1) A Problem From Hell, by Samatha Power: This book was so powerful and upsetting that I had to read it in 100-page blocks with breaks in between. It was also so enraging that I repeated passages to my poor husband until he put his hand up and said, “Stop. Please stop telling me facts about genocide.” Samantha Power is the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and she won the Pulitzer for this, so she isn’t just looking for reasons to bash the United States. But, as the book points out, over the past one hundred years, we have had to make policy decisions regarding genocides of different religions, races and ethnic groups, set on three different continents and at three major developmental stages of our country (isolationist, post-war reconstructionist and superpower), and we failed to act every single time. It’s worth asking why.
2) Abundance, by Peter H. Diamandis: “This moaning pessimism, this knee-jerk, things-are-going-downhill reaction from people living amid luxury and security that their ancestors would have died for.” That quote is a pretty good summary of this book, which provides counterarguments for the popular notion that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket. How’s that for a juxtaposition with A Problem From Hell? I’m not a person who believes that Silicon Valley is the answer to all of the world’s problems, as this book implies, but it was still uplifting to be reminded of all of the positives in the face of an endless negative news cycle. Special thanks to my grandmother for recommending this one.
3) The Burgess Boys, by Elizabeth Strout: Two brothers left Maine to become lawyers—one a white collar defense attorney, the other with Legal Aid. When their sister’s son is involved in what may be a hate crime, they must return to their hometown and put aside family differences to discover what really happened.
4) Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins: I bought this book without realizing it was paranormal, so that was a rather rude surprise. I was totally drawn in by the Southern belle/Cotillion plot, since I don’t find many books about that subculture. Throw in some special powers, an ancient quest and the future of the world and you’ve pretty much got the gist here.
5) The Husband’s Secret, by Laine Moriarty: What would you do if you discovered a letter written by your husband, to be read in the event of his death? That is the question faced by Cecilia Fitzpatrick, mother of three, when she finds such a document hidden away in her attic. Her curiosity only grows when her husband begs her to destroy the letter, and flies home from an international business trip to ensure that she does so. After Cecilia inevitably reads it, she must make an even harder decision: at what cost is she willing to keep her family together?
6) The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancy: Yes, this is YA. Yes, it’s dystopian—get over it. What set this book apart from others for me was the attention to logistical details. When aliens invade and jam all our electronic signals, what happens to people trapped in cars whose power locks no longer work? If you want to spread an airborne virus, what is the most efficient method? If you’ve ever read a dystopian novel and hungered for details about how the society broke down, this should wet your whistle. Plus, aliens.
7) The Infinite Sea, by Rick Yancy: This is the second book in this trilogy and I can’t explain it without ruining the first one, so just read them both. J
8) Winger, by Andrew Smith: Ryan Dean is a fourteen-year-old high school junior at a posh California prep school. He’s in love with his best friend Annie, in mortal fear of his roommate and rugby teammate, and in constant defense of his manhood as an underage junior. Warning: this book is actually written as though it takes place inside a fourteen-year-old boy’s head, so if you’re not cool with a lot of references to raging hormones, steer clear. That said, I really liked it, and it would have been my favorite of the month if not for…
9) A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra: This book just knocked me backwards. It’s a debut novel and the author is younger than me, two facts that I find deeply depressing, but even that couldn’t take away from how much I loved it. After eight-year-old Haavaa’s father is “disappeared” from their home in rural Chechnya in the middle of the night, her neighbor and family friend Akhmed brings her to a bombed-out local hospital to find refuge. The story takes place over only five days, but most of the pages are populated by flashbacks that fill in the story of modern Chechnya, the plight of the people who live there, and the normalcy they struggle to find in the most extreme and abnormal circumstances. Seriously, read it.