Summer Reading for 2011

2011 Summer Reading by Tracy


A Buddha in the Attic by Otsuka  ( a story of the Japanese brides ordered by men in America)

A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Hansen ( 1920’s a sexy bombshell has an affair with a salesman and pressures him into murdering her husband..based on a true story, and though you know the outcome it is riveting)

Beauty of Humanity Movement by Gibbs (This is a very interesting novel situated in Hanoi, Vietnam. Its timeframe is the present but the novel also deals quite a bit with the 1950’s and 1960’s, providing an extensive history of the country. The Beauty of Humanity Movement refers to a group of artists, poets, and writers who all gathered around Hung’s pho cart in the 1950’s and 1960’s before they were arrested, re-educated or killed by the communists. A daughter goes in search of her Father…. reviewed by Amazon) check out “ Sweetness in the Belly” by Gibbs another amazing story by her about living in Ethiopia & refugees in London!

Caleb’s Crossing by Brooks In 1665, a young man from Martha’s Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Upon this slender factual scaffold, Brooks has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure. The narrator of Caleb’s Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island’s glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia’s minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe’s shaman, against whose magic he must test his own beliefs. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite. There, Bethia finds herself reluctantly indentured as a housekeeper and can closely observe Caleb’s crossing of cultures. Amazon reference.

Dreams of Joy by See (first-person narratives by Joy and Pearl, we first meet nineteen year old Joy, who recently discovered a huge secret about her past and decides to go to the People’s Republic of China to find her birth father and to help Chairman Mao’s Communist cause. Pearl is hot on her trail to China, returning to places once familiar now quite changed. The alternating points of view are an effective way to show how both idealistic, Joy, and cynical Pearl, adjust to their new environments. At first, Joys is quite enamored with the new Communist ideal of sharing and equality. Pearl, on the other hand, can easily see the cracks, fissures and hypocrisies in the new regime.)

Doc by Mary Doria Russell (The story is primarily about Doc Holliday’s long impending struggle with living his adult life as his debilitating disease (TB) slowly destroyed his lungs and finally kills him on November 8, 1887. The story describes a man of many facets–a dentist, a gambler, an accomplished piano player, a horseman, an alcoholic, extremely educated, quick tempered, a loyal friend, a friend of the oppressed, and an amazing human being. ) She has written very good novels- one of my favorites is The Sparrow

Faithful Place by French (a girl disappears in 1985, 22 years later her suitcase shows up and her boyfriend at the time is now a detective & wants to find out what happened to Rosie)

Galore by Crummey  (Set in Newfoundland over the course of a century in the life of a hardscrabble fishing community. After a lean early-19th-century winter, a whale beaches itself and everyone in town gathers to help with the slaughter. But when a woman known only as Devine’s Widow—when she’s not called an outright witch—cuts into the belly, the body of an albino man slides out. He eventually revives, turns out to be a mute, and is dubbed Judah by the locals. Judah’s mystery—is his appearance responsible for the great fishing season that follows?—is only one among many in this wild place, where the people are afflicted by ghosts and curses as much as cold and hunger. Booklist)

Say her Name by Goldman (The novel of Aura, written by her husband, about their life together and her tragic death in a swimming accident…a love story)

The Sealed letter by Donoghue (The Sealed Letter is set in London in 1864, the novel is loosely based on a scandalous divorce case, and features facts stranger than fiction: a stained dress (sound familiar?), fabricated evidence, and scandal more scandalous than the sensationalist novels of the period. It’s a novel in which supposed friends turn against one another, in which servants even turn against those they serve. )

The Snowman by Nesbo  It’s the first snowfall of the season and a snowman appears outside young Jonas’s house. Strangely, the snowman is facing the house, rather than the street. In the middle of the night, Jonas awakes and finds his mother is missing, but her scarf is now around the snowman’s neck. It is about a serial killer and Harry Hole the detective working the case, I could not put it down. Set in Norway)

State of  Wonder by Patchett  (Marina Singh gave up a career as a doctor after botching an emergency delivery as an intern, opting instead for the more orderly world of research for a pharmaceutical company. When office colleague Anders Eckman, sent to the Amazon to check on the work of a field team, is reported dead, Marina is asked by her company’s CEO to complete Anders’ task and to locate his body. What Marina finds in the sweltering, insect-infested jungles of the Amazon shakes her to her core. For the team is headed by esteemed scientist Annick Swenson, the woman who oversaw Marina’s residency and who is now intent on keeping the team’s progress on a miracle drug completely under wraps. By Booklist ….almost sounds like Heart of Darkness.

The Story of a Beautiful Girl by Simon (It is 1968. Lynnie, a young white woman with a developmental disability, and Homan, an African American deaf man, are locked away in an institution, the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, and have been left to languish, forgotten. Deeply in love, they escape, and find refuge in the farmhouse of Martha, a retired schoolteacher and widow. But the couple is not alone-Lynnie has just given birth to a baby girl. When the authorities catch up to them that same night, Homan escapes into the darkness, and Lynnie is caught. But before she is forced back into the institution, she whispers two words to Martha: “Hide her.” And so begins the 40-year epic journey of Lynnie, Homan, Martha, and baby Julia-lives divided by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet drawn together by a secret pact and extraordinary love. )

The Uncoupling by Wolitzer ( A school play Lysistrata – about who stop having sex with men to end a war….seems to cast a spell over the women in the community, who like the play lose their desire to have sex)

Turn of Mind by Laplante ( a hand surgeon who now has Alzheimer’s who might not recognize her daughter but has not forgotten surgery is the considered a suspect when her busybody best friend is found murdered and with four expertly amputated fingers? Suspenseful, I also found myself understanding the feeling of loss & confusion when in a state of dementia)

Untold Story by Ali ( what if Princess Diana did not die in the car crash but instead faked her death to escape…but now living in a small town in America can she forget her sons?)

