I love how a book can entertain, inspire, challenge our thinking and transport us to another place and time with a little bit of magic and an artful arrangement of words. My favorite genres are historical fiction, mysteries and psychological thrillers, but I will attempt almost anything. Most of what I read is either recommended by a friend, or from a book club list that I trust.
Reese Witherspoon launched Hello Sunshine Book Club in 2017 with Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. That book had a quirky lead character and taught us about loss, acceptance and how individuals can form a family – even when the members are not related.
My first introduction to this book club was last year when my neighborhood club chose, Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, from her list. I loved the richness and detail of the development of the main character in that book as well as Ms. Owen’s highly descriptive passages on nature and how humans oftentimes mimic the behavior of animals.
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng was also a favorite. Reese Witherspoon bought the production rights to that book and produced a successful Netflix mini-series. The main characters in the book are two protective mothers who’s parenting styles are in stark contrast to each other. Both are fundamentally flawed individuals plagued by choices. It will challenge your attitudes and beliefs regarding many social issues.
What I like about her book list is that many of her choices mirror my interests. Her picks typically have a strong female lead, (often inspirational) and are written by women. Some of her book choices have highly relatable characters and teachable moments, while some are ‘beach reads’, like the one I am recommending below; who doesn’t love one of those on occasion?
This week I read two books worth recommending. The first was a straight-up mystery which was very entertaining. The Last House Guest, by Megan Miranda is set in a fictional beach town in Maine.
At the last event of the season, the mysterious death of Avery Greer, a wealthy seasonal resident, raises questions and eventually reveals secrets that have long been held. The author successfully unfolds the mystery without revealing the ending through a myriad of twists and turns that will have you speed reading through the last few chapters.
This is not the type of book that stays with me or makes me think beyond the last page, but it does pass time in a very enjoyable way. If you are looking for something light and fun this book is for you.
The second book I recommend this week is The Rent Collector, by Cameron Wright. The setting for this book is Stung Meanchey, a waste dump in Cambodia. The main characters, Sang Ly, and her husband Ki Lim live at the base of the dump and pick through the trash daily, selling or keeping useful items in order to live. Sang Ly’s purpose in life is to find a cure for her chronically ill son. Her path becomes interwoven with the rent collector, an ill-tempered drunk, who harbors a deep and tragic secret. The unlikely bond between the two women is forged through an introduction to literature, as both teacher and student are forever changed. This is a story of hope, redemption, and above all, love.
The author used his son’s 2009 documentary of a Cambodian family as the basis for this tale and while the book is entirely fictional, the circumstances of their lives are not. The introduction of literature is used to explore the depth and complexity of the human condition as it provides a bridge to connectivity. Words are powerful and have the ability to change lives. This book illustrates that power.
Do not be fooled by the setting into thinking that this is another soul sucking tale of misery. It is quite the opposite and I think you will find it enlightening and hopeful. In its truest sense, this book is a love story.
I am grateful for the uplifting power of books and literature. Today I will return these books to the library and pick up two more. I am especially grateful to be able to queue up several titles on-line and wait for them to become safely available for curbside pickup at my local library. How ‘new normal’ is that?
How about you? Have you taken solace or found an escape hatch through books and literature during this time? If so, I’d love to hear your suggestions for a good read. What is your favorite source for book recommendations? Has your local library made adjustments to accommodate continued service?
If you would like to share what made you smile this week, please visit Trent’s Weekly Smile blog.
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