Push – Sapphire

9780679766759This is an excellent book hard to read because it’s impossibly sad, and the protagonist, Precious, begins as functionally illiterate. Precious is a black 16-year-old girl living with an abusive mother. She’s pregnant with her second child as a result of being raped by her father. Her mother wants her to drop out of school to get maximum welfare, but Precious opts to attend school.  There she meets a teacher, Blue Rain, who starts her and other girls from troubled backgrounds with basics, and ignites in them a passion for learning. Precious is making progress when she leaves to have her baby. In the hospital she admits her first child is living with her grandmother which results in welfare reduction for her mother. Enraged, her mother throws her out. Ms. Rain gets Precious into a halfway house with childcare which enables her to continue school. The more she learns, the more the grammar and spelling in the book improve. Unfortunately, Precious’s father dies of AIDS, and she tests HIV positive, too.  The book was made into a 2009 movie.


The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events) – Lemony Snicket

BadBeginningThis is the first book in a series of 13 wickedly funny novels for children which follow the turbulent lives of Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire after their parents die in a suspicious fire. The children are placed in the custody of their Uncle, Count Olaf, who attempts to steal their inheritance. In the first book, he tries to marry Violet, despite her young age, by pretending it’s the storyline for his latest play. The plan falls through when Violet uses her left hand to sign the marriage document.  In subsequent books, Olaf tries many ways to steal their fortune, committing a slew of crimes along the way. The children routinely try to get help from the adults around them who remain oblivious to danger. These books are short, and the setting interesting in a Victorian-sort of way, but it is the humorous writing style of the author that truly sets them apart.


Throne of Glass – Sarah J. Maas

Throne of GlassI was captivated by this YA fantasy about a girl, a deadly assassin sentenced to life slaving in the salt mines. After a year, the Crown Prince offers a deal: be his candidate in a competition to decide the King’s Champion and earn freedom. The Prince and the Captain of the Royal Guard are surprised to find Celaena not ruthless or dangerous, but kind — although outspoken and determined. As she trains, she develops romantic feelings for both of them. Matters are complicated when contestants start dying. She delves into the mystery, prompted by a benevolent ghost who wants her to root out the evil. Magical writings called Wyrdmarks are part of the puzzle if only she can decipher them. The situation worsens when she is attacked by a ridderak, the monster killing contestants. She barely survives to fight in the final round. Failure seems certain when she is poisoned before the duel and can’t combat her opponent who uses demons to win. Celaena is a great character — a girl whose life is marked by pathos, but never gives up.  I was up all night finishing this one.  

Cheaper By The Dozen – Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

81rD3tXNwALThis is a very charming, funny, true book about Frank and Lillian Gilbreth who married in 1904 and became partners in a business consulting firm. We still use many of their methods today. They aren’t best know for their work, however, but for having 12 children — two of whom wrote this book. Frank is the larger-than-life central character who saw his family as a laboratory for time-and-motion studies, requiring them, for example, to run whenever they heard a whistle blow. He smoked cigars, was a snazzy dresser and drove like a madman. Back then, cars were still a novelty. An open Pierce Arrow crammed with 12 kids was a show stopper. Frank knew how to handle hecklers. When one guy shouted, “Say, Noah, what are you doing with that Ark?” Frank replied, “Collecting animals like the good Lord told me . . . All I need now is a jackass.  Hop in.” He died a young man. Lillian picked up his work, becoming widely respected in a man’s world, but Frank’s passing left a void in the family impossible to fill.

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

EleanorPark_cover2-300x450Beautifully written Young Adult romance about two teens who don’t fit in and are bullied as a result of their differences. Eleanor has startling red hair and all the wrong clothes. She has no money to buy anything better. Her parents are divorced and her mom is involved with a brute of a man who’s a threat to everyone. Her father doesn’t care. Park is half Korean, small for his age, but handsome. He has the perfect family except he doesn’t think he’s living up to his father’s expectations. Eleanor and Park manage to find each other despite the horror of her home life and his feelings of inadequacy. The question is, can they hang on to this intense first love or will outside influences sabotage their relationship?

Marley and Me – John Grogran

200px-Marley_&_Me_book_coverI do love my pets and this book, although not literary fiction, was a joy to read and quite the emotional journey. In it, John and Jenny are just beginning their life together when they bring home an adorable, active puppy named Marley. He quickly grows into a ninety-seven pound Labrador retriever who crashes through screen doors, drools on guests, steals women’s underwear, and eats everything including dry-wall, couches and fine jewelry. Although he fails at obedience school, Marley’s joyful approach to life, his love and his loyalty are as boundless as his bad behavior. Marley shares with John and Jenny all the highs and lows of their young adult life, including the birth of their children. Yet, a dog’s life is not as long as that of a human, so we must also bear witness to Marley’s decline in the last stages of a well-lived life. This book is a true testament to unconditional love and the bond that can form between animal and human.

Dork Diaries: Tales From a Not-So-Fabulous Life – Rachel Renee Russell

dork-diaries-book-1-pink-cover__140325175756-275x398This is the first book in a very funny series aimed at middle schoolers. The books represent the diary of 14-year-old Nikki Maxwell and, in addition to text, feature drawings, doodles and comic strips chronicling her life. In this one, Nikki is unhappy her father arranged a scholarship for her to attend a private middle school as part of the contract for his bug extermination services. Nikki doesn’t fit in with the wealthy students like popular but mean, MacKenzie Hollister. MacKenzie labels Nikki a “Dork” and tries to make her life miserable especially when the boy she likes seems to prefer Nikki instead. Things get better when Nikki makes a couple of friends, but the school art competition pits her against MacKenzie who is determined to win at any cost. This author absolutely nails the middle school voice. I could relate to Nikki and her drama even as an adult and found myself laughing out loud more than once. A light, funny read for any age.

Roman Blood – Steven Saylor

175px-Roman_Blood_coverThis is a great book for readers who enjoy Roman history — like I do. It’s the first in the Roma Sub Rosa series, mysteries which feature sleuth Gordianus the Finder.  The year is 80 BC and Sulla rules Rome. Young lawyer Marcus Cicero is defending Sextus Roscius, accused of murdering his wealthy father.  (The gruesome penalty for patricide is to be marched to the Field of Mars, brutally whipped, sewn into a sack with a snake, chicken and dog, and then chucked into the Tiber.) Cicero hires Gordianus to investigate.  Rumor has it Roscius plotted the murder because his father threatened to disinherit him and leave the money to the unborn child of a prostitute with whom he was having an affair. As Gordianus pursues the truth, his house is vandalized, his slave Bethesda attacked and someone tries to kill him, more than once.  Maybe, because he discovers something that could set Roscius free but implicate Roman Dictator Sulla in the process.


Little House On The Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder

LittleHousePrairie2This is the third book in a wonderful children’s series about a family of pioneers who help settle the American west.  It’s based on true stories from the life of the author who is the central figure along with Pa, Ma, sister Mary and baby Carrie. In 1869, Pa Ingalls decides to sell their log cabin in the Wisconsin woods and move the family via covered wagon to Indian Territory near Independence, Kansas.  There are rumors the land, still under Osage ownership, will be opened to settlement by homesteaders.  A theme running through the book is Ma’s prejudice against the Indians compared to Pa’s more egalitarian view.  In the end, the family leaves before being forced to by the Army as the land is not yet legally available, and they are off on their next adventure. There are few books that give such vivid flavor of the pioneering experience.  Using a rare technique, they increase in complexity as Laura ages.  I loved following this heart-warming intrepid family as they face the hardships and joys of life on the frontier.