Worthy Reads

As a passionate consumer of literature, I thought I would share with you, dear readers, books that I deem worthy of reading.

11:22:63, by Stephen King

Not usually a fan of horror, I steer away from King’s writing, however; a friend assured me this book was on her top five all time favourites, so I reluctantly gave it a try.  The novel focuses on the premise that it is possible to go back in time and change the course of history.  This, of course, presents many complications, which the main character discovers along the way.  What I enjoyed most about the novel was the reminder of how life was in the ’60s – an excellent depiction.

Recommendation:  Worthy read.

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

This novel, set in WWII, follows the lives of two children: one German, one French.  Although I’ve read many books about WWII, I found this one to offer unique perspectives.  The novel jumps back and forth between the two protagonists, and the audiobook did a good job of clarifying the swifts.

Recommendation:  Worthy read.  Good book club suggestion.

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Recommendation:  I am bypassing the description to tell you that this is a must read for so many reasons!

Best Boy, by Eli Gottlieb

Todd Aaron is a man now, and a self admitted “developmental” who lives with ‘the Villagers’ in a long term care facility.  More intelligent than others give him credit for, Todd becomes an easy target for a nasty roommate, a conniving worker, and even his own brother.  All Todd wants to do is go home.

The audio version is narrated by Bronson Pinchot (audible.com).

Recommendation:  A light-hearted and intriguing glimpse of life as viewed from someone who is forever innocent.

Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin

I purchased this book on the recommendation of my son-in-law, although having read it, I wonder if he would have appreciated some of the references.  I have the audio version, of course, which is read by Steve Martin himself, and smiled through the whole book.

Recommendation:  A nostalgic review of this comedian’s career.

Carly’s Voice, by Arthur Fleischmann with Carly Fleischmann

A true story of breaking through the bonds of autism.  While Carly remains non-verbal and struggles with behaviour issues, her communications reveal a  bright, compassionate young woman with much to offer the world in terms of education regarding autism.

Recommendation:  An important read for educators and anyone else whose lives touch those with autism.

Certainty, by Victor Bevine

I purchased this audiobook, then let it sit for a time before listening – my mistake.  The story takes us back to WWII and visits the issue of homosexuality in the Navy.  Based on actual events, it is eye-opening and accurately depicts the attitude of the era (not so long ago).

Recommendation:  Has relevance to current attitudes and issues.

Call the Midwife, by Jennifer Worth

Stories of midwivery in 1950’s London.  Poverty and ignorance form the backdrop for many of the heartwarming tales.  The basis for a television series of the same name – I always have to read the book too!

Recommendation:  Delightful reading!  Check out the series on Netflix!

Doc, by Jack Olsen

I am a fan of true crime stories, television series, etc.  This is a particularly riveting case as it involves the long term exploitation of women by their trusted family doctor over decades.  How it happens and why makes for a very an interesting read (or, in my case, listen).

Recommendation:  You’ll be astounded and outraged.

Emma, by Alexander McCall Smith

McCall Smith steals the character, Emma, right out of the pages of Austin and imagines her in modern day life.  (I am always interested in novels that attempt different perspectives.)  Sadly, I discovered that I know that heroine all too well.  Enough said.

Recommendation:  Interesting and light-hearted.

Fishbowl, by Bradley Somer.  Audio version narrated by Peter Berkrot.

Imagine a fish, having escaped its bowl, plummeting down the side of high-rise apartment building.  As it falls, it catches snippets of the lives occupying the building.   Those lives and the characters who make them so interesting, are the focus of the novel, which takes a light-hearted look at the idiosyncracies of humanity as well as the bonds that define us.

Recommendation:  Although I listened to the narrated version, which I found slow going, I imagine this to be a quick read – funny and yet, insightful.

The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal

A member of my book club found this book in used book store and declared it a rare treasure.  All of us who read it agreed.  An historical glance at what happens to a family’s home, possessions, and solidarity during enemy occupation. Riveting tale.

