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It's been many years since author Jane Smiley, whose 1991 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award bestseller "A Thousand Acres," has been in my book radar. What a Big Treat it was to discover that not only has Jane Smiley published a new novel to share with her fan base, she's written a story with delightfully unique voices who have a timely message to share with the world. From page one and through the last page, I found myself utterly hooked, falling head over heels in love with each and every character who include a racehorse, a raven, two ducks, two rats, and an 8-year old Parisian boy. Smiley rejoices in the animal world and their commanding communication skills, showing her readers that all living things desire freedom, love, and understanding. I highly recommend this absolutely charming read and can't say it loud enough: "Perestroika in Paris" is my end of 2020 all-time favorite novel!
Ann Arbor writer Keith Taylor spent several weeks, at two different times in his life, on Isle Royale in northern Michigan as a part of the National Park Service's Artist-in-Residence program, in 1991 and again in 2019. This sweet chapbook, published by Alice Greene & Co., is Taylor's prose and poetry ruminations written during his wilderness immersion and his reemergence into "Twenty-first Century Wild." From the gorgeous front and back cover painting by Kathleen M. Heideman to the lovely and visually alert words on each page, this little gem of a book is a must-have companion to take along on hikes and camping out in the Michigan woods.
A love letter to an 800-year old oak tree in North Essex, England and a meditation on nature's beauty, curiosities, and healing powers. The prose in this lovely book is poetic in its tender descriptions and history lesson on this great tree. Journal entries detail changes in the air, the birds, and the insects who inhabit, feed on, and nurture the tree. I could write on and on about the majesty of the tree and the joy of reading Canton's discoveries and what he's learned about this colossal tree that would have been a sapling when the Magna Carta was signed. A perfect companion to take on walks in the woods, bird watching or simply embracing the beauty and mysteries of old trees.
Alice Quinn, former executive director of the Poetry Society of America and poetry editor at The New Yorker contacted poets around the country to see what they were writing while under the covid-19 quarantine. What she gathered is this collection around grief, strength, anger, worries, politics, wisdom, and humanity as poets expressed their experiences while sheltering in place. This is an important collaboration of American writers sharing their voices during this year of surreal reality.
It's hard to believe this is a debut novel for writer Eileen Garvin, who has been compared to author Eleanor Oliphant. A lovingly told story rich with characters I would enjoy having as my next-door neighbors or best friend's kids, the story takes place on a bee farm in rural Oregon. Having the utmost respect for bees and beekeepers, it was an extra special treat to be taken to that world. The protagonist's father's destructive revilement of his son is utterly horrific but that's what makes the story the story. It is heartbreaking, yet this tender novel redeems itself in a heartwarming way. Be sure to watch for it's release in Spring of 2021.
It's not hard to appreciate historical fiction when it is as well-researched and captivating as Janet Charles' The Paris Library. As an obsessive reader and lover of libraries — I grew up visiting Detroit's beautiful downtown Main Library, on Woodward Avenue, every Saturday and Sunday while a Detroit high school student — the story of Odile Souchet's pains and joys as a Parisian librarian before and during the Nazi occupation of Paris is vividly descriptive of her library patrons, her own personal struggles, and the bookshelves themselves. A heart wrenching story that switches from Odile's 1939 through 1944 France and the heartwarming relationship we watch develop with her teenage next door neighbor, Lily, and Lily's family, in rural Montana of 1983-1989.
I do alot of backyard and neighborhood bird watching. I own more bird books than one person needs, but my very most favorite is nature photographer Stan Tekiela's perfect pocket-size Field Guide to the Birds of Michigan. His clear and concise color photos are spot-on, making it easy to quickly identify birds. The book is sensibly organized by color of birds. A color-coded range map of Michigan identifies the seasons birds can be seen around the State. Stan's Notes, featured on every page, add even more helpful information.
A different take on story-telling, it is a pleasure to be treated to fiction writers works of poetry. Margaret Atwood's new collection begins with a glance back at her life, losses, and the things we collect throughout a lifetime. Moving on from human life she addresses nature with both humor and tenderness as in "Cicadas," her recognition of the orchestra we are treated to in the heat of the summer. The 8-part "Songs for Murdered Sisters," a song cycle written for baritone Joshua Hopkins in honor of his murdered sister, is in-your-face real and tragic. What I appreciate in this collection is how Ms. Atwood moves from aging and life's endings, to her gratefulness to life's treasures.
