Reading List 2009 discussion

2009--A Book Odyssey

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message 1: by Jackie (new)

Jackie | 115 comments I've never really kept track of how many books I've read in a year, but since I've become an active reviewer at work this past year, I'm curious. So let the journey begin! It is my vow to review every book I read, so...

Happy New Year!

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Jackie | 115 comments Book 1: Beat The Reaper by Josh Bazell

I would never have picked up this book if it wasn't the top of the January IndieNext list. But I'm glad I did. The best way I can come up to describe it is that it's an unholy but frequently hilarious combination of The Sopranos and Scrubs. It's interesting (and frightening on some levels) that it is written by medical resident, so there are endless insider jokes and footnotes (yes, footnotes) regarding hospital behind the scenes stuff (very funny but it will make you avoid hospitals for as long as possible, trust me!). The main character is a former Mob hitman who is in the witness protection program and finishing up his medical training. It's hard to decide if he's a good guy now, or if he was a bad guy then, or really just what he is. He's certainly a colorful character, to say the very least. His past and his present collide when he walks into a new patient's room and the guy recognizes him from the old days. Chaos ensues. There is a Tarantinoesque scene at the end which will send the sensitive running for the bathroom, so be warned. It reads quickly, though it requires a somewhat jaded eye to truly enjoy. Fans of Palahniuk will love it.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #2 Miles From Nowhere by Nami Mun

This is the debut novel of Mun,also on the Jan IndieNext list, and it isn't an easy one. At the age of 13, after her father left them for another woman and her mother went completely insane (she was already half-way there, but...), Joon decides that she would be better off on her own, on the streets. The book is basically 5 years of vignette's about the various situations she had fallen into. Most are not pretty, but Joon accepts them all without anger or much emotion at all--some of that is the drugs she's on, but most of it is the fact that she has never been valued in her entire life, so she doesn't expect it now. If anything, she becomes a collector of other people's stories, a witness to lives falling to ruin. The characters are always interesting, and the story is well told if rather muted.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #3 Shelter Me by Juliette Fay

Fay's debut novel takes us through the heartache, confusion, and ultimate renewal of a young widow's first year without her husband. A fluke bike accident leaves Janie widowed with a pre-schooler and an infant to care for in a world gone very dark to her eyes. Festering wounds grow worse when a contractor shows up at the house to build a porch contracted by her husband months before. But slowly Janie comes to see that help is there for her--her crazy aunt actually gets her involved in some good ideas, the young priest can offer more wisdom than she ever dreamed, her family continues to blossom and grow and carry her with them. And the chance at new love might just be waiting for her on that new porch. This isn't as simple a story as it sounds--Janie is bitter, not a paragon of gentle widowhood, there are complications aplenty from the many "good intentions" that crowd her life, and choices are not easily wrestled into order. Fan's of Lolly Winston and Anne Tyler should especially like this book.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #4 The Mercy Papers by Robin Romm

This is a brutally honest book about living through the last few weeks of a terminally ill parent's life. Fierce love, fierce loneliness, self-centeredness, frustration, fury, exhaustion, bitterness, memories, too harsh realities--they are all here. Robin Romm is intensely brave and puts herself, and her family and friends, under the brightest of spotlights during one of the most difficult things a family can ever go through. It isn't pretty, but it is achingly true. There are no heroes in this book, only humans doing the best they can under the pressures that surround them. This isn't the kind of book you can "love" or "hate", but it is the kind of book you will be glad you read no matter what your feelings about it end up being.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #5 Addition by Toni Jordan

After reading a couple of books about people dealing with death, I was SOOOOOO ready for this light hearted, quirky story, and in fact nearly swallowed it whole on a lazy, cloudy Saturday. This is a story about Grace, who lives with a form of obsessive/compulsive disorder that demands that she count EVERYTHING and live by the rule of numbers. This can be rather demanding, as you can probably guess. But she is absolutely adorable, with an acerbic wit that made me giggle many, many times. This book is all about learning to embrace, and even flaunt, who you are, no matter what. It's a first novel by Australian author Jordan who is bound to set the chic-lit world on it's ear with this delicious down-under treat!

