The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

Book – Jeannette Walls recounts her unique and unstable childhood in The Glass Castle: A Memoir. From the outside, life looks like a never-ending adventure for Jeannette and her siblings.  On good days, her father Rex’s wild imagination takes his family across the United States, a family of vagabonds high on wanderlust. But then the bad days came; the money ran out and all their dreams seemed to have expired.

Confined to a dismal town, Rex became a constant drunk, stealing the family’s dinner money to feed his need.  Meanwhile, Jeannette’s mother, Mary was lost in her own world, an artist obsessed with a need for excitement, such that couldn’t be filled by caring for her young children. It was up to a young Jeannette and her siblings to take care of themselves, learning how to live and survive amid the escalating dysfunction and chaos.

Jeannette recounts her youth in a way that retains her parents’ dignity, as unstable as they were.  Readers are able to see her parents as lost souls failing to reach their dreams, forced into a life they didn’t want.  This struggle to find fulfillment in life is something we can all relate to.

Jeannette also wrote Half Broke Horses: A True Life Novel, a prequel of sorts to The Glass Castle.  The subtitle, A True Life Novel, gives readers a clue as to why the book is noted as fiction.  The book was originally intended to be a biography on Jeannette’s grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, but the author was missing too much information for it to be categorized as completely biographical.  However the powerful character  of Lily Smith comes across just as vividly as the characters in Jeannette’s first memoir.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

indexBook- After witnessing a stranger’s accidental death as a child, Doughty has always been fascinated by death and mortality. This leads her naturally to getting a job in a crematory. Far from the sterile and sanitized version of death many people prefer to maintain, Doughty offers a more honest picture of what happens when we die. She tells of cleaning the bones out of the crematory, of smashing bones into “cremains,” and of many, many viscerally gross details that I won’t relate here. Even as just a memoir of her time in the crematorium, Doughty’s memoir is engrossing, informative, and, at times, hilarious.

However, during her time in the traditional death industry, Doughty has come to the conclusion that we as a culture live too far separated from death and dying. In the past, seeing an untreated dead body was not a rare sight. Today, the dead are either cleaned up and embalmed to look like they are sleeping, as in wakes and funerals, or whisked away quietly, as in hospitals where death is viewed as a failure of the medical system. Doughty wants us all to think openly and honestly about death since, after all, it is inevitable.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes will appeal to fans of Mary Roach, who offers a similarly unadorned picture of the human body and its processes.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Book – What if everything we know about science were wrong, just a side-effect of a particularly orderly-minded god who is just the last in a long line of forces controlling the universe? And what would happen then if that god were dethroned? That’s the central premise of The Library at Mount Char, one of the most original fantasy novels I’ve read in years, but it’s not the central focus. The focus of the book is on Carolyn, one of several orphans who were raised and trained in the mysterious, convoluted Library, who is now fighting for her life and her independence after her father – the orderly force holding the universe together – has been murdered.

Part fantasy, part thriller, part – well, I don’t know what it is, but it’s a fascinating, fast-paced story. There’s time travel, so some things don’t make a lot of sense to start with, but Carolyn’s narration is so confident that it’s easy to trust her. It is a very violent book, with several scenes of graphic torture, which I’m not usually sensitive about, but the first thing I told people about it when they asked was, “It’s so violent!” It’s got a great payoff, though – and although it doesn’t need a sequel, I’d love to read one anyway.

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

EE-200x300Book: Madeline Whittier never steps outside of her house. She has never attend regular school. And the only people she talks to are her mother and Carla, her nurse. Madeline (or Maddy) has SCID whichis  an extremely rare disease and it basically means that she is allergic to everything AKA she is a bubble child. And Maddy has been okay with that, she accepted her fate of living an isolated life. That is until the new neighbors move in and she sees Olly, the handsome boy wearing all black, through her window. And suddenly he is all she can think about and soon the only person she wants to talk to. But it is hard to have a relationship when you are never allowed to see them in person or touch them. As the two grow closer and closer, Maddy begins to take risks with her health and with her heart. But deep down inside she knows that falling in love with Olly can only end in disaster.

Everything Everything is a beautiful story about a teenage girl who wishes her life was normal so she could attend public school, kiss a boy, touch the world. This heartwarming romance will give you all the feelings and make you wish you could spend more time with Maddy and Olly. For readers who love realistic fiction, this is a must read.

The Forgotten: 4 Works of Fiction on Amnesia

From mysteries to romances, every genre has something to offer on amnesia, a most intriguing subject.

The Sci-Fi Drama: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

Jenna fox has lost a year of her life.  An unknown accident has left her with no memory of anyone or the life she lived before.  Her parents whisk her off to a new home, and refuse to talk about the accident.  As snippets of her memory return, Jenna discovers that her amnesia is only the tip of the iceberg.

The Mystery/Thriller: Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson

Christine wakes up in a hospital with no memory of her life.  Her husband is a complete stranger to her.  Each day starts anew, with no memory of who she is, or the man in bed beside her.  With the recommendation of her doctor, Christiane uses a daily journal to try to uncover her past each day.  Slowly, she  discovers that nothing is really what seems.  It’s 50 First Dates meets the thrilling drive of Gone Girl.

The Romantic Comedy: Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

Lexi Smart wakes up from an accident, with no memory of the past three years.  She can’t recognize the tan, slim, flawless woman in the mirror. Life seems perfect: she’s married to a drop-dead gorgeous man, lives in a million dollar penthouse and is head of the company!  But things start to fall through when Lexi learns just how imperfect her life really is.

