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Posts Tagged ‘Alice Bliss’

Earlier this summer, I wrote a gushing review (scroll down) of Laura Harrington’s beautiful debut novel, Alice Bliss. Then I listed it among the best books I’ve read so far this year. (Not because anyone asked me to; just because I loved it.) Then I got to meet the author and have her sign my book when I went to hear her read at the Boston Public Library (along with Rebecca Makkai, whose debut novel The Borrower I quite enjoyed). And then, last week, I heard about a new campaign Laura’s conducting to send Alice Bliss out to as many states, countries and continents as possible.

If you’re a book blogger, you’re invited to request a free copy of Alice Bliss through Laura’s website. It will come with a Bookcrossing ID plate attached; follow the instructions to register your book on Bookcrossing, then “release” the book in a public place and see where it goes! You can follow the project on Tumblr and Twitter, and track your book’s journey with its Bookcrossing ID. I think this sounds like such fun – and I can’t wait to see where Alice ends up.

In case you aren’t familiar with Alice Bliss, it’s the story of a girl whose father is deployed to Iraq, and how she learns to cope with that – but it’s also a story of young love, separation and grief, the ways we cling to – and learn to release – those who leave us, and the ways families lean on each other. It’s beautifully written and so real, and it honestly provoked both laughter and tears as I read it.

I’m waiting for my copy to come in the mail (I didn’t want to “release” my signed edition), and I’m wondering where to “release” it. An empty bench on the Common? A coffee house? What do you think? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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I know, I know – the Best Books of the Year lists are supposed to wait until December, exploding all over the Internet in the last weeks of the Christmas-shopping frenzy. Of course, that’s months away now. But as y’all know, I read a lot. And I’ve discovered some gems this year.

Not all these books were published in 2011 (though some were), but they’re all books I’ve read since January. Here they are:

Alice Bliss, Laura Harrington
Possibly the best book I’ve read this year. Harrington writes so beautifully and sensitively – I fell in love with Alice and my heart broke for her as she and her family learned to adjust to her dad’s deployment in Iraq. And the supporting cast of characters, including Henry, the boy next door, is wonderful.

The Penderwicks and sequels, Jeanne Birdsall
I’ve gushed about the Penderwicks before – and yes, I know they’re young adult books – but I love young adult books. And what’s not to love about four sisters who are always cooking up new mischief? They’re clever, funny and kind, and they love each other fiercely. Bonus: The stories are set in Massachusetts.

The Weird Sisters, Eleanor Brown
Sisterhood, Shakespeare and quirky family dynamics. Again, what’s not to love? Brown’s writing is gorgeous, and the unique struggles of each sister as they all come to grips with adulthood – pitch-perfect.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
This is a Holocaust story, it’s true – but it’s also the story of a young girl simply trying to live through a fraught and confusing time, without her parents or anyone she knows. I avoided picking it up for a while because I thought it would be grisly (it’s narrated by Death), but instead it’s simply powerful. And heartbreaking. And so, so good. Read it if you haven’t already.

The entire Maisie Dobbs series, Jacqueline Winspear
Technically I discovered Maisie in December – but I spent the first four months of 2011 reading the eight installments (so far) of Maisie’s adventures. I can’t get enough of this quick-witted, kind, poised but vulnerable lady detective and her experiences in 1920s and 1930s London. I’ve learned so much about World War I and its aftereffects in England, and spent time with some fascinating characters.

What’s the best book – or books – you’ve read so far this year?

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Un Amico Italiano: Eat, Pray, Love in Rome, Luca Spaghetti
Like millions of other women (and some men), I loved Eat, Pray, Love – and this was a fun take on the Italy/”eat” part of the story. Luca Spaghetti (that’s really his name!) seems like a nice guy – kind, funny, devoted to food, friends and soccer. And he loves American music – especially James Taylor! A lighthearted, funny tour of Rome from a native Roman, and a fun chance to see Elizabeth Gilbert through someone else’s eyes.

Betsy-Tacy and Betsy-Tacy and Tib, Maud Hart Lovelace
I’ve read both these books a dozen times – but hadn’t picked them back up in years. They were my bedtime reading for a few nights (I can’t handle anything too intense before bed), and they’re just as charming as I remembered. I love the stories of their exploits – making Everything Pudding, cutting off each other’s hair, dyeing sand and Easter eggs, and teasing their bossy big sisters. So fun.

