Posts Tagged books

BEST BOOKS OF 2020

I read 87 books this year– 84 by women; three by men; 32 by BIPOC authors. The shortest book I read was Intimations by Zadie Smith. The longest book I read was Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  Here are the best books (5/5*) that were published in 2020 that I read. 

Intimations by Zadie Smith
Penguin Books, July 2020. 97 pg.

A slim collection of essays–about aging, community, race, COVID 19, writing– that Zadie Smith wrote during the pandemic. There’s much to consider within these pages of thoughtful, personal and universal essays.  She explains: “Talking to yourself can be useful. And writing means being overheard.”

 

 

 

 

Weather by Jenny Offill
Knopf, February 2020. 207 pg.

fantastic, creative and timely novel addressing the current climate crisis and the impending apocalypse. it’s from the point-of-view of a middle-aged woman –so definitely relatable to me (I want to read more novels about older women). She’s married and has a son. Her brother is a recovering drug addict and she’s had to care for him throughout the years. Jenny Offill excels at this observational narrative. It’s short, riveting, potent. It’s really the perfect thing to read during this COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine we’re all experiencing. Plus it’s quite relatable to middle-aged spinster GenX me: “The woman has just turned fifty. She tells me about her blurriness, the way she is hardly seen. She supposes she is not so pretty anymore–fattish, hair a bit gray. What she has noticed, what gives her a little chill, she tells me, is how if she meets a man out of the context of work, he finds her to not be worth much. He looks over her shoulder as he talks or pawns her off on a woman her own age.”

 

 

 

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline
Custom House, August 2020. 370 pg.

I loved this amazing work of historical fiction so much and don’t know why I waited so long to write about it! It covers an intriguing aspect of history that I’ve not read much about. Based on actual events, the novel focuses on a ship of female convicts traveling from England to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in the 1850s. Although Aboriginal people have occupied Australia for thousands of years, the British government views the native people as nuisances and the land to be uninhabited and available for their use.  It’s amazing to think about some of the low level crimes for which many were sentenced as well as the harrowing passage. “Evangeline recalled seeing small items in the newspaper over the years about the incorrigibles– men, she thought– transported on convict ships to Australia. Murderers and other deviants exiled to the far side of the earth, ridding the British Isles of the worst of its criminals.” Evangeline is a governess accused of stealing a ring which had been given to her by the family’s older son with whom she’d become romantically involved. She’s well-educated and her late father was a minister. The other staff members didn’t like her. “She was, by temperament, much like her father: diffident, with a shyness often mistaken for aloofness, a bookishness perceived as snobbery.” She’s sentenced to 14 years in prison. She’s pregnant and gives birth to a daughter onboard. Sadly she’s thrown overboard by a crew member who she’d stabbed to protect Hazel, who he’d been sexually assaulting. Hazel is a scrappy convict whose midwife mother taught her many potions and remedies. Mathinna is a native woman who knows how to read and learns to speak French. She’s taken from her tribe by Van Diemen’s governor’s wife on a whim. She considers her a project. It doesn’t work out well. The novel’s a complete page turner and I became so invested in these women I didn’t want it to end. 

Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin
Europa, June 2020. 476 pg.

“My closest neighbors don’t quake in their boots. They have no worries, don’t fall in love, don’t bite their nails, don’t believe in chance, make no promises, or noise, don’t have social security, don’t cry, don’t search for their keys, their glasses, the remote control, their children, happiness.”

I walk in cemeteries fairly often. There’s one in my neighborhood. When I was in grad school, I would drive to the Arlington National Cemetery to take walks through it. I liked the quiet and solitude. I sometimes wonder about the people whose names I see on gravestones. Violette Toussaint is a cemetery caretaker in the small French town Bourgogne. She lives on site. She takes notes on everyone who’s buried there. She’s close friends with  three gravediggers, three groundskeepers and a priest. She feeds the stray cats that roam the cemetery. She reads. She bakes. It sounded fairly idyllic to me. I love the writing and this character. Violette is different, interesting, smart, thoughtful. I found myself deeply connected to her– “I don’t fit into boxes. I’ve never fit into boxes. When I do a test in a women’s magazine– “Get to know yourself,” or “Know yourself better”–there’s no clear result for me. I’m always a bit of everything.” I don’t fit in boxes either. 