New York Times bestselling nature writer Sy Montgomery's "The Soul of an Octopus" is a tender and heartwarming exploration of the physical and emotional world of octopuses. One of nature's most incredible creations, Montgomery reveals the brilliant minds of octopus, their sense of humor and curiosity, and their mindblowing ability to connect with humans. The book is a moving love story and a fascinating revelation on what octopuses can teach us about the meeting of two different minds. I can't recommend this book highly enough — it is simply a delight to read about Montgomery's visits with Athena, an octopus who resides in Boston's New England Aquarium.
What initially caught my attention to this wonderful exploration of the lives of birds was the gorgeous cover . . . and of course, the title. How fascinating it is to learn why birds sing, the phenomenon of their ability to fly, what they are able to tell us about seasons, their place in the world, and much much more. This beautifully illustrated book scratches at our itch and curiosity in wanting to understand what it is to be a bird.
I've never given an ounce of thought to ancient Egyptian history. After devouring this complicated love story built around an archeological dig site, I'm totally in! Incredibly fascinating behind-the-scenes who/what/where/how data surrounding Ancient Egypt and digs are detailed thanks to Jodi Picoult's thorough research on everything Ancient Egypt: death and dying, mummies, grammar and prose and hieroglyphics, Egyptian society, the gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt, plus physics and so much more. First and foremost "The Book of Two Ways" is an entangled love story complete with intrigue around the fully-developed cast of characters. The captivating Egypt I lesson is an added treat. I tend to avoid mushy-gushy love stories, but this is one I can say "read on and enjoy the ride!"
I've said it before, I'll say it again: I am a huge Billy Collins fan. I find his writing to be comforting and . . . "natural." He writes about everyday things, like watching an ant walk across a kitchen table, or the annoyance of the neighbor's barking dog. Collins has a delightful sense of humor, though his work is in no way "comedic." This is his 13th book of poetry and every bit as good and delightful as the last one — which is always my most treasured — until the next collection comes out. I can't say that any one of them is my all-time favorite, although currently this new collection just knocks me out. I do adore them all equally. Read "Anniversary" on page 99 to get a sense of the serious and sentimental side of Billy Collins. Then, go to page 42 for a good chuckle over "Listening to Hank Mobley Around 11 O'Clock After a Long Fun Boozy Dinner, the Four of Us, at Captain Pig's, Our Favorite Restaurant in Town." There you go. Enjoy.
No book about the wild west compares to Larry McMurtry's epic novel that follows two aging Texas Rangers who embark on one more cow herding adventure. You'll find yourself laughing on one page, crying on the next, and hoping the story never ends. McMurtry is at his best building picturesque characters who pull at your heart and become larger than life. I look forward to a break in my life so I can get utterly lost in this wonderful book all over again.
This is Barbara Kingsolver's second collection of poetry. I carried with me and read in parks, in trees, on benches, in bed, on a little boat her first collection, published in 1992, "Another America: Otra America." I read it out loud for only myself to hear. At that point Ms. Kingsolver had published four books: two novels, "Animal Dreams" and "Bean Trees," a collection of short stories, and a book about the women of the 1983 Arizona Mine Strike. I fell in love with her writing. Now, dozens of years and bestsellers later, she has written her second poetry collection, in which she reflects on the practical, the spiritual, and the wild. The collection opens with how-to poems that touch on everyday life such as marriage and divorce, shearing a sheep, doing absolutely nothing, and flying! In the middle are poems about making peace. She finishes the collection with poems honoring the natural world. As she has done throughout her accomplished writing career, Barbara Kingsolver has presented the reader with questions and answers that are ultimately about evolution and hope.
Naturalist writer Helen MacDonald shares her deep love for birds and nature in this new essay collection of her observations of the world of birds. Each piece is a delicate vignette of minute, sensitive discoveries in the natural world. I so admire Helen MacDonald for her heatfelt appreciation of all the things in nature that pull at my own heart. I nominate her "Queen of Nature Writing."
Bestselling author Christina Baker Kline does it again! The prolific author of "Orphan Train" and "A Piece of the World" has written another compelling and emotional historical novel. "The Exiles" follows the horrific overseas journey young imprisoned women, many pregnant, of 19th century London are forced to take when they are moved away from the UK to a penal colony in Australia. Revealing the oppression, sexism, hardship, and hope of three women’s lives who intersect on the ship, it was eye-opening to read Christina Baker Kline's take of the vile treatment of underprivileged women. I highly recommend this book that is a sad reminder of misogyny that continues to exist yet ends with hope and faith that good people do exist.
