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Monday, December 31, 2012

The 12 Most Compelling Reads of 2012

Reprinted from the Citizen
The end of another year means a time of reflection; since this is a book review column, that means it’s time for the 12 most compelling Reads of 2012.
These are books that I got lost in, books that transported me to new places with characters who still live in my thoughts long after I finished their stories. They are creative, inventive books that challenged me to think in new ways.
Erin Duffy’s debut novel, “Bond Girl,” takes us inside the financial industry in New York City from the perspective of a young woman just starting out in her career. She maneuvers her way in this grueling job dealing with tough bosses, a locker room mentality, sexual harassment from clients and an unreliable boyfriend. 

Adriana Trigiani has written her most epic novel to date, “The Shoemaker’s Wife.” It takes us from the Italian Alps in 1907 to New York City and the Metropolitan Opera and ends up in Minnesota, sharing the stories of Ciro and Enza and their lifelong love. It is based on Trigiani’s grandparents, and pays respect to the immigrants who built this country.
Laura Moriarty takes us back to the silent film era in her novel “The Chaperone,” which tells the story of Cora, a married woman from Kansas who accompanies a teenage Louise Brooks (before she was a movie star) to New York City to attend a summer dance program. Cora is trying to find out more about her birth mother, and her journey is fascinating.

Amanda Coplin’s debut novel, “The Orchardist,” is set in the orchards of the Northwest at the turn of the 20th century, and her main character of Tallmadge is unforgettable. A taciturn man, living alone since his younger sister walked into the woods and never returned, he finds two young pregnant girls hiding on his property and vows to protect them.

Jyotsna Sreenivasan’s novel “And Laughter Fell From the Sky” is a homage to Edith Wharton’s “The House of Mirth,” telling the story of a young Indian woman living in Ohio who is torn between the expectations of her family and her desire for independence and finding true love. It is remarkable.

It’s back to post-WWI Australia in M.L. Stedman’s haunting novel “The Light Between Oceans,” about a young couple working at a remote lighthouse. When a boat washes ashore with a dead man and a live baby, they decide to keep the baby — and the consequences of that decision are heartbreaking for all.

“Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter is about as perfect a novel as I have ever read. How he intersects the stories — a man running a remote inn in 1950s Italy who falls in love with an American starlet, a cutthroat Hollywood film producer who is now reduced to creating lousy TV reality shows, the producer’s young assistant and the former Hollywood starlet now living a quiet life — is truly stunning. Oh yeah, and Richard Burton is a supporting character.

Laurie Frankel’s “Goodbye For Now” is an inventive, emotional novel about a computer geek who creates a program that allows people to continue a virtual relationship with loved ones who have died. This book has a lot of heart, and you will tear up as you read it.

Barbara Kingsolver has created one of the most intriguing characters ever in Dellarobia Turnbow in her latest novel “Flight Behavior.” She is a young mother living on the edge of poverty in Tennessee with her husband and two young children who makes a discovery that combines issues of global warming, corporate greed and the desire to better one’s life. I didn’t want this gorgeously written book to end.

In nonfiction, Lynn Povich’s “Good Girls Revolt” recounts the discrimination lawsuit filed by female staffers at Newsweek magazine in the 1970s to get equal opportunities for advancement. I couldn’t believe that I never knew about this, and at times it reads like a great suspense novel.

Susannah Cahalan shares her frightening true medical story in “Brain on Fire.” A young reporter at The New York Post, she has an illness that is at first thought to be some type of psychosis, but is actually a physical illness. Her descent into the horror of her disease and the support of her loving family and boyfriend combines science with a medical mystery with a love story.

And lastly, Will Schwalbe writes of his truly incredible mother who is battling cancer in “The End of Your Life Book Club.” As he takes her to her chemotherapy appointments, they spend the time in their own two-person book club. This is a love letter to an amazing woman, as well as to great books. It may be the best book of the year.

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