For Dr. Gabriella Mondini, there is no other option besides following in her father’s footsteps into a life of medicine in Regina O’Melveny’s debut, The Book of Madness and Cures. She is passionate about healing the citizens of Venice. For a woman residing in this part of the word in the late 16th Century this proves to be a challenging feat. In the male dominated Italian medical society, Gabriella gains credibility with her father’s colleagues by assisting him with research on “The Book of Diseases.”
A few years prior, Gabriella’s father, the elder Dr. Mondini, disappeared unexpectedly with only an occasional letter as to his whereabouts. In addition to the sporadic correspondence, his writings are cryptic and give little clue to Gabriella and her mother of his condition, which has a tendency to gravitate toward madness. With the prospect of continuing her medical career in jeopardy without her father’s guidance, Gabriella, her maid and a few additional servants embark on a journey to solve the mystery of what happened to her father. The journey takes them across Europe to France, Germany, England, Spain and south to the tip of Morocco, all the while encountering danger while traveling and encountering locals who met her father and are able to provide clues to the group of travelers.
While in Morocco, Gabriella finds out the shocking truth about her father, his nearly completed book on diseases and her own future. O’Melveny’s debut provides a rich look at late 16th century day to day life, the logistics of cross continent travels and the lives of women during this time.
Here are more Best Books of 2012 as chosen by our blogging librarians. Be sure to look check yesterdays blog post for other winners!
Here’s Lynn’s pick: “In The Cold, Cold Ground, Detective Sean Duffy is a Catholic cop in a a heavily Protestant town near Belfast during the height of The Troubles. Duffy is an appealingly sarcastic, yet idealistic narrator. Irish author Adrian McKinty grew up in that time and place, and the small details of everyday life during that turbulent time are fascinating and authentic”.
Maggie choose the audiobook of Twenties Girlby Sophie Kinsella, read by Rosalyn Landor. “A near-perfect audiobook! Compelling and snappy, so you stay interested on your commute, but not so dense that hearing it in short spurts keeps you from enjoying it. Fun characters, saucy dialog and plenty of romance and mystery.” Maggie blogged more about it here.
The Book Thiefby Markus Zusak is Lexie’s winner. “Death himself narrates the story of a young girl growing up in World War II era Germany with her foster parents, who are hiding a Jewish man in their basement. Zusak’s descriptive writing makes the story come alive; I don’t think I’ve highlighted so many beautifully written passages in one book in a very long time. It feels very fitting that the novel is all about the power of words, because Zusak’s writing had me completely captivated from beginning to end”.
There’s one more book in our list of Best Books of 2012 – read all about it tomorrow!
With my interest in country music and the classic groups, I found this book fascinating. It is the fictionalized story of the Browns, two sisters and their brother, who sound was called Nashville Chrome. At the height of their fame, this singing trio was second only to Elvis, and even the Beatles shared a few jam sessions with their idols. Have you ever heard of the Browns? I hadn’t.
The focus ofNashville Chrome is Maxine, the eldest sibling, and the novel goes back and forth in time sweeping over her childhood in Poplar Creek, the tough years on the road singing and recording, to a decrepit old age living on social security when a trip to Piggly Wiggly represents a major expedition. Maxine is the driving force behind the trio–the one who takes their singing career so much more seriously, but perhaps that’s because for her, the stakes are so much higher.
Bass’s style underscores the mythic qualities of the tale, for while the Browns’ story is true, at times it almost seems too fantastic to be anything less than fiction. Fate repeatedly seems to intervene in lives marked by the highs and lows of incredibly bad luck and amazing strokes of good fortune.
