Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Nick and Amy are the perfect New York couple who lose their jobs and are forced to return to Nick’s home town in Missouri to take care of his again parents. On their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears from their home, leaving behind signs of a struggle. Nick has no alibi and as time goes on and clues are uncovered, he becomes the prime suspect in the disappearance. Chapters alternate between Nick and Amy’s telling of their life together and of the scenario after her vanishing from their home. Flynn has created a chilling tale of marital discord with a complex plot and many twists and turns–the story will keep you guessing until the end. Gone Girl is a powerful story of psychological warfare with an amazing portrayal of flawed and fascinating characters–a dark, clever thriller that is impossible to predict and hard to put down–a perfect mystery!

Catch Me by Lisa Gardner

In four days, someone is going to kill me…At 8pm on January 21st, twenty-eight-year-old Charlie Grant believes she is going to be murdered and she want’s Boston’s top homicide detective, D.D. Warren, to handle her death investigation.  Her death will be up close and personal, no evidence of forced entry, no sign of a struggle.  Charlie tells a chilling story:  Her two childhood best friend were murdered on January 21st, two years apart.  Now only Charlie remains to count down her final hours. Gardner’s latest edition to the D.D. Warren Series, Catch Me is a scare-your-socks-off thriller, packed with enigmatic characters (some good, some crazily evil) and superb storytelling.

The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw

The Hungry Ocean was published in 1999 and became a New York Times bestseller.  Recently I found it while looking for something totally different to read and I was not disappointed.  This riveting tale of a woman swordboat captain is the reason I love reading non-fiction.  Linda Greenlaw leads such a different life from me and any of my landlubber friends that I can’t imagine she lives on the same planet.  What an amazing story of a gutsy lady from Maine who spends her life on the ocean.

Linda Greenlaw is captain of the Hannah Boden, a sister ship of the Andrea Gail, a boat that was lost in the horrible storm of 1991 and portrayed in the movie The Perfect Storm. Captain Greenlaw is in command of five men who spend month-long trips fishing over 1000 miles off the northeast coast in the Grand Banks.  She has to fight weather, mechanical failures, close quarters with very little time for personal hygiene, disagreements, illness, and all the decisions of where to fish in order to bring home a full boatload that will pay their expenses.  The story of her personal experiences in how to run a complex operation is fascinating.

What We Saw from the Cheap Seats by Regina Spektor

I’ve been listening to Regina Spektor for four or five years now and love her quirky, whimsical lyrics and her lovely piano work. Her new album, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, is another wonderful addition to her oeuvre.  Some of the songs on this album are a bit more mellow and serious than those included on her previous albums, but her signature oddity and ability to look at things from an unexpected perspective still appear in spades. I particularly enjoyed “All the Rowboats” in which the rowboats in museum paintings are trying to row away. “Violins in glass coffins” and “Masterpieces serving maximum sentences” fill museums and galleries. Her frustration with politicians (one I think we all share, no matter which side of the aisle) can be heard in “Ballad of a Politician.”

None of the songs on What We Saw from the Cheap Seats are “throw away” songs, in each song Spektor’s beautiful voice and piano playing and interesting use of percussion and changes in tempo hold interest and bring the album together as a whole.

Genius Loves Company by Ray Charles

One of my memories from childhood is sitting entranced, hearing Ray Charles play piano on television.  His voice still affects me the same way.  In Genius Loves Company, his last album recorded before his death in 2004, he teams up with some all-time great voices, including Norah Jones, James Taylor, Natalie Cole, Elton John, and even Willie Nelson, making them sound better than ever.  I found that this album did not make good background music.  I found myself shushing my family so that I could catch every note.    So sit back, relax, and savor the legendary tones of Ray Charles and company.

The Man Who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins

We know very little about what trees do for the environment and the impact they have on the natural world. As trees disappear, we learn what they did from their absence, a poor way to manage our environment. The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet is nominally about David Milarch, founder of The Champion Tree Project. The project is an effort to save what are known as the Champion Trees, the most impressive specimens of each species of tree found on the planet. Milarch’s story really just pulls together all the amazing information we do know about trees and what they do in the world. Robbins explains such things as how trees are great at cooling the area around them as water evaporates through their leaves. They are also awesome filtration systems for waterways and have the potential to save thousands if not millions of dollars when strategically planted to filter fertilizer and toxins from rivers, streams and ponds rather than treating water with modern conventional technology.