“I’m not after a love story. I’m too old for that. I’ve missed the boat. My meager love life is an old pair of socks shoved to the back of the closet.”

Julian Sole, a police detective, arrives one day and tells Violette that his mother wanted her ashes spread on someone’s grave who wasn’t her husband. He wants to know why. Violette reflects on her own husband who had numerous affairs and left her. She recalls: “He turned our bed into a paradise, was considerate and sensual when making love, but as soon as he got up, was vertical, left our horizontal love behind, he lost a good deal of color. He had nothing to say, and was interested only in his motorbike and video games.” Violette’s mother abandoned her and she was pregnant at 18. Drawn to each other, Violette and Julian spend more time together as they help reconcile the past. There are more secrets of the dead and the past revealed but I can’t give too much away or I’d ruin it. The novel unwinds with several twists. It’s smart, funny and dark. Just what I like. It’s a full reflection on life and death and everything involved. 

Julian Sole, a police detective, arrives one day and tells Violette that his mother wanted her ashes spread on someone’s grave who wasn’t her husband. He wants to know why. Violette reflects on her own husband who had numerous affairs and left her. She recalls: “He turned our bed into a paradise, was considerate and sensual when making love, but as soon as he got up, was vertical, left our horizontal love behind, he lost a good deal of color. He had nothing to say, and was interested only in his motorbike and video games.” Violette’s mother abandoned her and she was pregnant at 18. There are more secrets of the dead and the past revealed but I can’t give too much away or I’d ruin it. The novel unwinds with several twists. It’s smart, funny and dark. Just what I like. It’s a full reflection on life and death and everything involved. 

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
William Morrow, March 2020. 373 pg.

A 42-year-old English teacher at a prep school in Maine grooms then rapes his 15-year-old student. Although it’s a story that ‘s been told numerous times, it’s a remarkably strong perspective that’s completely engrossing. The story alternates between 2000 and 2017 where adult Vanessa finds herself finally recognizing the level of abuse and how it’s affected her. I have a memory from high school of being in gym class and one of my classmates going up to a (very attractive) teacher and unbuttoning a button on his shirt and commenting something about the full buttoned up style. It was so bold. That was how this popular student commanded attention. I didn’t even kiss a boy until college. Vanessa is incredibly naïve as a student: “It wasn’t about how young I was, not for him. Above everything else, he loved my mind. He said I had genius-level emotional intelligence and that I wrote like a prodigy, that he could talk to me, confide in me. Lurking deep within me, he said, was a dark romanticism, the same kind he saw within himself. No one had ever understood that dark part of him until I came along.” Vanessa writes poetry. Mr.. Strane gives her Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay to read and then he gives her Lolita. As an adult, Vanessa recognizes: “I still feel different from others, dark and deeply bad, same as I did at fifteen, but I’ve tried to gain a better understanding of the reasons. I”ve become an expert on the age-gap trope, consuming books, films, anything featuring a romance between an adult and legal child. I search endlessly for myself but never find anything truly accurate.” She’s also finding it difficult to have relationships with me. She notes: “There are men who never turn into boyfriends, who peer behind the curtain and see the mess of me–literal and figurative: the apartment with a narrow path through the clothes and trash leading from bed to bathroom; the drinking, endless drinking; the blackout sex and nightmares.”

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez
Algonquin, April 2020. 256 pg.

Antonia is a recently widowed, retired English teacher who lives in Vermont. One night she arrives home to find an undocumented pregnant teenager on her doorstep. Then, her sister, who suffers with Bipolar disorder, goes missing. “You’re the most American of us, her sisters have commented to Antonia in an accusatory tone. Just saying, they said smugly when she asked what was wrong with being whoever she was. Admittedly, she was the worrier, the insomniac, the most anxious and disciplined of the sisters.” Through gorgeous prose and astute observations, Julia Avarez examines a woman’s struggles to maintain her individual identity as well as to navigate relationships with her three sisters and her immigrant community. 

 

 

 

 

The Book of V by Anna Solomon
Henry Holt & Company, May 2020, 320 pg.

