I love book lists. Give me a list of award books or a list of books you absolutely adored, and I will slowly make my way through the list until I have read them all. Today’s book is one I discovered on an award list. The title is Everything I Never Told You and is Celeste Ng’s debut novel. I first heard of Everything I Never Told You when I was tuned in to watch the Alex Awards online. The Alex Awards are an award given out by the American Library Association (ALA) to the 10 best adult books that have special appeal to teens. (This book has also been on numerous other lists and won another award. Check out Celeste Ng’s website for more information.)
Everything I Never Told You begins, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.” After those simple, yet devastating, few sentences, Ng weaves together the story of a Chinese-American family growing up in 1970s Ohio. Each family member is outlined: the professor father James, stay-at-home mother Marilyn, older brother Nathan who is desperate to leave home, younger sister Hannah who seems to blend into the background, and the middle golden-child Lydia whose mother and father have placed all of their hopes on her shoulders, as well as several other members of the community. When Lydia’s body is found in the lake right down the street from their house, the entire family falls apart.
This book delves into the complex nature of the Lees: family, history, home, and the struggles we all make on a daily basis to understand each other and to find ourselves.
If that description caught your interest, check out No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale. This book deals with similar concepts of love, loss, and the tragic and upheaving nature of death. This book takes place in the small town of Friendship, Wisconsin, where residents have been shocked by the discovery of high school student Ruth Fried’s body in a cornfield. Her best friend, 16-year-old Kippy Bushamn, finds herself trying to solve her best friend’s murder. Ruth’s mother has given Ruth’s diary to Kippy with the express instruction to redact the sexy parts. Kippy sets out to find out who murdered her best friend and discovers that in her small Midwestern town, everyone seems to have secrets.
This quirky murder mystery will have you following Kippy around as she emulates her idol, Diane Sawyer, to figure out who her best friend really was and what really happened when she died.
For those of you not familiar with Diane Johnson, she is a writer who grew up right in the Midwest, in Moline, Illinois to be specific. Her Midwest roots can be found throughout her writings, specifically in her memoir, Flyover Lives.
Johnson grew up in Moline and writes that the Midwest was a place she wanted to escape from. She eventually ended up in California and then in France, where the idea for this book sprang forth. At a house party in France, Johnson’s friend told her that Americans had an “indifference to history,” that that was why Americans were naïve and didn’t have as much of a grasp and pride in their history as the French did. When Johnson eventually made her way back to California, this conversation stayed stuck in her head. What if the people in the Midwest, otherwise known as the flyover states, also flew over their family history with little thought given to where they came from and the struggles of their ancestors? This bothered Johnson and she set out to find out more about her genealogy. This book serves as her rebuttal.
Accompanied with pictures from her life and her ancestors’ lives, Johnson weaves together a story about the hold that home has on us all and our twin desire to escape to other places and make a name for ourselves. Johnson and her readers will find similarities between their own lives and the descriptions of her ancestors and their eventual journey to the Midwest. The letters and memoirs Johnson discovered serve as the backdrop to her exploration of a proud family history that ends up in the Midwest with the potential to leak around the world.
Looking for more books by Johnson? You’re in luck! The library has a number of books by her like Le divorce, Le mariage, and L’affaire. Some of these books are also available in large print, e-books, and audio books. Le Divorce was also made into a movie. Interested in finding copies of those, either click on the titles or visit the library catalog and search.
Let me first admit that the way I discovered this book was not when I placed it on my “to-be-ordered” list or when I stumbled upon it by happenstance in the library. Instead, I was talking about BookFace Friday. This event happens every Friday when librarians and other bookish people find books with people’s faces as the cover, pose with them as their actual face, and post pictures on their social media accounts. (Still confused? Check out the Instagram page for BookFace Friday.) As I was looking up examples to show, I found someone using this book as their face. I was instantly intrigued by the title and immediately wrote it down to order/read.
Donald Hall, former U.S. poet laureate, constructed Essays After Eighty as a way to describe for others the vantage point of life at very old age. The essays Hall has written for this collection intricately weave subjects like death, aging, being limited when you reach old age, traveling in foreign countries, honorary degrees, his love of garlic, and just what is actually important to you when you reach his age. Describing for readers his deep love for his home, the deceased love of his life, and how to deal with growing older are just some of the topics Hall broaches in this enduring collection. Hall extends back to his past in some essays describing scenes that stand out in his mind to the present where he spends his time at Eagle Pond Farm.
