Read in 2014

Fall 2014

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (Marie Kondo) — A philosophical approach to home organization; no trips to the Container Store required.

The Bishop’s Wife (Mette Ivie Harrison) — Linda Wallheim, the “bishop’s wife” of the title, becomes an unlikely detective in this mystery about the disappearance of a young Mormon wife and mother.

By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review (Pamela Paul) — Delightful! A collection of columns from the “By the Book” column that appears in the Book Review every Sunday. Authors  are asked a series of questions, such as “What book is on your nightstand right now?”, “What was the last book that made you cry?”, and “What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?”

The Unspeakable and Other Subjects of Discussion (Meghan Daum) — A collection of brilliant essays about, as the author puts it in the introduction, “the ways that some of life’s most burning issues are considered inappropriate for public or even private discussion” and “the unspeakable thoughts many of us harbor.”

Us (David Nicholls) — Has Douglas and Connie’s long marriage, as she claims, run its course? A summer “grand tour” of Europe with their sullen teenage son brings matters to a head. If a book could be described as a romantic comedy, that would be the appropriate term for this delightful and clever novel.

Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free (Hector Tobar) — I was riveted by this story when it was covered on the news, and this book brilliantly recreates the dramatic story of the trapped Chilean miners, as well as the story of their rescuers and families above ground.

Everything I Never Told You (Celeste Ng) — An assured, beautifully written debut novel that begins with the disappearance of a mixed-race family’s “perfect” daughter and goes on to explore the family’s pathology. It’s heartbreaking . . . but you’ll want to read it in one sitting.

The Wild Truth (Carine McCandless) — The author is the sister of Chris McCandless, the young man who cut ties with his family and died in the Alaskan wilderness, as chronicled in Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. In this book, McCandless reveals her brother’s real reasons for his actions, which seemed inexplicable in Krakauer’s account.

What the Lady Wants (Renee Rosen) — Set in Chicago during the Gilded Age, the book opens with the Chicago Fire. Delia Canton meets handsome and charming department store tycoon Marshall Field  . . . and a lifelong love affair is set in motion.

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Voyage of the USS Jeannette (Hampton Sides) — I know it’s a huge cliche — but I really couldn’t (OK, really didn’t want to) put this book down . . . which is amazing, considering I already knew the tragic outcome. Top-notch narrative nonfiction.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (Jeff Hobbs) — Heartbreaking and thought-provoking, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in race, class, and education.

Liar Temptress Soldier Spy (Karen Abbott) — I love nonfiction that reads like fiction! A great companion to I Shall Be Near to You, this is a rollicking chronicle of the exploits of four female spies (two Union, two Confederate) during the Civil War.

Burning the Page: The Ebook Revolution and the Future of Reading (Jason Merkoski) — One of the developers of the Kindle discusses how reading has changed — and will continue to change — in the 21st century. His thoughts (which are not well-organized) range from insightful to ridiculous. I recommend this book because it’s thought-provoking, not because it’s well-executed.

Gutenberg’s Apprentice (Alix Christie) — Everyone has heard of Johann Gutenberg and his famous printing press. But he was actually part of a partnership that included Peter Schoeffer, a young scribe, and Johann Fust, a financier and bookseller.

I Shall Be Near to You (Erin Lindsay McCabe) — A headstrong young woman disguises herself as a man, enlists in the Union Army, and follows her new husband into battle. A beautiful story of love and war.

The Story Hour (Thrity Umrigar) –Umrigar is one of my favorite authors, and I loved this novel about an unlikely friendship between an uneducated Indian immigrant and her therapist.

A Deadly Wandering (Matt Richtel) — You’ll never text and drive again after reading this account of a tragic crash caused by a driver’s inattention. Fascinating reading about neuroscience, criminal law, healing, and redemption.

We Are Not Ourselves (Matthew Thomas) — Both an epic novel and an intimate family story, We Are Not Ourselves is truly a masterpiece.

You (Caroline Kepnes) == Creepy, creepy thriller about a psychopathic bookseller — Silence of the Lambs in a bookstore. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a strong stomach and a thick son. Not my usual kind of book, but I picked it up because of the bookselling connection.

The Miniaturist (Jessie Burton) — In 17th century Amsterdam, a young woman marries a wealthy businessman, who gives her a replica of their canal house — opening the door to many strange happenings. The book was inspired by an actual cabinet house owned by Petronella Oortman — which I was lucky enough to see in the Rijksmuseum.

Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart (William Alexander) — I’ve always loved the French language, but despite years of study in high school and college, have found it very difficult to learn. Alexander’s quest for fluency in his fifties was inspiring, educational, and entertaining.

