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Tuesday, January 1, 2013


CHRISTIE’S LIST OF  The BEST BOOKS I Read in 2012

 

 

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

by Jan-Philipp Sendker

(fiction)

**Reviewed **

Book Description (from Amazon.com)
Release Date: January 31, 2012
A poignant and inspirational love story set in Burma, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats spans the decades between the 1950s and the present.  When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be…until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never heard of. Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father’s past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion that will reaffirm the reader’s belief in the power of love to move mountains.

Shine Shine Shine
by Lydia Netzer
(fiction)
**Reviewed**
Book Description (from Amazon.com)
Release Date: July 17, 2012
When Maxon met Sunny, he was seven years, four months, and eighteen-days old. Or, he was 2693 rotations of the earth old. Maxon was different. Sunny was different. They were different together.  Now, twenty years later, they are married, and Sunny wants, more than anything, to be “normal.” She’s got the housewife thing down perfectly, but Maxon, a genius engineer, is on a NASA mission to the moon, programming robots for a new colony. Once they were two outcasts who found unlikely love in each other: a wondrous, strange relationship formed from urgent desire for connection. But now they’re parents to an autistic son. And Sunny is pregnant again. And her mother is dying in the hospital. Their marriage is on the brink of imploding, and they’re at each other’s throats with blame and fear. What exactly has gone wrong?  Sunny wishes Maxon would turn the rocket around and come straight-the-hell home.  When an accident in space puts the mission in peril, everything Sunny and Maxon have built hangs in the balance. Dark secrets, long-forgotten murders, and a blond wig all come tumbling to the light. And nothing will ever be the same.…
A debut of singular power and intelligence, Shine Shine Shine is a unique love story, an adventure between worlds, and a stunning novel of love, death, and what it means to be human.
 Shine Shine Shine is a New York Times Notable Book of 2012.

The Snow Child

by Eowyn Ivey

(fiction)

Book Description (from Amazon.com)

Publication Date: February 1, 2012
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

In The Shadow of the Banyan
by Vaddey Ratner
(fiction)
**Reviewed**
Book Description (from Amazon.com)
Release Date: August 7, 2012
You are about to read an extraordinary story. It will take you to the very depths of despair and show you unspeakable horrors. It will reveal a gorgeously rich culture struggling to survive through a furtive bow, a hidden ankle bracelet, fragments of remembered poetry. It will ensure that the world never forgets the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, when an estimated two million people lost their lives. It will give you hope, and it will confirm the power of storytelling to lift us up and help us not only survive but transcend suffering, cruelty, and loss.
For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours, bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus. Over the next four years, as the Khmer Rouge attempts to strip the population of every shred of individual identity, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of her childhood— the mythical legends and poems told to her by her father. In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival. Displaying the author’s extraordinary gift for language, In the Shadow of the Banyan is a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience.

The Dog Stars
by Peter Heller
(fiction)
**Reviewed**
Book Description (from Amazon.com)
Release Date: August 7, 2012
A riveting, powerful novel about a pilot living in a world filled with loss—and what he is willing to risk to rediscover, against all odds, connection, love, and grace.

Hig survived the flu that killed everyone he knows. His wife is gone, his friends are dead, he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, his only neighbor a gun-toting misanthrope. In his 1956 Cessna, Hig flies the perimeter of the airfield or sneaks off to the mountains to fish and to pretend that things are the way they used to be. But when a random transmission somehow beams through his radio, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life—something like his old life—exists beyond the airport. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return—not enough fuel to get him home—following the trail of the static-broken voice on the radio. But what he encounters and what he must face—in the people he meets, and in himself—is both better and worse than anything he could have hoped for.

Narrated by a man who is part warrior and part dreamer, a hunter with a great shot and a heart that refuses to harden, The Dog Stars is both savagely funny and achingly sad, a breathtaking story about what it means to be human.

Albert of Adelaide
by Howard Anderson
(fiction)
**Reviewed**
Book Description (from Amazon.com)
Publication Date: July 10, 2012
At once an old-fashioned-buddy-novel-shoot-'em-up and a work of deliciously imagined fantasy, Howard L. Anderson's dazzling debut presents the haunting story of a world where something has gone horribly awry . . .  Having escaped from Australia's Adelaide Zoo, an orphaned platypus named Albert embarks on a journey through the outback in search of "Old Australia," a rumored land of liberty, promise, and peace. What he will find there, however, away from the safe confinement of his enclosure for the first time since his earliest memories, proves to be a good deal more than he anticipated.  Alone in the outback, with an empty soft drink bottle as his sole possession, Albert stumbles upon pyromaniacal wombat Jack, and together they spend a night drinking and gambling in Ponsby Station, a rough-and-tumble mining town. Accused of burning down the local mercantile, the duo flees into menacing dingo territory and quickly go their separate ways-Albert to pursue his destiny in the wastelands, Jack to reconcile his past.  Encountering a motley assortment of characters along the way-a pair of invariably drunk bandicoots, a militia of kangaroos, hordes of the mercurial dingoes, and a former prize-fighting Tasmanian devil-our unlikely hero will discover a strength and skill for survival he never suspected he possessed.  Told with equal parts wit and compassion, ALBERT OF ADELAIDE shows how it is often the unexpected route, and the most improbable companions, that lead us on the path to who we really are. Who you journey with, after all, is far more important than wherever it is you are going.


The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile
by C.W. Gortner 
(historical fiction)
**Reviewed**
Book Description (from Amazon.com)
Release Date: June 12, 2012
No one believed I was destined for greatness.

