Fiction Reviews


MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND by Helen Simonson is a delightful British comedy of manners, set in a small English village. A retired army major adjusts to village life, a snobbish, social-climbing son and finds himself attracted to the Pakistani woman who runs a small shop. Told with clever, dry wit and much insight, this funny, polished novel is a joy to read! Recommended by Rochelle
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ISBN: 9780812981223
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Published: Random House Trade - November 30th, 2010

In the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary in the English countryside lives Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson's wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, the Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea.

THE HYPNOTIST by Lars Kepler

THE HYPNOTIST by Lars Kepler, a pseudonym for a literary couple who live in Sweden, isn’t just another brooding Scandinavian crime novel. It’s a worthy successor to Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy. A family is murdered, but there is one survivor: a disturbed adolescent. The story switches to Erik Maria Bark, a well-known psychiatrist and hypnotist who stopped practicing hypnotism several years ago.
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By Lars Kepler, Ann Long (Translator)
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ISBN: 9781250007582
Availability: Out of Print
Published: Picador USA - November 22nd, 2011

A Time Magazine Top 10 Fiction book for 2011
One of the Wall Street Journal's Top 10 Mysteries of the Year 2011

Prepare for The Hypnotist to cast its spell


The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson made me laugh in embarrassing ways, at inappropriate times--I couldn’t help myself--because I took it everywhere until I finished it. Winner of Britain’s Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the book is an exploration of all it means to be Jewish, largely from the perspective of someone who isn’t but desperately wants to be.
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ISBN: 9781608196111
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC - October 12th, 2010

Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular and disappointed BBC worker, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends.


INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS is a gripping historical mystery set in the late 1700s in England. Mrs. Westerman, the unconventional and clever wife of a naval captain and Gabriel Crowther, a reclusive forensics scientist investigate several murders seemingly tied to nearby Thorleigh Hall. This is an intricate, well-written mystery with fascinating characters and a swift pace.
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ISBN: 9780143120407
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Published: Penguin Books - December 27th, 2011

The first novel in the Westerman and Crowther historical crime series that The New York Times Book Review called CSI: Georgian England and Tess Gerritsen called chillingly memorable

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES by Deborah Harkness

If you enjoy novels that are a little bit out of the ordinary, and if you can suspend disbelief when it comes to things otherworldly, then you are going to love Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. A modern-day witch falls in love with a 1500-year-old vampire in this clever and engaging new book. The witch is a scholar, doing research at Oxford’s Bodleian Library when she first meets the vampire. Both of them are on the hunt for an elusive manuscript that will unlock secrets concerning witches, vampires and daemons. This book is well-written, fast-paced and is above all, a touching love story. The author is a professor at the University of Southern California - Davis and has been a recipient of Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships. (Hardcover, $28.95) Recommended by Rochelle.
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ISBN: 9780143119685
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Published: Penguin Books - December 27th, 2011

Book one of the New York Times-bestselling All Souls trilogy--"a wonderfully imaginative grown-up fantasy with all the magic of Harry Potter and Twilight" (People)

FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen

If there is one thing Jonathan Franzen has undoubtably learned, it is that dissing Oprah will create controversy and increase sales, but along with it comes a shadow over your work that will last for over a decade. When people talk about Franzen, the first thing they talk about is the Oprah incident in 2001. This is too bad, because he’s a pretty great novelist.
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ISBN: 9780312576462
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Published: Picador USA - September 27th, 2011

#1 National Bestseller

Winner of the John Gardner Fiction Award

A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist

A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist

Pat’s Favorite Books of 2010

A list of my ten favorite books from the past year, pretty much in order of preference within the two categories: Fiction and Non-Fiction. The only common threads in these picks are that very few have American settings and fewer still are sweet or funny, however, not all are dark and dour either.


Hilary Mantel’s WOLF HALL is subtle, insightful, fascinating. She has completely integrated the historical details into a living portrait of a man, Thomas Cromwell and his development in a very difficult time and place, Henry VIII’s court between 1500 and 1535. Way more than a “historical novel” it’s a study of religious fanaticism, power politics and human compassion. The book won both the Man Booker Award and the National Book Award.

Pearl S. Buck’s THE GOOD EARTH is a classic that I re-read early in the year. And I am still thinking about it almost a year later. The complete arc of a man’s life set in the very violent and devastating era of China in the first quarter of the 20th century. Buck dared to write a colorful, detailed and realistic setting, but it is the character of Wang Lung that really makes this book stay alive.

SCHOOL FOR LOVE by Olivia Manning is a small, quiet, dry and fascinating novel. Manning is too little known probably because she’s such a quiet writer, but nothing I read all year created a sense of place and a sense of loneliness quite like this story of an orphaned teenage boy marooned in Jerusalem right before the end of World War II, at the mercy of a hypocritical and domineering “aunt”.

Jhumpa Lahiri is a super talented writer, especially of short stories. Her first book of stories INTERPRETER OF MALADIES won the Pulitzer Prize, and I loved that one. Her second book of stories, UNACCUSTOMED EARTH, is the one I read this year. It is brilliant. I know lots of people don’t like short stories, but try Lahiri, because these stories allow you to enter a complete world just like a good novel does, and she develops many faceted characters and plot just like a novel too, only with graceful brevity.

