Daily Archives: December 31, 2013

Happy New Year – and a Book Giveaway


Can you believe it is 2014? The time just flies by these days. I love New Year’s day as it always feels like a new start. I love to purge and organize and plan. I got a head start on my purging this year and found a couple of books which were duplicates in my stacks. I thought it would be nice to have a little book giveaway here to celebrate the beginning of the new year.

Below are the two books I’m giving away. I’m sorry but this one is open only to people with US mailing addresses (I’m trying to be better on my budget this year!). You may enter both giveaways by following the links I’ve provided. Giveaway is open from January 1, 2014 through January 7, 2014 at 5:00 pm PST – I’ll draw two winners randomly and announce their names on my blog sometime on the 8th of January – I’ll also drop the winners an email to confirm their mailing addresses.

Okay, so without further ado – here is what I’m offering:


The Green Shore by Natalie Bakopoulos

Simon and Schuster; new trade paperback

Book Description from the Publisher:

Named “a must read” by Entertainment Weekly, this masterful debut takes us to the poignant and powerful heart of a family caught up in Greece’s brutal 1967 military coup d’état. As these characters struggle with their passions, both personal and political, and their stories of love and resistance play out against the backdrop of this turbulent period, their lives begin to unfold in surprising ways. A widowed doctor and her daughters, their poet uncle and his wife, must each make their own peace with when to stay silent in the face of atrocity, and when to act.

Set in Paris and Athens, The Green Shore is an ambitious, lyrical tour de force that captures the human cost of a terrifying historical moment. In flawless, gorgeous prose, award-winning novelist Natalie Bakopoulos draws us into the lives of unforgettable people who vividly illuminate not only this place and this time but, fundamentally, what it means to be human.

Learn more about this book by visiting the publisher page.

To enter to win a copy of THE GREEN SHORE: Click here to take survey


All Russians Love Birch Trees by Olga Grjasnowa

Other Press; new Advance Readers Edition

Book Description from the Publisher:

Set in Frankfurt, All Russians Love Birch Trees follows a young immigrant named Masha. Fluent in five languages and able to get by in several others, Masha lives with her boyfriend, Elias. Her best friends are Muslims struggling to obtain residence permits, and her parents rarely leave the house except to compare gas prices. Masha has nearly completed her studies to become an interpreter, when suddenly Elias is hospitalized after a serious soccer injury and dies, forcing her to question a past that has haunted her for years.

Olga Grjasnowa has a unique gift for seeing the funny side of even the most tragic situations. With cool irony, her debut novel tells the story of a headstrong young woman for whom the issue of origin and nationality is immaterial—her Jewish background has taught her she can survive anywhere. Yet Masha isn’t equipped to deal with grief, and this all-too-normal shortcoming gives a particularly bittersweet quality to her adventures.

Learn more about this book by visiting the publisher page.

To enter to win a copy of ALL RUSSIANS LOVE BIRCH TREES: Click here to take survey

The Creative Life

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What brings you joy? Fulfillment? A sense of well being? A feeling of satisfaction?

For me – it is the simple act of creating.

Creativity comes from deep within ourselves and has roots in our dreams, desires, the way we see ourselves in the world, our connection to others.

Do you write? Or quilt? Or paint? Or make music? Do you love to plant a garden? Or arrange flowers? Or decorate your favorite room?

All of these things are creative pursuits. They feed our souls. Bring us happiness. Make our worlds more beautiful.

Today, I committed to a year of creativity. I bought a sturdy book from the art store, some colorful pens, and a glue stick and started a creative journal. A place to jot down ideas, ruminate about color and design, and capture my creative thoughts. I started with a collage – photos and words ripped from magazines, randomly pulling out images that I liked or were inspired by…and then seeing what they told me about color and shape, mood and design sense.

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I learned I love the warm colors – the reds and oranges and bold colors that are vibrant.

I learned that whimsy and courage and positivity draw me in.

I found I liked curves and flower shapes, that modern retro delighted me.

How about you? Do you understand your creative roots?

quilting happinessI found inspiration for my journal in a book I recently purchased: Quilting Happiness by Christina Lane and Diane Gilleland. There are wonderful quilt projects in this book, but what I love the most about it, are the creative exercise towards self-expression. I’ll be talking more about this book in 2014, you can be sure! Until then – I hope you find time today to do something creative, to feed your soul, to bring more beauty into the world.

The Best Books I Read in 2013

In 2013 my reading took me to a nineteenth century farm in England, South Africa, the slums of Mumbai, a village under the searing Afghanistan sun, and a small village in Chechnya. I was stunned by a tale of a serial killer during the Great Depression, and haunted by a brutal attack on a North Dakota Indian Reservation. I was entranced by memorable characters like Bernadette, Mr. Darwin’s gardener, Ade, and Charlie Crosby. I was reminded of the racism behind the Boxer Rebellion, the mystery of death, and the extraordinary powers of animals. I laughed. I cried. I was transported by beautiful prose, and moved by profound observations. 2013 was another fabulous year of great books.

Here is my long list, short list and winner for the best books I read this year. Short and long listed books are in no particular order.

