A note about our staff picks (last update 4/5/2019)
We haven't read everything, so if you've heard something is good but don't see it on here, that doesn't mean we didn't like it. It probably means that we just haven't read it yet. For example, none of us have even had a chance to read Where the Crawdads Sing, and I still haven't gotten to Educated! Also, it's hard to write a review for everything I read, so here is a list of a few of my personal favorite books that I haven't reviewed but still recommend! - Roxanna
- The Alienist, Caleb Carr (Historical Fiction / Mystery, 1994)
- The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco (Historical Fiction / Mystery, 1983)
- The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett (Historical / Epic Fiction, 1989)
- Looking for Alaska, John Green (Young Adult / Coming of Age, 2005)
- The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah (Historical Fiction / WWII, 2015)
- A Girl Named Zippy, Haven Kimmel (Memoir, 2002)
- Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver (Literary Fiction, 1990)
- The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova (Horror / Fantasy / Mystery, 2009)
- A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula LeGuin (Fantasy, 1968)
- Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell (Young Adult, 2012)
- The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield (Literary Fiction / Mystery, 2006)
- These Is My Words, Nancy E. Turner (Historical Fiction with local area ties, 1998)
Daisy Jones & the Six
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Going from my favorite book of 2018 to my favorite book I've read in 2019 (so far, as of early April) takes us to Daisy Jones. You've probably heard of it - it's getting a lot of press thanks to Reese Witherspoon!
So I am only going to say a few things about it. It's fun. It's funny. If you don't know what it's about I'll give you a little hint. "Daisy Jones and the Six" is the name of a fictional 1970's rock band. So if you have a fascination with the 70's music scene, you'll love this. If you don't, but you love a good story with genuine, well-developed characters and complex relationships, you'll love this. If you're worried that the 1970's rock n' roll scene was all about sex and drugs, and you don't want to read about that, I'll leave you with this. Yes, the characters did that stuff. But the story unfolds in the form of interviews with the aging former rock stars, most of whom are pretty well-adjusted by now, so none of that is graphic or glorified, and you'll still love this book!
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Recently I was thinking back to all the books I read last year (2018), and decided this was my favorite. It's an epic tale of tradition, change, and the meaning of family set in a little-known area of rural China.
(*Full disclosure here - it's also an adoption story, and if you know me well you know that adoption has been a big part of my life, and if you have met my daughter you have probably surmised that I have a personal connection to the people and culture of China through adoption. So I was bound to be a sucker for this book. But it is good beyond that as well!)
Even though the setting stretches only from the 1990's to today, The Tea Girl reads like an historical novel -- this is because of the isolation of the Akha people from the modern world and the traditional customs they keep. These antiquated and often cruel customs are the catalyst for Li-yan's separation from her life and family in the mountain village that was her home. The outside world could be equally cruel, but Li-yan's strength and her determination to find her lost infant daughter see her into the modern world and back again.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
Mystery, relationships, coming-of-age and family drama all come together as an autistic 15 year old breaks out of his comfort zone to solve the mysterious death of a neighbor’s dog. The reader will feel Christopher’s fear and discomfort as he takes on difficult tasks that most of us take for granted. This book brought on a gamut of emotions as I ventured with Christopher into uncharted territory and uncovered family secrets.
Recommended for: Anyone and everyone, from teens+.
If you are a writer, or someone who can appreciate a writer’s graceful execution of a challenging tale, Room should be on your reading list. Jack is a five year old boy who has never been outside of the small room where he was conceived and born after his mother was kidnapped and held captive. Written solely from Jack’s limited perspective, Donoghue perfectly captures Jack’s confusion and amazement regarding the outside world, and still manages to convey his mother’s struggles, as seen through Jack’s eyes.
Recommended for: Writers, those who want to be writers, book groups, or anyone looking for a story that will keep them thinking long after the last page is turned.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
The first time I read this book I was in the 2nd grade and I loved it. This book tells of a story of Minli, a girl who wants to change her family's poor fortune. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is action-packed and carries the reader into the land of Chinese myths. Grace Lin, the author, is a Chinese woman with a passion for telling children's stories and is able to skillfully weave mini stories into her books. While this book may be for children, I found that going back and reading it in my middle school years actually enlightened me to even more detail and I had an even better experience with it.
Recommended for: Ages 7+
Snow Falling on Cedars
A heart-gripping tale of love, loss, murder and forgiveness. Set in a fictional town in Washington State in 1954, the story uses flashbacks and differing perspectives to tell the tale of two men in love with the same woman. The woman is a Japanese American who was forced to break up with her high school sweetheart and first love while interred in a Japanese Relocation Camp. She then marries a Japanese American war hero who is also interred at the camp. Deceit, marital strife, death, marriage, and World War II all come together in this fictional small town to fuel the plot. The pace of the book is great for a long summer afternoon, or a monsoon storm read.
Martha Hall Kelly
This is not the usual “light” reading book. Based in the history of WWII, this captivating story moves slowly between the lives, loves, and families of 3 women connected by the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. The story flows between America, Poland, and Germany. It is a fictional look at some of history’s most difficult moments.
Saving Fish from Drowning
I almost didn’t read this book, because the reviews were all over the place. Some hated it, some loved it. I found myself in the latter category.
Fans of Amy Tan’s other books may be disappointed, because this book is different. Instead of focusing on family relationships, this book brings together a diverse group of tourists, left inadequately supervised on a trip to the dangerous country of Myanmar when their experienced tour guide dies mysteriously just before the trip. The story is told by the ghost of the would-be tour guide, who watches helplessly from the afterlife while the group meets with one (sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartwarming) misadventure after another.
Recommended for: Amy Tan fans open to a different style, those interested in Asian culture, travelers with a sense of humor, or anyone looking for a fun, heartwarming story that is a little unbelievable and very real at the same time.
The Screwtape Letters
Satire at its best. C.S. Lewis once again brings the Protestant ideology to the public is a witty and thoughtful look at how the workers for “Our Father Down Below” see us mere mortals. This is a great group study book or a solo read to deepen your faith through questioning how sin and salvation work.
The Sword of Truth Series
I was attracted to this series several years ago while watching Saturday afternoon fantasy TV. The books give depth and substance to characters flattened by the TV show. While the books are wordy and lengthy, each book brings a different part of the saga into focus and allows the reader to become a participant in the drama.
A Child Called "It"
A deeply personal account of abuse and recovery. A must-read for anyone working with children and adolescents in any capacity. David Pelzer tells his story in vivid language that brings you into his suffering and success.
Bless Me, Ultima
I read this book the first time in High School. Reading Bless Me, Ultima again as an adult was just a powerful and moving an experience. I am so glad this book make the PBS list!
Carve The Mark and The Fates Divide
Carve The Mark along with it's sequel The Fates Divide is a fantastically intense book with a kick. Veronica Roth, bestselling author of the famed Divergent series does not disappoint when it comes to action. This duo was impossible to put down as I felt all the emotion of her characters. I laughed when they laughed, cried when they cried, and felt truly immersed in their world.
Recommended for: 13+