My 2010 Favorites

Wow, 2010 was a great year for reading.  I had a tough time limiting my favorites to eleven so I made an honorable mention list.  Check that out for some really good and entertaining books.
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My Favorite Books of 2010
They are in the order read with the exception of the Jodi Thomas books.
Click the cover to link to my Goodreads posts and blog links.
Brava, Valentine Saving Ceecee Honeycutt
I enjoyed Trigiani’s second book of the Valentine series as much as the first.
CeeCee Honeycutt charmed her way into my heart.
I love that the animals touched me as much as the humans in Katrina Kittle’s novel.
Welcome to Harmony Somewhere Along the Way
Jodi Thomas tells a story like a treasured aunt.  She makes me laugh and care about her characters.
The Unnamed Girl in Translation
Joshua Ferris’ novel quietly wowed me. I listened to the audiobook read by the author.
Jean Kwok’s immigrant story of a young girl and her mother making their way in America despite the challenges inspired me.
Daphne Kalotay intrigued me with the story of artists’ lives in post WWII Russia and beyond.
The Bells Safe from the Sea
Richard Harvell had me from page 1 with his story of a young boy’s transformation into renowned  singer.
Safe From The Sea is Peter Geye’s story of an epic storm and its effect on a man and his son.  I couldn’t put it down.
Tom Franklin’s novel tells the story of two characters and the secrets that connected them with life-changing results.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Title: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Author: Tom Franklin

Genre: Fiction

About: (from Goodreads)  In the late 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas “32” Jones were boyhood pals. Their worlds were as different as night and day: Larry, the child of lower-middle-class white parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, single black mother. Yet for a few months the boys stepped outside of their circumstances and shared a special bond. But then tragedy struck: Larry took a girl on a date to a drive-in movie, and she was never heard from again. She was never found and Larry never confessed, but all eyes rested on him as the culprit. The incident shook the county—and perhaps Silas most of all. His friendship with Larry was broken, and then Silas left town.

More than twenty years have passed. Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion. Silas has returned as a constable. He and Larry have no reason to cross paths until another girl disappears and Larry is blamed again. And now the two men who once called each other friend are forced to confront the past they’ve buried and ignored for decades.

My thoughts: I loved being immersed in the southern Mississippi rural landscape of country dark nights, snakes, kudzu, and unsolved mysteries.  Well, I didn’t enjoy the snakes so much.

“Scary Larry” Ott is the prime suspect in the recent disappearance of a local college student.  He is still considered the only suspect in a similar crime twenty years earlier but a body was never found so he couldn’t be charged.

Constable Silas “32” Jones is busy trying to solve other recent violent crimes when he becomes involved in the latest case involving Larry Ott.  He and Larry have a history that Franklin slowly reveals to the reader.  In fact,  this novel is as much about relationships as it is about the crime.  It’s about long held secrets and the lies told to cover them up.

I really enjoyed Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.  It’s the first of Tom Franklin’s books that I’ve read and I look forward to more.

Rating: Keeper shelf.

Recommend? Yes, to fans of a good atmospheric story.

Source: I bought it.

The Bells: A Novel by Richard Harvell

The Bells is a novel that is larger than life – starting with a bell so large and loud that people who heard it were forever changed.  A young boy lived with his mother who could neither hear nor speak.  They lived mainly in the bell tower and she rang the bell morning, noon and night. For some reason the boy was unaffected by the bell – except for one thing.  He had an acute sense of hearing.  One day the man who turned out to be his father found out that the boy could speak.  The boy could ruin him with what he knew so he took him out of the village and threw him in the river. The boy’s father didn’t know that two men (monks) witnessed the incident. When the man left the scene one of the monks quickly saved the boy.  They took him back to the abbey with them where it was eventually discovered that he could also sing. That discovery brought life-changing consequences.

The novel moves from a mountain village to an abbey to Vienna’s finest concert hall. I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot because it is such a fascinating story and really should be discovered through reading it yourself.

The Bells is written in three acts – much like a work of music.  As I read I couldn’t help thinking this novel would make a wonderful opera. It has heart-breaking drama, humor, and moments that made me want to cheer out loud. Harvell reveals to the reader various aspects of certain musicians  in the 1700s. There are historical characters (the composer Gluck, for one) that figure into the story.  The author’s note at the end of the book points out more facts and the research behind the book.

If you’re looking for a unique novel I would say read The Bells.  I’m glad I did.

You can hear more about the novel here.  Diane Rehm interviewed the author in Sept. 2010.

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Title: Russian Winter

Author: Daphne Kalotay

Genre: Fiction

About: The story of a Russian ballerina who becomes a star of the Bolshoi Ballet, falls in love with a poet and tries to live the best life possible under Stalin’s rule until that is no longer possible.

