Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Poisoned Season

A Poisoned Season A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander

Book 13 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had a brainwave tonight.  I decided I like these books the same way I like the Maisie Dobbs books.  Maisie is set post-WW1 and this is late-Victorian.  But they are both plucky heroines, not afraid to use their talents and ingenuity regardless of societal influences.  

A Poisoned Season picks up a few months after And Only to Deceive finishes.  Lady Ashton becomes involved in the disappearance of Marie Antoinette's belongings and a double murder. I thought the mystery component was even better in this one, although the romance was a little flatter. Still, I loved it and I can't wait to get the next one!

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dear Exile

Dear Exile : The True Story of Two Friends Separated (for a Year) by an Ocean Dear Exile : The True Story of Two Friends Separated (for a Year) by an Ocean by Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery

Book 12 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book contains real-life letters between best friends. Hilary is single in NYC and Kate is a newly-married Peace Corp volunteer in Kenya.  

I have a hard time trashing the characters here, because they are real people with real feelings. But, if you are going to publish your private correspondence for all the world to see, I guess you open yourself up to a lot of scrutiny.  So, let's just say that Hilary and I would never be friends.

Kate is so genuine and heartfelt in her letters.  You can feel her inner struggles to do the right thing and her desire to change the world.  Her letters are long and meaningful, rich in detail of her life in Kenya.  But Hilary's letters were mostly about her sexual exploits, her lousy luck in love, a job she hates and her apartment woes.  I will give Hilary humor points though.  She had me laughing out loud a couple of times.

Pick it up if you have a penchant for Africa or travel memoirs.  It was a quick read, but really just OK for me in the end.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Garden Spells

Garden Spells Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Book 4 of 25 for the Support Your Local Library Challenge
Book 11 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have seen lots of rave reviews about this book and I decided I was in the mood for a little magical realism.  Garden Spells is an inviting fairy tale about two sisters struggling with their past set in Bascom, North Carolina.  Claire Waverley is a genius with food.  She has a magical garden that she uses to evoke emotions in those she caters for.  Everyone important in her life has left her--her mom, grandmother, and sister.  So she only values things that she knows are permanent, and she's afraid to let the unexpected in. Sydney Waverley is the younger sister.  She left town right after high school and disappeared for 10 years.  As the prodigal daughter, she returns with a five year old daughter and not a lot of answers about where she has been.

I really became enchanted by this book.  I let myself suspend belief as I immersed myself in a world where flowers make beautiful food, lovers give off purple auras, and the wind carries scents of the past.  I loved Evanelle, the old relative who runs around town giving everyone little trinkets they will need in the future--like mango slicers, sheets, and quarters.  It was a book full of delectable details.

I can't recommend this book wholesale because there are some rated R moments that made me uncomfortable. There is some brief strong language, some sexual themes, and an instance of sexual violence. But overall, this is a really unique book by a promising author.  I look forward to checking out her next book, The Sugar Queen

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

And Only to Deceive

And Only to Deceive And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

Book 10 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish I could remember how this book ended up on my to-read list.  But, to whomever or however it happened, I am truly grateful.  I loved this book! 

This book is first in a series starring Lady Ashton, a young widower who married only to escape her domineering mother set in Victorian England.  She wasn't truly in mourning for her husband, whom she had only known for a short time, but her rank ensured she acted the part.

Emily Ashton has a rebellious edge to her.  She values education and art, mythology and poetry. In short, all things a lady of her rank should disregard.  She struggles with wanting more freedom than social customs allow, but at the same time she uses those social customs to her advantage.  She knows that prior to her marriage, she was more shallow than she should have been.  But the death of her husband forces her to become introspective about who she is and what she wants from her life.   

This book has a lot of great elements:  a little intrigue, art history, beautiful settings with far-flung locales, some romance, Greek artifacts and mythology, and a struggling heroine.  I'm looking forward to watching Emily's increasingly complex character grow in the next books.  I'll definitely be heading out to get the next in the series.  

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A Bride Most Begrudging

A Bride Most Begrudging A Bride Most Begrudging by Deeanne Gist

Book 9 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Book 10 of 10 for the Book Awards Reading Challenge

Award: 2006 Christy Award
rating: 3 of 5 stars

Christian author Deeanne Gist's enjoyable novel is about an young girl from an aristocratic family in England who is kidnapped aboard a bride ship headed for America. Set in Virginia in the late 1600's, this book details a rugged life on a tobacco plantation where the Whites have a very tenuous relationship with Native Americans. Once Constance arrives, she is forced to marry handsome Drew O'Connor against her will. But, Constance hopes she can ultimately return to England to edit the mathematical journal for ladies her uncle had started.