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #6 Irrepalceable by Stephen Lovely

This is a very intriguing novel about two families--one the family of an young organ donor in Iowa, the other of the recipient of one of those organs in Chicago. Though typically donations are kept confidential, an overheard conversation between doctors leads the curious and very grateful Janet, who received a very needed heart transplant to the names and addresses of her donor's husband, who wants nothing whatsoever to do with her, and mother, who embraces the chance to hold on to this last piece of her daughter. This is a very deep book, dealing with all sorts of tough things--the many forms of grief, the dynamics of organ donation on both the donors and the recipients and their families, dealing with chronic illness, the nature of gratitude and responsibility, and much more. The common thread seems to be how we deal with choices--both the ones we make and the ones that others do. Lovely obviously poured a lot of research into this book and it rings true on every page. This book will really make you think.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #7 The Spare Room by Helen Garner

Award winning writer Helen Garner returns to fiction after 15 years to write this short, intense and beautiful novel about friendship and dying. It seems intimately personal since the narrator is also named Helen, and the emotions are so raw and powerful. The premise--Helen agrees to let her friend stay with her for 3 weeks while she undergoes an alternative cancer therapy in Melbourne (where Helen lives). What she didn't know was just how very sick her friend is. Both women are in their 60s and on their own, and it becomes a struggle between needing help and asking for it, wanting to help but knowing what personal limits there are, and the boundaries of friendship and love. The issue of
truth comes up again and again--facing the truth of an illness, the realities of a moment, and the sum of a life. This is a quick read, but not an easy one.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #8 Attachment by M.E. Jabbour

This book is set in the months surrounding the 2004 election. I felt bludgeoned by this book, to be perfectly honest. It is a series of manic political(mostly) and societal(to a lesser extent) rants very thinly pulled together by the whisper of a narrative about a writer in Oregon. Don't get me wrong--the arguments are actually quite well thought out and brilliant and I agreed with 95% or more of them,
though they often were delivered in such a way as to court as much attention to the orator as they delivered the intention of the same. They were so aggressive and so rapid with so little buffer around them (and none IN them) that they were exhausting. The best was an imaginary trial the writer held for George W. Bush, alleging that he has an anti-social personality disorder and therefore should be disqualified for any sort of leadership role. The intelligence and ideas in this work shine brightly, but I really feel like they would be more appropriate to a political blog than a novel. Fans of vehement political discourse will appreciate this book.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #9 Once Dead, Twice Shy by Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison is the author of the very popular adult paranormal fiction series known as "The Hollows" (it starts with "Dead Witch Walking" and the most recent addition is "The Outlaw Demon Wails") She's trying her funny charm and fiendish imagination on the teenage crowd now, still dealing with what I at least would call paranormal beings--angels. It's a very complex world full of Time Keepers (humans who can bend time and control angels), Dark Reapers (angels who scythe humans when fate says it's their time) and Light Reapers (angels who try to prevent that fate from happening), Guardian Angels of various aptitudes, and more. Madison has learned all of this since she was scythed on the night of the junior prom, but there were some complications with all of that. The Dark Reaper went rogue and stole her body, but she managed to steal his amulet (a kind of power source) which has left her soul on Earth and given her the illusion of a body so that no one but the angels actually know she's dead. The whole book is a cat and mouse game of them trying to find each other and take back what was stolen from them. While I don't like it as much as all the vampires, witches and pixies that inhabit The Hollows, I think this is a fine start to a new series that should capture teen-age interest, let alone please Harrison's mighty legion of fans.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #10 Sonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson

The first thing you come to in this complex book is a quote from Symon Laks: "But words must be found, for besides words there is almost nothing." This thought is central to all of the story lines in this novel of memories, silence and history both shared and hidden.

On the same day that Adam Anker loses his only remaining family, a teenage daughter, he finds an obscure lead to his father that leads him on an amazing journey through post-war-torn Europe and it's survivors. Secrets long untold are slowly revealed and truths come to painful light that somehow complete the circle of who Adam is and what he is meant to do in this life. The idea that no true love is ever lost reoccurs over and over again.

Mostly told in Adam's voice, there is a brief section where the author says that one of the other characters just "had to be allowed to speak for herself... Nobody else could possibly tell her story." While jarring at first, this change in tone, and the glimpse into years of silence it offers us, is perhaps one of the most moving parts of this emotional book.

This book truly spotlights the value of words, especially stories of people, and their ability to bring us closer together and ease our pain. Full of loss, this is nevertheless one of the most hopeful books I've read in some time.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #11 Laura Rider's Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton

Jane Hamilton, author of the emotionally wrenching "A Map of the World" and "The Book of Ruth", is trying her hand at humor this spring in this tale of two marriages and four profoundly disassociated people.

Laura and Charlie Rider are childless and the proprietors of a grand and successful plant nursery where Laura does the designs and Charlie does the hard work (including the quiet work of fixing Laura's designs). Laura is bold, bright, ambitious, completely self centered and just as completely uninterested in Charlie anymore. Charlie is an immature, simple, pleasant guy who prides himself mostly for being great in bed despite most of the town being convinced he's gay. They run the business together and make up stories about their 4 cats to give them something to talk about with each other.

Jenna Faroli is the town celebrity, hosting a syndicated radio talk show that brings in all the stars, hot authors and politicos. She is married to Frank who is a judge, Rhodes Scholar and budding amateur chef who is 15 years her senior and still in love with his college sweetheart who married his best friend. Jenna and Frank's marriage has been basically passionless since the complicated birth of their daughter 20-some years ago (an emotionally troubled and clingy young woman prone to multiple frantic calls to her mother every day). Their's is a marriage of intellects more than anything.