My thoughts: This is one of those novels that pulled me in immediately and kept me interested throughout. Daphne Kalotay’s descriptive writing immersed me in life in post WW II Russia – especially what it was like for people in the arts.  I felt like I was in the audience watching Nina Revskaya dance in Swan Lake.  I could imagine falling asleep at the dacha listening to the nightingale sing.  I could even visualize the working crews of women smoothing asphalt on the roads.

Once Nina defects from Russia she travels to London, Paris and finally Boston.  She smuggled her jewels with her when she left and now, decades later, crippled and in a wheelchair, she has decided to have her collection auctioned with the proceeds going to the local ballet.  The jewels have stories of their own that connect several characters in the novel.

One of the characters is Grigori, a professor of Romance languages in Boston.  He has a pendant that he believes is part of Nina’s collection and is trying to find out what the connection is.  He has his own assumptions and he would like Nina to confirm them.  He has contacted her a few times over the past few decades and each time she has refused to discuss her past or the jewels.

As the auction of the jewels draws near Nina finds herself remembering her past more and more.  There are a few twists and turns near the end and  Grigori and Drew, who works for the auction house, make their own discoveries which converge in a satisfying conclusion.

Source: Dawn from She Is Too Fond Of Books sent me her review copy.  Thank you, Dawn!

Recommend? Yes, especially to fans of historical fiction.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Somewhere Along The Way by Jodi Thomas – review and giveaway

Title: Somewhere Along The Way

Author: Jodi Thomas

Genre: Fiction

About: (Book blurb) In the two years since she claimed Harmony, Texas, as her home, eighteen-year-old Reagan Truman has found herself drawn to others who have made their way there, too. Gabe Leary, for instance, whose plan to hide out in Harmony is dashed when he becomes the town hero. Then there’s Liz Matheson: Vulnerable and fresh out of law school, Liz has never been needed by anyone—until an unsettling encounter with Gabe changes everything. And there’s Liz’s brother, volunteer fire chief Hank Matheson, who’s starting to wonder where the town’s sheriff, Alex McAllen, will ever set the date to marry him.

As for Reagan, who’s been shaped by the loneliness she’s know most of her life, she’s finally found a place she belongs—and doesn’t want anything to get in her way. But when her life is put in jeopardy and the whole town comes together to save her, she’ll discover that trusting the love that’s come into our hearts is the greatest gift of all…

Thoughts: Jodi Thomas takes us back to the small Texas town of Harmony. Three families established Harmony in the 1880s: the Trumans, Mathesons and the McAllens.  Jeremiah and his “long lost” niece Reagan are all that’s left of the Trumans.  Uncle Jeremiah is getting on in years and his health is not the best. Reagan is almost 18 and can’t wait to be finished with high school.  She and her beau Noah have decided to just be friends but that’s not as easy as it should be. Rea gets more than she bargained for when she fills in for a downtrodden waitress at the local diner.

Liz Matheson is trying to prove to everyone that she can make it on her own – as a new lawyer and as a young woman.  Gabe Leary just wants to be left alone, to not be found.  For some reason the two of them can’t leave each other alone.

Fire chief Hank Matheson is still waiting for sheriff Alex McAllen to marry him.  She seems happy with the way things are between them until she realizes that things could change.

One of my favorite characters from the first book is Tyler Wright, the funeral home director.  His heartache is palpable as he writes a daily email to the woman he can’t forget but also knows better than to expect a reply.

There are many more characters in this latest Harmony novel.  Some we met in the first book and some are new.  Jodi Thomas fills her books with characters I think about long after turning the last page.  They are well-drawn, regular people with everyday problems (well, most of them anyway).  I love the dialogue which is honest, funny, and emotional but never corny or unbelievable. There is suspense, drama, and romance.  All make for a good story that ended way before I was ready for it to be over.

Source: Jodi Thomas

Recommend: Yes, to fans of Jodi Thomas, the Harmony Series, a good story. Although you could read this novel without reading the first book, I recommend you read Welcome To Harmony and then Somewhere Along The Way.

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Jodi Thomas sent one copy of Somewhere Along The Way

for a giveaway.  Open to US residents.

Click here for more details and to fill out the form.

GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED

Safe From The Sea by Peter Geye

Title: Safe From The Sea

Author: Peter Geye

Genre: Fiction

About: (from the book blurb) Set against the powerful lakeshore landscape of northern Minnesota, Safe from the Sea is a heartfelt novel in which a son returns home to reconnect with his estranged and dying father thirty-five years after the tragic wreck of a Great Lakes ore boat that the father only partially survived and that has divided them emotionally ever since. When his father for the first time finally tells the story of the horrific disaster he has carried with him so long, it leads the two men to reconsider each other. Meanwhile, Noah’s own struggle to make a life with an absent father has found its real reward in his relationship with his sagacious wife, Natalie, whose complications with infertility issues have marked her husband’s life in ways he only fully realizes as the reconciliation with his father takes shape.

