Erica enjoys playing with words whenever and wherever a willing word is found. She loves reading them as well, and besides the pleasures of eating, dancing, playing music, and the company of a certain short person and a small cat, she lives for the moment when a few words strung together open whole worlds and produce profound emotions and revelations.
Heidi Julavits came across an old diary of hers, and found it self-absorbed, trite and uninspired; nothing foretold the acclaimed writer she would become. Curious whether her current persona might produce more insightful observations, she resumed diary-keeping. For two years, each entry, beginning with "Today I...", followed a random thought to its satisfying conclusion. With a knife-edged dry wit and amusingly wry perspective, relationships, ambitions, fears, beliefs, habits, and motivations are all fodder for her distinctive soul-searching intellect. From the height of cerebral philosophizing to the depths of pop-culture musings, the clock unfolds to reveal modern life: inane, hilarious, exquisite.
Dr. Paul Allen, a diagnostic physician in a comfortable East Coast family, is confronted with an unthinkable premise, and the most challenging investigation of his life: his grown son, from a previous marriage, has been charged with assassinating a politician. He traces his son's wanderings and analyzes with agonizing detail the childhood of a boy once cherished for his compassion, but who now has left college, changed his name, and inexplicably does not proclaim his innocence. This gripping novel explores the inconceivable truths, and profound emotions found in any family bond. A superb read!
Don't judge this book by its title!! Imagine stepping into a 1950s travel postcard: the scene is of 5 enthusiastic, quickwitted British nurses enjoying the unspoiled landscape of Yellowstone National Park, with their old Ford V8 in the background. This delightful travelogue recounts the many-thousand mile trip taken by these capable but fun-loving women, who often found work along the way, to finance their trip. Invariably they would charm and/or befriend whomever they met and anyone reading about their adventures will be equally enchanted.
The Titanic tragedy continues to fascinate us, and this novel, set in 1914, imagines a similar fate for a young, recently-wed woman. She has survived the unimaginable: weeks in a lifeboat on the Atlantic Ocean, but now faces a different captivity — she is on trial for murder. Grace's complex character, the sensibilities of the early 20th century, the intellectual and psychological choices she's faced with, make for a riveting story of endurance, power, and free will. (Good book club title.)
A father comforts his little boy as they spend a long, snowy evening together in front of a crackling fire, and then outside in the cold starry night. Through their quiet conversation, and these exquisite papercut and drawn illustrations, we witness the profound intimacy of their shared loss and love.
Celebrate Queen Elizabeth's jubilee, by reading this small treasure of a novel, that is in fact a witty tribute to the potent pleasures of reading. After a chance encounter with a bookmobile, the Queen discovers an affinity for reading. This newfound passion (or bothersome pre-occupation, as her court views it) has far-reaching consequences; for her Majesty, and for the government in general, in a wonderfully shocking conclusion. An ingenious satire on the transformative powers, and universal appeal of literature.
Many have proclaimed this to be the best piece of non-fiction in recent memory, for its historical and personal depth, and emotional candor. After inheriting a Japanese netsuke collection, ceramicist DeWall traces the "travels" of these small carvings, acquired by his great-grandfather's cousin, and then moved from Paris to Vienna, to Tokyo, and now London. He gradually uncovers his family's parallel story; rich both monetarily and culturally, and tragic, as the third Reich seizes the possessions of Jewish families in 1938 Vienna. An absolute jewel, if you like history, memoir, intrigue, art, told with passionate elegance.
Have you ever heard someone say they don't read fiction, and thought about all that they were missing? This novel pitches you, head-and-heart-first, into a young boy's world, the youngest of three brothers in a biracial, working class family. In the ever-hopeful child's voice; full of energy, reactive, non-judgmental, the terrain of family life is portrayed with raw, emotional clarity.
Torres conjures the wrenching ties of familial love, allegiances, and expectations, and then the beginnings of personal and sexual self-discovery, with simplicity and amazing skill. This small book is an example of fiction that is breathtakingly powerful, and not to be missed.
