Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky: This is a really good book about the German occupation of France. The backstory of the author is really what makes it good though. She was a Jew living in France during WWII and she actually wrote the book while in hiding. I won't tell you what happens to her but the previous sentence pretty much lets you know that it isn't good. Anyway, her daughters found the notes for the book years later and had it published. At the end they also published letters that she and her husband wrote as their lives unravelled. Very, very interesting...and disturbing, really.
Julie and Julia by Julie Powell: OK, this one is hilarious but not for everyone. She has kind of a potty mouth, slams Republicans a lot, and doesn't believe in God or any kind of afterlife. That said, she is a brilliant writer that will make you laugh out loud. The book is about her attempts to pull herself out of a funk by cooking all 527 recipes in Julia Childs first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in one calendar year. The weird things she makes, and eats, and the trials she has in the meantime are absolutely hilarious. She also starts a blog about the whole experience and ends up with some creepy blog stalkers. Funny, funny, funny!
Cuando Era Puertorriqueno by Esmerelda Santiago: (Si no puedes leer este descripcion en Espanol no podrias leer el libro tampoco. Por eso, lo he escrito en Espanol.) Es un libro sobre la vida de una chica con siete hermanos en Puerto Rico en los anos 50. Sus padres se pelean mucho y ella es la mayor, entonces tiene que cuidar a tus hermanitos mucho. Eventuamente se mudan a Nueva York donde ella tiene que aprender una lengua nueva y una nueva vida sin su papa. Lo lei para practicar mi espanol y aumentar mi vocabulario pero fue muy interesante a la misma vez.
The Killing Hour by Lisa Gardner: Typical story about the police looking for a serial killer and following all of the clues. Two detectives fall in love, yadda, yadda, yadda. Pretty good and suspenseful if you like that kind of thing. Which I do.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo: I read the Spanish version but there is an English version now so I'll go ahead and give you a synopsis in English. Basically it is the story of a simple Andalucian shepherd that goes off in search of a hidden treasure in Egypt and his triumphs and trials along the way. This book claims to be a fable right on the cover and it definitely is. It is all about listening to your heart and following your dreams. It is a love story and an adventure story too. It gets a little mystical in a few places but still a good book. Very short and easy reading.
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger: This is an awesome book! I totally recommend it. The writing is absolutely spectacular and the story is great as well. It is about a family in crisis in the 1960's. When the oldest son kills intruders in their home and then runs away from the law the rest of the family, Jeremiah Land and his two younger children, set out across the west in their Airstream trailer to find him before the FBI can. It is an adventure story mixed with a love story mixed with a western. It is a very touching and poignant look at family life. I really loved this book!
by Jodi Picoult: This book is a little disturbing, especially if you are a public school educator but it was very thought provoking too. The novel is about a fictional school shooting and the 10 years of bullying by other students that precipitated it. It is presented not only from the point of view of the victims, but also the law enforcement professinals, lawyers and the perpetrator. The overall theme is that the shooter is child too; someone who is loved and loves in return, someone that was once a sweet baby and has a family and a life that is worth living...despite his horrific actions. I really came away from this book with a deeper sense of sorrow for the criminals and their families in these circumstances. They deserve to suffer the consequences of their actions, namely life in prison or execution, but they also deserve the love of Jesus Christ and his followers. (These are my views of the book. The Christian angle was not actually presented in the book.)
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Annie Lamott. I wrote a post about this book. You can read it here.
The Husband by Dean Koontz: This is a thriller about a landscaper, who for no discernible reason, has to raise 2 million dollars in order to ransom his kidnapped wife all while keeping the authorities out of the picture. The problem is he doesn't have even close to that much money and he has been framed for 3 murders along the way. There are a few twists and turns that will keep you on your toes. It's a good read.
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan: This book made me scream (mentally), "How could this have happened in America in the 20th century!!!!" The novel is all about race relations in rural Mississippi immediately after World War II. Black men who fought in the war and experienced racial freedom and equality for the first time in their lives while in Europe (not from other American soldier, mind you, but from the european people), returned to their homes and farms only to be treated like disease carrying criminals barely worthy of the humid air they breathe as they slave away in the cotton fields. The story covers other themes, like agriculture, family relationships, and inter-racial friendships and marriages. It was very well written from the point of view of several different characters in the book. It was disturbing, but it helps to know that things did eventually change...at least for the most part.
