Posted in Book Lists, Kid Lit

What to Read With Your Kids when the World is Terrible

Yesterday, while sitting in traffic, I attempted to listen to the radio for about 10 minutes, before angrily shutting off the stereo and opening the windows instead. In that ten minutes, I shook my head angrily, clenched my fists a lot and drew more than one curious stare from the people in cars nearby.  Thus is the state of the world, my friends. The news is so terrible and so infuriating lately, I just can’t. even.

Thus, I was inspired to write my latest post for Book Riot — a list of books to read with your kids when the world is a garbage fire. Because they may be small, but they are listening.

Here you go. 

Remember to breathe and take time for yourself during the crazy holiday season upon which we are now embarking. Books are a great cheap method of self care.

 

 

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Posted in Inbox / Outbox, Uncategorized

Inbox/Outbox: My Weekend of Endings

Although it is creeping toward mid-October here, it is still insufferably hot and humid–my least favorite weather combination and the main reason I left my home state of Florida for New England. What’s going on? Ugh. Nevertheless, the leaves are changing and falling from the trees, and I occasionally catch a scenic Fall-like moment outside. I’ll take it, I suppose.

Outbox

So this weekend saw me finishing three big things, the tv series we’d been watching for about a year, the book I was reading and the audio book I was listening to:

TV:  The Good Wife

goodwifeI started watching this casually last year when I was in search of something interesting and distracting without being too depressing (a big problem with TV lately). I quickly got invested in the characters, if not the plot, and mostly kept watching because I loved the cast so much. Alan Cumming? Yes please, all day. Christine Baranski? Also yes, please. Anyway, we soldiered through seven full seasons and enjoyed it for the most part. Then came the final episode, which, you could argue was realistic, but which left me with a stomachache. It felt like a let down after such a long commitment.  Couldn’t we please give these people  a happy ending? Or something close to it? Anyway. We’re done! And now we don’t know what to watch!

Book: Sourdough by Robin Sloan

sourdoughI picked this up after hearing and reading multiple good reviews. And it did not disappoint. It’s not a particularly profound book, although I suppose you could read it into more than I did. The plot is weird and I have had a hard time describing it to people. Basically, there’s a woman named Lois who works in an almost science fiction-like setting of workaholics. They are computer engineers creating code for robotic arms. Lois works too hard, sleeps badly and goes around with a knot in her stomach. Then she discovers a wonderful takeout place run by two brothers who identify themselves as part of the Mazg culture. They make incredible soup and bread. When they suddenly leave the country due to visa issues, they leave their sourdough starter with Lois. Knowing nothing at all about baking, Lois decides to learn and ends up transforming her life in the process.  But this is no ordinary sourdough… in fact, it has a life and agenda of it’s own. Overall, a fun, readable book about food and food technology. And get ready to crave sourdough.

Audiobook: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

beyond the brightThis was a beautiful book with a narrator that sounded just like the actress Cush Jumbo who plays Lucca Quinn on the final season of The Good Wife! It was not her however, but an equally talented narrator Jorjeana Marie. Beyond the Bright Sea tells the story of 12-year old Crow, who lives on a beautiful island off the ghost of Cuttyhunk with her guardian Osh. Crow’s origins are a source of mystery, but most people think she came from the island of Penekese, a former leper colony nearby. When she sees a fire burning on the island one night, she decides to investigate, and sets off a chain of events. Wolk is a master of the craft and the delicate interplay of emotions between Crow and her guardian, as well as some other characters, make this a wonderful and memorable tale. I even teared up listening to it while running on the treadmill!

Inbox

Audiobook: Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

before the devil breaks youThe only thing I have lined up next is the third installment of Libba Bray’s Diviners series, which I have been dying to hear ! I even broke down and bought it because I couldn’t wait for my library hold to come through. These audiobooks are super frightening and so well read by the divine January LaVoy. I’m excited!

I have no idea what I’m going to read or watch next! What about you? What have you been reading / watching / listening to?

