2013 Summer Bulletin of Best Reads

2013 Summer Bulletin of Best Reads     

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (set in Chechnya, it balances pain and suffering with sacrifice, loyalty and love- unforgettable characters. Havaa watches her father dragged off to the woods by soldiers who think he has helped the Chechen rebels. A neighbor retreats with Havaa to the hospital where the sole remaining doctor is working and the story unfolds)

Americanah by Chimamande Adichie ( the writer is a voice out of Africa telling in her new novel about exile, immigration and integration. Ifemelu decides to return to Nigeria after living in the States for 13 years as a blogger and on a fellowship at Princeton. She gives us a fresh and passionate voice on the subject of belonging)

The Blue Fox by Sjon (Set against the stark backdrop of the Icelandic winter, an elusive, enigmatic fox leads a hunter on a transformative quest. At the edge of the hunter’s territory, a naturalist struggles to build a life for his charge, a young woman with Down syndrome whom he had rescued from a shipwreck years before. By the end of Sjón’s slender, spellbinding fable of a novel, none of their lives will be the same. Winner of the 2005 Nordic Council Literature Prize—the Nordic world’s highest literary honor—The Blue Fox is part mystery, part fairy tale, and the perfect introduction to a mind-bending, world-class literary talent.- Amazon)

Children of the Jacaranda Tree By Sahar Delijani (A country divided by revolution a people united by love. Set in Iran Neda is born in Tehran’s Evin Prison, where her mother is allowed to nurse her for a few months before the arms of a guard appear at the cell door one day and, simply, take her away. In another part of the city, three-year-old Omid witnesses the arrests of his political activist parents from his perch at their kitchen. Set in post-revolutionary Iran from 1983 to 2011, this stunning debut novel follows a group of mothers, fathers, children, and lovers, some related by blood, others brought together by the tide of history that washes over their lives. Finally, years later, it is the next generation that is left with the burden of the past and their country’s tenuous future as a new wave of protest and political strife begins. Goodreads summary June newsletter)

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan ( One of Singapore’s richest bachelors invites his American born girlfriend to travel from New York to vacation in his native country- the opulence and  craziness begins)

The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally ( Nurses in WWI) In 1915, two spirited Australian sisters join the war effort as nurses, escaping the confines of their father’s farm and carrying a guilty secret with them. Used to tending the sick as they are, nothing could have prepared them for what they confront, first near Gallipoli, then on the Western Front.Yet amid the carnage, Naomi and Sally Durance become the friends they never were at home and find themselves courageous in the face of extreme danger, as well as the hostility they encounter from some on their own side. There is great bravery, humor, and compassion, too, and the inspiring example of the remarkable women they serve alongside. In France, where Naomi nurses in a hospital set up by the eccentric Lady Tarlton while Sally works in a casualty clearing station, each meets an exceptional man: the kind of men for whom they might give up some of their precious independence—if only they all survive. At once vast in scope and extraordinarily intimate, The Daughters of Mars brings World War I to vivid, concrete life from an unusual perspective. A searing and profoundly moving tale, it pays tribute to men and women of extraordinary moral resilience, even in the face of the incomprehensible horrors of modern war.) Not released until August 2013

The Execution of Noa P.Singleton  by Elizabeth Silver (described as an off kilter thriller, the story is about a young woman is on death row until a high power lawyer intervenes, the lawyer is the victim’s mother. Why is she helping her?)

Flora by Gail Godwin ( In “Flora,” an adult looks back at a summer set in the nineteen forties in southern Mountain City, the events of which still cause her remorse for her part in them. The only daughter of an alcoholic father, who has gone off for the summer on a mysterious job having to do with the war, ten-year-old Helen is left in the care of her cousin, Flora, who Helen regards as “simple-minded,” and who she alternately feels irritated by, and protective of. Helen’s mother is dead, her beloved grandmother has passed away, and two local cases of polio have been reported, causing her father (a polio survivor) to quarantine Helen and Flora in their remote house (once a halfway home for alcoholics and the mentally ill). Though she’s sophisticated for a girl her age, Helen still has plenty of childish self-absorption and informs a friend (with polio), “This is the worst summer of my life,” before wincing at her words. Distraction comes in the form of Finn, a young veteran who delivers groceries, and who’s waiting to see if his mental problems will keep him from being honorably discharged. She also filches letters her grandmother wrote to Flora, hoping for clues to family mysteries. To help fill her days (and reconstruct her family), Helen plots to have Finn board with them, but when her father does return, tragedy strikes in ways that none of them could predict.- Amazon)

