Carin Pratt moved to Strafford, Vermont, 12 years ago from Washington D.C. where she worked at CBS News for 27 years, the last 20 as Executive Producer of Face the Nation. Her husband, John Echeverria, is a professor at Vermont Law School, and she has two grown sons. She likes to hike, cook, garden, bike, horseback ride. She reads a lot.
The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store is one of this year's very best novels. Set in '72 in Chicken Hill, an immigrant-filled neighborhood in PA, it starts ostensibly as a mystery: a body is found in a well....how did it get there? I can't possibly do justice to the literary machinations McBride is so good at, braiding the history of different neighborhood residents within the intricate plot. It may be a historical (not to mention funny) saga, but it is ultimately about some of the myriad kinds of love: the desperate love of a spouse for his ill partner, the fierce love a childless woman has for a boy who so needs a mother, the casual love of friends who periodically find in each other shelter from the storm, the necessary love between two inmates locked in an accursed institution. This is just one of my takeaways from this wonderful book, which will stick with you. -Carin
The subtitle sort of says it all: A Novel of Murder, Loss, and Vengeance. Union soldier John Chenneville is slowly recovering from a head wound sustained in a depot explosion during the last few months of the Civil War. Still recovering, he travels home only to find that his beloved sister, her husband (a former Confederate), and their child have been brutally killed. Chenneville tracks the murderer south, through Oklahoma and on to Texas, bound for justice. Jiles is particularly good at describing this perilous time and equally adept with her usage of historical fact and detail. Chenneville, too, is an appealing character, driven and stubborn for sure, but in an honorable way. You can't help but root for him, despite his ultimate aim. -Carin
British soldiers suffering "shell shock" from the hellscape of WWI went to Scotland's Craiglockhart War Hospital, hopefully to recover. Some did; many didn't. Charles Glass' book tells the fascinating story of some of the more famous residents, including poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and how they were treated by compassionate doctors learning themselves to deal with this modern affliction. For fans of The War in Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell, and the incomparable WWI Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker. -Carin
Irish noir is not everyone's cuppa tea, but it's mine and Kala is totally addictive, and really, more than noir. Kala, one of 6 inseparable friends in a backwater Irish town, goes missing at age 15. Now, years later, three of the group are home when her remains are found. Determined to find out just what happened to their magnetic and brave friend, they scour the past and present to unlock the secrets of the town and her murder. Totally addictive. A debut novel, but you would never know it. -Carin
Reading Richard Russo is like slipping your weary dogs into a pair of old slippers, down at the heel but still comfy. He is one of America's best comedic storytellers, more chuckle than guffaw kind of humor. Somebody's Fool is the third in the North Bath Trilogy (Nobody's Fool and Everybody's Fool are 1 and 2), and it is a masterclass in depicting the relationship intricacies and complications that come with living in a small town for a long time. Patriarch Sully (played by Paul Newman in the '94 film of Nobody's Fool) is no longer, but his cranky spirit lives on in his son and friends and their lovers, who get into all kinds of tricky situations. This is a book with a lot of heart that's not sentimental. Perfect for summer. -Carin
Eng wrote two of my favorite books: The Gift of Rain and The Garden of Evening Mists...I just had to wait about ten years for his third but it's well worth it. Set in the exotic South Seas, The House of Doors is a fictionalized account of a trip the writer Somerset Maugham took to Penang in 1921 to stay with an old friend and his wife. There's the usual evocative, mesmerizing writing of Eng, a couple of intrigues, betrayal and secrets, of course, and a murder trial to boot. All against the backdrop of colonialism and revolution. Wonderful storytelling. -Carin
Moore’s spare, evocative and compelling writing anchors this novel about a woman on the run in the mid-1800s Minnesota Territory. Fleeing abuse, she doggedly creates a new life for herself only to be caught up in the Sioux Uprising of 1862. Vivid and devastating, this story of frontier survival might change how you look at Manifest Destiny. -Carin
Carney’s back! Your favorite furniture salesman cum jewelry fence from Harlem Shuffle. This time, to start, Carney needs Jackson Five tickets (event is sold out) for his daughter. To get them, well, he’s got to get back in the game. (“Crooked stays crooked and bent hates straight.”) Read it, yes, for the hijinks, the humor, the frequent well-turned phrase and sociological insight. Honor it also for the vivid and knowledgeable depiction of a certain time in a certain place: 1970s Harlem. This book is a total blast. -Carin
