Annette's Picks

Cilka's Journey by Heather Morris

Another breathtaking book about the indomitable human spirit by the author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Based on true events, Cilka Klein survives three years in the notorious Auschwitz Concentration Camp during WWII, where Josef Mengele chooses inmates to experiment on and over a million Jews are sent to their deaths in gas chambers. Incredibly, Cilka goes from one nightmare to the next when the Russians accuse her of collaborating with the Germans and sentence her to fifteen years of hard labor in a Siberian Gulag. Unimaginable! Unforgettable!

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

What a story! Based on true events, a young man in Italy leads Jews through the Alps to Switzerland during WWII. He later becomes a spy while working as a driver for a high-ranking German official. This book reads like an action-adventure. It’s a staggering portrayal of fortitude and heroism –with a nail-biting ending! Excellent.

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur

A well-crafted memoir about a daughter who becomes the chief collaborator in her mother’s long affair. This book pulled me in with the tension built around her mother’s manipulation and control and the author’s own sense of blood-bound loyalty. When I first read the synopsis, I was a bit unsure that it could be all that interesting. Although children aren’t usually facilitators in their parents' infidelities, people have affairs every day. But the book was already receiving advance praise so I dove right in. The praise was certainly warranted. Adrienne Brodeur’s deep exploration of her emotions and her mother’s self-centeredness was fascinating. I can see why the film rights sold nearly instantly. Highly captivating!

The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton

A moving, well-written, important story that brings terrifying and heroic aspects of history to life. This book is an absorbing read that alternates between two storylines. Stephan is a Jewish boy who watches his world crumble when Hitler annexes Austria March 12, 1938. In the meantime, a true-life Dutch heroine, Geertruida Wijsmuller puts her own life at risk over and over to transport children to the safety of London. She's involved in the Kindertransport which organizes the herculean effort of rescuing 10,000 kids in the months leading to WWII. Very good book!

The Curse of the Werepenguin by Allan Woodrow

A monster book that is not so much creepy, but oh so funny!   Bolt is an orphaned boy adopted unseen by a baron in Vogelplatz (bird place), Brugaria.  But something isn’t quite right in this German-like town with cobblestone streets and timber-framed homes, where people sing folk songs like “One, Two, Buckle My Lederhosen,” or “She’ll Be Coming Around the Fjord When She Comes.”  Before Bolt even arrives by train, he is told to beware of the penguins—vicious, marauding, beastly birds. And that’s not all.  It seems the townsfolks are terrified of his soon-to-be new father, the Baron Chordata.  Every time his name is mentioned, someone screams and faints, an ongoing gag. The playful quips and knee-slappers continue through the book and had me laughing on each page.  I LOVED this book!  Although it’s marketed toward kids ages 8-12, ANYONE with a silly sense of humor will thoroughly enjoy it.  Some of the jokes are geared toward an older crowd, like the housekeeper’s name Frau Farfenugen which adults may remember as the VW German car slogan of the 1990s—That pleasure of driving—Fahrvergnügen.   Keep this book in mind for a Christmas or birthday present, or just to make someone smile!

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

While one sister finagles away the family inheritance to follow her dream of opening a brewery, the other sister is left to struggle financially. This is the story of sharp selfishness, fresh generosity, earthy tenacity, elegant acceptance, and refreshing remorse that will leave a smooth and satisfying aftertaste. Ok I’ve gone overboard with the beer references, but I can’t help it. This book is bubbling with family dynamics intertwined in the beer industry. Besides getting hooked into the lives of these two very different women, I was also fascinated at how involved the craft brewing business is. It made me have a whole new respect for my own favorite brew pub. This book is best enjoyed on a warm summer day with a nice cold one.

I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira

An outstanding historical fiction for anyone interested in the Impressionists, especially the complicated relationship between Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas as well as the illicit love of Edouard Manet and his sister-in-law, Berthe Morisot. Excellent book!

Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey

Kerry Winfrey had me at "Tom Hanks" and kept me going with her Nora Ephron rom-com-style story with over a dozen movie references. A fun, light-hearted escape!

Bad Girls Throughout History by Ann Shen

I love this book about women who made significant contributions to the world! The easily digestible, bite-size bios provide just enough information to discover what the selected ladies were famous (or infamous) for. I had heard of Lady Godiva, for instance, but I thought she was just some free spirit riding naked through town. Little did I know that her nude exhibition was spurred on by her own husband in exchange for lower taxes for the people! There were many women I learned about from successful pirate captains to a sixty-three-year old daredevil who packed herself in a barrel and plummeted down Niagara Falls. Doctors, inventors, scientists, conservationists, suffragettes, pharaoh, soldiers, nurses, pinup girls, and entertainers, the list goes on to explore one hundred women who were not necessarily bad, but definitely bad-ass. This is a book I will be passing on to my granddaughters so that they will know that they too have the power to do anything!

The Secret Life of Squirrels by Nancy Rose

My granddaughters (2 & 5) love this book with photos of real squirrels in little human-like settings: cooking in the kitchen, doing laundry, grilling, etc. It jump-starts their imaginations, especially after having watched squirrels (whom they named) running up and down the pergola and around the patio all winter. So fun!