Ghana Must Go by Talye Selasi ( Keweku has died and now we learn about his flawed past and his family from America he abandoned meets the family in Ghana “So Kweku Sai knows as he lies dying in his garden. He is a remarkable surgeon. He must have known he had had a cardiac event. He took no action in that golden 30 minutes between event and dying. And he was barefoot.” There are no wasted words in this extraordinary novel. Each thought and each word fits into the whole. Kweku is 58 when he dies. He has four children, an ex-wife and a new wife. Each of them comes to terms with his death in ways that are unexpected to them. Much bitterness has passed. He has taught himself and them that “loss is a notion. No more than a thought.” But the small moments that elude closing the door on a grief or a memory come to light. Review by Gremelspacher” @ Amazon)

Her Last Breathe: a Kate Burkholder Novel by Linda Castillo (A rainy night, an Amish father returning home with his three children, a speeding car hurtling toward them out of nowhere.

What at first seems like a tragic, but routine car accident  suddenly takes on a more sinister cast as evidence emerges that nothing about the crash is accidental.  But who would want to kill an Amish deacon and two of his children? He leaves behind a grieving widow and a young boy who clings to life in the intensive care wing of a hospital, unable to communicate.  He may be the only one who knows what happened that night.  Desperate to find out who killed her best friend’s husband and why, Kate begins to suspect she is not looking for a reckless drunk, but instead is on the trail of a cold blooded killer in amid the residents of Painter’s Mill.  It is a search that takes her on a  chilling journey into the darkest reaches of the human heart and makes her question everything she has ever believed about the Amish culture into which she was born.)

Iris Has Free Time by Iris Smyles ( hilarious story about a college graduate in NY trying to navigate internships, job interviews and men- lots of bravado in the face of slips)

Life after Life by  Jill McCorkle (“In learning to die at the Pine Haven Retirement Home, people learn how they have lived”- SF Chronicle Book Review)

Maya’s Notebook by Allende  (Maya’s Notebook is a startling novel of suspense from New York Times bestselling author Isabel Allende.
 
This contemporary coming-of-age story centers upon Maya Vidal, a remarkable teenager abandoned by her parents. Maya grew up in a rambling old house in Berkeley with her grandmother Nini, whose formidable strength helped her build a new life after emigrating from Chile in 1973 with a young son, and her grandfather Popo, a gentle African-American astronomer.
 
When Popo dies, Maya goes off the rails. Along with a circle of girlfriends known as “the vampires,” she turns to drugs, alcohol, and petty crime–a downward spiral that eventually leads to Las Vegas and a dangerous underworld, with Maya caught between warring forces: a gang of assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol.
 
Her one chance for survival is Nini, who helps her escape to a remote island off the coast of Chile. In the care of her grandmother’s old friend, Manuel Arias, and surrounded by strange new acquaintances, Maya begins to record her story in her notebook, as she tries to make sense of her past and unravel the mysteries of her family and her own life. Per Amazon )

The Never List by Koethi Zan (In the early pages, two women are abducted. They awaken in a cellar, shackled to the walls with two other women.  Three years later, our narrator escapes. The story picks up years after that and involves her abductor’s potential parole, the letters he is sending to her and his other victims, and a cult that would have fit right into a season of Dexter. The Never List  reminds me of Chelsea Cain but not as gruesome, and Gillian Flynn without the sick humor. If you can have fun with an ugly, nasty story, check this out. You know who you are.- Book Passage)

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill ( thriller, horror about a child kidnapper and a spine-tingling novel of supernatural suspense from master of horror Joe Hill, the New York Times bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country. Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
 
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son. Horror- Amazon)

