stories have that makes you enjoy them? Do you reread your favorites?  Is one perfect for Valentine's Day reading? 

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 9:39am
What does it mean to be brave when you’re an asthmatic 11-year-old girl, your mother has died and you’re in an exotic city where it’s eerily snowy?  It means that Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard is a courageous heroine with heart in this fresh take on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” It means that Ophelia will face numerous dangers to save a nameless boy, a marvelous boy, she meets. Ophelia, her older sister, Alice, and their father, one of the world’s leading experts on swords, are in the snowy city for Christmas week so her father can organize an exhibition in an enormous, yet curiously empty, museum that resembles the Russian Hermitage in many ways.
It’s a museum where: The guards sat in corners and knitted or dozed. Sometimes, they snarled and yelled like banshees for no good reason and other times, they let children climb on the glass cabinets, using the brass handles for footholds. Sometimes, they came rushing at people who just happened to stand too long in one place, and other times, they smiled huge toothless smiles and offered old fruit from their large black handbags.  The museum in the city where it always snowed was the type of place where a person could easily get lost. Miss Kaminski, the museum curator, had said so herself.  Miss Kaminski was dazzlingly beautiful. . . She had smiled at Ophelia and Alice before placing a perfectly manicured hand on their father’s arm.  “It is advisable that they do not wander alone,” Miss Kaminski said. “The museum is very big, and several girls have become lost and never been found.”  But Ophelia didn’t feel afraid.
Readers immediately surmise that Miss Kaminski, the museum curator, isn’t kind and isn’t what Ophelia’s smitten sister and father think she is.  How?  Miss Kaminski continually calls Ophelia every name imaginable except Ophelia and if someone refuses to acknowledge who you are, beware!   After all “The Marvelous Boy” of the title had his name taken and look where he is. He’s sitting ensnared in a hidden cell in the museum where he’s been held captive for over three centuries. Thankfully, a spell keeps the unseen Snow Queen from killing him outright but the curse will expire in just three days and he’ll die and the Snow Queen’s frosty wrath will be unleashed on the world. When Ophelia discovers the Marvelous Boy, he needs her help to save the world. It’s not a job Ophelia wants to take on as it involves ghosts, magical owls and snow queens and Ophelia believes in science not fantasy. “She didn’t believe in boys who came from elsewhere. She simply refused.”
But “that boy, locked behind that door, made her feel unsettled. . . He shouldn’t have been there, and he shouldn’t have spoken to her and he shouldn’t have asked her to save the world. . . But if she retrieved the key for him, then she could at least say she had helped. She could probably find his name too. . . If she could let him out and help him find his name, then at least he might be able to get home.” Thus begins Ophelia’s quest through the museum to open hidden rooms filled with “misery birds,” ghostly girls, and enchanted clocks to find a magical sword all while hiding her journey from her father and sister.  They all miss Ophelia’s mother who had died “exactly three months, seven days, and nine hours ago” and some of their unthinking actions reflect their grief.
What child doesn’t love a book set in a museum especially one in which a brave 11-year-old girl can save the world by using her brains, her inhaler, and her heart along with a tube of super glue and a can or two of sardines when needed. Adding to the mystical story are Yoko Tanaka’s evocative illustrations of the snowy museum garden, the unsettling hallways, and the room of clocks.
Summing it Up:  Australian author Karen Foxlee delivers a magical tale of wonder for fans of Harry Potter, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and traditional fairy tales. Children will devour this fantastic story as they’d down a thick mug of hot chocolate on a bitterly cold day.  Parts of the United States have spent the winter of 2013 - 14 in a snowy deep freeze and this tale is perfect for a snow day when all is still outside and magic is brewing by a cozy fire.
Ages 8 – 12              Rating:  5 stars         Category:  Five Stars, Peanut Butter and Jelly
Publication date:  January 28, 2014
Author Interview: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/interviews/article/60577-q-a-with-karen-foxlee.html
What Others are Saying:
Christian Science Monitor: http://www.csmonitor.com/Books/Book-Reviews/2014/0131/Ophelia-and-the-Marvelous-Boy
Kirkus: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/karen-foxlee/ophelia-and-the-marvelous-boy/
Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-385-75354-8

Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303947904579337583439173864

The Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2013

Tue, 01/07/2014 - 10:52am
Last year I compared the best mysteries and thrillers to phyllo dough pastries as you never know what delicious treat is inside them.  The best mysteries and thrillers of 2013 reminded me of a tasty appetizer I've made more times than I can remember. Brie with Caramelized Cranberry Onion Chutney is a staple at all our family’s holiday gatherings. The tangy sweet and sour taste of the cranberry onion chutney is a wonderful counterpoint to the creaminess of the brie just as the combination of evil juxtaposed with the sweetness of light trying to conquer it is in these books. (As a New Year’s gift, the recipe appears at the end of this post as well as in the incomparable Tastes and Tales Along the Tunnel of Trees Cookbook.)
The Best Mystery of 2013
How theLight Gets In by Louise Penny
The mystery's title is an homage to Leonard Cohen’s poem/song “Anthem” that states Ring the bells that still can ring, -- Forget your perfect offering, -- There’s a crack in everything. – That’s how the light gets in.  Penny beautifully depicts series hero Inspector Gamache’s evil boss Francour and the unspeakable horror he tries to let loose in Quebec.  Intertwined plots involving the murder of the last surviving Ouellet quintuplet and more intrigue behind the scenes in the town of Three Pines make this the best in a long line of fabulous mysteries.  If you haven’t read any in the series, start at the beginning with Still Life so you’ll be able to savor all the characters and understand how they've evolved.  All you have to do is read one of these books and you’ll want to move to Three Pines.
The Runner-Up:
The Cutting Season by Attica Locke (published in 2012)
The Cutting Season stirs up questions about slavery’s cruel past while providing a chilling, atmospheric mystery. Caren and her young daughter live on a historic Louisiana plantation where her mother cooked and her ancestors were enslaved. She runs it as a wedding and event site for the wealthy owners but a migrant worker’s murder at the edge of the property threatens to derail her carefully composed life. This southern Gothic novel was the first work published by Dennis LeHane’s new imprint.
The Best Suspense Novel I read in 2013
31 Hours by Masha Hamilton (published in 2009)
When 21-year-old Jonas’s mother wakes up in the middle of the night she just knows that her son is in danger. Neither she nor his girlfriend have heard from him and they can’t reach him. Should she call the police? Could a good kid become a fanatic? Can the police find him and stop him in the next 31 hours?  I held my breath for the last fifty pages. Only someone with Hamilton’s Middle East knowledge could write a story like this and make it so real and terrifying.
The Runner-Up:
The Intercept by Dick Wolf (published December, 2012)
Wolf, the creator of TV’s “Law and Order” knocks it out of the park with this suspense-filled thriller featuring two NYPD intelligence officers trying to find a suspicious passenger who’s disappeared after a terrorist incident on a jet over the Atlantic.  With it set just before the Fourth of July and a dedication at Ground Zero, readers will not be able to sleep as time runs out on the detectives in this Day of the Jackal-like thriller.
The Best Mystery/Historical Fiction I read in 2013
The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye (published in 2012)
Gods of Gotham is set in 1845 New York City when Irish immigrants are flooding the city and anti-Catholic sentiments run high. Timothy Wilde is a fledgling Cop (named for his copper star) in the newly formed police department when a 12-year-old murder victim and a girl named Bird lead him to an underground world with its own language. It’s extraordinary and the good news is that Wilde is back in the sequel Seven for a Secret. This is also a great book club choice.
The Best Psychological Thriller I read in 2013
Broken Harbor by Tana French (published in 2012)
Two small children and their father are murdered in their home in Broken Harbor, an abandoned, half-built “luxury” development outside Dublin. Jenny, the mother, clings to life as Detective “Scorcher” Kennedy tries to find clues in all the baby monitors, holes in the walls, and an unexplained break in. But something bad happened to Scorcher’s family in Broken Harbor years before and it might derail the investigation. French really knows how to write psychological thrillers and this one with its look at how families can disintegrate during a recession is no exception.
The Best Debut Mystery/Thriller of 2013
The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne
Scottish author Ballantyne’s debut is a psychological thriller for fans of Defending Jacob and Tana French’s novels.  When eight-year-old Ben Stokes body is found in a playground outside London, his 11-year-old neighbor, Sebastien, is charged with the crime.  Daniel, Sebastien’s lawyer, doesn’t know what to think of the brash child and his edgy mother and irritating father but the case haunts him and brings up his own troubled childhood. In alternating chapters Daniel’s past with his foster mother, Minnie, is slowly revealed showing why Daniel has such empathy for his client.  When Sebastien’s father hires a new lawyer and Daniel learns more about Minnie, the book soars. Minnie is such a great character that I hope this will be made into a movie so I can “see” her again.  It’s a perfect choice for book clubs as there’s so much to ponder.
The Best Mystery with Characters We Rarely Encounter
Mission by Peter Robertson
Mission is a traditional mystery with a unique setting and a compelling protagonist. After Tom, a Scottish expat, helps pull the body of a homeless man from the surging waters of Boulder Creek he attempts to find out why the man died and learns more about his own past. It’s a nuanced look at those we rarely see.  A mystery that introduces realistic homeless characters alongside people from churches, libraries and an industry (no spoilers on the industry)  we seldom encounter is cause for celebration.Here’s the recipe. Find it and many more in Tastes and Tales Alongthe Tunnel of Trees Cookbook available from bookstores and retailers in northern Michigan.
Brie with Caramelized Cranberry Onion ChutneyIngredients:2 tablespoons butter, melted in a 10” skillet1 medium onion, thinly sliced and quartered1/2 cup dried cranberries, blueberries or cherries, chopped1 tablespoon packed brown sugar1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegarCooking spray1 round (15 ounces) Brie cheeseUnflavored water crackers
·       Melt butter over medium heat. Cook onion in butter for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in berries, brown sugar and vinegar. Cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently until mixture thickens and caramelizes.
·       Preheat oven to 350⁰ and spray an ovenproof glass or pottery tart or pie pan with cooking spray.  Place cheese on center of pan.  Bake uncovered 10 – 15 minutes or until cheese is soft.  Spoon cranberry and onion topping over cheese.  Serve with unflavored water crackers.
The topping can be made up to 24 hours ahead and covered and refrigerated. Reheat the topping in the microwave.  