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

What a pleasant surprise to find that Tom Hanks isn’t just a great actor, he’s a good writer, too! His prose is sharp, intelligent, polished and his stories run the gamut from funny to thought-provoking—with one head-scratcher thrown in the mix. I can almost hear Tom’s voice in each story, many of them seeming to correlate to his movies or life as an actor. One story is about an actor’s exhausting press tour, one about WWII with tones of "Saving Private Ryan." Another leads us through Central Park and the streets of New York City which makes me think a little differently of one of my favorite movies, "You’ve Got Mail." The common thread through each of the stories is the appearance of a typewriter. I don’t want to say that Tom should give up his day job, because I love him too much as an actor. But I sure could see him turning the story of the laugh-out-loud, exhaustively controlling Anna into a full-blown novel (minus the Apollo 13-like space exploration). Write, Tom, Write!

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Who knew a book about a library fire could be so interesting? I do now. The Library Book by Susan Orlean is an account of the Central Los Angeles Library fire of 1986 which destroyed or damaged more than a million books. Like a skillfully controlled fire, Orlean continuously meanders from the investigation and arson suspect to other paths, then back to the investigation. She splinters off into the history and inner workings of the library to Nazi book burnings to an eccentric long-haired, Casanova-type librarian who was pressured to resign because of the scandalous press constantly swirling around him. She explains the intensive process of preserving and restoring soggy, smoke-filled books. Ambling into collections of maps, sheet music, menus, photographs, and autographs housed in the library, she then leads us to a quick look at bookmobiles, pack horse librarians, and more before ending with the conclusion of the investigation, revealing what happened to the suspect, and the reopening of the library. Along with the diverse, fascinating detours, it was Orlean's descriptive and captivating writing kept me turning page after page. In the end this, book is sure to ignite an appreciation of all libraries whether you’re a regular patron or not.  

The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama

This book is a great boost I didn't even know I needed, until a customer highly recommended it and I'm glad he did. It is both an affirmation and an awakening on what it takes to cultivate true joy, ending with specific practices we can use. You can't go wrong with a joyful pep talk especially from celebrated leaders of two different religions.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is about a socially reclusive woman who is just plain odd. One day she is forced to interact with a co-worker which begins her odyssey into the real world that will have you roaring with laughter at her deadpan observations and awkwardness. Sidesplitting!

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Professor Don Tillman has a special skill set. He has the persnickety precision of Phileas Fogg from Around the World in Eighty Days-minus the charm. He has the analytical, mathematical, calculating mind of Mark Watney from The Martian-minus natural ease and ability to adapt. He also has a brilliant intellect combined with the social deficiencies of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. He's a tightly wound, abundantly smart, and socially inept man who he decides it's time to find a wife. So this highly scholarly and structured associate professor begins a quest: The Wife Project. He believes the best way to find a life partner is by creating a scientific survey to weed out all but the perfect candidates. He wants to collect "data to support life's most critical decision. Compromise would be totally inappropriate." Suddenly a wrench is thrown into the mission when he meets Rosie. She's obviously an unsuitable contender for the Wife Project, but he nevertheless agrees to help her with her own search in the Father Project. Despite logical reason, he develops a friendship with her. Could it lead to more? This book is one of those rare finds where I fell in love with it from page one. Not only is Professor Tillman's stiff awkwardness amusing, but the situations he finds himself had me laughing out loud. The back cover says it's optioned to be a movie, and you can be sure when it comes out, I'll be first in line! And so will my book club members who also loved it!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows immediately shot up to my list of favorites. Newspaper columnist, Juliet Ashton, receives a letter from a stranger on Guernsey Island in the English Channel in 1946. Dawsey Adams finds Juliet’s name on the inside of a book and writes her asking if she could send him the name and address of the bookshop in London were the book came from. He explains how the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came into being because of the “roast pig” in the book and therefore he feels a kinship to the author. This, of course, piques Juliet’s (and my) interest in the unusually titled club. Juliet begins a regular correspondence with Dawsey and other members of the society where she learns about their lives and the recent German occupation during WWII. Written with warmth and humor in a series of letters we discover pig farmers, phrenologists, and survivors of the German occupation. This is a fun book that I seemed to smile my way through. I was interested in each of the islander’s backgrounds. It also made me want to know more about the history of this island that I had never heard of. My book club gave it an emphatic thumbs-up. Even with the sad subject matter of the atrocities of war and the hardships everyone endured, it was not a depressing book. It was light-hearted with a couple of rough spots—in my opinion “a must read.”

Bold Spirit by Linda Lawrence Hunt

The true story of a woman in desperate need of money who walks with her daughter from Spokane to NY in 1896 in an effort to win $10K. WOW! Good book about their determination, hardships and aftermath! 

City of Thieves by David Benioff

The only escape from a death sentence for two men during WWII Russia is to obtain 12 eggs for the colonel's daughter's wedding - an impossible task that leads to a hair-raising adventure. Humorous, heart-breaking, fast read. My husband, daughter and I loved it!

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

Based on extensive research, this is the gripping story of a Jewish family's struggle for survival during the Holocaust - Riveting!

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

A Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir about a poor boy growing up in Ireland during the 30s and 40s. Unimaginable living conditions, starvation and loss are recalled. A sobering book with wry humor. Unforgettable. Read and loved by me, my sister, husband, mom, daughter, and many friends.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Bookseller Monsier Perdu dispenses books like medicine to his patrons on his barge bookshop on the Seine, yet he can't cure his own broken heart until he does something wild and unexpected. Fun!

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

A young girl is sent to a leper colony in the late 1800s where she grows up and has to deal with her disease and a new life. A book club favorite. Heartbreaking and heartwarming.

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