What’s it about: A former hockey player struggling to keep it together find his life interrupted when his younger sister comes home years after disappearing. The siblings wrestle with violence and addiction, family and identity, and a constant sense of alienation.
What made me pick it up: I love Jeff Lemire.
My favorite things: I can’t remember where I read it, but someone described this as Fargo but in Canada and I can’t think of a better way to describe the cold, bleak tone. As always, Lemire’s art is stunning and perfectly fits the mood of the dark story and complex characters.
Who it’s great for: Fans of Lemire’s other work, particularly Essex County. Graphic novel readers looking for a family drama.
What’s it about: A quick guide to avoiding implicating yourself in criminal activity while talking to the police. Tl;dr don’t talk to the police. No really, don’t.
What made me pick it up: It is very short and the title intrigued me.
My favorite things: Duane tries to balance every critique of police interrogation techniques with positive words about their work. He doesn’t identify the police as a problem, but rather insists that they are very good at finding evidence – even when it implicates innocent people. Duane also offers very specific advice on what you do have to tell the police and when and how to effectively demand to speak with a lawyer.
Who it’s great for: Anyone curious about what you actually have to tell the police. A good primer for anyone worried about dealing with the police
What’s it about: In a near-future dystopian United States, Hannah has been subjected to chroming – her skin genetically altered to bright red – to publicly indicate her guilt as a violent felon in a society that has moved quickly toward a theocracy.
What made me pick it up: I’d heard that this was a modern-day Scarlet Letter with a strong Handmaid’s Tale feel, which was impossible to resist.
My favorite things: While the latter part of the book didn’t wow me, the opening and the premise are nearly perfect. Jordan creates a complex main character who wrestles with her own values as she moves away from a total acceptance of the righteous and utterly restrictive laws that rule much of the country. Though she is in a world where religious moralism reigns supreme and bodily autonomy doesn’t exist, her struggle to find peace with herself and her actions gives hope in a time of what feels like insurmountable tension and divisiveness.
Who it’s great for: Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale, Naomi Alderman’s The Power, and other dystopian stories with a strong feminist bent.
What’s it about: A child’s account of surviving and escaping the ongoing war in Syria.
What made me pick it up: Bana Alabed’s pleas for peace and assistance reached the world through Twitter, but I knew her book would tell a more complete story.
My favorite things: Bana’s clear voice is heartwrenching, a reminder to care for refugees. Her mother, Fatemah, includes essays written for Bana, explaining her point of view and her experiences. Their words in concert with each other serve to humanize the numbers and news reports and give a personal story to the images of Syrian children that have circulated widely.
Who it’s great for: Adults and teens trying to understand the war in Syria. Readers who to understand what the day to day struggle is like in the Syrian Civil War, and those wanting to build empathy for refugees.
What it’s about: The author’s weirdness being her career super power, and how you can too.
What made me pick it up: I’m… a little weird and this seemed like something that applied.
My favorite parts: This book truly lives up to its title. It’s about a weirdo telling other weirdos how to best fly their freak flag in the world of normals. Aside from that I appreciated her insight into careers and how best to go about one. Be nice. Work hard. Understand that you are unique and your career will also be. But most importantly, you and your experience are just right for whatever is to come.
Who it’s great for: Anyone looking to make a change. Readers wondering if their brand of offbeat is too different. (It’s not.)
What it’s about: I’m here to sadly report that the banana is at risk of dying off. Current practices aren’t sustainable and a suitable replacement has yet to be found or created. In the meantime the bad fungi are taking out this slow to evolve fruit.
What made me pick it up: Well I’d heard about this banana problem and wanted to learn more. Also it is a book about bananas. And I needed a new audiobook.
My favorite parts: Learning so much history of the banana. Like that we don’t have the good tasting one (that one died off when our grandparents were young). That they are hard to reproduce. That GMOing might be the only way to create a sustainable new banana. And most importantly that much of the developed world subsists on these. If we lose them, yes our smoothies will be a tad more boring but people will starve. People are already starting this process in parts of Africa losing their bananas.
My least favorite parts: There is a lot in here that is uncomfortable to downright despicable about Big Ag and American power in the developing world which will rightfully disgust you. I’m not sure if the right course of action is to boycott bananas or keep buying them, but it is clear something needs to change.
Who its great for: Trivia nerds. Banana lovers. History, agriculture, and food science geeks.
What it’s about: Why you should follow your passion one tiny step at a time.
What made me pick it up: It was mentioned in When To Jump, which I read recently.
My favorite parts: This is colorful and short and full of inspirational quotes and the tiny push you might need to begin following your calling. You don’t have to quit your job or go on an intense spiritual journey or backpack around Asia for any period of time, unless you feel you really need to. Just get up a few minutes early to paint or write or do whatever it is you feel you need to do. See where it leads. I do appreciate reminders now and then that you can listen to your inner voice and see what it’s telling you without disrupting your entire world. Or maybe it will and that will also be a fun adventure.
Who it’s great for: Anyone wondering if this is it.
What it’s about: A book of poetry about abuse and assault and theoretical revenge. But mostly about how powerful women are, and how we will overcome.
What made me pick it up: It was available from my library’s downloadable collection on Freading so I could check it out right away. I had read Lovelace’s first collection and enjoyed it.
My favorite parts: I loved the messages of self love and acceptance. I could read poems that tell me how ass-kicking women are all day long. I also enjoy the reminders to pull other ladies up with you. We’re all in this together. I appreciated the trigger warning she included in the beginning. This content will punch you in the stomach, especially if you have familiarity with abuse, assault, or harassment. I definitely took screenshots of some of these poems to carry with me. Get angry, fantasize about getting even, but more than anything know how valuable you are.
Who it’s great for: Anyone sick of being quiet and nice and polite and proper in the face of abuse, harassment, threats, or assault. It’s our time.
What it’s about: A book about “secular” mindfulness meditation and Harris’s work to share his beloved practice with those that want to try but have many excuses not to.
What made me pick it up: As a newbie mindfulness meditator I am curious about all books mediation-related.
My favorite parts: I like this for the reason laid out in the title – this is for fidgety skeptics. If you’ve tried and immediately not achieved enlightenment so you think you’ve failed – it’s for you. If you’d like to try but “just don’t have the time” – it’s also for you. It’s not mystical in any way but it does make it sound accessible by shouting down your excuses, providing strategies to help, and detailing examples of the ongoing struggles from long-term practitioners. You will want to keep trying because they extol how it has helped them. And if you’ve tried even a little bit you’ll know of what they speak. Meditation helps me be quieter in my mind and reactions and I heartily endorse any book that can bring that peace to others. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Who it’s great for: Anyone interested in meditation.
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.