Books Read in 2017
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night
by Mark Haddon
I ran into a friend who had just seen the
stage show based on this book. He raved about it (liked it better than
"Hamilton") but said that if I am going to see it, I should read the book
first so that I didn't have to spend the first third of the show trying to
figure it out. He also told me that he could ot put the book down when he
Well he was right about that. This is a unique, funny, dramatic, and
puzzling story of Christopher, who is on the autism spectrum and sees the
world quite differently than the rest of us. He attends a school for special
needs children. In a way, with a mother who has dementia and is starting to
exhibit signs of paranoia, I found it interesting to see how Christopher's
mind worked and wondered if this helps to explain how her mind works.
The plot of this book is more or less irrelevant. Christopher discovers a
dog has been killed and he determines he is going to solve the mystery of
who killed the dog. This involves conquering many of his fears and speaking
with people he is terrified of.
Learning who killed the dog only sets in motion a whole different series of
experiences, where Christopher must use his love of prime numbers and his
powers of observation to move forward.
Perhaps the two most important figures in Christopher's life are Siobhan,
one of his teachers, who understands him, and Tony, his pet rat.
When you arrive at the end of this book, you realize that you have had your
sensitivities for autistic people raised a bit and that's a good thing.
Fractured by Karin Slaughter
In a mansion in an upscale neighborhood of Atlanta, a mother comes home to
find her daughter murdered and mutilated, with her attacker still standing
over her. She attacks the man and chokes him to death. This is
the second in a series of Will Trent books (and now I have to read book 1).
With Will on the scene, it is discovered that the young man murdered was not
the attacker, but rather trying to rescue the young woman. And the
young woman is not the daughter after all but her friend, and the daughter
has been kidnapped. Sorting through all the evidence and figuring out
what happened and who is to blame was a fasinating read, and concentrates
more on police procedure than "blood and gore" (though there is enough of
A Man Called Ove by
I read somewhere that this was the New York Times "most charming
book" of 2014. I can understand that. I'd seen the book for a
long time and had heard good things about it. All Ove (pronounced
OO-va) wants to do is commit suicide so he can be with his deceased wife,
the only person he's ever loved. But whenever he tries, something
interrupts him. He is described as a "cranky old man whose
world is black and white. He is a rule follower who has no patience with
people who are not." He's the town curmudgeon who
has lived a very organized, regimented life but feels responsibility so that
when someone needs help, he steps in, even if it postpones his suicide for
yet another day. Along the way, he grudgingly makes friends of some of
the people in his neighborhood. (I was shocked to discover about 2/3
of the way through the book thata the "cranky old man" is 59 years
old!...closer to my daughter's age than to mine!!!)
The book follows his life and his grudging
acceptance of some people, though always crusty and grumbling outside.
What happens at his death is a wonderful surprise.
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
After finishing "The Horse and his Boy," which I didn't realy like, I was
ready for this book, as my granddaughter says it's her favorite. And I
liked it very much. It is set man years (perhaps as many as 1,000)
past the time when Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy ruled Narnia, yet they are
only 2 years older and are whisked back to Narnia ("where the animals talk
and the trees walk") by means of magic at a time when help is needed to rid
the country of the evil king and restore Prince Caspian to his rightful
place on the throne. In the end, it is a battle between two men that
will determine the fate of the entire country.
The Horse and His Boy by C.S.
Back to Narnia in this, the third book in the series. This was perhaps
my least favorite of the three I have read before. There is more
emphasis on negative things, mostly war with a little torture thrown in.
The reader does learn about the worlds of which Narnia is only one part.
A boy named Shasta is living in Calormene with a cruel stepfather, who plans
to sell him into slavery. Shasta excapes and meets Bree, a Narnia
talking horse, who must pretend he can't talk because animals in Calormene
don't talk and they set out for Narnia. On the way they encounter
Aravis, a young girl who has been betrothed to an old man. She and her
talking horse are also trying to escape and make their way to Narnia.
