Monday, December 12, 2011

Calling all Book Worms!

As a self proclaimed book worm and great lover of the Christmas season I have decided to dedicate today's blog to listing my top ten favorite books that you MUST read, or share as gifts! Here we go:

1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

 The general synopsis of this book is about two unmarried adult siblings, Marilla and Matthew, that are getting older. They live on Green Gables in Prince Edward Island. They decide to adopt an orphan boy in order to help Matthew with farm work. When Matthew shows up at the train station to pick up the orphan boy he finds a freckled, red headed little girl by the name of Anne Shirley. Her spunk and talkative ways charm Matthew and he talks Marilla into keeping her. This first book in the series recount Anne becoming familiar with Greene Gables, meeting friends, and growing up.
I read this book for the first time in the 3rd or 4th grade and have re read it multiple times since then. It is considered a children's book, but I never cease to thoroughly enjoy it. When I am reading this book, I become Anne, I find myself totally enamoured with the White Way of Delight, I am "bosom friends" with Diana, and I thoroughly detest Gilbert Blythe. It is a beautiful coming of age story and remains my most favorite book of all time.

2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women:
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
 In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women — mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends — view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't. 
This book blew my mind. I didn't read it as soon as it came out. . . I actually didn't read it until my gran recommended it and I read a review for the movie. The characters are rich with believable antics, voices, and memorable personalities. I find Stockett to be brave beyond belief at writing such a thought provoking, core shaking novel. I couldn't put it down and when I finished, I felt sad. I did see the movie, which was particularly good for a book adaptation, but as always, the screen cannot do justice to the words. This is a book about equality and recognizing that we are all from the same original fabric, no matter our color or social status.

3. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski’s ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell. Jacob was there because his luck had run out – orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive “ship of fools”. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn’t have an act – in fact, she couldn’t even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.         
This book was absolutely incredible. The ending is both astonishing and breath taking and totally unexpected. Although this novel is a love story between a man and a woman it is also a love story between humans and animals. It is a story that makes the reader aware of animal cruelty, human cruelty, and what it takes for hearts of all shapes and sizes to heal. Again, I could not put it down and recommend it to as many people as I can. Do not just see the movie. . . the book is more than worth the time and money.

4. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

 Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate - a life and a role that she has never questioned… until now.
Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister - and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable… a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves. My Sister's Keeper examines what it means to be a good parent, a good sister, a good person. Is it morally correct to do whatever it takes to save a child's life… even if that means infringing upon the rights of another? Is it worth trying to discover who you really are, if that quest makes you like yourself less?
 This was the first book I read by Jodi Picoult, and as many of you know, she is now my favorite author of all friggin time. No one writes quite like Picoult and I've never read stories or characters that resonate with me quite like Picoult's. My Sister's Keeper is the first book that ever truly made me sob. I'm not talking a quiet trickle of tears, I am talking full on, shoulder shaking, breath gasping, sobs. This is a story about the love of siblings and when a young child learns that everything their parents say and do is not, in fact, always right. It is not a happy ending type of book, but I promise you these characters and this story will remain with you long after you turn the last page.

5. Songs of the Humpback Whale by Jodi Picoult
  In this novel, Jodi Picoult interweaves five rich narrative voices to tell a story of love, loss, and self-discovery. The voices belong to a mother, her daughter, and three very different men.
Jane had always lived in somebody's shadow. Escaping a childhood of abuse by marrying oceanographer Oliver Jones, she finds herself taking second place to his increasingly successful career. However, when her daughter Rebecca is slighted, Jane's dramatic stand takes them all by surprise.
Leaving Oliver and his whale tapes behind in San Diego, Jane and Rebecca set out to drive across America to Uncle Joley and the sanctuary of the Massachusetts apple orchard where he works. Joley directs Jane across the United States in a series of letters waiting for her in designated post offices. Each letter gives concise directions to the next post office; each letter provides Jane with a chance to reflect on her forgotten past.
Oliver, used to tracking male humpback whales across vast oceans, now has the task of tracking his tantalizingly unpredictable wife across a continent. To do so he must learn to see the world-- and even himself-- through her eyes.
Songs of the Humpback Whale is a powerful and sensitive novel of family life that questions how songs are passed down from male speaker to male speaker, but also examines the female tradition of listening that women unconsciously pass on to their daughters.

Once again, Picoult left me speechless (as many of you know, this is a difficult task) with this heartbreaking novel about relationships between parents and children, first loves, and deciding when enough is enough and when to hold on a little bit longer. Again, this is not a fairy tale ending type of book, but the language took my breath away and there is a scene towards the end of the book in which the protagonist's daughter is described as "trying to rip her heart out" that made me weep and became a line I always come back to.

