Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A sixteen-year-old girl who has extreme anxiety which leads to thought spirals that can only be controlled through compulsive, self-harming actions and how she deals with her mental illness while she continues to also be just a normal teen with crushes on boys, a best friend, and straight As in school.

What made me pick it up: John Green is a phenomenal writer who structures his stories so the blows come at you hard and fast at the end and leave you happy/sad and bawling. He just gets teens and how to write them and when I found out he had incorporated aspects of his struggle with mental health into this book I admired him all the more.

My favorite things: My favorite thing is also the thing I hated the most and what made me keep getting exasperated and putting the book down and walking away. Green writes so honestly and in such a raw way about this character’s experience of thought spirals and the compulsive behaviors they lead to which she feels will help that it was hard to read about her suffering. I needed frequent breaks because staying in the fictional situation for too long made me uncomfortable for her and sad for her and in pain for her. It is masterful, but it may be a trigger to some individuals, and it is certainly overwhelming to read if you have any amount of empathy at all. I like how he portrayed it as a struggle by a normal person who has a normal life and only ever aspires to be her authentic, balanced self able to do normal things. Most of all I was brought to tears by the honest depiction of the process of treating and managing a mental illness and the very hard-earned hope that can come from continuing to try.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who has struggled with or known someone who struggled with mental illness. Readers who need hope.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Pick this up in your local library or get a copy online somewhere like Amazon (affiliate link).


 

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

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Originally published in: 2014

What it’s about: A widowed bookseller approaching middle age finds himself suddenly tasked with taking care of an orphaned baby girl.

What made me pick it up: This author was on the long list of possible invitees to our wonderful hometown book festival but I didn’t recognize her name so I checked what she had written, realized I hadn’t read it, and grabbed it off the shelf that day.

My favorite things: This book was a quick and pleasant read. I liked the relationship building and the mild and predictable plot twists. The characters were also enjoyable. It has a mild grumpy old man factor, but since he’s only in his late 30s when the book begins I don’t think it quite qualifies as one of those books. More than anything it reminded me of Mitch Albom’s writings – how a character is supported and affected by a web of surrounding factors and characters he knows nothing bout, but we as readers do.

Who it’s great for: Fans of Mitch Albom or Fredrik Backman. Lovers of grumpy old man lit. Readers who enjoy small town novels with sweet stories and neatly wrapped up, hope filled endings.

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


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


 

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

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This post contains affiliate links.

Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set in Cincinnati, Ohio.

What made me pick it up: P&P is one of my favorite books ever so I knew I should read this. Needing a new book on vacation made it finally happen.

My favorite parts: This book is straight up fun. Lizzy and her sisters enjoy more independence and autonomy due to the present date and their story lines reflect this, including interracial relationships and LGBTQ characters. I really enjoyed their increase in agency and how the small changes Sittenfeld made to modernize the story actually removed some of the unnecessary drama from the original. CrossFit and reality TV are also incorporated into the story.

Who it’s great for: Austen fans. Fans of modernized classics. Independent women or lovers of them. Anyone up for a good fiction romp.

Erica’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon or your local library.


 

The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: A badass librarian has to stop her evil nemesis before he destroys the library.

What made me pick it up: I’m a huge fan of this fantasy series. It is extremely entertaining and has a great set of characters. I’ve read every book in the series and I look forward to more in the future.

My favorite things: This is was as fun as the first two! I enjoy the author’s imagination within the world she has built. I also am endlessly entertained by the characters as well as engaged by the relationships unfolding between them. And let’s be honest, I am jazzed about a book with an empowered female librarian for a main character.

Who it’s great for: Fantasy fans. Librarians. Steampunk enthusiasts. Library lovers. Admirers of strong female leads.

Erica’s rating: four-shells

Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A blind teen boy gets the opportunity to gain sight thanks to a new medical procedure and how it changes his life for better and worse.