Be sure to check out this book to read more about Hall’s life as a biographer, children’s author, and as a human being trying to figure out how to deal with everything old age has thrown at him.
Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen’s Genius tells the story of Ted Max, a genius weighed down by expectations and overwhelmed in his interpersonal relationships. Once a promising quantum physicist, his life seems to have come to a halt. He cannot think of any new ideas at work and is facing losing his job at a think tank. His wife has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and he doesn’t know how to interact with his budding genius daughter and future frat boy son. And to make matters worse, his crotchety father-in-law won’t tell Ted the secret that Albert Einstein entrusted him with when he was “Bert’s” bodyguard. With no relief in sight, Ted begins to see himself unravel.
There has been a biographical graphic novel trend in publishing the last few years, but despite Albert Einstein’s strong presence in this graphic novel, this is not a biography. Seagle uses Einstein as a memory or an absence in Ted’s life. Kristiansen’s absorbing, lush pastel watercolor illustrations pair well with Seagle’s sparce and straightforward text, and make Einstein’s presence known throughout the novel. There is a sense when you read the book that you’re able to see some of the beautiful inner thoughts of a quantum physicist who has a difficult time voicing his feelings. I was much more touched by this book than I expected, and really felt Ted’s frustration with trying to live in the present when the future beckons and the past haunts. Ted many not be an everyman, but I think that most of us struggle with similar worries and heartbreaks.
Set in rural Appalachia, Flight Behavior introduces readers to fiery haired Dellaboria Turnbow, a 28-year-old mother of two and wife of sweet, but dull Cub. After getting pregnant at 17, she traded college for rural poverty — helping her in-laws on their sheep farm. We meet Dellaboria as she makes her way toward an adulterous rendezvous, which she skips after seeing what “looked like the inside of joy” that she interprets as a sign from God. Her vision turns out to be a sea of Monarch butterflies that arrive in rural Tennessee after changing weather patterns disturb their flight behavior. The butterflies bring in a cast of characters — from environmental activists to scientists to tourists to journalists — that push Dellaboria to challenge her expectations of herself and those around her.
This book reads as deeply personal, with Kingsolver’s fondness for these characters only matched by the urgency in her description of possible near-future effects of climate change. Kingsolver lives in rural Appalachia (and has a background in ecology and biology), and you can tell that she looks on her home with a mix of affection and frustration. She writes Dellaboria and her family and friends with enough respect to make them complicated, thoughtful, intelligent, and flawed. Readers that enjoyed Kingsolver’s other forays into family and politics in The Poisonwood Bible and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle will enjoy this beautifully written novel.
More often than not, I feel like I read books about people that I either love or hate — heroes (or anti-heroes) or villains. But in life it is rarely that easy. People surprise you, disappoint you, make you frustrated, make you laugh, bore you, excite you — sometimes all in the same day. No person is always valiant and even Saddam Hussein probably told a good joke once in a while. So it is often those books that show people being human that really appeal to me. In The Middlesteins, Jami Attenberg did just that.
The Middlesteins centers around Edie, the family matriarch who has always loved food. Her lifelong memories are tied to liverwurst and rye bread, and she has been able to consume large quantities of food in one sitting since childhood. As she goes from plump to fat to morbidly obese, she marries Richard, raises her children – Benny and Robin, and builds a mediocre career. Her family and career did not meet the high expectations she had as a whip-smart child, and now around 60-years-old, food has become the consistent comfort in her disappointing life. Edie, Benny, Robin, Richard, Benny’s wife Rachelle, and a few additional characters each contribute to this family’s narrative. We see how Edie’s dissatisfaction and deteriorating health effect the family, and how they all deal with trauma and turmoil in their own way.
Just like the characters, the book is imperfect. There are some editing and consistency issues and some of the plot devices feel a little forced, but I would recommend this book for anyone interested in character-driven novels about families.
If you’re looking to start reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn today, you might be out of luck (make sure you place a hold!), but that doesn’t mean you have to leave the library empty handed. Feel free to visit us at the Reference/Information desk, and we can help you find books that read similarly to Gone Girl (or any title that you’re looking to read.) If you’re looking from home, the catalog can provide read-alike suggestions. You just need to search for the book, and select “details” to the right of the title and book cover. Once you are looking at the details about the book, you can scroll down to “Suggestions and More” where you will find similar titles and similar authors. Here are some suggestions for Gone Girl read-alikes.