Many of the largest, most successful trees in the world have been harvested for lumber, paper production, etc. and the Champion Tree Project is an effort to clone the most successful trees left in the world to make sure their genes continue to live on. We still aren’t sure what role genetics plays in the success of trees, but this project ensures that when the technology is there to sequence tree genes, these trees will still be around to test. Some of the species the project has cloned include sequoias, redwoods, black walnut, willows and others that have well-documented environmental benefits. The project has never had as much funding as it needs, but Milarch and others who believe we need to reforest the earth in order to help mitigate climate change and keep the environment healthy for future generations are dedicated and continue to do what they can to spread Champion Tree genetics.

The Last Boyfriend

Nora Roberts has another winning romance with the second title in her Inn Boonsboro  trilogy. (The first in the series is The Next Always.)   The Last Boyfriend continues the previous story, with  the Montgomery clan  renovating the old Inn.  The entire community has a stake in the outcome of the success of the Inn. Owen Montgomery is the organizer of the family–running the construction company and keeping the renovation on schedule and under budget. Avery is the owner of the local pizza shop and has been friends with the Montgomery family since childhood. Her first boyfriend was Owen, and they have remained friends ever since. Owen patronizes the restaurant often during the inn construction and finds himself more and more drawn to Avery. Avery is cautious and hesitant to build a romantic relationship with Owen, for fear or ruining their friendship. Past losses make Avery afraid to commit her whole heart, and when a person from her past reappears, she wonders if she can ever fully devote herself to Owen. Filled with likeable and engaging characters, humor and  love and with a friendly ghost added to the plot, The Last Boyfriend is a delightful addition to this series–Book three in the series (The Perfect Hope) will tell the story of Hope and Ryder and is due to be published in November 2012.

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

Alexander McCall-Smith keeps adding to the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and I keep enjoying the adventures of Precious Ramotswe.  This time the difficult situations are a little too close to home for the Precious and her assistant, Grace Makutsi.  The best auto repair assistant of Mma Ramotswe’s husband is arrested for auto theft, then Grace and her husband hire a contractor to begin building their home but the builder comes into question when one of his worker’s leaves doubt in their minds. The renowned Clovis Anderson, author of The Principles of Private Detection, comes for a visit and helps them with the terrible trouble of the dismissal of Mma Potokwane, matron of the orphan farm.  Satisfactory solutions result and we continue to applaud the wisdom of Precious Ramotswe and her allies.

The First 20 Minutes

Are you tired of all of the hype surrounding exercise? It seems like we are constantly bombarded with information regarding the best ways to exercise and how much time we really need to spend working out. Finally, a book that the average person can understand that explores actual research behind current trends in exercise. The First 20 Minutes by Gretchen Reynolds is great for everyone from couch potatoes to athletes.  For instance, it answers many questions that runners have.  Is it necessary to purchase those high dollar running shoes to avoid injuries or are those new “barefoot” running shoes the way to go? And, if I do go for a run or work out, are sports drinks the best way to stay hydrated and recover? If I am entering a race should I carbo load for optimal performance? For everyone from the occasional to the regular exerciser, a number of questions are answered as well. For example, just how much time do you need to spend exercising per week to start reaping health benefits? Do I really need to do all that stretching before and after I exercise to avoid injuries?  Is weight training valuable or should most of my time be spent on cardio? If I’m exercising why don’t I ever lose any weight? For those who are not currently motivated to work out, this book is for you also. It discusses many of the benefits of exercise not only for your body but also for your brain!

Ever By My Side

 Ever By My Side: A Memoir in Eight Acts Pets by Dr. Nick Trout is much more than a veteranarians account of his daily life.  It is a story of relationships, of hope, and of hurting.  The senior Mr. Trout had Nick pictured in a “James Herriot” type practice, so when Nick decides to go to America and practice, his father is disappointed.  Another disappointment came when Dr. Trout married a woman with cats and they didn’t add any dogs to their family home.  Dr. Trout tells how the pets in his life help him understand, enjoy, and get through hard decisions.  When his daughter became very ill, it took a pet to help him through her illness.  Of course his memoirs include animal antics that are hilarious and heart warming as well as sad.  You’ll enjoy this book if you like animals, but even if you aren’t an animal lover it’s a great story for everyone.

