September, 2012 – Book List

Most of this booklist was compiled from the picks of the independent booksellers except where noted. The summaries are from the public library card catalogue, unless there is another attribution. Some of these books are more appealing to me than others and since it will be difficult to read them all I have placed a star next to the books I have given priority on my list. My priorities could change as I hear more feedback about these books.
*Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (who wrote The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet)- “Mitchell weaves history, science, humor, and suspense in six separate but related narratives, each set in a different time and place.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – “Standing on the fringes of life… offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. This haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion marks the stunning debut of a provocative new voice in contemporary fiction: The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This is the story of what it’s like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.”
Bared to You by Sylvia Day –
“Full of emotional angst, scorching love scenes, and a compelling storyline.”– Dear Author THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Gideon Cross came into my life like lightning in the darkness… He was beautiful and brilliant, jagged and white-hot. I was drawn to him as I’d never been to anything or anyone in my life. I craved his touch like a drug, even knowing it would weaken me. I was flawed and damaged, and he opened those cracks in me so easily… Gideon knew. He had demons of his own. And we would become the mirrors that reflected each other’s most private wounds…and desires. The bonds of his love transformed me, even as i prayed that the torment of our pasts didn’t tear us apart…’’

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller –“ Patroclus, an awkward young prince, follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate. Set during the Trojan War.”
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – “WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory. HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims–a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming. With its taut, crafted writing,Sharp Objectsis addictive, haunting, and unforgettable. From the Hardcover edition.”
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn – “I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived-and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her. The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details-proof they hope may free Ben-Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club . . . and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members-including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started-on the run from a killer. From the Hardcover edition.”
*Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck – From Library Journal Review – “Mariella Bennet is a survivor who knows how to cope with the extreme poverty that is a fact of life in Depression-era Key West, FL. Born of a Cuban mother and an Anglo father, the teenage Mariella works odd jobs in order to support her mother and two younger sisters after her father’s sudden death. Her feistiness attracts celebrated author Ernest Hemingway, and she is soon working as his maid, privy to the inner workings of his home life. But she is also attracted to Gavin Murray, a World War I veteran who puts the needs of others before his own, unlike the egotistical and selfish Hemingway. As a hurricane threatens the Florida Keys, Mariella realizes that she stands to lose even more than she already has. Verdict Robuck (Receive Me Falling) skillfully incorporates obscure historical facts to craft a fictional tale of grief, loss, and survival that seemingly continues the story of Hemingway’s life where Helen Simpson’s best-selling The Paris Wife ends.”
*I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck – “Throughout Lily Tuck’s career, she’s been praised by critics for her crisp, lean language and sensuous explorations of exotic locales and complex psychologies. From Siam to Paraguay and beyond, Tuck inspires readers to travel into unfamiliar realms, and her newest novel is no exception. Slender, potent, and utterly engaging, I Married You For Happiness combines marriage, mathematics, and the probability of an afterlife to create Tuck’s most affecting and riveting book yet. “His hand is growing cold, still she holds it” is how this novel that tells the story of a marriage begins. The tale unfolds over a single night as Nina sits at the bedside of her husband, Philip, whose sudden and unexpected death is the reason for her lonely vigil. Still too shocked to grieve, she lets herself remember the defining moments of their long union, beginning with their meeting in Paris. She is an artist, he a highly accomplished mathematician-a collision of two different worlds that merged to form an intricate and passionate love. As we move through select memories-real and imagined-Tuck reveals the most private intimacies, dark secrets, and overwhelming joys that defined Nina and Philip’s life together.”
*NW by Zadie Smith – “A boldly Joycean appropriation, fortunately not so difficult of entry as its great model… Like Zadie Smith’s much-acclaimed predecessor White Teeth (2000), NW is an urban epic.” –Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books This is the story of a city. The northwest corner of a city. Here you’ll find guests and hosts, those with power and those without it, people who live somewhere special and others who live nowhere at all. And many people in between. Every city is like this. Cheek-by-jowl living. Separate worlds. And then there are the visitations: the rare times a stranger crosses a threshold without permission or warning, causing a disruption in the whole system. Like the April afternoon a woman came to Leah Hanwell’s door, seeking help, disturbing the peace, forcing Leah out of her isolation… Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragi-comic new novel follows four Londoners – Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan — as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their London is a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end. Depicting the modern urban zone — familiar to town-dwellers everywhere — Zadie Smith’s NW is a quietly devastating novel of encounters, mercurial and vital, like the city itself.”
*Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker – “A novel that spans fifty years. The Italian housekeeper and his long-lost American starlet; the producer who once brought them together, and his assistant. A glittering world filled with unforgettable characters.”
*The Dog Stars by Peter Heller – “Leave it to Peter Heller to imagine a postapocalyptic world that contains as much loveliness as it does devastation. His hero, Hig, flies a 1956 Cessna (his dog as copilot) around what was once Colorado, chasing all the same things we chase in these pre-annihilation days: love, friendship, the solace of the natural world, and the chance to perform some small kindness. The Dog Stars is a wholly compelling and deeply engaging debut.” –Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted.”
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin – ”At the turn of the 20th century in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest, a gentle solitary orchardist, Talmadge, tends to apples and apricots. Then two feral, pregnant girls and armed gunmen set Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect but to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.”
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce – “Harold Fry is convinced that he must deliver a letter to an old love in order to save her, meeting various characters along the way and reminiscing about the events of his past and people he has known, as he tries to find peace and acceptance.”
*The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers – A novel written by a veteran of the war in Iraq, The Yellow Birds is the harrowing story of two young soldiers trying to stay alive. “The war tried to kill us in the spring.” So begins this powerful account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. Bound together since basic training when Bartle makes a promise to bring Murphy safely home, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for. In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes actions he could never have imagined. With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, The Yellow Birds is a groundbreaking novel that is destined to become a classic.
*The Bartender’s Tale by Ivan Doig – ”From a great American storyteller, a one-of-a-kind father and his precocious son are rocked by a time of change. The pair make an odd kind of family, with the bar their true home, but they manage just fine until the summer of 1960 when two new women enter their lives.”
*Lionel Asbo: State of England by Martin Amis – “An exuberant, acidic satire of modern society and celebrity culture–by a renowned author at the height of his powers.”
The Tombs by Clive Cussler – “Husband-and-wife team Sam and Remi Fargo are intrigued when an archaeologist friend requests their help excavating a top secret historical site. What the find will set them on a hunt for a prize greater than they could ever imagine. The clues point to the hidden tomb of Attila the Hun, the High King who was reportedly buried with a vast fortune of gold and jewels. The Fargos find themselves pitted against a group of treasure hunters, a cunning Russian businessman, and a ruthless Hungarian.”
The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – “In 1957 Barcelona, Daniel Semper and his close friend Fermin Romero de Torres find their lives violently disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious stranger who threatens to divulge a terrible secret that has been buried for two decades in the city’s dark past.”
The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian – “In his fifteenth book, the author brings us on a very different kind of journey. This tale travels between Aleppo, Syria, in 1915 and Bronxville, New York, in 2012, a sweeping historical love story steeped in the author’s Armenian heritage, making it his most personal novel to date…”
Creole Belle by James Lee Burke – “Languishing in a recovery unit on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, Dave Robicheaux is fighting an enemy more insidious than the one who put a bullet in his back a month earlier in a shootout on Bayou Teche. The morphine meant to dull his pain is steadily gnawing away at his resolve, playing tricks on his mind, and luring him back into the addict mentality that once threatened to destroy his life and family. With the soporific Indian summer air wafting through the louvered shutters of his hospital room, and the demons fighting for space in his head, Dave can’t be sure whether his latest visitor is flesh and blood or a spectral reminder of his Louisiana youth…”
