Recommended Reading (aka Some Good Books!)

I read a lot of books over the summer but here are some of my absolute favorites. A few of them I have read before but reread them this summer just because I love them so much!

(Descriptions are shamelessly lifted straight off Amazon..which I don’t imagine they would get upset about since each book listed here also contains a direct link to the book on their site.)

The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent

From Publishers Weekly

A family’s conflict becomes a battle for life and death in this gripping and original first novel based on family history from a descendant of a condemned Salem witch. After a bout of smallpox, 10-year-old Sarah Carrier resumes life with her mother on their family farm in Andover, Mass., dimly aware of a festering dispute between her mother, Martha, and her uncle about the plot of land where they live. The fight takes on a terrifying dimension when reports of supernatural activity in nearby Salem give way to mass hysteria, and Sarah’s uncle is the first person to point the finger at Martha. Soon, neighbors struggling to eke out a living and a former indentured servant step forward to name Martha as the source of their woes. Sarah is forced to shoulder an even heavier burden as her mother and brothers are taken to prison to face a jury of young women who claim to have felt their bewitching presence. Sarah’s front-row view of the trials and the mayhem that sweeps the close-knit community provides a fresh, bracing and unconventional take on a much-covered episode. (Sept.)

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

From Publishers Weekly

The idiosyncratic thinker and cultural historian Johnson leaps from trumpeting video games (in his previous book Everything Bad Is Good for You) to uncovering the history of murderous cholera infestations in London and the scientific research that revealed the microbial origins of the outbreaks. Sklar reads Johnson’s engaging book with a deep, measured baritone that is the embodiment of solidly backed reasonability. Sklar makes each word sound as if it has been chipped into a block of marble, there to rest for all eternity. This is not always conducive to following the flow of Johnson’s narrative, but Sklar does well with his voice what Johnson seeks to do with his book: insert a slip into the history book, adding the mundane deaths of working souls and the audacious efforts of scientists into the story of the European march of progress.

 Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbad Seraji

From Publishers Weekly

Set in 1970s Iran during the shah’s regime, this earnest, semiautobiographical debut novel is told from the perspective of bookish 17-year-old Pasha Shahed, who, along with his best friend Ahmed, plays soccer, goofs off and thinks about girls. But Pasha pines for one girl in particular—his neighbor Zari, betrothed since birth to Pasha’s mentor, the neighborhood radical, Ramin Sobhi, whom everyone calls Doctor. Over a summer Ahmed orchestrates daily meetups with his own beloved, Faheemeh, and includes Pasha and Zari. […] The prose has the simplicity of a nonnative English speaker, which could be seen as clichéd (treasure of love, dark winter of my life) or charmingly romantic. Seraji captures the thoughts and emotions of a young boy and creates a moving portrait of the history and customs of the Persians and life in Iran during this period.

 Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

From Publishers Weekly

See (Peony in Love) explores tradition, the ravages of war and the importance of family in her excellent latest. Pearl and her younger sister, May, enjoy an upper-crust life in 1930s Shanghai, until their father reveals that his gambling habit has decimated the family’s finances and to make good on his debts, he has sold both girls to a wealthy Chinese-American as wives for his sons. Pearl and May have no intention of leaving home, but after Japanese bombs and soldiers ravage their city and both their parents disappear, the sisters head for California, where their husbands-to-be live and where it soon becomes apparent that one of them is hiding a secret that will alter each of their fates. As they adjust to marriage with strangers and the challenges of living in a foreign land, Pearl and May learn that long-established customs can provide comfort in unbearable times. See’s skillful plotting and richly drawn characters immediately draw in the reader, covering 20 years of love, loss, heartbreak and joy while delivering a sobering history lesson. While the ending is ambiguous, this is an accomplished and absorbing novel.

Devil’s Gate: Brigham Young and the Great Mormon Handcart Tragedy by David Roberts

From Publishers Weekly

In 1856, two groups of Mormon emigrants using handcarts to transport their belongings got a disastrously late start on their westward trek to Utah. Unexpected October blizzards and the lack of restocked supplies left them stranded in Wyoming, coping with frostbite, starvation and disease. While Mormon retellings of this story have emphasized the subsequent daring rescue, Roberts sees the whole episode as an entirely preventable disaster from start to finish. Moreover, he fixes the blame at the top, arguing that Brigham Young, then president of the church, consistently undervalued human life, created dangerous situations with regard to provisions in order to pinch pennies and dissembled after the fact about not having any knowledge of the emigrants’ late start. Roberts builds a persuasive case, arguing from dozens of primary sources and using the emigrants’ own haunting words about their experiences. He competently situates the tragedy within the context of the 1856–1857 Mormon Reformation, a time of religious extremism. This is a solid and well-researched contribution to Mormon studies and the history of the American West.

