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Apeirogon

Two men, one Palestinian and one Israeli. Two young daughters lost to the violence which is sadly prevalent in their part of the world. These two men from opposite sides of the conflict manage to come together and forge a friendship in their common hope for peace.

Colum McCann writes in an interesting format, offering up what at first might seem random facts or short anecdotes. It did take me a few pages to get into it, but it was definitely worth it to see how everything comes together, how the facts and fiction intertwine to create a deeply moving narrative. Not only was this beautifully written, it was also very educational, giving me insights into an ongoing conflict and a way of life so very different to mine.

Apeirogon (2020) is longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. Read the book on Overdrive



The Brother Years

Written like a memoir, this coming of age tale takes place in the wealthy North Shore suburbs of Chicago in the '70s and '80s. Being relatively poor, the Brennan family doesn't exactly fit in, but their father has high hopes that going to a good school, mixing with the wealthy, and giving everything their utmost effort will give his kids the chance of a better life.

Readers with siblings will recognize the love/hate relationship between the brothers, the rivalry, the hatred of comparison, and maybe even the violence. Before the high emotions of childhood mellow into a lasting friendship, we have to get through the struggle of those teen years.

Evoking memories of childhood, this was a bittersweet read with themes of class struggle, sibling rivalry, and family drama.

The Brother Years (2020) by Shannon Burke is a highly entertaining, relatable, and easily readable book.

Request the ebook or eAudiobook on Overdrive today.


The Alchemist

This wonderful story combines adventure and love and seeking our desires. Much like Treasure Island, The Wizard of Oz, and Harry Potter, it's a story for all ages to enjoy and not difficult to read. And like the lead characters in those other classic novels, Santiago sets out on a great journey but will have to learn some things about himself before he can find his Personal Legend.

In a way, we are all seeking the same things that Santiago and Dorothy, Jim, and Harry seek. I want to believe we will all find it someday because we are all connected to that great Soul of the Universe.

Check out The Alchemist (1988) by Paulo Coehlo: read the ebook or listen to the audiobook via Hoopla today.



The Mountains Sing

This beautifully written multi-generational family saga brings to life the last 100 years of Vietnam's tragic history. This country and its people have been through so much, and author, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, showcases their strength, resilience, and courage in the face of so much violence and loss.

The story follows Diệu Lan, the matriarch of the family, as she desperately tries to keep her family together through famine, occupation, and war. The author gives you a vivid sense of what it was like to be in Vietnam during that time and manages to weave a thread of love and hope throughout the traumatic history.

This captivating book really drew me in with its expressive, lyrical writing and strong characters, while also teaching me about the history and culture of Vietnam.The Mountains Sing (2020) is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Pachinko and A Long Petal of the Sea.

Read or listen to The Mountains Sing on Hoopla today.



The Girl with the Louding Voice

Prepare to fall in love with the Adunni, the plucky heroine of The Girl with the Louding Voice (2020). Adunni is a 14-year-old girl living in rural Nigeria where child marriage, polygamy, and jungle justice are still common and a girl has no worth but for her bride price. But Adunni is a delightful character and despite all the hardships that come her way, she manages to find joy in her life and see the good in people who hurt her. All she wants is to get an education, as she believes this will allow her voice to be heard, to allow her to speak up and have a say in her future.

Abi Daré's debut novel is both heartrending and heartwarming—and full of wonderful characters. Written in Adunni's voice and dialect, it may take reading a few pages to get used to the writing style, but it is well worth it. A riveting and inspiring book.

You can also read or listen to this book on Overdrive.



The Dearly Beloved

In the 1950s, we meet four characters whose lives will be intertwined for the next 50 years. Charles is from a wealthy Boston family and the son of a Harvard professor. Lily's parents are killed when she is a teenager and their absence leaves a void inside her for the rest of her life. James grows up poor in Chicago, the son of an alcoholic. Nan is the daughter of a southern minister, and sees firsthand the inner workings of being part of a family where faith and helping others is an integral part of life.

When Charles and James decide to take jobs as the co-pastors of the Third Presbyterian Church in Greenwich Village, the men, along with their wives, Lily and Nan, must live their lives amid the turmoil of the 1960s. They find their beliefs challenged by their circumstances and the other individuals in the quartet. In The Dearly Beloved (2019) by Cara Wall, the reader is immersed in the four characters' lives as revealed through moving, emotional writing.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

I was feeling the need for a good book to escape into and Alix E. Harrow really delivered with whimsical prose and a fantastical story in The Ten Thousand Doors of January (2019).

Set at the turn of the 20th century in Vermont, we follow the story of January, a young mixed race child in the care of a wealthy collector, Mr. Locke. Her guardian employs her father to travel the world searching for and obtaining rare treasures and curiosities, which are then added to Mr. Locke's extensive collection or sold at secretive auctions.

At the age of seven, while on a trip to rural Kentucky with Mr. Locke, January opens a dilapidated blue door amongst some ruins in a field and is briefly transported to another world, a world that smells of salt and stone, a world that feels strangely welcoming. Her few short moments there leave her wondering if it was a real memory or just her imagination. Then, at the age of 17, her father disappears while on one of his trips and a book mysteriously appears in a treasure chest in Mr. Locke's collection—a book that carries the scent of adventure and other worlds and tells of ten thousand 'doors'. And so begins an upheaval of January's life and the opening of new doors.

Lovers of Narnia and The Time Traveler's Wife will enjoy this beautifully written book, full of the power of the written word, love, and strong female characters.

Boy Swallows Universe

A coming of age story set in the gritty, drug-ridden streets of suburban Brisbane, Australia in the 1980s. Despite the ugly background of criminals, violence, and poverty, this is a beautiful story of a boy finding his voice and destiny.