 

Posted in Book Lists, Kid Lit

Scary, Scarier, Scariest: Spooky Stories for Middle Grade Readers

When it comes to determining what makes a book scary, there are almost too many factors to consider. What gives us the chills, what speeds up our heart rate, and what simply provides a pleasant thrill depends entirely on who we are and what we have experienced. For instance, I love a good ghost story. As long as there is no blood, I am all in if there are ghosts involved. When it comes to zombies, however, or serial killers, I’m out. I can’t even look in the direction of a story that involves blood and brains. Because of this particular proclivity of mine, I have always been drawn to spooky middle grade stories. Since the intended audience is under 18, you can generally count on a good thrill without out too much violence or trauma. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that the scares offered in the thirteen terrifying tales I’ve chosen below are somehow less than, because they come in middle grade books. Find a cozy, well lighted place and make sure you are not alone before diving into one of these supremely spooky stories.

The Jumbies by  Tracey Baptiste

the jumbiesCorrine La Mer doesn’t believe the stories about the jumbies who supposedly live in the forests of her tropical island home. Malevolent and mischievous creatures who come in many shapes and sizes, jumbies are said to come out after dark in search of people to terrorize. One All Hallow’s Eve, Corrine unexpectedly finds herself in the woods, where she spies a pair of large yellow eyes who follow her to the treeline. When strange things begin to happen from that day on, Corrine must come face to face with the truth about the jumbies and her own family’s magical beginnings. Cleverly based on a Haitian folktale, Baptiste’s evocative story features real thrills that will satisfy the elementary school set. Ideal for ages 8 and up. SCARY.

Among the Dolls by William Sleator

among the dollsAll Vicky wants for her birthday is a brand new bike. But her antique loving parents have a different idea. They present Vicky with an old fashioned doll house on her birthday, complete with four creepy, mismatched dolls. Disappointed, Vicky resentfully puts the dollhouse in a dark corner her room, determined to ignore it. And then her parents start changing. Her mother falls down the stairs and becomes bitter and resentful, taking her anger and pain out on Vicky’s father and Vicky. Suddenly, the dollhouse becomes an attractive way for Vicky to act out the troubling scenes at home.  Hours pass as Vicky manipulates the dolls into treating each other badly. One day she wakes to find herself inside the dollhouse, where the dolls, angry about the way she has treated them, are only too happy to return the favor, so to speak. A very short, elegant and yes, supremely creepy story perfect for the newly confident chapter book reader. Ideal for ages 8 and up. SCARY

The Headless Haunt and other African American Ghost Stories collected and retold by James Haskins. Illustrated by Ben Otero.

headlesshauntAccording to author James Haskins, African American beliefs about ghosts and spirits are culled from a combination of African and European folklore. First hand accounts of one on one encounters with ghosts mingle with classic ghost stories in this fun, spooky read. My favorite part of this book, however, are the “tips for how to acquire the ability to see ghosts,” (punch a hole in your earlobe and create a “ghost hole;” look into the mirror with another person) and what precautions to take when someone dies (cover all the mirrors in the house, or you might see their spirit).  Ideal for ages 8 and up. SCARY.

 

The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

amulet 1Still mourning the tragic death of their father, siblings Emily and Navin move with their mother to a house that once belonged to their great grandfather. Not long after their arrival, a terrifying creature lures their mother through a door in the basement, where she disappears. Determined to save her, the kids follow and discover a world full of demons and scary monsters. Kibuishi’s gorgeous graphic novel was particularly disturbing and scary to read from my parental perspective because of the young characters’ palpable danger and vulnerability throughout the story. This is the first book in a very popular series of seven (and counting). Ideal for ages 9 and up. SCARIER

 

HooDoo by Ronald L. Smith

hoodooYoung Hoodoo comes from a long line of conjurers–men and women who practice hoodoo, or folk magic. As Smith describes it in his deliciously dark book, “They used foot powder that could go up through your foot and make you sick, a black hen’s egg for getting rid of evil spirits, nutmeg seeds for good luck at gambling, and all kinds of other things.” When a dangerous stranger shows up and starts asking about a young man named Hoodoo, Hoodoo must think fast and learn to conjure so he can defeat the stranger and run him out of town. This highly original story will spook both adults and children. Though Hoodoo is just a child, the darkness he faces is intensely scary and makes for a memorably atmospheric read. Ideal for ages 10 and up. SCARIER

