Jacqueline Woodson's Harbor Me - I just finished reading this book with Jonathan (it was my second time through). I'm not sure what he thought, but (as he pointed out to Kirk) I cried at least twice and teared up more. He was disappointed in parts because there wasn't enough action, but I think it grabbed him eventually. We had some good, though difficult, discussions about Tamir Rice, about ICE, about how much we love our dogs, about drunk driving. And the writing! The sentences! I could just dive in at any point and revel in the beauty of Woodson's writing. The characters are so real, and Haley's communication of her need to hang onto the uniqueness of her experience in the ARTT room is lovely.
Dave Cullen's Parkland: Birth of a Movement - I was so moved by Dave Cullen's Parkland. As he did in Columbine, he takes on the events of a tragic school shooting. In this case, though, he focuses solely on what happens after that day, with an exploration of the March for Our Lives movement led by Parkland's survivors. The book is both sad and hopeful. I must admit that I was simultaneously looking forward to this book and absolutely dreading it: events like this one bring about equal parts of sadness and rage for me. While certain parts hit me hard, communicating fully what this (and other) communities have lost, the activism of these students is inspiring, and it was wonderful to focus both on their success and on their path forward. This is a must read. (Jen)
Dani Shapiro's Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love - Inheritance is the second memoir by Dani Shapiro that I've read (I listened to Hourglass, which I also highly recommend). In Inheritance, Shapiro explores the aftermath of her accidental discovery that she was conceived by donor-assisted artificial insemination and that her father is not her biological father. As she searches for more information, she finds her donor father, Ben Walden, and contends with the knowledge that the Orthodox Jewish ancestry she's always known is not her birthright. Shapiro's writing is gorgeous: spare and reflective and precise. Her memoir takes on the very nature of identity, of what makes her who she is. Beautiful, stunning work. (Jen)
Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption - Re-reading Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy was a revelation. Again. I found myself marking quotations on nearly every page, holding back tears on every page, inspired on every page. Stevenson unveils the injustice that clogs the criminal justice system. While I felt so much anger while reading, Stevenson always brings it back to hope, to the mercy that gives the book its title. The structure, which alternates between the ongoing story of Walter McMillian and individual stories that highlight different forms of injustice, allows him the opportunity to highlight both the systemic problems that plague the system AND individual stories that give those problems a face. Bryan Stevenson engages both the reader's brain and emotions as he makes an argument for humanity and mercy. (Jen)
Here's a selection of mini-reviews; books are linked for purchase.
Alex North's The Whisper Man - I finished this Book of the Month pick in record time, encouraged by all of the Bookstagram buzz about just. how. creepy it is. And I really loved Alex North's The Whisper Man, though I wasn't *quite* as creeped out as I'd hoped/feared. Though it migrates between a variety of perspectives, at the center of the novel are Tom and Jake Kennedy, a father and son who are mourning the unexpected death of their wife and mother. They move to Featherbank for a fresh start, unaware of the sinister history of the town. Frank Carter, the Whisper Man, is imprisoned after a brutal series of child murders in which he lured the children outside their homes by whispering at their windows. Pete Willis, the police officer who arrested Carter, is called into a new case that mimics Carter's murders. The novel weaves through past and present, the perspectives of adults and of children, and the possibility of ghosts, circling the origins and aftermath of Carter's crimes. While I was entranced by the novel, which is beautifully written and reminiscent, for me, of the patient build of Stephen King's novels, The Whisper Man did not end up being one of those books that made me scared to be at home alone. Instead, I enjoyed North's understanding of his characters, his willingness to embrace a sort of magical realism in its paranormal sections, and his instincts in building an absorbing plot through the assembly of diverse perspectives. For me, it didn't live up to the hype . . . and I was glad. (Jen)
Ruth Ware's The Turn of the Key - The Turn of the Key is my fifth book by Ruth Ware and by FAR my favorite. I don't know if she's just getting better (in my opinion!) or if I feel this way because the narrator of this audiobook (I listened on @scribd) is AMAZING. I'll definitely be looking for audiobooks narrated by Imogen Church in the future. (I was listening on my friendly shower speaker when Church was narrating the creaking above the protagonist when she's alone in her room at night, and I was *seriously* scared. Which doesn't happen very often for me. Loved it!) If you like a gothic mood--I was reminded here at different times of Rebecca and Jane Eyre--I think you should try The Turn of the Key. Rowan Caine is thrilled when she's hired as an in-home nanny for three girls in a luxurious old-home-made-new in the Scottish Highlands. She arrives to find herself dealing with the (in)inconveniences of a house controlled completely by app and yet haunted by tragedy and sorrow. Left alone almost immediately with children she's only just met, Rowan is unsettled both by her circumstances and by the peculiarities of her new home. Because Ware frames this central narrative within letters that Rowan is writing to a potential solicitor from prison, we know right away that she's been blamed for the death of one of the children. The book then leads readers through Rowan's account of her time at Heatherbrae House. I've felt disappointed by the endings of several of Ware's books (her most recent before this one, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, is my next-favorite because I felt it was solid through the end), but I LOVED the conclusion here. I don't want to say more, so I'll just recommend (again) that you listen to this one. It's a perfect October read. (Jen)