The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman: I thought this was a novel before I read it....but it is actually a biography of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, the directors of the Warsaw Zoo, before, during and after World War II. A Christian (actually Jan is an atheist) the stuggle to save their zoo and animals from destruction. Unable to do so, they turn their zoo into a center for Underground activities and hide hundreds of Jews doomed to death under Nazi rule. I learned a lot about Nazi philosophy and their interest in genetics, human and animal, and experimentation to create a master race of both human beings and animals. Ackerman got her information for the book from Antonina's memoirs and numerous radio and print interviews the couple later gave about their wartime activities, as well as several verbal eye witness accounts...including the story straight from the mouth of their son. It is an excellent book chock full of information and touching stories.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd: I really liked this book. It was set in the south in the late 60s and centers around the life of an 11 year old white girl and her black nanny. (What is it with me and these racially charged books?) When her nanny is arrested for spitting on a white man's shoes while on her way to register to vote, the little girl breaks her out of jail and runs away with her. They end up living with 3 black spinster women. The complicated relationships in the story make it a real page turner. (The spinsters raise bees and sell honey for a living so there is a lot of interesting bee information in the book too.)
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver: This book was recommended to me by several people, but I really didn't enjoy it all that much. The story follows 3 people in rural Appalachia (here I am down south again), a 40 something divorcee, a 70 something widower and his pesky neighbor, and a 30 something recently widowed women. The relationships each of these people has throughout the story and the way they all tie to together was nice and pretty interesting but I found the rest of the book to be rather preachy. The characters were against pesticides, herbicides, and hunting just to name a few. They commonly railed against other characters that would dare to kill a moth, Japanese beetle, poke weed or coyote. I didn't necessarily disagree with some of the views presented by the author, I just got tired of reading about them over and over again. I didn't think that this book was half as good as the other Kingsolver book I've read, The Poisonwood Bible.
I Heard That Song Before by Mary Higgins Clark: This is a typical MHC book. Part love story, part murder mystery. It was good and had a little twist that was unexpected. Worked well as light reading between other heavier books. I will say that the title bothers me a little. Shouldn't it be "I've Heard That Song Before"?
The Taking by Dean Koontz: For the record I'm not that in to science fiction, but I generally do like Koontz's books. They are a little out there sometimes but they always have nice stories interwoven with the alien sub plots. I especially enjoy his books about Odd Thomas. (Odd sees dead people.) But this one (The Taking) I did not like at all. It was just too out there. Aliens were taking over the world and killing everyone in sight...but wait, it was really just God remaking the earth....oh, I should have known. Now I've just spoiled the ending for you, but that's OK since you shouldn't read the book anyway.
Simple Genius by David Baldacci: This is a political/action thriller set in a think tank and a secret CIA base in Virginia. There were several twists and turns along the way and it was an intriguing plot involving code breaking and super computers. It was a fairly simple read except for the computer and Enigma code descriptions which I just had to skim so that my little non-mathematical brain wouldn't fry. I didn't enjoy it as much as I have some of Baldacci's other books but it was still very good.
The Testament by John Grisham: This was actually an audio book that Brian and I listened to on our vacation. It was just as good as all of Grisham's other work and had the same great relationships between characters and legal suspense that you would expect. The story centers around the will of a multi-billionaire and the heirs (including an African missionary) that are fighting for their inheritance. There is a religious undertone to part of the story that is handled very well and makes a really good point. The ending is a little shocking but it is a great book overall.
The Lake House by James Patterson: Do NOT read this book. It started out OK, but steadily became more and more graphic and nasty. I do NOT recommend it.
by John Irving: This is a good book that is destined to become a classic that will be assigned to American Lit. students for ages to come...if it isn't already. I read it because several people from People Reading listed it as their favorite book. I wouldn't say it is my favorite of all time (I have no idea what that would be) but it was very good. It is about John and his "strange" little friend, Owen, growing up in a small New Hampshire town...all the while believing he is destined for greatness. There is some very poignant writing about parent/child, mother/daughter, mother/son and friend/friend relationships. The Vietnam war is also a major theme of the book and becomes the backdrop for the second half of the novel. There was soooo much symbolism mixed in to this book that I'm sure I only caught half of it. I'd love to discuss the book with someone smarter than me (and that shouldn't be hard to find). If you read this book let me know.