How’s it go? “Love the sinner, hate the sin? “. When it comes to consuming art produced by demonstrably horrible people (Roman Polanski, Picasso, Woody Allen, etc.,) should the phrase be “hate the artist, love the art?” Or disdain both? That’s the question at the heart of Claire Dederer’s fascinating, closely reasoned Monsters. This is not a new question but Dederer makes it fresh and lively. Ultimately consumers will have to make up their own minds, as it should be. -Carin
Cosby (Blacktop Wasteland, Razorblade Tears) is just getting better and better. His latest delves into disturbing material — school shooting, serial killers, racism. Titus Crowne is the first black sheriff in Charon County, VA. Former FBI, he came home to Charon and now has a whole lot on his plate, including the past. A good police procedural, yes, but most interesting to me was the depiction of the complicated life and work of a black cop in a Southern town. - Carin
Nothing like a good shipwreck tale to help get you through mudseason....which is a cakewalk, to say the least, compared with life on an 18th Century ship. Typhus, scurvy, enemy cannonballs, navigational issues, floggings, storms, bad food! And that's all before the Wager was shipwrecked off Patagonia. With his usual verve and impetus, David Grann (Killers of the Flower Moon, and The Lost City of Z) tells the tale of the sailors and their ordeal. There were factions and the captain was abandoned on the shore when a number of sailors rebuilt a boat and sailed off. Eventually both groups of sailors landed back in England and a war over who was telling the truth about the mutiny began. If you like Mutiny on the Bounty or The Endurance, this is the book for you. -Carin
As a rule, horror stories have never appealed to me, but I'm trying to be braver (expanding my reading into new literary genres seem to be the only extent of that bravery, but hey.) Lone Women has been called horror, but it's more a mashup of a number of genres: horror, western, feminist survival story, historical fiction, suspense...In 1914 Adelaide Henry lands in Montana, coming from California with little but her steamer trunk. She's on the run, but why? And what the hell is IN that steamer trunk anyway? In any case she has to survive, a black woman in one of the whitest, man-centric states in the country. AND it's 1914, not exactly a banner time for single women. How she does survive is the story -- that and what's in the trunk -- and it's absolutely riveting, albeit a tad violent. LaValle knows what he's doing. I'm pretty sure there's a parable in there somewhere, but since parables are more often than not totally lost on me, I'll leave it to you readers to determine what it is. -Carin
Classic Dennis Lehane: A thriller that's hard to read because of the virulent racism that suffused South Boston in the 70's, but also impossible to put down. Southie, summer of '74. The weather's hot and the busing controversy is making things hotter. A young white girl goes missing....and a young black man is found dead on the subway tracks. What happened? Are the two situations related somehow? The girl's mother, who's as imaginatively vengeful as a distressed mother can get, will find out come hell or highwater. Movie, movie, movie. (And I've already done the casting, if only they would call.) -Carin
Essex Dogs is medieval historian Dan Jones' first foray into fiction and it's a doozy. The Dogs are a motley crew of ten British, Scottish, and Welsh soldiers who land in Normandy in 1346, tasked with retaking the throne from the French. Led by a captain whose life and war experience have made him a reluctant warrior, they head south, battling the French all the way to Crecy. Jones knows his medieval wars and weaponry and if you don't mind a few (ok, a lot) of body parts flying around, you will enjoy this depiction of the early days of the Hundred Years War. First in a planned trilogy. I'm in.... -Carin
This is what I call a "braided" novel. And it's really good. Set in colonial Australia, the main event is a six year old boy getting lost in the outback in a ferocious dust storm. McFarlane tells the stories of the people who join the desperate search for the boy, from family members to indigenous trackers to passers by. (The sun is a character too...) The question of the boy's survival crackles like a live wire under these braided stories. I told an Australian friend to read it and she said, "I see why everybody is talking about McFarlane's strikingly original prose." Grips from the first page. -Carin
Chosen as one of the best of the year by the New York Times, this memoir/history deserves any and all accolades. It's a honker for sure, more than 600 pages, but so worth the time. O'Toole has written a compelling history of Ireland from 1958 to the present, seen through the prism of his personal life. You will learn more about Ireland than you perhaps want to. Clear-eyed and impressively researched and detailed, We Don't Know Ourselves is remarkable. I have never read anything like it. -Carin
This brutal thriller/family saga set in modern India is hard to stop reading. While long, it speeds along like the fancy cars the corrupt Wadia family like to drive around Delhi. Shakespearean plots involving betrayal, greed, conspiracy and romance are woven into this complicated tale of gangsters and their family members, journalists, and the underclass. For fans of Don Winslow (Mexico) and Marlon James (Jamaica).
