broadsideblog

Two great books I just finished reading — and you?

In books, culture, entertainment, life on February 7, 2014 at 1:05 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I very rarely read fiction, so it was a bit of luck that I recently found — in, of all places, on the book/magazine recycling shelf near our apartment building’s laundry room — two terrific novels.

books

“Cutting For Stone” is by physician Abraham Verghese, and I’d read the rapturous reviews and thought, not for me. It’s a long, winding tale of twin brothers born in Ethiopia and their lives. Both become doctors. I might never have bought this book, his first novel, or borrowed it from the library, but there it was — free for the taking.

I found many elements of the book compelling. He really knows, (and researched, as he included voluminous notes at the back), Ethiopia and its history and geography, so I felt literally transported. I’ve never been there and might never get there, so I enjoyed that.

His characters were clear, strong, sympathetic. He describes many medical situations in a way no one but a doctor could write so persuasively; I loved his insider story of his character’s training in a poor Bronx hospital, especially.

And I loved the cover image: mysterious, enticing, colorful.

The other book was “Tell the Wolves I’m Home”, by Carol Rifka Brunt.

RifkaBrunt_Tell-the-Wolves

I also loved its cover — that exotic teapot is important to the plot.

This one resonated for me on so many levels!

It’s told through the eyes of a 13 year-old girl and unravels a mystery about her beloved uncle who has recently died. I won’t give it away, but it’s a terrific read. She, like me, lives in a town in Westchester County, just north of New York City, so all the references registered for me as deeply familiar.

I also covered the AIDS crisis, as a newspaper reporter, as it unfolded in the mid 1980s in North America — the book is set in that time period and addresses that issue, and powerfully brings back what it felt like, then, to know people dying of it and how the world was reacting to them then.

The first book is about two brothers, once close, who become estranged for years; the second book is about two estranged sisters who move from hostility back to closeness.

(I was raised an only child so have no daily notion of what it’s like to live with siblings. One of books’ many gifts is bringing us into worlds we will never experience ourselves.)

I highly recommend both.

(Whoever is leaving those books downstairs absolutely shares my taste — I’ve also found and read The Dive From Clausen’s Pier and One Day, both of which I also really enjoyed. It feels like Christmas on that shelf!)

This New York Times review of the TDFCP praises what I also found extremely well-drawn — what it feels like to arrive in New York City knowing not a soul and re-inventing yourself.

I don’t read science fiction, romance, chick lit, horror or YA, but…

What have you read recently I should reach for next?

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  1. I actually have two books, and believe it or not, one of them is non-fiction (gasp!). Since I know science-fiction isn’t one of your favorites (which means there goes one of my books), I thought maybe a good mystery. I recently read The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Gailbrath (aka JK Rowling) and it was pretty decent. I’m also reading a few books of American history for class and they’re both pretty amazing. Summer for the Gods is about the Scopes trial, while The Worst Hard Time is actually a very poignant look at communities that weathered the Dust Bowl back in the 1930’s. Any of these titles is well worth the read.

  2. I suggest Lullabies for Little Criminals and A Visit From The Goon Squad :) Enjoy

  3. These are two I have on my Kindle wish list so I was really excited to see your review! I’m currently reading The Snow Child, which seems appropriate given our wild winter here in the Mid-Atlantic!

  4. I’m in the middle of Willa Cather’s My Ántonia. Beautiful writing and a wonderful story. Makes me fall in love with the US in a nostalgic way. :)

  5. how lucky to have found these. i’ve heard of the first, it sounds interesting, and i know nothing about ethiopia, but would like to read about it -

  6. I’m in the middle of In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. It’s a nonfiction work about an American ambassador and his family living in Hitler’s Germany. I think it has been optioned for a film with Tom Hanks rumored as the lead.

    • Thanks….I’ve heard about that one and would like to read it. My husband gave me a great book Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler — a memoir by a milliner of the same period.

  7. I’ve heard of the second book but not the first. They both sound like excellent reads. I love reading well-written fiction and I’m currently reading Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld. She is a great author. I’ve read all of her three previous novels (they are stand-alone novels, by the way, not a series) but I think Sisterland is the best so far.

