The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
I highly recommend this page-turning story of the antebellum south told through the eyes of a white indentured servant and a black slave that captures the complexities of relationships in all their forms. It is a remarkable piece of historical fiction that will lodge a pit in your stomach. You will want to look away but won’t be able to.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
In this work, Patchett creates the most vivid sense of place I’ve encountered in a novel. I could hear the buzzing insects of the Amazon. I felt the oppressive jungle heat despite reading this book in a drafty old house on a cold January day. My nose wrinkled with the stench of snake on my skin and I fought back a gag as I watched the scalpel’s first cut. At its heart, this is an adventure story. Though it requires some overlooking of technical questions and forgiving of exaggerated character traits, it is an adventure story well told and the only one I’ve read that gave me mosquito bites.
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This story uses the voices of alternating characters – a blind French girl and a German orphan – to tell a story that is so fresh, beautiful, and layered that it stands out from the World War II fiction crowd. I suspect this will be one of my best reads of 2015. Please read it and then call me to talk about it.
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Historical fiction (1895 English boarding school) paired with fantasy (mystical orders and entrance into other spiritual realms) and romance (bodices ripped). This book has flaws – unlikable and unbelievable characters, plot developments that feel forced, heavy handedness where subtlety may have worked better – but in the end I couldn’t help but enjoy my escape into the world Bray created. I won’t be reading the rest of the trilogy but enjoyed losing myself in this book for a weekend.
Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro
A mostly memoir about the writing life, this book focuses more on showing up than on showing how. Full of big truths in tiny chapters, this book is like a long chat with the kind of friend who knows how to meet you where you are while simultaneously helping you move forward. Early in the book, Shapiro includes an Emerson quote about how “The good writer seems to be writing about himself, but has his eye always on that thread of the universe which runs through himself and all things.” Shapiro passes the good writer test with flying colors – telling her story in a way that helps others understand theirs.