Julie Orringer’s first novel THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE is a big, sweeping novel set in Paris in the 1930s then in Hungary during WWII. Her characters are a family of Jewish Hungarians with three smart, talented sons, one of whom is an architecture student on scholarship in Paris. Throughout the first half of the book, the dread of what you know will probably happen to these fascinating characters creates a tension in the reader, and when the violence begins to touch their lives you cannot put this book down. She explores characters, families, and a little known twist on the German government’s inhumane treatment of occupied peoples.

THE CELLIST OF SARAJEVO by Steven Galloway will make you think about the Balkan War of the early 1990s in a different way. The story of four citizens caught in the death trap of the city over a period of two weeks brings the time and place to life. The outrageous behavior of the Serbs bombing and killing citizens of Sarajevo, trying to kill as many Croatians and Bosnians as possible for over two years, without a single international agency or other country stopping the siege is heartbreaking.


WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR by Doris Kearns Goodwin is about as American as baseball, which is a major part of this fine memoir. I put off reading this book because I was afraid it would be too sentimental. But much to my delight, she has written a very unglamorous account of her growing up right outside of New York City in the 1940s up to the mid 50s. Baseball, especially the Brooklyn Dodgers, were a passion for her and her father and mother. Indeed, up and down the streets of this close-knit community were baseball fans, rooting for the Yankees or the New York Giants or for the Dodgers. The illness of her mother, the role of race both in baseball and her community, and the struggle for equal opportunity by some of the girls she knew add depth to this lovely recounting of her growing up.

MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS by Tracy Kidder introduces the reader to Dr. Paul Farmer and his medical mission in Haiti, but it is way more than a biography of do-gooder. Farmer is a force of nature who since 1980s has pioneered medical outreach to rural Haitians and at the same time trained Haitians to do the medical work themselves. Even before the earthquake of 2009, Haiti had few roads, little clean water, desiccated lands because American interventions to dam up rivers, corrupt government aided and abetted by foreign powers. Farmer’s Partners in Health has set itself a huge, unending task. But as if that weren’t enough, Farmer has introduced new protocols for treating tuberculosis throughout the world that the UN’s World Health Organization resisted but finally accepted because it saved so many more lives. Kidder’s writing is clear and detailed, personal and affectionate, but also frustrated and impatient. He strikes a fine balance in introducing you to Farmer’s almost saint-like efforts and the help and frustration of those around him.

A.J. Liebling’s THE ROAD BACK TO PARIS is a volume of the journalist’s work that is now out of print. Other volumes of his New Yorker pieces are available however, and I highly recommend any of them. Every piece he wrote for the New Yorker is full of life, odd and telling details, compassion and sometimes righteous anger at the corruption of people, even the ones on “our side”. He loved boxing, food, France and the men who fought Second World War for the Allies, sometimes mixing up all his passions in one essay. Few journalist write pieces like these any more.

THE BROTHER GARDENERS by Andrea Wulf recounts the way in which the avid gardeners and naturalists of Europe (especially England) in the 1700s changed the course of gardening. By traveling around the globe some naturalist like Joseph Banks brought back species from all over the world and the plants and trees growing today in Kew Garden show you much of what he did. But a man named Collinson and others in England cultivated species of plants and trees mostly provided to them by the intrepid American collector John Bartram, who sent seeds and roots across the ocean many times a year for over 40 years. The cultivation of these specimens and incorporation into cultivated gardens changed what we grow in our own gardens today. It’s a fascinating story and gives new meaning to the concept of “invasive species”.

TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT, the 13th book in the Wheel of Time series continues to be absorbing, following the paths of Rand (The Dragon Reborn), Matt, Perrin, Egwene, and others from the Two Rivers village, who have become involved in stopping The Shadow, who threatens to destroy the world. This series began almost 20 years ago, and picking up the story line was difficult when there was a long break b
Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time #13) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780765364876
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Published: Tor Books - October 4th, 2011

The Wheel of Time (R) is a PBS Great American Read Selection Now in development for TV

Since its debut in 1990, The Wheel of Time(R) by Robert Jordan has captivated millions of readers around the globe with its scope, originality, and compelling characters.

SCHOOL FOR LOVE by Olivia Manning

If you haven’t made the acquaintance of Olivia Manning and her fabulous BALKAN TRIOLOGY and LEVANT TRIOLOGY written abut an English couple caught in Romania and Greece and then Egypt during WWII, I highly recommend them. They were recently reprinted in a single volume. Another of Manning’s books, SCHOOL FOR LOVE has been recently reprinted by New York Review Books.
School for Love (New York Review Books Classics) Cover Image
By Olivia Manning, Jane Smiley (Introduction by)
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ISBN: 9781590173039
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Published: New York Review of Books - February 3rd, 2009

Jerusalem in 1945 is a city in flux: refugees from the war in Europe fill its streets and caf's, the British colonial mandate is coming to an end, and tensions are on the rise between the Arab and Jewish populations. Felix Latimer, a recently orphaned teenager, arrives in Jerusalem from Baghdad, biding time until he can secure passage to England.

FEVER CRUMB by Philip Reeve

Fever Crumb is a great character in a tough spot. In the London of the future, she’s one of the last remaining members of a sub-species of people the rest of the population had hoped they’d exterminated. An orphan with a mysterious scar on the back of her head, Fever has been raised in secret among the member of the Order of Engineers.
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ISBN: 9780545222150
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Published: Scholastic Press - March 1st, 2011

A stunning, new novel by master storyteller Philip Reeve.