Things change when Charlie and Jenna meet by accident just about the time that Laura decides that she wants to write romance novels. Trying to figure out a plot, she begins to experiment on Charlie and Jenna, with Charlie's knowledge, establishing an email relationship between the two (that she partially ghost writes) until an actual affair begins. That's when things begin to get out of control for everybody.

This is a darkly hilarious novel that I would categorized as "suburban Machiavellian chic lit with a slight literary twist". It's also an extremely quick read--I knocked it out in a matter of a few hours. While it doesn't resonate like Hamilton's previous work, it's definitely worth the read for it's creativity and wicked humor.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book # 12
The Household Guide To Dying by Debra Adelaide

Don't let the title fool you, or at least read the whole title, which continues "a novel about life". Because that's certainly what it is. The main character, Delia, is an advice columnist for domestic stuff, as well as a writer of several books based on a modern and cheeky interpretation of the 1861 classic "Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management". She also happens to be a mother with a loving husband, two young daughters, and end-stage cancer. She figures that her final book should be, in fact, how to manage a household dealing with death. She's flippant, upbeat, well read and extremely funny
while dealing with enormous issues head-on (mostly) and unflinchingly. The book moves around in time a bit, back and forth between 17 year old Delia who was making her way in the world as an unwed teenage mother in a small town and the current organized,
irreverent, dying-in-as-practical-way-as-she-can Delia. The scope and generosity of her story is difficult to pull away from--there are quiet insights throughout the book that sneak up on you in unexpected ways but hit you like a hammer. It's a charming and ultimately hopeful story that I sincerely gets a lot of attention--it deserves it.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #13
Secret Recipes For The Modern Wife by Nava Atlas

This little book, done up in 1950's cookbook style, is hilarious. It includes recipes such as "Control Freak Cookies", "Bean and Weenies of Sexual Tension" and "Hypercritical Cinnamon Rolls" among many others, with instructions to let things marinate with lost dreams and repressed rage, or offers the option to spice with cinnamon or cyanide, cook's choice. There are a few happy recipes in there too (her editor made her add them), but this is truly just a giggle for those of us whose rose colored glasses got lost a long time ago, about the same time as our tired souls turned a deep shade of jade.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #14 The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This book focuses on 3 women in the early 1960's in Jackson, Mississippi. Two of them are African American (or "negra" in one of the kinder terms of the time) housekeepers/nannies, and one is an awkward white woman, raised by a friend of theirs, who just can't accept the system as it is for ANY woman at the time. She's also trying to break into journalism and a New York editor challenges her to find a story that no one has done before. She chooses to write about her home town from "the help's" perspective, and begins the hard work of making these women even talk to her, let alone tell her their stories. And oh, what stories they have!

There is a wonderful contrast between the empty, vapid world inhabited by the white young women with their Junior League and country club activities and the gritty, hard-working, multi-layered lives of their domestics. These black women have tough lives in their own right, with children and husbands of their own to deal with, a community to hold together, and their own sanity to maintain as a person of color in the Deep South. But they are also privy to the ins and outs of their employer's lives--raising the white children, witnessing all sorts of machinations, knowing all sorts of secrets of these often falsely prim houses where things inside are nothing close to their glossy surfaces.

This is a fascinating book that tells soooooooooooo many stories through the eyes of 3 very memorable women. I know I stayed up reading long into the night because I just HAD to see what was going to happen next, had to know if they were going to be okay. Trust me, you all need to meet Skeeter, Minny and Aibileen--everyone needs friends like these.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #15 Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak edited by Smith Magazine

It took me maybe 30-40 minutes to read through this book, giggling a bit, wincing a bit, stopping for a brief moment to ponder the story behind the simple 6 words each author offered. The emotion--love, joy, pain, betrayal, boredom, frustration, confusion, devotion, and more--that can be conveyed in 6 words is astounding. I am in awe. This is a fascinating project of Smith Magazine's that I hope lives long--it's too interesting to give up on.

I, of course, had to come up with my own (though it seems like someone else MUST have said it, too):

"Thought I was smarter than this."

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #16 The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian

Instead of riding out the last of their lives in doctors' offices and nursing homes, this octogenarian couple decide to take one last trip in their trusty RV down what is left of Route 66 (sneaking away from their very worried children to do so). This book is a meditation on growing old and facing death--sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, but always ringing with a clear and intelligent voice. She's got end stage cancer, he's got Alzheimer's, but what's important is that they both still have each other for one last hurrah. And the end...well, read it for yourself.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #17 "Hunted" by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

This is book 5 in the House of Night teen vampire series, and it advances the story of fledgling vampire Zoey and her friends another few havoc ridden days. I really do love this series--this is a far more clever vampire world than the one Stephanie Meyer created in her Twilight Saga. There's more action, more ethics, and overall more intelligence to the story. The thing I hate about series--having to wait another year or more to find out what happens next!!!