Five Days Left (Julie Lawson Timmer) — This one is a real tearjerker — and it will definitely get your book club talking. Two people have five days left with the people they love most.

Summer 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey (Richard C. Morais) — A young Indian boy becomes a famous French chef in this charming story.

Further Out Than You Thought (Michaela Carter) — An edgy coming-of-age novel about a 25-year-old graduate student — who just happens to be a stripper.

J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist (Thomas Beller) — Just when I thought I’d read more than enough about J.D. Salinger, this book came along — with a fresh perspective.

Tulip Fever (Deborah Moggach) —  Great page-turner about tulipomania, art, and forbidden love in 17th century Amsterdam.

The Girls from Corona del Mar (Rufi Thorpe) — In this insightful novel about female friendship, the “perfect” friend turns out to have a life that’s far from perfect.

We Are Called to Rise (Laura McBride) — The lives of four very different Las Vegas residents (a young immigrant boy, a social worker, a war veteran turned police officer, and the officer’s mother) in a heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful story.

The Angel in My Pocket: A Story of Love, Loss, and LIfe After Death (Sukey Forbes) — A moving and heartfelt memoir, written by a mother who has lost her 6-year-old daughter to a rare disease.

No Longer and Not Yet (Joanna Clapps Hermann) — Linked short stories about residents of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs (Anna Quindlen) — Rebecca Winter, a 60-year-old photographer, is facing a crisis in her personal and professional lives, so she leaves New York City for a sojourn at a cabin in “the middle of nowhere”.

Orphan Train (Christina Baker Kline) — A top choice of book clubs everywhere, this is a great choice for young adults who are tired of contemporary YA — or anyone else who enjoys double narratives.

Summer House With Swimming Pool (Herman Koch) — If possible, this book is even creepier than The Dinner . . . but I couldn’t stop reading it.

The Vacationers (Emma Straub) — When a New York family spends a summer vacation in a rented house in Mallorca, things are a little too close for comfort.

Bittersweet (Miranda Beverly-Whittemore) — Like We Were Liars,this page-turner takes place in an “idyllic” New England family summer compound.

A Replacement Life (Boris Fishman) — An aspiring journalist finds creative satisfaction in filing fake Holocaust restitution claim for fellow Russian immigrants.

The Hundred-Year House (Rebecca Makkai) — This inventive novel, set in a Midwestern artists’ colony, begins in 2000 and ends 100 years earlier.

Someone (Alice McDermott) — The beautifully written story of the “ordinary” life of Marie Commeford, an Irish-American girl from Brooklyn.

The Art of Racing in the Rain (Garth Stein) — I don’t know how I missed this when it first came out — maybe too much hype? And I was dubious about a book told from a dog’s point of view. It’s an absolutely lovely book, not to be missed.

Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town (Sarah Payne Stuart) — A memoir about growing up in Concord, Massachusetts and returning there to raise a family — and deal with aging parents.

The Arsonist (Sue Miller) — Frankie Rowley, a burned-out relief worker, returns from Africa to spend some time with her aging parents at their summer home in New Hampshire. Almost as soon as she arrives, an arsonist goes on a mysterious rampage.

Goodnight June (Sarah Jio) — A romantic comedy based on the origins of Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, starring a young woman who inherits a children’s bookstore from her aunt.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (Anton DiSclafani) — Depression-era coming of age novel, set in a boarding school (not a camp!) in North Carolina.

My Salinger Year (Joanna Rakoff) — I loved this memoir about Rakoff’s stint as an assistant to J.D. Salinger’s literary agent!

Say What You Will (Cammie McGovern) — This YA novel about a friendship between two high school students with special needs — she has cerebral palsy and he is on the autism spectrum — is McGovern’s foray into YA, and it’s wonderful.

Save the Date (Jen Doll) — Jen Doll has attended many weddings, and behaved badly at most of them. She shares some insights on weddings, marriage, and friendship.

The Blessings (Elise Juska) — A lovely novel about several generations of a close Irish-American family from Philadelphia.

Spring 2014

The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt) — I don’t know why I put off reading this for so long — I think I was worried it was overhyped. It really is as outstanding as everyone says.

The Supreme Macaroni Company (Adriana Trigiani) — The literary equivalent of comfort food — a warm and delightful novel about a work-obsessed shoe designer who finds unexpected love.

We Were Liars (E. Lockhart) — To quote Dave Eggers, this is a “heartbreaking work of staggering genius”.  Well, probably not genius — how about “heartbreaking work of staggering imagination”?