 The Tragedy: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Gat, Johnny, Mirren, and Cadence have always been inseparable.  Every Summer their families vacation at Cape Cod.  But then one Summer, tragedy strikes, causing Cadence to slip into an amnesiac state, suffering excruciating migraines, and struggling to put the pieces together to find out what happened.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Book – Jess always tries to view all of life situations with an incredible amount of optimism, which is actually quite difficult in her circumstances, being a single mother and working two jobs – cleaning houses by day and serving at a pub at night.  She also cares for Tanzie, her math genius daughter; Nicky, her bullied teenage Goth stepson; and Norman, their 80 pound slobbering dog.

When the opportunity arises for Tanzie to compete in a math contest that could win her a scholarship into a prestigious school, Jess realizes that her only chance to travel from the England to Scotland is to enlist the help of Ed. Ed has his own problems. He is under investigation for inside training and possibly losing his company and fortune. Ed and Jess barely know each other. She occasionally cleaned his house and got him home safe when he got drunk at her pub. Unlike Jess, he is a half glass empty kind of person. But being at loose ends and feeling he owed Jess a favor after the night at the pub, Jess, her kids, and even the dog cram into the car with him.

Things get tense as the journey reveals the economic gap between Jess and Ed and dealing with all of the travelers idiosyncrasies.  The story is humorous and at the same time heartbreaking.  Readers will want to go along on this road trip and experience the stops and find out the results from the ultimate destination – if Tanzie is awarded a scholarship.

If you enjoyed this book you may like other books by Jojo Moyes: The Girl You Left Behind, Me Before You, and others.

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Book – As a children’s librarian, there is no doubt that I am biased in favor of children’s books, but you don’t need to take my word for it that this one makes a fun read even for grown-ups. Besides the vote of confidence from the Newbery Committee, I have the testimony of my grandparents–neither of whom is a children’s book reader in general but each of whom devoured this one in a day, laughing all the way–to back me up in that claim.

1962 is the summer of eleven-year-old Jack Gantos’ perpetual grounding. With a nose that won’t stop bleeding, on the outs with both his parents and forbidden from playing baseball with his friends, Jack might have a grim few months ahead of him if not for his feisty elderly neighbor. Mrs. Volker, the resident historian of the small town of Norvelt, needs the loan of Jack’s hands to type up obituaries of her fellow orginal Norvelters, the rare task for which Jack is released from house-arrest. But when those obituaries start coming a little too thick and fast, Jack and Mrs. Volker become an unlikely team of sleuths, and fast friends into the bargain.

Part mystery story, part fictionalized memoir, entirely small town slice-of-life, Dead End in Norvelt explores questions of community and memory without ever feeling preachy. Centering as it does on an inter-generational friendship, it’s a great choice to share within families–but even if you don’t have a child, grandchild, niece, nephew or cousin to pass it on to, it’s well worth the rollicking ride.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Book – It is a truth universally acknowledged that a mad scientist in possession of an evil plan must be in want of a minion. Ballister Blackheart is a mad scientist. Nimona is a teenage girl who can turn into a shark. Obviously they’re made for each other.

Okay, Ballister’s plan isn’t really evil so much as it’s subversive – turns out the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics maybe isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all. And he’s a scientist, and yes he does invent giant lasers, but he’s not terribly mad. Nimona can turn into a shark, though. That’s pretty cool.

Nimona starts out full of wacky hijinks, but it has a very powerful story at its core, about friendships that have suffered unbearable things and about figuring out how to belong somewhere when you’ve never belonged anywhere before. The final chapters are heart-wrenching in the best way. If you’re sad at the end, be sure to check out the author’s tumblr, where she regularly posts little sketches of the characters being happy and adorable (as they should be). And, of course, check out her series Lumberjanes, which is also utterly fantastic.

The Imposter (2012)

Movie – There are some who feel truth is just as good as fiction and at times better. The Imposter is one of those stories that may be better than fiction. For watchers of Spanish cinema, like something out of a Pedro Almodóvar film. It is a documentary about a missing child, Nicolas Barclay. In 1994 a family in Texas reported their son missing. He turns up three and a half years later in Spain. Or does he? The Barclays do not see their “son” for the first time until he is back in Texas. Their child was a blond hair blue eyed boy. The person they are reunited with is neither blond nor blue eyed, with a profound Spanish accent, and seems to look older than 16, which is the around the age Nicolas should be.

The Imposter will take you on a trip with twists and turns throughout only to leave you with more questions. There are questions about the person claiming to be Nicolas. Who is he, what is he doing, and why is he doing this? In addition, why does the family accept this stranger as their son? Serious criminal accusations will keep the viewer questioning what is going on in this family. All of this will leave you with more questions that may or may not be fully answered by the end of the film.

Whether you like true-crime or enjoy fiction, The Imposter will give you a good story, almost as good as, or even better than most mysteries. This one is for those who enjoy mysteries, thrillers, true-crimes, and love plot twists.

How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

how-to-start-a-fireBook – Best friends and college roommates at UC Santa Cruz in the early 1990’s, Anna, Kate and Georgianna share adventures, life-stories and secrets. Anna is the ringleader, who makes up games for every party they attend. A risk-taker and at odds with her austere, wealthy family, her life begins to spiral out of control. Kate is reserved and follows Anna’s lead. She hides herself in obsessive research about various and random topics, including mushrooms, redwoods and planets. George loves nature and becomes a forest ranger. A beauty, she easily attracts the attention of men, but often settles for unsatisfying  relationships.

Twenty years after college, the women find themselves retracing the paths their lives have taken. The story alternates between their viewpoints and bounces back and forth from the past to the present. I slowly discovered that one evening in particular influenced the lives of all three. I liked getting to know these characters and how their interests, talents and personalities threaded through their friendship. Lisa Lutz also wrote the popular Spellman Files series.