I gasped excitedly when I walked into the break room at my bookstore job and saw the ARC of this novel. I tore through this book in two days. Leaving Lucy Pear is one of my favorite novels and now after reading this I’ll count Anna Solomon as a favorite author. This novel focuses on three Jewish women– Lily is a mother, second wife and writer in 2016. Vivian is a political wife during the Watergate-era. Esther is an independent woman in ancient Persia. They’re all strong, independent-minded women. and Solomon fully explores each character’s motivations, desires, needs, struggles, commonalities and connections across the centuries. 

 

 

 

 

The Sweet Indifference of the World by Peter Stamm
Other Press, January 2020. 160 pg.

I only read one book by a white male author and this is it. I have a handful of favorite cis white male authors and Peter Stamm counts as one of them. I read them immediately. I appreciate his gorgeous, melancholy writing. This one is short and interesting– a writer, Christoph, meets a woman, Lena, who is the doppelganger of his former lover, Magdalena, who inspired his first novel post breakup. Lena recognizes her own relationship with a writer named Chris in the story she’s told. This one blurs past and present, fiction and reality. How much does reality influence fiction and fiction influence reality? He comments: “With youthful pathos, I had believed I had to decide between her and my writing, between freedom and love. Only now did I understand that love and freedom were not mutually exclusive, but mutually entailed: the one wasn’t possible without the other.”

 

 

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book review: The Sea of Lost Girls

The Sea of Lost Girls by Carol Goodman. William Morrow| March 3, 2020| 304 pages | $16.99| ISBN: 9780062852021

RATING: ****/5*

“For all the town’s fascination with its dark history–the Indian massacres and early colony, the influenza epidemic and lost girls– those stores are meant to be part of the past, told on candlelit ghost tours or sold in glossy paperbacks to be read on rainy weekends the lost girls aren’t meant to come back.

But here I am.”

I tore through this mystery/thriller! ⁣

Tess teaches at Haywood Academy, a boarding school in Vermont, and her husband, Harmon, is head of the history department. Her 17-year-old son, Rudy, struggles with dark moods and anger. He doesn’t know much about his birth father. His mother wont reveal all that much about him. ⁣

Tess got pregnant when she herself was a student at Haywood. One night, Rudy’s girlfriend, Lila, is found dead on the beach. Was it an accident or murder? Did Rudy kill her? Turns out Lila was writing a paper about a missing girl from many decades ago and her connection to Haywood. Is history repeating? ⁣

Family secrets get exposed and there are multiple suspects in Lila’s death. Haywood school has a long entrenched history of unsolved cases involving missing girls. The novel revolves around the standard trope of a teacher-student relationship with numerous twists that I definitely didn’t see coming.⁣

I really like school settings, particularly private schools. Privilege, power, youthful insecurities, New England myths and legends, local townspeople provide plenty of drama. ⁣

Has anyone heard of the Bennington Triangle? That served as inspiration for author Carol Goodman. I don’t listen to true crime podcasts so I hadn’t heard of it even though I live in Massachusetts and spent many family vacations in Vermont in my youth. I’m now going to find a podcast!⁣

 

–review by Amy Steele

 

I received a review copy from William Morrow.

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book review: Good Riddance

good riddanceGood Riddance by Elinor Lipman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt| February 5, 2019| 304 pages | $25.00| ISBN: 978-0-544-80825-6

RATING: 4.5/5*

–review by Amy Steele

“I used to have a husband, from a marriage that was a bad idea from the start. Now I can advise others: Never marry a man who proposes too early.”

