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Books

I like to read. And the pandemic has offered up a lot of reading time. Books are one way to open up your world and learn about people and places that you don’t encounter in your daily life. Learning about others and expanding your world is one of the best ways I know of to become a more empathetic person. The more we know about others, the less we have to fear from them. So, in that spirit I will be offering up some book recommendations. It’s not all heavy stuff, either. As a reader I read all sorts of books and I’ll share them here.

This is My America

One of those YA books that thinking adults can also appreciate. Maybe read it with your children?

TitleThis is My America
AuthorKim Johnson
Publisher, Year
Pages
Penguin Random House, 2020
416 pages
Summary from Publisher“Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time–her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?”
GenreYoung Adult, Fiction
ThemesRacism, Social Justice
Who should read this book?Black kids and friends of Black kids. Anyone interested in the lives of Black kids. It would work as a book group selection as well.
Why I liked itIt is a story with an actionable message. It opens up your world.

Fallout

The story behind the story of the cover-up of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima

TitleFallout
AuthorLesley M.M. Blumse
Publisher, Year
Pages
Simon & Schuster, 2020
288 pages
Summary from the PublisherNew York Times bestselling author Lesley M.M. Blume reveals how one courageous American reporter uncovered one of the deadliest cover-ups of the 20th century—the true effects of the atom bomb—potentially saving millions of lives.
Released on the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, Fallout is an engrossing detective story, as well as an important piece of hidden history that shows how one heroic scoop saved—and can still save—the world.”
GenreHistory
ThemesJapan, War, Journalism
Who should read this book?Journalists should definitely read this since it is really all about how the story of Hiroshima was reported to America by John Hersey and the New Yorker. Anyone with an interest in history and Japan should also read this. Those of you who appreciate the uncovering of a cover-up would also like it. The book is a smooth and compelling read and while it is obvious that much research went into the book, the reader can choose how deeply she/he wants to dive in thanks to extensive notes and references in the back matter. It should be of interest to anyone who cares about the world we live in and would also make a good text for journalism students.
Why I liked itI read just about anything about Japan so this was right up my alley. It was fascinating to read. Blume tells the story of just how Hersey’s work came about, revealing much of the politics of the time around the development and use of atom bombs. I hope this will teach a whole new generation about this tragedy and that it will inspire them to read Hersey’s work as well.

House of Sticks

I loved this book and ended up reading it in one sitting because I simply couldn't put it down. That said, I did not love it because it is saccharine sweet. Fair warning.
TitleHouse of Sticks
AuthorLy Tran
Publisher, Year
Pages
Simon & Schuster, June 2021
384 pages
Summary from Publisher“An intimate, beautifully written coming-of-age memoir recounting a young girl’s journey from war-torn Vietnam to Ridgewood, Queens, and her struggle to find her voice amid clashing cultural expectations.”
GenreMemoir, Multicultural Interest
ThemesImmigrants, Women, Coming-of-Age, Southeast Asia
Who should read this?First of all, anyone who works with immigrant children in any capacity NEEDS to read this. Seeing how the children of immigrants are caught between their parents and their new world is eye-opening. Also, I read it in one sitting, so this is not a book that will bog you down.
Why I liked itThough I loved the book, some parts–maybe most parts–of this book are horrifyingly sad. The poverty, the ignorance, the struggles with mental health are all themes of this book. Yet, overall it is a story of immigrants prevailing and succeeding in many ways.

Songbirds

What a wonderful and unusual book this is! Set in Cyprus, it sheds much needed light on migrant workers employed in different positions.
TitleSongbirds
AuthorChristy Lefteri
Publisher, Date
Pages
Penguin Random House, August 2021
336 pages
Summary from the Publisher“Inspired by the real-life disappearance of domestic workers in Cyprus, Christy Lefteri has crafted a poignant, deeply empathetic narrative of the human stories behind the headlines. With infinite tenderness and skill, Songbirds offers a triumphant story of the fight for truth and justice, and of women reclaiming their lost voices.”
GenreLiterary Fiction, Multicultural Interest
ThemesMigrants, Middle East, Women
Who should read this book?This is beautiful writing with a diversity of characters and issues. If you are the least bit curious about how other people live and the nannies from poor countries who go work in richer countries, then you should read this book. Also, if you’ve read the The Beekeeper of Aleppo (I have not) this is the same author.
Why I liked itIt took me to a land I did not know and satisfied some of my curiosity about women who go to work in different countries, leaving their own children behind. The writing is so beautiful. Also, it is a mystery and as you read it, you are compelled forward to see how it ends. (I’m not telling.) It’s hard to sum it up here, so read the publisher’s full description.

The Teller of Secrets

A coming-of-age story set mostly in Ghana

TitleThe Teller of Secrets
AuthorBisi Adjapon
Publisher, Date
Pages
HarperVia, November 2021
336 pages
Summary from the Publisher“In this stunning debut novel—a tale of self-discovery and feminist awakening—a feisty Nigerian-Ghanaian girl growing up amid the political upheaval of late 1960s postcolonial Ghana begins to question the hypocrisy of her patriarchal society, and the restrictions and unrealistic expectations placed on women.”
GenreHistorical Fiction, Multicultural Interest
ThemesAfrica, Sexuality, Coming-of-Age, Family
Who should read this book?Anyone interested in the role of women in African and looking for a promising new West African author to explore. You’ll get some history along with it, but in a very authentic way.
Why I liked itI’m keen to know more about West Africa and I always love a good coming-of-age story. The characters were quirky and fun to read about.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles

Take a journey with Nana and Satoru and learn about everything that is really important in life.