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell ( Rose is a prudish police typist who transcribes crime confessions and then falls under the influence of a colleague, set in the 1920’s in NY)

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo ( 10 year old Darling goes from stealing fruit in  Zimbawe to Michigan “where the weather makes like it wants to kill you”- a look at the immigrant experience)

You are One of Them by Elliott Holt ( 3 years after being assigned as a youth emissary to the USSR, 13 yo Jenny dies with her parents in a plane crash. Years later a friend travels to Moscow to see if it was a hoax)

The Woman Who Lives Upstairs by Claire Messud  (this is a first rate psychological thriller that will keep readers spellbound, in the style of a classic Hitchcock film, right up until the final pages, where a stunning twist illuminates and clarifies the whole. Nora Eldridge, an elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, long ago compromised her dream to be a successful artist, mother and lover. She has instead become the “woman upstairs,” a reliable friend and neighbor always on the fringe of others’ achievements. Then into her life arrives the glamorous and cosmopolitan Shahids—and her life changes.)

Non Fiction

A Spoon Full of Sugar by Brenda Ashford (Brenda Ashford is the quintessential British nanny. Prim and proper, gentle and kind, she seems to have stepped straight out of Mary Poppins. For more than six decades Nanny Brenda swaddled, diapered, dressed, played with, sang to, cooked for, and looked after more than one hundred children. From the pampered sons and daughters of lords ensconced in their grand estates to the children of tough war evacuees in London’s East End, Brenda has taught countless little ones to be happy, healthy, and thoroughly well bred. In this delightful memoir, Brenda shares her endearing, amusing, and sometimes downright bizarre experiences turning generations of children into successful adults.- Amazon)

Anne Perry: Murder of the Century by Peter Graham (The spellbinding true story of Anne Perry, her friend Pauline Parker, and the brutal crime they committed in the name of friendship. On June 22, 1954, teenage friends Juliet Hulme—better known as bestselling mystery writer Anne Perry—and Pauline Parker went for a walk in a New Zealand park with Pauline’s mother, Honora. Half an hour later, the girls returned alone, claiming that Pauline’s mother had had an accident. But when Honora Parker was found in a pool of blood with the brick used to bludgeon her to death close at hand, Juliet and Pauline were quickly arrested, and later confessed to the killing. Their motive? A plan to escape to the United States to become writers, and Honora’s determination to keep them apart. Their incredible story made shocking headlines around the world and would provide the subject for Peter Jackson’s Academy Award–nominated film, Heavenly Creatures.

A sensational trial followed, with speculations about the nature of the girls’ relationship and possible insanity playing a key role. Among other things, Parker and Hulme were suspected of lesbianism, which was widely considered to be a mental illness at the time. This mesmerizing book offers a brilliant account of the crime and ensuing trial and shares dramatic revelations about the fates of the young women after their release from prison. With penetrating insight, this thorough analysis applies modern psychology to analyze the shocking murder that remains one of the most interesting cases of all time.)

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel ( We all have heard about John Glenn and other astronaut heroes from the early space program, but the wives became instant celebrities and fashion icons…read about their lives together, as support, in tragedy, divorce, death and parties)

 Cooked by Michael Pollan ( The book is divided into four parts: Fire, Water, Air and Earth, all a journey into four areas: Fire & cooking, Stews and Braises & Water, Air and the loaf of bread and fermented foods in Earth)

The Good Nurse : A True Story of Medicine, Madness and Murder by  Charles Graeber (After his December 2003 arrest, registered nurse Charlie Cullen was quickly dubbed “The Angel of Death” by the media. But Cullen was no mercy killer, nor was he a simple monster. He was a favorite son, husband, beloved father, best friend, and celebrated caregiver. Implicated in the deaths of as many as 300 patients, he was also perhaps the most prolific serial killer in American history.