The four join forces and encounter many adventures on their way. We also see
a lot more of Aslan, the lion God-figure, who helps the group make to
Some have said this is their favorite book of the series, but I just didn't
get into the war and with all the weird names it was difficult to figure out
who was who and which land was which. (I did chuckle at the place
called Stormness and wonder if C.S. Lewis was paying homage to the Orkney
town of Stromness.)
The Restaurant Critic's Wife by
I needed to read something written for someone over the age of 10 for a
change, so chose this, one of Amazon's $3.00 specials awhile ago. I
have lots of mixed feelings about it. I'm glad I finished it because
of how so many threads came together at the end, but I could not relate to
the heroine Lila Soto, at all. It's a generational thing. Her
views on parenting and children in the 21st century didn't ring true with
me, from the 1970s and her husband Sam's (he's the critic) insistence on
absolute anonymity condemns her to a life on a street filled with children
she can't meet because their parents might own a restaurant Sam might
someday review. Lila is torn between motherhood and the very
successful career she left when she married Sam. One of Sam's
obsessions is that he is never to be called by name when they review a
restaurant and it is an inconsistency in the book that though he's furious
the first time it happens, it happens over and over again and he never seems
It was a nice break from the tales of Narnia,
and it was a quick read, but nothing I would rave about.
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
This is my week to read kids books, apparently. After I finished "The
Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," I really wanted to share my favorite
kids' book, which I read at about Brianna's age, with her. But I was a
horse fanatic at that age and she's into fantasy and I wasn't sure if she
would like it. So I read it. And no, I don't think it's the book
for her, but I was hooked on re-reading it.
The tale of Alec Ramsey and the wild stallion
who is shipwrecked on a deserted island with him, the tale of the
development of their unlikely friendship, their rescue, finding a home for a
wild stallion in Flushing, NY, and the Black's ultimate race against the two
fastest horses in the country was just as gripping to me today as it was
more than 50 years ago. But, I don't think it's for Bri.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
by C.S. Lewis
I'm all set for my first "book club meeting" on July 1 with my
granddaughter. I have finished this book!
This is apparently the real start of the Narnia
stories, where four kids accidentally discover an entrance through the back
of a wardrobe into a magical world of wizards and witches, of Aslan the
Lion, the god figure, of centaurs and giants. They have many
adventures, good and bad. There are lots of Bible parallels in the
book, some more blatant than others. In the end, the kids return to
the wardrobe, just seconds after they first entered Narnia. Magic!
So now on to Book 3 and getting ready to discuss the series with my
granddaughter (and others).
Lewis frequently breaks the book equivalent of
the 4th wall, stopping to make comments to the reader. Not sure how I feel
about that, but I did smile when he said something about how if he wrote
what really happened, their parents wouldn't let them read the book!
The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
I never read the Narnia books as a kid but my daughter-in-law suggested that
we form a book club to discuss books with Brianna (age 9), who is now
plowing through books at a regular rate. She is on Book 6 of the 7 Narnia
books and wants to discuss them and then go through the Little House on the
Prairie books. I'm thrilled to be in a book club with my
This book introduces us to the magic other
world that two children find thanks to a discovery by Digory's uncle and the
magic rings that whisk them back and forth between world. We meet
Aslan, the "god" of the other world and get to witness the big bang there,
we learn the powers of the magic apple tree and the temptations of the evil
witch to eat the apple (does sound a bit familiar!) Apparently this
book is the prequel to the real story of Narnia, which begins with "The
Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," which I will be starting today.
Lewis' powers of description are wonderful and
again, I wish I could write like that!