The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison
How is it like Gone Girl? Both books are suspenseful, the story alternates between the husband’s and wife’s voices, and highlight marital woes.
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
How is it like Gone Girl? Both books are suspenseful, have complicated plots, and feature discrepancies between what is being said and what is actually happening.
Defending Jacob by William Landay
How is it like Gone Girl? Both books focus on crime and family, with nimble and smart writing.
The Dinner by Herman Koch
How is it like Gone Girl? Both books are suspenseful, darkly funny, and feature unlikable and unreliable narrators.
Die for You by Lisa Unger
How is it like Gone Girl? Both books are psychological suspense novels that evolve from different perspectives.
It is hard enough to be well-adjusted while raised under typical circumstances, but Annie (Child A) and Buster (Child B) spent their childhood as players in their parent’s mischief disguised as art (or is it art disguised as mischief?). They have spent their adult years attempting to distance themselves from their famous artist parents, but when their new lives start to fall apart, they find themselves back under their parent’s roof.
In his debut novel, The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson introduces us to the Fang family. With disdain for traditional art forms, Caleb and Camille Fang choose unexpected public performance art as their medium and have included their children in all of their greatest pieces. When their children return home, Caleb and Camille plan one final performance, and Annie and Buster are participants whether they want to be or not. The quirky story (think Wes Anderson meets Arrested Development) is bolstered by flash-back chapters that help the reader better understand the character’s motives and gives clues to the final outcome. Exceptionally written and a fun read, this book should please fans of Zadie Smith and Karen Russell.
I went into reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain with a blank slate. I had never read any of Ernest Hemingway’s novels, and I knew only the bare minimum of biographical information about his life. This book is a fictionalized account of Hemingway’s first wife Hadley. It details all of the highs and lows of their complicated relationship, from their first meeting in Chicago in 1920 and subsequent whirlwind marriage to their years of living in Paris and the unraveling of their once happy life together. Their lives seem glamorous on the surface: spending time with the Fitzgeralds and Gertrude Stein, writing in chic Paris cafes, and taking extended vacations to exotic locales around Europe. But boiling below the surface is a host of problems. As attentive and accommodating as Hadley tries to be, she simply cannot contend with Ernest’s ambition, neediness, and thirst for the drink.
The story is told through Hadley’s point of view. She grew up in a very different setting, much more conservative and traditional than the Jazz Age Paris of the 1920s, so we’re learning about this time and place through brand new eyes. The writing is lovely and McLain is very successful in making the time period come alive. Plus, the English major in me got giddy every time a different historical figure popped up in the story. I actually listened to the audio version of The Paris Wife and it was very well done. Even though anyone who knows even a little bit about Hemingway has an idea of how this story ends, it’s still a compelling and engaging read that I would recommend to fans of historical fiction, novels about love and marriage, and Ernest Hemingway.
It’s so lovely when a novel can turn a well-worn trope into a fresh, lively story. Just as she did with time travel in The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger turns cliches into something more in Her Fearful Symmetry. The story follows 21 year old twins Julia and Valentina, who inherit their aunt Elspeth’s London flat and fortune on the condition that they live in the dwelling, without their parents or any other chaperone, for one year. The catch: Elspeth, mute and invisible, has clung to her flat and haunts it – and she’s getting stronger every day. Don’t groan! It sounds horribly cliched – identical twins; an inheritance contingent upon ridiculous demands; London; ghosts – but it’s so much more than it seems. Elspeth is the estranged twin sister of Julia and Valentina’s mother, Edie; the elder sisters have a history of secrets that Niffenegger unravels throughout the tale. Even more impressive is the host of delightful secondary characters: Martin, an obsessive-compulsive neighbor who writes crossword puzzles for a living, and his estranged wife Marijke (pronounced Mah-RYE-Kuh); Robert, a cemetery historian and Elspeth’s former lover; even the white kitten the twins adopt has personality and verve. They call him “The Little Kitten of Death.”
It’s a beautiful, unusual tale that unfolds slowly and doesn’t pander to the reader. Both of Niffenegger’s novels tell the stories of ordinary, although perhaps quite unusual, people who must find a way to navigate a frightening, supernatural situation. She tells the tale at the pace she wants, rather than dropping in action sequences and extra dialog where they don’t belong. If you liked the style of The Time Traveler’s Wife, you’ll be pulled in by this ghostly, ethereal tale. I listened to this as an audiobook, and it was excellent in that format; a perfect companion for rainy springtime commutes!