The Warmth of Other Suns
Wilkerson’s book is easily in my top 10 of all time. This Pulitzer Prize winner offers a novelistic storyline following three southern African Americans and their journeys to new homes as part of the Great Migration. Between 1915 and 1970, nearly six million African Americans left the south for the west coast, the mid-west, and the northeast. Wilkerson performed exhaustive research and interviews to put together the stories of Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster. Her language is vivid and writing to engaging. A must read for those interested in African American studies, United States history, and the civil rights era.
A brutally, honest look at 1969 Chicago through the eyes of the 13-year-old son of a white civil rights activist and minister, Shiflett’s book shows no favoritism to any group, demographic, or generation. Simon Fleming, the protagonist, provides the reader with scenes from failed student boycotts, gang violence, racist police officers, and the universal struggle felt by young people of that era. I had trouble putting this book down, not so much to see what happens next, but in the hope I would be wrong about what I thought would happen next. Shiflett, an associate professor creative writing at Columbia College, offers up a great, if somewhat depressing, window into the aftermath of 1968 and its toll on Chicago.
A fictional account of a 22-year-old Jack Kennedy acting as a spy for the United States shortly before World War II breaks out, Mathew's novel is equal parts mystery, spy-thriller, and historical fiction. She captures so well the youthful exuberance for which Kennedy was often known, but also provides a well-researched window into Europe on the cusp of war. Jack 1939 is a book I'll always recommend and I do hope for a sequel on the horizon.
What She Ate
I've long been a fan of Laura Shapiro's food histories and her latest work does not disappoint. What She Ate is an illuminating and fascinating glimpse into the lives of six very different women - including one of my favorite novelists - using the food they cooked and are as the framework to tell their stories. It's a book I wish I had written, if just for the joy of it's research.
Salt to the Sea
Salt to the Sea tells the story of the largest maritime disaster you've likely never heard of. It's a novel of historical fiction, told in multiple first-person narratives, giving it a haunting quality of many voices and verses of the same song.
It's the winter of 1945 and millions of people from thousands of little towns and villages in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, and East Prussia are fleeting from the advancing Russian troops. Children, mothers, old people, sick ones, on foot, trains, horse-drawn carts and bicycles, are making their way to the last evacuation points on the coast of the Baltic Sea. Boarding the Wilhelm Gustloff, they hope for rescue on a ship to safety. In a tragedy of unimaginable scale, the ship is torpedoed by the Russians... She sinks taking an estimated 9,000 people with her to the bottom of the frigid Baltic Sea off the coast of Poland.
Ruta Sepetys tells this story of courage and hope alongside cruelty and despair, through the eyes of four young people from different countries. It's a powerfully crafted tale of a tragedy six times deadlier than the Titanic.
At first, I didn’t know how to put into words how I feel about Circe. Now, I know that I adore it. In some of the smoothest, most silken prose, Miller weaves together Greek myths and legends into a single sinuous tapestry of a woman who grows from child to witch through trauma and torment, bearing witness to the might, magic, and majesty of the mortal and divine. What truly makes this a wonderful book is that it not only witnesses it all, it shows Circe’s imperfections as well. She is amazing in her growth, her emotion, and her ability to be flawed. I loved this story for so many reasons, but most of all because it was about a person who felt real, and that made every page as magical as the myths within them.
Sugarcane farmers and fishermen in the Florida Keys who speak Pidgin (but recite old poetry perfectly and sing along to Jimi Hendrix on an old radio) live in houses of dirt floors furnished with old automobile parts -- they sit on car seats and hang steering wheels on the wall for decoration. It's hard to say what's going on until you read it. This is a beautiful nightmare of a post nuclear apocalypse salvaged only by music (a clarinet and a ten million dollar music lesson, to be exact). It's funny the way Tortilla Flat is funny -- tragically. This book is for anyone able to admit they're at least a little afraid of human extinction.
100 Years of the Best American Short Stories
Lorrie Moore, Editor
Heidi Pitlor, Co-Editor
SO stoked that Moore and Pitlor sifted through 100 years of short stories in this series to come up with this hard-to-beat lineup. This book includes some of my favorites – George Saunders, Philip Roth, Junot Diaz, Charles Baxter, Raymond Carver, and more. PLUS the stories are in chronological order with anecdotes before each decade. It’s like the book equivalent of ‘Now That’s What I Call Music,’ only it’s awesome!
My favorite collection of very short fiction. The stories are a little painful, but mostly ridiculous.
Tempests and Slaughter
Tamora Pierce is one of my favorite authors. She’s written powerful heroines of so many different types and styles, but here she delves into a male lead’s perspective with all her talent and skill. Arram Draper is a student of magic, talented and brilliant, but young. ‘Fantastical school of magic’ isn’t exactly a new setting, thanks to Harry Potter, but Pierce’s creation is at once calmer and more fascinating for how it reshapes a well walked path. Tempests lacks rising excitement and action, instead favoring an ever stronger and more enjoyable cast of teachers, students, and politicians. The greatest complaint I have is that without a climactic ending, I reached the end with very little warning. In retrospect, reading a good book without the stress of a big finale was wonderfully relaxing.