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I love looking ahead to what I might be reading in the coming months, and I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to read the books I have on hand. No more buying books before I read the ones I have! Of course, Book of the Month club and Christmas will likely increase the number of books on my shelf, but…eh. Maybe it’s more of a half-hearted effort than a concerted one.
Fall Reading Update
The community of Shaker Heights is meticulously planned and picture-perfect, and the Richardson family is much the same. When their new tenants--mysterious, free-spirited artist Mia and her daughter, Pearl--move into town, the four Richardson children are enamored of both, and Pearl of them. As the families becomes more entwined, complications arise when the two mothers, Elena and Mia, find themselves on opposite sides of an adoption case. Elena suspects Mia is not all that she seems and starts digging into her past, rocking the worlds of Mia and Pearl and her own children.
Little Fires Everywhere is a study in the characters--their flaws, pasts, dreams, regrets, and fears--and how all of these hidden things affect their relationships and what happens next. Well-written and perfect for anyone looking for a simmering, emotional read.More info →
When a young woman otherwise destined for a life of service is swept off her feet by rich widower Maxim de Winter, she dreams of a wonderful life together at Manderly, the country estate he owns. But soon after their marriage and arrival at Manderly, she realizes that the shadow of Maxim's late wife looms large and threatens her life, sanity, and their future together. While not a scary read, the tension underlying this entire book is masterful and the surprises continue until the very last page.More info →
A book of "advice on love and life" is not the kind of thing I would normally read, but the raves piqued my curiosity. Strayed, known as "Sugar," the anonymous advice columnist for The Rumpus, gives the kind of advice we all hope to get from our best friends, or our therapists. She doesn't always have the answers, but she does have perspective, and she is searingly honest in her analysis of some of life's biggest questions. At the heart of all of her columns is one life essential: love.More info →
Arlene ("Lena") thought she'd left Alabama and all that came with it behind her. Her persistent aunt brings it back over the phone each week, but so far she's avoided visits back and has done her best to reinvent herself and her life. But when her past arrives at her doorstep, her boyfriend Burr, who is black, insists on meeting her family. She is forced to face her family, their racism, the many gods of the South, and the past that she's bargained with her own God to keep buried. This is the first book by Jackson that I've read and I loved her turns of phrase and vivid characters; I will definitely be reading more.More info →
When 16-year-old Starr is witness to a police officer shooting her unarmed best friend, she is torn between staying silent and speaking out. Starr lives in two worlds: the world of her affluent private school and that of her black neighborhood that is rocked by the shooting. The case quickly makes national headlines and as tensions rise, Starr feels the pull to tell her side of the story and refute attacks on her friend's character, even as she faces intimidation from police and local gangs. This powerful novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement delves into the shootings of unarmed black people by police officers, the lack of justice in the aftermath, and white privilege. It is not just for a YA audience but is a must-read for everyone. One of the best of 2017.More info →
All were excellent picks. Little Fires Everywhere and The Hate U Give may both make my list of 2017 favorites (please, everyone, pick up The Hate U Give!). Joshilyn Jackson was a great discovery—I’m looking forward to reading more of hers. Rebecca was a good eerie read for fall, and I think just about anyone will find at least one of Cheryl Strayed’s advice columns to be a pinprick to the heart.
I was upset with myself because my library hold for Beartown came in but I didn’t download it before it expired! I was trying to finish another book, planning Thanksgiving, and just generally being scatterbrained, I guess. So, back to the end of the hold list I go. Hopefully it will come in over the winter—a hockey read sounds like a good, snowy choice!
I want to at least squeeze in Sweetbitter and The Woman in Cabin 10 before the true start of winter. I may also start The Story of a New Name, though some others are calling to me more, so I may shelve it for a while. American War will depend on library availability but it also isn’t feeling urgent.
There’s so much to think about in the weeks before Christmas that I’ll probably pick up some brain candy—maybe even a re-read?
Winter Reading List
Once winter truly starts and we’re past the holidays, I’ll be ready to dive into this list. There aren’t any light reads on this list, so I’ll likely have to pair them with lighter fare, or some re-reads that I’m planning in 2018.
An hour after England enters World War II, socialite Mary North signed up for service. Instead of direct involvement in the war, she finds herself teaching students who were rejected from the countryside after most other children were evacuated from London. This turn brings into her life Zachary, a young black student; Tom, an education administrator; and Alistair, Tom's flatmate who has enlisted in the military. Mary, Tom, and Zachary face a new normal in London as the bombings of the Blitz commence, while the ills of society--race, poverty, addiction--persistently remain the same. Alistair, meanwhile, faces the brutality, starvation, and violence of life as a soldier in Malta.