Coraline by Neil Gaiman  

coralineCoraline lives with her busy, distracted parents in a big house with many doors, including one that leads to nowhere. Coraline’s mother has already unlocked it to show her that there are only bricks behind it. But one long, rainy, boredom-filled day, Coraline opens the door again to find it leads down a mysterious passage and into a house that is just like her own with a few eerie differences: her “other” mother and father are very attentive but have big black buttons for eyes. When Coraline makes it back to her own side of the house, she finds her parents are missing, trapped in the other world and it is up to her to save them. Creepy as all get out, Gaiman’s tone is pitch perfect, straddling the fine line between darkly humorous and totally terrifying. Dave McKean’s illustrations increase the fear. Ideal for 10 and up. SCARIER

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

night gardenerTeenager Molly and her younger brother Kip have fallen on hard times after they are forced to leave the family farm in Ireland due to famine. Separated from their parents and in search of work, they take the first job they can, which happens to be located on a remote estate, in the middle of a spooky forest. A classic Victorian ghost story with a crumbling mansion, an enchanted tree and a frightening spectre that comes out at night, this is a deeply satisfying and well written tale that kids and their grown ups will enjoy.  Ideal for ages 10 and up. SCARIER

Wait til Helen Comes by  Mary Downing Hahn

wait till helen comesMolly and her younger brother Michael can’t seem to get along with their stepsister Heather. Since their parents got married, Heather seems to do all she can to break up any moments of happiness the new family try to have together. In search of a new beginning, the family moves out to the country to live in a former church turned house. Right next door to the church is a cemetery that Molly feels uneasy about from the very beginning. When Heather starts having conversations with a ghost named Helen, things take a turn for the worse. A classic, thrilling ghost story complete with a deeply troubled and traumatized child (Heather), this book is responsible for many a childhood nightmare. Ideal for ages 9 and up. SCARIER

The Inn Between by Marina Cohen

the inn between.jpgQuinn is driving across the country with her best friend Kara and Kara’s family, when they decide to stop at a most unusual Victorian mansion/inn for the night. Exhausted from driving, the family is dazzled by the beauty of the hotel and it’s old fashioned decor. The lack of outside telephone lines and the perpetually smiling but odd employees add a level of creepiness that Quinn just can’t shake. When Kara’s parents and brother suddenly disappear without a trace, Kara and Quinn are left on their own in the increasingly strange hotel that they can’t seem to leave. Grown up readers will figure out what is going on almost right away in this well-paced story, while younger readers will have the pleasure of experiencing a popular horror movie trope. Still, the eeriness coupled with heavy subject matter (child abduction, death) give the story some depth and a scariness that will linger long after the last page. Suggested for ages 10 and up. SCARIER.

The Streaming Staircase (Lockwood and Co. series)  by Jonathan Stroud

screaming staircaseIn this fictional version of London, the city is still reeling from the “Problem,” a sinister situation in which all manner of ghosts, many of them unfriendly, are appearing throughout the city. Only young people with certain psychic abilities can see the ghosts. Anthony Lockwood and his two associates Lucy and George Cubbins work as a team to defeat deadly, hostile ghosts and keep their business afloat.  Lots of fun and full of truly spine tingling moments, all of the books in this series are a chilling pleasure to read.  Ideal for ages 12 and up. SCARIEST

 

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

scary storiesNo list of terrifying books for children would be complete without Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Stephen Gammell’s  illustrations alone are enough to give me nightmares. Told in brief, one to four page vignettes, the stories in this collection (and the many sequels) are “collected from folklore” and range from tales of hauntings and ghosts to wild beasts and demons. There is a new edition available featuring different artwork, but I strongly encourage you to seek out the original editions with Gammell’s black and white drawings. They really elevate this collection to the next level of scary.  Ideal for Ages 10 and up. SCARIEST (Because of the pictures!)

Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac

skeleton manDrawing from her family’s Mohawk heritage, sixth grader Molly relates one of her father’s favorite stories about a man who gets so hungry one evening that he eats himself and then every member of his family except one smart young girl. Soon after relating his truly horrifying story, Molly tells us that her own parents have gone missing and we learn about a strange, skeleton-like man who has suddenly shown up claiming to be her only remaining family. GULP. This tale was almost too creepy for me, a grown ass woman! Ideal for ages 12 and up. SCARIEST

 

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch  by Joseph Delaney

last apprenticeTwelve year old Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son and, with no inheritance of his own, leaves home to become the apprentice of the town spook, a tall, hooded, mysterious man whose job is to chase evil spirits, ghosts and witches out of local farms and villages. Already in tune with those beyond the grave (he can hear the ghosts of hanged men on a hill in his town), Thomas’s adventures are genuinely terrifying, and author Delaney pulls no punches in his descriptions of the monstrous creatures Thomas encounters, particularly the slimy, cannibalistic witch he must face in this first book in a series of 13. Ideal for ages 10 and up. SCARIEST

 

 

Posted in audiobooks, Book Lists

Eight Thrilling Missing Person Mysteries on Audio

**I wrote this piece for Book Riot a few weeks ago.  I know I have recommended some of these before, but they are definitely worth mentioning again!

I use audio books to help me get through the most boring and mundane tasks of my everyday life:  commuting, washing dishes, mopping floors, folding laundry, running on a treadmill, etc. For this reason, I require the most exciting, gripping mysteries to keep my attention. No in-depth analysis or academic meanderings for me. The more harrowing and heart wrenching, the better, which is why I find myself drawn to missing person mysteries more than any other sub genre. Once I hear the circumstances of a person’s disappearance, I simply must know how it will end. And I have been known to sit in my driveway, or wear my ear buds during family functions, just to find out the ending of a really good story.

Here are some of my favorite missing person mysteries that work particularly well in your ears:

The Widow by Fiona Barton

The-Widow-book-coverWhen Jean’s husband was accused of a horrible crime involving a missing toddler named Bella, she played the dutiful wife, standing by him as he was reviled by the press and the public. After his accidental death by bus, Jean is suddenly facing a new life as a widow.  Everyone wants to know the real story of what happened to Bella and what it was like to live with such an awful man. But the truth is a tricky thing, and Jean has learned a few tricks over the years. The audio book features a full cast of superb actors with distinctly different styles, all of which help to bring the story to life.

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy  

do not become alarmedTwo families decide to spend their Christmas together on a cruise to South America. Things are going perfectly, until they decide to leave the ship for an excursion in one of the South American countries they are visiting. The men go golfing and the women plan to take the six children to the rainforest to go ziplining. On the way there, however, the women and children’s van gets a flat tire and breaks down on the side of the road. They decide to wait for relief on a nearby beach. The kids swim and the adults enjoy cocktails from a cooler and a warm, hazy heat. Before they know it, the adults dose off and wake up to find that their kids are missing. The plot then splits into two separate narratives: the parents’ experience and the kids.’ Both are equally riveting. Author Maile Meloy does a great job reading her own work, adding tones and emphasis in a way that only the creator could.

What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan

What she KnewRachel Jenner is out walking with her 8 year old son Ben and their dog in a Bristol, England park, when he leaves her site for a few short minutes. When she tries to catch up with him, she finds that he has vanished completely. What follows is a harrowing and twisty narrative in which the mother and a detective inspector unfurl the details of the investigation. As soon as I started this, I simply had to know what happened with Ben! The audio is tense and well performed by two narrators.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

couple next doorTwo couples who live next door to each other have a dinner party one evening. One of the couples has a baby girl at home, who they leave sleeping in her crib, while they go next door to eat, accompanied by their baby monitor. When they get home, their baby has vanished from her crib without a trace. The unraveling and hysteria of the mother, combined with the whiplash turns of the plot will keep you glued to your headphones.

 

Pleasantville by Attica Locke

pleasantvilleLocke’s lawyer Jay Porter is ready to start a new life dedicated to taking care of his kids. A newly single father, Porter wants to win some settlement money and retire. But on the eve of the mayoral election in Pleasantville, an upwardly mobile African American community near Houston, Texas, a young campaign worker disappears, and Porter finds himself drawn into the mystery.  A gripping, engaging story that touches on the personal and the political.

