Sharing books with Mom

Regardless of where you sit on the family tree, there is likely a mother (daughter, sister,  in-law, or you) in your life that is deserving of recognition. Just as I’ve shared suggestions of books for Dad in the past, mothers should have equal time.

For Mother’s Day, you want to give (or get) just the right thing.  One thing likely has not changed from the days when a handmade macaroni necklace was perfect – it’s the thought you put into it that counts. There are more pluses to giving books than the obvious reasons.

When you select a book you are opening a conversation. Are you giving a book you’ve enjoyed or one that reminds you of a shared experience? Is it by Mom’s favorite author or takes place in a city she loves? Whether it becomes her new favorite or not, talking books is usually interesting, often more so if you disagree about merits of a title.

Before I give some of my picks, I’d suggest you think about those titles that you’d read again, either because they entertained or informed you. They may be a perfect choice for gift giving. Please share your picks in the comments.

Here are some titles and authors my mother may see if she hasn’t already. Titles with links have my reviews:

  • Helen Simonson’s  The Summer Before the War or Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Two novels of English small town life with endearing characters, the first WWI-era and the second contemporary.
  • The Girls of Atomic City is a fascinating look at the integral secret role women played in the development of the atomic bomb. Oak Ridge was created almost overnight from nothing and was at the forefront of research (and social engineering) during the latter days of WWII. By Denise Kiernan.
  • Geraldine Brooks really does have something for every Mom! My favorites are Year of Wonders, a fictional account of a real community that isolated itself during the plague, and Foreign Correspondence, her memoir of her beginnings as an Australian schoolgirl whose pen pals set the stage for her career as a journalist and author. March and People of the Book are also great choices!
  • Israeli novels in translation are a favorite of mine. Three picks are The English Teacher by Yiftach Reicher Atir, a novel about the high personal price of life in the intelligence service, and The Hilltop by Assaf Gavron, a contemporary story of the complexities and absurdities of life in an Israeli settlement. Lastly, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-Levi is a novel about life in Palestine/Israel at the end of WWII and the beginnings of the State told in the rare voices of generations of a Sephardi family. This view has made it a huge bestseller in Israel. My review will appear soon.
  • Three very different historical fiction stories of strong women are The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes (19th/21st century), The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi (20th/21st century), and The Widow’s War by Sally Gunning (18th century).
  • Start her on Louise Penny’s Three Pines/Inspector Gamache mysteries and she will have books to keep her busy for months. A Great Reckoning was just released in paperback, or start at the beginning with Still Life. Rich characters that deal with life’s big issues in a setting you wish you could visit. There are many reasons her fan base is so loyal.
  • Perla, Carolina deRobertis’s magical novel about seeking identity during Argentina’s “Dirty War” will send her searching for information about the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, the women who demonstrated and sought out information about their children and grandchildren “disappeared” by the government.
  • For something totally unexpected, share one of these stories about the American West immediately after the Civil War. News of the World is a beautiful small book by Paulette Jiles about a newsreader and a young girl rescued from Indian captors. EpitaphMary Doria Russell’s novel about the legendary Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, has just been optioned for a movie. I’d stand in line to see either on the screen.
  • Speaking of the screen, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Smoot and The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman are wonderful nonfiction titles have been adapted recently.
  • I love Venice and I’m a sucker for detective stories. Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti keeps me coming back to explore that wondrous city. There are now 26 titles in the series. While the principals have aged some since the beginning, it is not critical to read them in order.
  • If you, or the mother in your life, enjoys short stories, travel, and mysteries, check out the Akashic Noir series of titles. There are books for cities from Baltimore to Belfast to Beirut and beyond, each with stories written by local authors.
  • Finally, some “drop everything and read” titles that are perfect for getting away. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney is a new gem, based in part on the life of the top female advertising copywriter in the first half of the 20th century. The Truth According to Us is Annie Barrow’s story of long-held family secrets wrapped up with lots of information about the National Writer’s Project which employed writers to tell the histories of small-town America during the Depression. Before Me Before You, Jojo Moyes penned The Girl You Left Behind, a novel of life in the French countryside during WWI, a painting, and questions of its ownership almost a century later.

This lengthy listing barely touches on the possibilities. I specifically avoided WWII/Holocaust historical fiction. There are many, many wonderful and well-promoted books in this genre. Cookbooks and food memoirs with rich stories would be great for foodies but they are specific to individual tastes (excuse the pun!) Short story collections are making a big comeback, as are narrative nonfiction titles. While a few biographies or memoirs have been included, an entire list could be made of this genre. Still looking for something else? There are many recommendations on the website.

A very different birthday email


Close to my birthday, I usually receive multiple opportunities to eat my way through local restaurants or blow birthday gift cards with discounts to national chain stores. Several weeks ago I received a very different message.

Since 1989, after a huge community effort to find a bone marrow match for Allison Atlas, I have been on the National Marrow Donor Program registry. When I reach my birthday at the end of this week I will no longer be eligible to donate. The email was thanking for me for my willingness to consider donation should there be a match with someone in need. In all these years, I have only been called upon once for additional testing but the match was not good enough.

When I was first tested, an enormous effort to find a match for Allison brought in almost 70,000 new potential donors.  Still, it took an additional 7 years for the registry to have its first million names. As of early 2013, the registry had grown to over 10 million people. According to, each day 17 patients are matched and given an additional chance for life.

Many of my friends are at the same stage of life as I. But that doesn’t mean any of us are beyond helping this and similar worthy efforts. Writing a check helps, no doubt about it. But we can also encourage others we know, including our children and other younger friends, to sign up for the registry. And to opt in as organ donors on their drivers’ licenses. Or to be become a blood or platelet donor if s/he is eligible. Thanks to advances in medicine, many of us have friends or relatives who have benefitted from the generosity of anonymous donors. And there are some things that money alone just can’t buy.

So while I was one to get the email this year, I hoping some of you will respond to this message and pass it along.


2017 UPDATED: A Book + Dad + You = A Great Gift

happy-fathers-day-facebook-timeline-cover1When I was growing up, books and reading were always very important. Like many other fathers, my dad spent long hours at work and volunteered in the community.  He read the local newspaper daily but much of his other reading was reports and minutes and quotes and diagrams.

While he still spends lots of time volunteering and reading reports, Dad dedicates time each day to reading for pleasure. An engineer by training and methodical to a fault, his reading tastes are now rather eclectic. Dad reads memoirs and mysteries, histories and titles with a touch of fantasy. His willingness to read outside the box is delightful and gives us many opportunities to talk about topics that otherwise wouldn’t come up.

With my father in mind, here are some titles that your father or another important person in your life might like to receive this Father’s Day. No need to worry about size or color, and there’s no ugly tie involved. Love you Dad!

If you don’t have a local independent bookstore, consider choosing to support one in another community when you shop online. Many will also give advice and take orders over the phone. Find one at Continue reading 2017 UPDATED: A Book + Dad + You = A Great Gift