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Jackie | 115 comments Book # 18 Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

I haven't read anything by Maynard before, but she's certainly on my list of authors to read more of now. This story, which I easily devoured in a lazy day at home, is touching on so many levels. Told through the eyes of a 13 year old boy, it's the story of five days when an escaped criminal comes to live with him and his mom, changing their lives forever. Henry feels responsible for his recluse mother, Adele, and spends all of his time with her. He's a bit of an outcast himself, being rather small for his age yet beginning the inevitable battle with his raging hormones. They meet Frank in one of their rare shopping excursions in town, and both immediately take to the bleeding man with the kind eyes. Frank does just enough "bad guy" stuff to help them pass a lie detector test should the need ever arise, but mostly he brings both of these broken people out of their shells and into remembering what being loved and being a family is like. This gentle story of love and hope is sure to be a hit.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #19 Home Game by Michael Lewis

This is a hilarious account of learning to be a father in the 21st century. I actually gave this book to a guy friend of mine who is struggling with the idea of marriage and fatherhood in the near future, and he stayed up all night reading and laughing, which is amazing since he's even more of a reluctant reader than he is a reluctant grownup. Myself, I was able to read it in just a few hours--it's light and amusing but makes some real points about the naturalness of maternity versus the learned behavior of paternity. This should make a fun gift for any expectant or new father this coming Fathers Day.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #20 Reunion by Therese Fowler

Therese Fowler's sophomore book shows that she just keeps getting better and better. Reunion tells the story of Blue Reynolds, a nationally popular talk show host with a past that she's hidden for years--a short time in her heartbroken youth that led her to partying, doing drugs and ultimately giving a baby up for adoption. She discretely begins to search for that child 20 years later, ironically at the same time her career leads her to the same man who broke her heart back then. Past and present collide in many ways for Blue, making this a very interesting read indeed with a satisfying but teasing ending. Fowler is very good a creating multi-dimensional characters that stay with you long after the last page is turned.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #21 The Wildwater Walking Club by Claire Cook

Summer is coming and so ,of course, is a new, hilarious book by Claire Cook (Must Love Dogs, Summer Blowout, Life's A Beach). This one follows 32 days in the lives of 3 neighboring women who come together for fellowship and understanding as they set their pedometers for their daily walks. Noreen just took a buyout from her job and got dumped by her boyfriend. Tess is a school teacher suffering through her daughter's last contentious summer at home before leaving for college. And Rosie is a "tweener", raising young sons and taking care of her father and his lavender farm after the death of her mother. Cook once again blends familiar and serious issues with her keen sense of humor to serve up yet another summer treat for her vast legion of fans.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #22 The Lie by Chad Kultgen

The star rating was difficult to me. The book is well written, but so dark and horrifying it's difficult to give it an "I liked it" rating. So take that with a grain of salt.

I have a sort of morbid fascination with this author after reading his first book The Average American Male. To say his writing style is saying misogynistic is like saying the Grand Canyon is a big hole. It terrified me that when I gave that book to a guy friend of mine he gobbled it up and reviewed it by saying "Ya, that's pretty much how we think". This gave me a full body shudder that I've never been quite able to shake.

Kultgen's second book, The Lie, trumps the first soundly. This is the story of three college kids--2 males, one female. One guy is relatively normal, at least at the beginning of the book. The other guy is an over privileged fiend that goes out of his way to invent humiliating sexual situations to put women in and has an extensive catalog of offensive descriptions for and opinions of women. Completing the triangle is a status conscious, brainless and seemingly soulless young woman. The book tells the tale of how
these 3, over the course of their 4 years at college, do their best to destroy each other.

There is some suspense, or at least a hovering sense of impending doom, that kept me turning the pages of this book. It is definitely NOT for the faint of heart or the easily offended. It is sick, twisted, dark and hypnotic. And yes, I will be giving my copy to that same guy friend to see what he thinks. I'm afraid. Very afraid.

Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk fans will easily fall into the Cult of Kultgen.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #23
Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

This is a charming and disarming book written in the voice of a 12 year old autistic boy. Jason writes wonderful stories on a website called Storyboard because that is the one place that he can make himself understood. The rest of the time,especially since he's been mainstreamed into the public school system, he can't make himself heard or understood by the "neurotypical" folks, even his family. A young girl also on Storyboard writes back to him with emails getting away from stories and more just friendly chatter. This is a new and treasured thing for Jason--a friend who sees him as talented and
interesting instead of "different". But when a chance comes along for Jason and his correspondent to meet, his world is thrown into panic as he struggles with who he is and who he'd like to be. This is truly a wonderful book, designed for ages 10-14, but I was enthralled with it and I'm a rather high multiple of those ages.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #24
How To Buy A Love Of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson

Gibson had me at the title, I have to say. And the premise is very interesting: after 15 year old Carly admits on a school questionnaire that she's "never met a book I liked", her very rich, very status conscious parents decide to commission a book just for Carly. They actually hire an author to move into their house(well, mansion, complete with it's own bra museum) and write a book that Carly would actually like to read. That starts a lot of balls rolling in their little, monied town. The true story is about relationships: overweight and somewhat outcast Carly and her best friend model-perfect but strung out womanizer Hunter; the author Bree and her long ago love Julian who happens to be hiding out in this same berg; the complex machinations of high society marriages in which social standing means more than personal happiness. I identified with Carly so much I cringed and cried for her as her mother alternated between bullying and ignoring her and as she continued to love others with her arms wide open even as they continued to not deserve her. I ached for Hunter's empty life and his need to escape. All of the characters in this book, the author's first, are drawn with great depth and sensitivity. There are times when things got a bit muddled, when flashbacks or fantasies
or fictional tv shows seemed to get tangled into the story a bit too much, but overall the beauty of the story, and it's somewhat tragic, somewhat deeply satisfying ending, make all of that ignorable and this debut book very much worth the read.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #25 Broken by Lisa Jones

Colorado author Lisa Jones set out to write a book about Stanford Addison, a quadriplegic medicine man and horse breaker who lives up in Wyoming's Wind River Indian Reservation. And certainly he was a main character (and an EXTREMELY fascinating one whose broken body freed him to soar), but "Broken" is more about Lisa herself. She finds a home, and more importantly herself, interviewing this amazing man and hanging out with his large, eclectic and somewhat wild family. She's fearless about telling her story, even when it paints her and her own family in a less than flattering light. I think women everywhere, especially women who feel a bit "broken" themselves by what their life has handed them, will identify with her. In addition, she does a tremendous job of capturing the spirit of the west as it lives and breathes today within the shadows of it's violent past. The 'medicine" in this book is thought provoking and hope-giving, especially Stan's tale of what the animals taught him about medicine, healing and living life. Read this book and see what all it has to offer for yourself--an to yourself.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #26
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (audio book, which I'm counting as a 'read' because it was unabridged)

I don't ususally do audio books--I generally don't have the attention span to "just" listen to a story. But this week David's been keeping me company while I sort through years worth of former treasures and wishful thinking preparing for an upcoming move this spring. There was something poetic about him telling me about his past while I was sorting through mine. I definitely prefer the live recordings to the somewhat sterile "read by author" stuff, but Sedaris is funny no matter what. He kept me upbeat and moving, and I will always appreciate him for that more than anything. Now if he'd just hire me a moving company....

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #27 Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley

First time novelist Bryan Gruley (though seasoned writer--he's the Chicago Bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal) creates fascinating,multifaceted, believable characters in this book that you just KNOW you'd recognize if you walked past them on the street. Their quirks and their mysteries draw you in, as does the overlying story of new details emerging, literally, from the depths about the death of a beloved hockey coach. Presumed an accident, when bullet ridden evidence washes ashore 10 yearslater years of cover ups and lies begin to unravel in the hands of two reporters for thetown's small newspaper. Warning--this book will keep you up late into the night because you just have to know a little bit more before you go to sleep, and know how THAT goes!

This is supposed to be the first book in a new series. If Gruley keeps writing like this, it's going to be a popular one. Fans of Dennis LeHane will especially like this book, I think.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #28 Madewell Brown by Rick Collignon

Though this is a book meant to be an answer to a mystery created in an earlier book, "Perdido", it stands alone quite well. It involves a forgotten
team in the Negro League baseball of long ago, one old man who tells it's stories over and over, another old man who keeps a dark secret about it until his death bed, and the younger people who inherit the stories and the pall of the secrets. It's a rambling story, changing voices and eras effortlessly, but a fine one, showing the importance of memory and oral storytelling in keeping the past alive long enough for the present to learn from it.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #29 A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert

This new novel by renowned author Kate Walbert gives us glimpses into the lives of 5 related women over four generations. It begins in England in 1914 when Dorothy Townsend chooses to starve herself to death in the name of women's suffrage, leaving her two children orphaned. So begins the legacy of how this family's women deal with what was called in the 19th century "The Woman Question". Bouncing about in time to show various vignettes between the women and their families over the years, it's a fascinating study of society's treatment of women and their various reactions to it over the past hundred years or so.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #30 Goat Song by Brad Kessler

