20. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
As is probably obvious this book is a deep dive into the history of the Wright Brothers. David McCullough is a great writer of historical narratives and he treats this subject well. I now know a lot more about the Wright Brothers than I ever did before. If you’re interested in the subject or have read any of McCullough’s other books and enjoyed them I would say this book is worth a read. I give it a 7 out of 10.
19. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
I read this book for one of my book clubs. I was not hopeful when I picked it up because I am not generally someone who enjoys post-apocalyptic stories, but I adored this book. A terrible virus has wiped up much of the earth’s population starting on the night that actor Arthur Leander has a heart attack and dies on stage during a performance of King Lear. All the characters in the story are somehow related to him: the paramedic who leaps from the audience onto the stage in order to try and save him, the little girl playing his daughter in the play who watches him die from the wings, two of his ex-wives, and his son.
The story moves back and forth in time showing the lives of the characters before the horrible virus and then some point in the future maybe 20 or so years after the virus has ended. I think what I liked about this book compared to other post-apocalyptic stories was that it wasn’t really about the direct aftermath. You got to know the characters in their lives well before their lives were destroyed, and then you get to see people at the point where they’re really starting to live again and to try and put things back together. The young girl grows up to be part of a traveling troupe of actors who have the line “Because survival is insufficient.” painted on their wagon. I feel like that is a good theme for the entire book. Despite how awful things have been and still are there is still beauty in the world, life will go on, and the human race will rebuild a life that goes beyond just staying alive. I felt a hope in this book that I normally find absent in post-apocalyptic material.
I give this book a 9 out of 10.
18. Funny Girl by Nick Hornby
I generally enjoy Nick Hornby’s books, so it wasn’t a stretch for me to pick this one up though I specifically read it when I did because the Pop Culture Happy Hour crew mentioned they were going to be reading for an upcoming discussion on the podcast. They all liked the book infinitely more than I did. It really didn’t do anything for me at all. I found the characters to be kind of flat, and I could never get invested in anything that was happening in the book.
The book takes place in 1960s London where Barbara, who adopts the stage name Sophie Straw, has left her small town to become a television star on a hit British sit-com. The book follows her and the people who surround her in this world over the course of several decades. I just didn’t really care about any of it. I give the book 5 out of 10.
17. Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile Charley returns to the small town in Louisiana where her family is from after her father leaves her his sugarcane farm in his will. She has her eleven year old daughter Micah, who is mad about the move, in tow. Once there Charley struggles to make life work as her estranged brother, the black sheep of the family, who is bitter about being left out of the will shows up with his son and puts up a fight. She also has to learn how to run the farm, which is in very poor shape, something she knows nothing about as well as learn to get along in a small town. This was a pretty good book. If you like contemporary Southern literature you will probably enjoy this book. I give it a 7 out of 10.
16. Orphan Number Eight by Kim van Alkemade
In 1919 Rachel Rabinowitz and her older brother Sam are sent to a Jewish orphanage after their father murders their mother. Separated upon their arrival Rachel winds up subjected to experiments involving radiation by Dr. Mildred Solomon that leave her body hairless and affect her health for the rest of her life. The story moves back and forth in time from Rachel’s childhood in the orphanage to some point probably in the 1950s the date is never specified when Rachel is now a grown woman working as a nurse in nursing home where Dr. Solomon winds up as one of her patients. Rachel becomes obsessed with making Dr. Solomon admit what she did was wrong and ask for forgiveness. This was a fantastic book. The story is very well told and the characters are wonderfully drawn. I highly recommend it. I give it a 9 out of 10.
15. Paperweight by Meg Haston
Seventeen year old Stevie finds herself sent to rehab for an eating disorder by her father. The problem is that Stevie has calculated exactly who much weight she has to lose in order to starve to death in 27 days on the anniversary of her brother’s death, who she claims to have killed. This book might appeal more to the teen readers it’s aimed at, but I found the book to be over the top and unrealistic in the parts not actually related to Stevie’s rehab. I think the rehab part seemed fairly realistic and would probably very much hit home with any teenage girls who themselves are struggling with eating disorders. I give it a 5 out of 10.