So begins Isabella’s story, in this evocative, vividly imagined novel about one of history’s most famous and controversial queens—the warrior who united a fractured country, the champion of the faith whose reign gave rise to the Inquisition, and the visionary who sent Columbus to discover a New World. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner envisages the turbulent early years of a woman whose mythic rise to power would go on to transform a monarchy, a nation, and the world.

Young Isabella is barely a teenager when she and her brother are taken from their mother’s home to live under the watchful eye of their half-brother, King Enrique, and his sultry, conniving queen. There, Isabella is thrust into danger when she becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to dethrone Enrique. Suspected of treason and held captive, she treads a perilous path, torn between loyalties, until at age seventeen she suddenly finds herself heiress of Castile, the largest kingdom in Spain. Plunged into a deadly conflict to secure her crown, she is determined to wed the one man she loves yet who is forbidden to her—Fernando, prince of Aragon.

As they unite their two realms under “one crown, one country, one faith,” Isabella and Fernando face an impoverished Spain beset by enemies. With the future of her throne at stake, Isabella resists the zealous demands of the inquisitor Torquemada even as she is seduced by the dreams of an enigmatic navigator named Columbus. But when the Moors of the southern domain of Granada declare war, a violent, treacherous battle against an ancient adversary erupts, one that will test all of Isabella’s resolve, her courage, and her tenacious belief in her destiny.

From the glorious palaces of Segovia to the battlefields of Granada and the intrigue-laden gardens of Seville, The Queen’s Vow sweeps us into the tumultuous forging of a nation and the complex, fascinating heart of the woman who overcame all odds to become Isabella of Castile.


 The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon’s Court
by Michelle Moran
(historical fiction)
**Reviewed**
Book Description (from Amazon.com)
Release Date: August 14, 2012
National bestselling author Michelle Moran returns to Paris, this time under the rule of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte as he casts aside his beautiful wife to marry a Hapsburg princess he hopes will bear him a royal heir

   After the bloody French Revolution, Emperor Napoleon’s power is absolute. When Marie-Louise, the eighteen year old daughter of the King of Austria, is told that the Emperor has demanded her hand in marriage, her father presents her with a terrible choice: marry the cruel, capricious Napoleon, leaving the man she loves and her home forever, or say no, and plunge her country into war.
   Marie-Louise knows what she must do, and she travels to France, determined to be a good wife despite Napoleon’s reputation. But lavish parties greet her in Paris, and at the extravagant French court, she finds many rivals for her husband’s affection, including Napoleon’s first wife, Jos├ęphine, and his sister Pauline, the only woman as ambitious as the emperor himself. Beloved by some and infamous to many, Pauline is fiercely loyal to her brother. She is also convinced that Napoleon is destined to become the modern Pharaoh of Egypt. Indeed, her greatest hope is to rule alongside him as his queen—a brother-sister marriage just as the ancient Egyptian royals practiced. Determined to see this dream come to pass, Pauline embarks on a campaign to undermine the new empress and convince Napoleon to divorce Marie-Louise.
   As Pauline’s insightful Haitian servant, Paul, watches these two women clash, he is torn between his love for Pauline and his sympathy for Marie-Louise. But there are greater concerns than Pauline’s jealousy plaguing the court of France. While Napoleon becomes increasingly desperate for an heir, the empire’s peace looks increasingly unstable. When war once again sweeps the continent and bloodshed threatens Marie-Louise’s family in Austria, the second Empress is forced to make choices that will determine her place in history—and change the course of her life.
   Based on primary resources from the time, The Second Empress takes readers back to Napoleon’s empire, where royals and servants alike live at the whim of one man, and two women vie to change their destinies.

Heaven Is Here: An Incredible Story of Hope, Triumph, and Everyday Joy

by Stephanie Nielson 

(non-fiction/autobiography)

Book Description (from Amazon.com)
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Go on an unforgettable journey, with a woman who has unimaginable strength.
Stephanie Nielson began sharing her life in 2005 on nieniedialogues.com, drawing readers in with her warmth and candor. She quickly attracted a loyal following that was captivated by the upbeat mother happily raising her young children, madly in love with her husband, Christian (Mr. Nielson to her readers), and filled with gratitude for her blessed life.
However, everything changed in an instant on a sunny day in August 2008, when Stephanie and Christian were in a horrific plane crash. Christian was burned over 40 percent of his body, and Stephanie was on the brink of death, with burns over 80 percent of her body. She would remain in a coma for four months.
In the aftermath of this harrowing tragedy, Stephanie maintained a stunning sense of humor, optimism, and resilience. She has since shared this strength of spirit with others through her blog, in magazine features, and on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Now, in this moving memoir, Stephanie tells the full, extraordinary story of her unlikely recovery and the incredible love behind it--from a riveting account of the crash to all that followed in its wake. With vivid detail, Stephanie recounts her emotional and physical journey, from her first painful days after awakening from the coma to the first time she saw her face in the mirror, the first kiss she shared with Christian after the accident, and the first time she talked to her children after their long separation. She also reflects back on life before the accident, to her happy childhood as one of nine siblings, her close-knit community and strong Mormon faith, and her fairy-tale love story, all of which became her foundation of strength as she rebuilt her life.
What emerges from the wreckage of a tragic accident is a unique perspective on joy, beauty, and overcoming adversity that is as gripping as it is inspirational. Heaven Is Here is a poignant reminder of how faith and family, love and community can bolster us, sustain us, and quite literally, in some cases, save us.

The One and Only Ivan
by Catherine Applegate
(children
s fiction)
Book Description
Release Date: January 17, 2012 | Age Level: 8 and up | Grade Level: 3 and up
Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.  Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.  Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.
Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.