Writer Brad Kessler and his photographer wife Dona had a successful Manhattan life, but longed for the country, for fresh air and the chance to grow their own food. At last they found the perfect place in Vermont, and decided to become dairy farmers--specifically goats. They string fencing over a 3 acre square, refab an old chicken coop into a barn, and buy their first 4 goats. And so the adventure begins. And what an adventure it is. This is a love story between human and animal, past and present, earth and food. Kessler has an eye for detail in his storytelling that lets you hear the soft "talking" of the goats, smell the hay, feel the sun on your face and the cool forest breeze on your skin. And while there is plenty of the nitty gritty of life with goats (manure and hormones, antics and worries), there is also the joy of being there when a man realizes his dream as his first tomme of cheese glistens from it's mold in perfection and promise on a warm summer night. It's the cold but mesmerizing trek through snow covered woods trying to figure out where a coyote went. It's helping your neighbors just because you can, and savoring the spice of food grown, picked and cooked with your own two hands. I LOVED THIS BOOK!!!

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #31 A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff

The folks at Scribner are really excited by this debut novel. IndieNext is really excited about this book. Me--not so much actually. It's clear that Rakoff can tell a story and create dimensional characters--I will absolutely give her points for that. The problem is that there are too many stories and too many characters seen in too short of glimpses to ever get attached to them. This is a story of several college friends in the 8 or so years after college who all seem to be just hanging around waiting for SOMETHING to happen to them. In the meantime, they get married or attached, have children or not, work, complain about money, and wonder why their parents give them such a hard time while cashing the checks they still get from them. The one character who actually DOES something to make his life happen disappears almost completely from the book, reappearing mysteriously at the very end seemingly in possession of adulthood and some sort of clue about life. The rest of them still haven't figured much out at the end of 400 excruciating pages--kind of like "Friends" without any of the comedy. This will NOT be appearing on my recommends shelves.

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Jackie | 115 comments Book #32 Day After Night by Anita Diamant

This book deals with an handful of women at Atlit "displaced persons" camp in Palestine just after World War II. A quota had been set for how many Jews could immigrate to the new Eretz Yisrael, but of course hundreds of thousands more were trying to get in. They got rounded up and sent to these camps, run by the British, which were heartbreakingly similar in appearance to the concentration camps that many of them had just gotten out of. The treatment was far better, but they were still prisoners held behind barbed wire and sleeping in huge dormitories with separate men and women's areas. One particularly jarring moment was when a woman become hysterical at the sight of that barbed wire as she stepped off the bus--that really just cut me to the bone. These people have to stay at the camps until their paperwork is found or created and space on a kibbutz is made for them or family already in the country come to get them.

The women that Diamant introduces us to are varied in personality and life experience, how they coped with the war and who they are trying to be in it's aftermath. Survivors guilt and and fierce will to live, starting over yet again, grief like a new appendage for most and so much more make this a rich tapestry of humanity in a situation I had
never heard a word about until now. With Isreal so much in the news today, I think this is a thoughtful and timely book that will open new areas of understanding--knowing what happened at the beginning helps to inform the now. These women will linger in your head for long after you finish this book. Diamant is truly a master at writing memorable and amazing female characters who resonate in the minds of her readers.

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Jackie | 115 comments #33 Sworn To Silence by Linda Castilllo

She's a new name in the thriller category, but she fits right in with the heavy hitting veterans who have read a praised her amazing debut. The lead character is unforgettable--Kate Burkholder is the chief of police in the small Ohio town where she
grew up, though Kate the child and Kate the woman are vastly different. Violence and trauma took away Kate's young Amish innocence and made her the tough "English" (the term the Amish use for the non-Amish) cop she is today. But is she tough enough to stop a brutal serial killer terrifying her town, especially since the new murders have echos in
them from her past? Add a burned-out BCI agent and a cast of characters rife with small town quirks and you get a fantastic, page turning, electrifying read.

Do be warned that there are some rather graphic descriptions and some harsh language in this book, so those sensitive to that sort of thing should probably stay away.

Castillo has garnered praise already from the likes of Sandra Brown, Lisa Scottoline, Chelsea Cain, Alex Kava and C.J. Box. I think all of their fans will love this book, and I'd throw in Lisa Gardner and Lisa Unger into that mix as well. (What is it about the name Lisa and thriller writing, I wonder?) She's definitely going to be an author to keep an eye on.

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Jackie | 115 comments #34 A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

We Indie folks can sure pick some dark books to love. This book, the #1 IndieNext list pick for April 2009, is an infinite loop of love turning to hate and hate turning to love and what all that kinetic passion does to the people who experience it. Set mainly in rural Wisconsin in the depths of the winter of 1907, this is a story of a wealthy man and his mail-order bride at it's very basic root. Both of these people have dark histories that they are trying to forget--or are they? They are strangers to each other--or are they? All that is true in this book is that nothing is quite as it seems. Ulterior motives abound. Yet, in a strange and twisted way, it basically ends in a version of "and they lived happily ever after". Don't worry--that isn't really a spoiler. It's a long and crooked path to get to that ending, with many Victorian flourishes along the way.