 

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

everythingBy now you may have heard of this novel, because it is so often recommended on Book Riot and elsewhere. But it is *that good.*  A mixed race family living in 1970s Ohio begins to implode when the middle daughter, a perfect student, goes missing. We the reader (listeners), find out right away that she has died, but the family doesn’t know it yet. A delicate and gorgeously written debut novel that is exquisitely performed by the wonderful Cassandra Campbell.

 

I Found You by Lisa Jewel

I Found YouA single mom of four children takes in a confused man suffering from amnesia that she finds sitting on the beach in her windswept English town. A young Russian woman, newly married and living in the UK, grows increasingly distraught when her husband fails to come home from work one evening. A family of four on an ill-fated beach vacation in the 1990s meet a strange and intense young man who becomes obsessed with their daughter. How are these three stories related? You will be completely riveted until you find out…Lisa Jewel skillfully mixes character study with irresistible mystery in this well-told tale. Narrator Helen Duff provides a wide variety of voices with warmth and believability. I didn’t want this book to end!

A Good Idea by Cristina Moracho

a good ideaI will admit that this one strays a bit from my “missing person” theme. But it felt like a missing person mystery all the same, and it’s damn good, so I decided to include it. Finley and Betty have been best friends for a long time. Having met and bonded in grade school, the two friends maintain their relationship even after Fin moves to Manhattan to live with her mother at the start of high school. Every summer she returns to spend time with her father and Betty in the quiet, seaside town in Maine. In the fall of their senior year. Finley gets a call: Betty is missing and her ex-boyfriend Calder has admitted to drowning her.  But soon that confession gets thrown out, as rumors circulate that Betty isn’t dead, she just ran away. Town opinion leans in favor of Calder, son of the Mayor, as most people believe his confession was coerced. Devastated and convinced of Calder’s innocence, Finley returns to her hometown in search of answers. This book reminded me of a very dark version of Veronica Mars, with a bit of Gillian Flynn thrown in. The audiobook is performed by Alex McKenna, whose raspy, world weary voice takes some getting used to, but works perfectly to convey the depressed, twisty atmosphere of this novel.

 

Posted in Author Wellness Plan, Book Lists

10-minute Author Wellness Plan: Gabrielle Zevin

Young Jane Young*This is a new feature I’m trying out for the blog: instead of 5-minute book prescriptions, I will occasionally suggest an author, who has written multiple great books and of whom I suggest embarking on a study. 

A few weeks ago, as the official end of summer approached, I quickly inhaled Gabrielle Zevin’s new book Young Jane Young, which tells the story of college student Aviva Grossman, who takes an internship with a charismatic Florida congressman named Aaron Levin. As a result of the complicated web of desire, flattery and normal young adult impulses, Aviva embarks on a months long relationship with the much older man. Since the story takes place around 2001, blogs are just starting to become a thing and Aviva decides to write about her experiences on what she thinks is a completely anonymous website. But when a car accident reveals the congressman and intern together in a car, people start digging and the truth comes out, along with the sordid details Aviva wrote about on her blog. The senator, as one might expect, emerges somewhat unscathed over the years, continuing his career. Aviva, on the other hand, becomes a punch line, a joke. Unable to get a job, notorious nearly everywhere she goes in South Florida, Aviva falls into a deep funk, floundering the days away at her parent’s house, immobilized by shame, fear, misery and anger.  Eventually she decides to make a change–literally. She legally changes her name to Jane Young, borrows money from her kind grandma and moves all the way North, to a small town in  Maine called Allison Springs. Oh and did I mention that she is pregnant?

storied life of aj fikry

It was charming and funny and quirky– not unlike another novel of hers that I read and loved last year: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.  In that funny, sad, hopeful tale, we meet a widowed bookstore owner who finds a baby on his doorstep one morning and decides to become her caretaker.

