I’m trying to read more books that I choose for my own reading enjoyment. Not for review, but because I’ve been wanting to read them or they caught my attention. Most of them have been talked about ad nauseam or have been on my to-read list for a long time so they don’t really need a full review. But, I’d still like to give them some space here on the blog, so instead, I’m offering mini-reviews of the books that won’t get full-page space here.
I haven’t shared a Quick Lit post since September, so I’ll be rounding up all the books I read in the last 3 months for you here. Fall was crazy busy with teaching and I had to let a few things go, including some regular posts here on the blog. I’ll be continuing to share my Quick Lit posts this year though.
By: Helena Dea Bala
Narrated by: Full Cast
Published: July 7, 2020
Publisher: Gallery Books
The author places an ad on Craiglist asking for stories and stories she got. From addicts to those who have lost a child to the elderly watching their loved ones suffer through Alzheimer’s disease, there isn’t a happy story among them. For what they lack in happiness, they excel in harsh, honest truth. In the audio version, various narrators read the stories and you can almost imagine the person telling their story. The lives of those who have suffered horrible childhood abuse or others who have been assaulted as adults and told or escaped their abusers offer you a bit of hope while knowing that their lives are forever changed. You have to believe that by the experience of sharing their story with Helena, they have felt some sort of comfort in being heard.
This one is not for the faint of heart. There are numerous triggers in this book and it is a depressing, yet important read to remind us that we never know what is going on in the lives of others and to always, always be kind.
The audiobook features a full cast of narrators reading the individual stories. It makes it a more personalized experience but makes it hard to skim something you maybe don’t want to read/listen to.
THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR
By: Sally Hepworth
Narrated by: Barrie Kreinik
Published: March 6, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Since I loved The Mother-in-Law, I was excited to try another of her novels. Even though I didn’t love this one as much, it still had my attention. The Melbourne suburbia life of three friends and what goes on behind their closed doors wasn’t thrilling, but secrets built upon secrets kept the storyline interesting. There is a bit of a mystery woven though about one of the characters which made for a nice twist. Since there are several main and secondary characters I was worried about keeping them all straight on audio. But, the narrator did an excellent job voicing all the different characters and each chapter focused on a different main character which helped as well. Overall, if you like suburban gossip novels with a twist, then this one might be for you.
By: Andy Mulligan
Published: October 12, 2010
Publisher: David Fickling Books
This was part of the Literature Circle reading for the Freshman English classes I was teaching. This was a choice in the racism/inequality theme. What a powerful story of three boys, the poorest of the poor, living amongst a dumpsite in the presumed country of the Philippines. On a regular day, digging through the trash, one finds something exciting. It turns out it is something that many others are looking for. This treasure takes these three boys on quite the adventure to find the answers they need to maybe one day leave the dumpsite behind.
As a mom, my heart ached for these skinny, hungry boys. I wondered about the danger they were in and found myself hoping against all odds that they would be ok. I read this along with my students in class and we had great discussions each week about these boys and the trouble this treasure had caused them.
This book also opens the reader’s eyes to disgusting inequality in these countries where the poor are not valued and the powerful believe that there are no consequences for their wrongs.
THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN
By: Katherine Applegate
Illustrated by: Patricia Castelao
Published: January 17, 2012
Publisher: Harper Collins
This book has been on my shelf forever. I intended to read it with our kids and then they ended up reading it at school, so it just sat on my shelf. When I saw the movie was coming out as well as the follow-up, THE ONE AND ONLY BOB, I decided it was time to bump it up on my to-read list.
Since it’s a middle-grade novel, it’s a quick and easy read. Ivan is the gorilla in a mall zoo and has earned his claim to fame by painting pictures to sell in the gift shop. Stella, his elephant neighbor, is getting old and struggling with an infected foot so her performing days are numbered. One day a new baby elephant, Ruby, shows up at the zoo and Ivan’s life is forever changed.
It is such a sweet and heartwarming book and I had happy tears at the end. The movie is now on Disney+ and it was enjoyable. Of course, movies never follow the books exactly, but our family enjoyed it.
By: Carl Deuker
Published: September 6, 2016
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
This was one of the Literature Circle books the students read for our bullying theme. Brock and his best friend Richie have difficulty escaping the brunt of the bullying at school. But when Brock ends up on the team with Hunter, the main bully, most of it shifts to Richie. Richie is Asian and good at everything, sports, academics, humor, everything. When Richie joins the soccer team, the bullying lets up until something else happens that leads to a ripple effect that no one saw coming.