*The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison – “Benjamin Benjamin has lost virtually everything-his wife, his family, his home, his livelihood. With few options, Ben enrolls in a night class called The Fundamentals of Caregiving, where he is instructed in the art of inserting catheters and avoiding liability, about professionalism, and on how to keep physical and emotional distance between client and provider. But when Ben is assigned to tyrannical nineteen-year-old Trevor, who is in the advanced stages of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, he soon discovers that the endless mnemonics and service plan checklists have done little to prepare him for the reality of caring for a fiercely stubborn, sexually frustrated adolescent with an ax to grind with the world at large…”
*The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen – “New York Times bestseller Jussi Adler-Olsen returns with the second book in his electrifying Department Q series. In The Keeper of Lost Causes, Jussi Adler-Olsen introduced Detective Carl Mørck, a deeply flawed, brilliant detective newly assigned to run Department Q, the home of Copenhagen’s coldest cases. The result wasn’t what Mørck or readers expected, but by the opening of Adler-Olsen’s shocking, fast-paced follow-up, Mørck is satisfied with the notion of picking up long-cold leads. So he’s naturally intrigued when a closed case lands on his desk: A brother and sister were brutally murdered two decades earlier, and one of the suspects; part of a group of privileged boarding-school students confessed and was convicted…”
Lord of Mountains by S.M. Stirling – “Rudi Mackenize, now Artos the First, High King of Montival, and his allies have won several key battles against the Church Universal and Triumphant. But still the war rages on, taking countless lives, ravaging the land once known as the United States of America. Artos and his Queen, Mathilda, must unite the realms into a single kingdom to ensure a lasting peace. If the leaders of the Changed world are to accept Artos as their ruler, he will need to undertake a quest to the Lake at the Heart of the Mountains, and take part in a crowning ceremony–a ceremony binding him to his people, his ancestors, and his land. Then, once he has secured his place and allegiances, Artos can go forward, and lead his forces to the heart of the enemy’s territory…”– Provided by publisher.
*City of Women by David R. Gillham –  ”1943, in the height of World War II. With the men taken by the army, Berlin has become a city of women. While her husband fights on the Eastern Front, Sigrid Schroder is the model soldier’s wife. She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime. But behind the facade is an entirely different Sigrid. She dreams of her former Jewish lover, who is lost in the chaos of the war.”
*The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty – “Accompanying a future famous actress from her Wichita home to New York, chaperone Cora Carlisle shares a life-changing five-week period with her ambitious teenage charge during which she discovers the promise of the 20th century and her own purpose in life.”
*One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper – “The bestselling author of This Is Where I Leave You returns with a hilarious and heart-rending tale about one family’s struggle to reconnect. You don’t have to look very hard at Drew Silver to see that mistakes have been made. His fleeting fame as the drummer for a one-hit wonder rock band is nearly a decade behind him. He lives in the Versailles, an apartment building filled almost exclusively with divorced men like him, and makes a living playing in wedding bands. His ex-wife, Denise, is about to marry a guy Silver can’t quite bring himself to hate. And his Princeton-bound teenage daughter Casey has just confided in him that she’s pregnant–because Silver is the one she cares least about letting down…”
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub – “The enchanting story of a midwestern girl who escapes a family tragedy and is remade as a movie star during Hollywood’s golden age…”
*The St. Zita Society by Ruth Rendell – ”From three-time Edgar Award-winning mystery writer Ruth Rendell comes a captivating and expertly plotted tale of residents and servants on one block of a posh London street–and the deadly ways their lives intertwine…”
The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo – “Meet the Keller family, five generations of firstborn women-an unbroken line of daughters-living together in the same house on a secluded olive grove in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California. Anna, the family matriarch, is 112 and determined to become the oldest person in the world. An indomitable force, strong in mind and firm in body, she rules Hill House, the family home she shares with her daughter Bets, granddaughter Callie, great-granddaughter Deb, and great-great-granddaughter Erin. Though they lead ordinary lives, there is an element of the extraordinary to these women: the eldest two are defying longevity norms. Their unusual lifespans have caught the attention of a geneticist who believes they hold the key to breakthroughs that will revolutionize the aging process for everyone. But Anna is not interested in unlocking secrets the Keller blood holds. She believes there are some truths that must stay hidden, including certain knowledge about her origins that she has carried for more than a century. Like Anna, each of the Keller women conceals her true self from the others. While they are bound by blood and the house they share, living together has not always been easy.”–Dust jacket.
A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama – “A powerful new novel about an ordinary family facing extraordinary times at the start of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in 1957.”
From  amazon.com for Parade Magazine
*The Round House by Louise Erdrich – “Likely to be dubbed the Native American To Kill a Mockingbird Louise Erdrich’s moving, complex, and surprisingly uplifting latest tells of a boy’s coming of age in the wake of a brutal, racist attack on his mother. (due out Oct. 21)
Sutton by J.R. Moehringer – When Willie Sutton left Attica in 1969, the Brooklyn born bank robber reemerged as a folk hero for an American public fed up with the financial system. In his first novel, J.R. Moehringer (The Tender Bar) presents an epic tale that rivals The Shawshank Redemption. (due out Sept. 25)
*Phantom by Jo Nesbo (a new Harry Hole book out October 2)
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens – a collection of essays from this recently deceased writer-critic – a smart, irreverent, and moving analysis of his end-of-life journey through “Tumorville”. Brave and powerful stuff says amazon.com to Parade Magazine.
*Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe – a wonderful setting and a diverse cast of characters in this funny, thought-provoking, high-energy novel, which does for Miami what his 1987 best-selling The Bonfire of the Vanities did for New York (due October 23) amazon.com for Parade Magazine
The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson – “The international publishing sensation–over two million copies sold A reluctant centenarian much like Forrest Gump (if Gump were an explosives expert with a fondness for vodka) decides it’s not too late to start over… After a long and eventful life, Allan Karlsson ends up in a nursing home, believing it to be his last stop. The only problem is that he’s still in good health, and in one day, he turns 100. A big celebration is in the works, but Allan really isn’t interested (and he’d like a bit more control over his vodka consumption). So he decides to escape. He climbs out the window in his slippers and embarks on a hilarious and entirely unexpected journey, involving, among other surprises, a suitcase stuffed with cash, some unpleasant criminals, a friendly hot-dog stand operator, and an elephant (not to mention a death by elephant). It would be the adventure of a lifetime for anyone else, but Allan has a larger-than-life backstory: Not only has he witnessed some of the most important events of the twentieth century, but he has actually played a key role in them. Starting out in munitions as a boy, he somehow finds himself involved in many of the key explosions of the twentieth century and travels the world, sharing meals and more with everyone from Stalin, Churchill, and Truman to Mao, Franco, and de Gaulle. Quirky and utterly unique, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared has charmed readers across the world. Jonas Jonasson is a former journalist and media consultant. He lives in Sweden.” (card catalogue)[Rushdie’s code name] is the story of how the author
*Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie – In February 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against novelist Salman Rushdie, sentencing him to death for writing The Satanic Verses. Joseph Anton [Rushdie’s code name] is the story of how the author, who was forced underground, managed to live and fight, not just survive. (due out Sept. 18)
These were taken from, I believe, The Daily Beast.
*The Innocent by David Balducci – “America has enemies, ruthless people that the police, the FBI, even the military can’t stop. That’s when the U.S. government calls on Will Robie, a stone cold hitman who never questions orders and always nails his target.” (card catalogue)
*Every Love Story is a Ghost Story by D.T. Max (about David Foster Wallace) – “The first biography of the most influential writer of his generation, David Foster Wallace David Foster Wallace was the leading literary light of his era, a man who not only captivated readers with his prose but also mesmerized them with his brilliant mind. In this, the first biography of the writer, D. T. Max sets out to chart Wallace’s tormented, anguished and often triumphant battle to succeed as a novelist as he fights off depression and addiction to emerge with his masterpiece, Infinite Jest. Since his untimely death by suicide at the age of forty-six in 2008, Wallace has become more than the quintessential writer for his time–he has become a symbol of sincerity and honesty in an inauthentic age. In the end, as Max shows us, what is most interesting about Wallace is not just what he wrote but how he taught us all to live. Written with the cooperation of Wallace’s family and friends and with access to hundreds of his unpublished letters, manuscripts, and audio tapes, this portrait of an extraordinarily gifted writer is as fresh as news, as intimate as a love note, as painful as a goodbye. “– Provided by publisher.
The Rapture of the Nerds: A tale of singularity, posthumanity, and awkward social situations by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross – ”A tale set at the end of the twenty-first century finds the planet’s divided hominid population subjected to the forces of a splintery metaconsciousness that inundates networks with plans for cataclysmic technologies, prompting an unwitting jury member to participate in a grueling decision.” (card catalogue)