Such a sad little story. Hamnet was the only son of William Shakespeare and the fraternal twin of Judith Shakespeare. Sweet to read of the deep love between Shakespeare and his naturalist wife Agnes, a woman disliked and misunderstood for her affinity to the natural world, and bittersweet to read this short tale of Hamnet's early death at the age of 11 during the plague of the 1500's. According to Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt, the names Hamnet and Hamlet were entirely interchangeable at the time, though there is no definitive clue that they were one and the same. I found the beautiful writing to be a perfect tonic to the news of the day, an escape from the political reality one finds difficult to ignore. If you find yourself drawn to real life stories, fiction or not, about life's hardships, be sure to read Maggie O'Farrell's newest novel.
There couldn't be a more timely novel to read during the world-wide coronavirus crisis. "Room" novelist Emma Donoghue has written an eye-opener of a story about midwife Nurse Julia Power on the frontline of the devastating 1918 flu epidemic in the maternity ward of the Dublin hospital where she works. Riveting no-holds-barred descriptions of birthing, and life and death scenarios, this is a deeply compassionate book of hope and courage against all odds.
I've been a fan of Ursula Hegi's writing since reading "Floating in My Mother's Palm," just one of her many novels that take a unique look at mother/daughter relationships. Her writing is exquisite, her storytelling captivating. I was immediately drawn into the tragic beginning of "The Patron Saint of Pregnant Girls," finding St. Margaret's Home for Pregnant Girls to be a sweet distraction from the story's start. Hegi is adept at building and intertwining characters, but I had difficulty keeping up with who was connected to whom and how. The dramatic build-up to the ending was rather anti-climactic after the melodrama throughout the story. I recommend reading it, but don't expect it to be your most favorite Hegi novel.
This was one of the hardest books for me to read. I started reading it months ago but had to put it down. I would see it in on my shelf, wanting to return to it but afraid of it. This week I finally made myself commit to reading and finishing it, despite the wrenching pain and anger I knew it would cause. OK . . . not the most positive beginning to a review, but the subject matter is heartbreaking. I'll just point out that I am a fanatic bird lover. Migrations is a novel about loss in the largest sense: mass extinction of the natural world. Charlotte McConaghy's perspective on our world's future is not in any way far-fetched; sadly it's only too true. She does a fine job weaving a love story around a bit of intrigue and a lot of science-world reality. I'm ready to start her newest novel about wolves, Once There Were Wolves, which will be another hard read for me, but necessary for accepting our changed world.
An historical novel that spans generations of a family that is connected to a magical secret circus located in Paris of the 1920's and the decades-long mystery surrounding the disappearance of their loved ones. Gorgeous descriptions of the most beautiful circus one could ever imagine witnessing abound in this fantasy mystery that does not fail to grab every bit of your attention.
Pultizer Prize awarded Hector Tobar culled together vagabond world-traveler Joe Sanderson's lifetime of writing in "The Last Great Road Bum." Joe's journey began in Mexico City in 1960 at the age of 18. He spent the next 22 years traveling to war-torn countries from Vietnam to Nigeria and everywhere in between, in his quest for a life worth writing about. Joe died in El Salvador, writing about and fighting side by side with the guerilla rebels during the Salvadoran Civil War. Tobar has posthumously created Sanderson's great American novel taken verbatim, and with extrapolation, from the two decades of writing about Sanderson's world travels and experiences as a road bum, as well as interviewing the people across the globe who Joe wrote about in his journals. I predict this epic novel will be a Big Book in 2020. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Reading Mikel Jollett's memoir made me feel like I was a voyeur at the scene of a horrific accident. It is a candid, somber account in which Jollett shares his heartbreaking childhood memories and lifetime struggle with severe depression and emotional insecurity. We learn early on that he and his older brother, Tony, were born in the commune that became the famous California Synanon cult, where children were removed from their parents at birth and housed in the commune's "orphanage." Jollett takes us deep inside his head as he confronts he and his brother's painful years of attempts and failures at trying to cope with the biological family they were born into: poverty, alcohol and drug addiction, and their mother's undiagnosed mental illness. The honesty of the writing kept me deeply enthralled in this slice-of-life story. Mikel Jollett is frontman for the LA indie rock band the Airborne Toxic Event.