It’s Regency England, magic is real, and cousins Cecelia (Cecy) and Kate correspond over the course of a summer, unraveling alone and together the mystery surrounding the titular enchanted chocolate pot and the “Mysterious Marquis.” The action is very exciting, the letters brisk and forthcoming, the characters sympathetic, the romance delightful, the magic subtle and delectably menacing. It’s a delight – the only complaint I can offer to temper my enthusiasm is that Cecy and Kate are virtually indistinguishable. I cannot recall a single difference between them, whether in temperament, opinion, age, physical appearance, or letter-writing style. The only difference between them is that Kate is in London and Cecy in the country; or did I switch that around? I’ll have to look back at the letters to check.
By sheer good luck, my reading of this novel overlapped with my listening to the also epistolary, also long-titled, also co-authored, and also excellent The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This was an enormous hit with book clubs a couple of years ago, but if you missed out on it then, treat your ears to this audiobook right away! It has become my standard audio fiction recommendation, even surpassing At Home and Twenties Girl. Juliet Ashton corresponds with and befriends the people of Guernsey, an island in the English Channel which was occupied for 5 years by the Germans during World War II. Each character’s letters are read by a different voice actor, and the result is entirely winning. It’s a lovely book read by lovely people, and it’s about resilience and friendship and bravery and the love of books. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Liza Klaussmann’s debut novel, Tigers in Red Weather, follows two cousins, Nick and Helena, throughout the decades after World War II and chronicles the twists and turns in their lives. The girls grew up spending much of their time together on the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard and return over the years with husbands, children and family secrets galore.
Told from the point of view of five characters (with each character’s version of reality differing greatly), Tigers in Red Weather’sconcludes with a stunning twist, which was just slightly evident throughout the novel. I enjoyed Tigers in Red Weather for the banter between the characters on life pre and post World War II but when I began to see the true nature of one of the characters, the book moved in an entirely different direction – a direction that is as much frightening as it is shocking.
I found this book in a roundabout way, but I’m so glad I landed on it! On the recommendation of a friend, I picked up Julia Quinn’sWhat Happens In London to read on an upcoming vacation, so I was familiar with the author: her books focus on 19th century London society, clever dialog, and spirited characters. So, when I saw A Night Like This on a search of audiobooks read by my favorite narrator, Rosalyn Landor (a reader I fell in love with for her perfect reading of Twenties Girlby Sophie Kinsella), and it happened to be on the shelf not 10 feet away from my desk, I snagged it immediately!
I’m very glad I did. A Night Like This is a terribly fun romance; a genuine connection between two likable people, explored in an enjoyable book with a bearable quota of romance cliches. Anne Wynter, the main character, is probably my new all-time favorite romance heroine. She is brave, intelligent, and kind, and she is factually, genuinely self-sufficient in a way that most historical heroines are emphatically NOT (though the author may try to trick you into thinking they are). After a scandalous incident in her teen years, she is sent away from her modest gentry family to live as a governess under an assumed name; during this novel, she has been succeeding at this career for eight lonely years, isolated from her family and unable to create any new connections of her own status. That she still manages to be bright and positive is inspirational, and when she falls in love with the Earl of Winstead, a man way out of her league as a “ruined woman,” you’ll root for them all the way. Daniel, her beloved, is a pretty boring version of the romance-hero-pretty-boy trope, and his instant lovesickness is tiresome, but this book is worth reading just to get to know Anne.
Beds, organizers, Adirondack chairs, a play table, and more! It’s easy to build inexpensive, quality furnishings with The Handbuilt Home, an indispensable collection of woodworking projects from Ana White, the popular blogger who has inspired millions of homemakers with her stylish furniture plans and DIY spirit.
As a young mom on a tight budget, Ana learned to make her own well-designed pieces, inspired by the styles in her favorite stores and saving thousands of dollars in the process. Now, in this reference for woodworkers of all skill levels, Ana shares everything she has learned along the way. Inside The Handbuilt Home you’ll find plans for 34 versatile furniture projects for every room in your house from beginner-friendly home accessories to sturdy tables, a media center, kids’ items, and storage solutions and comprehensive information on using off-the-shelf lumber and basic equipment. Almost every project can be made with a drill, a saw, and some hand tools.
