Blood, Bones & Butter

Rating:   Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton.  Random House (2011), 291 pages. Hamilton has written a smart, funny book that stands out in the glutted chef/memoirist category in that she writes...

The Wave

Rating:  The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, by Susan Casey. Doubleday (2010), 318 pages. Oh, Susan. I’m so embarrassed for you. Aren’t you embarrassed? Must all your books become a paean to your unbridled lust for one of the...

Coming of Age in Mississippi

Rating:  Coming of Age in Mississippi, by Anne Moody. Random House (1968), 432 pages. I saw this for sale in the textbook section of a university bookstore and bought it because (apart from the obvious reason that that it’s a coming-of-age memoir from the...

The Angel’s Game

Rating:  The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Anchor Books (2010), 531 pages. Blech. What a relief to be done with this. And what an unexpected turn of events, given that the first third of the book was quite enjoyable. As good as Shadow of the Wind! I...

Freedom

Rating:  Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2010), 562 pages. Much like my favorite story-tellers of the 19th century  (Tolstoy, Flaubert, Austen, the Brontes) Franzen begins his novels with the description of a family, and then simply...

The God of Animals

Rating:  The God of Animals, by Aryn Kyle. Scribner (2007), 305 pages. This was another one of those serendipitously happy discoveries in which the book isn’t yours and you don’t mean to give it serious consideration; you only picked it up because you...

Let’s Take the Long Way Home

Rating:  Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship, by Gail Caldwell. Random House (2010), 190 pages. Let’s Take the Long Way Home is Caldwell’s story of her friendship with the writer Caroline Knapp who died of cancer in 2002....

Tales of a Female Nomad

Rating:  Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World, by Rita Golden Gelman. Three Rivers Press (2001), 306 pages. If you love meeting new people to the extent that for you the entire point of traveling is to talk to strangers, then this book will...

Bonobo Handshake

Rating:  Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo, by Vanessa Woods. Gotham Books (2010), 278 pages. Bonobo Handshake has the kind of cover that is impossible for animal lovers to resist: darling bonobo baby in the arms of an equally...

The Idle Parent

Rating:  The Idle Parent: Why Laid-back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids, by Tom Hodgkinson. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin (2010), 251 pages. The Idle Parent is getting a fair amount of press right now, which is a good thing because I don’t know how much...

Enduring Grace

Rating:  Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics, by Carol Lee Flinders. HarperOne (1993), 272 pages. The contemplative, mystical branch of Catholicism has always held great appeal for me in that its followers are attempting to actually...

Beauty

(This review first appeared in November 2005) Rating:  Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty & the Beast, by Robin McKinley. Harper Trophy (1978), 245 pages. This is a young adult book (ages ten and up, according to Harper Trophy) that doesn’t so...

Committed

Rating:  Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Viking (2010), 285 pages. The movie adaptation of Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love will be opening in theaters this August. It is still May as I write this, yet the cover from the book...

The Namesake

Rating:  The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. Houghton Mifflin Company (2004), 291 pages. This is a very well-written book in which nothing happens. Now, I have no gripe against a quiet book in which the point is merely to appreciate its evocative and...

The Hole We’re In

Rating:  The Hole We’re In, by Gabrielle Zevin. Black Cat (2010), 283 pages. This is one of those novels that started off so well I set everything else aside for the weekend, settled myself onto the couch with a big blanket and a cup of tea, and commenced...

Finding Oz

Rating:  Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story, by Evan I. Schwartz. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2009), 322 pages. In many respects this is a biography of L. Frank Baum, with immensely enjoyable stories about his family history,...

House of Happy Endings

Rating:  House of Happy Endings, by Leslie Garis. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2008), 360 pages. The title of this memoir refers to Garis’s grandfather’s stories for children (Uncle Wiggily, as well as Tom Swift and hundreds of others) in which...

The Professor and the Madman

Rating:  The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester. Harper Perennial (1998), 246 pages. The making of the Oxford English Dictionary is more interesting than you might think....

Turning Stones

Rating:  Turning Stones: My Days and Nights With Children at Risk, by Marc Parent. Ballantine Books (1998), 400 pages. This is the memoir of a caseworker for Emergency Children’s Services in New York City. The stories the author tells of the children...