I loved reading this book and discussing it with the students. Every single one of them loved it too and we had lots of big conversations about bullying, friendship, and what makes someone “gutless”. Highly recommend this one for middle/high school readers.
By: Wendelin Van Draanen
Published: March 11, 2008
Publisher: Laurel Leaf
This was another book that was part of our Literature Circle reading. It was under the racism/inequality theme because the story is about a young girl who grew up to a drug addicted mother who died and then joined the foster care system.
Holly’s story is one of despair, hardship, and overwhelming heartbreak. Her mom is a drug addict that obviously makes a lot of bad choices when it comes to raising Holly, but it’s all she knows. When her mom dies, Holly is forced into the foster care system that unfortunately, isn’t kind to her at all. When her teacher assigns a writing assignment, Holly begins a journal, sharing the real stuff behind the facade she puts on at school. Holly eventually reaches a breaking point and runs away from her foster home and the rest of the novel is Holly’s journey across the country, told in journal entries.
Because it is written as journal entries, it makes for quick and easy reading. The students liked it and we had good “what if” kind of discussions. As as former social worker, it reminded me of the people that take advantage of the system and then reminded me of those who truly have a heart for caring for others. This one ends happily, which I appreciated.
By: Octavia Butler
Published: February 1, 2009
Publisher: Beacon Press
This was a book club choice. I had heard of Octavia Butler, but when I saw she wrote more “science-fiction-type of historical fiction” I didn’t think I would be interested. I really wasn’t sure about KINDRED because the storyline involves time-travel and I typically don’t read those stories. But I do love historical fiction and this one, set in the south during slavery is a time period I enjoy reading about and learning from.
I gave it a whirl for book club, and WOW! I was blown away. This novel grabbed me from the first page and propelled me through the whole book. I don’t know what Butler did differently, but the time-travel worked and I was riveted. This book proves that you can’t always assume you won’t like something just because of the topic or genre. Step out of your box and give things a try. You may be pleasantly surprised.
HIDDEN VALLEY ROAD
Inside the Mind of an American Family
By: Robert Kolker
Narrated by: Sean Pratt
Published: April 7, 2020 (Paperback on March 2, 2021)
This inside look at the Galvin family from the 1940s to the 1980s. This Colorado family had twelve children, with six of the ten boys eventually being diagnosed with schizophrenia. This book is a peek inside this family. I listened to this on audio, which was riveting.
The stories of horrors that went on in the home, the treatment for the outbursts and violent behaviors, the scars and damage to other siblings, and the eventual research to help others with mental illness made this a shocking but yet compassionate story. I’m glad to have read it.
YOUR SECOND ACT
By: Patricia Heaton
Narrated by: Patricia Heaton
Published: July 21, 2020
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
A wonderful collection of inspiring stories and advice from people who found their “second act” in life. Patricia Heaton and various other voices narrate the audiobook. Heaton’s own second act isn’t all about producing and writing scripts or acting, she’s found another worthy cause for her time, like many others in this book. If you are middle age and wondering what’s ahead in your life, this might be a nudge in the right direction. Each story ends with a Q & A, Patty’s Points, and space to reflect on your own thoughts to help you narrow down your passions and talents.
Heaton narrates her own book which makes the stories she tells so much more personal. I loved this so much I also gifted a copy to my sister-in-law. If you are wondering what is your next thing, this book may just light a fire in you to go out and make it happen!
TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN
By: John Green
Published: October 10, 2017
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
I read this with my students as part of the Mental Health Literature Circle Theme. All the students in my group were boys so it gave an interesting perspective to the book to discuss it with teenage boys.
Aza is rattled with serious anxiety over bacteria taking over her body. It consumes her thoughts on a daily, even hourly basis. But, otherwise, she is a typical high school student Her best friend, Daisy is spunky, spontaneous, and is a good friend to Aza. When an old friend from summer camp, Davis, appears in the news for his dad’s disappearance, Aza and Daisy decide to investigate on their own which also rekindles a budding romance between Aza and Davis.
The book overall was fairly slow-paced with only a few “big moments” more towards the end of the book. Green’s use of figurative language was impressive though. I had numerous passages marked and his book would be a great way to show examples of creative writing.