When Daphne discards her deceased mother’s yearbook, a neighbor decides she’s going to make a documentary about what she discovers in it. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, particularly an enterprising someone looking to advance her career. Daphne’s mother, June, was a teacher and yearbook advisor for the Class of 1968 who attended every class reunion and kept detailed notes about the students in the yearbook. Seemingly everyone had a crush on Daphne’s mother at this New Hampshire high school. June had an affair with a student after he graduated. Daphne attends a reunion as a fact-finding mission and this man, now a state representative, claims to be Daphne’s biological father. Daphne introduces herself to her tablemates in this manner: “I was bamboozled into a loveless marriage because my husband wouldn’t inherit his grandparents’ money while he was still single.” Daphne hasn’t had the best of luck in relationships. She’s self-deprecating and aware of her challenges and somewhat resigned. She’s completely surprised when she embarks on a tryst with her cute younger neighbor, an actor. She ends up having lots of fun and confides in him. It’s just the ego boost she needs. I found Daphne to be quite genuine and relatable. Her father seems like a great dad. The news that someone else might be her biological father, leads Daphne to have bouts of doubt: “My not sleeping great had to do with the ugly breaking news that my entire existence was based on a lie. Shouldn’t I have been warned of inheritable diseases that might be down the road? Or told to work harder in high school because I could apply as a legacy to Dartmouth? Such were the 2 a.m. agitations of a dispossessed daughter.” Will these new discoveries affect Daphne’s relationship with the only father she’s ever known? Between studying online to become a pastry chef, hooking up with her neighbor and helping her father navigate his recent move to New York, Daphne attempts to thwart her plans to expose her mother’s personal life.  Author Elinor Lipman (The Inn at Lake Divine, On Turpentine Lane) successfully contrasts the idiosyncrasies of small town New England with sprawling Manhattan. Lipman is a master of clever, amusing novels with quirky central characters. Her novels are guaranteed delightful fun reading. I love her writing and creativity so much that I received an advanced copy in October and devoured it right away. It’s the ideal anti-Valentine’s read.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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notable Boston-area book readings in February 2017

bishop

Megan Marshall
Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast
Harvard Book Store
Tuesday, February 7 at 7pm

30753707
Michael Bennett, MD and Sarah Bennett
F*ck Love
Brookline Booksmith
Tuesday, February 7 at 7pm

really-good-day

Ayelet Waldman
A Really Good Day
Brookline Booksmith
Wednesday, February 8 at 7pm

harvester

John Darnielle
Universal Harvester
Harvard Book Store
at Brattle Theatre
Wednesday, February 8 at 6pm

american-hookup

Lisa Wade
American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus
Harvard Book Store
Thursday, February 9 at 7pm

pachinko

Min Jin Lee
Pachinko
Harvard Book Store
Friday, February 10 at 7pm

stand-your-ground

Caroline Light
Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense
Harvard Book Store
Thursday, February 16 at 7pm

lipman

Elinor Lipman
On Turpentine Lane
Brookline Booksmith
Thursday, February 16 at 7pm

difficult-women

Roxane Gay
Difficult Women
Porter Square Books
Friday, February 17 at 7pm

stolen-child

Lisa Carey
The Stolen Child
Brookline Booksmith
Saturday, February 18 at 7pm

news from the end of the world.jpg

Emily Jeanne Miller
The News from the End of the World
Harvard Book Store
Tuesday, February 21 at 7pm

bucky-dent

David Duchovny
Bucky F*cking Dent
Brookline Booksmith
Wednesday, February 22 at 12pm

bishop

Megan Marshall
Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast
Brookline Booksmith
Wednesday, February 22 at 7pm

rise of the rocket girls

Nathalia Holt
Rise of the Rocket Girls: the Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars
WorkBar Cambridge
Monday, February 27 at 6:30pm

girl-at-baggage

Gish Jen
The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap
Harvard Book Store
Tuesday, February 28 at 7pm

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book review: The Muse

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The Muse by Jessie Burton. Ecco| July 26, 2016| 416 pages | $27.99| ISBN: 9780062409928

RATING: ****/5*

Sometime I might want to read (or perhaps write) a novel from one viewpoint in one time period. Historical fiction does draw me in particularly with vivid descriptions, an established sense of place and depth of character. The Muse intrigued me by its lovely black cover, the title and the settings: 1960s London and 1930s Spain. A muse generally refers to someone who influences one’s art. Author Jessie Burton created two independent-spirited and determined women despite their circumstances and the time periods. But who’s kidding anyone? Women still have it tough in 2016. In this novel I didn’t think a muse existed. Although without giving anything away there might be an unexpected muse. Flip the expectations for a muse. This is Burton’s second art-focused historical fiction novel. The Minaturist came out in 2014. I wanted to adore it but just couldn’t. It was quite well-written but a bit too melodramatic. The Muse fares much better mainly because the characters pursue their own artistic goals.