  8. Love chatting about books and what luck you found these! I just finished Tell the Wolves I’m Home a few weeks ago!! What an amazing story; that one has stayed with me for weeks. Certainly because of the sadness of losing Finn and Toby, and how Aids was viewed back then, but also that building suspense surrounding the two sisters. At times you have no idea where the story will go. I highly recommend it too. As for right now? I just started Chang Rae Lee’s On Such Full Sea, I’m not very far into it but have loved all of his other novels and was excited when this came out. Before that Life after Life by Kate Atkinson–and that’s highly recommended! I read a ton of kids books too with my son, from Aug-Nov we read all Harry Potter and from November until now we are on Percy Jackson. I would never have known, this but reading these middle and YA books with my son has added a ton to my life, and perspective. Look forward to it every night. Thanks for the tip on Cutting for Stone, will add to my Goodreads list….

    • So nice that you know it as well…:-)

      I dipped into a Kate Atkinson and didn’t like it. But people love her work. I’m always on the hunt for great fiction…as my default reads are always non-fiction (history, economics, business) which feels like I work all the time.

  9. Not sure if you’re into thrillers. If you are, I would recommend Gone Girl and Little Girl Lost. :) I’m trying to read more in 2014 so it’s great that you’ve shared the books you enjoyed. Thanks!!!

  10. I tried to read Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel but gave up. I am now trying to work my way through Await Your Reply by Dan Choan but it’s tough. I think my brain is more in a non-fiction groove right now.

    Also I love that these books were just left out for anyone to take. I’ve not had much luck with those piles – usually lots of Debbie Macomber and James Patterson and the like. I have nothing against those authors or their fans, but their work just doesn’t do it for me.

    • I want to leave a sign on the shelf: “More, please!” It’s been a great run, as the stuff left there — here as well — is usually mass market stuff I never ever read.

      Not sure what I’ll try next. I LOVED a recent British novel called The Uninvited Guests. It’s quirky and odd and reveals itself as you go.

  11. I am definitely going to read your second recommendation, Caitlin, thanks for finding it and picking it up! Currently, I am reading and enjoying “The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid” by Bill Bryson. It’s a great nostalgic read that transports me back to a time when life seemed happy and less complicated, and I love Bryson’s style …

  12. I so enjoy Louise Penny’s psychologically driven books. This comes from a reader who never planned on reading mysteries. Her insight on human motives and needs is stunning. Try The Beautiful Mystery–or any of them.I just finished Isabel Allende’s Maya’s Notebook–brutal, truthful, lush, stirring. She is a master of fiction. Also Jojo Moyes’ You Before Me which shares a quadriplegic’s life, his reluctant but loving caretaker and an impulse toward suicide. And does anyone out there know of Rumer Godden’s works? Black Narcissus, for example? Such impeccable use of language, and attendant to the heart and soul. An old fave who seems forgotten by many. For NF: Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon.His research is great and the reading goes smoothly. Oh, dear, I had better stop now!

  13. I met Abraham Verghese in a Literary Festival. Amazing personality. I have marked the book to read. I guess I will pick it up now!

  14. I finished Arcadia by Lauren Groff recently and enjoyed it. A story told through the eyes of a child. Some of the imagery is really lovely.

  15. I’m reading your recommendation The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and LOVE IT. The other two memoirs you recommended are next on my list (about childhoods in Africa). If you’re still looking for recommendations, check out the Japanese crime novel OUT by Natsuo Kirino. Even if a crime novel isn’t your thing, this book will grip you. The characters and situations were so vivid, I actually still think about it (not in a haunting way).

  16. Loved Cutting for Stone and was dazzled when the author spoke at Book Passages in Corte Madera, CA. He was amazed by the SRO crowd – one sunny Saturday afternoon- Verghese is so smart, humble, delightful – he had us in the palm of his hand. Just finished Flamethrowers by Kushner – fabulous.

    • I’m not surprised to hear this — but delighted he’s such a lovely person as well. Lucky you to have seen him.

      Thanks for the rec! And welcome…thanks for following.

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