The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker – This beautifully-written story takes place in two separate time periods which sometimes, like water, seem to blend together--the early 1800’s and the 1970’s--on storm-beaten Yaupon Island off the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The historical portion of the novel deals with the mystery of the missing daughter of disgraced Vice-President Aaron Burr, Theodosia, who disappeared at sea in 1813. For purposes of this story, she was saved from death by pirates by feigning insanity and survived, barely, on Yaupon, forever cut off from the mainland and her former life. She is the ancestress of two older sisters, Maggie and Whaley, who struggle to remain on the island of their births, now down to a population of three, in the 70’s. Woodrow Thornton, the only other modern inhabitant and himself a descendant of a freed slave who worked for Theodosia, is the sisters’ only support system; together they cling to their intermingled yet solitary island lives.
The Silent Land by Graham Joyce – I really had a hard time putting this book down! I found myself wanting to finish it quickly without detouring to read other books as I often do. Essentially it is a love story about a married couple on a ski holiday who get caught in an avalanche but manage to rescue themselves, only to find themselves in an evacuated mountain village still being threatened. An impending sense of doom permeates, while at the same time the story is moving and uplifting. The novel can only be described as compelling because although the reader suspects where the story is going, it is necessary to find out the meaning of the trip!
Miss Timmin’s School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy – This atmospheric fiction debut is set in a girl’s boarding school in 1974 India where world societal changes that started in the sixties have filtered into even this closed society. In a bit of a switch, scandals are brought by the adults in charge rather than the students themselves. Stories and rumors swirl around the proper headmistress and her teachers, including Charu Apte, the new teacher from a respectable family with secrets of its own, and the wild English woman teacher, Moira Prince, who sets her sights on Charu. Moira seduces sheltered 21-year-old Charu and introduces her to characters in the community offering the glamor of casual drugs and vice; then one night during the monsoon season the conflicted Charu quarrels with Moira who then falls - or is pushed - to her death in a mountainous area known as “table-land.” These plot lines are woven together as part cultural lesson and part 70’s history lesson, with portrayals of terrific student characters who turn into sleuths to attempt to solve all the mysteries.
Sister by Rosamund Lupton – This is another compelling read which is a psychological thriller/mystery but is also a moving family story about an older sister’s love for her younger sister. Beatrice rushes to London from her home in New York when she learns her free-spirited younger sister Tess is missing; when Tess is found dead and Beatrice learns that she died shortly after giving birth to a stillborn child, she refuses to believe that Tess took her own life. Soon she is virtually inhabiting her sister’s life, living where she lived, working where she worked, in an effort to solve the mystery of her untimely death. The story is written in the form of letter to her sister; the reader knows that somehow Beatrice has proved her theory and that Tess was actually murdered, but the search for the killer continues until the final twist ending. There is a lot of buzz about this book!
The Summer Reading Celebration begins tomorrow, June 18th, and in honor of this year’s theme for teens, I’ve put together some fun reading lists of recommended reads for teens that will take you around the world. I will be sharing these lists with you throughout the summer, with each list containing a set of books featuring a new location. Since all of travels start at home, I’m kicking it off with a set of books that take place right here in the Bay Area. Read and enjoy, and don’t forget to sign up for the Summer Reading Celebration!
The Alchemyst by Michael Scott
While working at summer jobs in San Francisco, twins Sophie and Josh find themselves caught up in the deadly, centuries-old struggle between rival alchemists.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
This graphic novel features three intertwining stories about Chinese Americans, including Jin Wang, a boy raised in San Francisco's Chinatown who moves with his family to the suburbs.
Estrella’s Quinceañera by Malín Alegría
San Jose teen Estrella is turning 15, and her mother and aunt are planning a gaudy, traditional quinceañera for her, even though it is the last thing she wants.
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
After being wrongly imprisoned by the Department of Homeland Security in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco, seventeen-year-old Marcus must use his computer hacking skills to set things right in this action-packed techno-thriller.
