The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

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Originally published in: 1934

What’s it about: Horatia offers to take the place of her reluctant sister as a wife to the Earl of Rule, who accepts with little convincing. Each agreeing not to interfere with the other, theirs truly is a marriage of convenience – he marries into the family he desired while she marries into wealth and access to all the best parties.

What made me pick it up: I set a few reading resolutions this year. One was to read in a few genres I don’t tend to prefer, including romance. A colleague suggested Georgette Heyer because she thought I’d like her spunky heroines.

My favorite things: Spunky indeed! I loved Horatia’s character. She is fearless, outgoing, and very clever – though not quite as clever as she thinks. Her charming stubbornness is softened by her willingness to admit and learn from her mistakes. She is well aware of and completely unbothered by the fact that she doesn’t meet anybody’s beauty standards – cursed by straight eyebrows.

Who it’s great for:  Fans of historical romances with more focus on a strong female lead than on the romance itself.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

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Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: A collection of poetry that mourns the black men and boys whose lives are cut short by gun and police violence, while simultaneously exploring his identity as a black, gay, HIV + man.

What made me pick it up: My first reaction to poetry is “ugh, I hate poetry!” So now I’m trying to find poets that I actually want to read.

My favorite things: Some of these poems are really breathtaking. At one point he equates his lifelong fear of death by gun violence to his more recent fear of death by an internal violence – his HIV.

Who it’s great for:  Fans of autobiographical or political poetry. Roxane Gay gave this collection 5 stars on Goodreads, so read this if you trust her opinion.

Abby’s rating: five shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: The author’s experience dying from stage 4, metastatic breast cancer.

What made me pick it up: I loved When Breath Becomes Air, and then I saw this story about how his widow and the widower of this author met and fell in love. It’s so bittersweet and unexpected I had to pick up this book.

My favorite parts: This is like an evening with your best friend and a couple bottles of wine. You want to keep chatting, even though what you’re chatting about is her terminal diagnosis and how she deals with it. It’s hopeful and exquisitely painful. It will make you want to solve breast cancer once and for all and hug your loved ones close the next time you can, every time you can. And you will grieve for this newfound friend that is already lost to you. I am still crying over the sweet sadness of this memoir.

Who it’s great for: Lovers of excellent memoirs, especially fans of When Breath Becomes Air. Anyone who is losing or has lost someone from a terminal illness.

Erica’s rating: four shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Between the Lines by Sandra Neil Wallace

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about:  An African-American football player turned painter. Or, I guess, a painter who intermittently played football.

What made me pick it up: I can’t remember now. It must’ve been mentioned somewhere and sounded interesting so I placed a hold.

My favorite parts: The illustrations are lovely, as are the examples of artwork included. I really enjoyed learning about an artist I’d never heard of before and a bit of African American history that is not widely known. It was such an inspiring story and a nice reminder to follow your dreams, even if it doesn’t pay or you get sidetracked for a while on your journey.

Who it’s great for: Art lovers of all ages. Readers looking for less well known African American history stories.

Erica’s rating: four shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

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Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: In the near future when climate change has made winter a memory and evolution seems to be reversing, pregnant Cedar Songmaker connects with her biological family seeking answers about her origin. Her life and autonomy are put at risk in a society increasingly obsessed with protecting the human race by controlling reproduction.

What made me pick it up: I’ve never read Louise Erdrich before even though she’s been on my TBR list for years, so I decided to start with her newest release.

My favorite things: I didn’t really know anything about this book going in, knowing only that Erdrich is known to write mostly literary fiction featuring native characters. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I’d picked up her foray into dystopian and somewhat speculative fiction – one of my favorite areas to read. She does an incredible job of exploring themes of spirituality, identity, family, and resilience in the context of societal collapse.

Who it’s great for:  Fans of speculative and dystopian fiction. A particularly good fit for those who love Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Maddaddam trilogy and Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

Abby’s rating: five shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Quackery by Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A look back through history at some of the questionable medical and pseudo-medical practices.