As I finished up Young Jane Young, I found myself pondering Zevin and her unique literary voice. In addition to featuring cranky but lovable characters, Zevin often deploys some kind of interesting plot detail or point of view choice, that feels… well, weird! In Young Jane Young, the philandering congressman’s wife, who has recently been through cancer, has an invisible pet parrot that is always with her, squawking the truth whether she wants to hear it or not. elsewhereIn Elsewhere, an utterly delightful and moving story that features more than a little weirdness, the book begins with the narrative perspective of the deceased teenage girl’s dog. Shortly after, the girl herself, 15-year old Liz, wakes up on a boat and learns that she has died after being hit by a taxi, and is on her way to the afterlife, where she will age backwards before being sent back to earth again as a baby. Although this ambitious plot is not without holes, I found it to be an incredibly moving and comforting way to think about life after death. Give this to someone who has recently lost a person near and dear to them.

Sorry, I digressed a bit about Elsewhere. Back to the weirdness I was talking about before. It almost seems as if Zevin sometimes starts to write one kind of book and ends up writing another. And yet– it always works! Despite, or maybe because of her quirkiness, Gabrielle Zevin has recently become one of my favorite working novelists. She is an author you can give to almost anyone: your aging parents, your 1- year old niece, your 30-year old coworker. Zevin’s stories are wonderfully universal, exhibiting a lovely understanding and forgiveness of human nature. Her stories will absolutely stick with you long after you finish reading them and will encourage you to think about life and death in ways you maybe haven’t before.

Last night as I wondered one of my favorite bookstores, I looked for extra copies of each of the three books of hers I have read so far, so that I could stockpile them to give as gifts. If there’s a better endorsement for an author, I don’t know what it is. I recommend starting with The Storied Life, as I did, followed by Young Jane Young, and, finally Elsewhere. Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in YA

Two YA Books I Can’t Stop Thinking About

You know when you read a book and it just stays with you for days, weeks, months on end? The two YA books I write about below are great examples.  I read them this summer, along with many other books, and they are just stubbornly refusing to leave my brain. And my heart. Such great books. Read them now, you must.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner 

serpent kingEvery once and a while, I read a book that feels like something more. All of my favorite reading boxes are checked: the urge to know what will happen next, an emotional attachment to the characters and, finally, a sense of wonder that transcends the action in the story. The Serpent King did all of those things for me. It tells the story of three teenage outcasts living in small town Tennessee: Dill, the son of a Pentecostal minister in prison for possessing child pornography; Lydia, a budding fashion designer and successful blogger with dreams of escaping small town life; and sweet Travis, obsessed with a Game of Thrones-like series of books and its fandom.  All three lean on each other as they  make their way through their final year of high school.

I listened to the amazing audio version of this book on my headphones while doing a host of mundane things in my life: the dishes, the cleaning, packing my kids’ lunches for camp, washing their clothes, etc. As is the case with all great audio books, I didn’t mind doing these things while I had this story to keep me going. I felt like my heart was being squeezed right out of my chest. And I definitely paused to weep a few times!

Prescription: A gorgeous book full of memorable characters an ideal read for those times when you just want to have your heart broken wide open by a book. A cathartic experience.

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

midnight at the electricWhen the world feels like a loud and frightening place, sometimes the best refuge is a quiet book. I picked up Midnight at the Electric this summer during a particularly hectic week in the news and at work. Friends, it was a relief. A quiet but satisfying tale of three distinct times and places: Adri lives in Kansas in 2065, after leaving an underwater Miami; Katherine lives in Kansas in the 1930s, during the height of the dust bowl storms; and Lenore lives in England in 1919, following World War I.  As she is preparing to leave with a group of Mars settlers (yes Planet Mars), Adri finds a trove of letters written from Lenore to Beth, Katherine’s mother. How is everyone related? What are the stories about? You will have to read to find out…

Prescription: Ideal for anyone who loves a quiet story and an intriguing plot. No fireworks here, no heart stopping action. Just a fascinating, peaceful, well-told tale that works like a balm for a trouble soul.

 

Posted in Book Lists

#Read a Book Day, or How I spent my Summer Vacation

Well, it’s officially curtains for summer and my reading sabbatical. I find it necessary to take periodic breaks from blogging to spend all of my free time reading as many books as I possibly can.  And since today is #Read a Book Day, I thought I would come back and start dishing on all the fabulous things I read and listened to this summer.