“Ever since I could pick up a pen, other people’s pleasure was how I’d garnered attention and defined success. When I began receiving public acknowledgement for a private act, something was essentially lost. My writing became the axis upon which all my identity and happiness hinged. It was now outward-looking, a self-conscious performance.”

An exclusive London art gallery hires Odelle Bastien, a well-educated immigrant from Trinidadian, as a secretary. Her interesting manager Marjorie Quick quite likes the young woman and they commence a friendship of sorts. Odelle aspires to be a published writer. At a wedding she meets the dashing, sophisticated Lawrie Scott who brings a painting to the gallery for appraisal. The painting causes quite a stir. The narrative turns to 1930s Spain where Olive Schloss lives with her family in the small town of Arazuelo. Her father, a Jewish art dealer, fled Vienna in advance of Nazi persecution. A talented painter, Olive Schloss earned acceptance to the Slade School of Art but her father doesn’t think highly of female painters. Olive never tells her father. Burton describes how Olive feels after finishing a painting: “She had made, for the first time, a picture of such movement and excess and fecundity that she felt almost shocked. It was a stubborn ideal; a paradise on earth, and the irony was it had come from a place to which her parents had dragged her.” Half siblings Teresa and Isaac Robles become ensconced in the Schloss family. Isaac Robles paints as well as carries out revolutionary missions in Spain. For Olive who becomes involved with both there’s deceit, betrayal and secrets galore. Burton connects the two women through this one mysterious painting and its back-story.

As often happens I preferred one time period and character arc (the 1960s story-line) to the other. The chapters involving Odelle definitely captivated me the most. She’s from Trinidad, a country under British rule during the 1940s when she was a child. She’s dating a white guy. Burton’s writing in Odelle’s voice –the Trinidad speaking-style with her friend as well as focusing on how others react to Odelle, how the young woman feels and how she finds her place enhances this novel. Burton writes: “I hadn’t scrapped with the boys to gain a first-class English Literature degree from the University of the West Indies for nothing.” I’d have preferred an entire novel about Odelle. I understand the need for this intrigue or a desire to examine several time periods but Olive’s story-line became a bit trite and dull. Odelle stays true to herself at all times while Olive falls for Isaac and allows her art to become influenced and overshadowed by him. A definitely strong summer read, pack this one on your next long weekend getaway.

–review by Amy Steele

 

<em>FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Ecco. </em>

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book review: Rare Objects

rare objects

Rare Objects: A Novel by Kathleen Tessaro. Harper| April 2016| 378 pages | $25.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-235754-0

RATING: *****/5*

Set in 1932 Depression-era Boston, this novel wonderfully sets the scene for first generation Irish immigrant Maeve Fanning who recently moved back from New York after some struggles and setbacks. She’s living with her widowed mother, a rather strict Irish Catholic. The young woman straddles between her cloistered upbringing and her true desires. She wants to be independent and not married and pregnant like many of her peers. Here’s a scene in the small apartment: “Next to that, displayed on the dresser shelves, were my mother’s most precious possessions: a photograph of Pope Pius XL, a picture of Charles Stewart Parnell of the Irish Nationalist Party, and in the center of this unlikely partnership, a small wooden crucifix. Below, my framed diploma from the Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School took up the entire shelf.”

While in New York, Maeve struggled to find her place and find her identity. She couldn’t find a secretarial position as expected and worked in an unsavory club as a taxi dancer. She felt: “My life was full of cracks, ever-widening gaps between the person I wanted to be and the person I was. When I first came to this city, they used to be small enough to laugh off or ignore. But over the past year they’d grown wider, deeper. I’d fallen in one again last night.” While institutionalized she meets an intriguing, troubled young woman who seems out of place and also remarkably similar in attitude. Both women wanted freedom and the ability to shun convention.

Back in Boston, the fiery redhead dyes her hair blonde, calls herself May and lands an assistant position at an antiques shop that caters to Boston’s wealthy elite. She’s working for a retired anthropology professor and a mysterious English archeologist who travels most of the time but corresponds with the young assistant in enigmatic, clue-filled letters. These moments in the shop working with these two brilliant and strange men fill pages with adventure, treasures and wit. Add to that Maeve’s adventures with the aristocracy and it’s an unforgettable, enchanting read.