Thoughts: Peter Geye’s debut novel is one of the best I’ve read in a long time.   Conflict between father and son is nothing new but the reason behind Geye’s characters’ estrangement is heartbreaking and tragic.  Noah’s understanding of his father is rooted in his childhood version.  He believes that what he knows of his father from growing up with and without him is the truth.  And on the surface it is. But there’s another side to the story – his father’s side.  Noah and his father give each other a last gift of truth and understanding –  the story of before and after the disaster on Lake Superior.  In doing so they are both free to move forward.

Geye’s wonderful description of the Lake Superior shore, the ore boat Ragnarøk, and the family cabin pulled me into the novel.  He tells a riveting story of not only an epic storm but also of people whose lives were forever changed.

Source:  LTER – I also bought a copy at the author’s signing/reading event at my local indie bookshop.

Recommend? Yes.  This is one that I expect to reread and will stay in my personal library.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Author of Safe From The Sea

Peter Geye

 

Welcome to Harmony by Jodi Thomas

Welcome to Harmony





After reading two novels by Jodi Thomas I’m convinced few authors write about small towns better. Welcome to Harmony, the first book in her new series, is set in Harmony, Texas – a town of 14,000. Rain hasn’t made an appearance in a long time and there’s an arsonist on the loose.

The main characters in this book are Reagan, a teenage runaway from Oklahoma; Jeremiah Truman, the man who takes Reagan in; Alexandra McAllen, the town sheriff who is haunted by a personal tragedy; Noah, the sheriff’s 16 year old brother; Hank Matheson, the fire chief; Tyler Wright, the local undertaker. There are many other memorable characters who play a part in the search for the arsonist. Thomas creates minor characters who are unique enough that I hope to read more about them in future books.

Welcome to Harmony is more than a novel about arson.  Reagan is looking for a place to call home, a place where she belongs, a place where she feels welcome.  There’s a strong attraction between Alexandra and Hank; good friendship with the promise of more between Reagan and Noah; and a sweet online  correspondence  between Tyler and a mysterious  woman – a couple who thought that love may have passed them by.  I’m hoping we’ll read more of Tyler’s story as the series progresses.



Thomas is a first-rate storyteller and she pulled me into the lives of her characters and the drama of the fire scenes.  If you like novels about small towns with good, believable characters I recommend you read Welcome to Harmony.   I look forward to the next book in the series.


Review copy from Penguin Group


Penguin Group also sent a book for one of my US readers.

Leave your email in your comment (a must)
Open to US residents
Giveaway ends Wednesday, June 2, 6pm eastern

Good luck!


Giveaway is closed

 

 

Show Me 5 Saturday – Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok


1. Book title: Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok

2. Words that describe the book: Fiction, Immigrants

3. Settings or characters:
* Kimberly Chang, 11 year old who emigrates to the U.S. (from Hong Kong) with her mother. They live in a run-down Brooklyn apartment that has no heat but plenty of insects.
* Aunt Paula, older sister of Kimberly’s mother. She’s bitter and jealous and doesn’t want her sister and niece to ever forget how much they owe her. She and her husband run the factory where Kimberly and her mother work.
* Matt, the boy at the factory who befriends Kimberly. At first he seemed aloof and a little curious about Kimberly but later he became a good friend. He had a tough life working a few jobs to provide for a sick mother and a brother with special needs.

4. Things I liked/disliked about the book:
* I liked that the novel reads like a memoir but is fiction that draws on the author’s own life experiences.
* I love the character of Kimberly. Jean Kwok gives us a young girl full of life and optimism even under the bleakest of circumstances.
* I liked the device Kwok used that showed the difficulty someone who has learned English in her home country has in understanding spoken English in the US (or other country where English is the primary language). She spelled some words incorrectly but as they were heard by Kimberly – which makes for a lot of misunderstanding. It was very effective.
* Kwok describes the factory scenes in detail. That had me thinking she probably experienced this to a certain extent.

5. Stars or less: 4.5/5. Recommended!

Girl in Translation

Goodreads synopsis:
When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life-like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition-Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles. 

Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about. Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant-a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.

 

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

The Unnamed

From the back of the audiobook: Tim Farnsworth is a handsome, healthy man, aging with the grace of a matinee idol.

His wife, Jane, still loves him, and for all its quiet trials, their marriage is still stronger than most. Despite long hours at the office, he remains passionate about his work, and his partnership at a prestigious Manhattan law firm means that the work he does is important. And even as his daughter, Becka, retreats behind her guitar, her dreadlocks, and her puppy fat, he offers her every one of a father’s honest lies about her being the most beautiful girl in the world.

