BJ’s Top Reads for 2019
Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas. This one was pretty fascinating. Oliver is a teenage boy who lives with his mom in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. So in the middle of nowhere that the cabin doesn’t have electricity. It can’t have electricity because Oliver is allergic to it. As a newborn he had massive seizures in the hospital and they figure out he was allergic to electricity once they took him completely away from it and he stopped seizing. As a result he can’t have a normal life. He can’t go to school. He can’t even walk to the end of the driveway because of the power lines that are strung over it above. He becomes a pen pal with Moritz in Germany. Moritz was born without eyes, so he develops a hyper sense of echo location. He’s able to go to school and can “see” by his echo location. But the problem is Moritz is bullied at school, and he has to cope with his simultaneous ability and disability. But isn’t it random that the boys write to each other. How would a boy living out in the woods know to write another boy in Germany? It’s because they are connected from birth and we get to figure out why.
Vox by Christina Dalcher Imagine a world where women are no longer allowed to speak more than 100 words per day. The government fitted out all the women with word counters that count our words like our FitBits and Garmins count our steps. When she exceeds 100 she is shocked by the device. In this story Jean used to be a doctor and she was researching for a cure to a disease when the President’s brother ends up getting that disease and she is put into a position where she has to decide whether to go back into the lab to continue the research into the cure, under the watchful eye of the government all while struggling with the notion that her daughter will grow up in a world where she’s not allowed to speak more than 100 words per day. This one was absolutely riveting.
Fixing Boo Boo by Pat Stanford I picked this one up out of curiosity and ended up finding it super interesting, to the point where I made it a Standout Read for March. Pat Stanford’s older sister Barb suffered a traumatic brain injury and once Barb’s husband passed, it was up to Pat and her husband Gary to care for Barb. Stanford was super honest about what it’s like to care for someone who has suffered such an injury. Her sister was practically a stranger to her as they were not close. There were adjustments to be made with having someone live with you that A. you barely know and B. has this kind of medical issue along with other medical issues. She dives deep into the frustrations of working with the Medicare system and trying to get Barb the services she needs. She also dives deep into the frustrations of how caring for someone this injured affects all the other areas of life. A must read for anyone caring for a family member.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty Alice fell down at the gym and hit her head. When she comes to she tells everyone around her that she’s pregnant with her first child. What she doesn’t realize is that she has 3 children at home. Because she thinks it’s 1998, not 2008. She gets released from the hospital with a huge lapse in her memory, and she’s shocked to learn how she’s changed in the last 10 years. In 1998 she was in love with her husband, but in 2008 she’s divorcing him. She has to figure out what has happened to her life and relationships in the last 10 years ago and come to grips with the idea that maybe she doesn’t like who she’s become. I LOVED this one. Very cool concept.
The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer this was one of my standout reads for May. Edith Hahn was a Jewish woman who passed as Aryan during the war and married a member of the Nazi party. I didn’t even realize that was a thing! Her story was very compelling, basically she had to lie to everyone she knew and live under an assumed name to survive as a Jew in Germany during the war. A fantastic read.
How to be Famous by Caitlin Moran. I really liked this one. It takes place in 1994-5 in London. Johanna is a rock journalist pen named Dolly who lands her first real job writing reviews at age 19. She is navigating mid 90s London and trying to figure a few things out: who is she as a sexual being, who is she as a professional, who is she as a friend. She has a friend who has hit the Britpop scene in a big way and he’s navigating his fame while she’s in love with him. She has another friend who is trying to break out and release her own album to call attention to the sexism that women face. And while all this happens she has an encounter with a famous comedian who video tapes it, and then exposes her through the tape. She is humiliated by the experience and of course angry by it. And the pre Me Too movement is also starting at that time as well. Moran does a great job exposing exactly how sexist the 90s were even though at the time we thought they weren’t so bad. And that’s the problem, we’re settling for “it wasn’t so bad as all that” and that is the point she uncovers in this book. Amazing job.
No Exit by Taylor Adams Darby is driving through a blizzard over some mountains in Colorado when the road becomes impassable. She stops at a rest stop. As she’s walking through the parking lot trying to get signal on her phone to notify her family—her mother is on her death bed and she’s trying to get home to say goodbye—she notices a child locked in a cage in a van. And THAT all happened in the first chapter. This book takes us through how Darby has to A. figure out whose van that is. B. figure out what to do about it while the roads are shut down and there’s no signal and C. avoid getting herself killed by the kidnappers. Well done!
Best Seller by Martha Reynolds I loved that the story took place in 1976, I think that adds an interesting dynamic because of the fact that it’s still a relatively modern time period but it lacks social media and smartphones. Robin is 19 and back home in a seaside Rhode Island town for the summer. She got kicked out of Boston University for dealing pot, and everyone knows! She deals with the shame of it while being on the outs with her father. The story follows her for about a year while she deals with the rift in her family, a romantic involvement with her best friend, and the dissolution of her parents’ marriage. And to top it all off, she’s written a novel which she sent to her favorite author hoping to get some help with getting it published—just to find our her favorite author stole her work and published it herself. Robin is having a hell of a time and trying to navigate through it all.
Bread Bags and Bullies by Steven Manchester This book is told from the perspective of middle son Herbie in 1984. It covers the week of February vacation where 12 year old Herbie is learning more about the realities of his parents and their near poverty line way of life. At the start of vacation his brother Wally was threatened by a bully as he was getting off the school bus to go home, and the week was spent wondering what would happen when they all got back to school. Would the bully kick Wally’s ass? Would Herbie tell the pretty girl he likes her? Will he escape his family’s just scraping by mentality? An awesome read and I could picture every bit of it from the perspective of 1984.
Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen I loved this one, told from the perspective of Alice, and is a fictional account of her job as assistant to the world renowned editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, Helen Gurley Brown. Helen pushed the boundaries from the very beginning as the editor of the magazine and Alice entered the story just as Helen was taking over as editor. It was a fascinating insight into the history of the magazine, as well as the blatant sexism Helen faced as the editor in a male dominated industry. Of course, Helen took the magazine straight to the top. Haters gonna hate.
Lock Every Door by Riley Sager I was obsessed with this story. Jules took a job apartment sitting in one of the most exclusive buildings in New York City. For $12,000 she will live there for 3 months. The rules are strict, however. No overnight visitors, she can’t leave it overnight, she can’t talk to or about the other residents, and she can’t snoop about the past apartment sitters. She befriends one of the other apartment sitters, and then the next day her friend disappears. Nobody seems to know where she went and what happened to her. She digs into the history of the building and discovers that her dream job is way too good to be true, and may in fact cost her her life.
added on 12.31.19