A Prayer for Owen Meany
The Plain Truth by Jodi Piccoult: This is the second Piccoult book I've read and I didn't like it as much as I did the first one. The Plain Truth is about an infant murder on an Amish farm and the subsequent trial. It basically raises questions about the average American legal system being adequate to understand and judge a person who has never been a part of the society that stands in judgement of her. How can a jury of your peers be made up of people that don't have the first thing in common with you and don't understand how you think? It was interesting, but it didn't hit as close to home as 19 Minutes did though...maybe that's why I didn't like it quite as much.
Love In The Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: I read the Spanish version of this book but there is also an English version and I think it may be made in to a movie also. The book is basically a love story set in the Carribbean in the 40s? It is about a man and woman who were in love and then went their separate ways and married other people...only to meet again as elderly people after their spouses died. It was a very touching and beautiful novel.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: Well, this is not a feel good book. I'll spare you the suspense and tell you right now that there is no happy ending (a bizarre and twisted ending, yes, but happy, no). I still liked the book for what it taught me about history and the human spirit. I also loved the writing style and the use of that bumpkin dialect. But man, it was a downer! The only thing that kept me turning the pages was the hope that something good would happen to this poor family on the next page. Nope. Never happened. So, if you don't mind depressing books and are interested in the history of the United States in the late 1930s then you should read it. If you don't like death, starvation, oppression and abuse then you should skip this one.
Cane River by Lalita Tademy: This is one of those random books I picked up out of the library stacks because the cover was interesting. The jacket description seemed intriguing too, so I took it home. It was a good choice. Basically, Mrs. Tademy gave up her high powered Silicon Valley job in order to travel back to Louisiana and research her family history. She uncovered generations of strong slave women who kept their families together through all kinds of hardships. She then took all of the factual information and embellished it a little to form a really good novel written in three sections, each through the eyes of a different generation of woman. She provides quotes and copies of the actual documents she found along the way. I really enjoyed this book set in rural French speaking Louisiana in the mid 1800s through the mid 1900s.
So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Enger: I posted an entire book discussion on this novel. It was excellent! (The novel, not the discussion) You can read all about it, in great detail by following the So Brave, Young and Handsome labels on the sidebar.
The Broker by John Grisham: It was Grisham so of course it was good, but it wasn't his typical novel. I can't quite put my finger on it but it was less "lawyer" and more "spy". It was also shorter and seemed to be less detail oriented (probably because Grisham knows a lot less about being a spy than he does about being a lawyer). It was fast paced and very interesting. The main character is in "the witness protection program", for lack of a better term and has to learn Italian very quickly. He takes intensive language lessons daily, which was fun for me. I learned a lot of italian while reading the book. In typical Grisham fashion the good guys become the bad guys and vice versa, so that in the end you are rooting for the opposite side from the one you started out with. I liked it and I recommend it.
America America by Ethan Canin: I really enjoyed this book. It is the story of how one teenaged boy is unknowingly caught up in political intrigue as he works as errand boy and driver for a senator that is running for president in the 70s. The story is told by the boy himself, now a man and a local newspaper editor. As he looks back on the events surrounding the campaign he can now see the part he played in all that happened. The story jumps back and forth in time a lot but it is very easy to follow and a real page turner. I highly recommend this book.
The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe: This was a good book overall. It follows 3 generations of women through post World War II England and the problems that they face and pass on to their children. I suppose it was slighly depressing, but I still thought the story was well written. My only problem with this book was that the main character turns out to be gay. There is nothing graphic in the novel, just several allusions to the difficulties of her lifestyle in 1950s England. If you can overlook those referencees it is a good book.
Bonus: Here are some other books I recommend...even though I didn't technically read them "this" year.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger