Thursday, December 30, 2010

Just Finished...

Zach and Bailey have both recently finished The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the extremely popular first book in The Hunger Games trilogy.

From the author's website:

Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When her sister is chosen by lottery, Katniss steps up to go in her place.

Just Finished...

Zach just finished How Lucky You Can Be: The Story of Coach Don Meyer by Buster Olney and said it was a great book.


In September 2008, Northern State University men’s basketball coach Don Meyer stood on the brink of immortality. He was about to surpass the legendary Bobby Knight to become the all-time NCAA wins leader in men’s basketball. Then, on a two-lane road in South Dakota, everything changed in an instant.

In How Lucky You Can Be, acclaimed sports journalist Buster Olney tells the remarkable story of the successive tragedies that befell Coach Meyer but could not defeat him. Laid low by a horrific car accident that led to the amputation of his left leg below the knee, Coach Meyer had barely emerged from surgery when his doctors informed him that he also had terminal cancer. In the blink of an eye, this prototypical 24/7 workaholic coach—who arrived at the gym most mornings before 6 a.m.—found himself forced to reexamine his priorities at the age of sixty-three. A model of reserve, Coach Meyer had sacrificed much of his emotional life to his program. His wife, Carmen, felt disconnected because of his habitual reticence, while his three children—all now well into adulthood—had long had to compete with basketball for his attention.

With sensitivity and skill, Olney shows how Coach Meyer mined his physical ordeal for the spiritual strength to transform his life. In the months that followed his accident and diagnosis, he reached out to family, friends, and former players in a way he had never been able to do before, making the most of this one last opportunity to tell those close to him how he felt about them—and in turn he received an outpouring of affirmation that confirmed how deeply he had affected others. Sustained throughout an often painful recovery by his love of basketball, he would return to the court once more—with a newfound appreciation for the game’s place in his life.

The inspirational story of a life renewed by unimaginable hardship, How Lucky You Can Be proves that it’s never too late to start making changes—and reminds us that fortune can smile upon us even in our most trying hours.

Favorite Bookstores...

The Raven Book Store, Lawrence, Kansas.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Reading List...

There are many best 2010 " NON-FICTION lists being published, so I thought we'd recap the ones we are seeing listed on at least more than one "best" list (alphabetical by author):

Game Change by John Heilemann (see April 4th)
War by Sebastian Junger (see May 30th)
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee (see November 18th)
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff (see November 10th)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (see June 24th)
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (see September 26th)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Heard about a Book...

In a review of best debut books of 2010, the reviewer says Vida by Patricia Engel is excellent. "You won't forget Sabina, the troubled, mouthy young Colombian-American woman at the heart of Patricia Engel's debut collection (the stories form a novelistic narrative)...Mostly told in Sabina's matter of fact voice, Vida feels like shards of memory. As if all that is left when things blow up—as they always do for Sabina—are these beautiful pieces."

From The New York Times:

The stories in Patricia Engel’s striking debut collection are like snapshots from someone’s photo album: glimpses of relatives, friends, lovers and acquaintances, sometimes posing, sometimes caught by the camera unawares. There are portraits of Latinos in suburban “Gringolandia,” and portraits of young drifters in Miami, 16 of them sharing a single apartment, mattresses crammed together on the floor “like it was war times.” There’s a skinny 16-year-old boy who always wears faded jeans and “a white button-down shirt that looked like it only got washed in the sink,” a high school mean girl who develops a fatal case of anorexia, a womanizing pot dealer who becomes the narrator’s best friend and a Colombian beauty queen who comes to America and is forced into prostitution.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Heard about a Book...

I am hearing good things about Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books by William Kuhn. Someone who likes biographies might even be getting it for Christmas...

From the author's website:

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis never wrote a memoir, but she told her life story and revealed herself in intimate ways through the nearly 100 books she brought into print during the last two decades of her life as an editor at Viking and at Doubleday. Based on archives and interviews with Jackie's authors, colleagues, and friends, Reading Jackie mines this significant period of her life to reveal both the serious and the mischievous woman underneath the glamorous public image.

Though Jackie had a reputation for avoiding publicity, she willingly courted controversy in her books. She was the first editor to commission a commercially successful book telling the story of Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with his female slave. Her publication of Gelsey Kirkland's attack on dance icon George Balanchine caused another storm. Though Jackie rarely spoke of her personal life, many of her books ran parallel to, echoed, and emerged from her own experience. She was the editor behind bestsellers on the assassinations of Tsar Nicholas II and John Lennon, and in another book she paid tribute to the allure of Marilyn Monroe and Maria Callas. Her other projects take us into territory she knew well: journeys to Egypt and India, explorations of the mysteries of female beauty and media exploitation and of the creative minds of photographers, art historians, and the designers at Tiffany & Co.

Many Americans regarded Jackie as the paragon of grace, but few knew her as the woman sitting on her office floor laying out illustrations or flying to California to persuade Michael Jackson to write his autobiography. Reading Jackie provides a compelling behind-the-scenes account of Jackie at work: how she commissioned books and nurtured authors, as well as how she helped to shape stories that spoke to her strongly. Jacqueline Onassis is remembered today for her marriages to JFK and to Onassis, but her real legacy is the books that reveal the tastes, recollections, and passions of an independent woman.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Heard about a Book...

Here's a book I missed this year that was right under my nose by University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC) English professor Christie Hodgen. Her novel Elegies for the Brokenhearted is making many "best fiction" lists for 2010.

From the author's website:

A savvy, spirited, moving, and surprisingly humorous novel in elegies.

A skirt-chasing, car-racing uncle with whiskey breath and a three-day beard. A “walking joke, a sitting duck, a fish in a barrel” named Elwood LePoer. A dirt-poor college roommate who conceals an unbearable secret. A failed piano prodigy lost in middle age. A beautiful mother haunted by her once-great aspirations.

Elegies for the Brokenhearted, Mary Murphy tells her own story as she paints lively portraits of the people with whom she’s crossed paths. Having weathered her mother’s erratic movement among homes and multiple husbands, the absence of her runaway sister, and a discouraging search for purpose, Mary’s reflection on her own path intertwines with the histories of the people she’s loved and lost. With a rhythmically unique voice and distinctive wry humor, Christie Hodgen builds an unconventional narrative about the difficult search for identity, belonging, and family.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reading List...

We've been seeing lots of "best" FICTION lists as the year comes to a close—many have been mentioned in this blog, so I thought we'd recap the ones we are seeing listed on at least more than one "best" list (alphabetical by author):

The New Yorker Stories by Ann Beattie (see December 6th)
Room by Emma Donoghue (see September 10th)
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (see July 14th)
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (see August 31st)
The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman (see July 21st)
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (see December 2nd)
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman (see February 28th)
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson (see May 28th)
Matterhorn by Karl Marlante (see May 7th)
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell (see July 3rd)
What Is Left The Daughter by Howard Norman (see September 13th)
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (see May 19th)
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (see April 12th)

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (see December 12th)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Heard about a Book...

This book has gotten rave review all year and now out in paperback—Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson.

From the author's website:

You are about to travel to Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside filled with rolling hills, thatched cottages, and a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of your own family. Among them is Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson's wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, Major Pettigrew is one of the most indelible characters in contemporary fiction, and from the very first page of this remarkable novel he will steal your heart.

The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Just Started...

Cheryl has found a new romance author (or new to her), Sarah Challis. She is reading Blackthorn Winter, published in 2004 and loves it.


In April, when blackthorn blossom clothes the hedgerows like a wedding veil, there sometimes comes a spell of frost or snow so severe that it seems as if spring and summer will never return. This is what country people call a blackthorn winter.

For Claudia Barron, the blackthorn winter of that particular April is like a metaphor for her whole life: for the end of glamour, financial security and marriage. Her rich and powerful husband has been sent to prison, leaving her homeless and virtually penniless. Hopeless to cling to the remnants of her old life, pointless to stand by a man who has betrayed her in almost every way a man can betray a woman.

Instead she goes into hiding, buys the only house she can afford in the Dorset village of Court Barton - a hideous bungalow built in an old kitchen garden - and changes her name. Under a cloak of anonymity she sets out to get herself a job in the local school. But villages don't much like anonymity and before very long Claudia finds herself drawn into the gossip and the grumbling, the lives and loves and quarrels of Court Barton in a way that she had never expected. Blackthorn winters do always give way to spring in the end.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Reading List...

NPR Fresh Air's book reviewer, Maureen Corrigan, announced her best books of 2010 on today's show. Check them out.


Just Kids by Patti Smith (National Book Award Winner)
Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage by Hazel Rowley

Big Girls Don't Cry by
Rebecca Traister
Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective by Yunte Huang
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (see December 2nd)
Searching for Tamsen Donner by Gabrielle Burton


Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (see August 31st)
So Much for That by Lionel Shriver (National Book Award Finalist)
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (see July 3rd)
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

Heard about a Book...

We went hear Kate Morton, author of The Distant Hours (see December 1st), an author event put on by Rainy Day Books. When she was talking about her love for books and stories that inspired her writing, she praised Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson. The sub-title sums up what the book is about—How two million women survived without men after the First World War.

From the author's website:

Singled Out tells the story of a generation of women, brought up in the unquestioning belief that marriage was their birthright, who discovered after the 1914-18 war that there were, quite simply, not enough men to go round. In the 1920s they were known as the 'Surplus Women’.

Heard about a Book...

Diane Rehm interviewed Emma Donoghue on this morning's show, the author of Room (see September 10th). Since being shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize, Room has won the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize (for best Canadian novel). This sounds like a very good novel.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Heard about a Book...

I heard Morning Edition's interview with Nora Ephron about her new book I Remember Nothing. In the interview Ephron said, "I think when you get older, things come along that you know are a test in some way of your ability to stay with it. And when email came along, I was just going to fall in love with it. And I did. I can't believe it now—it's like one of those ex-husbands that you think, 'What was I thinking?' The point is that you can kind of keep up for a while and then, suddenly, something comes along and you think, 'I give up. I am never going to tweet. I'm just never going to.'"

So far, the list of things Ephron refuses to know anything about includes:

"The former Soviet Republics, the Kardashians, Twitter, all Housewives, Survivors, American Idols, and Bachelors. Karzai's brother, soccer, monkfish, Jay-Z, every drink invented since the Cosmopolitan, especially the drink made with crushed mint leaves. You know the one."

About the book from

Nora Ephron returns with her first book since the astounding success of I Feel Bad About My Neck, taking a cool, hard, hilarious look at the past, the present, and the future, bemoaning the vicissitudes of modern life, and recalling with her signature clarity and wisdom everything she hasn’t (yet) forgotten.

Ephron writes about falling hard for a way of life (“Journalism: A Love Story”) and about breaking up even harder with the men in her life (“The D Word”); lists “Twenty-five Things People Have a Shocking Capacity to Be Surprised by Over and Over Again” (“There is no explaining the stock market but people try”; “You can never know the truth of anyone’s marriage, including your own”; “Cary Grant was Jewish”; “Men cheat”); reveals the alarming evolution, a decade after she wrote and directed You’ve Got Mail, of her relationship with her in-box (“The Six Stages of E-Mail”); and asks the age-old question, which came first, the chicken soup or the cold? All the while, she gives candid, edgy voice to everything women who have reached a certain age have been thinking . . . but rarely acknowledging.

Heard about a Book...

The new autobiography, Life by Keith Richards, is getting a lot of attention, in part because of what he reveals about his relationship with Mick Jagger.

About Life:

Rock 'n' roll's great survivor looks back on an extraordinary life. From the Rolling Stones' first success in the 1960s through increasing fame and addiction to the present day, Richards tells his story in his own inimitable way.

Heard about a Book...

I use to have a subscription to The New Yorker, and one of my favorite short story writers they often publish is Ann Beattie. Now all of her stories published in their magazine have been brought together in one volume, The New Yorker Stories.

From the publisher's website:

When Ann Beattie began publishing short stories in The New Yorker in the mid-seventies, she emerged with a voice so original, and so uncannily precise and prescient in its assessment of her characters' drift and narcissism, that she was instantly celebrated as a voice of her generation. Her name became an adjective: Beattiesque. Subtle, wry, and unnerving, she is a master observer of the unraveling of the American family, and also of the myriad small occurrences and affinities that unite us. Her characters, over nearly four decades, have moved from lives of fickle desire to the burdens and inhibitions of adulthood and on to failed aspirations, sloppy divorces, and sometimes enlightenment, even grace. With an unparalleled gift for dialogue and laser wit, she delivers flash reports on the cultural landscape of her time. Ann Beattie: The New Yorker Stories is the perfect initiation for readers new to this iconic American writer and a glorious return for those who have known and loved her work for decades.

Just Finished...

I just finished a book of poems—Special Orders by Edward Hirsch. I love his simple style.

From the publisher's website:

In Special Orders, the renowned poet Edward Hirsch brings us a new series of tightly crafted poems, work that demonstrates a thrilling expansion of his tone and subject matter. It is with a mixture of grief and joy that Hirsch examines what he calls “the minor triumphs, the major failures” of his life so far, in lines that reveal a startling frankness in the man composing them, a fearlessness in confronting his own internal divisions: “I lived between my heart and my head, / like a married couple who can’t get along,” he writes in “Self-portrait.” These poems constitute a profound, sometimes painful self-examination, by the end of which the poet marvels at the sense of expectancy and transformation he feels. His fifteen-year-old son walking on Broadway is a fledgling about to sail out over the treetops; he has a new love, passionately described in “I Wish I Could Paint You”; he is ready to live, he tells us, “solitary, bittersweet, and utterly free.”

Special Orders

Give me back my father walking the halls
of Wertheimer Box and Paper Company
with sawdust clinging to his shoes.

Give me back his tape measure and his keys,
his drafting pencil and his order forms;
give me his daydreams on lined paper.

I don't understand this uncontrollable grief.
Whatever you had that never fit,
whatever else you needed, believe me,

my father, who wanted your business,
would squat down at your side
and sketch you a container for it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Just Started...

I am about halfway through Eventide by Kent Haruf, the sequel to Haruf's bestselling Plainsong (see February 9th). As was Plainsong, this is a very good book, of portrait of an eastern Colorado cattle town and its working class people.

About Eventide:

In many ways, Eventide is about the pain of separation. As the novel opens, Victoria Roubideaux is preparing to move away from the McPherons’ ranch to attend college in Fort Collins. Harold and Raymond had taken her in back when she was three months pregnant and turned out of her home. Victoria and her daughter, Katie, now more than a year old, have come to occupy a central place in the McPherons’ lives. Running parallel to this narrative are several other stories of loss and separation. Betty and Luther Wallace, poor and ill equipped to raise their children, face losing them to foster care. Mary Wells is raising her two young girls alone, while her husband works in Alaska. DJ Kephart has lost his mother and has never known his father. And all of these characters face even greater losses to come. How they respond—with sadness, outrage, bitter anguish, or hard-won stoicism—reveals the full depth and range of human emotion. But Eventide tells of connection as well as separation, of community as well as loneliness, of compassion as well as cruelty. Of all the characters, Raymond McPheron may suffer the most devastating loss, but his spirit of self-effacing generosity survives, and he meets someone who offers him a happiness he has never before experienced.

In writing that is as moving as any in contemporary fiction today, Kent Haruf offers an unforgettable portrait not only of the small town of Holt, Colorado, and the fascinating people who live there but of the human condition itself, in all its brilliance and frailty.

Heard about a Book...

The author of Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand has a new novel, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. It sounds fascinating.

About the book from NPR:

Hillenbrand interviewed Louis Zamperini—"seven years' worth of interviews with Hillenbrand. The tale Zamperini has to tell, augmented by mountains of diaries, letters and official documents, is a stunner. Zamperini's story, in a nutshell, is this: He was born in 1917, a son of working-class Italian immigrants who made a life for themselves in Torrance, Calif. Louie was a juvenile delinquent from the get-go, always stealing food from neighbors' houses and concocting homemade explosives. Louie's older brother saved him by forcing him to try out for track in high school; all those years of scampering from the cops turned out to be excellent training, and Louie eventually competed in the 1936 Olympics with Jesse Owens. Hitler even gave Louie a congratulatory nod.

When World War II broke out, Zamperini joined the air corps as a lieutenant s"tationed in Hawaii, where he learned to operate the bombsight on a B-24, an unwieldy plane known to flight crews as "The Flying Coffin." His pilot, Russell Allen Phillips—known as "Phil"—was respected as "a damn swell pilot" by the other men, and Hillenbrand vividly describes a few knuckle-biting bombing missions in which Phillips' skill nursed the injured plane back to base, sans brakes or fuel. But Zamperini's and Phillips' luck ran out on May 27, 1943, when, on a rescue mission in the middle of the Pacific, an engine died and their plane went down, killing everybody onboard but Zamperini, Phillips and a guy named "Mac," the tail gunner.

"For a record 47 days, the men floated on two, then one, rubber raft. Sharks circled constantly, scraping their fins under the bottom of the rafts. Water came, when it did, from the skies; food consisted of raw fish and a couple of unwary albatrosses that alighted on the rafts. They were strafed by a Japanese fighter; thrown into a typhoon. The men lost half their body weight, and drifted for some 2,000 miles on open water. Mac didn't make it; the other two men survived to become prisoners of the Japanese—subjected to starvation, torture and slave labor. Because of his Olympic fame, Zamperini became the special target of a sadistic Japanese corporal who dedicated himself to shattering Zamperini's spirit."

Heard about a Book...

NPR reviewed an interesting book, The Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes (see May 30th). NPR says, "Holmes writes of the wonder that gripped Joseph Banks as he first sighted the shores of Tahiti from the deck of Captain Cook's ship Endeavor in 1769. In chapter after entertaining chapter, Holmes describes men and women driven by wonder to make the extraordinary discoveries that changed history. Few novelists could beat Holmes' account of John Jeffries and Jean-Pierre Blanchard's historic crossing of the English Channel by balloon—out of ballast, they very nearly crashed into the cliffs of Calais, but saved themselves by casting off their clothes and urinating, which lifted them to safety."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Just Started

We went to hear Kate Morton speak at a Rainy Day Books author event. She read from her new novel The Distant Hours. It looks like it's going to be as good as The Forgotten Garden! (see February 25th)


This long-awaited novel by the author of The House at Riverton begins with a long lost letter. Its contents compel young Edie Burchill to journey to the eerie realm of Millderhurst Castle, where her mother, then just 13 years old, waited out the London Blitz. What Edie learns about those distant hours in that faraway place will forever change her view of her mother and herself. A subtle, artfully constructed story about place, the past, and time's reverberations.