Silent Footsteps by Sally Henderson
An experience in Botswana with an elephant she credits with saving her life
was a turning point for Henderson. She developed a passion for
preserving the species and, with husband Jer, moved to Zimbabwe to study
elephant behavior. I love books like this and Henderson's gift for
description makes this one of the better ones. In addition to learning
about the elephants she observes, you learn a lot about the other animals of
Africa (lions, for example). As much as I enjoyed this read (and the
last chapters about driving across several African countries right after the
cessation of conflict are gripping!), it made me cross "trip to Africa" off
of my bucket list. It has long been my dream to go and while I know
that physically I would not be able to make the trip now I still had my
dreams. But the very clear picture of conditions in Africa, the
dangers faced, and how tourists are viewed by the locals was enough for me
to feel confident that it was probably a good thing I never went.
On the Amazon review of one reader, I chose NOT
to read the epilog and leave things as they were when Sally and Jer left
Zimbabwe and not read what is apparently a depressing tale of how things
were when they returned several years later.
The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill
In 1995, Bryson wrote "Notes from a Small Island," a salute to his adopted
country (England) before his return to the U.S. In that book he
traveled around lesser known parts of England and wrote about what he liked,
what he didn't, and what he found peculiar (more than a little amount).
I bought that book when I found it in the Cambridge University library when
we were doing the same thing, driving around England. I loved the book
because it was almost as if we were seeing it with him.
Twenty years later Bryson decided to revisit
his old haunts and see how things are now. I started this book a long
time ago and then got distracted and didn't get back to it until this week.
The almost unanimous negative reviews on Amazon tell me maybe why I set it
aside. I enjoy Bryson and I did enjoy this book, but it lacked the
joi de vivre that I have found in his previous books (and I have read
most of them). There are still a lot of snickers, a lot of interesting
bits, a lot of "OMG--I didn't know that!" but seen through the eyes
of an aging travel writer who is upset that things aren't as charming as
they used to be and that quaint villages now have Starbucks and wifi.
Don't get me wrong--I enjoyed this book.
I just didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped I would.
Are You Anybody?: A Memoir by Jeffrey
In reading a book, I am particularly impressed by writing style and Tambor
is a very good writer. He is clear, concise and erudite. He is
funny and serious and brutally honest. He does not shy away from the
dark times in his life (Scientology, alcohol) and he teaches the non-acting
reader more about acting than you might ever learn otherwise. His
style is not straightforward, "I was born..and here we are today..." but
more like a ping pong ball bouncing around the room, he might discuss his
award winning performance in Transparent in Chapter 2, and his
father's quirks later in the book. But it all works.
I was sorry that I never watched Arrested
Development or The Garry Sanders Show (his break out role, after
years on Broadway and smaller roles elsewhere), so I had to stop reading and
go to Netflix and find Arrested Development and watch a few episodes
to get an idea of who this George Bluth character was.
But the most fascinating part of the book was
learning how he created the character of Maura Pfefferman, retired college
professor, who finally admits to his family that he identifies as female.
How Tambor, self-described as a cis-male, learns about gender identity and
how Maura feels as she goes through her transition is brilliant. The
show, while billed as a comedy, is not so much a comedy as it is a slice of
life, with funny parts to it. The book itself is delightful.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Though this classic has been around since 1986, it took the Trump
administration to get me to read it. This dystopian tale of the
Republic of Giliad, which is not too far in the future from "today," is the
society that forms after a repressive takeover by the uber-Puritans.
prior to the takeover, birth control and abortion has so reduced the
population that young fertile women must be recruited to be Handmaids, to
bear the children for infertile couples. How this is done is shocking
in and of itself. The story is told through the thoughts of Offred and
Atwood's writing is so eloquent it is mesmerizing. SPOILER ALERT -- I
found the ending unsatisfying, as it leaves us with a "Schroedinger's
Reading this in 2017 is doubly chilling because
the society that has formed doesn't seem so dystopian any more, and seems a
real possibility unless someone does prevents the developing totalitarian
The Rage of Plum Blossom by Charlotte
Amazon gives its Prime members who own Kindles the opportunity to download a
free book each month. They are written by lesser known authors.