But first, a quick word about my reading choices and selection. Like most book lovers, I use reading as my main form of “self care.” I am not religious and I consider myself equal parts introvert and extrovert, so when I feel overwhelmed with anxiety and the news and our Dumpster Fire President, I turn to books. This summer I moved back and forth between comfort reads, middle grade fiction, juicy thrillers and YA. I try to balance the dark with the light when I read, to preserve my sanity.  I read a lot of books this summer, from the super intense to the light and fluffy. I will share many of them in brief reviews over the next month or so, but for now, here are the three adult titles that stood out the most for me.

  1. little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I read this on vacation in a less than stellar hotel room, in which I was kept awake all hours by the stomping feet of the people in the room above, who were partying hard. I’m so grateful I had this book to keep me company. I’m sure you have heard or read about her first novel, Everything I Never Told You, about a dysfunctional family living in the suburbs of Ohio who grapple with the loss of their daughter. It is spectacular and sad and gorgeously written. Ng’s newest, Little Fires Everywhere, is, I would posit, even better than her debut. She has that rare, writerly gift in which she can masterfully control both plot and characterization. She gets people and the intricacies of their emotional lives and manages to balance a fast moving plot at the same time.  Celeste Ng is going to be with us a long time, and I am so looking forward to gobbling up every little thing she writes.  Prescription: An ideal read if you’re in the mood to lose yourself in some other family’s issues, while marveling at the gorgeous prose and storytelling prowess of a great writer. 
  2. The NixThe Nix by Nathan Hill. I also read this book on vacation, and was delightfully surprised at how fast I blew through it.  At 640 pages, this book is dauntingly long and I avoided it for almost a year, thinking I would rather get through my pile of shorter books rather then spend so much time on one big book. What a fool I was! To  borrow an expression from Rebecca Schinksy on the All the Books podcast, The Nix reads like a house on fire. Hill’s humor and tone draw you in to a story that covers a broad range of time and place and people, seamlessly blending pop culture, the 1960s protest movements, suburban America in the 1980s and the 1960s, as well as the modern absurdity of our social media culture. It is a bit too complicated to provide a succinct summary, as it covers and tells so much. At its heart, The Nix is a story about a mother and son that follows the meandering paths of their lives together and apart. Rumor has it that Meryl Streep and JJ Abrams are working together to bring this to HBO. How amazing is that?  Prescription: Ideal for fans of Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen and Phillip Roth who enjoy a sweeping, acerbic and painfully honest look at the culture. 
  3. Rules do not applyRules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy. I had heard some buzz about this book before finally picking it up on a whim one day at the library. Years ago, I read Levy’s book Female Chauvinist Pigs, about the self-objectification of many women in the face of the widespread popularity of porn culture. I found it fascinating and honest and it really helped me understand something I had observed for a long time without being able to explain well. So I was curious to read this memoir of hers that was drawing equal parts praise and criticism.  In short: I liked it a lot. Levy writes so well and so intimately. The reader is immediately invited into her life, which she explores with a clarity and thoughtfulness that I found refreshing. Yes, she is a privileged white woman, and she doesn’t go to great lengths to acknowledge that. She has some interpretations of feminism and the role and impact it played in her life that rub some people the wrong way, but I didn’t see that as an issue. I do understand where people were coming from with their criticism of her tone–I have a similar issue with Lena Dunham, who I just can’t warm up to. Her book annoyed me. Her show annoys me. But I still respect her right to be who she wants to be. Anyway, I digress. Ariel Levy tells the story of her life, including her marriage to the woman of her dreams and their journey to have a child together. She describes her affair with a transgendered man with whom she had formerly dated when he was a woman, and her almost pathological sexual attraction to him. Without giving away too much, I will just say that things happen, tragedies occur, and Levy writes about it in an honest, contemplative voice that made me think about my own life and choices and what could have happened if I had changed one little thing such as taking a different job or getting into a different college. Whether or not you agree with Levy and the interpretation of her own life, it’s hard to deny that this isn’t a great memoir–one that will make you look back at your own life with wonder, awe and a little bit of sadness.

 

What about you ? What were your favorite books of the summer?

In my next post, I’ll share my favorite middle grade and young adult reads from my summer sabbatical.  Cheers! And Happy #Read a Book Day!