The Temporary Gentleman (Sebastian Barry) — Barry is one of my favorite authors, and I loved his story of an Irishman who makes some wrong turns in life, ending up as an expatriate in Africa after the Second World War.

All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr) — The best World War II novel — actually, the best novel — I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s the story of a blind girl in France and a conscripted German soldier, and how their lives intersect.

Philomena: A Mother, Her Son, and a Fifty-Year Search (Martin Sixsmith) — I was inspired to read this after seeing the movie. The movie is Philomena’s story; the book is her son’s story.

Frances and Bernard (Carlene Bauer) — An epistolary novel based on the correspondence between Robert Lowell and Flannery O’Connor.

The Empathy Exams (Leslie Jamison) — Collection of essays about a wide variety of topics — poverty tourism, phantom diseases, incarceration, street violence, reality TV — but with a common thread: how empathy makes us fully human.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Gabrielle Zevin) — A widowed bookseller has lost his zest for life — but his life changes when two things happen: he finds a baby on his doorstep and he falls in love with his sales rep. This wonderful book is a love letter to the book business, and to reading.

And the Dark Sacred Night (Julia Glass) — A 40-something art historian, facing unemployment and depression, goes in search of his biological father. Lovely writing and wonderful characters (some readers will remember from Glass’s Three Junes).

The Enchanted (Rene Denfeld) — Magical realism on death row . . . a mesmerizing reading experience.

The Headmaster’s Wife (Thomas Christopher Greene) — A prep school novel with a very surprising twist.

You Should Have Known (Jean Hanff Korelitz) — Grace Sachs is a therapist and the author of a popular book cautioning women to take a good hard look at potential husbands. But it turns out Grace hasn’t taken her own advice, when her own husband disappears.

Winter 2014

The Weight of Blood (Laura McHugh) — Dark and suspenseful — almost gothic — this first novel takes place in an isolated, unwelcoming town in the Ozarks.

Shotgun Lovesongs (Nickolas Butler) — A group of friends grows up together in a small Wisconsin farming town; one goes on to become a famous musician.

Gemini (Carol Cassella) — A medical mystery set in the Pacific Northwest. The author is a practicing anesthesiologist.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Anthony Marra) — A powerful novel about the human cost of warfare in the recent wars in Chechnya.

The Violet Hour (Katherine Hill) — Debut novel about a marriage coming apart . . . and a young woman coming of age.

The Sun and Other Stars (Brigid Pasulka) — A young man rejoins life in his small Italian village after suffering the loss of his twin brother and his mother. What helps him heal? Falling in love with a stranger who comes to town . . . and calcio (a.k.a. soccer).

The Deepest Secret (Carla Buckley) — The story of Eve Lattimore, a parent who makes a terrible error in judgment — and then compounds that mistake by keeping it secret, in an effort to protect her chronically ill son. Much more than a page-turner, The Deepest Secret is a morally complex exploration of parental love.

The Last Enchantments (Charles Finch) — A young man leaves his career and devoted girlfriend behind in New York to spend a year studying at Oxford.

Lydia’s Party (Margaret Hawkins) — A group of close friends gathers for their annual “midwinter bash” — the hostess, Lydia, has surprising news to share. Thought-provoking for those of us who are at — or past — the midpoint of life.

Glitter and Glue (Kelly Corrigan) — Delightful follow-up to The Middle Place; focuses on the author’s relationship with her mother.

Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of the Great Gatsby (Sarah Churchwell) — Explores the origins of The Great Gatsby by examining the events of 1922 — in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life and in the world around him.

The Wind Is Not a River (Brian Payton) — My favorite kind of novel: a love story and a war story. This one is set in the Aleutian Islands during World War II.

The Crane Wife (Patrick Ness) — A beautiful story, based on a Japanese folk tale, about a lonely middle-aged man who falls in love with a mysterious woman.

North of Boston (Elisabeth Elo) — Literary thriller featuring Pirio Kasparov, a perfume executive who has the amazing ability to survive for long periods in very cold water. And yes, those things are both very important to this story, which takes place in Boston and the fishing grounds in the Canadian Arctic.

A Star for Mrs. Blake (April Smith) — The story of a group of Gold Star mothers (women whose sons were killed in World War I) who make a government-sponsored pilgrimage to Europe to visit their sons’ graves.

Perfect (Rachel Joyce) — Much darker than The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, this book reminded me of Ian McEwan’s best work. A young boy’s view of the world is suddenly shattered when he believes his “perfect” mother has caused an accident.

Unremarried Widow (Artis Henderson) — At age 26, Henderson became a widow when her Marine husband was killed in a helicopter accident in Iraq. Beautifully written, this memoir explores the meaning to be found in an apparently senseless death.

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