Balson, Ronald, Once We Were Brothers. Berwick Court 2009. It’s surprising to me, but I may already have read my favorite book of 2016. Balson’s Once We Were Brothers is the wonderful, well-researched story of Ben Solomon, who recognizes the Nazi officer responsible for sending his family to the death camps during WWII when he sees him parading as a well-respected wealthy man in Chicago. Solomon seeks face-to-face revenge and when that fails he pursues him through the law. It’s a gripping story. I went back to read it because I enjoyed Balson’s Saving Sophie (2015) and I am always intrigued by a good storyteller. It didn’t disappoint and if you are like me and love being pulled into a novel that won’t let you go, check it out!
Jackson, Naomi, The Star Side of Bird Hill. Penguin 2015. An engaging story about 2 sisters who are sent back “home” from Brooklyn to Barbados to live in a very different social culture than either is used to. Each must deal with being uprooted, with questions about their parents, and with the strict oversight of their maternal grandmother, Hiacinth. This is a story about the complexities of love, family, and immigration—how to “fit in” or be an outlier. Jackson’s voice is spot on and this book is a chance to explore a different way of life, rich in its own way, to understand another point of view, to share in those qualities and needs we all, as humans, share. MORE | Buy: Amazon
Munaweera, Nayomi, What Lies Between Us. St. Martin’s Press 2016. This award-winning author is a literary sensation. Her novel Island of a Thousand Mirrors set in Sri Lanka was my first introduction to her beautiful writing. I loved it, but this one pierced the veil so eloquently between love and madness that I could not set it down. The story of a sensitive young girl growing up in Sri Lanka in a privileged household filled with secrets and deep unhappiness. How she papers over her childhood traumas to go on to live a more hopeful life in America is handled masterfully. As marriage and motherhood trigger long-buried memories, her love for family turns from happiness to obsession. This one will linger in your mind long after the last page turns. MORE | Buy: Amazon
Pavone, Chris, The Expats. Crown 2012. This writer really knows how to plot. Good story and intriguing characters, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you interested. So many books in the mystery/thriller genre end up boring me because I guess the ending way in advance or because they are more formulaic than original. Someone recommended this one to me and I’m glad they did. Storyline: A former CIA agent and her family move to Luxembourg when her husband takes a mysterious new IT security job. Kate finds that being a full-time mom and housewife is a far cry from the adrenaline rush of her old job with The Company, and when a few things and people in their life raise her suspicions, she must fall back reluctantly on her former skills. The thing that makes this book a cut above most in its genre is all the subplots slowly revealed. Each character has his or her own agenda, his or her secret past, and it’s lots of fun when it all gets pulled together. Too many books these days rely on violence to shock or draw readers in. This one doesn’t—although there is plenty of suspense, it is the character development that makes it work! MORE | Buy: Amazon
Strout, Elizabeth, My Name is Lucy Barton. Random House 2016. What an impressive book. It takes a while with reading this Pulitizer prize-winning author’s spare, plain style to understand that within those words lie deep human meaning. The story of a woman who struggles all her life to overcome the traumas of a deeply deprived childhood, one of poverty and humiliation and few expressions of caring or love. In her later adult years she realizes that her parents did love her, but were incapable of expressing it overtly. They too were victims of deprivation and, beyond survival, had little to spare. One character talking about writing says, “Everyone only has one story.” And writers spend their professional lives mulling it over in a multitude of ways. MORE | Buy: Amazon
Yun, Jung, Shelter. Picador 2016. A masterfully woven debut novel about the toll that family violence takes—like an earthquake, it reverberates from its epicenter to generate chaos and tsunamis in its wake, affecting generations. As a boy Kyung Cho experienced the terror of his father’s brutal attacks on his mother, and hers on him. As a young husband and father, he finds himself aloof, unable to be intimate with those he loves the most. When a horrendous crime drags his whole family into the darkness of despair and heartbreak, the interaction, the spilling of secrets, the unexpected results are riveting. I have no doubt it will be winning awards and appear on many “best” lists for the year, including mine! MORE | Buy: Amazon
Kalanithi, Paul, When Breath Becomes Air. Random House 2016. Foreword by Abraham Verghese. Paul Kalanithi was a gifted neurosurgeon who at the age of thirty-six was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was on the verge of a brilliant career honoring a lifelong dream of meaningful work and the next he was transformed into a patient struggling with many of the issues he’d advised on previously. He was terminally ill with the length of time left to him uncertain. Kalanithi writes candidly about the years of hard work he put in to become a neurosurgeon, one of the most demanding of choices in medicine and how, once all he thought his life would be is ripped away, he struggled to find meaning and make choices about how the time he had left should be spent. It’s a tough read. Paul is under no misconceptions about what his diagnosis means and what he and his young wife would have to endure. One looming question was whether or not to go ahead and have a child he would not live to see grow up. We all face death, it’s just a question of when and whether we’ll have any advance warning. It’s a fine book, a meditation on choices and meaning of life. MORE | Buy: Amazon
Traister, Rebecca, Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women. Free Press 2010. This was a fascinating and thoroughly researched review of the 2008 presidential election cycle. It’s a great read during this election cycle and I learned a lot. Traister looks at strategies and roadblocks for both the Clinton and Obama candidacies and explores segments of the feminist camp, differences between generations, the evolving picture of feminism, and what the Republicans were doing, including an examination of the Palin candidacy. I thought it was well balanced and has been a good foundation upon which to view strategies this time around. Highly recommended for those who want to understand American “democracy” a little better. A New York Times Book Review | Buy: Amazon