I’ve been reading some excellent books lately, including some that I’ve wanted to read for a long time. Most of the books reviewed below were four and five stars for me, with the exception of one that was just okay–but that many other readers loved.
I’m still working through my Read My Shelf Challenge and have not bought ANY books in the last couple of months. Quite a feat! Progress has been slow, however, because I do still read library books. Half of the books below are from the library and half are from my shelf–one of which was a reread. Still, progress is progress! I also finished another from my reading bucket list.
Here’s what I’ve been reading:
Eleanor has her routine down to a science: work, weekly phone calls with her mother, and weekends with vodka (and nothing or no one else). She's fine, and she's even ready to pursue a relationship with a musician who seems perfect for her (though she hasn't actually met him). Never mind that she has no social life, no friends, and she tends to say brutally honest, awkward, and somewhat inappropriate things. She starts working out a self-improvement plan in anticipation of her future relationship with the musician, despite her mother's cruel discouragement.
Meanwhile, she finds herself in an unexpected friendship with her coworker, Raymond, when they help an elderly gentleman after a fall. Slowly, the friendship helps draw Eleanor out of her isolation, but also pushes her toward difficult truths about herself, her past, and her future. Eleanor is endearing for her mix of self-awareness and oblivious social awkwardness, and Raymond is an unexpected hero. This book manages to be funny, heartbreaking, and uplifting all at once. More info →
At a party in the vice-presidential mansion of an unnamed South American country, a band of young terrorists enters and takes hostages. The hostages include a world-renowned soprano, a Japanese business titan, and diplomats from various countries. The days and months stretch on and lines blur, relationships form, and tensions rise and fall and rise again. This is one of my favorite books and was my first introduction to Ann Patchett--now one of my favorite authors. I recently reread it and had a great experience; read about it in Why You Should Reread Your Favorite Books and How to Make It Worth Your While
. More info →
Melinda is starting high school an outcast, rejected by her friends and the rest of the school for calling the cops at a summer party. With surprising humor and insight, she navigates the halls and grows increasingly isolated, retreating into herself and speaking less and less. She finds solace and purpose in her year-long project for art class, which helps her come to terms with what happened to her at that party. When she realizes her former friend is in danger, she must find her voice again and speak up for both herself and others.
Published in 1999 but particularly timely in this age of #MeToo, Speak is a must-read for teen girls and women still working to find their own voices, and for boys and men seeking a greater understanding of how sexual assault and harassment actually affect women. More info →
When Alice wakes up on the floor of the gym, she finds herself in an alternate universe: one where she is 10 years older, has three children she doesn't remember, a husband she no longer loves, and a sister who speaks to her in strained tones. Alice's memory is gone, and she's trying to figure out how to live a life she no longer recognizes--and get back the man she loved ten years ago.
I was intrigued by the premise of this novel, and it was entertaining, but the domestic drama failed to capture my attention. Maybe elements of her novels are too close to my own suburban mom life, but most of Moriarty's novels fall a bit flat for me. This was a decent lighter read with an interesting spin, but not one that will stick with me. More info →
After years of working multiple jobs while her mother raised her two children, Letty Espinosa now finds herself raising 15-year-old Alex and six-year old Luna on her own. Her parents have left San Francisco to return to Mexico and she must learn to be a mother for the first time. The cards seem stacked against the family, but Letty is determined to get the kids out of their abandoned apartment building and into better schools--whatever it takes. Complicating her efforts are the return of Alex's father, new love interests for both Letty and Alex, and a lack of credit that would allow them to move. While I didn't find Diffenbaugh's sophomore effort as arresting as her debut The Language of Flowers
, this is a touching story that includes a personal look at illegal immigration and a prescient view of the familial impact of reversing DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). More info →
Following her mother's suicide, 17-year-old Nadia Turner looks for love and solace in the preacher's son, Luke Sheppard. Smart, driven, and rebellious, she finds herself in place she never expected: the local abortion clinic. Abandoned by Luke, she attempts to move on while holding her secret close, carefully side-stepping her still-grieving father. She clings to her new best friend, Aubrey, and plans for her future at college and in law school. When Nadia moves away, Aubrey grows closer to Luke, unaware of his history with Nadia. The three try to move forward but are continually pulled back to that summer, haunted by the choices made, the secrets kept, and the lives changed beyond just their own.
The Mothers is an emotional and incredibly well-written book that examines how difficult choices and lasting griefs can stay with us. The story is never overtaken by the many "issues" it covers, which is refreshing. Bennett is a young debut novelist with clear insight into that tentative time between childhood and adulthood when we all must choose how we let the past define our future. More info →
In this sequel to The War that Saved My Life
, Ada Smith has surgery to fix her club foot. But the surgery was the easy part; getting over the trauma of the years of shame and captivity wrought by her cruel mother is harder. When her mother is killed in the Blitz, her feelings are even more complicated. Accepting that she is safe from her mother and loved by Susan Smith, her adoptive mother, doesn't come easy--particularly when safety is far from guaranteed in World War II England. As she struggles with her own demons, she realizes that she is not the only one struggling. The close quarters brought about by the war also bring Ada to a new definition of family--one she may finally be able to accept.
To say I love these books is an understatement; this sequel was just as good as the first book. Ada is a character you want to thrive, in spite of her faults, and Susan is so wonderfully patient in the face of Ada's difficulties--even while dealing with her own. Bradley presents the realities of World War II in a straightforward way, without getting too graphic about some of the horrors--just the right level for a middle grade audience. I'm not sure where the story could go from here, but I'd love a third in the series, just to spend more time with these characters. More info →
Seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family live in a castle in the English countryside, but they are far from wealthy. This family of dreamers and creatives can hardly put food on the table. When two young Americans, Simon and Neil Cotton, arrive to take over the estate of their deceased landlord, they bring new hope to the family: of creative patronage, of potential marriage, and of (continued) free rent. Aspiring writer Cassandra details the adventures of the family in her journal as they move from abject poverty into high society. Full of charming observations and self-awareness, Cassandra teeters between childhood and adulthood and, through her her writing, she comes to realizations about herself, her family, and love. The family is by turns frustrating and amusing--I was confused by the inability of all of them (save Stephen, their ward) to find work in any capacity. That aside, Cassandra is a delightful companion through the story--on par with Anne Shirley--and the castle itself is pure fantasy for any romantic Anglophile. More info →
Have you read any of these? What are the best books you’ve read lately?