Aza’s mental health story was well-done and gave us a glimpse into the lives of those who suffer from recurring thoughts. She seemed to be driving in a roundabout without knowing how to take the road out of it. Just continuing to drive in the circle. My eyes were opened to the many people who suffer from anxiety and how difficult it can be to cope. There were lots of situations that led to a rich discussion about friendships, family, and mental health.
By: Jeanine Cummins
Published: January 21, 2020
Publisher: Flat Iron Books
This was another book club choice. It also made my FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2020 list. I am well aware of the controversy around this book and even watched the Oprah interview with the author, publisher, and other writers on her Oprah’s Book Club show on Apple TV.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this one since I finished it in December. It was anxiety-producing in that I was so nervous about the mom and her son, I would have to peak ahead a bit just to make sure they made it through the next obstacle. I won’t spoil the ending, but say that I was mostly satisfied, but left wanting more. This a work of fiction and one that brings the journey of immigration to light no matter how you feel about it. If anything, I hope it encourages the publishers to seek out more Latinx voices and we get to hear more of their stories.
Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are
By: Shauna Niequist
Published: March 10, 2015
I purchased this eBook a few years ago and then realized it was actually written in a devotional style. So, I chose to read it as my 2020 devotional. I read it every night on my Kindle before bed and it was the perfect way for me to get into the habit of daily reading. I really enjoyed her short thoughts on life as well as the recipes tucked in amongst the daily readings. When I finished I had nearly 150 highlights. This one I’d like to have a physical copy of to refer back to.
By: Wendell Berry
Narrated by: Paul Michael
Published: September 5, 2000
Format: Audiobook and Hardcover
After hearing a couple of people rave about this book, I added it to my library holds. I started out listening on audio and then ran out of my hold time and picked it up on library loan as a physical copy. I actually liked it better on audio, but really enjoyed the slow pace of this story. In the hurried weeks around Christmas and New Year’s, this was what I needed to slow me down a bit.
This story of Jayber Crow, growing up and leaving and then returning to the small town of Port William, Kentucky soothed my soul. It reminded me of my own grandparents’ and parents’ stories of their growing up during hard times. It reminded me of growing up along the river and the peace it can bring you one day and the terror of flooding it can bring you the next. I could easily picture Jayber and my heart ached for him as he watched his one true love from far away and yet so close.
If this winter, you are looking for a slow-paced story to take you through life in the 1900s, this is the story to cozy under a blanket with.
By: Miriam Toews
Published: April 2, 2019
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
I have struggled with the star rating for this one. Two stars seems harsh but three seems too generous. I went with two mainly due to my frustration with the ending.
This story is based on real events in a Mennonite community in Bolivia. Women were being drugged and attacked in the night by the men and boys they shared the community with. Babies were born from these attacks and young girls were beginning to be drugged as well.
In Women Talking, the women decide to hold a meeting about the possibility of fleeing the community while the men are gone to the city in order to save their daughters and themselves. The entire book is the women talking. In fact, when a member of the community finds them all gathered together a talking and he questions what they are doing, they respond with, “we are just women talking”.
The entire book is this meeting that takes place in a hay loft. The women choose August, an excommunicated man and teacher, to take the minutes of their meeting since all of the women are illiterate. Having a man take minutes of a meeting that the women can’t even read seems a bit strange, but the ending gives the reader a glimpse at the reason why he was chosen to do this task…which was the only part of the ending that I liked.
The conversations and planning that go into leaving continue to go in circles and frustrated me for many of the pages. Obviously there was a lot of planning to discuss but I felt like they never really made any decisions. They do ultimately make a decision about whether or not to leave, but it isn’t until nearly the last 10 pages of the book.
Am I horrified that this actually took place? Absolutely! Do I think their story could have been told differently? Yes! But maybe this is how it really played out…who knows.
Phew! That was a lot of books. Thanks for letting me catch up on my reading these last few months. What good things have you been reading?
You can see all my other Quick Lit posts by clicking, HERE.
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Posted Under Andy Mulligan, audiobook, Barrie Kreinik, Carl Deuker, devotions, fiction, Helena Dea Bala, historical fiction, Jeanine Cummins, John Green, juvenile fiction, Katherine Applegate, Miriam Toews, non-fiction, Octavia Butler, Patricia Castelao, Patricia Heaton, Quick Lit, Robert Kolker, Sally Hepworth, Sean Pratt, Shauna Niequist, Wendelin Van Draanen, Wendell Berry, YA