Book Reviews

Nora Webster cover

BOOK REVIEW| Nora Webster

Nora Webster takes place around Wexford, Ireland, an area I’m reasonably familiar with. (I kept a ‘Complete Road Atlas of Ireland’- like the Delorme Maine Gazetteer – open as I read; I like to try to visualize/imagine that way.) Taking place in the late 1960’s, I have no problem imagining that time (Nora’s older son… Read more

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Maine Readers' Choice Award logo

Maine Readers’ Choice Award 2015 Long List

The Maine Readers’ Choice Award screening committee has spent months reading submitted titles (approximately 125 titles) for the 2015 award. Three Maine authors have made the list this year. The shortlist will be announced in March. Happy reading!! The books are not listed in any particular order. The 2015 Maine Readers’ Choice Award Long List The Wind is Not a… Read more

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Redeployment book cover

“Redeployment” wins National Book Award

The short story collection Redeployment by Iraq Veteran Phil Klay recently won the National Book Award for Fiction. His essay “After War, A Failure of Imagination” and his short stories are important for the work we are doing in our Veterans programming. His interview by Terry Gross on Fresh Air is worth listening to. About Redeployment (from Terry Gross’s introduction… Read more

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The Art of Dahlov Ipcar Book Cover

BOOK REVIEW | The Art of Dahlov Ipcar

One of the opening pages of Carl Little’s The Art of Dahlov Ipcar strikes the mood of the folktale world, tinged with the energy, magic, and power: a fox turns back its head, teeth bared, as partridges rise in gorgeous brown haste to fly in all directions (Fox Moon). This is one mood of Dahlov… Read more

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Rachel Carson Book Cover

BOOK REVIEW | Rachel Carson, Witness for Nature

Rachel Carson, perhaps best known for her groundbreaking book, Silent Spring, which exposed the dangers of chemicals like DDT, was a quiet and intensely private individual. Yet, coupled with these traits, Linda Lear’s biography, Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature, demonstrates that Carson possessed incredible strength and conviction. These characteristics ultimately led her to place herself under… Read more

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Shutter Island Book Cover

BOOK REVIEW | Shutter Island

This was a heart-racing, breath-taking psychological thriller, that I could not put down (truly). Forego the new movie, of the same name, and read this thriller about an asylum for the the criminally insane. It’s 1954, and U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule have arrived on Shutter Island where a patient has gone missing…. Read more

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American Prometheus book cover

BOOK REVIEW | American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

Just from its title one can deduce how complicated J. Robert Oppenheimer’s legacy is.  We all know him as the “Father of the Atomic Bomb”, but that oversimplifies this complex genius and the work he produced. Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin tackled a huge subject in Oppenheimer, and produced an engaging, comprehensive biography, one… Read more

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A Seed Is Sleepy Diana Hutts Aston

BOOK REVIEW | A Seed is Sleepy

Winter in Maine fuels a hunger for gardening that becomes nearly all-consuming by March. This can affect children, too, and A Seed is Sleepy—by Diana Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long—can do much to alleviate it. Long’s pictures of familiar and unusual plants, from the bean to the date palm (an extinct plant brought back… Read more

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Eve Bunting So Far From the Sea

BOOK REVIEW | So Far From the Sea

Bunting is outstanding in her ability to create thoughtful stories that address hard topics with warmth and hope. It addresses this issue in the New Books, New Readers theme of Carrying the Past: What do we choose from our past to preserve as a family or cultural memory?  It is told in first person by… Read more

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Haruki Murakami Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki

BOOK REVIEW | Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

It’s not uncommon to lose track of your best friends in high school. New jobs, new lives, and sometimes even different colleges can do the trick. But most of us find comfort in the new. While we may connect with our best friends from the past at a later point, we come to these friendships… Read more

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BOOK REVIEW | The Wilderness from Chamberlain Farm

We read the series ‘Defining Wilderness, Defining Maine‘ a few years ago [during the Let’s Talk About It program]. Dean Bennett and his wife visited with us when we were discussing his book The Wilderness from Chamberlain Farm.  His visit led to greater insight of the area and led to a wonderful discussion with our participants’… Read more

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Erik Larson devil in the white city

BOOK REVIEW | The Devil and the White City

I enjoyed The Devil and the White City by Erik Larson in the ‘Gilded Age‘ [Let’s Talk About It] series . I was intrigued by the greed and corruption, and then the tenacity of the designers and builders in getting the project completed. This is a good example of ‘history repeating itself’. We can look… Read more

