Jenny by Sigrid Undset

Synopsis: A young Norwegian woman pursues her painting in Rome, but when she gets swept up in a romance with a fellow countryman she finds her dreams derailed and her life shattered. Review: Jenny is a realist novel from the Pulitzer Prize winning author of the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, one of my all-time favorite reads. It’s a somber story that reminded me of Theodore Dreiser and EM Forster, delving into the psychology of Jenny, an artist in her late 20s living a bohemian life and…

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James Beard’s American Cookery by James Beard

Synopsis: Oh, yum. Review: James Beard’s American Cookery is my favorite kind of cookbook. Light on pictures, and heavy on techniques like “cut off a piece of the fat, melt it down, and combine it with butter.” I love to cook, and traditional American home cooking is probably my favorite mode. I am so excited to add this book to my collection, so that I can have Bittman vs. Beard face-offs on a near-nightly basis. For example, I looked up “beets.” Both had me cook…

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The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

Synopsis: After flunking the physical portion of his battle school exams, Miles Vorkosigan heads off looking for glory and winds up the admiral of a fleet of mercenaries, making it look like he’s about to declare war on the emperor. Review: I am a huge fan of Lois McMaster Bujold’s fantasy, and many people have recommended the Vorkosigan saga to me. I figured I’d start with The Warrior’s Apprentice, since it’s the one that started it all, if not first chronologically. Space opera is pretty…

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Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

Synopsis: An anorexic girl gets recruited by Death to be one of his horsemen. Review: Hunger had a fabulous concept marred by some uneven execution. I was really invested in Lisabeth’s emotional journey, but felt like the story took a weird turn and moved away from that story into something more epic, and it didn’t work for me. It wasn’t that I minded the fantasy elements, more that I didn’t think that story worked as well on an emotional level. That said, I admired the…

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Love in the Time of Dragons by Katie MacAlister

Synopsis: A mom studying to be a mage wakes up and finds herself imprisoned by people who insist that they are dragons–and that she is one, too. Review: Love in the Time of Dragons is just what the title suggests–a romance novel with dragons. The dragons themselves are shapeshifters who often take human form. The dragons holding Tully tell her she’s an ancient dragon named Ysolde, and her dreams are beginning to reveal that they may be right. But her memories of her present life…

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Purple Jesus by Ron Cooper

Synopsis: A rollicking southern Gothic feast. Review: With inventive prose and eccentric characters, Purple Jesus has a lot going for it. For me, I never really connected with the characters, though I did admire what Ron Cooper has accomplished. I would like to see this book, published by a small, independent publisher, find an audience, so please check it out if you like Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, or John Kennedy Toole. You’ll find a lot to enjoy in this rich book. Share on Facebook

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The Painted Darkness by Brian James Freeman

Synopsis: There’s something in the basement… and Henry is home alone. Review: The Painted Darkness is a slim book with a big debt to Stephen King, plumbing the same sorts of externalized inner horror that he specializes in. That’s not to say that the book is derivative, merely that it wears its influences proudly. Henry is home alone in the middle of a snowstorm, and has to go check the boiler. While down there, he discovers that he is not exactly alone. He then remembers…

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Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Synopsis: The anti-love story of an American marriage. Review: Freedom is a terribly generic name for a totally original novel. I’d prefer “Songs for Walter” or even “Mistakes Were Made.” I’m really not sure how that one slipped by. Anyway. Thoroughly engrossing read about people making each other miserable. It reminded me a lot of Revolutionary Road, a favorite of mine (despite the suckitatious movie). The psychological torture that the characters inflict on one another is exquisite and acute, but somehow hopelessly romantic, too. Franzen…

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The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold

Synopsis: Infected with the spirit of a wolf, an otherwise ordinary man finds himself at the center of a kingmaking conspiracy that requires him to become a shaman or lose his soul forever. Review: The Hallowed Hunt is Lois McMaster Bujold’s third novel set in a world ruled by five capricious and demanding gods. As in the other two books, Bujold melds epic fantasy with a forensic plot and more than a trace of magery for an utterly suspenseful and compelling read. This one also…

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