Another August Booklist, 2012 (So many good Books)

This booklist comes from two sources: the independent booksellers and Goodreads.com. These books are a bit more “mainstream” than my Barnes and Noble list, but I have uncovered treasures from all these sources. Most of the summaries are from the library card catalog, except that Goodreads.com provided their own summaries.
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – “A novel set on a remote Australian island, where a childless couple live quietly running a lighthouse, until a boat carrying a baby washes ashore”
Black List by Brad Thor – A thriller.  Somewhere deep inside the United States government is a closely guarded list…Once your name is on the list, it doesn’t come off…until you’re dead. Counterterrorism operative Scot Harvath’s name is on the list. An intense, page-turning novel that is action-packed and frighteningly real.” (Paraphrased)
Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann – “”Nick and her cousin, Helena, have grown up sharing sultry summer heat, sunbleached boat docks, and midnight gin parties on Martha’s Vineyard in a glorious old family estate known as Tiger House.” We follow these two through the war years and beyond. When we get to the 60’s “a brutal murder and the intrusion of violence causes everything to unravel. Brilliantly told from five points of view, with magical elegance and suspenseful dark longing…”
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty – “Accompanying a future famous actress from her Wichita home to New York, chaperone Cora Carlisle shares a life-changing five-week period with her ambitious teenage charge during which she discovers the promise of the 20th century and her own purpose in life.”
Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon – “a gripping tale of an American undercover agent in 1945 Istanbul who descends into the murky cat-and-mouse world of compromise and betrayal that will come to define the entire post-war era…Rich with atmosphere and period detail, Joseph Kanon’s latest novel flawlessly blends fact and fiction into a haunting thriller about the dawn of the Cold War…”
Judgment Call by J.A. Jance – “brings back acclaimed sheriff Joanna Brady in an exciting and twisting mystery set against the beauty and isolation of the Arizona desert. When Joanna Brady’s daughter, Jenny, stumbles across the body of her high school principal, Debra Highsmith, in the desert, the Cochise County sheriff’s personal and professional worlds collide, forcing her to tread the difficult middle ground between being an officer of the law and a mother. While investigating murders has always meant discovering unpleasant facts and disquieting truths, the experienced Joanna isn’t prepared for the knowledge she’s about to uncover. Though she’s tried to protect her children from the dangers of the grown-up world, the search for justice leads straight to her own door and forces her to face the possibility that her beloved daughter may be less perfect than she seems…”
True Believers by Kurt Anderson – ”Karen Hollander is a celebrated attorney who recently removed herself from consideration for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Her reasons have their roots in 1968, an episode she’s managed to keep secret for more than forty years. Now, with the imminent publication of her memoir, she’s about to let the world in on that shocking secret, as soon as she can track down the answers to a few crucial last questions.”
Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand – “After a fatal car crash during a summer celebration on Nantucket island, four teenagers question if the roots of the accident lie further in the past than they seem; is true healing possible, in even these most devastating circumstance; and, can true friendship ever really die?”
Redshirts by John Scalzi – Space warfare, human-alien encounters.
Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick – “In 1948, a mysterious and charismatic man arrives in a small Virginia town carrying two suitcases; one contains his worldly possessions, the other is full of money. He soon inserts himself into the town’s daily life, taking a job in the local butcher shop and befriending the owner and his wife and their son. But the passion that develops between the man and the wife of the town’s wealthiest citizen sets in motion a series of events that not only upset the quiet town but threaten to destroy both him and the woman.”
Some suggestions from Goodreads:
The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Phillipa Gregory – Spies, poison and curses surround her…Is there anyone she can trust?
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan – Serena Frome, the beautiful relative of an Anglican Bishop, has a brief affair with an older man during her final year at Cambridge, and finds herself being groomed for the intelligence service.
The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart – Julia Stuart wrote The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise. This book presents a clever murder mystery set in Victorian England and, once again, it is charming.
The Treasures of Mozart by John Irving – Covers Mozart’s life and major works in lavish spreads – pays tribute to Mozart’s musical brilliance.

