September Book Marks
Back to work, school and the routine, which hopefully includes reading. The lazy days of summer are gone, but there’s a virtual American Idol season’s-worth of talent in the books out this September.
Many of you expressed the desire to click and buy right away, so you’ll now be able to do so when you click on this link. Each month I’ll feature an independent bookstore where you can purchase the books. Please send me your suggestions! And you can find the Indie Next booklist at this link Indiebound.org each month, which is a well-curated compendium of books reviewed by book-loving staffers.
This month, I’ve picked Northshire Bookstore on the main drag in Saratoga, New York (sister store to the amazing one in Manchester, Vermont.) I held a book reading there a few summers ago, and being from upstate New York, the area is near and dear to my heart. What makes Northshire my first indie bookstore spotlight is that they are relatively new to the game. When I heard an indie bookstore was coming back to Saratoga in the age of big box stores and Amazon, it was like watching the movie “Rudy.” There was a lot of atta boy-ing. And they’ve continued to thrive. So if you find yourself in the quaint, racing town of Saratoga, go say hi at Northshire.
In keeping with the spirit of the Bob Woodruff Foundation. I’m adding a category for books that touch on military/veteran or caregiver stories. So many well-written and interesting books are published in this genre and they offer a window onto a world that many of us know little about with today’s all volunteer army.
Speaking about our troops – you can earn the Bob Woodruff Foundation $1.00 from now until September 30th simply by posting #give2veterans. You don’t even have to open your wallet to help our injured veterans and families, so please pass it on!
So here goes — my humble thoughts and opinions!
I’d read the reviews and was intrigued by the overarching themes of how a woman’s career dreams are muted by marriage and motherhood. Then I opened the book and started reading. WHAM– I was totally unprepared for the sweeping scope, breadth, intimacy and depth of this book, reminiscent of a Jonathan Franzen novel. There are so many themes here, from love, betrayal, the parent-child bond, jealousy, favorite children, marital fatigue, what it means to nurse your creative flame while facing extreme head winds. The book is also a story within a story, as some of Joan’s writing is featured. The pace of the tale takes a dramatic downshift about two-thirds in, but every time I set it down, I was eager to get back to Joan Ashby.
What happens when a war-tested marine and embedded photojournalist write a book together? It’s a well written, compelling back and forth about what it means to go to war and come home. The story of how the men were injured by a bomb blast in Afghanistan and their unlikely friendship will keep you turning pages (and me underlining passages). As the wife of a war correspondent who was injured, there was so much I could relate to, but this doesn’t exclude the uninitiated reader.
“Shooting Ghosts” should be mandatory reading for all of us who are “grateful for their service,” yet can’t quite grasp the tiny, nuanced damage war does to families, loved ones and relationships. The domestic scenes will twist your gut. This book perfectly captures the lonely, aching dissonance many veterans feel when they return to a home front they have dreamed of, that cannot see or understand their wounds. Some of the best, articulate descriptions of post traumatic stress I’ve ever read.
My Absolute Darling, Gabriel Tallent ( I’m listening to the Audio Version)
Worried that it would be too gritty, and I’d be screaming back at the story, I was right. But the writing is so tight, the transgressions so astonishing, its like Technicolor road kill… you cannot turn away. This is the number one “Indie Next” pick and the story of a Survivalist/Prepper father who drinks beer for breakfast and his weapon-weilding14-year-old daughter who live in the woods of Mendocino, CA, will have you calling Child Social Services as you read through fingers covering your eyes. Spoiler alert- if you don’t have the stomach for incest, bowie knives and foul language, think twice, but being inside the young woman’s head with her competing emotions and nascent sense of how the outside world works is a trip. Warning on the audio version, the narrator has that annoying vocal fry in her voice (like my own daughter!), which is driving me nuts as a speech and presentation coach. For more on vocal fry and what it is, watch this hilarious video from CBS Sunday Morning – I couldn’t resist. dailymotion.com/video/x15scu1
Get Smarter/Do it Better/Self-Help:
13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, Amy Morin
Ok, the parenting train has pretty much left the station at my house. I’ve already inflicted terrible damage and bad habits on my children (see reference to vocal fry above) but it may not be too late for your own kids or grandkids. I was intrigued about the promise of the book’s ability to help us raise “self-assured children and train their brains for a life of happiness, meaning and success.” What’s not to love about that?
Being told what NOT to do is also a little more naughty-fun than someone telling you HOW to do it. Social worker Amy Morin lays out her treatise in an easy, sound-bitey way that results in a neat little road map for beginners that should be handed out in maternity wards. It’s a form of parenting for dummies that would make a great baby shower gift for tackling the hardest job that comes with absolutely no certification. The father in “My Absolute Darling” (see above) could have used a copy.
Don’t Let Go, Harlan Coben
If I didn’t love this guy so much for being an all-around genuinely good man and generous person, I’d hate this guy for how easily he cranks out thrillers that grab you by the jowls from the first page. He is the only author that got my son reading from dawn till night and his stories have been made into movies and series. He’s like a crossover thriller writer. If Jack Reacher is total testosterone and high octane, Coben’s characters are more complicated, more the types of people that lurk in our towns. In his latest book, an old high school murder is re-examined to solve a mystery. In the process, the family secrets and lies build on one another like a hurricane out at sea, until they have the power to destroy the entire town. No one does dialogue like my man Harlan.
The Other Alcott Sister, Elise Hooper
With the 150th anniversary of “Little Women” around the corner, it’s the perfect time to discover the untold story of May Alcott, Louisa’s youngest sister and in real life, a visual artist in her own right. From Concord (where my mother lives and the real Alcott house is preserved) to Boston and Europe, she was just hitting her stride as her sister achieved literary fame, portraying May (Amy March) as the “spoiled one” in the classic novel. In this captivating work of historical fiction, Elise Hooper gives readers an imaginative glimpse into the youngest Alcott’s artistic pursuits and her side of the sibling rivalry.
Wonder, RJ Palacio
When a friend highly recommended this YA book for me I was skeptical, since (full disclosure) I’m not usually a fan of young adult books ( I know, I know, but I did read Twilight!). In fact, I was so confused that I mistakenly bought Emma Donoghue’s novel “The Wonder,” out in paperback this month and worth the read. FYI- – It’s slow burning, beautiful tale of religiosity and family in post-famine Ireland. Was the young Irish lass faking it or not?
But back to this “Wonder,” a NYT best seller that will soon be released as a movie. August is born with a tragically disfigured face that he has learned to hide from the world until he enters mainstream school and must re-learn how to navigate in ways that will break your heart open and crochet it back again. Written realistically in August’s wise but innocent voice, it reminded me of the book “Room” in the way that you are inside someone’s head.
Described to me as “the book that everyone beyond 5th grade should read,” it’s a tale for the times, to remind all of us to reach for a little more empathy, understanding and kindness. Lecture over.
Based in the same vein as his wonderful debut book “The End of Your Life Book Club,” Schwalbe brings a wonderful perspective to curating a list of books that are, in essence, a lesson for living. As a book editor and avid book lover, each chapter is carefully crafted around a specific book. For anyone looking for a “what to read” list, you will find it all here. From classics to children’s lit, thrillers and even a cookbook, Schwalbe has woven a play list to help make sense of the world and how we pass through it. I knew he was the man for me when he included my all-time favorite novel “Crossing to Safety” in his first book.