Lily King has written a fascinating pot-boiler set in New Guinea in the 30's during the heyday of cultural anthropology. She beautifully imagines a complex, intellectual love triangle among three young, ambitious and tortured anthropologists. Loosely based on the life of Margaret Mead. Field work, indeed. This book is terrific.
What is Jake Whyte fleeing from? That's the central question in this dark propellent of a novel written by Evie Wyld, one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists. The novel, which goes back and forth in time, but is easily understandable, starts with Jake on a windswept British island trying to figure out who (or what) is picking off her sheep. Jake is a loner, but why? How did she get the scars on her back? Why is she estranged from her family in Australia? With each chapter, the reader learns what has driven Jake to this lonely existence. Wyld's writing is atmospheric, wild and scary, but there is a sense of redemption in the end. Not an easy book to read, but I couldn't put it down.
Every war is its own hell and has its own literature, and that from the Gulf Wars is just now percolating from authors like Kevin Powers (Yellow
Birds) and Ben Fountain (Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk). Redeployment is a masterful collection of 12 short stories from Dartmouth grad and Marine Corps vet Phil Klay. Mesmerizing, powerful and unforgettable tales about war and the cost of battle.
Shotgun Lovesongs is a paean to small town life. Butler lets five friends, one a famous indie rock musician, who grew up in the bucolic midwestern town of Little Wing, Wisconsin, tell about their intertwined lives, loves and trials. He captures the depth and dependence of relationships, forged in youth, that small town life engenders. And, while he inches close to the brink of sentimentality, he rarely breaches it. At the end you will be sorely tempted to buy a one way bus ticket to Little Wing.
Not many writers can write about having cancer with the warmth and humor that Roddy Doyle brings to The Guts. You might remember Jimmy Rabbitte, former manager of the band The Commitments? Well, he's middle-aged now, and has a wife and four kids he adores.....and cancer. This book is about how he deals both in good and understandably bad ways with his illness. It's a hugely likeable and funny book(how many cancer patients do you know who want to name their new dog "Chemo"? ), which is more about what it means to be in and of a family, than cancer.
This is a terrific book to have at your bedside, especially when you are tired and in between novels, and it's too dispiriting to root through the foot-high piles of the New Yorker for something short to read. It's a collection of stories from the popular public radio short story show, The Moth Radio Hour. Few are more than 5 pages long, and the subject matter is as varied as poker, wedding toasts, Mother Theresa, and test monkeys. Some of the authors you have heard of; most you haven't, and all I can say is that it's very hard to read just one of these tales before you drop off.
Olivia Laing has written an engrossing book that will have you rummaging through your shelves to re-read authors Ernest Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver. All these authors, among America's best, were bedeviled, for lack of a better word, by alcohol. Laing explores how drinking permeated their lives and she is best when she delves into how it laced through their art.
The costs of war are not always obvious to those citizens who do not fight. (And let's not forget that all military personnel make up less than one percent of the U.S. population) This brave book, by David Finkel (author of The Good Soldiers), tells the personal and heart-wrenching stories of a number of
soldiers, injured in mind or body, or both, who come home. How are they treated, both by the medical and military establishments, their peers, and by their communities? What do their partners and children experience? Why can't the U.S. get a handle on the shocking suicide rate of returning vets? This is a heartbreaking, well-written, important book.
It's hard to turn around in a bookstore these days without knocking over a pile of novels set during WWII. This one, as indicated by the deceptively mundane title, is set after the war, in Hamburg, 1946. A decorated British colonel is sent there to help rebuild the city and de-Nazify the people. He brings his wife and one son, the other having died in a bombing back home. He is quartered in the large house of a German architect, and in a break from tradition decides to share the house with the architect and his daughter. A great deal of adapting occurs, both in the house and outside, where feral groups of starving roam, and some defeated Germans are acting not so defeated. A fascinating look at post-war Europe. Already optioned for the movies…
This book is less about Claire, the titular child who goes missing and stays so for most of the book, than it is about the braided lives and loves of the inhabitants of the small seaside Haitian town of Ville Rose. It's also less steeped in the violent history of Haiti than Danticat's most recent devastating novel, The Dew Breakers. While she writes no fairy tale here -- there is tragedy, and loss -- Danticat's writing is often mystical and poetic. She has created a town and people you won't soon forget.
This engrossing Somerset Maugham-like novel will put you right in the middle of post WWII Malaysia (or Malaya as it was called). A war-scarred woman, the sole survivor of a camp where she was a "guest of the Emperor" or POW, tries to vanquish her numerous ghosts by apprenticing herself to a mysterious exiled Japanese gardener. He is not quite what he seems, but then neither is she. Themes of memory and loss, lies and secrets pervade this book. A good exotic book to get lost in. (Oh, and you will learn a lot about Japanese gardens and tattooing.)