While delivering a purchase to a wealthy family, she meets lovely socialite Diana Van der Laar who she recognizes as the same young woman she met in the hospital. Diana takes an interest in Maeve and introduces her to high society as well as some dangerous situations. The two become rather inseparable at parties and events, Maeve blending in among the Boston Brahmin. In the beginning it’s glamorous fun. But soon: “The Diana I knew was a hard-drinking, rebellious prankster who had practically blackmailed me into being her friend. But to the outside world she was an elegant, accomplished society beauty with admirable philanthropic ambitions.” Dark secrets and betrayal extend beyond that idyllic façade. Maeve finds herself caught up in the deceit until she gains confidence to realize what appears perfect may not be the life that she wants. However it’s this symbiotic relationship that she finds difficult to relinquish: “There was sanity in our madness together that I couldn’t find with anyone else. So I ended up walking away. I needed her, apparently more than she needed me. But it was her refusal to even acknowledge me, her complete and utter disregard, that wounded me the most.”

Author Kathleen Tessaro adeptly describes both the immigrant North End and wealthy mansions with vivid detail. Superb writing and research merge to tell this wonderful story. Rare Objects is a page-turner about class, friendship and the things and people we value most.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.

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purchase at Amazon: Rare Objects: A Novel

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Books Read in 2014

I keep a running page on books I read during the year but thought it cool to run this list and tally. Also I’m great with words, not with figures. this took me way too long to figure out and isn’t precisely accurate.

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total: 114
female authors: 82 [72%]
male authors: 32 [28%]
nonwhite authors: 14 [12%]
2014 releases: 76

lowland

JANUARY

1. The Culling by Robert Johnson [The Permanent Press, 2014]*
2. 12th of Never by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
3. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
4. The Kept by James Scott [Harper, 2014]
5. Dakota by Gwen Florio [The Permanent Press, 2014]*
6. Wild Tales: A Rock and Roll Life by Graham Nash
7. Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir by Penelope Lively [Viking, 2014]
8. The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

download
FEBRUARY

9. Wendell Black, MD by Dr. Gerald Imber [Bourbon Street Books/ Harper, 2014]
10. Waiting to be Heard by Amanda Knox
11. It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons Why You’re Single by Sara Eckel [Penguin, 2014]*
12. Wench by Doren Perkins-Valdez
13. The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh [Berkley Paperback, 2014]
14. Tampa by Alissa Nutting [Ecco Paperback, 2014]*
15. Safe with Me by Amy Hatvany [Washington square, 2014]
16. The Wood of Suicides by Laura Elizabeth Woollett [The Permanent Press, 2014]*
17. Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck [NAL, 2014]*
18. PIONEER GIRL by Bich Minh Nguyen [Viking, 2014]*

CoverATalefortheTimeBeing1-600x905

March
19. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
20. The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman
21. The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott [Doubleday, 2014]*
22. Low Country Spirit by Ann Hite
23. Saving the Hooker by Michael Adelberg [The Permanent Press, 2014]*
24. I Don’t Know Where You Know Me From by Judy Greer [2014]
25. CURED by Nathalia Holt [Dutton, 2014]*
26. The Bear by Claire Cameron [2014]
27. The Watch by Roy-Bhattacharya Joydeep
28. Sleep Donation by Karen Russell [2014]
29. The Light in Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
30. Visible City by Tova Mirvis [HMH 2014]*

you shouldve

April

31. Voodoo Ridge by David Freed [Permanent Press, 2014]
32. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
33. You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz [2014]

boy snow bird

May

34. Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia [HMH, 2014]
35. One More Thing: Stories and More Stories by B.J. Novak [2014]
36. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi [Riverhead, 2014]*
37. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose [Harper, 2014]
38. So Long Marianne by Kari Hesthamar [ECW Press, 2014]
39. A Natural Woman by Carole King
40. Cure for the Common Breakup by Beth Kendrick [NAL, 2014]
41. Fallout by Sadie Jones [Harper, 2014]*
42. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead [2014]*
43. Trapeze by Simon Mawer*

