The Kitchen House
Kathleen Grissom (Adult Fiction)
The Kitchen House tells the story of seven-year old Lavinia, an Irish orphan with no memory, who is taken by the owner of a tobacco plantation to live on his estate. She is assigned to work in the kitchen house and placed in the care of Belle, the owner’s illegitimate daughter. The story takes several dramatic turns as tragedy befalls the household and Livinia’s race begins to interfere with her intended social status.
This is one of those books that opens with a heart-wrenching scene from the end of the book (current time) and then brings you back to the beginning of the story (the past). I love this writing technique as it immediately creates a sense of urgency and tension. Alternating narratives between Livinia and Belle, this book combines the best and worst of the human condition while masterfully pulling the reader along for an unforgettable journey from the big house to the kitchen house.
Ray Bradbury (Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy)
Long ago, there was a time when firemen used to put out fires rather than start them. Now, they proudly display on their helmets and jackets the number “451”—the Fahrenheit temperature at which book paper ignites and burns.
Guy Montag has been a fireman for 10 years, which means his job is to burn books. In the future, both reading and owning books are illegal. One night, his life is irrevocably changed when his young neighbor asks him a seemingly simple question: “Are you happy?” This question sets Guy on a course that will attempt to restore a sense of individual freedom in a world dominated by collective control.
Bradbury describes a future where a “happy” and thriving society is one devoid of outside influences, which may disrupt the status quo by promoting independent thought and ideas. This book revisits the old question, “Would you rather be right or happy?” This is one of Bradbury’s best works and a reminder of the hope, power, and knowledge that lies within a dust jacket.
The Egypt Game
Zilpha Keatley Snyder (Juvenile Fiction)
April Hall is anything but a typical sixth grader. Having a “movie star” mother, it is easy to understand why April prefers to be called April Dawn, wears false eyelashes, and sports a mile-high hairdo. What in the world could she possibly have in common with Melanie Ross, a girl that lives in her same apartment building? Why, ancient Egypt, of course! Thus begins an amazing friendship that involves secrets, codes, ancient ceremonies, and danger. This story not only provides readers with some history, but offers important lessons on inclusion, forgiveness, compassion, and courage. SPOILER: There is a part of the book that involves the murder of a child (no gory details), so parents should take this into account when dealing with sensitive readers.
We are All Welcome Here
Elizabeth Berg (Adult Fiction)
I read Elizabeth Berg’s Open House as it was an “Oprah pick” and was left less than dazzled. Second time is clearly the charm! Set in 1964 Tupelo, Mississippi, the story of Diana Dunn and her paralyzed mother Paige is heartfelt and solid, yet at times painful and cruel. But the life they manage to forge together, along with Paige’s black caregiver Peacie, is unforgettable, therapeutic, and inspiring.
My Side of the Mountain
Jean Craighead George (Juvenile Fiction)
When Sam Gribley decided to run away from his New York apartment and live in the Catskill Mountains, everyone laughed…even his own father. But that is exactly what he did, armed with only a penknife, ball of cord, ax, flint and steel, and $40 from selling magazine subscriptions. With grit, determination, skill, and courage, Sam not only survives on the mountain, but discovers things about himself that he never thought possible. Beautifully detailed and crafted, My Side of the Mountain is a story for all ages and for all time.
The Poisonwood Bible
Barbara Kingsolver (Adult Fiction)
This is the story of a Baptist missionary family who travel to the Belgian Congo in 1959. Having the mother and four daughters each narrate this story gives the reader five thoughtful and unique viewpoints of the same events. At 543 pages, the novel spans three decades, but seems to go well beyond its natural endpoint and unnecessarily drags out to the point of reader fatigue. The author could have easily skimmed 150 pages and still had a poignant and interesting story. I gave it 4 stars rather than 3 because the writing is superb; however, the author does get very political and uncomfortably preachy at times.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Brian Selznik (Juvenile Fiction)
An enchanting and mesmerizing book that is as much of a treat for the eyes as it is for the heart. Brian Selznik’s original drawings masterfully tell the story of 12-year old Hugo, an orphan who secretly repairs the clocks of a Paris train station after the disappearance of his uncle. Selznik provides readers with a mini-movie that can easily be forwarded or rewound with the simple flip of a page. I knew about Georges Méliès before reading this story and was delighted to be able to revisit him on a more personal level. Although you can read this book over a weekend, its beauty and compassion will stay with you far longer.