The Best Books to Inspire You in the New Year

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 3:24pm
When I think of the word inspire, I’m inclined toward the word’s root meaning of breathing in or inhaling. For me reading is akin to survival as I continuously inhale ideas, word pictures, and stories.  That means that my choices for the best inspiring books are the ones that fill me to the brim with thoughts that arouse me to do something or that make me different than I was before the words entered me. It seems I’m not the only one with that feeling.  Kirkus Reviews in a recent article noted: 
Too many books sold on the inspirational shelves at bookstores are anything but—the advice they offer is too easily considered and sometimes pitying. In selecting the books for this . . . list, we looked for novels and nonfiction whose characters face tough battles: “tenacity and perseverance prove life can be good,” for example, in the case of Mardi Jo Link’s memoir Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm. Or as our reviewer writes about the abolitionist John Brown in National Book Award winner James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird, “his soul does indeed go marching on.”
I thoroughly agree with Kirkus Reviews’ selection of Bootstrapper and The Good Lord Bird as books to genuinely inspire your new year.  My choices for The Best Books to Inspire You in the New Year are (in alphabetical order by title):
Bootstrapper by MardiJo Link illustrates a single-mother’s fierce love for her three sons in this ode to tenacity, honesty, authenticity, and creative survival skills . . . Share the ride that is motherhood with this authentic woman who uses much more than just her boots to pull herself out of misery and insolvency into a life well lived.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent tells the story of Agnes, the last person executed in Iceland in 1828.  The effect Agnes has on the family charged with housing her in the months before her execution and on the young priest given the task of preparing her spiritually will imbue you with a feeling of wonder at the difference that one person can make. It will also intensify your understanding of the evils of poverty.
The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers tells of Agnès Morel whose past threatens to derail her full and connected life in the cathedral town.  She confronts her trauma and the reader sees why she’s indispensable. It’s similar to Chocolat - filled with kindness, healing, and love
Dog Stars by Peter Heller is a post-apocalyptic tale of a man who loses his pregnant wife when disease kills off most of the world. Nine years later he and other survivors and his wonderful dog work to remake the world in love.
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride testifies to the difference John Brown made in American history while telling the tale with a Mark Twain touch through a wryly concocted character.
Jewelweed by David Rhodes shows how people can overcome mistakes they've made if they’ll just allow others to “touch” them. It’s set in Words, Wisconsin, the town of Rhodes magnificent novel Driftless. Everyone in this novel makes a difference.
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger tells of a small-town, 13-year-old boy’s 1961 summer of death, fear, murder and suicide that instead of being sad is filled with “ordinary grace.”
600 Hours of Edward by Craig Lancaster introduces Edward, a 39-year-old man dealing with Asperger’s and OCD, who opens himself to new experiences and hope.

