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!

Apprenticed to Venus:  My Secret Life with Anaïs Ninby Tristine Rainer

Part memoir, part novel, Rainer describes her relationship with the eccentric and inspiring author, Nin.  As a fan of Nin, I found this story intriguing.  It is also a nod to women’s struggle for equality, as well as a love story, albeit, unconventional.

Recommendation:  I would love to have shared this reading with another as it raised many questions for me.

Beautiful Addiction, by Lene Fogelberg

Fogelberg always knew there was something wrong, yet doctors dismissed her concerns as unfounded, until her family moved to the U.S. and a life threatening heart condition was detected.   Fogelberg’s memoir is poetically crafted: the unfolding of her story and brush with death a lesson for all to trust their inner voice and persist despite the odds.  Beautifully written and resonant for any who suffer from hidden disabilities.

Recommendation:  A must read for the chronically ill and their caregivers, as well as health providers.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

Two women meet by chance and discover they have a connection, one the older women is not eager to reveal.  Told through the perspectives of the modern-day Avery, a lawyer being groomed for politics, and eleven-year-old Rill, stolen with her sibling from her family home and forced into adoption in the 1930’s.

Based on the real life case of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, and the evil of Georgia Tann who profited from “relocating” children, Before We Were Yours is a fictional imagining of how such an atrocity can affect the lives of those involved and the generation to come.

Recommendation:  The stories are somewhat fluffy, and the characters maddeningly ‘nice’ but the tale reveals a real-life human trafficking case which deserves a read.  Suitable for book clubs.

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.

Caring Lessons:  A Nursing Professor’s Journey of Faith and Self, by Lois Hoitenga Roelofs.

In this memoir, Roelofs chronicles her life, which starts with reluctance towards nursing or teaching and ends with her as Professor of Nursing.  This book is about more than one woman’s career.  It is reflective of every woman’s journey – the balance we seek between living our passion and fulfilling expectations.  Roelofs holds nothing back, from her struggles with mental health and parenting, to her vulnerability in the face of the unknown.  Reading this book is like sitting down over a coffee and getting intimate.  

Recommendation:  For any woman who has questioned her path and needs an affirmative pat.

Burnout:  The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA

Being a woman in these modern times is complicated by so many factors:  media pressure, social and personal expectations, as well as juggling the many stressors of everyday life.  This collaborative effort dishes out the dirt and the science to offer a practical approach to getting out from under stress’s oppression.   Humour and personal experience offer depth and light-heartedness to the read.  

Recommendation:  I give this book a 5-star-+ and recommend it to all women, young and old.  We need this kind of clarity to empower our lives.

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!

The Clay Girl, by Heather Tucker

The Appletons have a reputation, and it isn’t good.  Hariet, the youngest of the sisters, finds consolation in an imaginary friend, Jasper.   Bounced around, Hariet is forced to figure out who is trustworthy, and who is not.  As she watches her sister’s lives fall apart, she struggles to believe in her own future.

Recommendation:  The narrative style is poetic, reflecting a creative child’s mind.  Such a good read.

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 Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland

Based on the life of Emily Carr, this novel examines the artist’s struggles, passion, and triumphs.  Vreeland demonstrates an appreciation for the arts and the peculiarities particular to the creative process.

Recommendation:  As a budding artist, I found much to relate to and treasure in this novel.  As a woman, Vreeland touches on the challenges of being a woman in a man’s world.  This would make an interesting book club selection.

Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

While Biafra struggles for independence, the world remains silent.  This award winning novel examines the people caught up in the midst of unspeakable atrocities.  With an emphasis on human interest, Adichie raises so many questions about the nature of politics, relationships, and personal character.

Recommendation:  Due to violence and sexuality, this is an adult read.  Great for book clubs as there is much to absorb.  I listened to the audio version, narrated by Zainab Jah, which was well done.

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.

Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. Vance

Memoir.  Growing up in Ohio, with roots in Kentucky, J.D. Vance’s life was coloured by substance abuse (his grandfather’s and mother’s), a rotating door of fathers, and the hopelessness that comes from rampant unemployment, yet; J.D. grows up to choose a better life for himself, eventually graduating from Yale Law.  This book examines the reality of Vance’s childhood and what can be done to help the countless children who lack the resources to break the cycle.

Recommendation:  An insightful look into the culture that championed Trump’s success.

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.

A Land More Kind Than Home, by Wiley Cash

In a small southern town, a fire and brimstone preacher has the community mesmerized.   Despite one resident’s attempts to keep the children safe from the snake-loving preacher, things go awry.  This story is fast-moving and gripping.

Recommendation:  A good read for book clubs.  Some scenes are frightening.

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.

Mayhem at the Happy Valley Motor Inn and Resort, by Leslie Noyes

Funny, heart warming read.  Paula Arnett loses her husband in a freak accident and discovers that he’s been keeping secrets.  With no time to grieve, she grabs her best friend, Cassie, and the two head out to solve the mystery.  Mayhem, indeed!

Recommendation:  A light-hearted 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.

North of Normal, by Cea Sunrise Person

Memoir.  Cea’s early years are spent with her anti-establishment grandparents and free-loving mother in the wilds of Western Canada.  When she finally does experience city life, Cea dreams of a different future for herself.  The journey from tipis to New York runways is an interesting read.

Recommendation:  This is a true coming of age story, that portrays of the extremes of the hippy era.

Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger.

Narrated by Rich Orlow.

1960’s small town Minnesota is the setting for this coming of age novel about a thirteen-year-old boy, Frank, and his sidekick brother, Jake.  Interesting characters, a summer of unexpected deaths, and two boys who can’t help but follow the clues leads to an engaging read.

Recommendation:  Suitable for young adults, and a nostalgic trip back to the 60’s for adults.

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 Other Side of Paradise, by Staceyann Chin

Memoir.  Staceyann Chin is being raised by her Lord fearing Grandmother in Jamaica, with her old brother, praying that her mother will return from Canada to rescue them.  Never able to filter her thoughts, Chin’s story is as humorous as it is heart wrenching.

Recommendation:  I listened to the audio version, narrated by Staceyann herself – couldn’t turn it off.  A great introduction to this author, making me want more.

 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!

Other books by Kate Morton, equally recommended:  The Lake House

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 Sound of Glass, by Karen White.  Audio version narrated by Therese Plummer and Susan Bennet.

White weaves together a riveting tale of three women, whose lives intersect in interesting and unexpected ways.  Widowed after a marriage of only seven years, Merritt discovers her husband had a past of which she was unaware, including a Grandmother whose house she has now inherited.  Merritt decides to claim the inheritance and escape her troublesome past, until it shows up on her new doorstep.

Recommendation:  The audio version is superb.  An entertaining summer read.

Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller

Ingrid, wife of an adulterous Gil, and mother to two daughters, has been missing for eleven years.  While presumed dead from drowning, her body has never been found.  Now Gil thinks he has spotted her, and when his pursuit causes an accident, landing him in hospital, his adult daughters come to the rescue.   While they suspect their father is losing his faculties, what they don’t know is that Gil has been finding traces of his wife – in letters she has left for him, tucked away in the pages of his vast book collection.

Recommendation:  Yes! Yes! Yes!  Read the book!  A literary masterpiece.

Telling Sonny, by Elizabeth Gauffreau

The year is 1924, and nineteen-year-old Faby Gauthier feels stifled by life, until she attends the travelling Vaudeville show and meets a character named Slim White.  Life after Slim will never be the same.

Recommendation:  Historical fiction.  Would be a good book club selection.

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.