TitleThe Travelling Cat Chronicles
AuthorHiro Arikawa
Publisher, Year
Pages
Penguin Random House, 2018
288 pages
Summary from PublisherA book that “speak[s] volumes about our need for connection—human, feline or otherwise” (The San Francisco Chronicle), The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a life-affirming anthem to kindness and self-sacrifice that shows how the smallest things can provide the greatest joy—the perfect gift for cat lovers and travellers!
GenreLiterary Fiction, Multicultural Interest
ThemesJapan, Life, Travel
Who should read this book?As the review says, cat lovers and travelers. But also anyone with an interest in Japan and someone who likes inspirational stories about life. It’s an easy and short read and when you finish it, you’ll be glad that you read it and will recommend it to friends.
Why I liked itI like cats. I like Japan. It’s charming, sweet, deep but not heavy.

American Pie

One of my all-time favorite books

TitleAmerican Pie
Slices of Life (and Pie) from America’s Back Roads
AuthorPascale le Draoulec
Publisher, Year
Pages
Harper Collins, 2003
384 pages
Summary from Publisher“Crossing class and color lines, and spanning the nation (Montana has its huckleberry, Pennsylvania its shoofly, and Mississippi its sweet potato), pie—real, homemade pie—has meaning for all of us. But in today’s treadmill, take-out world—our fast-food nation—does pie still have a place?”
GenreMemoir
ThemesTravel, Food,
Who should read this?I’ve given this book to many people to read and everyone has enjoyed it. What could be more fun and interesting than two women driving across America in search of good pie? Read it to learn about small-town America, pie, and by the end of it you will be feeling compelled to bake your own pie (Yes, there are recipes.)
Why I like itIt’s just so darn quirky. The idea of taking a trip looking for good pie. No Yelp or internet played a role here. They just drove into a town and asked around about pie. There’s a Japanese word “nariyuki” which kind of translates as fate and that’s what they used to guide them for the most part. It’s fun. You WILL get hungry.

Last Summer at the Golden Hotel

Definitely not high-brow. Could be a beach read or just fun, fun, fun. After all, I did say I’d review a range of books and I enjoyed this one for exactly what it is.

TitleLast Summer at the Golden Hotel
AuthorElyssa Friedland
Publisher, Year,
Pages
Penguin Random House, 2021
384 pages
Summary from Publisher“A family reunion for the ages when two clans convene for the summer at their beloved getaway in the Catskills—perfect for fans of Dirty Dancing and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel—from the acclaimed author of The Floating Feldmans.”
GenreChick Lit
ThemesFamily, Jewish
Who should read this?As the publisher states, if you liked Dirty Dancing and Mrs. Maisel, this is your book. Also, if you enjoy reading about dysfunctional families, this is also your book. It’s funny and nostalgic and has a great ending.
Why I liked itIt’s a pandemic. I forgot that it’s a pandemic when I was reading this. Also, I am insanely in love with that time period where people went to the Catskills and got their hair done, ate fatty food and luscious desserts, and danced the bunny hop.

Between Two Kingdoms

You may remember her columns in the New York Times. Now read her book!

TitleBetween Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted
AuthorSuleika Jaouad
Publisher, Date
Pages
Penguin Random House, 2021
368 pages
Summary from Publisher“When Jaouad finally walked out of the cancer ward—after countless rounds of chemo, a clinical trial, and a bone marrow transplant—she was, according to the doctors, cured. But as she would soon learn, a cure is not where the work of healing ends; it’s where it begins. 
Jaouad embarked—with her new best friend, Oscar, a scruffy terrier mutt—on a 100-day, 15,000-mile road trip across the country. S
What she learned on this trip is that the divide between sick and well is porous, that the vast majority of us will travel back and forth between these realms throughout our lives. Between Two Kingdoms is a profound chronicle of survivorship and a fierce, tender, and inspiring exploration of what it means to begin again.”
GenreMemoir
ThemeSurvival, Health
Who should read this?I think it is a given that anyone with cancer or knowing someone with cancer should read this. Also for readers who are interested in health issues, survival, and just plain good frank writing.
Why I liked itNo sugar coating here! The author tells it like it is and it has all the feelings. So young and so articulate!

No Heaven for Good Boys

The setting, the story, the characters are all intriguing. If you know nothing of Senegal this is your book. You’ll be caught up in the story of the boys who are forced to be out begging everyday and the families they have left behind.

TitleNo Heaven for Good Boys
AuthorKeisha Bush
Publisher, Date
Pages
Random House, 2021
336 pages
Summary from Publisher“Six-year-old Ibrahimah loves snatching pastries from his mother’s kitchen, harvesting string beans with his father, and searching for sea glass with his sisters. But when he is approached in his rural village one day by Marabout Ahmed, a seemingly kind stranger and highly regarded teacher, the tides of his life turn forever. Ibrahimah is sent to the capital city of Dakar to join his cousin Étienne in studying the Koran under Marabout Ahmed for a year, but instead of the days of learning that Ibrahimah’s parents imagine, the young boys, called Talibé, are forced to beg in the streets in order to line their teacher’s pockets.”
GenreFiction, Multicultural Interest
ThemeChildren, Africa
Who should read this?Everyone should read it. It’s wonderful storytelling based on truth. So far, it is one of my favorite books this year. Highly recommended.
Why I liked itIt exposed me to a world that I knew nothing about. I fell in love with the characters and found myself rooting for them all along. And it is a story that needs to be told.