The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen

From Publishers Weekly

It is the autumn of 1918 and a world war and an influenza epidemic rage outside the isolated utopian logging community of Commonwealth, Wash. In an eerily familiar climate of fear, rumor and patriotic hysteria, the town enacts a strict quarantine, posting guards at the only road into town. A weary soldier approaches the gate on foot and refuses to stop. Shots ring out, setting into motion a sequence of events that will bring the town face-to-face with some of the 20th-century’s worst horrors. Mullen’s ambitious debut is set against a plausibly sketched background, including events such the Everett Massacre (between vigilantes and the IWW), the political repression that accompanied the U.S. entry into WWI and the rise of the Wobblies. But what Mullen supplies in terms of historical context, he lacks in storytelling; though the novel is set in 1918, it was written in a post 9/11 world where fear of bird flu regularly makes headlines, and the allegory is heavy-handed (the protagonist townie, after all, is named Philip Worthy). The grim fascination of the narrative, however, will keep readers turning the pages.

Plantation by Dorothea Benton Frank

From Publishers Weekly

HA follow-up to Frank’s debut novel, Sullivan’s Island, this colorful contemporary romance effortlessly evokes the lush beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry while exploring the complexities of family relationships. When Caroline Wimbley Levine learns that her mother, Miss Lavinia, has supposedly gone mad, she leaves the big city bustle of Manhattan and returns to Tall Pines Plantation. Caroline originally left Tall Pines to escape her feisty, eccentric mother and her drunken brother, Trip, but when Miss Lavinia dies, Caroline is forced to come to terms with her family’s troubled history as well her failing relationship with her husband. As Caroline reminisces about her past rebelliousness and her childhood, she realizes that her father’s sudden and tragic death many years before served as a catalyst for the family’s disintegration. Caroline and Trip also learn that their seemingly selfish and self-assured mother was not so uncaring after all. While most of the story is told from Caroline’s point of view, journal entries written by Miss Lavinia open several of the chapters, providing the narrative with additional texture and warmth. Although the novel is short on plot, readers will enjoy immersing themselves in the lives of these deftly drawn, heartfelt characters. Agent, Amy Berkower. (July 3)Forecast: Sullivan’s Island was a New York Times bestseller, and, if Frank’s newest receives the critical praise it deserves, it will climb the charts as well. Booksellers will also boost sales if they recommend this book to fans of Pat Conroy and Anne Rivers Siddons.

The Last Child by John Hart

From Publishers Weekly

A year after 12-year-old Alyssa Merrimon disappeared on her way home from the library in an unnamed rural North Carolina town, her twin brother, Johnny, continues to search the town, street by street, even visiting the homes of known sex offenders, in this chilling novel from Edgar-winner Hart (Down River). Det. Clyde Hunt, the lead cop on Alyssa’s case, keeps a watchful eye on Johnny and his mother, who has deteriorated since Alyssa’s abduction and her husband’s departure soon afterward. When a second girl is snatched, Johnny is even more determined to find his sister, convinced that the perpetrator is the same person who took Alyssa. But what he unearths is more sinister than anyone imagined, sending shock waves through the community and putting Johnny’s own life in danger. Despite a tendency to dip into melodrama, Hart spins an impressively layered tale of broken families and secrets that can kill.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

From Publishers Weekly

Grissom’s unsentimental debut twists the conventions of the antebellum novel just enough to give readers an involving new perspective on what would otherwise be fairly stock material. Lavinia, an orphaned seven-year-old white indentured servant, arrives in 1791 to work in the kitchen house at Tall Oaks, a Tidewater, Va., tobacco plantation owned by Capt. James Pyke. Belle, the captain’s illegitimate half-white daughter who runs the kitchen house, shares narration duties, and the two distinctly different voices chronicle a troublesome 20 years: Lavinia becomes close to the slaves working the kitchen house, but she can’t fully fit in because of her race. At 17, she marries Marshall, the captain’s brutish son turned inept plantation master, and as Lavinia ingratiates herself into the family and the big house, racial tensions boil over into lynching, rape, arson, and murder. The plantation’s social order’s emphasis on violence, love, power, and corruption provides a trove of tension and grit, while the many nefarious doings will keep readers hooked to the twisted, yet hopeful, conclusion.