Recommendation:  A worthy read.

A House In the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett.

Kidnapped while on what was meant to be a one week journalistic foray into Somalia, Amanda Lindhout and her associate were detained for 460 days.   Despite the trials she endures, Amanda’s spirit remains strong, and the story that emerges is inspirational for all.

Recommendation:  Some of the images will haunt, however; Amanda Lindhout’s reflections and forgiving nature override the terror.  Amanda has gone on to create the Global Enrichment Foundation which offers opportunities for classroom involvement.

I Swear I’ll Make It Up To You, by Mishka Shubaly

While I was tempted to give up on this memoir many times, the rawness of it’s message kept me going.  Mishka Shubaly narrates the audio version, his voice a testimony to the abuse he imposed on himself over years of addiction.  The subtitle indicates this is a story of “A Life On The Low Road”, but it is also a story of the complexity of familial relations, the power of drugs and alcohol to demonize the psyche, and the amazing resilience of the spirit.  Shubaly’s confessions are honest and courageous, and he creates an argument for hope.

Recommendation:  For anyone who has ever known or been an addict – the brutal ugliness is laid out here.  This is also a tale of how family’s fall apart and yet persevere.  Not a light read.  I could only bear it in short segments.

I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson.

This coming of age story, written from the perspective of the two main characters, examines what happens when a seemingly idyllic life starts to fall apart.  Fourteen-year-old, socially awkward, Noah discovers his sexuality, while his popular twin, Jude, seems to glide through life – that is until his sister begins to tell her story.  There are many twists and turns in the novel, as well as an in-depth examination of the creative process.

Recommendation:  I would introduce this novel to a class, as it lends itself to discussion and many spin-off activities.  The characters are interesting, and the plot engaging.  I listened to the audiobook version, however; I can imagine that the printed version would appeal to reluctant readers.

If I Fall, If I Die, by Micheal Christie

Will is a typical, curious boy, busy making masterpieces at his mother’s insistence, except for one tragic difference – he can’t ever remember being Outside.  As much as his mother has created a rich Inside world, Will cannot help but be intrigued with what lies beyond their doorstep.  Despite his mother’s gripping agoraphobia and obsessive need to keep him safe, Will is determined not only to venture Outside, but to solve the mysteries that present themselves, encountering danger more real than his mother’s fears.

Recommendation:  This novel delves into the lives of those affected by mental illness as well as issues of race, the demise of a once industrious town, and of course, coming of age.  Great read.

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Kidd Monk

I am a dedicated Sue Kidd Monk fan, and have found all her writing to be essential reading.  This story revisits the relationships between races in the South, particularly as it relates to blacks finding freedom and   women’s rights coming to the forefront.

Recommendation:  Important literature for women to read.

Life, Animated:  A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism by Ron Suskind

This memoir centers around Owen, the Suskind’s autistic son, and how he transformed from a child with no speech to an articulate young man, with much to teach others, through the use of Disney characters and dialogues.  The story offers many insights which have a universal application; it is really a study into the development of the human psyche.  As an educator, I found it very eye-opening.

Recommendation:  Listen to the audio version for optimum effects, as Suskind (and Owen) break into Disney characters to illustrate the story.

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrick Backman

There is nothing likeable about the main character, Ove, and I found myself wondering why I would bother following the mundane life of this joyless old man, until the neighbours moved in and another story emerged.  By the end of the novel, I was sobbing.  This is a down-to-earth story of how life’s intersect and we find meaning even when we aren’t looking for it.  Ove is bent on committing suicide, but life just keeps getting in the way.  A good read.

Recommendation:  May be rough going at first, but hang in there – well worth the read.

Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

The paperback version of this novel sat on my bookshelf for years after an unsuccessful attempt to get into it.  The audio version kept me intrigued.  The tale, complicated at times, is a masterpiece, and worth the effort.  It deals with the issues of gender and sexual identification, not just from an emotional, and personal perspective, but also with regards to science and history.

Recommendation: A must read.