What made me pick it up: I’m a huge fan of Josh’s. His memoir We Should Hang Out Sometime was such a heartfelt, engaging read (or listen, I guess, since I listened to it). And he does these awesome videos on the interwebs. Plus he’s from Virginia, where I now live, so heyyyy! Also, this cover is so engaging. I’d heard about this book ages ago and when I saw a reminder about it at the end of one of his videos I went online and checked it right out. Thanks, OverDrive!

My favorite things: This is Sundquist’s debut novel which makes it all the more impressive. It is top notch YA and I really enjoyed the John Green-ness of everything about this book. It’s got lovable misfits that find each other in the abyss of high school, an impromptu road trip, a truly lovely confusing crush/friend situation, and a health related element that is strongly reminiscent of The Fault in Our Stars (although not as sad, I promise!). I appreciated the supportive but still annoying parent relationship and the tough but supportive teacher relationships the main character has. It is such an interesting take on what makes us different makes us beautiful.

Who it’s great for: Teens. Adults. Anyone who feels other or invisible, especially in high school. Readers who want to be uplifted by a great story. Fans of John Green because I can’t say enough that this is an excellent read alike for Paper Towns or An Abundance of Katherines or that other one I already mentioned. Really, just read them all. All of the books.

What else it reminded me of: Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark and the movie Shallow Hal.

Erica’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells

What Erica Has on Hold

To Download

And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer by Fredrik Backman because I love everything he writes.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor because John Green recommended its sequel on Twitter.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney because it is well reviewed.
Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen. I don’t even remember why, but the cover is engaging.
The Nowhere Man by Greg Hurwitz which was recommended on Twitter.
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison because Junot Diaz said it was required reading.
Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski because I enjoyed Seven Brief Lessons on Physics but on audio because it turns out it’s long and this might be the only way I get through it.
Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver because it’s lovely and I didn’t finish it before my first check out expired.
You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson because I’m on a racism reading tear.

In Print

Am I Alone Here: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner because reading.
Books for Living by Will Schwalbe because I enjoyed The End of Your Life Book Club immensely.
Go Figure: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know from The Economist because I enjoy economics-explains-the-world books like Freakonomics.
The Private Life of Mrs Sharma by Ratika Kapur because it’s short.
Super Sushi Ramen Express by Michael Booth because I enjoyed a similar book about China.
Teacup by Rebecca Young because it was on a list of books for children about refugees.

Letters from Paris by Juliet Blackwell

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Originally published in:
2016

What it’s about: A woman follows her grandmother’s death bed instructions and heads to Paris to try to figure out the mystery of a broken mask.

What made me pick it up: It was mentioned on a blog I follow. I read Blackwell’s first book The Paris Key and enjoyed it.

My favorite things: Aside from all the French details with which I’m obsessed? Blackwell has a great ability to build in twists to her story. Her characters are fully realized and she keeps the pages to this sweet story turning. She also does love stories really well. If you want a Nicholas Sparks story with a strong female protagonist set in France, pick up these books.

Who it’s great for: Those who like a bit of mystery in their fiction. Anyone who appreciates stories of women finding themselves and love in foreign places. Readers obsessed with Paris/France everything. Fans of Nicholas Sparks.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find The Paris Key and Letters From Paris at Amazon (affiliate links) or your local library.


 

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

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Originally published in: 2011

What it’s about: Perfectly mediocre Mark Spitz is part of a small civilian zombie hunting unit tasked with clearing the dead from Long Island. (No, not the Mark Spitz. Although the reference is intentional.)

What made me pick it up: I got impatient waiting for my hold on Whitehead’s National Book Award-winning latest novel, The Underground Railroad, so I grabbed one of his earlier books. I had actually forgotten this one was about zombies.

My favorite things: Whitehead somehow wrote literary fiction about zombies. He asks a lot of interesting questions about what it really means to live in the post-apocalypse having experienced what came before. The characters are plagued by PASD (post-apocalyptic stress disorder), and Whitehead uses his dark humor to consider the emotional and mental toll taken on the zombie hunting survivors. Despite the fact that this is a book about killing zombies, it feels like its about something much more human.

Who it’s great for: Zombie aficionados looking for something a little bit different. Horror fans. Literary readers who want to ease into genre reading.

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