Steve Cavanagh's Thirteen - When I started Steve Cavanagh's Thirteen, I *really* wasn't sure I was in the mood for a thriller, and I was fully prepared to give it 50 pages or so and then return it to the library, unfinished. And then, it hooked me in a major way. (The fact that this is several books into a series somehow also wasn't a deterrent--Cavanagh includes enough background to make up for the lack of context, though I'm sure there were subtleties I missed.) The premise here is a clever one, as summarized by the cover's tagline: "The serial killer isn't on trial. He's on the jury." The book alternates between the serial killer's third-person-limited perspective and the first-person narration of Eddie Flynn, a conman-turned-defense-attorney who is serving as second chair on a high-profile murder case involving a Hollywood power couple. The book offers continuous action, some surprising and believable twists, and flawed, empathetic characters. I'm likely (when my TBR is a little less pressing) to pick up the previous books in this series because Thirteen was SUCH a great page turner. (Jen)
Rin Chupeco's The Girl from the Well
Stephen King's Misery
Claire Mackintosh's I See You
Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park - In preparing for an episode of Unabridged focused on Rainbow Rowell (look for it this month!), I decided to re-familiarize myself with Eleanor and Park, which I hadn't read since 2013. I downloaded it on Scribd, planning to listen enough to remember secondary characters and plots and to get a sense of it overall. And I was swept away. I still think Fangirl is my favorite Rainbow Rowell, but oh my goodness, Eleanor and Park is just so, so good. The couple is sweet, and the development of their romance is perfect: the simple joys of holding hands, of looking forward to seeing the other person, of hardly being able to bear the slightest separation, beautiful captures the innocent sweetness of first love. There's so much more to this book: considerations of poverty, of abuse, of interracial relationships, of bullying . . . again, SO much more. I'm so grateful to be able to appreciate this joy of a novel all over again. (Jen)
Adib Khorram's Darius the Great Is Not Okay - I could not love this book more. Or have cried more. (My son said at one point that I looked like I was getting a cold. It was because my face was so swollen from crying.) Darius is a brilliant protagonist who is funny and sad and realistic. Diagnosed with depression at a young age, he struggles with (1) the high expectations of his father (who also suffers from depression); (2) bullying at school; (3) feeling like an outcast, partially because of his Iranian heritage; (4) jealousy of his sister, who he loves dearly but who he feels was meant to be a replacement for him, and (5) his weight. When Darius and his family travel to his mother's home in Iran to meet Darius's grandfather before his death, Darius begins to understand where he may belong, where he fits in his family, and what a true friend really means. Khorram's treatment of Darius's depression reminds me of John Green's Turtles All the Way Down and Emily X. R. Pan's The Astonishing Color of After in considering mental illness as something one must live with. (Jen)
Natasha Deen's In the Key of Nira Ghani - Read Jen's review here.
Tahereh Mafi's A Very Large Expanse of Sea - This book would not let go. I picked it up at 10:00 one night, realizing suddenly that it was due ASAP at the library. I stayed up 'til after midnight and finally made myself go to bed because I had to work the next day. I almost finished it before school but had to wait to devour the last 20 pages after school. Tahereh Mafi, whose Shatter Me series I ended up really enjoying, crafted a masterpiece here. In 2002, Shirin, the Muslim daughter of Iranian immigrants, enters her umpteenth new school already having given up on the human race and, in particular, all fellow high schoolers. She has been dealing with the discrimination of post-9/11 America in moments large and small that dominate every day. Because Shirin chooses to wear a hijab, her visible differences make her a target in a way that her older brother Navid is not. Shirin goes through life with her head down, just aiming to survive the next three years of high school. Her outlook starts to change, however, with the addition of two factors: Ocean, a white boy in her biology class who continues to show polite and friendly interest in her, and breakdancing, which becomes her first extracurricular activity when her brother forms a crew. Watching Shirin contend with her own reaction to others' prejudice is heartwrenching, and reading her attempts to be vulnerable and open made me giddy. Beautiful book! (Jen)
John Green's The Fault in Our Stars
Jandy Nelson's I’ll Give You the Sun
Emily X. R. Pan's The Astonishing Color of After
Nic Stone's Dear Martin
Raina Telgemeier's Drama
Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give