This was the book I chose a couple of months ago.
Quinn Jones is an attorney living the good life
with her successful businessman husband Jordan Chang in a high rise New York
apartment. One morning she goes off to work and then receives word that her
husband has committed suicide by jumping off the balcony of their apartment.
As she begins to adjust and look at the evidence, she becomes convinced that
this was not a suicide, but a murder. The book traces her search for
Jordan's killer, the people she meets along the way who help her, the
surprising revelations she uncovers about Jordan's life before she met him,
and in the process she begins to come to peace with her husband's death and
the special surprise he left for her to give her a reason to go on.
This was an enjoyable light read, with some
cliché moments, but mostly kept my interest throughout.
The Guilty by David Baldacci
Will Robie is a professional assassin working for a secret organization
within the (?CIA). On his latest assignment things go wrong, and
thought he assassinates his target, he doesn't see the child standing behind
him, and the bullet, which does through the victim, kills the child too.
This affects his next kill and causes his handler, Blue Man, realizes he has
issues to work out with his past and sends him back to his hometown of
Cantrell, Mississippi, to work out problems with his father, a judge who is
in jail on murder charges, a man with home Robie has not spoken in more than
20 years. In the process, a crime is discovered, which leads to a
spate of murders all of which in some way point to Robie's past. In
truth, the actual denouement was horrendously complicated and stretched the
bounds of credulity a bit, but it was a riveting story, as are all of
Baldacci's. Baldacci is such a good writer!
A Long Road Home: A Memoir by Saroo
This is the book on which the movie Lion is based. A five year
old boy living in poverty in India, goes to the railway station with his
older brother. The two boys get separated and Saroo ends up locked in
a train car that is headed for Calcutta, 1800 miles away. He does not
know his real name, his town or the name of the railway station where I got
on the train. He survives six weeks in the train station before he was
picked up and taken a youth home, where conditions are brutal, and
eventually to an orphanage from which, after all attempts to find his family
fail, he is adopted by a couple from Australia. He grows up
Australian, but never loses the hope of finding his family in India.
How he did it, which took years of searching on the internet, using Google
Earth (when it became available--he began his search in the days of
dial-up!), and following every inch of the country he could find, he
eventually finds a place he thinks is the right place. It is, and he
is ultimately reunited with his family (this is no spoiler, since it is part
of the promos for the movie!). The story is amazing and reads like a
novel, though it drags a bit during the years he was searching the Internet
for hours every day.
Tupelo by Alec Clayton
Whenever I finish an Alec Clayton novel I again suspect that this good ol'
boy raised in the South is secretly a Russian author. His novels are filled
with so many characters -- many of whom are called by more than one, or even
more than two different names -- that you might as well be reading
Dostoyevsky. Ah...but Dostoyevsky wasn't as much fun. The
problems with this cast of thousands and the episodic nature of the story is
that it becomes difficult to care about any one person. This is the
story of a town and its residents, particularly the friends of the narrator,
Kevin, who is the identical twin to Evan and with whom he has a life-long
love-hate relationship. It follows the kids through the segregated 50s
and the tumultuous 60s and the beginning of the civil rights era. It
shows events through the eyes of kids, who were kinda sorta aware of what
was going on, but not really.
What keeps you going is Clayton's style, which
flows beautifully. His descriptions are fun to read. And if I
have any real complaint it is that as a professional writer and newsman, he
really, really should have had a better proofreader. Too many really
sloppy grammar and spelling mistakes ("site" when he means "sight", "Evan
and I" when he means "Evan and me.") There aren't a lot of
these mistakes (and most occur in the last quarter of the book), but enough
to make me cringe when I stumble on them.
