Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo (2005)

actsoffaithPhilip Caputo sets this fascinating tale of aid workers against the background of Sudan’s civil war, where the Muslim government in the north fights the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) for control of the Christian and animist south. Acts of Faith presents multiple stories of a group of men and women who confront their own individual moral crises and fears as they work to alleviate the suffering caused by civil war in contemporary Sudan. Reporter, novelist, and nonfiction writer, Caputo has produced a compassionate and dramatic novel.

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan (2014)

oppositelonelyIn 2012, Marina Keegan’s final essay in the Yale Daily News went viral after her sudden tragic death five days after graduation. In The Opposite of Loneliness, her teachers and family compiled a selection of her writings, both fiction and nonfiction.

I enjoyed listening to Emily Woo Zeller’s narration – she captures the wry humor in Keegan’s writing. The title essay – “The Opposite of Loneliness” – is powerful, relatable, moving. “Against the Grain,” which tracked her life with celiac disease, brought tears to my eyes. And while I particularly enjoyed her nonfiction work, her short stories were lovely as well.

Check out a review from The New York Times.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (2014)

inventionofwingsI loved everything about this book…the superbly-drawn, complex characters; the inspirational, and often intense, storylines of each character; and the wonderful setting descriptions that made me feel like I was there with the characters! The fact that this novel was based on real-life people makes it more powerful and unforgettable.

Set in Charleston during the early 1800s, the plot follows the life of two girls into adulthood, alternating the narration between the two. Sarah Grimke is the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, and Hetty is the young slave who is given to Sarah on her 11th birthday. They share a common goal – freedom! For Hetty, it is freedom from the bondages of slavery, and for Sarah, from the oppressive societal constraints on women. Sarah is vehemently against slavery, treating Hetty with respect, even secretly teaching her how to read, which was against the law at that time. Sarah becomes a strong activist in the abolitionist movement and civil rights for women. Hetty’s life is heartbreaking, yet inspiring in so many ways.

After I finished The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters and did some research on Sarah Grimke to learn more about her real life.

Highly recommend this book!

The Impersonator by Mary Miley (2013)

impersonatorIn 1924, vaudevillian Leah Randall finds herself unemployed. When approached by shady Oliver Beckett with a scheme to impersonate a missing heiress and share in her inheritance, Leah is at first dismissive. When no paying roles materialize, Leah gives in and finds herself in a mansion on the Oregon coast impersonating Jessie Carr. Jessie disappeared seven years before. Is she alive, and if not, what happened to her? Could what happened to Jessie now happen to Leah? Mary Miley’s The Impersonator is a fun jazz-era mystery inspired by Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar.

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead (2014)

astonishmeThe world of professional ballet is the centerpiece of this character-driven novel. To dance for a professional New York ballet company is no small feat, but for Joan her role as a member of the ballet corps does meet her aspirations. She becomes romantically involved with Arslan, a Soviet ballet star whom she helped defect to the U.S. Arslan takes the U.S. ballet scene by storm while Joan’s career declines. She leaves the ballet company, marries her best friend from high school, and has a son. Her son Harry becomes the ballet star which Joan had hoped to become, and it is through his success that Arslan reenters her life. Maggie Shipstead’s Astonish Me rekindled memories of Baryshnikov’s defection to the West in 1974, and his impact on American ballet.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (2013)

girlyouleftbehindSophie and Liv struggle through tragedies, tough decisions, and community ridicule nearly a century a part. A hauntingly beautiful portrait of Sophie with penetrating eyes painted by her impressionist husband connect the womens’ plights across time. Liv feels a deep connection to Sophie and risks everything to keep the painting out of the wrong hands.

Sophie is left behind in occupied France during WWI as her husband goes off to fight. Liv is left behind after her husband’s untimely death in 21st century London. Liv meets Paul and finds out he is on the opposing side of her quest to keep Sophie’s portrait. Their relationship develops in opposite directions. She is not sure if he can pull her out of her deep depression left by her husband’s death, financial ruin, and public criticism, or push her further down.

As Liv finds herself at the end of all hope, Jojo Moyes allows the reader inside the mind of Sophie on the brink of death at the hands of the enemy. In The Girl You Left Behind, parallel narratives converge as the two women continue to struggle. A satisfying epilogue ties up loose ends in both worlds, yet leaves enough for the reader’s imagination to wander a bit.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (2014)

storiedlifeThis is a story for those who love books and book people. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry presents a sad but delightful series of stories through A. J’s life as he loses his wife and a valued possession, but then gains the responsibility of a 2-year-old child and a new life. Poignant, sad, and funny events keep the reader (or listener) engaged for the full journey. Gabrielle Zevin’s novel was a New York Times bestseller, a #1 Indie Next pick, and a #1 LibraryReads selection.

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl (2014)

deliciousI savored Ruth Reichl’s first foray into fiction (sorry for the pun – couldn’t resist!). I vacillated between eagerly turning the pages and pausing for a break, simply because I didn’t want the story to end. In Delicious!, we meet Billie as she prepares for an interview as the assistant to the editor of a food magazine.

In the engaging characters she encounters, the mouth-watering food she describes, and the foodie side of New York City she explores, the reader is drawn in to all of Billie’s new experiences. With an unexpected WWII tie (Billie discovers letters between James Beard and a precocious 11-year-old Lulu), a mystery, and unresolved family issues, this book is hard for me to describe – other than it was lovely and wonderful and completely worth a read.