Twelve-year-old Eli Bell is surrounded by drug addicts and dealers. His brother, August, is selectively mute, his babysitter is an ex-con renowned for multiple jailbreaks and his stepfather Lyle is involved with the local heroin dealing business. Eli has a big dream to become a journalist on the crime beat. He's honing his writing skills by exchanging letters with a criminal in jail and practicing being observant while accompanying Lyle on his drug deals. When everything starts to go wrong, Eli will rely on his skills and contacts to survive.

With secret rooms, heroin deals, a jail break-in and missing people, this book doesn't lack for action. It also shines a light on the strength of parental and sibling relationships. A tough upbringing can result in unbreakable bonds.

Boy Swallows Universe (2019) is an entertaining debut from Trent Dalton, loosely based on some of his real life experiences.



The Stationery Shop

Set in 1950s Tehran, this ill-fated love story features teenagers Roya and Bahman. Roya's favorite place is Mr. Fakhri's stationary shop and she goes there every Tuesday after school to indulge her love of novels, poetry, and everything stationery. It is here that she meets Bahman, a young political activist and, despite parental disapproval, class differences, and Iran's political unrest, their love blossoms.

The story actually begins 60 years later in Boston. Raya has spent her adult life in America as an immigrant, always wondering why the love of her life never showed up to their rendezvous in a city square amidst a violent coup. Out of the blue, she discovers that Bahman is a resident in a nursing home nearby. Will visiting him finally give her the answer? Has their love lasted a lifetime?

I really enjoyed this romantic tale by Marjan Kamali, who writes very evocatively of the 1950s streets of Tehran. Her descriptions of Persian food had me looking up recipes, especially for the cooling melon ice that she mentions multiple times in The Stationery Shop (2019). I went out and bought some cantaloupe the next day and it was just as refreshing as I imagined!



Normal People by Sally Rooney (2019)

Marianne and Connell begin a secret relationship when they are seniors in high school. Connell is popular and outgoing, but at times feels insecure since his mother, Lorraine, cleans houses for a living. Marianne, meanwhile, is wealthy, and a loner in part because of her abusive family background. Normal People recounts their relationship over the next four years as they go to college and decide what to do with their lives. It a story of two people finding their way to adulthood and the strong bond they develop with each other. Sally Rooney's latest novel is a great pick for book clubs.




Golden Child by Claire Adam (2019)

In her debut novel, Claire Adam takes us on a tragic, thought-provoking journey to rural Trinidad. The Deyalsingh family struggles financially, but father, Clyde, finds it hard to accept help and feels suffocated by his wife's extended family. Their twin sons, Peter and Paul, are at the difficult age of 13. Peter is the 'golden child,' both academic and diligent, while Paul has always been deemed mentally challenged due to complications at birth.

The story revolves around the sudden disappearance of Paul when Clyde is faced with a parent's worst nightmare. Claire Adam's Golden Child is an emotional roller coaster of a book!



The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011)

senseI was looking for a short, yet thought-provoking audiobook to act as a sort of palette cleanse between two light-hearted, popular works of fiction, so I opted for The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. It turned out to be the perfect choice.

In less than five hours, we journey through the life of the narrator, Tony, and the story of two relationships from his youth, one a friend and one a lover. Now in his sixties, Tony is confronted with the truth of those relationships and forced to reevaluate his past behavior and his own carefully curated story of self. The audiobook narration (by Richard Morant) was terrific—the voice you hear becomes Tony, which really brings the story to life. This character-driven book examines the importance of memory in shaping self and questions what we remember as truth. I recommend it for fans of Kazuo Ishiguro and Marilynne Robinson.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)

allthelightSet in WWII, this book alternates between the life of a young German orphan (soon to be soldier) named Werner, who is a whiz with electronics, and Marie-Laure, a young, blind French girl who is forced to leave her home in Paris when the Germans invade. Their lives intersect in a seaside town called San-Malo as the Allies are about to bomb the city and repeatedly flashes back in time showing how they came to this moment.

All the Light We Cannot See has very short chapters, so it has the feel of being fast paced, but the novel is also very detailed with tactile and audio descriptions of how Marie senses the world around her. Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel depicts the horrors of WWII from a unique point of view revealing both the evil within men and also the heroism, too.

If you enjoyed this novel, check out related book lists: Novels of WWII and WWII and the Women in the Resistance.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (2017)

manhattanbeachJennifer Egan’s epic novel Manhattan Beach is set in the Brooklyn Naval Yards during World War II. This coming-of-age novel features Anna Kerrigan as a fiercely independent young woman who longs to serve the war effort as a diver, an occupation reserved solely for men in 1940s America. Anna’s underwater training takes her deep into the murky waters of New York Harbor, while her quest to uncover the mystery that has torn her family apart leads her into the dark underworld of organized crime.

Manhattan Beach was long-listed for the National Book Award in 2017. I recommend giving this one a listen — the audiobook narration by Vincent Piazza of Boardwalk Empire adds the perfect touch of noir to this historic novel.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (2015)

fishinatreeA fascinating and enlightening story, Fish in a Tree follows a sixth grade girl who always struggled in school, but never could understand why until a persistent, caring teacher finally helps diagnose her with dyslexia. The author herself experienced a similar childhood to Ally, which gives so much depth of perspective to the character's struggle with an inability to read and write. Once diagnosed, Ally begins to discover through perseverance that a learning disability does not define who she is or her intelligence.

I only knew the basic symptoms of dyslexia prior to reading Fish in a Tree; however, I now feel a whole new appreciation for those who struggle with this and similar learning disorders on a daily basis because of Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s thoughtful and personal testimony incorporated into her novel.

Fish in a Tree is among the 2019 Bluestem Award nominees for the State of Illinois, designed for students in grades 3-5.