Having a Harry Hole/Jo Nesbo thriller in my house is like being hungry and locked in a room with a bowl of roasted cashews. They will be eaten. The book will likewise be consumed, usually in one sitting. When last we left Harry Hole in Phantom, he was a goner, or so we thought. He's back, and more clever and anguished than ever in his efforts to catch a diabolical and ruthless police killer. If you are a Harry Hole fan you know what to expect -- good writing, well-drawn characters, ceaseless suspense, gruesome deaths. If you aren't a Harry Hole devotee (yet) you might want to start with The Bat, or Redbreast and read your way through the series, as Nesbo often refers to earlier characters and cases.
A discerning patron of the NBS told me this was the most affecting book she had read in the past year. A tornado hits a Midwestern city. Every family in the town loses someone or something; some lose all. Except for one family, which survives intact and unscathed. This impressive first novel deals with how the town treats this family in the aftermath of destruction, and how the family copes. A timely and affecting book.
A remarkable book. It's about a woman who grew up in Liberia, and given that country's violent and disturbing recent history, readers should know that this is a difficult story. The main character, adrift in every way, is trying to come to terms with a past that's impossible to come to terms with. That said, the book is beautifully written, truly gets inside its character and is ultimately very moving.
A faithful bookstore patron once told me that he thought the Harry Holet mysteries of Jo Nesbo were a bit "lugubrious." I agreed with him and then went to look up lugubrious in the dictionary. He's dead on. These novels are dark, moody, mournful--but, oh-so-good. This is the debut in the series, first published in 1992. Set in Sydney, it’s a MUST for all Harry Hole devotees
This is one in a long line of what I call "ICA" memoirs -- ICA being "I Conquered Adversity" -- adversity defined as alcohol or drug addiction, substandard parenting, bad (sometimes REALLY bad!), lovers, psychological issues, the Pacific Coast Trail, etc. You get the drift. Mardi Jo Link's nemeses include a bad divorce and subsequent poverty. This is the story of how she holds onto her farm in northern Michigan and creates a home for her three boys. She tells good, funny stories, comes through her trials, and finds true love. (One hopes.)
If you are a fan of tradecraft (how to do things, e.g. rob a casino, pack a getaway bag, disappear without a trace, break into a storage facility -- you never know when those skills will come in handy) this is the suspense-filled thriller for you. FYI, a "ghostman" is a disappearance specialist. I disappeared into this book and didn't come out for several hours.
Snapper is about Indiana and birdwatching -- wait, wait, don't stop reading this yet -- this book is charming, well-written and good, especially for a debut novel. Yes, it's set in Indiana, and yes the main character is a birdwatcher, but he truly loves and knows birds and he's funny and and the combination of those qualities is pretty irresistible. Throw in a mysterious, hard-to-get (or rather, easy-to-get, hard-to-keep) girlfriend and a rogue snapping turtle, you've got yourself a pretty good story. Besides, you can't beat the cover.
Whenever I am blue, I reach for one of two authors: P.G. Wodehouse or David Sedaris. Both of them make me snort with laughter, and it's pretty hard to be sad when you are snorting with laughter. David Sedaris' new collection of essays, many of which were first published in the New Yorker, is, as usual, hilarious. Whether he's writing about strangers on a train, the ghoulishness of taxidermy, especially when it involves humans (hard to explain; you'll just have to read it), and the peculiar sociology of a North Carolina Costco-- you can't help but laugh.
This memoir is astounding. Domenica Ruta grows up in working class Massachusetts with a dealer/user mother. The family is subject to wild economic swings, rolling in it one day, having a hard time heating the house the next. Her mother loves her in her own warped way, but to survive Domenica has to get away. This book is about how she did it and it's funny, horrifying and wonderfully written. It'll stay with you. In the end it's about the ability of the written word to make sense -- and art -- of the confounding. If you like Mary Karr, or Geoffrey Wolff, you will love this.
You are fifteen years old and your parents decide, on little more than a whim it seems, to rob a bank. Being rank amateurs, they are caught and sent to prison. What do you do? Where do you go? And how does this affect you -- how you think, feel, and remember? These are the questions Richard Ford, author of the Bascombe novels The Sportswriter and Independence Day, asks in Canada. Del, the main character, ends up going north to Canada, where he comes under the tutelage of an American with a violent and shady past. I found this book profoundly moving in its depiction of a child left adrift to forge a life.
This is the time of year when many of us focus on what we want to change about ourselves. Eat better! Lose weight! Exercise more! Stop Smoking! Buy more books at local independent bookstores! (ok, ok). This all takes willpower and few understand how willpower is used, how it's strengthened, and how it gets depleted. Co-authors Baumeister and Tierney have written a readable and useful book about all this, based on a number of fascinating and often counter-intuitive psychological experiments and studies.
This is, if you'll forgive the expression, a mouthwatering book. Just read a few of the titles: “Ode to Chicken”; “Display of Mackerel”; “Grapefruit”; “The Gospel of Barbecue”; “O Cheese” (a personal favorite); “Frying Trout While Drunk”; and, “Poem with a Cucumber in It”. And it includes the famous poem by William Carlos Williams about plums (and so much more) which you have always meant to memorize....but haven't.