The unfolding of events over one long Labor Day weekend in the life of a bright, lonely, 13 year old boy, propels this touching, riveting novel. Henry has been living with his once vibrant, now withdrawn mother, and enduring an awkward relationship with the father that left them. When an injured stranger approaches him one day, the repercussions of this encounter changes all their lives in profound, unexpected ways. With its authentic, soul-searching, hormone-driven teenaged narrator, this book had an emotional impact that stayed with me long after its lump-in-the-throat resolution.
If romantic and culinary passion, in the city famous for love and food, sounds appealing, then you'll find this memoir by an American journalist as deliciously irresistible as I did. Ms. Bard met her husband at an academic conference and writes eloquently about her courtship with the man AND with Parisian cuisine and culture in general. Her observations yield a wonderful portrait of place and of the process of making it one's home. Recipes accompany each chapter!
Few writers are able to reveal the natural world's intricacies as Ms. Ackerman can, with prose so ravishing, fanciful and evocative. In her newest book, she offers a feast of facts, images and ideas, in these seasonally arranged essays based on the theme of dawn. The behaviors of animals, birds and humans at daybreak, the inspiration experienced by painters such as Monet, our many sunrise-centered myths and rituals are a few of the subjects explored, and with such joyful contemplation that we are able, as the author puts its, "to enchant ourselves by paying attention."
Sometimes breaking the rules just a little is what it takes to change something...When 12-year-old Julian reads an email sent to his uncle, a powerful businessman, he is drawn into a controversy over a stand of old-growth redwoods. Soon he has befriended the girl who sent the message, and along with his wise-cracking best friend, they hatch a plot to save the trees. This modern-day "ecoadventure" is fast paced and thoroughly engrossing. At the satisfying ending, we learn that help for Julian and his determined pals will come from a very unexpected source!
Love of family and place permeates this wonderful memoir of childhood in rural Botswana.
Homeschooled by their unconventional but quick-witted mother, encouraged by their father, a village doctor who flies to his clinics, and influenced by their charismatic grandparents, Robyn and her siblings reveled in the vast classroom provided by the surrounding bush.
An eventual move to the South African border brings awareness of the emergence of HIV-AIDS, and the tensions of racial politics, but the prevailing delights of this story are the detailed accounts of a bright, open-minded family’s interactions with one another and with a country so gorgeous, vibrant, and complex.
On the coast of 1850s Maryland, the escape of the "Dreamer," a female slave who has mysterious visions of the future, has repercussions throughout the region, as she is pursued or given refuge.
Based on actual events, this tremendously engrossing novel features conflicted slave catchers and plantation owners, ruthless slave stealers, and the population of slaves themselves, who employ a secret code of visual clues, in order to aid their fleeing brethren.
Part gripping, old-western tale, part complex morality play, and completely heartwrenching in its authenticity, this book enlightens as it is enthralls, deserving recognition as a classic of American historical fiction.
One of my favorite novels of the year, this would still be an absorbing, lyrical story of two girls adopted by a kind nurse and her immigrant husband, without the added dimension of their being conjoined twins, connected at the head and unable even to look at one another.
Told as a joint autobiography by the dominant, more intellectual twin Rose, and her frail, but emotionally vibrant sister Ruby, their account of growing up in beautiful rural Canada, with all the complexities of familial and community relationships, will find you looking back to the title page, not believing that this is indeed fiction.
At first drawn by curiosity about the unimaginable challenges of the girls’ situation, I was won over by their immensely likeable personalities, and by the courage and fierce love that is evident in each character.
Welcome to the enchanting, adventure-filled, completely believable but totally magical world of 13 year-old Flora Segunda.
In the amazing many-roomed house she lives in, owned by her mother, the Commander General, she discovers a banished house-butler who needs help restoring his special powers, and thus begins a series of challenges she must face by the time her important 14th birthday celebration takes place.
This exceptionally bright heroine, who has a sort of female Robin Hood as her mentor, and refreshingly witty, unconventional friends, will captivate you as she maneuvers her way, with brains and the occasional magic-making, through some really unusual adolescent dilemmas!
In telling the story of her maternal ancestors, slaves for four of the seven generations, Jacqueline Woodson has shared with us a sort of love letter for her daughter.
This unique depiction of a tragic time shows us the cherishing of the baby girl, born into each generation, who would be taught how to make quilts. The "Show Way" quilts, sewn during the slave years, contained hidden symbols; guides to finding escape routes to freedom.
