what I've read since January

I set a goal in January to read 20 books this year. I've revised that goal and now hope to read 50. So far, I've read 17 books. Here are my recommendations:

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifke Brunt : Really loved this book! June, the character through whose eyes we see the action of the novel, is weird and out of place and imaginative. She is a thoughtful, interesting girl and as she learns the secrets of her family and the world, I grieve with her for all she doesn't understand. And yet, she is so incredibly insightful. Reminiscent but not derivative of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.

It would be a disservice to classify this as simply a coming of age story, though there are certainly those elements present. It is so much more than that; more than a love story, it is a sensitive, powerful story of growing up, of loss and grief and family. I particularly thought the relationship between the sisters was compelling and authentic. 

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson : The writing here is strong, descriptive and rich. Set in Alabama, it felt familiar and authentic. There is a sadness and darkness in this story that is definitely in the genre of suburban gothic and I read this quickly, wanting to know how the mystery ended. Worth a read.

The Dinner by Herman Koch : I read this novel on my mother's recommendation and was intrigued from the very first moment the narrator, Paul Lohman begins his story. He is a genuinely unlikeable and unreliable narrator and yet there are moments when I, as a reader, empathized with him. I enjoyed the pace of the novel; the action occurs over the span of a few hours as well as through memories, flashbacks and side stories. The story builds suspense and once the reader discovers what all the fuss has been about, all that is left is to watch the chaos unfold. At its center, the novel is about family but also explores the nature v. nurture debate in interesting and sad ways. There are definitely moments where descriptions and actions feel vague and uncertain but I prefer such a plot to a more heavy-handed one. The characters make some questionable choices there are moments where you wonder if anything the narrator has said can be considered as truthful or merely filtered through his own understanding of morality. Very dramatic and intriguing, worth a read.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh :  I finished this book in 2 days because I wanted to know what happened to the heartbroken and heartbreaking girl, Victoria. Seeing such a true portrayal of someone who desperately wants to believe in love and be loved but who feels unworthy of such emotion was staggering. It makes sense that she would take to putting her emotions into flowers and what they represent because she cannot express herself accurately enough through other means. 

Ultimately, this is a story of how we help, hurt and love one another. It is about relationships and the things we carry into and out of them. Highly recommended. 

The Round House by Louis Erdrich : Not having read any of Erdrich's previous novels, I was not familiar with the characters here, but it did not matter because they are so rich seen through the eyes of the 13-year-old narrator, Joe. Much like a detective story, we search along with Joe and his father, a tribal judge, for the person responsible for an unthinkable act of violence, the rape of Joe's mother. Like Joe, we need answers: where, why, who? The where becomes central to the story as there are legal challenges over jurisdiction, depending on where the rape occurs. As Joe gets swept into the investigation, and his own quest for justice, the novel reminded me at times of the film "Stand by Me" based on Stephen King's short story, "The Body". Joe is surrounded by his friends, Cappy, Zack and Angus as well as several hilarious family members. As much as the story is about what makes people violent and the unraveling an act of violence can do to lives, families, it is also about boyhood and friendship, about pushing the boundaries of your sense of morality, of justice. There are no easy answers, and the uncertainty of adolescence acts as both a metaphor and a backdrop about the difficult questions, emotions and politics we face in life. 

Erdrich won the National Book Award for this novel and it is clear from the first chapter, why. 


What are you reading? What should I be reading?