I want to grow hair, I want to
grow up, I want to go to Boise by Erma Bombeck
I was so depressed about tomorrow's
inauguration when I got to the book store, I was slightly nauseous. I
decided I needed to read something light to take my mind off of things. Then
I saw Erma Bombeck's book on the humor shelf. Who better to cheer me up than
Erma? Well, this book about kids and cancer wasn't exactly the funny book I
expected, but it wasn't really a downer either. The title refers to what a
child, suffering from cancer, said were his/her three wishes.
Bombeck was approached to write an upbeat book
about children with cancer. She wasn't sure she could do it until she
visited a camp for children with cancer and got to know them. What she has
written reminds me of the book "When Someone You Love Has Cancer," by
DanaRae Pomeroy. You get to "know" kids with cancer, you get to know their
parents, you get a sense of the joy and the tragedy, and you get a feel for
how someone who cares can help -- what to do and what not to do. Not
Bombeck's usual belly laughs, but a wonderfully thought out and written book
(I would have expected nothing less of my hero). And I didn't think of
Donald Trump all afternoon.
Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
This has the "or" title of "One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in
the World." Travel writer Weiner sets out to find the happiest place
in the world. (Spoiler alert: It's not the U.S., which
ranks 23rd in happiness on world charts. "The United States is not as happy
as it is wealthy."
His travels take him far and wide, from his home in
Florida to Iceland to India, to Qatar. No, he didn't discover that
happiness was to be found in his own backyard, but he did learn how relative
it is and what is happy to one person may not be to another (given the
choice of spending eternity in Iceland or in Hell, for example, Iceland
natives chose Hell because at least they would be warm!). He
discovered that wealthy people were no happier than poor people, as a
general rule. He found that the key to happiness was the camaraderie
of friends and relatives, and a feeling of love in your life.
He did find Moldova the most unhappy place of
all those he visited, and he seems to have found the greatest happiness in
Bhutan. He received hate mail from Moldovans after his book came out so
maybe they just hide their joy very well. It did take me forever to
finish this book, not because it was not interesting but because somehow I
never sat to actually finish it. I'm glad I did, tho. It was a
fun read and I learned a lot about some countries around the world.
by Evan Placey
This is a play about a female-to-male transgendered teen in mid-transition.
While the issues that transgendered people, especially young people,
encounter are many, this play focuses primarily on the interpersonal
relations, with his parents, his sister, and his friends, especially, Josh,
his former boyfriend, who is still in love with the girl he dated for so
long. This is a powerful play which explores the difference between
"tolerance" and "acceptance"
Dean's monologue about tolerance before the
school board is powerful and poignant and nicely sums up the whole point of
Minutes by Jodi Picoult
This was a crazy long book to have read accidentally! It has been in
my audio queue for a long time and when I recently talked with Walt's sister
about a book she was reading by "Jeri's favorite author" I remembered that I
had this book by her too, so I started reading it. It seemed a strange
book to have been written by Jeri's favorite author, but I thought maybe it
just wasn't her best. I was almost finished with the book before I
found out that Jeri's favorite author is Ann Patchett not Jodi Picoult, but
I finished this book anyway.
While the story was good, it just seemed overly
long, at 500 pages. The middle section seemed to drag on and on.
The story centers around Peter, youngest son growing up in the shadow of his
talented older brother and bullied by classmates his entire life. The
brother's death in an accident was a terrible trauma for all, and when the
bullying escalates, Peter finally loses it, takes a gun and runs rampant
throughout the school, killing several of his classmates.
Also important are Josie Cormier, daughter of
Alex, the judge who will be assigned to the case, and girlfriend of Matt,
one of the shooting victims. Josie was once Peter's friend, but had
turned her back on him when she became Matt's girl, but her testimony may
help gets Peter a lighter sentence under a 'battered wife' defense, the
first use of such a defense in a bullying case.
This is a study in how a small town is torn
apart when a tragedy likes this takes place, examines bullying and its
effect on the victim, and looks at the emotional effect of friendships.
The ending came out of the blue and was completely unexpected.
Now I'm going to have to check out Ann