I was slightly annoyed that Gist used another Bible than the King James Version since that would have been historically accurate. But, that's just a minor complaint. The book is really just a nice clean historical fiction romance. It's great if you are in the mood for a relaxing escapist read. Personally, I preferred The Measure of a Lady, but if you find you enjoy this genre, I recommend this as well.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Book 3 of 3 for the Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge
Book 1 of 12 for the 2009 YA Challenge
Book 8 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had never read this classic American novel before so I was excited my in-person book club chose it as our January read.  

Francie Nolan is a young girl, coming of age in poverty-stricken Brooklyn during the 1910s with an alcoholic father, a determined mother, and a brother who is truly her best friend.  Francie's mother has taught her that the key to escaping from the cycle of poverty is education.  So Francie sets out to do all she can to support her mother's wishes.  But deep down Francie and her father share a stronger bond that makes her life richer and more meaningful. 

There isn't really a strong plot, so I didn't think it was exactly a page-turner.  But it's told so beautifully that there were passages I actually pored over.  It's a story of love, grief and survival that I certainly recommend.  

I don't think I'll look at a penny the same ever again.  

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Wife in the North

Wife in the North Wife in the North by Judith O'Reilly

Book 2 of 3 for the Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge
Book 7 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I knew I was going to like this memoir.  There was just so much I could relate to.  I've been there--moving far from home whilst pregnant because my husband asked me to and hanging out with little kids all day long with its ensuing insanity while said husband is MIA and I am left wondering what happened to that great career I was going to have.  But Judith O'Reilly puts all of her thoughts and feelings into words with such raw grace and honesty, I could never express myself as she does.  Plus, Judith lives in England, so you get the advantage of reading a book with decidedly British words like 'whinge' and 'bap' and 'blimey'.

Judith is a journalist who had a great career living in London.  In her mid-30s she married and started having children.  Her husband always loved Northumberland (a county near Scotland) and they had a small cottage home there.  But, Judith's husband wanted to move there on a trial basis for two years to see if they could make it work.  And Judith agreed to give it a go.

The first 113 pages of the book are from Judith's diary.  But in late 2006, Judith decided to start a blog to express her feelings, and her blog entries comprise the last 222 pages.  This book also includes a reading group guide and a discussion with Judith at the end.  I loved it when Judith says:
I have my doubts though whether we will ever really belong.  You decide whether you can live with being on the outside of things.  I have decided we can.
I can see where people might think Judith complains a lot.  But, everyone blogs for different reasons--creative interest, to connect, share, keep memories, or let off steam.  I think Judith's book will strike a chord with a lot of women who change their life course for their husband and children.  Check out her blog here.  (One disclaimer: Judith does use some strong language from time to time.)

Thanks to Julie at FSB Associates for the opportunity to review this book!

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Belong to Me

Belong to Me: A Novel Belong to Me: A Novel by Marisa de los Santos

rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book picks up a couple of years after Love Walked In left off.  I can't give much in the way of a plot synopsis without ruining Love Walked In.  But, there's Cornelia in the suburbs, a "perfect" neighbor named Piper (who is the society queen bee), and an extraordinarily bright 13-year old named Dev.  The Cornelia chapters are in first person, and the Piper and Dev chapters are in third person.  As can be expected, their stories collide in dramatic, intense and heartbreaking ways.

Belong to Me is a lot more involved than Maria de los Santos' first novel. It's a book about secrets and lies, and letting go and trusting, and loyalty and forgiveness.  I wasn't quite expecting that, but you definitely bite off quite a bit when you pick this book up.  I struggled a little through the Dev chapters and the serious drama in this book was a little overdone for me. 

I liked it, but I just liked Love Walked In more.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

2009 YA Challenge

The challenge is to read 12 YA novels in 2009.  I'm pretty sure I won't have any trouble with this one.  Here's some books that qualify on my TBR:
  • Uglies
  • Poison Study
  • Hattie Big Sky
  • The Adoration of Jenna Fox
  • The Loser's Guide to Life and Love
  • My Most Excellent Year:  A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park
  • Suite Scarlett
  • How I Live Now

Because of Winn-Dixie

Because of Winn-Dixie Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Book 5 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Book 9 of 10 for the Book Awards Reading Challenge

Awards: BCCB Blue Ribbon Book; NCTE Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts; Newbery Honor; Parent's Choice Award/Honor Book; SLJ Best Book; Josette Frank Children's Book Award; State Award; Smithsonian's Notable Book; Book Sense Book of the Year Award/Honorees; Publishers Weekly Best Book; Young Reader's Choice Award/Nominee; ABC (Assoc. of Booksellers for Children) Choice Award; ALA Notable/Best Books; Judy Lopez Memorial Award for Children's Literatur

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Opal is a lonely 10-year old who has just moved to a small Florida town where her father is a preacher. She misses her mother desperately, although she left when Opal was only three. However, Opal's sad summer begins to change when she takes in a stray dog that she names Winn-Dixie.