Elizabeth Street by Laurie Fabiano

From Booklist

First novelist Fabiano is dead-on in her portrait of the Italian-American immigrant experience. This engrossing cross-generational saga centers on the experiences of Giovanna Costa, from the small Italian fishing village where she is born to the bustling streets of New York’s Lower East Side where she struggles to raise her family and make a living as a midwife after the death of her first husband. In America, the resourceful Giovanna and her second husband eventually open a fruit and vegetable stand, attracting the unwanted attentions of the notorious “Black Hand” crime organization. When Giovanni refuses to meet their demands, her daughter is kidnapped and held for ransom. Basing this story—including the kidnapping—on her own family’s immigrant experiences, Fabiano provides a wealth of period detail, infusing the compulsively readable narrative with an authentic sense of time, place, and community. –Margaret Flanagan

The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

From Booklist

This novel has been popular in Germany since its 2008 publication there, and it’s easy to see why. Set in the mid-1600s in the Bavarian town of Schongau, it features a hangman, Jakob Kuisl, who is asked to find out whether an ominous tattoo found on a dying boy means that witchcraft has come to town. This is no idle fiction. The German rulers were, at the time, heavily involved in the detection, prosecution, and execution of suspect witches. Pötzsch, who is descended from the real-life Kuisl family, does an excellent job of telling the story and supplying the historical backdrop. And his characters—Jakob, the hangman; his daughter, Magdalena; and Simon, the physician’s son—are extremely well drawn and believable. Kudos, too, to translator Chadeayne, who retains the story’s German flavor while rendering the text in smooth and highly readable English. Readers of historical fiction should find this very much to their liking. –David Pitt 

The Apothecary’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

From Publishers Weekly

Klassen’s debut novel, Lady of Milkweed Manor, was a Christy Award finalist, and her new Regency promises the same thanks to fine storytelling and knowledge of the apothecary’s art. Lillian Haswell yearns to leave her father’s apothecary shop in their small town and happily accepts an invitation to live in London. She leaves behind a handicapped brother, friends, her lonely father and memories of her lost mother, but finds that London holds its own troubles. Will Roger Bromley propose? What about the timid physician Adam Graves? And the dastardly Roderick Marlow? Will her humble origins ruin her chances of a good match? Complications ensue as Lillian is called home when word comes of her father’s ill health. She takes over the apothecary shop—illegal, because a woman could not dispense medicine—and begins again thanks to her father’s former assistant Francis Baylor. Klassen blends her tale well; each ingredient—romance, friendship, healing arts, mystery—is measured to produce a lively, lengthy tale that will satisfy Regency aficionados and general readers, too.

The Long Walk by Stephen King

From Publishers Weekly

Ray Garraty–along with 99 other teen boys–has entered the Long Walk, a grueling march at four miles per hour that continues until only one person is standing. The losers receive bullets to the head. As the march progresses, the numbers dwindle, the challenges of continued marching increase, and the senselessness wears on the participants’ state of mind. King (writing as his alter ego, Richard Bachman) delivers another psychologically dark tale with commentary on society, teenage life, and cultural entertainment that is still poignant decades after its original publication. Kirby Heyborne’s skills shine in the narrative passages, which he executes with a good mixture of rhythm and emphasis. Heyborne’s light and youthful-sounding voice exudes the needed attitude of the mostly male adolescent characters. However, some of his character voices for the teens feel created just for the sole purpose of clearly distinguishing them, rather than matching voice organically to personality. His female voices lack substance, but since there are so few of them, listeners will not be too distracted.

The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopkinson

From Booklist

Calamity Lambkin has just buried her dadda when the kind of tingling she had as a child just before she found something that had been lost assails her. Since she also starts getting hot flashes, she would shrug the tingling off as another change-of-life symptom, except that she starts finding lost things again. One morning she finds an apparently orphaned toddler washed up on the beach. That little boy is the strongest fanciful–magic realist, if you will–element in the earthily charming story of a woman coming to know and accept herself for the first time. As narrator, Calamity is so persuasive that, until she awakens to the ways she has frustrated herself, readers may not know that they’ve been dying to snap her out of them, too. She is better than she thinks, and so are her daughter, her daughter’s father, his lover, the men she woos, and the old friend she reconciles with over the boy from the sea. The West Indian-accented dialogue adds sweetness and color; Calamity’s cussing, spice. Ray Olson

