The reason I read and have always read is because books transport me. They take me on mini-vacations and away from whatever needs to be done in my life. Who wouldn’t rather go on a hike in Scotland than worry about their stack of bills or a clothes hamper overflowing? Even now, as we’re nearing the end of the holiday season and the year, I’m still on the lookout for new books. Though now it is more to keep me away from the massive amount of sweets in the house.
In the last year I’ve read some wonderful books (and some so-so ones). As friends and family are always asking me for recommendations, I thought my last blog post of 2010 should be a celebration of the books I loved and highly recommend. So here goes!
These are in no particular order and the list only includes the books I read in 2010. It has no basis on when the books came out.
The Embers by Hyatt Bass. This novel had me from the beginning. It tells the story of a family and the splintering that occurs after the death of a child. The characters are so rich and their pain so real I had difficulty putting it down. I wanted to go in and offer counseling to them! The father is guilt-ridden but I won’t tell you why. Emily, the daughter, is getting married and her choice of wedding location has her divorced parents troubled – it’s the spot where her brother, Thomas’ ashes were sprinkled. The smallest scenes in this book offer glimpses into the lives of the Aschers and the complete breakdown of their communication. You shouldn’t miss this.
The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. This is a true story of one man’s obsession with orchids and the legal (and personal) battles he had. Orlean went down to Florida and delved into the life of John Laroche. She accompanied him to orchid shows and onto Native American reservations. Laroche is certainly an interesting fellow! At the beginning of the book, it seems so ridiculous that someone could become obsessed with flowers but Orlean’s writing and research are so thorough that by the end, you find yourself looking at these little plants in a whole new light. Oh, sure, you’ll likely not become as wacky about the plants as some of these people (you MUST read how crazed some collectors get) but you’ll be intrigued nonetheless. You’ll even find yourself Googling “Ghost Orchid.” Believe me, you will.
Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors. This debut novel follows the story of Gabrielle de Montserrat, a young woman who was forced to marry an older nobleman. Her brother and mother meddled in her life and she was told to forsake her true love, a man they felt unworthy of their noble status. Needless to say, this forced marriage had its bumps and soon Gabrielle is thrust into the danger of Paris in the revolution. Delors brings the mob scenes and turbulent times to life. You’ll find yourself thinking, “Oh no! Poor Gabrielle!” a good portion of this book. And, once again, you’ll not want to put it down. The research and historical details are what make this a rich and fascinating novel.
Tethered by Amy MacKinnon. I have a queasy stomach. I need to preface this review with that sentence. Therefore I went into reading this debut novel with every bit of wincing and furrowed brows as possible. Me, reading a book about an undertaker’s life? Uh huh. But MacKinnon’s character of lonely Clara Marsh and her job takes a sudden turn for the bizarre when a child she sees hanging around the funeral home shows up in some pornographic material. This material is at the home of one of the bodies Clara goes to collect. The ensuing investigation and the blossoming relationship between Clara and one of the police officers kept me enthralled. There were many times during this book that I had goosebumps!
Diamond Ruby by Joe Wallace. As a New York Yankees fan, I loved this book from start to finish. I’m gratified to hear that Joe is working on another book in the life of Ruby. This novel is based on the true story of a female pitcher who struck out Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Ruby Lee Thomas, however, is all Joe’s character. Ruby, a young Jewish girl, grows up in New York. She watches many members of her family succomb to the 1918 Spanish Influenza outbreak, and at a ridiculously young age becomes responsible for the welfare of her nieces after their father emotionally checks out of their lives. Ruby, who has always hated her incredibly long arms, finds herself the star of a circus sideshow as a southpaw pitcher. This book kept me up way past my bedtime because I didn’t want to leave Ruby’s world. Just when you think things are starting to look up for her and the girls, something comes along that has you on the edge of your seat. I don’t want to give anything away though. If you’re a baseball fan, buy this book.
Animal Husbandry by Laura Zigman. Having seen the movie (Someone Like You) based on this book, I was well aware of the subject material of this novel. Even so, I found myself laughing pretty much through the whole thing. Laura’s writing is so sharp and dry, it was an absolute pleasure to read. This novel follows Jane Goodall (not the anthropologist) and her love life in Manhattan. After being dumped unceremoniously by a man who claimed to have loved her more than anything and who had made all these big plans with her just days before, Jane is thrown into a whirlwind of confusion. When she sits down and really thinks about it, his behavior seems to be a pattern and not one that’s particularly original to him. Jane develops a theory, “Old Cow/New Cow” and from then on, you’ll be laughing. Men, it would seem, only want the “New Cows” and once their “New Cows” become “Old Cows” they need to go out in search of a new “New Cow.” The movie starred Greg Kinnear, Ashley Judd and Hugh Jackman. After reading this novel, it’s no surprise it was turned into a movie!
The Department of Lost and Found by Allison Winn-Scotch. This novel follows the story of Natalie Miller, a senior aide to a New York senator. In the beginning of the novel you feel Natalie has it all but after she’s diagnosed with breast cancer, everything changes, dramatically. Her live-in boyfriend leaves her, her boss and her co-workers seem to want her out of the way, and she has a hard time with her chemo treatments. She begins to keep a diary as she’s forced to stay home during her treatments. Thankfully she has friends and a hot gynecologist, Zach, to keep her company. This book is funny and warm while also being a realistic look at how cancer affects not just the victim but the people around them. It’s a must read.
Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado. This is a true story of one woman’s unhappy life as a Hollywood executive and her decision to move to the east coast with her husband to become a baker. If that doesn’t hook you, it includes delicious recipes, each with a story of its own. Gesine’s beloved mother, Helga, died of cancer and this book lovingly tells of Gesine and her sister’s upbringing. Helga and her influence are everywhere. You’ll see the toll that a fake Hollywood had on an adult Gesine and the transformation into the lovely woman she’s become once she escaped to the country. Every page is a tribute to her family and the sweetness abounds. This book is a treasure and, being half-German myself, I often run to it to share bits of Germany with my mother. Buy this book. You will love it. It will leave you wanting to begin a daily ritual of sitting down to tea or coffee with a treat and your loved ones. Honest.
All Saints by Karen Palmer. This book takes you into the gritty world of Louisiana in the 1950s and tells the story of a man, Harlan Desonnier, newly released from prison. Harlan has a grudge against a former friend who Harlan believes was having an affair with his wife. Harlan, one night in a fury, accidentally killed his wife. Now that he’s been released from prison, he wants his revenge. This isn’t your typical story. It delves into the lives of not only Harlan but a beautiful nurse, and a Catholic priest who’s lost his faith. The combination of characters and Karen’s atmospheric writing is haunting at times. This is a wonderful and original novel.
You Had Me At Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness by Julie Klam. After having read the hilarious “Please Excuse My Daughter” by Julie in 2009, I knew that I’d enjoy this book. I just didn’t realize that in addition to all the laughter there would be plenty of tears. Julie is a member of a Boston Terrier rescue organization. She hadn’t intended to have so many dogs but once she adopted her beloved “Otto” she was hooked on these little black and white fellows. This book shows us that, like people, all animals have their own personalities (and such personalities!). Julie takes us into her home and shows us how her family copes with the little furry blessings and the gifts they leave on the rugs around the house. It is touching, heartwarming, and hilarious. You’ll find yourself so engrossed in their lives that you’ll not want the book to end. It’s a true gem. Why not buy it and then consider adopting a little furry friend from (or making a donation to) a shelter near you?
Confessions of a She-Fan: The Course of True Love with the New York Yankees by Jane Heller. Oh, God, I don’t even know what to say about this book. Jane and I could be related. This book will have you howling at Jane’s antics and her ever-patient husband, Michael. It is the true story of the author Jane Heller following the New York Yankees on the road. It began after she wrote an Op-Ed piece in May of 2007 in the New York Times about how disgusted she was with the Yankees’ performance and how she was going to “divorce” them. The response was amazing and a deal was struck with a publisher that Jane should go on the road following the Yankees for the last half of their season. Jane’s quest to meet a Yankee and interview them will have you laughing. The word “tenacious” springs to mind. I won’t go into the whole book but it’s a riot and a definite must read.
Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town by Elyssa East. This book is amazing. It’s narrative non-fiction and takes us to Gloucester, Massachusetts where we learn all about “Dogtown” a ghost town that at one time had been a colonial village. Since that time the 3,600 acres surrounding it have claimed it back. We learn about the murder committed there in 1984 and we follow along in the investigation. This book is intriguing on so many levels: the history, the art, the wilderness, the people. I clung to it and brought it with me everywhere I went. Elyssa became engrossed with the landscape of Dogtown and its story. You will become engrossed in her telling of this wild place. The rocks. The people. Even the crows!
Five Finger Fiction by Veronica Brooks-Sigler. I’ve made it my place to repeatedly bother Veronica about a sequel for this book. It is hilarious. It follows Lila O’Farrell and her huge Irish Catholic family. Lila, ever one to take digs at her mother’s dominating ways, becomes a bit of a kleptomaniac. The items she takes and the stories behind each piece will leaving you rolling with laughter. Veronica’s style of writing and the phrases she uses is what captivated me the most. There were plenty of times I’d be in the school parking lot waiting to pick up my son and people would look over at me as I barked with laughter. Lila and her family need to be in more books. Help me convince Veronica this is the case by BUYING THIS BOOK. You’ll love it!
Too Great a Lady: The Notorious, Glorious Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton by Amanda Elyot. As an Anglophile, I’ve always been fascinated with the story of Emma, Lady Hamilton and her love affair with the hero, Lord Horatio “Hornblower” Nelson. This Napoleonic historical fiction novel is gripping. Emma’s life is captivating and made me long to watch the Vivien Leigh movie (That Hamilton Woman) over again. Elyot’s Emma goes from selling coal on the roadside in North Wales to London at the age of 12. From then her life takes so many twists and turns as to be dizzying. Emma has always been an intriguing character and Elyot (author Leslie Carroll’s pen name) tells her story in what could easily be Emma speaking. You believe you’re reading her words as she guides us from town to town, party to party, and man to man. Lady Hamilton wasn’t just Lord Nelson’s lover, she was a diplomat in her own right. If you love history, you’ll love this book.
The Perfect Royal Mistress by Diane Haeger. This historical novel introduces us to Nell Gwynne, King Charles II’s mistress. Nell has had a tough life and was raised in plague-ridden London. She eventually stars on the stage in “bawdy comedies” and this is what makes her famous. King Charles, notorious for his many affairs, sees her there and is captivated by Nell. As they become involved, Nell tries to balance her life as a royal mistress with that of an actress. She must also navigate her way through his royal court where his lovers, past and present, reign supreme. This is a richly detailed piece of fiction and one that will definitely entertain you.
Now I’m sure I’m forgetting some books so I may come back and add to this list. Again, this isn’t exhaustive and only includes my favorite books read in 2010, not those in 2009 or earlier. If you have questions, feel free to ask me.
Wishing you all the best for 2011. Happy New Year!