Overall, this is a sweet, somewhat melancholy, touching book about making friends.

Recommended for girls ages 8+.
(This is another Battle of the Books selection.)

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P.S. I haven't seen the movie. Should I?

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time (Time, Book 1) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Book 8 of 10 for the Book Awards Reading Challenge

Awards: NCTE Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts; Newbery Medal; SLJ Best Book

rating: 3 of 5 stars

My daughter read this one for Battle of the Books and I decided to read along with her since I'd never read this one before. My 8-year old loved it, and for me it was OK. I mean, I get why this book is loved, but I also get why I don't love it.

A Wrinkle in Time fantastic fantasy, but there isn't enough character development for me. I wanted to develop more of a relationship with Meg, her brother Charles Wallace and their friend Clint as they traveled through time and space, fought the IT, and found their dad. But, I just didn't.

I also get that fantasy is essentially about good versus evil. But, I wasn't totally comfortable with how religion was integrated into the story.

Maybe I should have read it when I was younger?

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Book 1 of 3 for the Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge
Book 4 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Book 2 of 25 for the Support Your Local Library Challenge

rating: 5 of 5 stars

I heard a lot about this book in conjunction with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which I read last year. Both books are epistolary in nature containing letters between a bookseller and a collector. However 84, Charing Cross Road is the real-life account of Helene Hanff's correspondence with the employees of Marks & Co. bookshop in London beginning in 1949.

Most of the letters are between Helene and Frank Doel, although Frank's wife, a neighbor and other Marks & Co. employees wrote as well. Unlikely friends (Helene was a sarcastic, witty, cigarette-smoking, martini-drinking Jewish scriptwriter in New York and Frank was a conservative British bookseller) Helene and Frank wrote for nearly 20 years as Frank procured hard-to-find secondhand classic texts to suit Helene's eclectic literary taste. Helene appreciated the shop so much, she sent them generous food and clothing items that were rationed in England during the time and in return they sent her books and other gifts.

A story about the true nature of kindness and love, humanity and friendship, this is well worth the hour it takes to read it. This book is a real gem. It had me both laughing and teary-eyed. I highly recommended it!

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Love Walked In

Love Walked In Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

Book 3 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

rating: 4 of 5 stars

You know what? I liked it...a lot. I know it had flaws and I know some parts might even not be plausible, but I was drawn into the voices hook, line and sinker. 

Cornelia is a 31-year old woman who works as a cafe manager in Philadelphia.  She loves old movies (and although I'm not a classical movie buff, the frequent references throughout the book to them did not bother me) and shopping in antique stores.  She is college educated and very smart, but hasn't quite figured out what will make her truly happy in life.  Everything changes for her the day a Cary Grant look-alike comes in to the cafe.

Clare is an 11-year old girl living in the suburbs with her single mom.  Clare is extremely bright and creative and attends a swanky private school.  Her mother comes from old money and they want for nothing...except Clare's mother hasn't been acting like herself and Clare is scared and very worried.

Each chapter in the book alternates from Cornelia's to Clare's perspectives.  Cornelia's chapters were my favorites because they were told in first person.  I thought it was a little strange that Clare's chapters were told in third person, but I got over it.  The writing is so beautiful, in the way it is lyrical yet tight, and so full of meaning and dichotomy.  It's hard to believe this is Marisa de los Santos' first novel.

I think this is a great book to curl up with and reading clubs would enjoy discussing it.  There is a smattering of offensive language and sexual content, but nothing egregious.  Overall, I really enjoyed the time I spent with this and I ran out to the library to get Belong to Me (the sequel) right after I closed the book.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Lydia Bennet's Story

Lydia Bennet's Story: A Sequel to Pride and Prejudice Lydia Bennet's Story: A Sequel to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Odiwe

Published by: Sourcebooks Landmark
Published on:  October 1, 2008

Book 2 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

She really is the silliest girl in all England.