What made me pick it up: How could I not? It was full of miscellany which is my favorite thing and it was about medicine something which endlessly fascinates me. Perfect combo.

My favorite things: It’s so informative! I learned so many horrific things that I can now share awkwardly at social gatherings. And it was told with such candor and humor. The authors acknowledge that a lot of the things mentioned in this book are totally bananas, and have a brief laugh at how off the mark they were, but they also make a point to say that the science didn’t exist yet and people were unfortunately doing the best they could. The ampules of human (cadaver) fat almost made me lose my lunch though, not gonna lie.

Who it’s great for: Science, medicine, and history minded individuals who can stomach a lot of detailed information and discomforting descriptions of some practices.

Erica’s rating: four shells


Get this book in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Thank You, Bees by Tony Yuly

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A picture book about being thankful.

What made me pick it up: I saw it sitting on my coworker’s desk and took a few minutes to page through.

My favorite things: I liked the repetition of thanking various elements — clouds for rain, sun, earth. It has very vivid illustrations, which reminded me a little of Eric Carle, and a simple message which I enjoyed.

Who it’s great for: Little ones who need a lesson in gratitude.

Erica’s rating: three shells


Find this book in your local library or get in on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: A firsthand account of how eviction exacerbates extreme poverty.

What made me pick it up: Bill Gates said it was one of the best books he read in 2017.

My favorite things: I learned so much about the inequalities in housing, the callousness of slum lords, and the huge impact an eviction can have on all areas of your life. Reading about how owning poor quality inner city apartment buildings is a cash cow whether your tenants stay or leave was disgusting. This book is told in stories, which makes it all the more accessible. Sure a treatise on unfair housing practices would’ve been informative, but it wouldn’t have been this visceral. You will react physically to some of the horrible living situations subjects find themselves in and with horror that we, as a society, do not help them find better. I liked all of the personal stories, even if they were heartbreaking. I appreciate the author’s ability to maintain objectivity, for the most part, but don’t think I have the stomach to do spend years watching these small personal tragedies unfold while only providing a small amount of assistance. Desmond makes a compelling argument, based on extensive research, that we could fund a voucher system that would alleviate this problem and put us on par with many other developed and even developing nations in providing a leg up to our poorest citizens if only we would reallocate some money. In short, BY NOT SPENDING ANYTHING MORE we could fix the horrible, demoralizing situations you will read about in this book. How can we do anything other?

Who it’s great for: Everyone. Especially those interested in poverty and its mysterious persistence in extremely wealthy America.

Erica’s rating: five shells


Find this book in your local library or get in on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust

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Originally published in: 2013- English translation, the original German version was published in 2009.

What’s it about: A graphic memoir tracing one woman’s adventures traveling Italy illegally in the summer of 1984 with a friend as a 17-year-old Austrian punk with no money, no papers, and no plan.

What made me pick it up: This was new to our library and, as always, I couldn’t turn down a graphic memoir.

My favorite things: The author mixes in a few excerpts from her journals and letters that she wrote during the summer she was traveling, which makes her story feel more authentic. I appreciated how frank and honest she was about all of her experiences – no matter how painful or how many laws she happened to be breaking at the time.

Who it’s great for:  Fans of gritty travel memoirs; graphic memoirs.

Abby’s rating: four shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado

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Originally published in: 2014

What it’s about: Being the working poor in America and the impossibilities of achieving the American dream that that presents.

What made me pick it up: I saw it recommended highly by one of my friends on Goodreads.

My favorite things: As someone who grew up relatively poor early on a lot of this was familiar and it was so nice to have someone vocalize it who wasn’t slumming for journalism or doctorate earning reasons. The profanity and giving of no fucks made me feel like I was around some individuals from my hometown in the best way. More than anything it will open eyes for how hardworking the poor are and how not enough is being done to assist them. Yes, assist them. We’re all humans. Let’s start acting like it.

Who it’s great for: Anyone living paycheck to (hopefully) paycheck who wants to feel understood and those who have the luxury not to be who want to understand.

Erica’s rating: four shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).