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Jackie | 115 comments #35 Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson (unabridged audio book read by author)

Maybe audio wasn't the way to go with this book. I had a hard time paying attention for longer than 15 minutes or so. All in all, the stories were fine, but far from rivoting. There just wasn't anything terribly unique about this book. It won't be memorable for me.

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Jackie | 115 comments #36 The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay

Paul Tremblay started out life in Aurora, CO, which is how he made it to my "to read" pile. The premise of the book--a narcoleptic private investigator trying to figure out what case he's supposed to be working on (he was in a waking sleep at the time he was hired and a small packet of pictures was left with him)--moved it up pretty high on that pile, as did the fact that it's a debut novel (though Tremblay has received two Bram Stoker Award nominations for his short fiction). The IndieNext feature sealed the deal. I have to say, this was a surprisingly enjoyable book. At times it's a bit hard to follow (hallucinations come with the narcoleptic territory), but it's frequently funny and always fast paced. Tremblay has a real gift for words--I found myself stopping to savor a well turned phrase several times throughout the book. There's some violence in the book via "mob goons", but it's not over the top. This is a hilarious and entertaining modern day nod to the "hard-boiled detective" style writing of Hammett, Chandler and the like, lots of fun and well worth checking out.

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Connie Jackie - I am really enjoying your reviews and envy your career! I'll be adding several of these to my already far too long to-read list. Thank you!

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Jackie | 115 comments I'm happy to be helping you find out about some great books! Thank you for your kind words.

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Jackie | 115 comments #37 The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips

This book, Phillips' debut novel, came out last year on Hawthorne Books, which now belongs to Penguin, who will be re-releasing it sometime in the not too distant future. And well they should--this is a marvelous novel. Set in 1931 in Carbon Hill, Alabama, this book is more of a snapshot of life in a southern coal town than anything else. There is a bit of a mystery--a nine year old girl sees an unfamiliar woman throw a baby in a well on night--but it's biggest asset is the wonderful, detailed and delightful character development throughout the book. It centers on a family--Albert, who has mined coal his whole life; Leta, his hardworking and kindhearted wife; Virgie, the couple's teenage daughter whose beauty terrifies her parents; Tess, the middle child who is 9 and longing for adventure; and Jack, the ornery 7 year old little brother of the family. In some ways this reminds me a great deal of The Waltons, but the depth of the characters and the carefully crafted atmosphere transcend that similarity by light years. I was left aching for more when the last page was turned. I'm going to miss this family. And I'm going to watch out for Gin Phillips books--she's going to be an amazing southern voice in literary fiction.

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Jackie wrote: "Book #26
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (audio book, which I'm counting as a 'read' because it was unabridged)

I don't ususally do audio books--I generally don't have ..."

Jackie, I actually think listening to David Sedaris is the way to go! I prefer to listen to his books first and then read them, that way I can still hear his sardonic and dry voice as I read!

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Jackie | 115 comments #38 Children of the Waters by Carleen Brice

Carleen Brice's sophomore novel weighs in with a stronger, more confident voice--she's certainly come into her own. "Children of the Waters" tells the story of two Denver women whose lives are woven together by secrets, lies and racism from years ago that are now shaping their futures. Religion, racial issues, relationships and parenting styles all come into sharp focus as the characters learn to deal with their changing, and mingling, lives.

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Jackie | 115 comments #39 When Skateboards Will Be Free by
Said Sayrafiezadeh

Sayrafiezadeh is half Iranian (poppa's side)and half Jewish (mama's side) and was raised completely Socialist by separated but like minded parents who both were staunch activists in the Socialist labor movement. His father even ran for the president of Iran as a Socialist(along with 175ish other folks, which is a story in and of itself). His was NOT the typical childhood, to say the least. He offers us a glimpse into a world that many of us have never seen or experienced, offering painful revelations and rib cracking humor side by side throughout the book. This book reads rather quickly and does not allow itself to be bogged down by political theory or rhetoric--it is simply full of his observations of the world he grew up in. It's really a fascinating story and I absolutely recommend reading it.

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Jackie | 115 comments #40 How Shall I Tell The Dog? by Miles Kington

This is the last work of British humorist Miles Kington, an editor for Punch, writer and reviewer for the London Times and columnist for 22 years in The Independent. Written as a series of letters to his agent, Kington explores the many ways to "cash in on cancer" with book ideas, displaying great grace and humor while staring down pancreatic cancer with less than a year to live. It's gallows humor to anextent, but very creative and very British. There are definitely laugh out loud moments and no real teary ones--he's much too funny for that.

