Books Read in 2014
The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern
The magical new novel from number one bestseller Cecelia Ahern. Tamara Goodwin has always got everything she's ever wanted. Born into a family of wealth, she grew up in a mansion with its own private beach, a wardrobe full of designer clothes and all that a girl could ever wish for. She's always lived in the here and now, never giving a second thought to tomorrow. But then suddenly her dad is gone and life for Tamara and her mother changes forever. Left with a mountain of debt, they have no choice but to sell everything they own and move to the country. Nestled next to Kilsaney Castle, their gatehouse is a world away from Tamara's childhood. With her mother shut away with grief, and her aunt busy tending to her, Tamara is lonely and bored and longs to return to Dublin.When a travelling library passes through Kilsaney Demesne, Tamara is intrigued. Her eyes rest on a mysterious large leather bound tome locked with a gold clasp and padlock. What she discovers within the pages takes her breath away and shakes her world to its core. (320 pages)
Ain't She Sweet by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Sugar Beth Carey's come back to Parrish, Mississippi, and she's brought her reputation for wreaking havoc with her. She's broke, desperate, and too proud to show it, even with her old enemies lining up for a chance to get even. Her former girlfriends have their eyebrow pencils sharpened into lethal points. Winnie Davis, her longtime rival, is fully armed with the money, power, and prestige that had once been Sugar Beth's. But worst of all is Colin Byrne, the man whose career Sugar Beth had destroyed -- and not exactly accidentally.
Now Colin's a famous novelist living in Sugar Beth's old mansion, and this modern day dark prince is using his writer's imagination to figure out how to bring the town's beautiful former princess to her knees. But despite her sassy mouth, feisty spirit, and hardheaded ways, Sugar Beth's no longer the spoiled rich girl they all remember. No, now she's a woman to be reckoned with ... and a great big reckonin' is about to happen, not least of all for one dark prince who might -- just might -- be thinking about falling in love with the wickedest girl in town. (416 pages)
Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
From the highly acclaimed, award-winning author of Floating in My Mother's Palm comes a stunning novel about ordinary people living in extraordinary times.
Trudi Montag is a Zwerg—a dwarf—short, undesirable, different, the voice of anyone who has ever tried to fit in. Eventually she learns that being different is a secret that all humans share—from her mother who flees into madness, to her friend Georg whose parents pretend he's a girl, to the Jews Trudy harbors in her cellar.
Ursula Hegi brings us a timeless and unforgettable story in Trudi and a small town, weaving together a profound tapestry of emotional power, humanity, and truth. (525 pages)
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
In the opening pages of Jamie Ford's stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.
This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry's world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While "scholarshipping" at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship - and innocent love - that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.
Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel's dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice - words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.
Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart. (290 pages)
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie's grandmother's abandoned home near Salem, she can't refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest--to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge.
As the pieces of Deliverance's harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem's dark past then she could have ever imagined.
Written with astonishing conviction and grace, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane travels seamlessly between the witch trials of the 1690s and a modern woman's story of mystery, intrigue, and revelation. (376 pages)
These Is My Words by Nancy Turner
In a compelling fiction debut, Nancy E. Turner's unforgettable "These Is My Words" melds the sweeping adventures and dramatic landscapes of "Lonesome Dove" with the heartfelt emotional saga of "Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All." Inspired by the author's original family memoirs, this absorbing story introduces us to the questing, indomitable Sarah Prine, one of the most memorable women ever to survive and prevail in the Arizona Territory of the late 1800s. As a child, a fiery young woman, and finally a caring mother, Sarah forges a life as full and as fascinating as our deepest needs, our most secret hopes and our grandest dreams. She rides Indian-style and shoots with deadly aim, greedily devours a treasure trove of leather-bound books, downs fire, flood, Comanche raids and other mortal perils with the unique courage that forged the character of the American West.
Rich in authentic details of daily life and etched with striking character portraits of very different pioneer families, this action-packed novel is also the story of a powerful, enduring love between Sarah and the dashing cavalry officer Captain Jack Elliot. Neither the vast distances traveled nor the harsh and killing terrains could quench the passion between them, and the loss and loneliness both suffer only strengthen their need for each other.
While their love grows, the heartbreak and wonder of the frontier experience unfold in scene after scene: a wagon-train Sunday spent roasting quail on spits as Indians close in to attack; Sarah's silent encounter with an Indian brave, in which he shows her his way of respect; a dreadful discovery by a stream that changes Sarah forever; the hazards of a visit to Phoenix, a town as hot as the devil's frying pan; Sarah's joy in building a real home, sketching out rooms and wraparound porches.
