7 amazing books to add to your TBR list

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So far, 2018 has been a memorable year for books. I suppose, if we were being generous, February could still be considered the start of a new year.

I’ve just so loved the seven (!) books I’ve read so far that I wanted to share my recommendations.

“Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward: This gorgeously written National Book Award winner is a Southern gothic story of family threaded through with death and the remnants of violence. I loved the imagery of light vs. dark. As a parent, the novel was painful to read. As an English major, I wanted to write a paper. Jojo is being raised by his loving grandparents and shoulders the responsibilities his drug addict mother, Leonie, and imprisoned father abandoned. Leonie and Michael are devoted to each other and drugs. There isn’t room for more. Leonie sets out on a road trip with her children and an addict friend to pick Michael up from prison. Ghosts unable to break from their earthly ties haunt Leonie, her children and her parents. The multiple narrators shed light on the characters and their heartbreak. All the characters struggle with the need to belong, to be wanted and to be cared for.

“The Marsh King’s Daughter” by Karen Dionne: Helena was born the daughter of narcissistic, violent man and the teenage girl he kidnapped. Growing up, she has no idea there is more to the world than her isolated, incredibly rustic U.P. home. She also has no idea her adoring father isn’t who she thinks he is. After layer upon layer of manipulation and lies are revealed, Helena and her mother escape their U.P. heaven/hell, an event that sends her father to prison. Now an adult, Helena discovers her father has escaped and it’s up to her to track him down and put him away for good. This is a fabulous read, especially for Michiganders. Dionne juxtaposes her narrative with Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Marsh King’s Daughter,” the tale of a girl who must choose between the good and evil sides of herself.

“The Immortalists” by Chloe Benjamin: If you were told when you were going to die, would it affect how you chose to live? Four siblings visit a mysterious (and not wholly believable) psychic in 1970s New York as children and their lives are forever changed by what they hear. Was the psychic right or were her predictions at the core of self-fulfilling prophecies for the siblings? On a whole, the family’s story is pretty sad. The reader is left wondering if the fate of the family would have been the same had the siblings not been given those dates? “Thoughts have wings,” says the guilt-ridden Daniel, the oldest who orchestrated the visit to the Romani fortune-teller that set the siblings’ futures into motion.

“The Final Girls” by Riley Sager: Three girls each survive mass murders. Now, one by one they are being picked off. Just what happened that night to the latest survivor (who can’t remember important details of the attack on her and her friends as they partied at a cabin in the woods) and whom can she trust? Great plot twists.

“Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng: Having loved (all caps, exclamation points) “Everything I Never Told You,” I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Ng’s follow-up. It doesn’t disappoint. In a planned neighborhood in Cleveland, there were rules and “everyone followed the rules and everything had to be beautiful and perfect on the outside, no matter what mess lies on the inside.” The Richardson family — long a symbol of this belief system — benevolently takes a new tenant and her daughter under its wings. Mia and Pearl harbor secrets and unconventional ideas that change the Richardsons. Without meaning to, Mia and Pearl fuel the fires of discontent lurking beneath the surface.

“The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn: Of the many books recommended for fans of “Gone Girl” and “The Girl on a Train,” this one absolutely lives up to the hype. An unreliable (but sympathetic) narrator with a predilection for film noir (a plot strand is straight out of “Rear Window”), prescription drugs and copious amounts of red wine, psychologist Anna Fox is homebound by agoraphobia. Her human interactions consist of consulting “patients” online, flirtations with her basement tenant and spying on her neighbors. As she gets more and more involved in what she thinks she sees across the street, the pace picks up and nothing is as it seems. It’s no surprise this is being turned into a movie. Please read the book first.

“Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee: This page-turner of a Korean family saga spans the 20th Century. The novel digs deep into the effects of war, separations, scandals, tragedies, and sacrifices on the individual. Rising above everything, though, is a commitment to family and country. In the end, the characters find that you can’t escape who you are.

 

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A terrifyingly good book, ‘It’ leaves a lasting impression

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My very well-worn copy of “It.”

The summer I was 16, I read “It” by Stephen King twice in a row despite the fact that it’s terrifying. It’s also terrifyingly good.

(By the way, the only book I’ve ever found to be scarier is the excellent “Helter Skelter.” I couldn’t even read that one indoors and certainly not at night. I still get freaked out just looking at it.)

Now, Stephen King and horror are not usually on my to-read list. However, I beg of you to please read the 1986 book before you see the upcoming movie. The trailer, which is floating around the internet like so many of Pennywise’s balloons, captures all the unease and creepiness and terror I remember. Just watching the trailer scares me, but I’m already planning to see the movie, which stars Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise.

In perusing the book now — many, many years later — it is clear that King is a master at setting a scene, at crafting a sense of dread and impending doom, at the quick scare. He’s not particularly gory. He’s incredibly wordy. He also intuits the fears that hide in the recesses of our minds. The bogeyman, dark basements, cellars, shadowy figures, the sinister underpinnings of small towns. And with Pennywise and John Wayne Gacy, I think clowns will always be a fear.

Interestingly enough, this came to my attention: 200 Superb Books Everyone Should Read at Least Once: http://bit.ly/2pwnuSF

The list put together by the BBC is unusual in that it features not only classics (Dickens, Austen, Hemingway), but children’s books and more modern novels. It is a tad heavy on British authors. (An aside: Just who is Jacqueline Wilson, who has multiple mentions on the list?)

But guess what also makes the list? “It” by Stephen King.

According to Wikipedia,  ” ‘It’ deals with themes that eventually became King staples: the power of memory, childhood trauma and its recurrent echoes in adulthood, the ugliness lurking behind a façade of small-town quaintness, and overcoming evil through mutual trust and sacrifice. Publishers Weekly listed ‘It as the best-selling book in the United States in 1986.”

“It” also topped the New York Times Fiction Best Sellers list for 12 weeks in 1986 and another two heading into 1987. The novel has high ratings on goodreads.com, too.

So I urge you to not just take my word for it, but please, please read the novel before you see the movie. It’s long (more than 1,000 pages), but it’s critically acclaimed and stands the test of time. And you’ll never look at storm drains the same way again.