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Linda Hogan solar storms

BOOK REVIEW | Solar Storms

Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms was the final reading in the 2006 Literature & Medicine program at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Hogan’s novel about a young woman’s quest to heal her broken spirit added an important perspective to a series of readings exploring how we heal and where healing comes from. Earlier readings focused on… Read more

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BOOK REVIEW | You Know When the Men Are Gone

Siobhan Fallon’s short story collection, You Know When the Men are Gone, explores the insulated world of Fort Hood and the little publicized life of army wives, the base’s primary inhabitants when the soldiers go overseas to fight. The stories focus on the particular stresses and intricate relationships among the women on the base. Although… Read more

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Jonathan Shay Odysseus in America

BOOK REVIEW | Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming

Jonathan Shay is a retired psychiatrist in the Department of Veterans Affairs in Boston; he has worked for more than twenty years to address the difficulties that Vietnam veterans have faced in re-integrating to American life. Odysseus in America is his follow-up to his groundbreaking book, Achilles in Vietnam. Throughout both works, Shay illuminates the… Read more

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Roddy Doyle woman who walked into doors

BOOK REVIEWS | The Woman Who Walked Into Doors

When Paula Spencer hears another woman in the Emergency Room say she walked into a door, she believes her completely, decides she must have been running chasing the kids. “I never once thought that I wasn’t the only one who’d been put there by her husband.” The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle… Read more

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Katherine Dunn Geek Love


Imagine growing up in a family in which your siblings include one with flippers instead of arms and legs, conjoined twins who share one body from the waist down, and one capable of telekinesis and removing physical pain from others. (The siblings who did not survive are preserved in jars and carefully tended by the… Read more

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Tracy Kidder mountains beyond mountains

BOOK REVIEW | Mountains Beyond Mountains

An exploration of contemporary morality: Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains I don’t know Paul Farmer, but I’ll bet his favorite mantra is: “Just Say No To Authority!” Farmer is the physician activist who’s the subject of this book, subtitled: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. Farmer would certainly… Read more

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Donald Hall Without


One of the more arresting images in Donald Hall’s 1998 poetry collection, Without— written in memory of his late wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, who died of leukemia in 1995 at age 48 — shows up during a meditation on Kenyon’s chemotherapy treatments. In “The Ship Pounding,” one of 20 short poems in the collection,… Read more

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Alice Munro Runaway


Runaway, a 2004 collection of short stories by Alice Munro, depicts people and situations rooted in real life who make imperfect choices with broad consequences, and, as in real life, nothing is ever simple. Its title story is a key component of Literature & Medicine’s new series for professionals who work with domestic violence. Staff and… Read more

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Sandy Phippen Sturge a Memoir

BOOK REVIEW | Sturge: A Memoir

Sturge: A Memoir, is a recent publication editing by Sandy Phippen (writer and former MHC Board member) about the life and times of Sturgis Haskins, the Maine State sailing champ who taught Norman Mailer how to sail and who helped start the Wilde-Stein Club at the University of Maine. As William David Barry of the… Read more

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William Faulkner Absalom Absalalom

BOOK REVIEW | Absalom, Absalom!

Warning: this is not an easy book to read. It combines all the excesses of Southern Gothic with every reader-bewildering tool of High Modernist craft (unstable chronology, unreliable narrators, shifting voices, contempt for conventional story-telling). Its enduring claim to fame is that it is to the 20th century novel what Moby-Dick is to the 19th:… Read more

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Colum McCann Transatlantic

BOOK REVIEW | TransAtlantic

I had seen one review of TransAtlantic that spoke of the story as being a bit unwieldy. I failed to see that. I found myself comfortable with the language and familiar with the locales, though I’ve never been to Missouri. New York, Maine, and Senator Mitchell came very easy to me. I greatly respect the… Read more

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Elizabeth Catton the Luminaries

BOOK REVIEW | The Luminaries

If you’re looking for something complex and engaging enough to distract you from a dreary winter, The Luminaries is a good bet. Winner of the 2013 Man Booker prize, this lengthy but quick-reading novel is set in the New Zealand goldfields in 1866. An almost intimidating (though wonderful) array of characters are fleshed out through… Read more

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Anne Michaels Fugitive Pieces

BOOK REVIEW | Fugitive Pieces

Jakob Beer, a Jewish child, is seven years old when Germany invades his native Poland. From his hiding place behind a cabinet’s wallpaper, Jakob escapes the fate of his parents, who are murdered before his eyes, and his 15-year-old sister Bella, who is been taken away. Hiding provides Jakob with his only means of survival…. Read more