Sarah's incredible story leads us into a vanished world that comes vividly to life again, while her struggles with work and home, love and responsibility resonate with those every woman faces today. "These Is My Words" is a passionate celebration of a remarkable life, exhilarating and gripping from the first page to the last. (384 pages)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance. (528 pages)
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Fourteen-year-old Lily Owen, neglected by her father and isolated on their South Carolina peach farm, spends hours imagining a blissful infancy when she was loved and nurtured by her mother, Deborah, whom she barely remembers. These consoling fantasies are her heart's answer to the family story that as a child, in unclear circumstances, Lily accidentally shot and killed her mother. All Lily has left of Deborah is a strange image of a Black Madonna, with the words "Tiburon, South Carolina" scrawled on the back. The search for a mother, and the need to mother oneself, are crucial elements in this well-written coming-of-age story set in the early 1960s against a background of racial violence and unrest. When Lily's beloved nanny, Rosaleen, manages to insult a group of angry white men on her way to register to vote and has to skip town, Lily takes the opportunity to go with her, fleeing to the only place she can think of--Tiburon, South Carolina--determined to find out more about her dead mother. Although the plot threads are too neatly trimmed, The Secret Life of Bees is a carefully crafted novel with an inspired depiction of character. The legend of the Black Madonna and the brave, kind, peculiar women who perpetuate Lily's story dominate the second half of the book, placing Kidd's debut novel squarely in the honored tradition of the Southern Gothic. (Note: This was the first book the Book Club read when it started in 2007.)
Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris
The novels of Joanne Harris are a literary feast for the senses. Five Quarters of the Orange represents Harris's most complex and sophisticated work yet - a novel in which darkness and fierce joy come together to create an unforgettable story.
When Framboise Simon returns to a small village on the banks of the Loire, the locals do not recognize her as the daughter of the infamous Mirabelle Dartigen - the woman they still hold responsible for a terrible tragedy that took place during the German occupation decades before. Althrough Framboise hopes for a new beginning. She quickly discovers that past and present are inextricably intertwined. Nowhere is this truth more apparent than in the scrap book of recipes she has inherited from her dead mother.
With this book, Framboise re-creates her mother's dishes, which she serves in her small creperie. And yet as she studies the scrapbook - searching for clues to unlock the contradiction between her mother's sensuous love of food and often cruel demeanor - she begins to recognize a deeper meaning behind Mirabelle's cryptic scribbles. Whithin the journal's tattered pages lies the key to what actually transpired the summer Framboise was nine years old.
Rich and dark. Five Quarters of the Orange is a novel of mothers and daughters of the past and the present, of resisting, and succumbling, and an extraordinary work by a masterful writer.
Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere: A Memoir by Poe Ballentine and Cheryl Strayed
Fans of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil will embrace Poe Ballantine's Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere.
Poe Ballantine's "Free Rent at the Totalitarian Hotel" included in Best American Essays 2013, and for well over twenty years, Poe Ballantine traveled America, taking odd jobs, living in small rooms, trying to make a living as a writer. At age 46, he finally settled with his Mexican immigrant wife in Chadron, Nebraska, where they had a son who was red-flagged as autistic. Poe published four books about his experiences as a wanderer and his observations of America. But one day in 2006, his neighbor, Steven Haataja, a math professor from the local state college disappeared. Ninety five days later, the professor was found bound to a tree, burned to death in the hills behind the campus where he had taught. No one, law enforcement included, understood the circumstances. Poe had never contemplated writing mystery or true crime, but since he knew all the players, the suspects, the sheriff, the police involved, he and his kindergarten son set out to find out what might have happened.
Babette's Feast and Other Stories by Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen
Martine and Philippa are the daughters of a forceful priest of a Lutheran sect. Reared to deny all earthly pleasures, they live out their lives performing good work on behalf of the inhabitants of the tiny Scandinavian fishing village in which they reside. When Babette, the French refugee to whom they have given shelter, asks to repay them by preparing a sumptuous feast, they are forced to reconcile their father's teachings with the elaborate and bountiful meal prepared by Babette for themselves and the other aging villagers.
Skins by Adrian C. Louis
SKINS is Adrian C. Louis's realistic novel of life on Pine Ridge Reservation, the story of two brothers--one a rez cop, the other an alcoholic--and their relationship with each other, with their people, with their environment.