Monster, by Steve Jackson

Two women go missing in Colorado, and a third is brutally raped and beaten.  A man is convicted of the third attack and is released after serving time, only to reoffend.  This time the detective on the case is not willing to let him get away with what he has done.  This is a well-written (think Ann Rule) true crime investigation that reveals surprising aspects of human nature and the will to survive.

Recommendation:  Fans of true crime will appreciate the thoroughness of Jackson’s approach.  An interesting read that left me with many questions.

The Other Daughter, by Lauren Willig

Narrated by Nicola Barber, I found this to be a delightful tale, inviting the reader to indulge in a little bit of fantasy, while exploring the question of identity.  Rachel Woodley, the main character, is classically stubborn, vulnerable, and yet observant.  Her sidekick, Simon, is a mysterious rogue, and there adventures lead to many discoveries.

Recommendation:  The audio version is really well done.

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion

This book received rave reviews for a reason.  Imagine Leonard from The Big Bang Theory taking on the project of finding a wife.  Despite the main characters marked social awkwardness, he has many quotable insights.  Loved it.

Recommendation:  Read it!  Couldn’t put it down.

The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton (audiobook).

A delightful tale of a family, whose idyllic life is shattered when the mother’s past catches up with her, resulting in an unexpected twist.  In the audiobook version, the narrator’s accent enhances the setting and characters and makes for enjoyable listening.

Recommendation:  You’ll have trouble putting it down!

The Sellout, by Paul Beatty

Beatty ventures into dangerous waters with this novel about race, politics, and the judicial system, daring to turn things upside down in this comedic commentary on today’s social issues.  A master of the absurd, Beatty weaves together an unlikely story, featuring a pot-smoking farmer who inadvertently becomes a slave owner and finds himself promoting segregation.

Recommendation:  The audio version, narrated by Prentice Onayemi, is excellent, however; this novel also deserves a visual read.

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

Drawing on a children’s fairytale, this story follows a childless couple into the wilderness of Alaska.  Dubious, at first, about the author’s ability to create a credible novel from such fantastical roots, I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome.  The audiobook version, narrated by Debra Monk, was entertaining.

Recommendation:  Interesting portrait of life in the harsh Alaskan landscape.  Based on childhood tale, so somewhat fantastical.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

Harold, whose life is monotonously predictable, sets out to post a letter one day and keeps going.  Soon, his proclaimed purpose becomes big news, and all the world is watching Harold Fry.  Hilarious!

Recommendation:  Please do read!

The Vacationers, by Emma Straub

This was my book club’s selection, and honestly, not one I would have selected, although it has good reviews.  It follows the story of a family (for the most part all self-absorbed) as they take their agendas, and secrets, on vacation to Spain.

Recommendation:  a light read.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Run, by Peter Allison

I laughed my way through these true tales of life as an African Safari guide.  Thanks to Allison for transporting me out of my home bound state and into the bush.

Recommendation:  Educational and entertaining.

When Breath Becomes air, by Paul Kalanithi.

Kalanithi is just finishing the final lap of his qualifications to become a neurosurgeon when he discovers that he has terminal cancer.  A polished story teller – a reflection of his own love of literature – Kalanithi dares to delve into life’s big questions, drawing conclusions that are both difficult and heart-wrenching.   The reader is offered an inside, very personal, glimpse of the the medical world, as well as the bravery with which Kalanithi faces his challenge.

Recommendation:  Inspirational, and philosophical, as well as informative.

The Wiregrass, by Pam Webber

This is a delightful coming of age story, where the innocence of childhood brushes up against the evil of humanity.  Webber paints a very wistful picture of life on the Wiregrass, conjuring the nostalgia of lazy summer days.  Nettie and her cousins spend every summer with Ain’t Pitty and Uncle Ben, and the arrival of this band of hooligans sets the locals on edge, but as it turns out, who’s behind the midnight tp’ng escapades is the least of the town’s worries.

Recommendation:  Great summer read.

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