Thankfully, Odiwe doesn't make her any less silly in this sequel, but you do understand why Lydia is the way she is and what motivates her rash decisions. This book is told in both journal and third person narratives, providing an interesting perspective on the events we know so well from Pride and Prejudice. The novel continues Lydia's story after her marriage to George Wickham, which you'll have to read if you want to see how it all turns out. Needless to say, it happens a lot as I imagined it would, except for the ending. Let's just say, it was all tied up a little too "happily ever after" for me.

Lydia Bennet's Story is a fun Regency period read. It was a little naughty for me in some parts, complete with heaving bosoms, but overall I found it enjoyable and true to the Austen spirit.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Every Soul a Star

Every Soul A Star Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book 1 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Book 1 of 25 for the Support Your Local Library Challenge

This middle grade fiction book is told in three voices--Ally, Bree and Jack. Ally lives at the Moon Shadow campground that her family has run for years. Bree is the popular girl at school who cares about fashion and friends and tries to distance herself from her scientist parents as much as possible. Jack is an overweight loner who loves art and fantasy and is headed to summer school for failing science.

In one summer, these three 8th graders are brought together for a very special event: A total solar eclipse.

Over just a couple of weeks Ally, Bree and Jack learn a lot about themselves and the world. Each one is forced out of their comfort zones as they face up to change and responsibility. The truths of the book are universal though for any age and really hit me hard because of some things going on in my own life right now. I promptly burst into tears when I finished this book causing my husband to exclaim: What a terrible book! But, in actuality, it's a great book and one I definitely recommend.

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Oh, and this book totally made me want to see a total solar eclipse someday. Here's the info from NASA on the next one:
On Wednesday, 2009 July 22, a total eclipse of the Sun is visible from within a narrow corridor that traverses half of Earth. The path of the Moon's umbral shadow begins in India and crosses through Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and China. After leaving mainland Asia, the path crosses Japan's Ryukyu Islands and curves southeast through the Pacific Ocean where the maximum duration of totality reaches 6 min 39 s. A partial eclipse is seen within the much broader path of the Moon's penumbral shadow, which includes most of eastern Asia, Indonesia, and the Pacific Ocean.
Unfortunately, I don't think I'm going to make it!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

2009 Book Challenges

I've decided on the following challenges for 2009:

I'm still participating in the Book Awards Reading Challenge which runs until June.

So far I've read:
  1. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! (BCCB Blue Ribbon Book; Newbery Medal; Parent's Choice Award/Honor Book; SLJ Best Book; Booklist Editors' Choice; ALA Notable/Best Books; Kirkus Editors Choice)
  2. An Abundance of Katherines (Booklist Editors' Choice; Horn Book Fanfare; -Michael Printz Award/Honor Book; ALA Best Book for Young Adults; Kirkus Editors Choice)
  3. The Road Home (Orange Broadband Prize)
  4. Ender's Game (Nebula Award/Finalist; Margaret A. Edwards Award; ALA Best Book for Young Adults)
  5. The Glass Castle (Book Sense Book of the Year Award/Honorees; Booklist Editors' Choice; Alex Award/Honor)
  6. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (YALSA Best Books for YA)
  7. The Hunger Games (SLJ Best Book; Publishers Weekly Best Book; Horn Book Fanfare; Kirkus Editors Choice)
Book possibilities to finish:
  • Bel Canto
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog
  • The Sparrow
  • The City of Ember
One of my bookish goals for the year is to read over 100 books since I am no longer in school.  So, I'm joining J. Kaye's 100+ Reading Challenge.

There's no way I can list 100 books here, but to see a list of books on my TBR shelf (which currently has 97 books on it), click here.

Another J. Kaye challenge I'm joining is the 2009 Support Your Local Library Challenge.  This one is a natural for me since I have a degree in library science and I'm at the library at least once a week.  
Last year I read 44 books from the library.  So, just to be safe, I'm going to join the challenge at the 25 book level, although I may well get to 50.  If I quit being such a bookmooch, used bookstore, and library book sale junkie I would do better.  But, I've also got a lot of unread books on my shelf that I want to get to this year.

I'm also joining in Melissa's Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge.  The rules of the challenge are as follows:

Rule #1: The challenge runs from January 1 to March 31. (No cheating and starting before!)

Rule #2: You must read three books. After that, it's up to you how much you want to read.

Rule #3: The books must:

have a food name in the title
be about cooking/eating
have a place name in the title
be about one (or more) person's travel experience
be about a specific culture
be by an author whose ethnicity is other than your own (see, I squeezed it in!)
I'll leave it up to you to choose how the three books you read fit the criteria.