He loves his wife, his family, his work, his home.

And then one day he stands up and walks out. And keeps walking.

* * * * * * *

My thoughts: The Unnamed is a book that I couldn’t stop reading, or rather, listening to. I was lucky enough to get an audiobook. According to the interview at the end this is the first time Joshua Ferris has narrated one of his books – I think he should always narrate his books. His voice is perfect and I felt I was experiencing The Unnamed the way he intended.

The Unnamed is a story about a man with an illness. The illness hasn’t been diagnosed specifically because it can’t be confirmed as either a disease of the mind or the body. You get an idea, early on, what the disease could be. This is also the story of a marriage and what happens when those easily repeated wedding vows come into play. The whole “for better or worse, in sickness and in health” is put to the test. Tim and Jane give it their all and we get to see how it plays out.

Another aspect of The Unnamed is the subject of mental illness. At what point does one lose his tether to a stable life? At what point does one begin to drift? A lot to think about and maybe rethink.

This is not an easy novel. I’m so glad I listened to it. One thing I want to mention about the audiobook is the music composed by Brendan Feeney. It is hypnotic and beautiful and perfect for the book.

Audiobook from Hachette Audio

Brava, Valentine by Adriana Trigiani


Brava, Valentine by Adriana Trigiani: Book Cover


Brava, Valentine begins on a day filled with happiness in Tuscany. The sparkling snow that falls reflects the spirit of the Roncalli/Angelini family. Their beloved matriarch Teodora is marrying Dominic Vechiarelli. The octogenarians kept their relationship a secret for many years but finally decided to marry. Adriana Trigiani had me laughing at the family antics as they prepare for the wedding. Dominic’s son is at the wedding. Gianluca Vechiarelli made quite an impression on Valentine on her last trip to Italy (Very Valentine). She definitely feels something for him when she sees him at the church but things don’t go as she would hope. From the reception on, surprises seem to come at her full force. Life is changing.

Teodora will live with her new husband in Italy while Valentine takes the reins at the Angelini Shoe Company back in Greenwich Village. There are challenges to be faced: a new business partner; a long-time employee who hints at retiring; the need for a business loan to launch a new shoe line; a possible new branch on the family tree to check out; and a long-distance romance. Valentine is full of energy and up to the challenges at work but something is missing in her life. Gianluca (17 years her senior) is very interested in her as she is in him yet how can they make it work? He is in Italy and she is across the Atlantic. He sends romantic letters that get her attention but can she possibly be the woman he seems to idolize?

Trigiani takes the reader to Italy, New York, and Buenos Aires. I loved the descriptions of the different locations. It was also fun to read about Valentine’s friend and new roomie Gabriel as he redecorated the living space above the shoe company. The rooftop garden never looked so good! I also enjoyed the descriptions of shoe design and manufacturing.

This is a very romantic book – I loved it. I can’t wait for the next book in this wonderful series.

Brava, Adriana Trigiani.


Review copy from HarperCollins

 

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman


Saving CeeCee Honeycutt: A Novel


Goodreads synopsis:
Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is in trouble. For years, she has been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille-the tiara-toting, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town-a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. But when Camille is hit by a truck and killed, CeeCee is left to fend for herself. To the rescue comes her previously unknown great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell.


In her vintage Packard convertible, Tootie whisks CeeCee away to Savannah’s perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricity, a world that seems to be run entirely by women. From the exotic Miz Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in her backyard bathtub and uses garden slugs as her secret weapons, to Tootie’s all-knowing housekeeper, Oletta Jones, to Violene Hobbs, who entertains a local police officer in her canary-yellow peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.

* * * * * * *

CeeCee Honeycutt has been taking care of her mentally ill mother for most of her twelve years. Her father is absent much of the time so it’s been up to CeeCee to tend to her mother. After Camille’s death, CeeCee’s great aunt Tootie arrives to take her home to Savannah. That’s the start of a new chapter in CeeCee’s Life Book.

All I knew for sure was this: I had been plunked into a strange, perfumed world that, as far as I could tell, seemed to be run entirely by women. 

 

CeeCee’s new life is filled with caring and eccentric women. Each one seems to have a special lesson to impart. Little by little, like the fragile orchid, CeeCee begins to bloom in their warm and gentle care.

If there’s one thing I’d like most for you, it’s that you’ll find your calling in life. That’s where true happiness and purpose lies. Whether it’s taking care of abandoned animals, saving old houses from the wreckin’ ball, or reading to the blind, you’ve got to find your fire, sugar. You’ll never be fulfilled if you don’t.

 

Beth Hoffman’s charming debut novel is filled with wit, wisdom, and love. The characters will stay with me for a long time. I recommend Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, it’s a wonderful book.