This winter went by faster than I expected and there wasn’t as much reading as I would have liked; but, I did find some real gems to share. Now, it’s on to the garden. Once that’s growing well, there will be lots of time to sit on the deck, reading and looking at the flowers and veggies.
“The Sound of Butterflies” (2006) by Rachael King is a mystery of sorts about an amateur naturalist, Thomas, who gets the chance to go to the Amazon rainforest to hunt for butterflies. His obsession is to find a rumored butterfly he intends to name for his wife, Sophie. The book shuttles back and forth between the two — he in the stifling jungle, her in the stuffy confines of Edwardian England. Then, Thomas returns, broken and speechless. It’s up to Sophie to discover what happened to him in Brazil and try to return him to his former self. But, the things she discovers in his journals could make that difficult.
“The Passage” (2010) by Justin Cronin reminded me of Stephen King’s books, which I love. They are very character-driven and look at how people deal with extreme circumstances. And, in “The Passage,” things are pretty extreme after a government experiment goes awry and releases a group of predators, launching humanity into a life and death struggle that will span decades. Only a 6-year-old girl, also a part of the project, can save humans from complete annihilation. It’s an inventive story with a large cast of characters and you’re never quite sure where it’s headed, but you can’t wait to find out.
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” (2010) by Rebecca Skloot is a fascinating non-fiction book about a woman whose cells were taken from her in 1951 when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in Virginia. Billions were grown and sold and they now exist in labs around the world and are responsible for research ranging from developing the polio vaccine and discovering cancer and HIV drugs to mapping the human genome. Skloot looks at the story of Henrietta’s life and her family and how medicine has changed in the last 70 years. But, the book also raises questions of medical ethics and who has the right to cells and other parts of our bodies after they are no longer part of our bodies.
“Don’t I Know You?” (2006) by Karen Shepard is one of the most haunting books I’ve read in a long time. “The one thing he could see in the open space ahead of him was the missing shape of his mother. It was reassuring to know it would always be there. He folded (a picture of) her in half, in quarters. He swallowed her. She would stay there, slowly unfolding for the rest of his life.” The story is divided into thirds, each covering a period in New York City spanning 12 years. It begins with the murder of a woman who is found by her 12-year-old son. It is revealed how the people in each section are connected and who might have a motive for the murder. Shepard’s writing is just marvelous in a book that is not a typical murder-mystery, but about how little we really know each other.
“The Buffalo Soldier” (2002) by Chris Bohjalian. When 10-year-old Alfred, a black foster child, is taken in by Terry and Laura Sheldon, two years after their twin daughters died in a flood in their Vermont town, it’s a struggle for all of them. Alfred tries not to get his hopes up this time, but he likes Laura and forms a bond with a retired college professor across the street, who teaches him about the buffalo soldiers, the black cavalrymen of the old West. I just love Bohjalian’s books. I’m working my way through them and there hasn’t been a disappointment yet. His stories are captivating and he creates such human characters.
“The Beginner’s Goodbye” (2012) by Anne Tyler. Aaron has a crippled arm and leg and is an editor in the family’s publishing company, which is run by his over-protective sister. He led a bit of a solitary life until he married Dorothy, a doctor. When she is killed in an accident, he has a hard time dealing with it, until he begins to see and talk to her. USA Today called Tyler a “modern Jane Austen,” a term that gets thrown around a lot today, but she’s the closest I’ve found. Her stories about a couple or family in an everyday world are always charming, engrossing and, ultimately, satisfying.
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