So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasyby Nalo Hopkinson

From Booklist

Lest postcolonial in the subtitle intimidate, let it be noted that this is a strong anthology that, regardless of thematic concern, showcases authors with some real experience of colonization from all over the world. Given that so much sf is concerned with encounters with the other or alien intending domination, the genre and colonialism are, of course, not strangers. The book’s five sections are “The Body,” the last of whose contents, Larissa Lai’s fascinating “Rachel,” glimpses a readily familiar character; “Future Earth,” including Vandana Singh’s “Delhi,” in which one Aseem is unstuck in the city’s timestream; “Allegory,” which features a particularly chilling and timely presentation of enforced otherness in Wayde Compton’s “The Blue Road: A Fairy Tale”; “Encounters with the Alien,” in which Greg van Eekhout’s “Native Aliens” questions the nature of being alien; and “Re-imagining the Past,” with Tobias S. Buckell’s “Necahual,” about a soldier in a “liberation army” more concerned with making a pure-human society than with living with the no longer purely human and the natives of colonized planets. Regina Schroeder

The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card

From Publishers Weekly

Card’s newest series opener can’t decide whether it’s a thought experiment featuring a nifty magic system, a YA urban fantasy, or a series of fantasy interludes, so it settles for performing all three tasks satisfactorily, if not spectacularly. Danny North, descendant of exiled mages from another world, is taken aback when he comes into his true powers as a gatemage. He could reconnect his people with their long-lost home world, but gatemages are usually killed to maintain a fragile peace among the exiled clans. Fleeing his home, Danny finds refuge and slowly explores his potential, planning to open the first Great Gate in 14 centuries. Meanwhile, on the far-off world of Westil, a young gatemage named Wad finds love, conspiracies, and betrayal in a remote castle while struggling to recall his hazy past. Though occasionally uneven and meandering, this ambitious tale is well crafted, highly detailed, and pleasantly accessible.

Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

From School Library Journal

Gr 7 Up–Card’s latest work of speculative fiction twists together tropes of fantasy and science fiction into something fine indeed. Rigg and his father are trappers by trade, but Rigg has been instructed throughout his 13 years in languages, sciences, history, and politics. The teen is therefore somewhat mentally prepared for the quest that his father thrusts upon him with his dying breath–to go to the capital city and find his sister. Both Rigg and his friend, Umbo, have a special ability that aids them–Rigg can see the paths of all living things, regardless of intervening obstructions or even time, and Umbo can seemingly change the movement of time itself. Needless to say, the two meet various friends and foes and can’t always tell which is which as they journey onward. Juxtaposed with this main story is an entirely different narrative, told in a page or two at the beginning of each chapter. This is the tale of Ram Odin, human pilot of a colony ship from Earth, traveling to a new world with the use of space-folding technology. The combination of science fiction and fantasy as well as a surprising revelation at the end harken back to genre classics like Robert Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle (HarperCollins, 1980) and Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber (Doubleday, 1970). This novel should appeal to Card’s legion of fans as well as anyone who enjoys speculative fiction with characters who rely on quick thinking rather than violence or tales of mind-bending time-travel conundrums.–Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Library, Wisconsin Rapids, WI.

About Karen Y. Hamilton

Walt Whitman says about his autobiography, Specimen Days “…At any rate I obey my happy hour’s command, which seems curiously imperative. May-be, if don’t do anything else, I shall send out the most wayward, spontaneous, fragmentary book ever printed.” This is what I feel at this juncture of my life, the need to gather together memories of my ancestors as well as my own memories into some semblance of order. Because all of those fragments, all of the fragments that make up any life, become stories. I am the mother of three sons, who affectionately (I hope!) call me 'gypsy mom' because I tend to wander around a bit soaking in the universe's wonders. I am currently working towards an MFA in Creative Writing at Florida Atlantic University. I have published essays with Heritage Press, Florida Living, and the St. Pauls Review. I am currently working on a book of poems about the Florida Everglades pioneers and a memoir about grief and the bonds of friendship. I live in my hometown, Jupiter, Florida and work as a freelance writer and curriculum specialist.
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One Response to Recommended Reading (aka Some Good Books!)

  1. Amy says:

    Thanks Karen. I’ve read a few of these and can’t wait to delve into some more!

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