Ever get two pages into a book and think, “Oh man, this is going to be good.”? Expect that from these reads.
1) The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
This book is powerful. If you enjoy WWII literature at all – this is totally worth your while. Even if you don’t, you should read it. Andras Levi, the protagonist, is a great character. He’s one of those central focus characters that is almost perfect in nature – kind, intelligent, thoughtful – who provides a fantastic window to see the other characters and the rest of the world. I miss his mind already and I’ve only been out of it for a day.
The writing itself is spectacular, Orringer is overwhelmingly good. She describes settings that make me feel, even more than see.
Beautiful beginning, middle, and end.
2) In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah
This is the only book I have ever finished and immediately wanted to re-read. I originally read this on my nook and have now bought a paper copy as well. This is one of those books that I want to scribble on, highlight phrases that jumped out at me and somehow said everything I never knew I wanted to express. Maybe my significant attachment came because I was reading this while I was living and traveling alone in Spain, knowing that a visitation to Morocco was on the horizon. Regardless, it’s excellent.
So why? Why am I so ga-ga over this book? One of my greatest loves in life is traveling and this book just oozes with the emotions of a traveler. Shah is an individual who is restless, who is curious, who judges people with an eye of disbelief AND understanding, who takes people as what they are and, while human beings are unable to completely ever fill another’s shoes, he incorporates what he can. It’s incredible – I stopped multiple times while reading to ponder or scribble down a sentence. Shah’s words described my own emotions: it’s so wonderful to feel understood.
This book is both memoir and story – it’s a mixture of tales, events, meaningful and not. His ability to tie in everything makes me believe he’s led not only a great life but also a fascinating one – I believe this book is filled with both truths and fibs and it works beautifully into one tapestry.
3) Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones by Erica Jong
This book was pretty astounding and probably the least expected to be on the list. Very rarely have I reacted to a book with as much gusto – and I’m not talking about tears and laughter here, I’m talking about flat out shock. In terms of fiction, I’ve never had a book startle me as much as this one did and I loved it all the more for it.
Erica Jong wrote this in such a manner that I truly believed she was Fanny Hackabout-Jones. She said in the beginning that she would keep no modesty, and she kept true to her word. The events in this book had ways of simultaneously disgusting and arousing me but ultimately making me truly care for, and hate, the same ones that Fanny did. Fanny wanted to teach Belinda, her daughter, all the things she had learned in the world.
At the very least, I think she succeeded in teaching me.
4) Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
I have read this book a number of times and, yep, still love it. This is one of those books that every time I see a used copy for sale somewhere, I still want to buy it. As it is I’ve bought two copies for myself, mostly just because I love to lend it.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in Baraboo, Wisconsin – a small town where the Ringling Bros museum and winter headquarters are – but this novel is like gold to me. Circus stuff fascinates me and Gruen puts together all the deeper, darker parts to make this a story completely for adults.
The images are brilliant without being overwhelming. It’s told from the eyes of an old man named Jacob looking back on his life as a young man. Because of this, I feel like we see things precisely the way humans remember them. I noticed Jacob’s feelings: his anger, frustration, confusion, compassion, and helplessness the most throughout the book. It thrilled me throughout.
5) Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
Ho-ly cow, this is good. This is good good. This is really good good.
I don’t know what I really expected when I began this. I had briefly read some reviews, heard it was a fairy tale and decided to pick it up. When they say fairy tale they mean it in the Grimm sense of the term – man, this is DARK. I was spooked and concerned far more than I was laughing.
The characters are fascinating. We see the world through the eyes of Jena; second oldest of five. She’s the most sensible, mildly attractive, easy to relate to. She and her sisters have been visiting the ‘Other Kingdom’ every full moon for dancing, relating with other world creatures, etc. Right from the beginning we learn that, while her sisters seem at ease, Jena has always had some trepidation about the whole experience. That feeling of unease only grows through the book. It’s extremely high powered.
Probably my best praise of this book is how Marillier puts it together. Let’s see if I can explain this properly: This story is full of twists and turns, however nothing quite took me by “surprise” – I managed to at least kind of guess each new and exciting part to the story. However, I don’t believe that was at all my intuition. I think that Marillier does a fantastic job with foreshadowing – she kept me in the dark for as long as SHE wanted to keep me there. Very well executed.
6) City of Thieves by David Benioff
This book was recommended to me by my history professor – and for good reason. It’s fantastic. It’s everything I want in a WWII setting novel. It had the history, the imagery, but it also had a story that was independent of it all. It was nice to have that fresh piece in there, something many other WWII related novels are missing. The events are so horrific – death, starvation, siege – and yet it’s so contrasted by the vibrant characters. I never thought I would have loved a character like Kolya so much. I seriously wanted to marry him by the time the book was half over. Exceptional story for a little history, a little fiction, and a great story
7) The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Holy cow. What a phenomenal book. I read this book at the height of it’s popularity – before the movie and when you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about it. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into – all I knew was that it was a supposedly good book and that it was that month’s read for my book club. I can’t even begin to say how happy I am to have read it.
And, what’s funny is, my favorite part is technically not part of the book. It’s the very end, where Stockett takes a moment to say why this book exists and how she felt, being a white woman who grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, writing it. For me, this helped solve all the questions I had, and the mixed emotions I felt, throughout the book. This is the kind of book that even though some might not agree or might not think she had a right to write it… I’m glad she did.