Having been told at a tender age that I didn't have the body for ballet (I mean, all true, but really??) I have a love/hate relationship with the art. So I was reluctant to read this book....but so glad I did. The main character, Carlisle, has a mother who danced for Balanchine, and a father who manages a ballet company, but who left her mother for another man. Carlisle is too tall to be a dancer so becomes a choreographer. I found this novel to be wonderfully immersive and moving. Mistakes, of course, are made, and family bonds strained, to say the least, but the discipline of ballet, the music, the movement, the emotion all undergird the book and make it somehow so real. (Made me want to strap on the old pointe shoes....oh never mind.) -Carin
This exquisite, pitch-perfect novel recounts a dangerous affair a young Catholic teacher has with an older, married, Protestant barrister in Northern Ireland. Beautifully written and intensely moving, this love story thrums with the complicated menace that permeated Northern Ireland during the inaptly named Troubles. Don't miss it. -Carin
Homesteading books remind me just how easy, relatively, most of our lives are. In Homestead, set in Alaska shortly before it became a state, a young couple, married in a fever, homestead about 150 acres, building up from nothin' but woods. It's pretty hard to nurture an early marriage when you are dealing with marauding bears, vicious wolverines, Alaskan weather, and no indoor plumbing, to say the least. Sure hope they make it..... -Carin
Thirty miles from Dresden the medieval Colditz Castle sits on a high promontory. The Nazis used the huge building to house hundreds of the most defiant prisoners of war from a number of countries. A major pastime for these men was planning and attempting escape after escape, some more successful than others. Ben Macintyre (Operation Mincemeat and The Spy and the Traitor) tells their stories with fascinating detail and human understanding of the toll long-term prison takes on a soul. (Especially intriguing are the aids sent from outside, which helped enable the escapes...i.e. a tiny compass secreted in a walnut.) -Carin
You think the U.S. is divided now? Hah. Read this account of what was going on in the U.S. during WWI and shortly thereafter. Violent racism, anti immigrant ire, horrifying attacks on pacifists and labor unionists, press crackdowns...etc. etc. All with the background of not only the flu epidemic, but WWI. Hochschild, author of, among others, Spain in Our Hearts, To End All Wars, and King Leopold's Ghost, gives a character-driven account of these years with heroes and a whole host of villains. Not sure whether I found the book to be terrifying, or to be thankful that somehow the country came out of those nightmare years intact. More or less.
God, I love a good manhunt story (see: Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, Outlander (Adamson), Butch Cassidy etc.). In the thrilling Act of Oblivion, two Englishman involved with the killing of King Charles I in 1649, are on the run, pursued by the relentless Richard Nayler, clerk to the Privy Council. Where do they flee to? New England... and the Connecticut River Valley. Full of great period detail and a thoroughly enjoyable way to bone up on your colonial age history. -Carin
Lynn Steger Strong's new book Flight takes place in Upstate New York, during a Christmas holiday. Three siblings and their partners and kids all gather for the first Christmas after the death of a beloved and strong-willed mother. Strong knows her sibling dynamics for sure, replete as they usually are with complicated rivalries, jealousy, loyalties and love. If you have siblings, you will nod your head repeatedly in recognition. Other themes involve art, poverty vs. wealth, grief, and shame. Once you get the characters straightened out, the story flies. Loved it. -Carin
Brooks has proven adept at historical fiction with her previous novels March, People of the Book, Year of Wonders, et al. Horse, with the primary character being Lexington, a record breaking racehorse, is no exception. Set in both recent time, and when the horse lived -- the mid 1850's -- the novel seamlessly braids the experiences of a black art researcher, the primary trainer of Lexington, a slave, and the horse, in clear prose. While it takes a bit to get going, hold on. It takes off and becomes one of those books you can't wait to get back to.
Crop circle noir! It's a thing! Well, no, it isn't, but it could be. Set in rural England in the '80s, The Perfect Golden Circle follows two misfits, one with PTSD from the Falklands War, one recovering from too much time with drug-addled punk rockers, who tramp out complicated crop circles in farmers' fields in the middle of the night. The "mystery is everything," and soon practically all England is speculating that aliens have landed. This is not a big family saga, or sweeping historical fiction...instead it's a wonderful "small" book about friendship, art, healing and obsession. "Fuel the myth and strive for beauty." Indeed. -Carin
In Lucy by the Sea, the latest of the Lucy Barton books by Elizabeth Strout, the pandemic is the main event. Lucy and her ex-husband, whom you might remember from Oh William!, flee NYC for Maine during the first panicked days. Nothing much dramatic happens...hard to say a plot exists. The novel consists primarily of interior dialogue as Lucy recalls her difficult past, and copes with the problems of her ex-husband and daughters. Strout's books seem so simple, but they are so not. The universality of her experiences and feelings living through this pandemic burrows into your bones. -Carin