The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy
When thirteen-year-old Joan moves to the Bay Area in 1972, she becomes friends with Sarah, who shares her passion for creative writing, and after winning a writing contest together, they are recruited for an exclusive summer writing class that gives them new insights into themselves and others.
Wish: A Novel by Alexandra Bullen
After her vivacious twin sister dies, a shy teenage girl moves with her parents to San Francisco, where she meets a magical seamstress who grants her one wish.
I loved Ann Patchett's Bel Canto and Run is just as good. Race relations, politics, faith, family loyalty and death are just some of the major themes. Every character is so well drawn - from the emotionally spent former mayor of Boston to the young girl who stalks the mayor and his two adopted sons. A couple of passages are so memorable and full of meaning, that I've read them over and over: the inner thoughts of the old priest in the retirement home ("It would be possible to overlook just about anything if you were trained to constantly strain forward to see the power and the glory that way waiting up ahead. What a shame it would have been to miss God while waiting for Him."), and of the poor young black girl sprinting around the track at Harvard ("She no longer felt like touching all the dirt and the muck she had so patiently submitted herself to so that people would think she was a very nice girl. She was not such a very nice girl. Nobody who was very, very nice would ever work this hard to take something they wanted only for themselves.").
I try to mix up my recreational reading and challenge myself with a variety of genres and themes, but I have to admit that every now and then, it feels good to curl up with a nice piece of well-written chick lit. After having read a few of her books now, I must agree with the masses that YA author Sarah Dessen has truly mastered this art: real characters, a good story with all the right amounts of drama and romance, and a slightly surprising yet happy ending.
I just finished listening to the audiobook Lock and Key via the Overdrive app on my mobile phone. While it's not my favorite Dessen novel thus far, (that award goes to This Lullaby), it's a great story of redemption and second chances. 17-year-old Ruby is reunited with her estranged older sister Cora after her neglectful mother finally takes off for good. Cora and her husband Jamie (founder of a successful Facebook-esque social networking site) are able to offer Ruby all of the things she never dreamed she would have: a beautiful house, new clothes, a good high school, hopes for college, and above all, a real family. Nate, the charming boy-next-door that reaches out to her, is also too good to be true. But despite this amazing new life, Ruby still can't seem to take off the old key around her neck that belongs to the crumbling house where her mom left her. As the story progresses, we begin to see Ruby's transformation, as well as the characters around her. Things aren't always what they seem, family can be a flexible term, and it's never too late to give up hope. Eventually we'll find the right keys to the doors we're looking for.
Sarah Dessen's latest novel, What Happened to Goodbye, is another story about reclaiming identity and coming to terms with not-so-perfect family. Be one of the first to read it, and let us know what you think!
Possibly, you’ve already heard about Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese; the epic novel that follows its characters from India and England to Ethiopia to New York. I had, too, and was anxious to get my hands on it. Daunted by the long waiting list for the print version, I decided to try out the e-audiobook version. I am so glad I did. For one thing, the waiting list was a whole lot shorter, but more importantly, the audiobook reader, Sunil Malhotra, tells the story beautifully. He convincingly performs distinctive voices for a large cast of Indian, African, British, and American characters. I was taken in and totally engrossed by this skillful narration of a magnificent story. Would you like to hear a sample? Visit the e-audiodownload page for Cutting for Stone where you can play an excerpt.
Witness by Karen Hesse is a chilling, beautifully written novel set in a small Vermont town. Told from the point of view of 11 different characters and in free verse, this story relates actual events that occurred after the arrival of the Ku Klux Klan in 1924. At the heart of the story are Leanora, a 12 year-old African American girl and Esther Hirsh, a 6 year-old Jewish girl whose families are victimized by the Klan. From these two young girls to the town’s adult citizens, the author has created convincing and distinct voices for each of the 11 characters. It is fascinating to read about the same events as they are told from these very different points of view and to see changes in attitudes slowly taking place.
If you enjoy the powerful format of the novel told in poems, you’re in luck because there are many other excellent poem-novels out there. Here are just a few of them:
And if you liked these poem-novels, here are even more titles.