What to read?

I’ve had several friends ask for book recommendations lately, so I thought I would do a quick “what I’ve liked recently” list.  If you look under “Books” on my Facebook page, you’ll see that I read A LOT (and some of my choices are pretty quirky), so I went through and picked out some of what I consider to be the better ones.   I’m not doing full reviews here, just my personal favorites and a brief summary.

Fiction

  • The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.  I’ve had people tell me they really disliked this book, or couldn’t get into it, but I LOVED it.  First, I should say that I’m not a fan of circuses, and in fact when my husband gave it to me for my birthday I was a little skeptical.  But the circus is really only a background for the competition that turns into a love story between two “magicians” at the turn of the 20th century.  It struck me as an original sort of American magical realism, and the writing is exquisite.
  • Benediction, by Kent Haruf.  This is part of a trilogy, along with Eventide and Plainsong, all set in a small town on the eastern plains of Colorado.  The sparse language echos the landscape, and the characters and their stories are compelling in a quiet, gentle way.  Every time I read something by Haruf I hear the voice of my grandparents.
  • Sacred Heartsby Sarah Dunant.  Doing historical fiction well can be elusive, and while I enjoy authors like Philippa Gregory for the good stories they tell, Sarah Dunant is a cut above.  Her writing is excellent, and she really transports the reader to another time and place.  I also enjoyed her novels In the Company of the Courtesan and The Birth of Venus.  She has a new book about the Borgias out that I have not yet read.
  • The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds, by Alexander McCall Smith, is part of a series about Isabel Dalhousie, a Scottish philosopher who “investigates” a series of unusual situations.  These are not exactly mysteries in the traditional sense, which may be why I like them so much!  Every book transports me to Edinburgh, and I end up feeling like I’ve taken a mini-vacation.  The nerd in me also really savors the philosophical/ethical musings!
  • Peaches for Monsieur le Curéby Joanne Harris, continues the story begun with the popular novel-turned-movie, Chocolat“.  I really like Harris’s writing, and have grown to care about her characters as they move around France.  Plus, there are always wonderful descriptions of food and, yes, chocolate!
  • Paris, by Edward Rutherfurd.  Reading any novel by Rutherfurd requires a certain level of commitment.  They are all lengthy, and I approach them knowing I’ll need to settle in for the long haul.  But the reward is an engrossing exploration of place told through several generations of families across the socio-economic spectrum.  His early novel, Sarum, still stands out in my mind as the first book that really gave me a grasp of the scope of English history.
  • The Sandcastle Girls, by Chris Bohjalian, is not an easy read, with a devastating story set in the early 20th century,  but the setting is unique, and the exploration of what war and genocide really look like is expertly crafted.  It is set in Syria, and as I watch what is happening in the middle East today I often reflect on this book.
  • The Revised Fundamentals of Caregivingby Jonathan Evison, is a book I downloaded to my iPad as a free weekly Starbucks offering.  I figured I would keep it as a backup in case I was “stranded” without a book, and after starting a few pages ended up loving it!  The protagonist is a flawed hero who finds a sort of redemption through a road trip with his severely disabled teenage employer.
  • The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman.  Here is another gifted writer who never disappoints me!  This time she ventures into historical fiction in narrating the story of the Jews who held out against the Romans for many months in the fortress of Masada.  Her other novels have a touch of magical realism (which I love), with strong contemporary female characters.  I have been known to sit down with one of her books and be so engrossed that I read it in one day!
  • La reina descalza, por Ildefonso Falcones.  Si lees en español y te gusta la ficción histórica, sugiero que intentes este autor.  Me encantan todas sus novelas, son muy inteligentes y bien escritas, con personajes inolvidables.

Nonfiction

  • An Edible History of Humanity and/or A History of the World in Six Glasses, by Tom Standage.  I like any approach to history that makes it more human and relevant, and these books do just that by looking at how food and drinks have molded human behavior and events.
  • Hope Against Hope:  Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s children, by Sarah Carr.  This book was recommended to me by the owner of a small book store I visited in New Orleans, and I found it to be an excellent examination of the contemporary education reform movement.  While it is specific to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, many of the issues it addresses are universal ones.
  • Tattoos on the Heart, by Gregory Boyle.  This is one of the most beautiful books I have EVER read.  Set in the gang world of Los Angeles, this narration of the efforts by a Jesuit priest to help move his parishioners out of poverty and the bloody gang-banger lifestyle is exquisite.  It left me really moved, and reinforced what I always tried to remember in the classroom, which is that every human has dignity and worth.
  • Founding Mothers, by Cokie Roberts, tells the story of the American Revolution through the women who raised funds (and children), rallied troops, paid bills, and otherwise supported the famous names we credit with the founding of our country.

I hope you see something on this list that perhaps catches your interest and introduces you to a new reading experience!  I’d love to hear your opinions!

 

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