Book Reviews

Visit our Recommended Reading page in the Kids section for reviews of children's books >

In her latest collection of personal observations, truisms, and experiences, I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections, author Nora Ephron assembles more life lessons cloaked in pithy, relatable text.

Nora obviously had a few more things to get off her chest after her book I Feel Bad About My Neck. Being a big believer in a refreshing, recuperative rant every now and then, I gleefully listened for her latest editorials. Nora masterfully and lovingly rants about the things we would all rant about if we had the enormous platform or audience to listen.

While there ain’t no rant like an adorable Nora rant, the book’s title is what really drew me in. I have a morosely poor memory, and I was eager to hear what she had to say on the topic—so I could then promptly forget it.

Concerning her own fading memory, Nora concedes, “On some level, my life has been wasted on me. After all, if I can’t remember it, who can?”

(Preach it, sister!)

Nora produces a long list of celebrity encounters that she confesses she can’t recall anything about — like Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. She also admits that the sole thing she recalls about her trip to the White House the evening Richard Nixon resigned was her stolen wallet.

(Hey, I’m not here to judge.)

Every reader loves discovering a first novel no one has read yet and passing it on to other readers who will share the delights of a brand new voice. Look what happened with Sara Gruen and Water for Elephants, Kathryn Stockett and The Help, or Garth Stein and The Art of Racing in the Rain. All became big word-of-mouth titles.

But how about those dusty gems languishing on the bookshelf that didn’t get the big publicity push? They are no less satisfying, delightful and thought-provoking. Readers interested in giving a second life to a first novel may find something worth passing on from these debuts that should have put their authors on the reading map.

Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine by Ann Hood

Two things were certain about Georgia Bottoms.  She was the undisputed belle of Six Points, Alabama, and the only thing she loved more than her appearance was her divine reputation. 

Georgia’s “chicken-fried” charm and “sweet-tea” hospitality also made her the natural choice as Six Points’ unofficial town hostess and goodwill ambassador, until one Sunday in church when the lid was blown off of her entire “gravy and grits” facade.

The seventh novel by Alabama native Mark Childress, Georgia Bottoms, focuses on a 30-something Southern belle who is trying to pretend, for herself and an entire town, that the old-fashioned ways of the aristocratic South still exist in god-fearing, gossip-spreading Six Points, Alabama. 

Just published in February of this year, Georgia Bottoms combines a group of stereotypical southern characters into a tale of crazy situations, sexual misconduct and deceit at its finest.  Georgia appears to be a well-off single woman from a family of old money. She faithfully occupies her pew at the Baptist church every Sunday, dotingly cares for her elderly mother with Alzheimer’s, and selflessly spends hours creating beautiful quilts which she sells at a local store for a bargain price. 

Sarah Vowell is obsessed with history. Also: death. Where does a person with these two intertwined fascinations go on vacation? The answer to that question turns out to be some pretty surprising places.

Vowell's sense of humor and wit keep her travelogue Assassination Vacation from reading like a college textbook on the subject of Presidential assassinations

Part travel memoir, part history, and with a keen eye for the ridiculous (including a self-awareness of her own almost religious zeal for the subject), Vowel's book manages to look into the history of the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley in such a way that keeps you on your toes.

Vowell is a native of Montana, but you’d never know it the way she clings to the East Coast. She doesn’t drive (phobia), so she considers one of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth’s greater faults to be “that he did not have the decency to die within walking distance of a metro stop.” In many ways, Vowell is herself a character as interesting to read about as the historical figures she portrays with such detail. 

'Til Morning Light is the third novel in the Gracelin O'Malley series by Ann Moore. This historical fiction series follows heroine Gracelin as she travels from Ireland to New York to San Francisco in the mid-1800s. 'Til Morning Light concludes Gracelin's journey as she struggles to balance her own personal happiness with the best life possible for her two young children.

Gracelin is planning to marry Captain Reinders as she waits in San Francisco, working as a cook in a house for a local doctor. But many surprises are waiting for Gracelin in San Francisco – a headstrong housekeeper, her own brother hidden in Chinatown, and her one true love.

Gracelin is an extremely strong female character who survived a great deal of turmoil in Ireland before escaping to America. I was surprised at her openness and her ability to adapt to her surroundings.

I also enjoyed the debates on morality and other issues between Gracelin and Dr. Wakefield. I felt that the author was able to delicately handle sensitive issues that did not interfere with the story. I also noticed an appreciation for faith throughout the book, but it was essential to the story and I did not feel as though the author was preaching to me.

Pages