6. Birds in Fall by Brad Kessler

One fall night off the coast of a remote island in Nova Scotia, an airplane plummets to the sea as an innkeeper watches from the shore. Miles away in New York City, ornithologist Ana Gathreaux works in a darkened room full of sparrows, testing their migratory instincts. Soon, Ana will be bound for Trachis Island, along with other relatives of victims who converge on the site of the tragedy. As the search for survivors envelops the island, the mourning families gather at the inn, waiting for news of those they have lost. Here among strangers, and watched over by innkeeper Kevin Gearns, they form an unusual community, struggling for comfort and consolation. A Taiwanese couple sets out fruit for their daughter's ghost. A Bulgarian man plays piano in the dark, sending the music to his lost wife, a cellist. Two Dutch teenagers, a brother and sister, rage against their parents' death. An Iranian exile, mourning his niece, recites the Persian tales that carry the wisdom of centuries.
At the center of "Birds in Fall" lies Ana Gathreaux, whose story Brad Kessler tells with deep compassion: from her days in the field with her husband, observing and banding migratory birds, to her enduring grief and gradual reengagement with life.
Kessler's knowledge of the natural world, music, and myth enriches every page of this hauntingly beautiful and moving novel about solitude, love, losing your way, and finding something like home.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Kessler at Wright State when he did a reading for one of my Creative Writing classes. He did a reading from another book, but while he was reading I felt as though I was experiencing a religion. Kessler is eloquently beautiful with words and I was mesmerized. I received this book as a gift and it remains one of the most delicious pieces of fiction I've ever laid eyes on. It truly is a story about the human condition and the devestation that happens when we are reminded of our human-ness. This is a beautiful book.

7. Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen

Colie expects the worst when she’s sent to spend the summer with her eccentric aunt Mira while her mother, queen of the television infomercial, tours Europe. Always an outcast — first for being fat and then for being “easy” — Colie has no friends at home and doesn’t expect to find any in Colby, North Carolina. But then she lands a job at the Last Chance Cafe and meets fellow waitresses Morgan and Isabel, best friends with a loving yet volatile relationship. Wacky yet wise, Morgan and Isabel help Colie see herself in a new way and realize the potential that has been there all along.

Sarah Dessen is my favorite YA author. She writes both humor and emotion with astute clarity and every character and story that has her name on it is believable and relative. I think this is my most favorite Dessen novel because it is all about coming into your own skin and liking what you see and feel. Colie gives voice to every young girl's insecurities and to their wishes and desires.

8. Such a Pretty Fat: One Narcissist's Quest to Discover if Her Life Makes Her Ass Look Big; or, Why Pie is Not the Answer by Jen Lancaster
 Are you tired of books where the self-loathing heroine is teased to the point where she starves herself tiny in hopes of a fabulous new life?  Do you hate the message that we women can't possibly be happy until we fit into our skinny jeans? 
Yeah?  Well, Jen Lancaster is, too. 
 Jen doesn't find stories like this uplifting; rather, they make her want to hug these women and take them out for fizzy champagne drinks and cheesecake and explain to them that until they figure out their insides, their outsides don't matter.
Unfortunately, being overweight isn't simply a societal issue that can be fixed with a dose of positive self-esteem. 
 It's a health matter, so on the eve of Jen's 40th birthday she decides to make changes so she doesn't, you know, die.  Because what good is finally being able to afford a pedicure if she loses a foot to adult onset diabetes?

 This book. . . is batshit crazy funny. I laughed so hard I had tears running down my face. She is everything I love: sarcastic, negative, loves food, and hell bent on being heard. I love this book, I love this author. Go get it. NOW.

9. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey.
But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life—and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey's boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie's own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they're the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can't collide without the whole wide world exploding.
 Just as much a celebration of love as it is a portrait of loss, Lennie's struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often hilarious, and ultimately unforgettable.

I totally stumbled upon this book by accident at Wal-Mart and I am so incredibly bad I did. This novel is beyond amazing as it follows a young woman during two of the most important and unforgettable times in a person's life: your first love and your first loss. I could not put this book down and I cannot wait for Jandy Nelson to write something else. This book is about growing up, growing into your skin, and learning to love it there.

10. Here on Earth  by Alice Hoffman

After nearly twenty years of living in California, March Murray, along with her fifteen-year-old daughter, Gwen, returns to the sleepy Massachusetts town where she grew up to attend the funeral of Judith Dale, the beloved housekeeper who raised her. Yet returning to her hometown also brings her back to Hollis, March's former soul mate and lover. March's father had taken the teenaged Hollis, an abandoned child, and the product of a series of detention homes, into his house as a boarder, and treated him like a son. Yet March and Hollis's passionate love was hardly a normal sibling relationship. When Hollis left her after a petty fight, March waited for him three long years, wondering what she had done wrong.
Encountering Hollis again makes March acutely aware of the choices that she has made, and the choices everyone around her has made--including Mrs. Dale, who knew more of love than March could ever have suspected, and her brother Alan, whose tragic history has left him grief-struck, with alcohol as his only solace. Her attraction to Hollis is overwhelming and March jeopardizes her marriage, her relationship with her daughter and her own happiness in an attempt to reclaim the past.

Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors and this is by far her best book. It's all about first loves revisited and the toxicity that can accompany them. I don't even know if I can put into words why this book means so much to me, but it blew me away. She writes unforgettable fiction.

So, that's it, folks! My top ten books of all time. . . until I discover another amazing one! But seriously- these authors and books have touched my life, opened my eyes, and nestled inside my heart for one reason or another. . . and as an aspiring author, there is no higher goal than to have a blog written about the way I touch someone's life and heart with words. Please go read these books! Or share them. . .  Give someone a reason to fall in love with words.

-Stephi D.

*All book synopsis are from each author's website.

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