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Erik Larson in the Garden of the Beasts

BOOK REVIEWS | In the Garden of the Beasts

Erik Larson’s In the Garden of the Beasts takes a look at Germany in 1933, six months after Hitler’s rise to power, through the eyes of an American Ambassador (and his family) upon his arrival in Berlin. The U.S. was supportive of Hitler’s efforts to bring Germany “back to stability,” not aware of – and… Read more

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Debra Dean Madonnas of Leningrad

BOOK REVIEWS | The Madonnas of Leningrad

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean is a sensitive story about a woman who was once a young docent at the Hermitage, and is now elderly, living in America, and in the throes of encroaching Alzheimer’s disease. It portrays her intense appreciation of the museum’s art treasures, as she helps to pack them to… Read more

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Lura Beam A Maine Hamlet

BOOK REVIEW | A Maine Hamlet

For too long, you could only find it in secondhand stores or in well-worn copies in public libraries – the book that a generation of readers treasured as the most perceptive account of traditional life in Maine ever written. Originally published in 1957, Lura Beam’s A Maine Hamlet is now back in print, thanks to… Read more

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Roland Merullo Breakfast with Buddha

BOOK REVIEW | Breakfast with Buddha

This isn’t just another “guys on a road trip” tale. It’s an endearing story of a skeptical man who ends up with a monk as an unexpected traveling companion. The driver decides to show the holy man the real world by visiting some cultural landmarks and teaching him about some of the most basic American… Read more

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Bill Dedman_Paul Clark Newell Empty Mansions

BOOK REVIEW | Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune

Astor, Rockefeller, Carnegie–these are all names of enterprising early Americans that grace buildings and charitable trusts and innovations to this day. However, one contemporary had wealth that surpassed them all, but whose name has been lost to history. This book begins by detailing the life of W.A. Clark from self-made copper magnate to disgraced Senator,… Read more

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Christina Baker Kline Orphan Train

BOOK REVIEW | Orphan Train: A Novel

I love interesting characters who are also believable. I also enjoy historical fiction. Orphan Train had these three elements! Without giving the plot away,  I was absolutely stunned that I had never heard of the very real historical events portrayed in this book. It is a great read! Read more

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Scott McCloud Understanding Comics

BOOK REVIEW | Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

A brilliantly written “textbook” on the craft of creating and reading graphic novels and comics. There is far more to comics than simply pictures and word bubbles, and McCloud addresses all of the complexities of this genre in an accessible, creative, and intelligent way. It’s a true eye-opener! Read more

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Edwidge Danticat Claire of the Sea Light

BOOK REVIEW | Claire of the Sea Light

Within an impoverished Haitian community, Claire, the motherless daughter of a fisherman, begins a story about loss and learning to survive. The people who touch both her and her parents expand the narrative into a broader story of grief and love, gangs, radio shows, school, and the powers of both wealth and poverty. Danticat’s signature… Read more

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Lauren Groff Monsters of Templeton

BOOK REVIEW | Monsters of Templeton

Willie Upton returns to her central New York hometown in disgrace as the town itself faces a period of change. It’s unclear whether either will pull out of their downward spiral. Groff combines the historical, mythical, and sentimental with a classic plot of family angst and discovery. Willie’s quest to find her biological father through… Read more

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Lafcadio Hearn Kwaidan

BOOK REVIEW | Kwaidan: Stories & Studies of Strange Things

An early western interpreter of Japanese culture and customs, Hearn (who lived in the late 1800s) wrote this collection of ghost and strange tales based on old Japanese tales told to him by his wife. Spirits, monsters, and strange creatures are part of Japanese folklore and have made their way to block prints, stories like… Read more

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BOOK REVIEW | Poacher’s Son

Paul is the editor of Down East Magazine and this is his first of four books about a fictitious Maine Game Warden named Mike Bowditch. Trespasser is next, Bad Little Falls, and Massacre Pond is his latest. Each follows Mike’s life and career in the Maine woods! Quick and easy read, not gender biased! Read more

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Anne Lamott Help, Thanks, Wow

BOOK REVIEW | Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

Now who can resist a title like that? I certainly can’t. In this short (102 pages) book by one of my favorite spiritual yet down-to-earth authors, Anne Lamott, she distills all prayers into three short prayers, of one word (and syllable!) each. “Help” – when that’s all we can say while we are drowning. “Thanks”-… Read more

