A Feast of Books in Bite-Sized Reviews

Since school let out in June, I’ve been reading a veritable feast of books. Fiction as varied as a box of chocolates, biographies as savory as a rack of spices, and nonfiction as filling as a four-course meal. My figurative pants were feeling snug from all of the great books I’d devoured, but I was eager for yet another helping. September forced me to go on a bit of a diet as demands on my time changed, but now that my family and I have settled into the school routine, I’ve been able to pull up once again to the buffet that is the world of books.

Like any foodie who posts pics of favorite meals to social media, I wanted to share some of the books that I’ve been sampling. Below are bite-sized reviews of a few titles that I think you’ll find satisfying and — at the risk of pushing the food puns too far — downright delicious. All of these can be borrowed from the HHS library.


Image result for out of darkness perezOut of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez:  Inspired by a true event, the 1937 explosion of an East Texas school that killed 300 people, this novel follows the experiences of a Mexican-American girl and an African-American boy whose growing love crosses racial barriers and risks another kind of eruption. Extremely well-written, riveting and heartbreaking.

The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie: Best known as the lead actor on TV’s House,  Laurie’s novel about gun runners, secret agents and billionaires is funny and full of action. It actually reminded me of a lighter version of The Night Manager, the recent AMC series about international arms dealers starring Laurie and Tom Hiddleston.

Image result for between shades of grayBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: No, this is not a sequel, prequel or related in any way to the Fifty Shades of Grey series. This novel is about the killings, imprisonments and deportations of thousands committed during Josef Stalin’s “reign of terror.” When Stalin’s Soviet Union invaded the Baltic nation of Lithuania in 1939, he ordered attacks on doctors, lawyers, professors, political activists and pretty much anyone he thought could pose a threat to his rule. Lina’s family was among them, enduring hard labor, starvation and unimaginable abuse in Siberian prison camps.


Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship of Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith: I picked up this nonfiction account, recommended by Mrs. McCusker, soon after Ali died in June. It sheds light on the evolution of both men,  the preacher into a radical leader and the athlete into a racial and religious symbol. It humanized men I’d known more as icons than as people.

Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey and In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall: Both books focus on passionate women who devoted their lives to studying, and saving, endangered primates in Africa. Fossey spent years living with mountain gorillas; Goodall’s focus was on chimpanzees. Both furthered the world’s knowledge of the animals at a time when women often weren’t taken seriously in science, and their conservation work has had a lasting impact. Part memoir and part zoology lesson, the women and animals made this pair of books hard to put down.

Image result for the spirit catches you and you fall down bookThe Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman: Don’t be embarrassed if you’ve never heard of the Hmong. I’d mistakenly grouped them with the Vietnamese refugees who came here after the fall of Saigon. They’re a different culture, from an entirely different Southeast Asian country. But the lessons learned from this book — that doctors must be culturally sensitive, that medicine is not always stronger than spiritual beliefs — could apply to any interaction between different ethnic groups. The book follows a young girl with epilepsy and how stereotypes and misunderstandings nearly cost her life.

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel: In 2007-2008, the author followed an Army unit serving on the front lines of Iraq. Deployed as part of President George W. Bush’s “surge,” which he believed would end the war, these soldiers began their tour with vigor and ended it physically and emotionally ripped apart. The author’s heart-wrenching descriptions of battles, soldiers wounded or killed, and the families left behind will stick with you for a long time.

The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle and the Awakening of a Nation by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff: Even I will admit that this was a long book that took a while to get through. But if you’re interested in history or journalism, it’s fascinating. The book explores the role of the media in the Civil Rights Movement, and how the stories and images conveyed on racial issues impacted the nation. The book really highlighted the power of the media for and against change. We’ve read about and seen the famous pictures from the Freedom Marches and Little Rock Nine, but this book takes you behind the scenes with the journalists who often risked their lives to tell the story.

Image result for professor and the madmanThe Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester: When I was in graduate school to become a librarian, I had my first experience with the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s immense, it’s amazing, it’s intimidating. The years and effort it took to create a record of every word in the English language, including its origin and earliest printed use, must have been astounding. But that alone wouldn’t make it interesting to read about. The madman makes it interesting. An American locked for decades in a British hospital for the criminally insane — who also happened to be an incredible genius — played an unforgettable role in the project. Much of what we know about the English language today, we owe to him.

Featured image is from The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers

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