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After a not-so-awesome reading month in July, I read more books this month than any other so far this year! It certainly helped that for five of those days, I was in bed recovering from oral surgery and was not allowed to talk. Reading is a great way to avoid the pain when it’s hard to sleep. I also really appreciated the suggestions I received from many of you and have added them to my radar to look into (or they are currently waiting to be read right now.)
This month, I mixed some pretty heavy reads with some beloved re-reads and some lighter YA and kids’ fiction. I can’t share reviews of all of them or this post would be absurdly long, but I’ll give you some highlights.
The Heavy Reads
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Fiction – Highly recommended by a friend of mine who knows her stuff, I had no idea how heavy this book would be. I got to the first rough part, and thought it would be over, but I should have known I was too early in the book for all the bad stuff to be done. This has plenty of trigger-inducing topics, including rape, sexual abuse of children, warfare and violence, cancer. . . I think I hit the big ones.
I didn’t love it a ton, because I have a hard time with books that deal with this side of humanity and don’t give much concrete hope. However, the prose itself was a gift to read. (Even if I did get annoyed by the heavy foreboding and foreshadowing at the beginning of the book.)
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This memoir has been on my TBR list for a couple of years and I finally got it from the library and read it.
As I said in my Goodreads review, this was both painful and necessary to read. Part of it was like holding up a mirror and seeing myself in a different light. Part of it was like Freaky Friday where, when the mom and daughter switch bodies, they get a taste of what life is like for the other person. Perhaps that’s not the best analogy, but I appreciated the bare honesty with which Coates spoke of his experience as a black man in America. I felt like it gave me a window, however tiny, into the pain I and other “people who must believe they are white” has caused to so many.
I will refrain from agreeing on some of the views he holds on sexuality and marriage; however, as far as the topic of race goes, I highly recommend this book to people wanting to learn more about racism.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei
Memoir – My first-ever graphic novel! I’m more of a words-and-no-pictures-please kinda gal, but in this case, I understand why this format can be better for certain purposes: drawings and photos can convey more emotion than words can – or at least in a different way.
What a powerful memoir of one child’s experience living in concentration camps in America during WWII, the reconciling of his memories with the truth as a young adult, and his work as an activist as an adult.
Note 1: there is one brief frame where he introduces his husband to someone he knew in the camp. I’d say this is overall fine for kids to read, but if homosexuality is not a topic your kids know about yet, you might get a question. Just be aware so you’re prepared for that possible question/conversation.
Note 2: I don’t recommend reading this book in a Kindle 😉 The words were so tiny I downloaded a magnifying glass app on my phone to read it!
The O’Malley Series by Dee Henderson
After having to be so far away for my brother’s wedding, I was missing my family big-time. I turned to a series that’s got some strong, adult-sibling relationships, with a side of romance (it’s actually the other way around, but that’s the reason I gravitated toward them.) Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series is part-suspense, part-romance, part-Christian novels. I didn’t reread the whole series. Just a few of them, and not even in order. Each of the siblings find romance and Jesus in the book that focuses on them, while narrowly missing death because of whatever their job involves. There’s a negotiator in hostage situations, a U.S. marshal, a fireman, a paramedic, a trauma psychologist who works for the Red Cross after crises, and a forensic pathologist who specializes in murder cases. You can see why they each might get into a bit of hot water with their respective jobs.
A Katie Parker Production Series by Jenny B. Jones
I reread the first three of the four in this series. It’s comical, the characters are lovably quirky, and there’s strong doses of hope, redemption, and second chances. Katie is a sixteen-year-old who is placed in a foster home whose dad is the lead pastor at a local church. She struggles to make new friends, figure out who she is, and deal with the trauma of her mom not taking care of her for years due to a dependence on drugs. Somehow Ms. Jones manages to make me laugh and cry while also drawing insights about the life of a foster kid trying to figure herself out in the world. I can’t recommend this series highly enough. The last book lays the romance on pretty thickly, but on the whole, I’ve come back to this series again and again for a comfort read over the last couple of years.
YA + Kids’ Fiction
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
I’d heard of Gregor the Overlander a few different times from various people, and I decided to read the first book to see if it was truly a book I could recommend to my upper elementary students, or if it was more of a young adult series like her previous books (Hunger Games). Nope! I can wholeheartedly recommend this book for elementary students!
There’s adventure and danger and horridly humongous creatures, but nothing inappropriate for my kiddos! Gregor falls down a hole in the laundry room of his apartment building when his sister disappears down it and they find themselves in the “Underland” where cockroaches and rats and spiders and bats are all as big as humans, or bigger. They meet the humans who have adapted to this underground world and go on a quest. Enjoyable and kid-friendly!
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
I’ve been wanting to read this gem for awhile, ever since my co-teacher mentioned it a couple of years ago. The main character struggles with dyslexia that has been undiagnosed and she frequently gets herself in trouble just to escape class. She hates being dumb and works more hours on her homework than I can even fathom just to get a few sentences – all until her 6th grade teacher goes on maternity leave and a permanent sub takes over. Mr. Daniels catches on to her and figures out that she has a “learning difference” which is causing all of her problems. He wins her over and starts to find ways to help her learn to read.
As a teacher, it’s inspiring to read about the way the teacher gives so much to help her. As a teacher, it’s also eye-opening for me to be reminded of what life is like for students, especially those for whom school does not come easily.
This is going in my teacher read-aloud list!
Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan
Another recommendation for a fantasy series, it’s squarely in the middle school/young adult age range – which I freely admit I often enjoy. While I know many of my kids already know some cuss words, I’m not going to recommend a book to my fifth graders with four-letter words sprinkled sparingly around. Nothing more intense than h*** or d***, but still. Anyway, I read most of this series this month.
The books are fairly short, easily read in five hours or less for the average reader. I wish Flanagan had combined some of them into longer books, because a few pairs of books deal with the same overall conflict. I guess it’s about the money? I mean, in my opinion, a good author shouldn’t leave a cliff-hanger at the end of one book that leaves the reader surprised that the book is over, especially if the next book picks up right where the previous one left off. I guess it’s about the money?
Nonetheless, I have enjoyed reading these as an escape. The prose is blah, especially right after reading books like The Kite Runner and Between the World and Me. I could see this series being good to snag a reluctant reader, though: the characters unique and are somehow both very fallible humans and superheroes who are experts at their weapons. Plus, the good guys always win, usually by some sort of trickery or clever plan.
In summary: Enjoyable, but not a literary masterpiece.
What have you all been reading lately? I’m always looking for the next great read and appreciate suggestions!
P.S. As usual, I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit. Head over there to get some more reading suggestions from avid readers!