You don’t need to be physically tough or super strong to make your own furniture, and it’s okay if you don’t know that a 2×4 doesn’t actually measure 2 by 4 inches. All you need is the determination to create a better home for yourself or your family and the confidence to say, I can build that. (description from publisher)
If you adore Harry Potter, do yourself a favor and check out Harry Potter: Page to Screen, the Complete Filmmaking Journey.It’s a big, heavy, hardcover behemoth absolutely stuffed with photographs and text from all 8 Harry Potter films. Interviews with the cast and crew give insider information, and viewpoints from the set designers, costume designers, directors and actors show how meticulously the details of these movies were planned. From the small things – Hermione doesn’t wear red or green, as “those are Ron colors,” the story behind Harry’s blue eyes (a controversial change from the books’ oft-referenced bottle green), and the talon design of Bellatrix’s wand – to the big things: hours of makeup for dozens of actors cast as goblins; the complex design of the set for Snape’s final scene; the massive miniatures built to stand in for Hogwarts castle, and the equally massive undertaking of covering those miniatures with “snow” for the winter scenes (and then meticulously brushing and cleaning that “snow” away before the salt it was made of could corrode the material beneath).
Whether you’re into the boy wizard or just into movie magic, you’ll adore this book. It inspired me to re-read the novels and re-watch the movies, which of course launched a relapse of full-on Potter mania at my house! These are some of the other library items I’ve been checking out:
LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 and Years 5-7: these video games are total crowd-pleasers! Any and all ages love the game play (a mix of puzzles and action) and the cute cut scenes, where LEGO versions of the characters act out key plot moments.
For this installment of Amazing Audiobooks, I have a jumble of fun, funny, exciting, just-plain-great fiction that didn’t fit with the previous three categories. But you have my word: all these are winners!
The Book Thiefby Markus Zusak: A deeply sad but very sweet and rewarding novel; tells the story of a girl who learns about death and love while helping her parents hide a Jewish man from the Nazis in a small German town. Appropriate for teens and older kids as well as adults.
Stephen King’s latest hit, 11/22/63,about JFK’s assassination and time travel.
The Night Circus,a lovely atmospheric love story brought to life by Jim Dale. Lexie reviewed this on the blog back in October. There’s a movie version in development scheduled for a 2013 release, so get in on the ground floor of opinionated ‘book-was-better’ arguments by reading the book first!
Twenties Girlby Sophie Kinsella: listen to Lara, a twenty-something Brit, spar with the ghost of her great-aunt Sadie, whose 23-year-old form has come straight out of 1927 to beg the living girl to track down her missing necklace. It’s a hoot!
These true tales range from the funny and flippant to the gritty and gruesome. Give nonfiction audio a try! You may find that nonfiction (which doesn’t always have a strong narrative thread you need to follow) is ideal for listening in stops and starts.
Devil in the White Cityby Erik Larson; this gripping tale of a serial killer at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago is so spellbinding, you’ll want to extend your commute to hear more!
Bossypants by Tina Fey, read by the author: this book is shriekingly funny. Truly one of the best audio books around – Fey is witty and direct, never sappy, and always gut-bustingly hilarious.
I Feel Bad About My Neckby Nora Ephron: Ephron’s candid observations on life and getting older are enjoyable and crisply humorous.
Zeitounby Dave Eggers: The gritty true story of the tribulations of Abduhlraman Zeitoun and his family in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
At Home by Bill Bryson, read by the author: see my review for a longer rant on the excellence of this very excellent book.
The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell, read by the author: You know Sarah Vowell’s voice already – she vocalized for Violet in Pixar’s The Incredibles. You’ll also recognize the many luminaries/musicians/comedians/TV personalities who make cameos in her delectable book – Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert, for example. Oh, and it’s full of intelligent and interesting essays about history and American culture, too.
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