Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

Christine wakes up one morning to find herself having aged 20 years, seemingly overnight.  To her horror, she discovers that she has amnesia and that she wakes up and makes the same discovery over and over each morning — she has no memory of the day before, or the twenty years prior.  Her husband patiently guides her through the shock each morning and fills her in on the details of their life.  But when she finds her secret journal, which records her painstaking attempt to hang on to more than a day’s worth of knowledge, she realizes that there are holes and inconsistencies in her husband’s account.  Is her husband lying?  What about the doctor that she refers to in her journal, or her friend Claire, both of whom offer further differing information?  As she inches, day by day, closer to the truth, Christine realizes she may be in danger.  This suspenseful page-turner was a best-seller during the summer of 2011.

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

Tom Sherbourne has survived the horrors of World War I and trains to become a lighthouse keeper on a tiny island off the desolate coast of Western Australia. When a chance meeting with a young woman leads to enduring love, the couple settle on the island, and their marriage flourishes despite the harsh land and the isolation of their lives.  The one problem they cannot solve is  Isabel’s inability to have a child.  So, when a small boat carrying a dead man and a newborn infant washes onto their shore, it seems like the answer to their prayers.  Their love for the child knows no bounds, so the decision to keep her simply evolves, and it is easy for Isabel to put thoughts of the child’s identity aside. But Tom struggles with the morality of the decision, setting the couple on the road to despair.

The moral dilemma that the story presents is heartbreaking.  The reader can clearly feel the desperation and loss that result from the couple’s tragic secret.  This is a book that compels attention, making it hard to put down.  This is a riveting debut from Ms. Stedman that leaves the reader wanting more.

In Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Helprin

In post-World War II Manhattan, veteran Harry Copeland has returned to the city he loves to begin his life after serving as an elite paratrooper behind enemy lines in Europe. The family business, manufacturing fine leather goods, awaits his return.  But on a late spring morning on the Staten Island ferry, Harry’s life is upended when he sees a  young woman across the deck. When they meet, the magic is instant, but the beautiful heiress is already engaged to be married.

Their romance develops despite the rigid social traditions of the time, but their choices threaten not only Harry’s livelihood but their very lives. Only Harry’s wartime experiences give him the means to protect Catherine and their future.

While this is a mesmerizing love story,  the language is the most compelling part of the work. Mr. Helprin’s descriptions of New York and its residents are breathtakingly beautiful with evocative prose that allows the reader to experience the sounds and images of 1940s  Manhattan and the battlefields of Germany.


See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Sometimes I go into a book knowing pretty much what is going to happen but just curious about how the whole thing plays out.  This book, on the other hand, was one of those “everyone says it’s great, so I’m going to read it even though I don’t remember what the reviewer said about it back when I decided to order it” kind of books.  I put myself on the waiting list and then, when it showed up, I started reading without so much as a glance at the summary.

I usually like going into a book completely blind because I can enjoy the story better if my experience is not tainted by another person’s opinion.  When I first started reading this book, I thought the story was going to be a healthy serving of “coming-of-age in a small town” with a side order of “gay older brother.”  Boy, was I wrong!  When the tragic twist happened somewhere near the middle of the book, I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.  I immediately flipped to the back of the book and then looked inside the front cover to see if there had been any kind of indication or warning about it in the summary.  Yup…  I guess there was.  Part of me is glad that I wasn’t able to steel myself against the shock, so I could react more naturally to the story, but part of me wishes I had known something was going to happen so I didn’t have to fight so hard not to cry while I was reading in the middle of the pediatrician’s waiting room before my son’s check up!  I refuse to give anything away, but I will say this much — read this book somewhere you can feel free to let the tears flow and be sure to have a hanky or a tissue handy.

No Safety in Numbers by Dayna Lorentz

Dystopian sci-fi is a genre that I can’t seem to get enough of…  But this book was a bit too realistic and definitely freaked me out!  I actually had plans to go to the mall and told my husband that we’re just going to shop online for a while!  The blurb on the back of the book may very well be one of the shortest blurbs I’ve ever read, but it summed it up very well:

“It’s just another Saturday in a busy suburban mall. But not for long.”

When a kid named Marco stumbles upon a small device with a red, blinking LED, he just knows it’s a bomb.  When the bomb squad gets called in, things take a turn for the worse.  The entire mall ends up on lock-down because the bomb was in the HVAC [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning] control room and it may or may not have spread some form of contagion through the mall.  Alternating perspectives between two guys and two girls, this book lays out the details of a terrifying possibility — being quarantined in a mall, with limited supplies, for an indeterminate amount of time.  [shudder]  The worst part for me, though, was finding out that this is only book one and I have to wait to see how it all ends!

The Chosen One: A Novel by Carol Lynch Williams

Kyra is 13 years old and has never known life outside of the compound.  Her family belongs to a strict, polygamous, religious cult where the men take on many wives, and the women are considered property — first of their fathers, and then of their husbands.  Kyra’s father has three wives and 21 children (soon to be 23), and Kyra is of an age where she is about to be promised to a man.  Back when the group first settled in this location, the girls were matched with boys only a few years older.  Now, it seems like all of the girls are being given to the older men — and Kyra is horrified to find out that the Prophet has matched her with her own uncle, who already has six wives.  She has accepted most of what she has been told her whole life, but things are getting less and less palatable by the day.  Will she be able to change the Prophet’s mind?  Will she run away?  Or will she have to marry her uncle, an awful prospect even if he wasn’t so closely related, and obey his every command? If you find this book interesting, you might also want to read Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Set in 1906 in the Adirondack Mountains, and based on the actual murder of a woman named Grace Brown, this book will appeal to fans of both historical fiction and murder mysteries.  Chapters alternate between the past and the present, as narrated by sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey.  In the chapters about the past, we learn about Mattie’s life on her family’s farm and her hope to attend Barnard College in New York City to become a writer.  In the chapters about her present, we learn about Mattie’s work at The Glenmore Hotel on Big Moose Lake and how it brought her into contact with Grace Brown shortly before she was murdered.

I think what I liked best about this story is that it was about so much more than Grace Brown’s murder.  It was also a coming-of-age story about a young woman (Mattie) who was determined to blaze her own path and to fight for her dreams despite the wishes of her father and the lack of women’s rights at the time.  With how seamlessly Jennifer Donnelly wove together the true story of Grace Brown and the fictional story of Mattie Gokey, it’s no wonder this book won the 2003 Carnegie Medal in Literature [under the UK title A Gathering Light].