Bookworm’s best reads of 2011




You were such an efficient shopper this year. You remembered everybody on your list: the kids, the spouse, Grandma and Great Aunt Judy. None of the cousins went without a gift this year. You even remembered the neighbors and your boss.

But there’s one person you forgot to buy a gift for this year.


And perhaps it’s a good thing you waited, because you have plenty of time to find a book for yourself, a can’t-miss read that will serve as a reward for being such a great holiday shopper.

Now that your appetite is whetted, look for these Bookworm’s Best of 2011 picks (African American authors’ names are in all capitals):


Adult fiction

A chance at redemption is at the root of Emily and Einstein by Linda Francis Lee. This story about a woman, her dog, and her dead

husband who only wanted a second chance is a charmer and it’s a great place to start your new year.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstein has been on a lot of end-of-year lists this year, and for good reason: It’s complicated, magical, and dark with a sense of foreboding. Plus, it’s a story of love that can’t ever be completed. What’s not to like about that?

I was surprised at how much I loved Just Wanna Testify by PEARL CLEAGE, a novel about a

benevolent man who takes care of his community, and how he deals with a threat to his people. It’s edgy, a little scary, and contains a satisfying ending.

The soldiers are coming back from war, but You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon is still one powerful book. Told in several related short stories, this novel is about the goings-on on a U.S. military base and what happens to the wives and families while the men are at war.

If Sons, Then Heirs by LORENE CARY is a novel about the past, the future, and how one affects the other. The characterization of this book is stellar, but pay attention to the details.


Adult nonfiction

I’m not entirely sure how I ended up with two nursing memoirs on this list, but I did…

Beautiful Unbroken: One Nurse’s Life by Mary Jane Nealon is the story of the author, who only ever wanted to be a caretaker — but once she attained that goal, she spent a good chunk of her life running from it.

Arms Wide Open by Patricia Harmon is the gentle, soft, true story of a midwife in the Appalachians and — through the 1970s, communes, back-to-the-land years and more — how she came to love delivering babies.

Also on my list is The Chicken Chronicles by ALICE WALKER, the story of Walker’s pet chickens and what they’ve taught her. This book was a big surprise because I never expected this kind of feathered-fowl love letter from this author, and because I was totally captivated by it so much.

Snarky, snippy, fun, and informative are the hallmarks of Concierge Confidential by Michael Fazio with Michael Malice. This is the true story of a man who became a concierge at a ritzy New York City hotel, and what he does at his job. Not only are the anecdotes stellar and well-told, but the authors’ hints and tips for better service are worth wanting this book. If you’re a traveler, especially, you’ll love it.

I also loved Little Princes by Conor Grennan, a memoir of a man who decides to go on a round-the-world hike but, lest his quest seem selfish, he decides to spend a stint at a Tibetan orphanage first. What happens is not only the basis of this charming, bring-a-tissue book, but it also gives readers a few laughs. Whatever you do, though, do not skip to the end of this book. You’ll ruin it for yourself. You’ve been warned.

Bonus: The Mindset Lists of American History by Tom McBride and Ron Nief is a lighter, fun-to-read look back over the last century at pop culture, politics and lifestyles, and it puts a lot of current events into perspective. Loved it. Nuff said.


Children’s books

So you need something to reward the kiddoes for being good this holiday season. These books will make them smile….

Yes, the holidays are over, but Thanksgiving Graces by Mark Kimball Moulton, illustrated by David Wenzel, is one of those gracious books you’ll want to pull off the shelf really often. This gentle rhyme tells the story of a family dinner with a guest list that keeps growing, and the lesson a little boy learns from it. For ages 3-8.

I was stunned at how much I loved Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson. This is the (fictional) tale of a boy whose mentally-ill mother abandons him in a Maine park, and his resilience and resourcefulness in surviving and getting home. Two things: this is a great story for kids ages 9-13 (and for adults, too!) but it might scare smaller children. Also, I got this book on CD, which I thought made it better; I listen to audio books in my car, in fact, and this one made me want to go places.

Teenie by CHRISTOPHER GRANT and Planet Middle School by NIKKI GRIMES are both about growing up and enduring those tween-and-early-teen years. I loved the characters in these “girl books” and I loved how their respective authors gave us a chance to see inside their heads. And for boys who are looking for the same kind of book, give them On the Come Up by TRAVIS HUNTER. These three books are perfect for anyone ages 12 and up.

And there you have it… 15 books to reward yourself (or someone else), to take on that mid-winter vacation, for sitting by the fire, or for no reason other than you want to read them because they’re great. Because they are.

Happy reading!


Bookworm Terri Schlichenmeyer lives in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. She welcomes reader responses to