Non Fiction:

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Fuller  ( further account of parents’ arduous life in Africa., losing 3 children, losing their land in Zimbawe to squatters & now living in Zambia- good follow up to Let’s don’t Go to the Dogs Tonight)

Even Silence has an End by Betancourt  (Born in Bogotá, raised in France, Ingrid Betancourt at the age of thirty-two gave up a life of comfort and safety to return to Colombia to become a political leader in a country that was being slowly destroyed by terrorism, violence, fear, and a pervasive sense of hopelessness. In 2002, while campaigning as a candidate in the Colombian presidential elections, she was abducted by the FARC. Nothing could have prepared her for what came next. She would spend the next six and a half years in the depths of the jungle as a prisoner of the FARC. Even Silence Has an End is her deeply personal and moving account of that time. Chained day and night for much of her captivity, she never stopped dreaming of escape and, in fact, succeeded in getting away several times, always to be recaptured.) Took my breath away

In the Garden of Beasts by Erickson (At one level, this is a portrayal of a family. Key characters are William Dodd, an academic desperate to write a book on the South who finds himself oddly enough tapped to become the American Ambassador to Germany in the very early years of Hitler’s rule of the country. There is also considerable detail given to Dodd’s daughter, Martha. She was coming off a failed marriage and she (and her brother and William’s wife) accompanied Dodd in his service in Germany. At another level, the book is about the gathering horror of the Third Reich. Sometimes, Germany seems like a modern, civilized country. At other times, though, the darkness of Nazism manifests itself. One small vignette: H. V. Kaltenborn’s advocacy of Germany–and his family’s terror at a Hitler demonstration where they were frightened by thugs for not carrying out the German salute with the arm. Other small incidents that portend what is to come pop up over the course of the work, providing a dark backdrop to the surface story. )

Half a Life by Strauss    (True story about the accidental killing of a high school classmate and how he lived with that fact)

Lost in Shangri-la by Zuckoff  (Near the end of World War II, a plane carrying 24 members of the United States military, including nine Women’s Army Corps (WAC) members, crashed into the New Guinea jungle during a sightseeing excursion. 21 men and women were killed. The three survivors–a beautiful WAC, a young lieutenant who lost his twin brother in the crash, and a severely injured sergeant–were stranded deep in a jungle valley notorious for its cannibalistic tribes. They had no food, little water, and no way to contact their military base. The story of their survival and the stunning efforts undertaken to save them are the crux of Lost in Shangri-La, Mitchell Zuckoff’s remarkable and inspiring narrative. Faced with the potential brutality of the Dani tribe, known throughout the valley for its violence, the trio’s lives were dependent on an unprecedented rescue mission–a dedicated group of paratroopers jumped into the jungle to provide aid and medical care, consequently leaving the survivors and paratroopers alike trapped on the jungle floor. A perilous rescue by plane became their only possible route to freedom. A riveting story of deliverance under the most unlikely circumstances, Lost in Shangri-La deserves its place among the great survival stories of World War II. –Lynette Mong

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Blum (“ A fascinating Jazz Age tale about poison & murder,” forensics and true crime in that time period)

Tears in the Darkness by Norman ( a powerful story about the Bataan Death March, riveting)

The Woman who could not Forget by Chang ( the story of Iris Chang, who revealed the second holocaust to the world; she wrote the Rape of Nanking, the story of the Japanese atrocities to the Chinese of Nanking. The  research she did on the subject she could never forget and she ultimately killed herself. This is her mother’s account of her daughter’s life.)

Young Adult books to read:

Hunger Games Trilogy by Collins ( future America where children are forced to fight to the death,  the nation watches it on TV, and Catniss & Petra show compassion in an inhumane situation). EXCELLENT

Delirium by Oliver  ( Imagine a society where you get a shot to prevent falling in love? Love is considered a disease of madness, an infection) Oliver’s other book: Before I Fall is great too!

Divergent by Roth (a dystopian Chicago where teenagers must make a choice at 16 that determines the rest of their life…)

Adoration of Jenna Fox by Pearson ( 17 year old Jenna just woke up from a coma, it has been a year, so she is told…what really happened to Jenna?)

The Berlin Boxing Club by Sharenow ( Karl is being bullied at his school in Nazi-era Berlin….though he does not consider himself Jewish, never been to a synagogue, and does not accept his heritage as his own, his peers attack him relentlessly. Then Max Schmeling, champion boxer gives him lessons…)

Between Shades of  Gray by Sepetys (In 1941, 15 year old Lina is deported in the middle of the night by the Soviet secret police to Siberia…she begins a journey of honor and survival.) EXCELLENT!

Magnolia League by Crouch ( When her mother suddenly dies she is forced to move from the West Coast to Savannah, Georgia to live with her grandmother & become part of the debutante society)



by Condie (In this society the officials decide everything- work, when you die and who you love….Cassia might change that)

Those That Wake by Karp( Laura’s parents inexplicably have forgotten about her, what is going on?)

All summaries of the books are from Amazon or their book blurbs or by me

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