Sunday, March 22, 2009

Read with me!

I have read a lot of really good books lately. And I'm getting close to the end of my list and starting to panic, because what will I read next? So I've decided to create my own blog tag. Here's now it works: I tell you about the good books I've read lately. You go to your blog and do the same. There's no set number, so you can write about one book or 20, and no set format for reviewing the books. You can write one sentence or five paragraphs about each book - it's entirely up to you. Some of us are excellent book reviewers and some of us just spent the better part of two days writing nine measly paragraphs. I just want to know what other good books are out there, and I trust you, my friends, to tell me what you love.

There's only one catch: you have to leave a comment here telling me you've done this so I don't miss out on any great reads!

So, without further ado, some of the best books I've read in the past year:

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

This book should be required reading for everyone. It tells the true story of Greg Mortenson, an avid mountaineer who, after an unsuccessful and near-deadly attempt to summit K2 (the world’s second-highest peak), stumbles into a small village in northern Pakistan. The people there instantly befriend him and nurse him back to health. During the course of his recovery, he learns that the children of this village are attending school, weather permitting, on a windy hilltop just three days a week. He is so taken with this small village, and their kindness towards him that he promises to return and build them a school. This snowballs into an opportunity to better the lives of thousands of people who would otherwise have never had the chance to be educated. I can’t even begin to describe how inspiring this book is, so I won’t even try. I’ll just give you a quote, which I think sums up the message of the book quite nicely: "I've learned that terror doesn't happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afghanistan simply decide to hate us. It happens because children aren't being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death." There is also a young reader's edition and a picture book which I plan on purchasing for the girls. This is a story that everyone needs to hear.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This may be the only book you’ll ever read that’s narrated by Death. And he does a superb job of telling us the story of Liesel Meminger, a young German girl, who discovers the power of words by stealing books. We follow Liesel on a journey to discover the meaning of family, friendship, loyalty, and love during WWII. It left me feeling like I will never see words in the same way again, and now I feel like I don't have the words to do it justice. Powerful, beautiful, and moving, this is another one that I think everyone should read.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Bengali tradition dictates that all people have two names: their “good” name, which is their legal name and the one they are known by at school and work, and their pet name, which is what the family and close friends know them as. When Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, new immigrants to America, give birth to their first child, they are still waiting for the “good” name to arrive in a letter from Ashima’s grandmother back in Calcutta. They quickly learn that things work differently in America – you can’t take your baby home from the hospital without a birth certificate, and you can’t get a birth certificate without a name. So they decide to go ahead and put their son’s newly chosen pet name on his birth certificate and change it later when the “good” name arrives. And so Gogol Ganguli begins his life. On the surface, this book is simply about an Indian kid growing up in America with a weird name. But more than that, it’s about family: what makes a family, what ties them together, and what’s really important in life. Side note: I also highly recommend the movie based on this book.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Author Vida Winter has written more than fifty best-selling novels, including the sensational Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, which, to the frustration and despair of all her devoted readers, contains only twelve tales. She’s given countless interviews, and with each one she’s shared a different version of her life story. Ill and convinced that she doesn’t have much longer to live, she commissions bookish, unworldly Margaret Lea to write her true biography. She begins with a story about an odd girl and her brother which quickly turns into a mysterious tale involving strange and feral twins, a library, a devastating fire, and a ghost. I love this book and have been recommending it to everyone who asks. What are you waiting for?

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Henry met Clare when he was 28 and she was 20. But Clare met Henry when she was 6 and he was 36. You see, Henry is a time traveler. However, he doesn’t get to decide when or where he travels. Instead, one minute he is there and the next all that’s left is a pile of clothes, while Henry finds himself naked and somewhere in time. How the two of them deal with this is the basis for a wonderful love story. The premise alone is fascinating, and the writing manages to live up to it. Side note: some may find the language offensive.

