Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci 289 pages

Food has always played an important role in Stanley Tucci’s life. As a first generation Italian-American, he appreciated the making and eating of pasta and Bolognese sauce. Through Tucci’s vivid, sometimes mouth-watering, descriptions of family dinners and meals he has had throughout the world, his life unfolds. From his childhood in Westchester, New York to his present home in London, England, Tucci illustrates how food and the rest of life are interrelated.

Stanley Tucci’s memoir is a must read for foodies, especially those who appreciate Italian cooking. Taste is humorous, well-written and delicious!

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci 289 pages

On Animals by Susan Orlean 288 pages

Susan Orlean is an animal lover, and although she admits it on page one of her most recent work of nonfiction, the fifteen essays in On Animals is further proof that she is. The main characters range from show dogs to chickens to oxen to pandas. Her travels take her to Morocco, South Africa and Cuba.

Susan Orlean is a great writer of nonfiction. On Animals is heartwarming, interesting and humorous. She even makes taxidermy fascinating!!! I think anyone and everyone would enjoy On Animals, but especially people who love and respect animals.

On Animals by Susan Orlean 288 pages

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen 580 pages

This is approximately a year in the life of the Hildebrandt family in the early 70’s. Father Russ is a minister at a nondenominational church in suburban Chicago. He is unhappy about his marriage and his role in the church. Mother Marion has a secret past that is catching up with her psychologically. They have four children-Clem, Becky, Perry and Judson. Clem is in a relationship at the University of Illinois and is toying with the idea of enlisting. Becky is pretty, popular and heavily into Christianity. Perry is a drug dealer and user. and Judson is an obedient, happy young boy-as of now.

Jonathan Franzen is not for everyone, but I think he’s a terrific writer. He has a way of making his readers uncomfortable, yet they still have the strong urge to continue reading. Crossroads is the first of a trilogy. I’m looking forward to reading the next two novels about this extremely interesting family.

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen 580 pages

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles 576 pages

After being released from a work farm having committed involuntary manslaughter, Emmett Watson and his unbelievably mature and capable eight year old brother Billy want to travel on the Lincoln Highway. They hope to find their mother in San Francisco on July 4th, 1954. However, before they can even begin their journey, they are surprised by a visit from Duchess and Woolly who have plans of their own- plans that would send Emmett and Billy in the opposite direction.

If I gave The Lincoln Highway a grade, it would be a C. The characters are unrealistic, and the plot is predictable. I finished the book because I thought it would get better; unfortunately it did not. Judging from his first two works, I know Amor Towles is capable of a better read than The Lincoln Highway.

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles 576 pages

The Magician by Colm Toibin 498 pages

Toibin’s fictionalized work about Thomas Mann describes the great writer’s life in prose similar to Mann’s. Although all of his works were written in German, Thomas Mann was famous and appreciated throughout Europe and the United States. His wife was from a wealthy Munich family and was one quarter Jewish. They had six children-all creative, head strong and unorthodox. Although hailed as one of the greatest authors of the 20th century, Thomas Mann was a man without a country. He moved from Germany to Switzerland to Los Angeles and then back to Switzerland, never completely comfortable anywhere.

Toibin is an excellent writer who portrays Mann as a gifted, complex, rigid, sometimes aggravating “magician.” If you’ve read his most well known works, The Magician will be especially enjoyable.

The Magician by Colm Toibin 498 pages

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr 622 pages

Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr has written a tome which covers eight centuries with five main characters in numerous settings. An ancient book figures in each of the character’s lives.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is a fine novel if you are willing to read about 300 pages before you get a feel for the characters and the direction the plot is moving towards. I couldn’t get into it until the final 150 pages. If you greatly admired All the Light We Cannot See, I think you might be disappointed in Doerr’s latest work.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr 622 pages

Olga by Bernhard Schlink 260 pages

Bernhard Schlink, the German author best known for The Reader, describes first hand, second hand and through her letters, the life of Olga Rinke. Raised by a grandmother who didn’t love her, Olga falls in love with Herbert, and man with wanderlust whose parents and sister want him to marry a woman of his social class-a class Olga does not belong to. Through hard work, Olga becomes a teacher who teaches German students before during and after WWI.

Through skillful and creative writing, Olga becomes a realistic, multi-dimensional character. What Schlink’s novel lacks in dramatics, it makes up for in artistic nuances.

Olga by Bernhard Schlink 260 pages

Bewilderment by Richard Powers 288 pages

Nominated from The Man Booker Award and The National Book Award this year, Bewilderment is about Theo Byrne, a widower and his nine year old son, Robin. Theo is an astrobiologist at The University of Wisconsin. His son is very bright but has behavioral difficulties, especially at school, but Theo is hesitant about medicating him. When a colleague suggests that a neurofeedback experiment might help Robbie, Theo agrees to pursue it.

Very different from The Overstory which I loved, Bewilderment is just as riveting and also a blend of science and literature. Robbie is a unique, charming, empathetic character. Powers writes a lot about science and a look into the future, but because his story is mostly about a father and son who love each other, I didn’t mind.

Bewilderment by Richard Powers 288 pages

In Kiltumper: A Year in an Irish Garden by Niall Williams with Christine Breen 279 pages

The authors have been living in a stone house in Kiltumper, Ireland for 34 years. The house has belonged to the Breens for five generations. The authors have raised two children in the house, met some wonderful neighbors and planted an unbelievable constantly evolving garden. With the news that wind turbines are to be erected right next to their property, Niall and Christine feel that they must record the next year in Kiltumper because it just may be their final year in this rainy, wind-swept, magnificent place.

If you enjoyed This Is Happiness and/or History of the Rain, you will want to read In Kiltumper. Yes, it is a gardening book, but it is so much more. Both authors write with wit, compassion and intelligence throughout the memoir. Also, always in the authors’ and readers’ minds as they progress through the year is the question: what is most important progress, nature or history?

In Kiltumper: A Year in an Irish Garden by Niall Williams with Christine Breen 279 pages

The Heron’s Cry by Ann Cleeves 382 pages

In Cleeve’s second Matthew Venn mystery , she focuses on a suicide and the murder of the man who was investigating the suicide. With the help of his assistants, Jen Rafferty and Ross May, Venn finally gets to the bottom of this and other alarming crimes occurring in the quaint, usually quiet, English village in Devon.

I rarely read mysteries with the exception of those by Ann Cleeves. I love her descriptions of the English countryside, her endings are never predictable and Matthew Venn is a unique, admirable detective-gay, very proper and guilt-ridden.

The Heron’s Cry by Ann Cleeves 382 pages