The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagame tells of his challenges as a 6’ 7“ giant of a man who faces severe Tourette ’s syndrome symptoms and whose persistence leads him into a joy-filled life as a weight-lifting, Mormon librarian.

The Best Books of 2013!

Mon, 12/30/2013 - 3:22pm

If I've written a complete review of any of the books listed, the link is embedded in the title. Short descriptions of all the titles listed below can be found here

2013 – Best Book of the Year Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

2013 – Best Book Sure to be a Classic (Published in 2011 but I read it in 2013)Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
2013 – The Best Novel of the Year The Benediction by Kent Haruf
Runners-up: Dog Stars by Peter Heller (2012),  Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Fault in our Stars by John Green (2012), The Good Lord Bird by James McBride, Transatlanticby Colum McCann, Someone by Alice McDermott, and What Changes Everything by Masha Hamilton
2013 – The Best Nonfiction Book of the YearMen We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
2013 – The Best Memoir of the YearBootstrapper by Mardi Jo Link
Runner-up: The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagame
2013 – The Best Historical Fiction Novel of the YearThe Good Lord Birdby James McBride
Runners-Up:Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, Transatlantic by Colum McCann, The Blue Fox by Sjón, Testing the Current (originally published in 1984, reissued in 2013) by William McPherson
2013 – The Best Debut Novel of the YearBurial Rites by Hannah Kent
Runners Up: Two Great Novels published in 2012 that I read in 2013Billy Lynn’s Long Half-timeWalk by Ben Fountain Fobbit by David Abrams
2013 – Best Post-Apocalyptic Novel (Published in 2012 but I read it in 2013)Dog Stars by Peter Heller

2013 - Best Books about War Told with Irony
Billy Lynn’s Long Half-timeWalk by Ben Fountain (Published in 2012)Fobbit by David Abrams (Published in 2012)
2013 – The Best Book Club Book in Years (I led two discussions of it in 2013.)Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
2013 – Best Book for Book Club Discussion in 2014What ChangesEverything by Masha Hamilton
2013 – The Best “Tapas” Book(s) of the Year (short stories or novellas)The Tenth of December by George SaundersandThe Blue Fox by Sjón
2013 – Best Love StoryA Tie between Two Young Adult Novels – one from 2012 and one from 2013The Fault in our Starsby John Green (2012) and Eleanor & Parkby Rainbow Rowell (2013)

2013 – Best “Escape” Novel
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

2013 – Best “Grits” Book – Evoking the American SouthThe Cove by Ron RashandFlora by Gail Godwin
2013 – Best “Cure for a Bad Day” Book - FictionThe Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers
2013 – Best “Cure for a Bad Day” Book - NonfictionThe Telling Room by Michael Paterniti
2013 – Best Thriller or Suspense Novel 31 Hours by Masha Hamilton (Published in 2009)
2013 – Best Mystery How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
2013 – Best Mystery/Historical Fiction (and I learned a lot reading it)The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye (Published in 2012)
2013 – Best Super Nutrition Novel (Informative as well as a Great Read)The Good Lord Birdby James McBrideTransatlantic by Colum McCannWhat ChangesEverything by Masha Hamilton
2013 – Best Super Nutrition Nonfiction Book of the Year (Informative as well as a Great Read)Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael MossandCatherine the Great by Robert Massie (Published in 2011)
2013 – Best Humorous Book of the YearDad is Fat by Dave Gaffigan
2013 – Best Book for the SoulOrdinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
2013 – Best Children’s Picture BookThe Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
2013 – Best Children’s Book for Middle ReadersFlora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (Ages 9 – 12)
2013 – Best Children’s Book for Kids Who Prefer Video Games to BooksEscape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabensein (Ages 8 – 13)
2013 – Best Children’s Series I Discovered This YearThe Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone (Ages 8 – 12)
2013 – Best Young Adult Novel Published in 2013Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
2013 – Best Young Adult Novel Published Before 2013 (but I read it in 2013)The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
2013 – Best Cookbook (and self-serving promotion of the year)Tastes and Tales Along the Tunnel of Trees  (Caveat: I co-edited this as a fundraiser for the RFC Fire and Rescue Squad.)