crucial conversations

June

44. Crucial Conversations by May Sarton*
45. Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson [Ecco, 2014]
46. Finding Peace Amid the Chaos by Tanya Brown [Langmarc, 2014]
47. Wonderland by Stacey D’Erasmo [HMH, 2014]*
48. Miral by Rula Jebreal
49. Vulture au Vin by Lisa King [The Permanent Press, 2014]
50. Arts & Entertainments by Christopher Beha [Ecco, 2014]*
51. What I Never Told You by Celeste Ng [Penguin, 2014]*

kind of intimacy

JULY

52. My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff [Knopf, 2014]*
53. North and South by Elizabeth Bishop
54. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian [Doubleday, 2014]
55. A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth
56. A Distant Father by Antonio Skarmeta [Other Press, 2014]
57. I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy [Doubleday, 2014]

dollbaby

AUGUST
58. Because it is Bitter and Because it is My Heart by Joyce Carol Oates
59. Ghost Waltz by Ingeborg Day [Harper Perennial, 2014]
60. Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little [Viking, 2014]*
61. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton [ecco, 2014]
62. Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal [Pamela Dorman, 2014]
63. The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar [harper, 2014]

unspeakable things

September
64. The Drop by Dennis Lehane [William Morrow, 2014]
65. Tomboy: a graphic memoir by Liz Prince [Zest Books, 2014]
66. Bad Feminist: essays by Roxanne Gay [Harper Perennial, 2014]
67. Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny [Bloomsbury, 2014]*
68. The Fall by Diogo Mainardi [Other Press, 2014]*
69. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
70. An Italian Wife by Ann Hood [WW Norton, 2014]

alice and freda forever

October
71. The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman [Berkley, 2014]
72. WILD by Cheryl Strayed
73. Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce [Doubleday, 2014]*
74. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
75. Alice + Freda Forever by Alexis Coe [Zest, 2014]*
76. Euphoria by Lily King [2014]
77. The Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill [2014]*
78. Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge
79. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
80. River of Glass by Jaden Terrell [The Permanent Press, 2014]
81. Science . . . for Her! by Megan Amram [Scribner, 2014]
82. The Story of Fester Cat by Paul Magrs [Berkley Trade, 2014]
83. Working Stiff by Judy Melinek [2014]*
84. Utopia by Thomas More

all days are night

November
85. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
86. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer [grand central, 2014]*
87. The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
88. All Days are Night by Peter Stamm [Other Press, 2014]*
89. Rooms by Lauren Oliver [Harper, 2014]
90. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel [2014]
91. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
92. Gray Mountain by John Grisham [doubleday, 2014]
93. The Hormone Factory by Saskia Goldschmidt [Other Press, 2014]
94. Woman with a Gun by Phillip Margolin [Harper, 2014]
95. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
96. Life Drawing by Robin Black [Random House, 2014]*
97. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride [Coffee House Press, 2014]

wolf in white van

December

98. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande [2014]* (audio)
99. The Fever by Megan Abbott [Little Brown, 2014]
100. Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh
101. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant [Scribner, 2014]*
102. In Search of Cleo: how I Found My Pussy and Lost My Mind by Gina Gershon (audio)
103. Rewire Your Anxious Brain by Catharine Pittman and Elizabeth Karle [2015]
104. Thunderstruck and other stories by Elizabeth McCracken [2014]
105. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle [FSG, 2014]
106. Liar Temptress Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott [Harper, 2014]
107. Sunset Park by Paul Auster
108. I Married a Communist by Philip Roth
109. Nora Webster by Coim Toibin [Scribner, 2014]
110. Redeployment by Phil Kay [Penguin 20141]
111. Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
112. The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore [2014]
113. Diary of the Fall by Michael Laub [Other Press, 2014]
114. What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen [NAL, 2014]

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STEELE PICKS: 12 BEST FICTION BOOKS of 2014

boy snow bird

1. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi [Riverhead]

clever, stunningly gorgeous novel about race.

daring ladies of lowell

2. The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott [Doubleday]

If you grew up in Massachusetts like me, you likely went on a Lowell Mill tour at some point during an elementary school or junior high field trip. I went twice because when my Aunt and cousins visited from Texas they wanted to go. While you rode on a boat along the Merrimack River listening to a guide speak about girls and young women leaving their families from all over New England to work at the Lowell mills it was easy enough to disassociate from it yet dreadful to think about the harsh conditions these women faced back in the 19th century.

