by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
This month, for one of the categories of the Unabridged Podcast Reading Challenge, Ashley and I released our update on our most recent recommendations for each other (you can check out the original recommendation episode here; I'll link to the rest at the bottom of this post). It's gotten me reflecting on the practice of recommending books. I don't really think there are books for everyone . . . but I do think there are books that work for almost everyone. Here are just a few (almost) all-purpose book recommendations.
John Green's The Anthropocene Reviewed (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
I've been a long-time John Green fan. I started with The Fault in Our Stars (Amazon | Bookshop.org), in 2012, as the book was becoming a sensation. I picked up the novel, not suspecting the effect it would have on me, and didn't put it down until I finished it, ugly crying, alone in my upstairs bonus room. My husband came up to ask me a question and asked instead what was wrong, convinced that something horrible had happened. I felt as if it had. Few books have affected me so much. . . .
Read the rest of my review here.
Linda Holmes's Evvie Drake Starts Over (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
Linda Holmes's Evvie Drake Starts Over is SUCH a perfect contemporary romance. Protagonist Evvie, who becomes a widow on the night she's decided finally to leave her husband, is trying to reconcile the grief of those who are mourning her husband with her own conflicted feelings. And then her best friend tells her about a friend who can take some weight off of her shoulders by renting her attached apartment and paying some rent. Dean is a professional baseball player with the yips who is fielding media scrutiny by spending some time in Evvie's small town. I loved both of these characters so much, and watching their relationship grow as each grieves something lost is simply beautiful. I can't recommend this novel enough!
Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
". . . he wondered if that was how a man held up his end of the bargain, by learning and taking into his heart this strange wilderness--guarded and naked, violent and meek, tremulous in its greatness."
"In my old age, I see that life itself is often more fantastic and terrible than the stories we believed as children, and that perhaps there is no harm in finding magic among the trees."
The book, set in the 1920s, circles around the fairy tale "The Snow Child." Jack and Mabel are a couple who have moved recently to Alaska. Though they hoped for children, they are childless and have reached an age where they have given up hope. Mabel is heartbroken and suggested moving from the Eastern U.S. partly to escape her sorrow. Jack's sadness is different from Mabel's, but his very real disappointment has now shifted into fear that he will disappoint his wife again by not being able to keep them alive and warm and fed. After a rare moment of joy that results in the couple building a child out of snow, a little girl enters their lives. She appears seemingly from nowhere, scampering in and out of the woods unpredictably, edging into their lives. Mabel, who knows the story of "The Snow Child," sees life mirroring art. Jack is not convinced that Mabel is right but is afraid to disappoint his wife again by contradicting her vision. This book is beautiful. It epitomizes what I love about reading, about being transported by a story into a time and a place so different from my own life but rendered so well that the world feels as close as mine.
TJ Klune's The House in the Cerulean Sea (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
"How can we fight prejudice if we do nothing to change it? If we allow it to fester, what's the point?"
I had heard so much about T. J. Klune's The House in the Cerulean Sea that I thought I was prepared. I was even worried I'd be disappointed (high expectations and all that). I could not have anticipated, however, just how much I love this book. (I now want to read all of Klune's backlist, which is substantial.)
The book is about SO many things. It all begins when Linus Baker, seemingly the most ordinary of ordinary men, is given an assignment. He works for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY) as a caseworker who investigates troubling occurrences at their orphanages. He prides himself on writing the most objective of objective reports but also of working every day to protect the children who live in the homes. He just has to make sure that he protects them through the RULES AND REGULATIONS of the Department. Linus is in the midst of a lonely and colorless existence when Extremely Upper Management sends him to the orphanage in the Cerulean Sea to write a report on both the six orphans who live there AND on their master, Arthur Parnassus.
His assignment changes his entire life, as he sees the ocean for the first time and comes to know the children who live on the island as outcasts, spurned by the nearby village. Arthur protects the children, and, more, he understands them, nurturing each and providing a sense of security that most have not had before.
This book is magic. It's beautiful and funny and sad. I loved Linus Baker so much for the courage he's able to realize he has, for the way that he wants to protect the children in his care, and for the ways that he allows love to open his heart and to show him the truth about the rules he's followed for so long. If you haven't read this yet, do yourself a favor and pick it up. (Even if you don't love fantasy, give it a try—you might be surprised!)
Ashley loves this one, too! Check out her review here.
Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
I love this book SO. MUCH. Miller crafts a brilliant story rooted in mythology and in the gritty reality of love. Her interpretation of the story of Achilles through the eyes of his lover Patroclus is empathetic and powerful and beautifully written. I have never read the whole ofThe Iliad, but the characters I'm familiar with from movies and other epics are empathetic and complex and well drawn.
We discussed this book at length during a book club episode (which will hopefully make up for my short review!).
Tommy Orange's There There (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
This is a gorgeous novel, one whose genre bleeds into being a collection of interconnected short stories, and its societal commentary shone even more for me. The first time through the book, what stuck out to me were the characters: Orange's novel moves quickly through an array of Native characters who could not be more different from each other, who span the breadth of what the label "Native" means. (Orange also takes on the numerous labels that "fit"—or don't?‚—addressing the difficulty of choosing the name that's best.) He looks at generational trauma, at systemic inequality and injustice, at the stories and mythology that inhabit each character's life.
There are moments of recognition when we see one character appear in another's story, and there are chapters in which the narrator articulates modern attitudes toward issues like mass shootings. Somehow, all of these disparate pieces come together in one gorgeous, emotional, heartbreaking whole.
This is another Book Club pick—check out the episode!
Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy is a revelation every time I re-read it. I find 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 feel 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. (This one's also a Book Club pick!)
For more recommendations, check out other recommendation-focused episodes and their updates:
(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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