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Helene Wecker Golem and the Jinni

BOOK REVIEWS | The Golem and the Jinni

It’s a bit of a fairy tale/Jewish folklore/mythical piece that was intriguing, made you think about what does it mean to be human and how difficult it can be. Wecker is a great storyteller. Read more

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Gillian Flynn Gone Girl


Deceit, infidelity, suspicion . . . and that’s only the beginning. When Nick and Amy fall in love, they are the confident, handsome man and the beautiful, privileged young woman embracing in front of their Brooklyn Heights brownstone and sharing a laugh at the expense of less blissful couples. Eventually, their picture-perfect union falters: Amy grows… Read more

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Wiley Cash Land More Kind Than Home

BOOK REVIEWS | A Land More Kind Than Home

For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when you get caught spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can’t help sneaking a look at something he’s… Read more

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Kevin Powers Yellow Birds

BOOK REVIEW | The Yellow Birds

Amazon Reviewer Jon Foro wrote this about The Yellow Birds when it was selected as best debut novel (September 2012). “With The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers introduces himself as a writer of prodigious talent and ambition. The novel opens in 2004, when two soldiers, 21-year-old Bartle and the teenaged Murphy, meet in boot camp on… Read more

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The Call of Stories book cover

BOOK REVIEW | The Call of Stories by Robert Coles

This spring, I attended the annual Infant Mental Health of Maine conference to hear the keynote speaker, Vivian Gussin Paley, whose dedication to storytelling with kindergarten and preschool children has made her a legend as well as a MacArthur award recipient. Paley’s many books sold rapidly at this conference, but I also found on the… Read more

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Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex

BOOK REVIEW | Middlesex

Jeffrey Eugenides’s bestseller is a literary family epic, picturing a slice of American history through three generations of a Greek-American family and a most unusual person born once as a girl, then later, as a boy. Read more

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Adam Johnson Orphan Master's Son

BOOK REVIEW | The Orphan Master’s Son

Taking place in North Korea, this fast-past literary novel shows the work of a government-sanctioned kidnapper and, amidst the grim horror of his daily life, the humanness within him. Read more

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Helen Simonson Major Pettigrew cover

BOOK REVIEW | Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

This quick-moving romance with its many laugh-out-loud moments is a favorite light book for Anglophiles. The Major is devoted to all that is proper and thoroughly English, but things change when he finds friendship with a local Pakistani shopkeeper, to the consternation of their community. Read more

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Sheryl Sandberg Lean In cover


David Richards writes of Sandberg’s book on women and leadership: “It then informed my remarks to the NEW Leadership group from University of Maine and I recommend it because it also became one of the textual bases for the inaugural Let’s Talk Local discussion held to great success with the female inmates at Somerset County… Read more

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Howard Norman I Hate to Leave this Beautiful Place

BOOK REVIEW | I Hate to Leave this Beautiful Place

Howard Norman’s memoir is a revealing, introspective look back at some of the influential people and periods in the life of this wonderful, but low-key novelist. Recommended fiction from Howard Norman would include The Bird Artist, The Northern Lights, and What is Left the Daughter, all very quiet, but engaging tales set in Canada (Norman… Read more

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Misha Glenny the Balkans cover

BOOK REVIEW | The Balkans

The Balkans area of southeast Europe is synonymous with political dysfunction, and has contributed balkanization and balkanized to our vocabulary, for good reason. The book covers the period from 1804-2011 and the influence of the great powers on the many wars and nationalist movements in the region during that time. The chaos in the Balkans… Read more

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Marilynne Robinson Home cover


I have just finished reading the novel, Home by Marilynne Robinson, winner of the Orange Prize, and a retelling of the story of her previous novel, Gilead, set in a small midwestern town of that name in the late 1950s.  Both of these feature the prodigal son, Jack, in his relationship to two families, and more… Read more

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Sound of a Wild Snail Eating cover

BOOK REVIEW | The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

While Elisabeth Tova Bailey was bedridden with a serious autoimmune illness, a woodland snail living in a pot of flowers at her bedside provided her with both companionship and a connection to the larger world. Her book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, is based on the year that the snail shared with her,… Read more

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One Candle Eve Bunting

BOOK REVIEW | One Candle

Bunting is outstanding in her ability to create thoughtful stories that address hard topics with warmth and hope. It addresses this issue in the New Books, New Readers theme of Carrying the Past:  What do we choose from our past to preserve as a family or cultural memory?  It is told in first person by… Read more

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