Like the Salem witch trials the industrial revolution and bitter working conditions for Lowell mill girls happened essentially in my backyard and I feel particularly close to the plight of the mill girls depicted in this novel. It’s only the second five-star rating I’ve given to any book this year. Kate Alcott vibrantly brings the stories of the Lowell mill girls to the page as she creates strong, outspoken female characters enduring adverse situations that dare imagine and dispute better working and living situations.

complete review

everything i never

3. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng [Penguin Press]

Anything I write will never be enough to convey the power and magnificence of this debut novel.

complete review

fallout

4. Fallout by Sadie Jones [Harper]

Fallout revolves around Luke Kanowski, a young man with a mother living in a mental institution and a a former Polish POW father who remained in England after the war. Both parents rely tremendously on Luke. Living in a rustic northern town, Luke escapes the familial strain and dead-end choices through a passion for theatre. He reads everything and remains updated on all theatrical goings on. One night he meets aspiring producer Paul Driscoll and theater student Leigh Radley who will influence his future in myriad ways

complete review

visible city

5. Visible City by Tova Mirvis [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]

Author Tova Mirvis writes with a melancholy gorgeousness about connectivity and disparity. When we imagine others’ lives we never expect what we eventually discover to be true. Perfection masks insecurities. Contentment hides dissatisfaction. What is happiness? Our ideal is never another’s ideal. How something looks from afar rarely looks as virtuous once you start to delve into the grit and imperfections.

complete review

pioneer girl

6. Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen [Viking]

Author Bich Minh Nguyen writes about a Vietnamese-American family and its connection to the beloved American Ingalls-Wilder family as seen through the eyes of a savvy, inquisitive young woman. Almost everyone remembers reading the Little House on the Prairie books about Laura Ingalls and watching the television show.

complete review

love me back

7. Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce [Doubleday]

One of the best novels in a while about finding your way and developing a sense-of-self in your twenties.

review

garden of letters

8. The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman [Berkley Trade]

When I’m thinking about a novel for some time after reading it, I know it’s remarkable. Think you’ve heard all the stories about WWII. Think again. The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman focuses on the Italian Resistance. Elodie, a young student and cello player, becomes involved in the Italian Resistance when artists and teachers at her school become targets for Mussolini’s Fascist regime.

interview with Alyson Richman

dept of speculation

9. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill [Vintage]

impressively creative.

all days are night

10. All Days are Night by Peter Stamm [Other Press]

A popular television news reporter wakes up severely disfigured by a car accident. The novel beautifully traverses past and present. Stamm writes in an effectively laconic and melancholy style. He’s exploring appearances from various angles. It’s a gripping read about art and connection.

review

life drawing

11. Life Drawing by Robin Black [Random House]

stunning writing. brilliantly explores marriage in all its nuances.

boston girl

12. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant [Scribner]

This is the story of the education of Addie Baum. Jewish daughter to immigrant parents Addie grew up during the mid-1900s in a one-room tenement house in Boston. In telling Addie’s story, author Anita Diamant covers a lot of history: prohibition; 1920s flappers and artists; WWI; The Great Depression; illegal abortions, birth control and Margaret Sanger; the Spanish Flu; women’s education; women’s careers; journalism; civil rights. Like The Red Tent, Diamant depicts history through a feminist eye. Intelligent, resourceful and intellectually-curious Addie is a wonderful feminist character. I probably truly fell in love with this novel when Diamant mentioned Simmons College, my women’s college alma mater in Boston. At one point, Addie discusses her goal to attend college but that she fears many won’t accept her because she’s Jewish. [“There’s Simmons College,” I said. “They even accept the Irish if you can imagine.”]

complete review

Buy the Books

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Choice Quote: Ghana Must Go

ghana must go

Her natural state is contented, not curious. And so second of all, she isn’t unhappy.

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

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Choice Quote: literary

marabou stork nightmares

“Why is it that I can only see people in the negative, only recognize them through their pain and their thwarted ambitions?
–Marabou Stork Nightmares by Irvine Welsh

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