Top Reads from Recent Travels

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Isabel has been reading. A lot! Here is a list of recent gems that made their way past Isabel and through our office and then, because we loved them so much, were passed along to friends. Several people contributed to the following write-ups: they come from Isabel, Lori, Chandra and me. Consider this a book club of sorts.

1. The Awakening of Miss Prim

By Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

This author’s first novel was my go-to book gift over the holidays. Nothing bad happens; it is so idyllic that it will leave you searching for the real San Ireneo de Arnois and you’ll be so disappointed when you realize that, perhaps, it does not exist. Make sure when you are reading this book that you have ready access to a good cup of tea and at least one freshly baked treat.

2. The Rosie Project

By Graeme C. Simsion

Can science help you find love? Part love story, part comedy, The Rosie Project is about a professor with awkward social skills and the love he finds. The book is such a laugh-out-loud read that I couldn’t help but cast it as a movie as I read.

3. Just Mercy

By Bryan Stevenson

If you can, listen to this one. It is read by the author and is at once astonishing and heartbreaking. If you listen in your car you will find yourself talking back in outrage. Though Just Mercy is in no way fiction, it has been compared to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and rightly so. It shines a light on the criminal justice system, showing just how much injustice prevails. It is searing and upsetting, but Stevenson will show you a little light.

4. The Paying Guests

By Sarah Waters

Now here’s a gem of a book that made its way quickly around the office. It is unputdownable (if that’s a word) and yet simple and ordinary. The twists and shifts happen amid a most delicately observed place and time, leaving you relaxed and comfortable one moment and jarred by sudden action the next. Both the love story and the setting (the book takes place just after World War I), feel so perfectly observed that the crime, when it comes, sneaks up on you just like it should.

5. The Luminaries

By Eleanor Catton

Stating that this book was the 2013 winner of the Man Booker Prize may say it all, but I will say a little more. I read this because I am a fan of the Gold Rush genre, and the fact that this book takes place in New Zealand makes it all the more intriguing.

6. The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence

By Gary A. Haugen

A wake-up call to the violence in our midst and an attempt to show a path out of poverty. It is a hard book to read, hard because it is so terrifying and sheds light on the unchecked violence that blocks the ways out of poverty. This book is an eye-opener, brilliant and insightful. 

7. The Light Between Oceans

By M.L. Stedman

Yeah, they are making a movie about this, so you know it is good, right? Well, trust me, it is strange and beautiful, and in fact it reads like a movie. The plot is well crafted, but that’s all I’ll say; many reviews give it away, but I won’t. Worth the read!

8. The Case for God

By Karen Armstrong

The Case for God is kind of like a theological CliffsNotes. It’s a 400-plus-page history of religion—actually of many of the world’s religions and how they are connected. It makes you consider all sides and points to the compassion that spirituality can bring.

9. The Ocean at the End of the Lane

By Neil Gaiman

We all loved this quick read, which is strange and compelling and reads like a fairy tale. If you want a little magic and some escapist distraction, this book will charm you—and scare you a little, too. It is both an adventure and a gem of a novel.

10. Residue Years

By Mitchell S. Jackson

This story begins with the protagonist, Grace, who has just been released from a court-ordered rehab, and her son, Champ, a former star on his basketball team turned drug dealer. I was unable to put down the book as mother and son try beyond measure to remake a life together but continually fall into a cycle of poverty. The writing is flawless and captivating.

11. Animal’s People

By Indra Sinha

You will fall in love with this twisted little animal, one of the strangest books I have ever read. You may remember parts of the real-life story that Animal’s People is based on: the horrible gas leak in Bhopal, India, in 1984, following an explosion at a Union Carbide pesticide plant. This is the story of what came after, as well as of justice, love, frustration and the human spirit.

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