Rule #4: They must be middle-grade on up, but can be either fiction or non-fiction.
My possibilities include:
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  • The House on Tradd Street
  • The City of Ember
  • Elijah of Buxton
  • Sister of My Heart
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
  • The Known World
  • Loved Walked In
  • Esperanza Rising
Finally, I plan on joining in on the Once Upon a Time Challenge, the Southern Reading Challenge and the Orbis Terrarum Challenge as they start! 

Should be a fun year!

Home Girl

Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block by Judith Matloff

Date published:  June 24, 2008
Publisher:  Random House

This is a memoir written by a foreign news correspondent who got married and decided to set down roots in Harlem with her Dutch husband. It is an interesting look into life on a crack-infested street where drug dealers traded right on their doorstep.

Perhaps I was looking more for The Money Pit when I read this book, but the slow process of restoring their home got a little tedious for me after awhile.  Granted, I can't imagine what it was like for them!  I also don't think Judith was really blindly buying this house without realizing what kind of mess she was going to have on her hands--both structurally within the house and socially on the outside.  (She is a native New Yorker and journalist after all.) But, I do think the house was a fabulous investment and she has an incredible amount of square footage for a Manhattanite, including some very interesting tenants!

I enjoyed the last half of the book the most.  The house is basically done and author has a chance put on her obviously capable reporter hat. She details how September 11th affected her life and neighborhood, how the AA 587 crash in the Bronx affected the street dealers, and how the August 14, 2003 energy blackout brought together a community. I would recommend this for those interested in the social activist side of the book (Judith attended many police-community meetings to encourage the politicians to clean up the neighborhood) as well as those interested in sociological change and dynamics.

It was really fun to watch this trailer after reading the book because you actually get to see the house and meet some of the "characters" in the book.  Do beware, there is some colorful language in the trailer as well as in the book:

Also reviewed by:
Thanks to Julie at FSB Associates for the book!

2008 Top 10

Well, I read 90 books in 2008 which I am pretty pleased about since my goal was to read 52.  

Of my Top 10 favorite, 6 are YA.  I have one non-fiction favorite in Outliers, but The Last Lecture deserves a very honorable mention.  I've highlighted my favorites in red:

90. Preach My Gospel (not reviewed)
89. The Hunger Games *
88. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks *
87. P.S. I Love You
86. Rules *
85. A Christmas Carol
84. Fairest
83. Charity Girl
82. Ender in Exile
81. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!
80. Engaging Father Christmas
79. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
78. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
77. Regency Buck
76. Outliers *
75. Finding Father Christmas
74. An Abundance of Katherines
73. Foreordained (not reviewed)
72. The Book of Mormon **
71. Life After Genius
70. American Wife
69. Ender's Game
68. Ramona and Her Mother
67. Deep in the Heart of Trouble
66. Chasing Diana
65. Water Street
64. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination
63. Persepolis 2
62. Rapunzel's Revenge
61. Someone Like You
60. Can't Wait to Get to Heaven
59. The Off Season *
58. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
57. Dairy Queen
56. The Truth About Forever *
55. The Weaver Takes a Wife *
54. The Measure of a Lady
53. The Road Home
52. The Wednesday Sisters
51. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas *
50. The Heretic's Daughter
49. Gap Creek
48. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
47. The Glass Castle
46. Three Cups of Tea
45. The Thief
44. Breaking Dawn
43. Right Ho, Jeeves *
42. Harris and Me
41. The Widow of the South
40. The English American
39. Othello
38. Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man
37. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
36. The Good Earth *
35. So Brave, Young, and Handsome
34. Did I Expect Angels? *
33. What Love Is
32. Comfort Food
31. The Orchid Thief
30. The Host
29. The Last Lecture *
28. The Red Leather Diary
27. Unaccustomed Earth
26. Dreamers of the Day *
25. The Book Thief *
24. Everything Bad is Good for You
23. The Miracle at Speedy Motors
22. The Other Boleyn Girl
21. What Leaders Need to Know and Do
20. The 13th Reality: The Journal of Curious Letters
19. Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians
18. The Long Tail
17. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
16. An Incomplete Revenge *
15. Jane Austen in Scarsdale
14. Book of a Thousand Days *
13. A Great and Terrible Beauty
12. Bound on Earth
11. Sarah: Women of Genesis
10. The Next Thing on My List
9. The Friday Night Knitting Club
8. The Alchemist *
7. The Goose Girl *
6. Ophelia
5. People of the Book *
4. Mansfield Park
3. Northanger Abbey
2. Persuasion *
1. The Shadow of the Wind *