Stunningly beautiful illustrations, by Hudson Talbott, inlaid with historical detail and luminous with emotion, help focus the story on a sometimes joyful legacy of courage.
We see how love, and colorful scraps of material gathered during dark times, kept hope alive for one African-American family.
When Washington Post journalist Neely Tucker and his wife moved to Zimbabwe in the early 1990s, they began volunteering at one of the country's many orphanages, where alarming numbers of children were ill or dying. Their decision to adopt one abandoned baby is the basis for this tremendously poignant memoir; the gripping account of their struggle first to keep tiny Chipo alive, and then the bureaucratic battle they embark on, to become her legal parents.
This is the story of the emergence of the AIDS crisis at the end of the last century, a glimpse at the intense work of international journalism, as Mr. Tucker is intermittently sent to cover volatile political situations, and is about love's capacity to break seemingly impenetrable barriers.
With candor and humor this former Mississippian takes us to the heart of his remarkable biracial family, and shares the emotional journey taken in creating it.
The cost of oil is rising, the debate continues about exploration in Alaska's wildlife refuge and elsewhere, and reports of war in oil-rich regions dominate the news. What has made this substance such a volatile topic, literally and figuratively?
Millions of years ago, there were trillions of plankton and diatoms and other single-celled creatures in the sea. When they died, they sank to the bottom to slowly build a carbon-rich layer of organic rubble. Only as recently as the 1800s was it discovered that when the carbons in this oozy black stuff were properly split apart, a very useful combustible or lubricating material could be produced.
So begins the story of crude oil, from its creation, to its myriad uses in modern society, to the havoc and tragedies that have occurred due to its value and scarcity. From its development during World War II to the current omnipresence of oil in products and manufacturing, this highly readable history of oil will illuminate your understanding of modern society and the balances of world power.
Witty, charming and unpretentious, considering Ms. Hesser is a New York food writer, these are a series of pieces written for the New York Times magazine chronicling her romance with and eventual marriage to writer Tad Friend.
In each chapter recipes are included for the sometimes exotic but often ordinary foods that are prepared and consumed. Partly the story of a developing love affair, with its attendant adjustments and experiments in tastes and desires, this is also about how eating can be a key to loving each other, ourselves, and life itself.
The combination of witty, naughty, and British is usually a winning one for me when choosing fiction.
These three novellas, each with the theme of a woman taking destiny in her own hands through inventive, if not diabolical methods, are also fabulously well written.
From gardening-for-revenge, to an adulteress with a change of heart, to an unfulfilled housewife visited by spirits, each vivid character will delight and scandalize in this absorbing, elegant trio of stories.
Full of the rich, rough imagery of its setting in rural Wales, this is the story of a young woman recalling her childhood and being sent, after her mother's death, to the windy rock-strewn farm of her grandparents. It is about alliances, as she befriends the village outcast, and about the mysteries of love, as she deciphers the nature of her parents' relationship and her father's identity, and of loyalties, as she grapples with the death of another village girl.
As lyrical and exotic as some of the Welsh place names: Caetresaint, Llangollen, Aberystruth and Tor-y-Gwint, and as sweet and wrenching as adolescence inevitable is, this first novel is an absolute jewel of a find.
When I was in Italy I bought this very book, and reading it afterwards prolonged and greatly enhanced my experiences in the Siena region. As a native-Italian tour guide, the author leads interesting and sometimes unbelievably strange or demanding people on custom tours in Tuscany. Alas, many are Americans, but Mr. Castagno does develop an affection for them! The humor, history, and candor of this book give it a refreshing perspective on a subject that has been oft-written about.
In 1996 New York, a young Ms. Rakoff lands a job at the literary agency that represents the famously reclusive author J. D. Salinger. Witty, poised, buoyed by enthusiasm and wry humor, she navigates her way through this technologically outdated workplace, answering earnest Salinger fan letters on a Selectric typewriter. Led by an eccentric, enigmatic boss, she learns the vagaries of the publishing world (where she hopes eventually to have her own work accepted). This wonderful, spellbinding memoir is rich with the revelations and disillusionments of love, low-rent housing, creativity, and self-discovery in the city of literary dreams.