The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein
Annie mentioned this book the other week, and I found a copy at the Brattle and thoroughly enjoyed Enzo’s story. He’s an unusually wise dog with a wry sense of humor and a fierce love for his master, Denny, and Denny’s wife and daughter. I learned a lot about racecar driving – which I’d never been interested in before – and there are some lovely meditations on life sprinkled in. The plot is heartbreaking, but beautifully told – and it ends bittersweetly, but with so much hope.

Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze, Elizabeth Enright
Such a fun conclusion to the Melendy Quartet – a scavenger hunt that lasts all year! I loved watching Randy and Oliver hunt for the next clue, and discover new places and treasures in the process. Fun family moments, as always, abound – the Christmas chapter was particularly lovely.

Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, Maud Hart Lovelace
I love this third installment of the adventures of Betsy, Tacy and Tib – from falling in love with the King of Spain to Cat Duets and Baby Dances. But my favorite part is when the girls go to Little Syria, and discover a whole world of kind, good-hearted people who are proud to be new Americans.

Murder at the Vicarage, Agatha Christie
In preparation for the AC read-along hosted by Book Club Girl and friends, I thought I’d check out the first Miss Marple mystery (though it’s not on the discussion list). I read it in one day – couldn’t go to sleep without finding out who really killed Colonel Protheroe! Charming setting, delightful characters and a wonderfully twisty plot. I can’t wait to dig into more Miss Marple books!

Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright
A fun summer story of two cousins who discover an old abandoned group of houses in a swamp – and a couple of charming old folks who still live there. Not quite as well-drawn or as much fun as the Melendys, but still super fun. The kind of summer adventures kids dream of. (Though I think she could have named the main characters better. Portia and Julian? Really?)

Once Was Lost, Sara Zarr
I’d been hearing about Zarr’s work for a while, and was blown away by this sensitively told story of a struggling pastor’s daughter, who has to deal with an alcoholic mother, a missing girl in her town and an unavailable dad. Sam’s (the narrator’s) voice is so real and honest, and the other characters are also well drawn. I’m not a pastor’s kid, but I am a lifelong church kid – and I remember well how it feels when the answers you’ve always been so sure of start to crumble beneath your feet.

The Coffins of Little Hope, Timothy Schaffert
I read this one on the plane to Nashville. Such a fascinating story of a girl who disappears – or really of her mother and the people in their small Midwestern town, since we never meet the girl. The narrator, Essie, is the town obituary writer and a keen, incisive, often witty observer. Her family members have a few issues of their own, and the writing is beautiful. Totally entertaining and thought-provoking.

The Violets of March, Sarah Jio
Set on lovely Bainbridge Island, this book has a double plotline – a blocked writer with a failed marriage trying to get her life back, and the story of a woman whose 1943 diary holds all kinds of secrets. Interesting, though not quite what I wanted it to be. I’m not sure what was missing – the story is certainly compelling. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

The 4:50 from Paddington, Agatha Christie
Another Miss Marple adventure for this summer’s read-along – so fascinating. It’s always the last person you suspect, of course. Elegantly plotted and well written, and fabulously entertaining. I’m getting hooked on AC!

A Ring of Endless Light, Madeleine L’Engle
Maybe my favorite of the Austin books so far. Vicky must face death for the first time in her life, along with all the usual complications of adolescence. In this fourth book, she’s finally starting to come into her own, as a writer and a woman. L’Engle writes so beautifully and sensitively – her books have so many levels. I loved this one.

Alice Bliss, Laura Harrington
Oh. My. Goodness. I loved this book. Love love loved it. The prose is gorgeous (but beautifully understated); the complicated bonds between the characters are so well drawn. I wanted to walk right through the pages and get to know Alice and her family even better. And I cried at the ending, riding the T on the way home. (Yes, this happens to me occasionally. Yes, I’m sure people think I’m nuts.) One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Story of a Girl, Sara Zarr
After reading Zarr’s latest (see above) I wanted to read her other books. This one, her debut, follows a girl whose life is marked by a mistake she made at 13 – and explores what happens when people insist on labeling you for so long you start to believe them. And what happens when you decide to fight that label – even a little bit.

Sweethearts, Sara Zarr
A sad, beautifully told story of a girl who lost her only friend, reinvented herself, and is totally shocked when he shows back up, eight years later. I wish it had ended differently, but the ending, like the story, is complicated. Lots of layers, like all of Zarr’s writing. (I think she gets better with each book…Once Was Lost is my favorite of her works.)

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