The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power

From being a child in Ireland to becoming a war correspondent and eventually the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power tells her compelling and fascinating life story. She also educates about diplomacy and politics, always pushing for the best human outcome.

Gwenamon says: Very good, but it could handle a good edit to nip its length

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The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

British Alice Wright escapes her life by marrying American Bennett Van Cleve and moving to small-town Kentucky. Soon she realizes that she not only has to deal with her detached husband, but his meddling and overbearing father. Seeking another escape, she joins the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky, lead by strong-willed, confident Margery. I had never heard of packhorse librarians so I loved learning about them and what they did to get books to people. Those challenges reshape Alice.

Gwenamon says: Very good and very readable

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Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

trust

Choi’s novel begins with Sarah and David’s love affair. The writing is as grand as their teenage emotions – maybe even more so because they attend a dramatic arts high school.  Then half way through the book the narrator changes from Sarah to Karen, who was only a peripheral character in the first half. Karen draws attention to Sarah’s storytelling and her facts. As Karen exposes the duality of it all, she plots to expose and redeem her truth. This experimental novel is about writing, relationships, perspective, and presence.

Gwenamon says: Well done

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Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller

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This. What a shocking and heartbreaking landmark for all women that a victim of sexual assault is a gifted writer. Chanel Miller has moved mountains with first, her victim-impact statement and now, this memoir. She is a beautiful writer. Her observations about expected female behaviour and the judicial system struck me almost as much as the horrible assault and aftermath she endured.

Gwenamon says: Yes!

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Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris

cilka

This book follows The Tattooist of Auschwitz and is based on the true story of Cilka Klein, who survives Auschwitz only to be sentenced to 15 years at a Russian labour camp in Siberia for having “helped” the Nazis. Again, she must fight to survive. I found this book immensely readable and better written than Morris’ first book. I didn’t like the ending, which was just too tidy and was obviously the “based” part.

Gwenamon says: An incredible story of survival and spirit

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A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

confederacy

Considered a tragicomedy, Toole’s novel tells Ignatius J. Reilly’s tale. He’s a disillusioned, bombastic 30-year-old who lives with his alcoholic mother in New Orleans. When his drunk mom drives their car into a building, he must find work to pay off the damages rather than following his heat’s desire – to pen his philosophies and tales on Big Chief writing pads. The cast of odd, brazen, and often hilarious characters he encounters throughout his failed adventures as a hotdog vendor and an employee of a pants company is incredible. So too are the twists and turns. If I didn’t have to read this book for book club, I probably wouldn’t have persevered. I’m glad I did. Some parts are super funny. But overall, I felt that I was reading about characters who were emblematic of the author’s life and who were in denial of some serious mental-health issues. And that felt quite grim, especially given Toole’s suicide.

Gwenamon says: Worthwhile

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The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

dutch

Patchett’s novel is captivating. I can’t think of anything else I’ve read that has a house as a main character. (OK, maybe Wuthering Heights, but that was long ago.) This novel’s other two main characters are brother and sister – Danny and Maeve. Danny tells of their childhood in the house and how they are eventually kicked out by their stepmother. Their sibling bond is even more tenable than their attachment to the house. I loved Maeve’s forthright, motherly character. This novel is about family, memory, place, trust, and inexplicable drive.

Gwenamon says: Yes!

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Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

girl

I feel like this novel is more of an outline or checklist rather than a fully fleshed-out story. Where Evaristo spends time focusing on character development and capturing the essence of a moment, the writing is magical and moving. That doesn’t happen enough for me. Instead the novel feels like she has too much political agenda to try to cover – probably for good reason since the 12 intermingling stories are mainly about black, British women.

Gwenamon says: A couple of strong moments, but undeveloped overall

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The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

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I found it incredible (and humbling) to discover that Carson McCullers (who I also thought was male for about the first 1/4 of the book) was only 23-years-old when she wrote this novel – her first. It tells John Singer’s story and is set in a small town, in the deep South. As a deaf-mute, he assembles a motley crew of characters who seek him out, usually at the town’s café, as their confidante. And so he takes on a Messiah-like role. The writing is strong and often subtle, making suggestions about further connections that are never clarified, just sifted through, adding to the richness and tension of it all.

Gwenamon says: Impressive

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What Red Was by Rosie Price

red

Kate becomes best friends with Max during their first year of university. His privileged life is very different from her modest upbringing, but that doesn’t stop them from becoming inseparable. Then one night at Max’s family’s home, Kate is raped and her life is pulled apart. This is an excellent read created by a talented writer about the immediate and lasting effects of sexual assault.

Gwenamon says: A horrible topic is told extremely well

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