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5 of Ashley's Favorite Reads of 2024 So Far

Five of Ashley's Favorite Reads of 2024 So Far Graphic with Book Covers

by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@ashley_dicksonellison)

It's time for our mid-year round up of favorite reads thus far this year!

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's The War That Saved My Life ( | - middle grade historical fiction

I absolutely loved this brilliant book (and the sequel, The War I Finally Won, which was also fantastic!). This novel focuses on the children who fled London during WWII to escape the threat of bombings within the city. Ada and her younger brother Jamie have a horrific home life, so the transfer out of town offers them a rare opportunity to temporarily escape the cruelty of their life in London.

Ada is a bright, resourceful girl born with a twisted foot and an abusive mother who, prior to the war, had never been allowed to leave their tiny apartment. Her mother kept her locked up because of her foot and did nothing to help or educate her. Ada's life drastically changes as she decides that she and Jamie must escape the city with the other children. They soon meet Susan Smith, who becomes their caretaker, and they suddenly discover an entire world previously unknown to them. I love the way this story unfolds and the many, many layers of history and society that are explored through our journey with Ada and the people who come to love her.

Check out my full review of this amazing book here.

Percival Everett's James ( | - historical fiction, retelling of a classic

Woah, this book. This one is one I will be revisiting soon because there were so many layers that I'd like to dive in again to get even more out of a second reading. (I listened on audio this time, thanks to, and the narration is outstanding, but I'm eager to read the print soon.)

To be totally honest, I was a little skeptical about reading this at first because I haven't historically loved Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but I revisited that text before reading this one, and I'm a huge fan of reading them both together to see how Everett's work comments on Twain's original text. (I also had a lot more compassion for Huck when I read Twain's book this time, and I saw him in an even more empathetic light in James.) Everett does such a phenomenal job of centering Jim in the retelling, and his imagination about the realities of Jim's life illuminates just how complex the life of a slave, especially one on the run, would have been.

It's hard to encapsulate here just how brilliant this book is, but the commentary on speech, writing, reading, education, and so many other aspects of life within the community of the slaves is profound. Considering Huck's classic adventure story from the perspective of Jim casts a whole new light on the experience. This is one I'll be thinking about for a long time to come.

Lisa Fipps's Starfish ( | - middle grade novel in verse

This novel in verse (which is perfect for the Unabridged reading challenge this year!) focuses on Ellie as she grapples with the challenges she faces as other people continually judge her because of her body size. Ellie loves to swim and is active, but all that her mother and some people at school can see is her size, and from a young age, she has been relentlessly bullied because of it.

Ellie works hard to redefine her self-perception as she realizes it has been shaped by how others view and treat her. She also learns about what she must let go of and what she can hold onto to live her life more fully. In addition to Ellie, who is a vibrant, amazing character, I also love the secondary characters in this one and find that Ellie's friends really enhance the narrative. This is such a powerful, beautiful story about celebrating who we are and about opening the door to change.

Ariel Lawhon's The Frozen River ( | - historical fiction

I absolutely loved this brilliant seasonal historical fiction novel, which was one of my first reads of 2024. This centers on a midwife who finds herself at the center of both a rape trial and a murder trial amid the harsh winter of a small town in Maine.

From my review: "This story is based on the real life of Martha Ballard, a midwife in Maine in the late 1700s. Because Martha learned to read and write - a skill known by very few women at the time - she kept a journal accounting her life and the events she encountered, and Lawhon used that journal and the biography of Ballard's life (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812) to weave together this brilliant historical fiction novel.

"This is a story about who holds power and has agency and what they can do with that power. It's about justice and the quest to do what's right - and how hard it is to get justice in situations where those in power are corrupt. Martha Ballard is a passionate, competent woman who simply wants to see justice done but who has to watch the way that the judicial system only serves the white men who control it."

Click here to read my full review.

Cal Newport's Deep Work ( | - nonfiction

Although this book is a major change from the kind of book I normally include on favorites lists, Newport's perspective in Deep Work has profoundly affected how I approach my work day and my work week, and I'm so glad I read it. Newport's central idea is that if we can train ourselves to work in a deep, focused way in an increasingly distracted world, we can increase our meaningful productivity and creative output, and we can also channel and affirm the parts of ourselves that feel the most joy and satisfaction when working.

As someone who almost always replies promptly to all kinds of messages and who frequently has at least three different profile windows open with at least 15 tabs open in each window, Newport's message and method resonate with me because I'm eager to find more calm and focus within my work day. I'll be revisiting the practical tips in this one often.

As I looked over what I've read and loved so far (which is a shorter list than usual; listeners know I've been in a quite a slump for parts of this year!), a lot of my favorites have been Unabridged buddy reads! I especially loved Joanna Ho's The Silence that Binds Us and Natalia Sylvester's Breathe and Count Back from Ten, but I've enjoyed all of the buddy reads so far for 2024. I love reading those with our community!

(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)

Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.

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