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.

‘Year of Wonders’ – a timely story from a 350 year old reality

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  • Year of WondersYear of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (Viking Press, 2001)
  • In 40 words or less: Based on Eyam, England which cut itself off from the world in the hope of saving its people from the plague.
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Locale: England
  • Time: 1665
  • Read this book if individual stories bring you a new  understanding of history.

Geraldine Brooks’ ‘Year of Wonders’ has long been one of my favorite novels. It is particularly appropriate that I am finishing this review after almost a week of hunkering down due to winter storm Jonas. Her debut novel, written in 2001, is based on the actual English village of Eyam which in 1665 chose total isolation from neighboring villages in the hope of mitigating bubonic plague. The outbreak was in the early days of the Protestant Reformation, a time of religious and social friction. Anna Firth was created by Brooks to tell the community’s story.

Anna is a still a teenager when her husband dies mining lead. Left with two small children, she works in the rectory for Reverend Mompellion and his wife, Elinor. To augment her wages, Anna takes in a tailor who has come to town.  He becomes the first victim of the plague, likely infected from fleas in cloth he received. Fortunate to have been taught to read, Anna is hungry for knowledge and Elinor sees in her a kindred spirit. While Reverend Mompellion sees to the religious needs of many in the community, Elinor and Anna work together to keep the community fed and restore their health.

In a community barely subsisting, the toll of isolation and deprivation is high. Through Anna’s eyes the reader sees the best and the worst behaviors. Beyond the stark religious differences within the Protestants, there is a household of women herbalists and healers who some consider witches. These women are increasingly called upon to help those who have fallen ill from a variety of ailments. They, however, are often not treated with like kindness. The harshness of daily life and lengths people go to survive can be chilling.

Over the course of the year, Brook peels back the layers of life – birth and death, cruelty and kindness, love and hatred. It is astonishing how many aspects of the book ring true 350 years later. This is a book to read, re-read and share.

Ellen in Wonderland – Day 3

This partial view of the floor at Book Expo provides an inkling of the vast territory we explored each day.  IMG_2905While you’d think it’s all about the books, the reality is a conference of this size is also about all the many people, from the author to the publisher to the bookseller and reviewer who help bring it to life. Everyday there was an extensive agenda of presentations and a far larger lists of author signings. The publisher’s goal is to get their books into the hands of broadest range of consumers. My goal is to search out great titles I can share with readers, through book groups, topical presentations or book reviews on this blog.  To do this, I hone in first on smaller publishers whose lists have proven to be well-written and thought-provoking. Continue reading Ellen in Wonderland – Day 3