Karen Dionne is the bestselling, award-winning author of "The Marsh King's Daughter." Her latest novel, built around two sister's lifetime dysfunctional and tormented relationship, is a kind of fun who-done-it, but there's nothing funny about it. The suspense builds and builds, as we come to fall for one sister, despise the other, and wonder what the heck happened here . . . and why? Taking place in the woods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, let your imagination run wild while reading of the beautiful natural surroundings of northern Michigan, as you get truly freaked out while inside the big, spooky house in which the story takes place.
"I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth." So begins bestselling author Sue Monk Kidd's newest novel. Crafted around the premise "would the Judea/Christian world have been different if Jesus had had a wife like Ana?" Ana is an erudite and spirited first-century woman with the "chutzpah" to speak her mind. The power of Ana's tenets, the patriarchal efforts to silence them, and the tender depiction of Jesus and their marriage together make this a riveting novel. Follow Ana's journey, from the betrayal of her family, to finding true love in Jesus, and in the remarkable women she shares her life with after Jesus' death. This is an incredibly intriguing story. Go beyond the religious history you've known and visualize Kidd's premise.
If you are a fan of Isabel Allende's writing, as I am, you will find A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA will remain with you long after reading. A bittersweet love story spanning decades, entwined around the battlegrounds of the Spanish Civil War, Pinochet's take-over of the liberal Chilean government, and a finding of place. I found this novel to be a beautifully written historical fiction of love and family, war and tolerance, hope and forgiveness, and the determined will to survive. Inspired by the true story of Spanish and Chilean exiles' excape to freedom, with a poingnant love story built in. Give that the political and economical environment is still unsettled in these countries, the book is timely and informative of the horrific battles people still endure to gain civil and human rights.
This book screamed at me "READ ME!!" It's writer, illustrator, film animator, German-born American artist, Nora Krug's beautiful scrapbook around her discoveries of her German family's WWII connection to the Holocaust. Each page of Krug's graphic memoir integrates her hand-drawn images with the archival materials, family photos and letters, and compelling Nazi paraphernalia she uncovered in her search for the truth about her ancestors. Speaking to my fixation on the Holocaust and to my love of collage work, I was drawn in to the artist's shocking discoveries and the visually engaging illustrations and materials she used to document her findings. I've been recommending this book to readers who have a curious itch to collect and absorb information about the Holocaust.
You know that feeling you get when you're caught up in a book, a really good telling of a story, and you just want to move in with it and stay there? That's how Sarah Winman's TIN MAN makes me feel. A dear love story that celebrates love, kindness, and friendship while speaking the truth about heartbreak, pain, and loss. This book is so quiet, it's like poetry in its simplicity in the writer's choice of words. Having just re-read the book after its 2017 publication, it gives me joy to share this lovely story . . . that I'm sure you will cherish as well. Now that I've re-read it, I look forward to bringing the story back into my heart in a few years, when I'll read it all over again. It's that precious.
Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook was my very first health-food bible in my early 20's. My original 1977 version became so stained and over-used it was barely readable. In 1992 I broke down and purchased the 2nd edition, a huge improvement over the first edition's confusing index. The newer 2014 edition features the same familiar cover, hand-written recipes and graphics, with even more recipes and an even better index. Mollie Katzen was a trendsetter for the farm-to-table, organic, vegetarian recipes we now take for granted, dishes served in the nearly 50-year old Ithaca, NY collective-owned Moosewood Restaurant that inspired the cookbook. The New York Times named Ms. Katzen as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time. Share this must-have cookbook with your children and grandchildren! It's quite delicious!
A totally frightening yet utterly transfixing non-fictional narrative that takes place in Chicago of 1893. The White City was architect Daniel Burnham's creation of the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition. The Devil, using the fair as a draw, was murderer H.H. Holmes, a Svengali-type who lured young women to a building near the fairgrounds, where he did horrific things to them before murdering them. Not knowing each other, their simultaneous stories are vividly detailed in this white-knuckle page-turner. With meticulously researched historical facts and people of note at the time, this book is truly stranger than fiction.
2004 Edgar Award for Best Fact-Crime Writing
No. 1 New York Times bestseller.
