Category Archives: Joan

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty (2016)

Liane Moriarty weaves an intricate story around three families and a barbecue they attended. The reader is kept guessing about a significant event that occurs at the party, as chapters alternate between the day of the barbecue and the present, several weeks afterward. Bit by bit, the story unravels from multiple perspectives. In the process, many layers of family history and psychological characteristics are revealed in Truly, Madly, Guilty. The barbecue seemed to bring out secrets hidden beneath the surface. Life will never be the same for these characters living in the suburbs of Sydney.

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith (2017)

Paul Stuart is a food/wine writer with a deadline. His focus is diverted when his live-in girlfriend of four years runs off with her trainer. Escaping to Tuscany sounds like a solution for both problems. The story starts like a madcap adventure in Italy, but develops into a study of humanity with a bit of romance thrown in for good measure.

Once his transportation issue is resolved, thus the title of the book, Paul is free to explore the beautiful countryside and research local food and wine. His route is definitely not a typical tourist package. Paul has command of the Italian language and quickly makes friends. He serves as a confidant to a few local men and even lends a helping hand in a longtime conflict. During the course of his stay, he entertains three ladies (two from his past and a new love interest). His working vacation may be just what was needed for his personal and professional dilemmas.

Alexander McCall Smith is well known for his long running series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and others, but the standalone novel My Italian Bulldozer stands out as a feel good read.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline (2017)

An interesting fictional memoir of the subject of the famous Andrew Wyeth painting: Christina’s World. Christina Olson lived her whole life on her family’s ancestral farm in Maine. Determined, hardworking, and stubborn, Christina never gave in to her crippling disease as it progressed throughout her lifetime. Andrew “Andy” Wyeth used the Olson house as his studio for many summers, befriending and immortalizing Christina.

In A Piece of the World, Christina Baker Kline (who wrote Orphan Train) makes readers wonder if the real Christina Olson was as endearing as this well-developed character. For more behind the scenes information, check out the Museum of Modern Art and Mental Floss.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (2012)

Harold Fry has lived a fairly ordinary life. He has managed to avoid conflict, but there are some unresolved terrible secrets in his past. One letter from an old coworker, one conversation with a perfect stranger, and Harold is about to do something extraordinary. Powerful, emotional, showing it’s never too late to change, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a journey the reader will not soon forget. Check out Rachel Joyce’s debut today.

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood (2013)

In Ann Hood’s novel, a clever storyline follows two women’s lives some fifty years apart against a backdrop of significant events in American history: the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and its aftermath, and the 1960 presidential election and inauguration of JFK. At one point in The Obituary Writer, their two storylines merge into one. Vivien and Claire are not contemporaries, yet they share certain struggles and dreams. Can one woman’s regrets bring closure and happiness to another woman? With the women’s movement and all the changes of the 20th century, did individual women’s lives change that much? Even in the 21st century, do women continue to feel trapped in traditional roles?

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (2009)

As the first in a new series by Alan Bradley, this mystery has promise. Flavia is delightful, charming, intelligent, and an almost too clever eleven-year-old chemist who deftly solves a murder in her English village in the early 1950s. The reader wants to scream at her older sisters, her silent father, and the authorities to get out of the way and let Flavia solve the crime in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander (2012)

Dr. Eben Alexander was close to death for a week. The memories from that week have changed his life and the way he thinks about life after death. In Proof of Heaven, Alexander pulls the reader into his drama and can cause a life changing shift in perspective. Listening to Alexander’s own voice recount his experiences made it all the more powerful a message.

Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan (2013)

goldenboyHabo is an albino growing up in Tanzania. He is shunned by his community and even his own family, but the horrors do not begin until Habo and his family move from their rural village to Mwanza. He then finds he needs to stay on the run to avoid hunters who wish to kill him for a bounty because of his condition. The most unbelievable part of this story is that this barbarism exists in Tanzania today. In Golden Boy, Tara Sullivan allows readers to feel Habo’s pain and go along on his quest for freedom from the superstitious cruelty of Tanzanian albino hunters.

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel (2013)

astronautAnyone who grew up during the race to the moon era can identify with the mystery and mystique of the astronauts. This nonfiction account from the perspective of their wives may disenchant some, but readers will have a whole new respect and admiration for these great American women. In The Astronaut Wives Club, Lily Koppel does a good job of presenting the facts and opinions through extensive research and interviews in a story-like format. The epilogue ties everything up in a neat package explaining what happened after the space race was won and life returned to normal.

Transatlantic by Colum McCann (2013)

transatlanticI appreciate good historical fiction, especially those stories that connect people and events across time. Colum McCann has done his research and given us some great historical framework before the reader figures out that Transatlantic is really about three generations of women who have left their mark on history, in particular that of Ireland. Great insights into women who carry many personal burdens, yet persevere. Great insights into human nature in general.