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Jackie | 115 comments #41 What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen

44 year old Alice was sick. Months of tests and doctor's exams left her with a portfolio of diagnosis--early menopause, a bladder disorder, middle age loss of muscle tone, a malformed reproductive system because of her mother's use of DES, sore breasts from wearing underwire bras, anemia, depression, and a large lump in her lower abdomen. Finally a new doctor sends her to the hospital for an emergency CAT scan and the real problem is revealed--Alice is 6 months pregnant (despite having an internal exam by her gyn just 4 weeks before who somehow missed the fact there was a baby in there). Which is a REAL problem given all of the medications she's been taking, no pre-natal care until that point, her age and the condition of her uterus. Her story is horrifying--a litanany of medical malpractice and callous behavior that ran a chill up and down my spine. Her agony is palpable and haunting. You won't forget her story.

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Jackie | 115 comments #42 Coop by Michael Perry

Michael Perry has made a name for himself writing about small town life: "Population:485" about being a volunteer fire fighter, "Truck: A Love Story" (and an Indie hit) about meeting his wife, etc. "Coop" picks up where he left off as he, his wife, his "given" daughter (he hates the word 'step') and a soon to be born addition to the family move onto a farm formerly owned by his in-laws. The book covers about a year in the family's life and his filled with absolute hilarity (don't make my mistake and read this while dining alone in a quiet restaurant unless you LIKE being thought insane for laughing and snorting to yourself), bouncing between present day and his childhood where whatever notion he's struggling with got planted, including what it means to be a father and a provider. He walks (and sometimes falls off of) a balance beam of earning his living as a writer (with deadlines, book tours, etc) and being a farmer with a family and endless chores that need done each and every day. His honesty is complete--he does not make himself a hero, though the sainthood of his wife is nearly guaranteed. There's a lot of nitty gritty farming stuff here--let's just say they start out with chickens and hogs and end up with a stuffed freezer for the winter and you're with them every step of the way. But it's also about the land, family, tradition, marriage, parenting, the role of religion over a lifetime, writing and being true to your vision of yourself. It's a great book for both making you laugh and making you think. I cannot recommend it highly enough!

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Jackie | 115 comments #43 Running From The Devil by Jamie Freveletti

This is a great read--fast paced, smart and unusual, particularly since the main hero of the piece is a woman. Emma Caldridge, a biochemist for a cosmetics company, survives a crash landing of a hijacked plane in the jungles of Columbia. She's no lab nerd, she's an elite marathon runner as well as a brilliant scientist, two things she leans heavily on to survive the terrorists who are searching for her since it seems that she might just be the reason the plane was hijacked. I don't want to say much more because part of the pace of this book depends on finding out bits of information at very specific times in the story and I don't want to spoil a thing for you. If you are a political intrigue/thriller fan, you're going to love this book. And best yet, it's the first in a series by a fascinating new author--she's a competitive runner, a blackbelt and teacher in aikido, and a former trial attorney who holds degrees in law, political science and international studies which means she has the background for some exciting plot lines for her readers.

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Jackie | 115 comments #44 Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan

This is a fairy tale, most certainly. There are mystical happenings and ghosts, mists that carry people away and bees that drive others insane. And there are women, multiple generations of two different families, whose loves and losses, woes and joys are recorded within the pages as well. If you suspend your disbelief and just allow the story to flow over you, you will fall under it's charm. This is an amazing debut novel, strange and beautiful, grim and shining, a morality tale with more than a few lessons to teach.

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Jackie | 115 comments #45 The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
by Katherine Howe

Oh, this is a juicy one! This is about witches--modern day and those involved in the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s, a debut novel written by one of the descendants of those witches who dreamed this story up while studying for her PhD qualifying exams in American and New England Studies in Boston.

The main character, Connie Goodwin, stumbles upon an amazing thing while cleaning out her grandmother's long neglected house and working on her dissertation proposal near Salem. She discovers a name--Deliverance Dane--mysteriously hidden in an old Bible and her
investigation of who that was leads her to the possibility of finding a New England grimoire, or spell book--something that has never before surfaced, and the suspicion that Deliverance Dane was one of the undocumented Salem witches. With the help of some new friends, including her advisor he seems unduly obsessed with the possibility of this discovery, Connie goes on a wild ride through nearly 400 years of history to find secrets long buried that have a more personal connection to her than she had ever dreamed.

This is a wonderful, fast-moving yet scholarly book that weaves facts and fiction seamlessly into a tale that you will not be able to put down. It moves back and forth in time, feeding you pieces of the puzzle and introducing many strong women characters throughout. To say this book is well researched is a vast understatement. Howe is one
HECK of a storyteller!

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Jackie | 115 comments #46 While I'm Falling by Laura Moriarty

Veronica, a college junior, and her mother Natalie are going through some major life changes thanks to a pending divorce. Changing financial realities have wrought some drastic and surprising circumstances that give them a new view of themselves and their
family. Nobody captures the mother/daughter dynamic better than Moriarty, which adds depth and interest to this page turning story.

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