Rurally Screwed: My Life Off the Grid with the Cowboy I Love by Jessie Knadler

Jessie, a thiry-something New York City girl, editor for a splashy women’s magazine, describes herself not as “happy,” but caustically content with her life–work, parties, and  drinking and has a long-time relationship with a guy who at best is a jerk.  Assigned to go to Montana to do an article on rodeo, she meets Jake, a twenty-five-year-old bull rider.  Jake votes Republican, listens to Garth Brooks, owns guns and is a Christian.  Jessie is blindsided by a genuinely lovable, optimistic, old-fashioned gentleman.  After a short long-distance courtship, she impulsively ditches Manhattan, and finds herself living in backwoods Virginia, canning, sewing, and raising chickens.  After a time, she asks, “is it worth it?”  The answer comes among war, Bible clubs and moonshineRurally Screwed is a hilarious true-life love story, reminiscent of Macdonald’s The Egg and I.  Take a peek at Jessie’s website, www.rurallyscrewed.com with pictures and funny comments on life in the country.

The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

I love the way Anne Tyler looks at life and the humor in her books.  She can write about serious topics with such tenderness and compassion.  The Beginner’s Goodbye looks at the topic of grief through the eyes of Aaron, a middle-aged man, whose wife dies unexpectedly when a tree falls on their home.  Aaron tries to return to a normal life and adjust to being single but he finds such difficulties with relationships.  Interactions with friends are now so different.  He is uncomfortable with his closest friends and neighbors as they extend their sympathy and help.  He moves in with his sister who lives in their parent’s home and totally ignores repairs on his home.  Finally when the ceiling falls in and he can’t get in the front door he calls a contractor, Gil Bryan.  This man, with his own problems, shows compassion for the grief that Aaron is going through and begins a relationship with both Aaron and his sister, Nandina.

The first sentence of the book begins, “The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.”  Throughout the story his former wife Dorothy appears and speaks to Aaron as he finds his way through life without her.  As Aaron remembers the quirky, problematic relationship he and Dorothy shared, Dorothy reappears to help him work out the regret.  This isn’t a depressing book at all, although I found very poignant instances  Aaron finally ends this chapter of his life and is able to say the final goodbye reminding all of us to tackle the unfinished business of love.

One, Two, Three Books to Read About the Old Ball Game

Whether you like baseball or not, you have to admit that it provides some good stories.  John Grisham just recently came out with Calico Joe, which I’m looking forward to reading.  Here are some other baseball tales to enjoy.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
One errant throw sets of a series of events that changes the lives of many in this story of the baseball team at a small liberal-arts college in Wisconsin.  Harbach explores the lives of the characters, as well as the beloved game.

Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella
If you’re in the mood for a good book/movie combo, this is the book that Field of Dreams was based on.  A farmer in Iowa builds a baseball field for the past baseball greats, roping a reclusive writer into the project along the way.

The End of Baseball by Peter Schilling
In a dream-worthy alternate history, Bill Veeck transforms 1940′s baseball by recruiting the best of the best Negro Leagues baseball stars to play on the the Philadelphia Athletics, causing an uproar from fans, players, and even the United States government.

 

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Lucy and her friends have decided to spend graduation night searching for Shadow, the elusive but talented graffiti artist.  Ed and his friends just want to kill time until they can carry out their real plans for the evening.  In the meantime, Ed joins Lucy in her quest, racing to all of Shadow’s artwork while thawing their prickly relationship through their stories and hopes.  Lucy shares her obsession with Shadow and his art, unaware of how close he really is.  Graffiti Moon is a fun young adult novel with great characters and an artistic twist.

Wildflowers from Winter

Although Bethany is more interested in her career than her family and friends she left 10 years previously, she is compelled to return to her hometown to care for her grandfather as he recovers from a heart attack.  Also bidding her home, is her childhood friend, Robin, whose husband is dying.  Whatever happened in Bethany’s earlier life has affected her relationships in her small hometown.  She dispises her mother and fears letting her feelings come out of the controlled status she has kept them under.  Wildflowers from Winter by Katie Ganshert is a story of hurting, fleeing, returning and healing.  Ganshert’s characters are well described and you will find yourself becoming part of their lives and situations.