Book Club’s Best Picks

Have you ever stopped reading a book halfway through, and decided it just wasn’t good enough to spend anymore time on? Some people can do that, but some have an ingrained need to finish what they start.

I was never the kind  who would quit. Maybe it was optimism, maybe stubbornness.

All of that has changed.

My fabulous, crazy, noisy, and wine-loving book club has taught me that there are a lot of books dubbed “best-sellers,” but not all best-sellers are great books. Now, I give a book a good chance, but if I am a third of the way through it and still bored, it’s getting chucked.

You can depend on the following list to be worth your time. It was curated by the book club, and the list-makers received top marks. These people are experienced readers of fiction, let me tell you; and, they are not shy about criticism, or praise. I thank this wonderful group for teaching me that just because it’s in print, doesn’t make it a great read.

What books made your great reads list this year?

*    *   *   *   *

The Same Sky, by Amanda Eyre Ward

This book will change the way you view illegal immigration. At least, it changed my view. It hits where it hurts.

Ward helps us to see what motivates South American immigration to the United States, what risks those illegals take to get here, what dreams they hold, and what reality they face.

The story has two plot lines that are loosely interwoven. One plot is definitely less compelling, but the other is so vibrant and emotional that the story altogether is worth the read.

 

Three Day Road, by Joseph Boyden

Not just a book about war, Three Day Road tackles the topics of displacement, discrimination, religion, abuse, love, rivalry, mental illness, and addiction.

The language is rich and poetic, but the pictures painted are far from idyllic. We get a true feeling about what it means to be on the front lines of battle, the fear, adrenaline, confusion, and pain that the infantryman experiences.

Even if you are not a fan of war stories, this book has much to offer. Boyden’s talent as a writer is a rarity in the age of the flash “best-seller.”

 

The Storied Life  of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

Here’s a feel good book, and we all need one of those now and again.

The characters are real, and the setting sweet and comfortable. Don’t think, though, that the message is sugar-coated.

Zevin shows us how love and acceptance can be elusive to those who feel constrained by societal expectations. (and who of us wouldn’t that be?!) The setting brought to my mind a gem of an independent bookstore on Chincoteague Island, Virginia.

This story shows us the meaning of community, and how many layers of support are truly available to anyone who can open his heart to others.

 

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

Every person that I know who has read this book just can’t say enough good things about it.  I’ve written a review about it in a previous post.

I included it in this list because, if you are looking for a great gift book, you’ve just found it. Be sure to get a copy for yourself, too!

 

The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez

A glimpse into the world of immigrants to the United States, and the kind of work they can get. It may change your view of  the rhetoric about U.S. worker displacement.

The story revolves around a family who reluctantly emigrates to the United States in search of the best education for their special needs daughter.  Henriquez produces a cast of characters and family life that will be familiar to those of us who’ve experienced first-generation households.

With faith, dedication, and determination, the main characters pursue the American Dream; and the reader comes to understand that, despite extreme sacrifice, the realities are very different from that dream.


Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger

Highly rated by book blogs, and deservedly so. This novel immerses the reader in the lives of an adolescent boy and his younger brother as they navigate the inconsistent world of 1961 small town, rural America.

Rather than portraying the isolated community as rough and uneducated, Krueger develops rich and complex characters who search for ways to cope with broken dreams and failed aspirations.

Krueger uncovers the hypocrisies that limit moral growth, and how grace in everyday life can create a better world.

Read more about this book in a previous post.

See What I Have Done, by Sarah Schmidt

Who doesn’t like a good read about Lizzie Borden? This one takes on the psychology of a killer, without totally creeping you out. I was actually able to go to sleep after reading it.

You get a feel for the mental capacities of the characters, and the dysfunction that Schmidt suggests may have fueled the murders.

This is a story with a new viewpoint. It’s easy to read and entertaining – a good choice for the crime story enthusiast.

 

 

The Flood Girls, by Richard Fifield

This novel was almost one that I put down, but I’m glad I stuck with it to the end.

Nontraditional family relationships, homophobia, alcoholism, religion, and community are explored with candor, while humor stays woven in the story.

The story would have benefited from additional editing, but it’s got a solid plot. The ending was a shock to me, though some of my book club members predicted the twist.  This is an overall enjoyable read.

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