Cullen’s murderous career in the world’s most trusted profession spanned sixteen years and nine hospitals across New Jersey and Pennsylvania. When, in March of 2006, Charles Cullen was marched from his final sentencing in an Allentown, Pennsylvania, courthouse into a waiting police van, it seemed certain that the chilling secrets of his life, career, and capture would disappear with him. Now, in a riveting piece of investigative journalism nearly ten years in the making, journalist Charles Graeber presents the whole story for the first time. Based on hundreds of pages of previously unseen police records, interviews, wire-tap recordings and videotapes, as well as exclusive jailhouse conversations with Cullen himself and the confidential informant who helped bring him down, THE GOOD NURSE weaves an urgent, terrifying tale of murder, friendship, betrayal and incompetence).

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky  (Heads in Beds is a funny, authentic, and irreverent chronicle of the highs and lows of hotel life, told by a keenly observant insider who’s seen it all. Prepare to be amused, shocked, and amazed as he spills the unwritten code of the bellhops, the antics that go on in the valet parking garage, the housekeeping department’s dirty little secrets—not to mention the shameless activities of the guests, who are rarely on their best behavior. Prepare to be moved, too, by his candor about what it’s like to toil in a highly demanding service industry at the luxury level, where people expect to get what they pay for (and often a whole lot more). Employees are poorly paid and frequently abused by coworkers and guests alike, and maintaining a semblance of sanity is a daily challenge. Offers easy ways to get what you need from your hotel- Amazon)

The Ordinary Acrobat: A Journey in the Wondrous World of the Circus, Past and Present by Duncan Wall  (Wall decided to become a student at a prestigious circus and takes us with him into a world of imagination)

The Way of the Knife by Mark Mazetti ( the author takes us on an account of chasing terrorists throughout the world and Islamic countries- very intriguing)

Young Adult:

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell   (“Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”—John Green, The New York Times Book Review Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under. Eleanor is the new girl in town and her wild red hair and patchwork outfits are not helping her blend in. She ends up sitting next to Park on the bus, whose tendencies towards comic books don’t jibe with the rest of his family’s love of sports. They sit in awkward silence every day until Park notices that Eleanor is reading his comics over his shoulder; he begins to slide them closer to her side of the seat and thus begins their love story. Their relationship grows gradually–making each other mixed tapes (it is 1986 after all) and discussing X-Men characters–until they both find themselves looking forward to the bus ride more than any other part of the day. Things aren’t easy: Eleanor is bullied at school and then goes home to a threatening family situation; Park’s parents do not approve of Eleanor’s awkward ways. Ultimately, though, this is a book about two people who just really, really like each other and who believe that they can overcome any obstacle standing in the way of their happiness. It’s a gem of a book. –Caley Anderson/ Amazon)

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner (What if the football hadn’t gone over the wall. On the other side of the wall there is a dark secret. And the devil. And the Moon Man. And the Motherland doesn’t want anyone to know. But Standish Treadwell — who has different-colored eyes, who can’t read, can’t write, Standish Treadwell isn’t bright — sees things differently than the rest of the “train-track thinkers.” So when Standish and his only friend and neighbor, Hector, make their way to the other side of the wall, they see what the Motherland has been hiding. And it’s big…One hundred very short chapters, told in an utterly original first-person voice, propel readers through a narrative that is by turns gripping and darkly humorous, bleak and chilling, tender and transporting. Repulsive but riveting per the teens I talked to)

Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith (In Wild Awake, Hilary T. Smith’s exhilarating and heart-wrenching YA debut novel, seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd has big plans for her summer without parents. She intends to devote herself to her music and win the Battle of the Bands with her band mate and best friend, Lukas. Perhaps then, in the excitement of victory, he will finally realize she’s the girl of his dreams. But a phone call from a stranger shatters Kiri’s plans. He says he has her sister Suki’s stuff—her sister Suki, who died five years ago. This call throws Kiri into a spiral of chaos that opens old wounds and new mysteries. Like If I Stay and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Wild Awake explores loss, love, and what it means to be alive.)

All summaries are from the book blurbs, Amazon, Independent Book Sense, Goodreads, newspaper reviews or by me.

Tracy Novick

One comment on “2013 Summer Bulletin of Best Reads

  1. Jo Haraf says:

    I am astonished and delighted at the breadth and depth of your reading. I bow in awe.

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