My August Book List, 2012

I took another trip to Barnes and Noble to check out their collection of recommended new books and this is the resulting list. The books I find on the shelves at Barnes and Noble are not as mainstream as the ones recommended by the independent booksellers. These summaries are from the library card catalog except when otherwise attributed or without quotation marks. A few of the books listed here might be repeats.
In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner – “Told from the tender perspective of a young girl who comes of age amid the Cambodian killing fields, this searing first novel – based on the author’s personal experience – is one of survival, endurance, and forced exodus.”
The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows by Brian Castner – “This work is a powerful account of war and homecoming. The author served three tours of duty in the Middle East, two of them as the commander of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit in Iraq.”
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple – “Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom. Then Bernadette disappears into severe agoraphobia.” “compulsively readable and touching”
Turn of Mind by Alice La Plante – “Implicated in the murder of her best friend, Jennifer White, a brilliant retired surgeon with dementia, struggles with fractured memories of their complex relationship and wonders if she actually committed the crime.”
Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall – “Examines the complex world of sleep and discusses whether or not women sleep differently than men and if killing someone while sleepwalking would count as murder.”
Full Body Burden: growing up in the nuclear shadow of Rocky Flats by Kristen Iverson – “A narrative report by a woman who grew up near the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility describes the secrets that dominated her childhood, the strange cancers that afflicted her neighbors, her brief employment at Rocky Flats, and the efforts of residents to achieve legal justice.” Publishers Description
The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood – “Nursing home assistant Oscar Lowe is drawn into the opulent world of the charismatic Bellwether siblings and falls in love with medical student Iris before realizing the danger posed by troubled Eden Bellwether, who believes he can heal people with his music.”
Little Century by Anna Keesey – “In the lawless frontier town of Century, Oregon, Esther Chamber is met by her distant cousin, a laconic cattle rancher named Ferris Pickett. But this town on the edge of civilization is in the midst of a very real range war in a story of dispossession, greed and ecstatic visions of America.”
The Legend of Pradeep Mathew by Shehan Karunatilaka – the search for a long lost cricket hero leads an aging alcoholic Sri Lankan sports writer in unexpected directions
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin – “The story of a family’s search for their mother, who goes missing one afternoon amid the crowds of the Seoul Station subway. As her children argue over how to find her and her husband returns to their countryside home to wait for her, they recall their lives with her; their memories often more surprising than comforting.”
Untouchable by Scott O’Connor – “It is the autumn of 1999. A Year has passed since Lucy Darby’s unexpected death, leaving her husband, David and son Whitley to mend the gaping hole in their lives.” – “As David continues to lose his grip on reality and The Kid’s sense of urgency grows, they begin to uncover truths that will force them to confront their deepest fear about each other and the wounded family they are trying desperately to save.”
We Heard the Heavens Then: A Memoir of Iran by Aria Minu-Sepehr – “When the Shah was overthrown and the Ayatollah rose to power in 1979, Aria’s idyllic life skidded to a halt…As the surreal began to invade the mundane, with family friends disappearing every day and resources growing scarce, Aria found himself torn between being the man of the house and being a much needed source of comic relief.”
White Teeth by Zadie Smith – “Epic and intimate, hilarious and poignant, White Teeth is the story of two North London families  – one headed by Archie, the other by Archie’s best friend, a Muslim Bengali named Samad Iqbal.” “This is a richly imagined, uproariously funny novel.”
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie – “Offers a fictional portrait of the characters, language, traditions, and daily life of those living on the Spokane Indian Reservation.”
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield – “The rigid moral codes held by mid-twentieth-century preacher Samuel Lake are called into question when his twelve-year-old daughter and his neighbors hide a young boy from his abusive father, a man who lashes out at the community when he learns about the deception.
A Place in the Country by Elizabeth Adler – “Newly-single mother Caroline Evans dreams of restoring an old barn into a restaurant, but her chance at happiness suddenly hangs in the balance as whispers of murder and vengeance find their way to her and as her daughter Issy, hovering in that limbo between girl and young woman, begins to make some dangerous choices.”
The Cottage at Glass Beach by Heather Doran Barbieri  –  A young woman returns to Glass Beach where she spent her childhood after the infidelity of her husband, the youngest attorney general in Massachusetts state history. In the midst of her grief a young fisherman, Owen Kavanagh, is shipwrecked on the rocks nearby. I smell romance, I smell healing. Might be fun.

Saying Goodbye to Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy died two weeks ago at the age of 72 on July 30, 2012. I don’t know if you ever read Maeve Binchy’s books, but for a while they were “all the thing”, our little window into modern Ireland. The Irish settings in these books clearly reflected Maeve Binchy’s own slice of life, her relatively normal, down-to-earth, Dubliner slice of life.
 Circle of Friends was the first book I read by Maeve Binchy (I think it was her first novel). Here’s the library summary: It began with Benny Hogan and Eva Malone, growing up, inseparable, in the village of Knockglen. Benny – the only child, yearning to break free from her adoring parents… Eve – the orphaned offspring of a convent handman and a rebellious blueblood, abandoned by her mother’s wealthy family to be raised by nuns. Eve and Benny – they knew the sins and secrets behind every villager’s lace curtains…except their own. It widened at Dublin, at the university where Benny and Eve met beautiful Nan Mahon and Jack Foley, a doctor’s handsome son. But heartbreak and betrayal would bring the worlds of Knockglen and Dublin into explosive collision. Long-hidden lies would emerge to test the meaning of love and the strength of ties held within the fragile gold bands of a…Circle of Friends.” So it’s a coming of age story set in Ireland in the 1950’s. I’m sure it appealed to girls much more than to boys and it had an element of village gossip about it. Circle of Friends was made into a movie with Minnie Driver playing Bernadette ‘Benny’ Hogan.
On Maeve’s own page she writes: “My memory of my home was that it was very happy, and that there was more fun and life there than there was anywhere else.” “And even though I was fat and hopeless at games, which are very unacceptable things for a schoolgirl, I was happy and confident. That was quite simply because I had a mother and a father at home who thought I was wonderful. They thought all their geese were swans. It was a gift greater than beauty or riches, the feeling that you were as fine as anyone else.”
She explains that she ruined her mother’s plans to marry her to a nice doctor or barrister because she liked holidays not favored by important people such as working on the decks of cheap boats or in kibbutzim in Israel or as a camp counselor in the United States. But her parents loved the letters she sent home and had them published in the local newspaper. She says, “And that’s how I became a writer.”
She did marry, Gordon Snell, also a writer and she had a wonderful life. Do you have to experience great angst to become a writer? It may depend on what kind of writing you want to do. Maeve Binchy was satisfied with stories about small towns and human interaction and I enjoyed a number of her books and felt that I was transported to Dublin and its environs every time. Besides Circle of Friends, I remember reading The Lilac Bus, The Copper Beech, Scarlet Feather, Quentins, and Tara Road. I’m guessing these books still hold up as good stories about people who happen to be Irish and that Maeve Binchy’s legacy will live on.

July Book List 2012

This time I owe my book list picks to Publisher’s Weekly who offered a preview of the July Indie Next List. I did not have to find my own summaries because these books had already been reviewed by owners of independent book stores. I linked to this site through Twitter but there is a link to the indie site at the end of the list.
Beautiful Ruins: A Novel by Jess Walter – “In 1962, a young Italian innkeeper unwittingly ends up taking part in the Hollywood ‘clean up’ of a love affair on the set for the film Cleopatra. Fast forward to present day Los Angeles; Pasquale Tursi shows up at the studio of a legendary Hollywood producer to find out the fate of the actress he met so briefly, so long ago.” Susan Harvey, Tattered Book Store, Denver, CO
The Age of Miracles: A Novel by Karen Thompson Walker – “The end of the world does come with a bang but with a whisper in Walker’s wonderful debut novel. Earth’s rotation is slowing, the days are becoming longer, gravity mutates, radiation spikes, but still, life must go on. The narrator is 12-year-old Julia, and she chronicles everything she sees happening in the world around her, from shock and panic to people desperate to maintain normal routines.” Jason Kennedy, Boswell Book Co., Milwaukee, WI
The World Without You: a Novel by Joshua Henkin – “A year after a young journalist Leo Frankel is killed while covering the war in Iraq, his family gathers at their summer home in the Berkshires for a memorial service. “ Ashley Montague, Pennsylvania Book Center, Philadelphia, PA.
Alif the Unseen: A Novel by G. Willow Wilson – “Alif is an Arab-Indian computer hacker who gets into deep trouble when he tries to erase himself from the web. His troubles only increase when he receives an ancient text – written by the mythological Jinn – that may be the key to unlocking a whole new way of programming. This is a smartly written, action-packed thriller…unpredictable to the very end…” James Wilson, Octavia Books, New Orleans, LA
Things That Are: Essays by Amy Leach – “A beautifully crafted little book that is filled with weird, funny, oddly poignant, and plainly stunning vignettes about the natural word surrounding us. Leach uses words to describe animal and plant life that you swear aren’t real, only to discover, to considerable glee their veracity. There’s something about the way all of her sentences come together that feels comfortable and almost euphoric.” Seth Marko, UCSD Bookstore, La Jolla, CA
Fifteen Seconds: A Novel by Andrew Gross – “Fifteen seconds is all it took to cause an innocent man to start running for his life. The train of set-ups is so believable that it is no wonder that the police want to shoot Dr. Henry Steadman on sight. We are taken along for a white-knuckle ride….This is the best yet from Andrew Gross.” Nancy McFarlane, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC
Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith – “For readers who suffer anxiety, the world just may feel a tiny less lonely; for others, the hope is that this book will give insight into, and compassion for, those who do.” Jennifer Wills Geraedts, Beagle Books, Park Rapids, MN
Miss Fuller: A Novel by April Bernard – “One of the great things fiction can do is pluck a historical figure from obscurity and introduce her to a new audience. April Bernard accomplishes this with flying colors when she give Margaret Fuller, a 19th century transcendentalist and feminist, posthumous life, and modern readers are richer for her efforts.” Emily Crowe, Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA
Juliet in August by Dianne Warren – “This quietly lovely story of people finding joy where they can is set near the Little Snake Hills sand dunes of the Canadian West, where small town lives can be as dry and brittle as the prairie grasses or as rich as the history of the area.” Susan Wasson, Bookworks, Albuquerque, NM
Some Kind of Fairy Tale: A Novel by Graham Joyce – “Twenty years ago, 15-year-old Tara Martin disappeared without a trace, until one Christmas morning when she appears out of the blue, looking as though she were still a teenager and claiming she was lured away by ‘the fairies’. … A mind-bending psychological narrative filled with mystery and beautifully written prose.” Heath Christman, Warwick’s, La Jolla, CA
Yes Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson – “Truly multicultural in the very best sense, Marcus Samuelsson was born and orphaned in Ethopia, adopted by a Swedish family, and learned to cook in Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, and France. At the age of 24, he became the chef at New York’s Aquavit, then a Top Chef Master, and, finally, opened his own restaurant in Harlem.” Ellen Sanmeyer, Sandmeyer’s Bookstore, Chicago, IL
Some Kind of Peace: A Novel by Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff, (Trans., Paul Norlen) – “The intensity of Scandinavian crime fiction, its intimacy and human scale, is impressively on display in his novel by Swedish sisters Greve and Traff. I often feel freezing when reading a thriller from the North, but from the very first page, this compelling fiction paints a warm and lively portrait of a Swedish summer, its beauty and lighthearted spirit, its customary celebrations – so ironic a background for a dark, wrenching, and compelling story.” Barbara Peters, The Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale, AZ
The Last Policeman: A Novel by Ben Winters – “The clichéd plot of the end of the world gets a new look in The Last Policeman. With an asteroid on its way to Earth, normal life has already shut down. Faced with certain doom, people decide working is a fool’s game and head off to fulfill their ‘bucket lists,’ except for a very few, including Detective Hank Palace. His only desire is to be a policeman, so he can’t help trying to solve crimes even though it’s a thankless job. Modern technology is useless with no workers to keep it going, so Hank uses old fashioned footwork and reasoned thinking to find a murderer. If certain doom ever becomes a reality, I would include this series in my stack of books to read before the end!” Ann Carlson, Harborwalk Books, Georgetown, SC
Growing Up Dead in Texas: A Novel by Stephen Graham Jones – “If Quentin Tarantino and Cormac McCarthy crossed paths in a rundown whiskey bar just north of the Rio Grande, this is the book that connection would produce. It’s a novel wrapped in a mystery and dipped in autobiography with a dash of investigative journalism about Jones’ return to his hometown and the unintended consequences of a fire from his childhood that ripped the community apart.” Matt Falvey, Next Chapter Bookshop, Mequon, WI 
The Other Woman’s House: A Novel by Sophie Hannah – “This psychological mystery is certain to send a mid-summer chills up your spine. Hannah has created a tale of domestic betrayal and terror, where one woman’s search for answers may lead her either to uncovering the identity of a murderer or succumbing to her own madness. Sure to captivate!” Christine Grabish, MacDonald Book Shop, Estes Park, CO
                        

Nora Ephron: Our Jane Austen and Our Sister

Nora Ephron just left us at the age of 71. She is a famous person who lived a real life, a quiet life, with family and friends and work and all of the choices that her financial success gave her. In a way she could have been our sister. She was a child of World War II, born in New York City just before the attack on Pearl Harbor (May 19, 1941).

Although Nora seems down-to-earth, she did not grow up like the rest of us. She grew up in Beverly Hills, California with two screenwriter parents, Henry and Phoebe Ephron, who wrote scripts for movies I watched in theaters when I was a tween. Nora has three sisters; Delia and Amy, both screenwriters; and Hallie, a journalist. She had a life like the ones we read about in our Hollywood magazines, although her parents apparently liked their cocktails a bit too much and this sometimes made life less than idyllic.
She was married three times so, apparently, she lived through emotional ups and downs like all of us do. She had two boys by her second husband, who was also famous. He was Carl Bernstein, Watergate journalist. Her boys are Jacob, 21 and Max, 20. Her first husband was Dan Greenburg and her current husband is Nicholas Pileggi, who is also famous because he wrote Wiseguys which later became Goodfellas.
Nora Ephron is perhaps our 21st century Jane Austen. Jane had only one sister, Cassandra, and of course did not grow up in any British equivalent of Beverly Hills because there wasn’t one. But both wrote what may seem at first glance to be fluffy romances, but which, as we live with these creations, become windows on the culture of an age.
Jane Austen wrote books, which perhaps gave her more scope for her talent with language. She could be detailed and witty and she gives us great insight into the lives of “well-born” women in England at the time. She writes what she knows and she makes no attempt to give us a comprehensive glimpse of all women in Britain, because she was never in a position to know anything about women outside her social class. She lived a live that was protected by convention and by family and could have been frustratingly lacking in scope, but she gave us her wonderful books.
Well Nora, also lived a life that was circumscribed by her upbringing. She grew up in a family of writers. How many of us do that? One sister described dinners at the family house as unfolding like a session at the Algonquin Round Table of Dorothy Parker fame. At my family table there was lots of laughter, some “fork” attacks, but very little that would pass as wit. She went to Wellsley College. She had a early, very desireable and successful career in journalism in New York City.  She wrote about us, about men and women in the second half of the 20th century. She wrote about romance and she wrote about our culture. We are as at home in her creations as Jane Austen’s readers probably were in hers.
Yes, her movies are slick and beautiful and seemed a bit “fluffy” the first time we saw them, but they touch us somewhere we don’t need to examine with our intellect. They may be guilty pleasures, but they hold up. We can watch them over and over again, especially, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. Three other successful films are Silkwood, Julie and Julia, and When Harry Met Sally. Most of her films are probably chick flicks, but I’m betting that Jane Austen’s books are mainly late 18th –  early 19th  century chick lit.
Nora died back in NYC where her life began. She lived on the West Side. Some said that her movie You’ve Got Mail(which was a rewrite of The Shop Around the Corner)  was a kind of love letter to the neighborhood and a warning about what it was becoming.
Well Nora, I, for one, will miss you and I will remember you and I know that many more people would say exactly that same thing. The brave way you left us is duly noted also. Rest in peace.

June Book List, 2012

This month, June, 2012, I went back to the independent booksellers to see what books were looking good to them. Right now I am reading The Pale King by the late David Foster Wallace. The Game of Thrones books by George R. R. Martin are my entertainment for the summer; and I just got the latest Sophie Kinsella title, I’ve Got Your Number, on CD, so it will be a while before I get to the books on this June list, although I have Train Dreams on hold at the library. Enjoy  your summer reading!

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell – it is dangerous to give a king his heart’s desire.

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan – 3 generations of badly damaged Irish Catholic women at the family summer home seek acceptance from each other
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson – epic tale packed into a novella length book – the story of Robert Grainer but it’s not the story; it’s the setting and the mood – highly recommended
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta – what happens to those who are left after the “rapture” or some similar mass disappearance
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt – Starts as a Western but “becomes, in effect, a different kind of novel, profoundly literary and devoted to serious philosophical meditation.” (Brutal moments)
To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal – married women remember their first loves
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moiarty –after an accident a woman forgets the last 10 years of her life, her marriage, her three children and her pending divorce to the love of her life
Home by Toni Morrison – an angry, self-loathing Korean vet comes back to face racism in America
Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon – a spy novel that takes place in Istanbul in 1945
Calico Joe by John Grisham – A classic story and a great baseball book
The Yard by Alex Grecian – Scotland Yard in Victorian England
The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger – Bangladeshi woman marries engineer in Rochester, NY and tells about her culture shock.
A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson – I love the title – In 1923 Eva and her sister are missionaries on the Silk Road
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson – she wrote the Mars trilogy I love – this is also futuristic – In the year 2312 a series of events begins on Mercury which forces man to confront our past, present, and future
The Lower River by Paul Theroux – a man left the Peace Corps in Malawi to rescue his family business, now without responsibilities he returns – what will he find?

From July’s list but I can’t wait:

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness – this is the book that follows A Discovery of Witches in the trilogy that will be – sounds like it is as good as the first book, since it left the reviewer in “happy anticipation of much more intelligent entertainment to come.”

Book List – May, 2012 – Another trip to Barnes and Noble

I did a little road trip to the new book shelf at Barnes and Noble to see what was up at the big box book store. Here are the titles I found interesting:
We Heard the Heavens Then by Aria Miner-Sepehr – This memoir captures the calamitous effects of political change on an Iranian father and son after the 1979 overthrow of the shah.
A land more kind than home by Wiley Cash – This novel about a small town has been hailed as being “as lyrical, beautiful, and uncomplicated as the classic ballads of Appalachia.”
*Behind the beautiful forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
*The Spoiler by Annalena McAfee – the paths of two very different female journalists converge fatefully in this cleverly nuanced novel.
*HHhH by Laurent Binet – This award-winning historical novel artfully renders the story of two anti-Nazi patriots who assassinated the Butcher of Prague.
A Good American by Alex George – Stretching from pre-WWI Germany to the present-day Midwest, this multi-tiered novel tracks four generations of a single family.
*By the Iowa Sea by Joe Blair – With moving, nakedly honest prose, a talented writer describes his tumultuous marriage and hard-won recovery.
*American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar – In this absorbing, deeply personal novel, 10-year-old Hayat Shah experiences true love, faith and betrayal for the first time.
*Glaciers by Alexis Smith – Tracing just a single day in the life of its female main character, this adroit novel reveals her small pleasures and large dreams.
Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron – already an award-winner, this novel traces 10 years in the life of a young Rwandan runner caught in his nation’s civil war.
Malarky by Anakona Schofeld – Malarky spins and glitters like a coin flipped in the air – now searingly tragic, now blackly funny. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
More Books: These books are more mainstream titles, still from the shelves of Barnes and Noble (without summaries):
What They Do in the Dark by Amanda Coe
Wayward Saints by Suzzy Roche
*True by Riikka Pulkkinen and Lola Rogers
The Rules of Inheritance: a memoir by Claire Bidwell Smith
Next Stop: a son with autism grows up by Glen Finland
*Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Incendiary by Chris Cleave (author of Little Bee)
*Lucky Bastard by S. G. Browne
*They Eat Puppies Don’t They by Christopher Buckley
*The Unruly Passions of Eugenie R. by Carole Desanti
Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk by Ben Fountain
Kill Shot by Vince Flynn (thriller)
*Another piece of my heart by Jane Green (Mom and step daughters)
Gossip by Beth Gutcheon (friendship and support between a group of five women)
*The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe
*The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
*The Sea is My Brother by Jack Kerouac
*An Unexpected Guest by Anne Korkeakivi (Paris)
The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen (thriller)
The Sugar Frosted Nutsack by Mark Leyner
*An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer
*The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny (Renaissance life)
*Southern Charm by Tinsley Mortimer (chick lit)
The Book of Lost Fragrances by M. J. Rose (a novel of suspense)
The Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd (duo of detectives from gas-lit world of Dickens)
*The Little Russian by Susan Sherman
*The Right- Hand Shore by Christoper Tilghman
Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli
*The Dog Who Danced by Susan Wilson
Nonfiction:
*The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro
*After reading summaries in the library card catalog these are the books on this list that I will try to fit into my huge and currently back-logged reading list.

Book List – April, 2012

Sacre Blue by Christopher Moore – “a love story, the portrait of a young artist, the portrait of a young artist’s girlfriend, a mystery, a thriller and a comedy all about the color blue.”
The Beginner’s Goodbye by Ann Tyler – here the dead wife a middle-aged man keeps visiting until he finds his way. (Anne Tyler books are always on my list.)
The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith – Precious Ramotswe, the next installment – Mma has several new thorny issues to unravel and she meets her mentor, Clovis Anderson.
The Expats by Chris Pavone – from the publisher – “an International spy thriller about a former CIA agent who moves with her family to Luxembourg where everything is suspicious and nothing is as it seems.
Carry the One by Carol Anshaw – “begins in the hours following Carmen’s wedding reception when a car filled with stoned, drunk and sleepy guests accidentally hits and kills a girl on a dark country road.” The book shows the impact on their lives over the next 25 years.
50 Shades of Gray by E. L. James – An erotic trilogy that everyone is talking about. Adult Literature
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan – “Forced into an overcrowded lifeboat after a mysterious explosion on their trans-Atlantic ocean liner, newly widowed Grace Winter battles the elements and her fellow survivors and remembers her husband, Henry, who set his own safety aside to insure Grace’s.
City of Bohane by Kevin Barry – Set in the once great city of Bohane on the west coast of Ireland – 40 years in the future
The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont – “Set against the Stock Market crash in 1987, The Starboard Sea is an examination of the abuses of class privilege, the mutability of sexual desire, the thrill and risk of competitive sailing, and the adult costs of teenage recklessness.”
The Red Book by Deborah Capaken Kogan – Centering around Harvard’s Red Book, this story is a collection of personal triumphs and failures from graduates. This tongue-in-cheek novel follows a group of roommates from the class of 1989 as they prepare for their 20th reunion weekend.
An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer – “his best thriller yet” – “a searing international thriller that will settle once and for all who is pulling the strings and who is being played”
Miss Julia to the Rescue by Ann B. Ross – Miss Julia is a pistol – Quick and enjoyable
Gods Without Men by Hari Zunzru – “a branching and multilayered novel by one of the world’s most acclaimed young writers that centers on a couple searching for their young son, lost in the brutal, strangely powerful landscape of the Mohave Desert”
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin – “presents the story of vivacious Cora Cash whose early 20th c. marriage to England’s most eligible duke is overshadowed by his secretive nature and the traps and betrayals of London’s social scene”
The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling – “blackly comic” – A vacant seat on the town’s council in the small town of Pagford in England calls up an election that is a real eye opener.
Here are some mysteries which are recommended. I love to read mysteries but I have other priorities so I may or may not get a chance to read some of these books.
Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear – A Maisie Dobbs mystery
Beastly Things by Donna Leon – A Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery
The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell – A Detective Kurt Wallander mystery
Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon – A Commisario Guido Brunetti mystery
Dorchester Terrace by Anne Perry – A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novel – espionage
Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George – An Inspector Lynley novel
A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear – A Maisie Dobbs novel