The New York Times reviewer said that, "George Saunders has written the best book you'll read this year." A pretty bold prediction for the beginning of January, but he might be right. Saunders is a clever satirist, but, unlike some, he has a big heart. Difficult to characterize (you'll just have to read them!) his quirky tales draw you in and the magnificently original writing keeps you reading, even when you don't quite grasp what's going on. Then when you get to the end of a story, you want to read it all over again, to see what you missed! And did I mention Saunders is laugh-out-loud funny, reason enough to read any book. I'm with the New York Times on Tenth of December!
Ok, all you bakers, and baker wannabees -- I dare you! Look at page 174...Look at 98...And 77. Now tell me you don't want this book and want to make these desserts? The pictures are fabulous, the directions clear and clever, the ingredient lists obvious. I want to make just about everything. This is the second cookbook (Sugar Baby was the first) by Bullock-Prado, who has a bakery in Vermont and lives in Hartford.
War is never easy to read about, and the Iraq War is certainly no exception. That said, some books about war NEED to be read, and this is one of them. It's the equivalent, in my opinion, of Red Badge of Courage, and All Quiet on the Western Front. Two young men, ages 18 and 21,are engaged in a bloody battle for the city of Al Tafar. The older tries to support the younger, but the boy becomes increasingly unhinged. The novel switches back in forth in time....alternating war scenes and events, with scenes set back in the U.S. after one of the soldiers comes home. All of the book is well done -- war written about by a poet -- but the depiction of the difficulties and the alienation of a soldier who returns home after the harrowing experiences of war, is especially poignant.
Frances Thorpe is one clever girl, but not necessarily in a good way. She happens to come across the aftermath of a bad car accident and comforts a dying woman, the "Alys" of the title. Frances wants to BECOME that woman and she quietly and slowly, but definitely, insinuates herself deep into the dead woman's family. This is a chilling and well-observed character study of a master manipulator.
Farro, Bulgur, Kamut, Aramanth, Quinoa, Spelt. They may just look like good Scrabble words, but they are actually delicious whole grains that can serve as the base for any number of mouth-watering dishes, from soups to desserts. Open this book and you will open up a whole new (actually old) world of whole grains.
This is the sequel to what Fuller's mother calls "THAT AWFUL BOOK:" Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood. Written ten years after, this is the story of how Fuller's parents settle in Africa. While it's a tale full of wrenching personal tragedy, hard times and war(s), it's also the story of a couple of indomitable spirits, Nicola and Tim Fuller, whose love of Africa carries them through. Fuller doesn't sugarcoat the role of white settlers in Africa, either, so you might learn something. A compelling story.
If the rule for real estate is "location, location, location," then the rule for Alan Furst cloak and dagger novels set before/during WW2 is "atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere," and Mission to Paris has that in spades. The City of Light in the fall, with her swirling leaves and misty nights, is the perfect locale for a thriller involving movie star Fredric Stahl. It's 1938 and he's shooting a movie in the city. Pro-Nazi forces AND the Americans are vying for his support and help. There's intrigue, emigres, bodies, and of course, romance, (This IS Alan Furst, after all), with Paris as the ultimate aphrodisiac. A must read for all old Furst fans and it will surely create new ones.
Washington (and Barnard VT) writer Rachel Cox has written an inspiring, moving tale of five Ivy Leaguers who left their schools to fight the good fight. Frustrated because the U.S. had not entered the war yet -- this was six months before Pearl Harbor -- the five joined the British Army and ended up fighting in North Africa. Cox draws on eloquently written letters (remember those?) and journals for her story, which is artfully and compassionately told. Please read this dramatic tale of war and sacrifice, courage and determination, (which has "movie" written all over it.) You won't be sorry.
You know you should read more classics. Shoot, that's why they are called classics! You might want to start with (or reread) The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton. Thwarted love, foreign beauties, social-climbing New Yorkers, calculating spouses -- the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel set in "old New York," couldn't be more modern. And it will go down a lot easier than those fish oil capsules you know you should be taking.
If you like family sagas, replete with passionate marriages, tragically flawed main characters, traumatic historical events, all spanning decades, this is the book for you. Behrens tells the story of the O'Briens, a restless Irish clan led by dark-haired, blue-eyed Joe O'Brien, a boy raised in rural Canada, who becomes a railroad magnate. Irresistible.
I'll be a monkey's uncle if this book doesn't win a Pulitzer. Don't let the subject matter -- life in a Mumbai slum -- deter you. This is a masterpiece of reportage -- Boo spent four years in and out of the slum -- written like a novel. She brilliantly elucidates, with compassion and wisdom, a world hidden to most of us.
When was the last time you read a thriller set in North Korea? Let me guess, how about never? Start with The Orphan Master's Son, an engrossing, fast-paced and well-researched adventure/love story, set in a part of the world most of us know very little about, and that Johnson seems to have down cold.
For a first novel, The Starboard Sea, is simply amazing. Set at a New England boarding school, it tells of an 18 year old sailing prodigy who's lost his best friend, and how he comes to terms with that loss, and others. He loves the sea and everything to do with it (you'll learn a lot about knots, and wind and waves) and the vocabulary of the ocean and sailing beautifully permeate the whole book.