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January 12, 2012

My Holiday Reading: Eight Great Reads!

Posted by Katherine

Here's a list of eight great books I read over the holidays and wanted to share with you. Definitely note when they publish on your new 2012 calendars!

THE INNOCENTS by Francesca Segal (June 5th) has been compared to THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton. Confession here. I do not remember reading that. But I would want to after reading THE INNOCENTS just to compare them. The book opens with the newly engaged Adam and Rachel who have been together since they were sixteen; they are now 28 celebrating the High Holidays. By page two a new player has entered the scene, Rachel’s ravishing cousin Ellie, who lives in New York and has “a story” behind her. The contrast between Rachel and Ellie could not be more drastic. It’s the classic safe “good girl” --- and “the temptress.” Segal’s handling of the plot, the tension, the twists, the turns, the inner tension makes THE INNOCENTS a page turner. Also, for me it was a wonderful education into Jewish traditions and cultures. And for those who like me are Gentiles, the glossary at the back fills in the blanks with deeper explanations if you find yourself stumped. It will be a Bets On selection.


THE RULES OF INHERITANCE by Claire Bidwell Smith (February 2nd) is a brilliant memoir about a young woman who at age fourteen learns that both of her parents have cancer. A huge burden at any age, but even more difficult for an adolescent. Her choice the night her mother dies will haunt her, her father’s death will be a lonely vigil and who she becomes between these two experiences and who she emerges after them is one powerful story. It’s written in a non-linear style using the five stages  of grief as a lens to look inside Claire’s emotions at this time. She is now a grief counselor herself and her compassion given her experience translates beautifully here. I can see myself thinking about this book for a long time.




STEVE JOBS by Walter Issacson felt like a “must-read” this holiday season! As I was reading it I found myself this thinking about Apple’s history against that of The Book Report Network. I remember buying our first MAC at the office back in 1995. I am betting it’s still in a backroom somewhere as I seem to collect old computers at the office. The book is everything it’s been said to be --- a riveting look at a complicated man who was both tyrant and genius. It’s the kind of biography that will be read for years to come by those who want to explore this life-changing pioneer. Given Jobs’ micro-managing of everything I was amused to read that the only thing he really got involved in with the production of this book was the cover. He wanted to approve that after he did not like the early renderings. Look at the front, the back and the spine for a lasting literary design moment by this iconic hero.


PARIS IN LOVE (April 17th), a memoir by Eloisa James was a lovely escape into armchair travel  to Paris from the deck of the house on the Outer Banks. In 2009 after the death of her mother and her own bout with breast cancer, Eloisa took a year sabbatical to Paris with her Italian-born husband Allesandro and her son and daughter.  This book follows their immersion into all things Parisian and is a complete and utter joy to read. Eloisa lives Paris like a Parisian and her jaunts to museums, markets and fashion shops make for a juicy rich read. It’s also very humorous as she is very self-deprecating and also has very amusing material brought to her by her husband and children. Side trips to Italy complete this literary feast. I think we all love reading about someone who took a dream and made it a reality!

Now, an aside here. Eloisa James is the pseudonym of Mary Bly, a professor at Fordham University where my older son attends college. Mary and I have become publishing pals through the years meeting up at various events and we even grabbed lunch a few months ago. Greg will be taking her course on The Genre Novel this spring and I am looking forward to seeing his reading list and watching him explore the world of publishing not hands on in the office, but as a class. A marvelous experience! I still remember my classes like this from my own time at Fordham back in 1978. I still think about “Books That Changed America” and “Books about War Reporting.” I am sure that that those classes somehow got me to what I do today and there is a Professor Ray Schroth to thank for that.


JEFFERSON’S SONS by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a middle grade book that was published in September. It’s the story of Thomas Jefferson’s secret children, the ones he bore with his slave Sally Hemings. I have been to Monticello. I have heard about this side of his family before, but the way this historical fiction is told drives readers right into the heart of the issues of slavery, plantations and the Deep South in the 1700 and 1800s. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I do wonder about this material for middle graders, but given that even the “family hour” on television delves into a number of surprising topics I am not sure if I am just showing my age for a moment. For anyone looking for strong historical fiction about this time period, it’s well worth exploring.



THE WOMAN AT THE LIGHT (July 3rd) by Joanna Brady opens on Wrecker’s Key Cay in 1839 where Emily Lowry soon learns that her husband the lighthouse keeper has not returned from a trip in his boat. Suddenly she is alone with her two young children keeping not only her hearth and home, but also the lighthouse beacon burning. Wrecker’s Cay is isolated and life there is lonely. So when a young black man with manacles attached to his hands washes up on their shore there’s definitely time for tension to unfold. Who is he and what is his story? Can he be trusted? There are surprises at every turn in this rich historical fiction story that I devoured. Having spent time at many lighthouses, as well as in Key West and New Orleans I found myself enjoying the descriptions of life in these places as much as the lovely story that unfolds of love against many odds. Interesting reading especially after reading JEFFERSON’S SONS.  It will be a Bets On selection.


THERE ARE THINGS I WANT YOU TO KNOW" ABOUT STIEG LARSSON AND ME by Eva Gabrielsson is the book I picked up as soon as we got back from seeing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Eva who was the long-time girlfriend of Stieg Larsson (after reading this it’s hard for me to think of her as anything but his wife though they never married, which as you may know has become a huge issue for her), writes about their relationship, social work, and the influences behind Larsson’s bestselling Millenium Series. For the millions of fans of Larsson’s this is great companion reading and sheds light on even more of the characters, names and places in the story.





PURE by Julianna Baggott is an absolutely wonderful post-apocalyptic work. I always have trouble describing these kinds of books briefly as what makes them special is the complexity of the worlds that are created. Suffice for me to say that the story of Pressia a young woman soon to turn 16, an age where everyone is ordered to serve in the militia or be used as a target. On the other side is Partridge, a Pure, who escaped the apocalypse and has been untouched by the ravages that affected Pressia and her family. He escapes the safety of the Dome just as Pressia escapes the safety of her grandfather’s home. And from there the story unfolds. The details on the world that Julianna has created from the descriptions of characters to their adventures kept me reading in a genre that I typically will not enjoy. I look forward to meeting her at Winter Institute next week.


Nice lineup to spend a vacation with! Hope you find something to enjoy from this list.