The Hunger Games/Anatomy of a Revolution

I just finished reading The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, that very popular trio of young adult books by Suzanne Collins that are also being devoured by large numbers of adults. The citizens of Panem (which means bread) live in twelve districts ruled by one person, President Snow. This is a story of oppression and revolution. President Snow starves the people in the districts outside District One, each group getting successively hungrier until you get to the people in District Twelve who must scrape for a living. All citizens except those in District One can get rice and oil by registering to be chosen to compete in the Hunger Games held and televised once a year. The more times they register the more grain and oil they receive for their families, but the chances get greater that they will be chosen for the Hunger Games, a fight to the death between two “contestants” from each district. Katniss, our heroine, is not chosen for the Hunger Games but she volunteers to take the place of her sister, Prim. Katniss is a hunter who has hunted illegally outside the fence at District Twelve with her friend Gale. She is extremely skilled in the use of the bow and arrow which has helped her family by putting meat in their diet and which she is counting on to help her survive in the Hunger Games. But Katniss’s spirit is her greatest asset. She is compassionate and stubborn and a fighter all at the same time. As she learns more and more about the injustices that President Snow uses to control Panem she becomes more and more of a revolutionary simply by not doing what Snow expects her to do.

Suzanne Collins has not described a real place but she has a clear understanding of human societies and of how and why revolutions happen. She also captures the sort of classic trajectory of a revolution. I remember reading a book called Anatomy of a Revolution by Crane Brinton when I was in college. This is not a fiction book, it is an analysis by a historian of four revolutions in the real world: the British revolution of the 1640’s, the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. This is a fairly scholarly book with none of the easy readability or appeal of the Hunger Games trilogy, but the similarities are striking and might even strike a few chords with our current political situation (which we may need to get a grip on).

This is the way Wikipedia summarizes Mr. Brinton’s ideas although I have condensed the text somewhat:
Fall of the old regime
The revolutions begin with problems in the pre-revolutionary regime. These include problems functioning — “government deficits, more than usual complaints over taxation, conspicuous governmental favoring of one set of economic interests over another, administrative entanglements and confusions”. There are also social problems, such as the feeling by some that careers are not “open to talents”, and economic power is separated from political power and social distinction
Financial problems play an important role, as “three of our four revolutions started among people who objected to certain taxes, who organized to protest them
The revolutions’ enemies and supporters disagree over whether plots and manipulation by revolutionists, or the corruption and tyranny of the old regime are responsible for the old regime’s fall. Brinton argues both are right, as both the right circumstances and active agitation are necessary for the revolution to succeed. (p. 85-6)
At some point in the first stages of the revolutions “there is a point where constituted authority is challenged by illegal acts of revolutionists” and the response of security forces is strikingly unsuccessful.
Revolutionary regimes
In each revolution a short “honeymoon” period follows the fall of the old regime, lasting until the “contradictory elements” among the victorious revolutionaries assert themselves
Moderates and dual power
The revolutions being studied first produce a “legal” moderate government. It vies with a more radical “illegal” government in a process known as “dual power“, or as Brinton prefers to call it “dual sovereignty”.
The radicals triumph because they are
·         “better organized, better staffed, better obeyed,” (p. 134)
·         have “relatively few responsibilities, while the legal government “has to shoulder some of the unpopularity of the government of the old regime” with “the worn-out machinery, the institutions of the old regime.” (p. 134)
·         The moderate are hindered by their hesitancy to change direction and fight back against the radical revolutionaries, “with whom they recently stood united,” in favor of conservatives, “against whom they have so recently risen.” (p. 140) They are drawn to the slogan `no enemies to the Left.` (p. 168)
·         are attacked on one side by “disgruntled but not yet silenced conservatives, and the confident, aggressive extremists,” on the other. The moderate revolutionary policies can please neither side.
·         are “poor” leaders of the wars which accompany the revolutions, unable to “provide the discipline, the enthusiasm,” needed. (p. 144)
Radicals and “Reigns of Terror and Virtue”
·         In contrast to the moderates, the radicals are aided by a fanatical devotion to their cause, discipline and (in recent revolutions) a study of technique of revolutionary action, obedience to their leadership, ability to ignore contradictions between their rhetoric and action, and drive boldly ahead. (p. 155-60) Even their small numbers are an advantage, giving them “the ability to move swiftly, to make clear and final decisions, to push through to a goal without regard for injured human dispositions.” (p. 154)
·         The radical reign is one of “Terror and Virtue.” Terror stemming from the abundance of summary executions, foreign and civil war, struggle for power; virtue in the form of puritanical “organized asceticism” and suppression of vices such as drunkenness, gambling and prostitution. (p. 180) In its ardor, revolutionary “tragicomedy” touches the average citizen, for whom “politics becomes as real, as pressing, as unavoidable … as food and drink,” their “job, and the weather.” (p. 177)
·         On taking power the radicals rule through dictatorship and “rough-and-ready centralization.”
At some point in these revolutions, the “process of transfer of power from Right to Left ceases,” and groups even more radical than those in power are suppressed. (p. 167
Along with centralization, lethal force in suppression of opposition, rule by committee, radical policies include the spreading of “the gospel of their revolution” to other countries
“Thermidor”
The radical reign of terror, or “crisis” period, is fairly soon replaced by Thermidor period, a period of relaxation from revolutionary policies or “convalescence” from the “fever” of radicalism
Lasting results
Brinton finds the lasting results of the revolutions disappointing
Brinton concludes that despite their ambitions, the political revolutions he studied brought much less lasting social changes than the disruptions and changes of “what is loosely called the Industrial Revolution“, and the top-down reforms of Mustapha Kemal’s reforms in Turkey, and the Meiji Restoration or post-World War II MacArthur era in Japan. (p. 246)

OK, that may be more than you wanted to know about revolutions, but the way Wikipedia summarizes the ideas of Crane Brinton is the way I remember the theory as we discussed it in those long ago days. Hunger Games is a story about revolution but the inhumane ways that Snow’s government keeps citizens under control by starving them, scaring them and exploiting them for entertainment adds a whole other level of organized wrongness to this particular culture, reminiscent of the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, that makes us cheer for Katniss and Peeta and all of the other heroes who actually revolt against the tyranny that others have accepted for decades. Katniss also has the presence of mind to kill the person that Katniss perceives wants to be next in line with her ambition to become the new Panem dictator, President Coin, and thereby breaks the cycle of poor lasting results that Mr. Brinton says usually follow a revolution. For now the revolution has a happy ending, although the image of the children of our characters dancing in the meadow on top of a mass grave, may foreshadow a time in the future when there could once again arise a tyrant. George Orwell’s Animal Farm also reflects Brinton’s revolutionary trajectory.