Cleave's prose can feel heavy-handed, especially at first, but I soon fell under the spell of his writing. His dialogue shines and is smart and surprisingly funny. In its wittiness, it recalls the type of conversations that seem to happen in youth, especially during late nights or intense situations--the intelligent volleying that immediately connects people. Cleave uses these conversations masterfully to create instant connections between characters facing extreme circumstances. Inspired by his own grandparents' experiences and letters written during World War II, Cleave tells a beautiful tale of love, loss, and bravery. Also check out my in-depth look at the history and writing of this book, the first in my Story of the Story series.More info →
Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.
When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.More info →
When her family learns of their ties to the wealthy d'Urbervilles, Tess's family pressures her to claim her place and elevate the family from poverty. The plan goes horribly wrong and Tess finds herself a grief-stricken, ruined woman. When she finds love and a potential new life with Angel Clare, she must decide whether to keep her past a secret or risk his rejection. Tess is truly a woman of her time, as are the characters around her, but Thomas Hardy was ahead of his. Hardy deftly illustrates the hypocrisy that dictated the expectations of women in this time and the pressures they faced to be pure, chaste, and angelic (the name "Angel" is a bit ironic here.). I loved this book, though it filled me rage on Tess's behalf. It was a little slow moving in the middle, but it's worth it to stick it out to the end.More info →
Cyril Avery was born to an unwed mother in Ireland in the 1940s--an unthinkable and shameful thing, at that time. Cyril is adopted by Charles and Maude Avery, who are indifferent and self-centered, but not neglectful.
From an early age, Cyril knows he's different: not a "real Avery," as Charles is quick to remind him, and realizing that he is not attracted to girls like his friends are--something that's even more shameful at that time in Ireland. In fact, Cyril harbors a deep love for his womanizing friend and eventual school roommate, Julian Woodbead.
The book follows Cyril through his life, from his youth and twenties spent in hiding and public denial in a repressive Dublin to a more open life in middle age in Amsterdam and New York. Cyril's search for identity, belonging, acceptance, and family is by turns funny, frustrating, and sad.
Some of the characters feel a bit like caricatures, but they serve to highlight some of the extreme attitudes Cyril, his mother, and so many others faced in those decades in Ireland. I loved this book, and though Cyril could be frustrating, I wanted to see him find happiness and contentment with himself.More info →
I loved both The Secret History and The Goldfinch, so I have been eager to get to Tartt's less-discussed book. The synopsis makes it sound like it has elements of both of those books, but is also entirely different: The setting is Alexandria, Mississippi, where one Mother’s Day a little boy named Robin Cleve Dufresnes was found hanging from a tree in his parents’ yard. Twelve years later Robin’s murder is still unsolved and his family remains devastated. So it is that Robin’s sister Harriet - unnervingly bright, insufferably determined, and unduly influenced by the fiction of Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson--sets out to unmask his killer. Aided only by her worshipful friend Hely, Harriet crosses her town’s rigid lines of race and caste and burrows deep into her family’s history of loss.More info →
Velveteen Vargas is eleven years old, a Fresh Air Fund kid from Brooklyn. Her host family is a couple in upstate New York: Ginger, a failed artist on the fringe of Alcoholics Anonymous, and Paul, an academic who wonders what it will mean to “make a difference” in such a contrived situation. The Mare illuminates the couple’s changing relationship with Velvet over the course of several years, as well as Velvet’s powerful encounter with the horses at the stable down the road, as Gaitskill weaves together Velvet’s vital inner-city community and the privileged country world of Ginger and Paul.More info →
I tried to have patience with this dystopian vision of a future America, about a girl, Fan, who leaves the walled community where she lives and works to find the boy she loves, who has disappeared. But one-third into the book, I still didn't have a clear picture of the causes of the global decline (seems to be vaguely climate- and environment-related) or of the motivations of most of the characters--and I stopped caring enough to continue on the journey with the weirdly omniscient narrator who also seems to be a neighbor of Fan's. I didn't finish this one.More info →
All of these except The Heart’s Invisible Furies are sitting on my bookshelf right now, and I’m planning to buy that one after seeing all of the raves—it sounds like one I’ll want to keep.
What will you read in the weeks leading up to the winter holidays? What’s on your winter reading list?