Famous Writer's School by Steven Carter

Wendell Newton is a magazine editor and “published author” (although of what he never quite discloses) who is offering a correspondence course on how to be a good writer. The entire novel is made up of letters to and from a few of his students: Rio, a lounge singer and grad school dropout; Dan, a tractor salesman seeking serious reviews of his writing; and Linda, a bored housewife whose stories become increasingly bizarre. Wendell’s relationship with each of these potential famous writers becomes increasingly hilarious as we read the correspondence between the teacher and students. There’s a great story-within-the-story in the form of Dan’s writing, which is on its way to becoming a sort of noir-style detective novel. Nothing serious or mind-blowing here, but definitely a fun read and a unique way to tell a story. Side note: some may find the language offensive.

Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan

San Francisco socialite Bibi Chen is found dead, apparently murdered, just days before she was set to lead an excursion to Myanmar (Burma). Her fellow travelers decide to go anyway, hiring a new guide to take Bibi’s place. Christmas morning they depart on a boat trip across a lake and simply disappear into the mist. Fortunately for us, the readers, Bibi’s ghost has decided to travel with her friends, and it is she who narrates for us. While it’s a very different style from any of Tan’s previous books, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Best of all is the claim in the introduction that the whole thing was written by Bibi Chen herself, as channeled through a “ghostwriter”, and simply organized by Tan. Love it.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This moving story takes place during the Nigerian civil war in the 1960s. Told from the point of view of four people – Ugwu, houseboy to Professor Odenigbo; Olanna, the Professor’s mistress; Kianene, her twin sister; and Richard, a white man intent on studying the history of the Igbo people – we see their lives intertwine and intersect as they struggle to survive and make sense of the war around them. It’s a fascinating look into African culture, the relationship between Nigerians and the colonial British and visiting Americans, and the impact of war on all classes.

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

17-year-old Francis Ross goes missing on the same day that his mother finds a fur trader murdered in his own cabin. Of course the boy becomes the main suspect, but his mother is determined to prove his innocence, embarking on a journey that will take her across the Canadian frontier in the dead of winter to seek out the true murderer. The POV changes made it difficult to follow at first, but the overall story is worth the time it takes to get past that.


  1. I totally am going to do this tag..not only because it is an excellent idea (and I totally want to read the books you have listed) but because it keeps me procrastinating from completing my work!

  2. The Time Travelers wife is probably my all time favorite book. BTW they are making a movie and I think it's out this year...

  3. Thanks for the additional reads. I've read most but not all of these and am getting to the end of my list as well. I love this tag as well. I will do it...I just can't promise when.

    I also liked your reviews. I appreciate not just summaries but thoughts on the books.

  4. Ooh, I like the books you've been reading. Where do you go to decide what to read? Is there a certain website or something? I've just been plugging away at classics I missed in schooling, and the occasional parenting book. I've been a little bored. I'm glad you started this. I respond sometime this week.

  5. I am dying to read Three Cups of Tea. Your girls are precious!

  6. Ooh, Famous Writer's School looks fun. Lately the ones I'm pimping like crazy are Deanna Raybourn's Julia Grey books starting with Silent in the Grave and Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief books starting with The Thief, then The Queen of Attolia. Just so impossibly good.

  7. Danielle, most of these were books my friend handed me in a stack and said, "These are really good." Two were gifts from Chris, one was recommended by my sis-in-law, and one (the Amy Tan) I picked up at the library because I love her other books.

    hannahshirley, welcome! And thanks for the compliment on the girls - I think they're precious, but I'm biased :) I'm curious, how did you find my blog? Do we have a mutual friend?

    Angie, I read your reviews on the Megan Whalen Turner books, so maybe those are what I'll have to go with next. They sound intriguing. You would love Famous Writer's School, I think.

  8. I have wanted to read several of these. I love good books. Have you tried You can list all the books that you have read and view the books that your friends are reading and their current lists. I have found a ton of good books that way because I trust my friends opinions. (=


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