Have you read any good books lately? Here are a few of my favorites:
A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash. I love modern southern writing. There’s often a directness and affirmation to it, attributes that are perfectly employed in this novel. There’s no excess of description, no long-winded narratives, just a succinct, fascinating story of innocence and manipulation, affliction and forgiveness. The simple strength of these characters and the relationships between them are allowed to stand alone and shine, rather than be buried under oppressive prose. Yet the story still flows along with stunning imagery and the exuberance of a Christian gospel. I was mesmerized.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Let me start by saying that I believe fiction is art, and therefore the beauty of it is in the eye of the beholder. I am very hesitant to discuss good writing versus bad writing or say that any one book should be read by all. Having stated that, EVERYONE should read this book–young or old, hopeful or jaded. It’s that important a piece of work, in my opinion. This novel also makes a wonderful gift to anyone starting a new journey, be it a graduation, mid-life career change, or retirement project.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I was able to identify with both the child and the mother in this novel, which made for a very satisfying read. I then watched the film with my daughter. She declared it one of the best movies she ever saw, but I was disappointed. After reading the book, I felt far too much of the story had been left out of the film, particularly regarding the relationship of the grandparents, which constituted a rich and thoughtful subplot that I found to be as compelling, if not more so, than the primary plot line. As is often the case, I encourage viewing of the film as a complement to, but certainly not instead of, a reading of the story in its original format.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. This is a courageous and riveting memoir. The author describes her childhood with agonizing honesty, but what I found most compelling was the air of understanding and acceptance that infiltrates this entire story. There is a sense of forgiveness and affection, particularly toward her parents, that contradicts the tragic physical events described in chapter after chapter. I did not feel as if I was reading the narrative of a grown woman looking back upon her life, but rather the thoughts of a conflicted child who loves her parents but knows that other people don’t live this way.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This is a tale of love and tragedy set on the Island of Guernsey during the Nazi occupation. It is written as a series of letters, sometimes a bit disconnected and patchy, as real letters often are. This novel took me on an emotional journey during which I laughed, I cried, and I contemplated the flaws within myself and the whole of humanity. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I enjoyed so many things about this book–the endearing characters, the expert handling of race divides and the politics of the civil rights movement, the compassion with which the story unfolds. When I finished it, I gave the book to my daughter to read. Her emotional reaction to the story embodies the true gift of this novel. My daughter had read about segregation and the civil rights movement in textbooks, but this novel made it real for her. I’ve found that thoughtful explorations of fictional characters in real-life settings can often appeal to young adults in a way that the nonfiction narrative cannot.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. Beauty and innocence collide with ugliness and despondence so magnificently in this novel–it’s like an abstract painting you cannot seem to turn your eyes from. It’s painful, yet glorious. This book is an absolute jewel to be cherished and, sadly, its questions regarding racial profiling, bigotry, and paranoia are as relevant today as they were during the height of World War II.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. This is a beautiful coming-of-age story written in the epistolary style. I felt for this young man’s struggle with every ounce of my being. The characters were rich and alive. I saw the remnants of my teenage self, and those of my friends, in these familiar outcasts. The recent movie based on this novel is one of the best book-to-film adaptations I’ve seen in a long while. From a person who loves this book, I was thrilled to see that the film stayed very true to the story.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. This is a delightful and poignant examination of what it means to be a mother and how important that relationship is in our lives. The characters and setting are often troubling–complex and real. I saw parts of myself in Lily, Rosaleen, May and June. I deeply admired August, a woman of great substance and humanity. The conclusion was so completely satisfying, I smiled ear to ear. Just a wonderful, thoughtful read.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I could not put this book down–it’s been a long time since I read a good, old-fashioned ghost story.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I have a very tender place for books that incorporate an elderly person looking back on his or her own life–the era and events that shaped that life and what that person ultimately becomes defined by. My first job as a young teenager was in a local rest home. That experience affected me in a profound and immeasurable way. Three decades later, the people I met there continue to appear in my stories and essays–their suffering and memories still weigh heavily on me.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. I am not at all a science fiction fan, but who doesn’t like a good zombies-taking-over-the-world story once in a while? Seriously, the way this book explores fear, political policy, and human redemption is fantastic. I thought this novel was brilliant.
*Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate and will be paid a few cents every time a book is purchased from a link on my website.