LONG LIST – 2013

QuietDell lifeafterlife WheredYouGo

Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips (Scribner, October 2013) – Based on the true story of Henry Powers who was a serial killer during the Great Depression, and lured his victims through lonely-hearts advertisements which promised marriage. Jayne Anne Phillips has done a masterful job of recreating the events of 1931 and in the process introduces the reader to beautifully wrought fictional characters. Her novel is a blend of fact and fiction, eliciting strong emotions and in the process giving a voice to the victims of Powers’ crimes. (read my review)

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (Reagan Arthur Books, April 2013) – Who among us has not wondered about the small choices we have made which steer us down a path we might otherwise not have found ourselves traveling? Atkinson’s writing is flawless, darkly comic, and filled with a poignant insight into what makes us human. (read my review)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (Back Bay Books; Reprint edition, April 2013) – A wildly entertaining, sometimes poignant, and often hilarious story about parenting in the 21st century, religion, American culture and finding oneself in the process. (read my review)

MountainsEchoed Enon ThisIsParadise

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (Riverhead Hardcover, May 2013) – And the Mountains Echoed is a novel about family, loss, identity, and connection with others. Hosseini explores the idea that a simple choice will echo across time and have deep ramifications for generations to come. (read my review)

Enon by Paul Harding (Random House, September 2013) – Enon is the protagonist’s journey through the painful year following his daughter’s death. Eloquently written, difficult to read without sadness, and beautifully observed, the novel examines grief, despair, redemption, and how the passage of time can bring about the slow process of healing from loss. (read my review)

This is Paradise: Stories by Kristiana Kahahouwila (Hogarth, July 2013) – This is Paradise: Stories is a haunting, beautifully crafted collection from a penetrating and talented new voice in fiction. Kahakauwila writes with a finely honed and observant point of view. Her characters jump from the pages, real and fully formed. Readers who are new to short fiction will find this collection accessible and poetic. (read my review)


AdeAde by Rebecca Walker (Little A / New Harvest, October 2013); Hardcover; Literary Fiction (Novella)

Walker explores the big themes of identity, romantic idealism, and the impact of civil war on the lives of individuals. The writing is luminous and beautiful, the characters captivating. Long before the end of the story, the reader sees the conflict and watches as Farida slides toward a reality she has not yet imagined. It is tense and riveting – the kind of literature which holds the reader in its thrall while it comes to its inevitable conclusion.

Read my full review.

RoundHouseRound House by Louise Erdrich (Harper Collins, October 2012); Hardcover; Literary Fiction

Despite the serious themes in The Round House, Louise Erdrich manages to inject humor which often made me laugh out loud. I have come to appreciate Erdrich’s ironic sense of humor, and this ability to lighten her often dark stories is just one reason I look forward to reading her work. The Round House is filled with memorable characters, ingeniously plotted, and delivers its message without being preachy.

Read my full review.

Dr. Darwin’s Gardener by Darwin's GardenerKristina Carlson (Peirene Press, June 2013); Soft Cover; Translated Literature (Novella)

In the end, Kristina Carlson delivers a story rich and profound with writing that feels like one long poem about what it means to be a human and struggling to understand the greater question of life.

Read my full review.

RiverOfDustRiver of Dust by Virginia Pye (Unbridled Books, May 2013); Trade Paperback; Historical Fiction

River of Dust is a wholly original novel with luscious prose and compelling characters. Pye puts a spin on the essence of faith and in the waning pages reveals a dark secret which the Reverend has kept from his wife. The effect is a vividly imagined book that gives readers a glimpse into what life was like for Christian missionaries living in China in the early years of the 20th century. But more importantly, perhaps, it examines the importance of understanding cultures different from our own, and asks the essential question: What are the universal connections we have as humans, regardless of our culture or religion?

Read my full review.

ColourOfMilkThe Colour of Milk by Nell Letshon (Harper/ECCO, December 2012); Hardcover; Literary and Historical Fiction

Leyshon’s writing is powerful, incredibly moving, and filled with a grace that many authors are not able to find in their prose. This is a penetrating and compelling look into the life of one young girl during a time in history when women were considered property and had no real rights. It is shocking, empathetic and provocative.

Read my full review.

WhiteDogFellWhite Dog Fell From the Sky by Eleanor Morse (Viking Adult, January 2013); Hardcover; Historical Fiction

White Dog Fell From the Sky is a novel of tremendous scope and depth, giving the reader an unflinching look into a region of astounding beauty and cruelty, a look at political and military brutality against the backdrop of a vivid culture which depends on the environment, ecology and the unrelenting flow of wildlife for survival.

Read my full review.

BEST FICTION of the Year


A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Published by Hogarth (May 2013)

I love fiction set in other countries and Marra’s first novel, set in Chechnya between 1994 and 2004, is an amazing and emotional book about the impact of war on every day people. Marra humanizes the conflict in Chechnya by creating memorable characters. The book takes place over five days, but allows insight into the characters by taking the reader back into their pasts.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena weaves the lives of these primary characters back and forth in time. In doing so, Marra explores themes of interconnectedness, hope, betrayal, and love. Even while showing us the horror of a neighbor informing on a friend, Marra defines the very essence of what it means to be human.

I read this book in the early part of May, and I still think about it from time to time which is a sure sign of literary greatness. Anthony Marra’s book is well deserving as the best book I read this year. Read my complete review for more information.



Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart

Published by Gotham (August 2013)

Last year Beth Kephart’s novel, Small Damages, was my favorite book of 2012. This year, her non fiction book about the writing of memoir easily made my list for the best non fiction book of 2013.

Don’t be fooled by the slimness of this book – it is thick with knowledge and shared wisdom, plump with book recommendations, and fat with the kind of observations which I have come to expect from Beth Kephart’s writing.

Beth Kephart is a writer with great talent. She never, ever disappoints me. And Handling the Truth is a work of lasting importance. Read my full review for more information.