Of the thousands of reasons I love NYC, riding the subway is at the top of my list. This book -- and the project -- is the reason why. Imagine you are standing or seated in a crowded dank subway, trying to not read the awful ads above the seats, making sure to avert your gaze from other riders, when your wandering eyes alight on a framed poem attached to the subway car wall. Oh what a treat! I search for this brilliant art installation every time I ride the subway, especially for my favorite poem that I've sat next to on many subway rides. It never fails to remind me how rich life can be. Turn to pages 98/99 to former poet laureate Tracy K. Smith's poem "The Good Life."
A rather delightful anthology inspired by poet laureate Billy Collins and the Library of Congress' poem-a-day program, in which high school students around the country are read one poem a day during the 180 days of a semester. Published in 2003, this diverse collection was selected by Billy Collins to present short, clear contemporary poems which any listener could "get" on first reading. Featuring such poets as Marie Howe, Charles Bukowski, Robert Bly, Naomi Shibab Nye, and Mary Ruefle, among others, it's a gratifying read. I found Poem 001, Billy Collins' "Introduction to Poetry" on page 3 to be a perfect introduction to this collection, encouraging readers to look, listen, and react to a poem's nuances, rather than disssecting it. Just as perfect is Ted Kooser's "Selecting a Reader" on page 4, which is self-explanatory and quite amusing.
leaving no stones unturned, music critic david yaffe reveals ALL about beloved folk icon, joni mitchell, who opened our hearts and ears to a singular style of beautiful music and lyrics. immerse yourself in your own joni song memories and discover why she wrote them. connect the songs to the lovers they were written about, the hearts she broke and those who broke hers. learn about the singer/songwriter who changed our lives when we were young and innocent to the world.
"we are stardust
we are golden
and we've got to get ourselves
back to the garden."
Written in 1967, this was my very first John McPhee discovery. I instantly became his biggest fan and have read (nearly) everything of his since. A staff writer at New Yorker since 1953, Pulitzer Prize awarded McPhee manages to take the must mundane subject and make it larger than life. He is rightfully considered one of the pioneers of creative nonfiction, so gifted he can take one very simple subject and turn it into the most juicy, delicous, and vivid read. This brilliant little bok tracks the uses and myths of oranges, from 6th-century China to Florida's booming citrus industry -- so mouth-watering it causes one to actually smell the ripe oranges he's writing about!
The little bit of time I spent with the two main characters in this novel left me feeling calm and safe. It’s a quiet read that takes one far far away from the crisis in which we are currently living. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is an honorable elderly widower who earns his living in northern Texas giving newspaper readings to live audiences who are eager for news of the world. In the winter of 1870 he agrees to transport a 10-year old white girl captured as a child by an Indian tribe back to her family, undertaking a dangerous 400-mile mission in post-Civil War Texas. Having to learn how to communicate with this girl who does not remember the English language, we witness Captain Kidd's vulnerabilities as he tenderly cares for his young passenger on their long journey. This gentle and comforting story, so elegantly written, explores the limits of trust, responsibility, and honor. It is a hopeful book, the perfect read during these weeks of coronavirus self-isolation.
Now is the perfect time for all of you who received "Little Women" and related books at holiday time to get cozy and take your mind far away to another place and time. The book follows the lives of the four March sisters, from childhood into womanhood. Loosely based on the lives of the author, Louisa May Alcott, and her three sisters, this is a must-read and delighful classic.
On August 5, 2010 in Copiapó, Chile, thirty-three San José miners became trapped under thousands of feet of rock for sixty-nine days. It tooks months of experts worldwide to configure a means to save the starving men, as the world mourned for and then witnessed them being brought to surface one at a time from the depths of the mountain at the end of their ordeal. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Héctor Tobar received exclusive access to the miners and their stories in this eye-opening testament to the horrors of imprisonment inside a pitch-black crumbling mountain and the power of the human spirit. Tobar proves his skills as a journalist as he retells the incident in this honest, non-sensational page-turner true story.
I adored this book. There's nothing complex to it, despite it's being about two children who self-combust. It is a charming and ultimately happy story that features characters you simply relish spending time with. The premise is a surprise but by the time you discover that, it's impossible to not be sucked in to this endearing quirky story that has a wonderful ending . . . and beginning and middle. Kevin Wilson is a brilliant storytelller.