It has been a great year for reading and as the year starts to wind down to a close… I have piles of books that have been read, and some of them reread, sitting on my desk and waiting for me to post their reviews… Steady yourself, December is always a good month for book reviews on our website… And there are about to be book review posts… all in a row. I thought I would begin with the adult and young adult books… because all Christmas shopping should actually begin with a gift for yourself.
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know
by Malcolm Gladwell
Let me start by saying that I am a massive Malcolm Gladwell fan and consider two of his previous books required reading for our high schoolers: Outliers and Tipping Point are superb. That being said, while I enjoyed this one, I would not have carried on to read his other books if this had been his first – if that makes sense. That being said, this is a really interesting read as he puts human behaviour to the test and tries to work out why we are so bad at reading the signs and signals from those around us, and even worse at interpreting strangers. He takes on a number of case studies, notorious cases, where those in power were convinced they were doing the right thing, and it later turned out that they had misread things. Spies that continued to spy from within the enemy lines, convicted killers that were innocent, national leaders that couldn’t read the enemy… and interestingly enough why it is so hard to read abuse cases, why exactly don’t victims shout out and why does it take years to pry their stories from them. The shocking truth about suicides and their not-so-coincidental link to the surrounding circumstances, was a really devastating chapter to read.
The takeaway from this book, apart from the astonishing fact that computer programmes with a questionnaire are better equipped to determine “truth or lie” ability of hardened criminals than an experienced judge and seasoned member of the courts… is that we are not very good at reading the truth in others, we assume we can read them, we assume transparency, only to discover we are quite mistaken. In everyday life this leads to difficulties, and at critical times it leads to tragedy.
I listened to the audible of this book… it is a bit of a production, and not a straight reading through of the book. Wherever he could he used first hand recordings of interviews, rather than just reading the written dialogue. It made for interesting listening, I thought it was great, I felt like part of the book. Otherwise, I have to add, this is not a book that I would let my younger teens read, and if your are a sensitive reader then it might not be the best read for you, there are detailed descriptions of se.xual crimes, murder scenes and suicide. That being said, I recommended it to the young adults in our house… it is a thought provoking book that will help you to see that there is another side to every story.
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
The most absolute and perfect holiday read… it arrived on my desk wrapped in stars… and it deserved them. If you are looking for a book to pop on your wishlist, then this is the one. And I have to say that I was sceptical, because cynical me, this book was highly acclaimed long before it was published. I went in thinking I would read the first couple of chapters and then let it go if I didn’t love it. Well, I absolutely loved it… from start to finish I was intrigued. This is the story of an English girl, in the early 1900’s, who traveled across the world to escape her “everything needs to be just so” family life and a life with an overbearing mother, who just wanted her married and out of her hands. Her lucky escape, with the seemingly perfect American stranger, wasn’t quite as perfect as she had imagined. On arrival in America she discovered that not only was her husband dominated by his over powering father, and financial head (read bully) of the town, but he wasn’t the true love that she thought he would be. Since she has nothing to compare him to, she assumes that this is what married life is all about and her ideal of married life was a mere fantasy. She did the only thing she knew how to do, to avoid her bitter disappointment and the lack of love in her life, and she got busy. Really, really busy.
To escape her trapped existence, she volunteered for a new venture in town, a traveling library. She was joined by a group of feisty women, who were determined to carry books into the heart of mountain country, and as these women rode out each day, whatever the weather, they won the hearts of the locals, and along with recipes, they shared their hearts. This book is a real heart warmer, though annoying at times, because you so want things to go right for our heroine. It is a historical saga, set in Kentucky in the 1930’s, with loads of happiness and tragedy, broken hearts and enduring and endearing love, adventures and escapades, and drama… loads of drama. It is a great holiday read and if you are looking to gift someone with a good book.. then this is the one.
Beneath the Surface by Fiona Neill
This book is about sisters… Lilly, the perfectly pretty, A+ student, seventeen year old, swim team sister, who never gets anything wrong (except she claims to have hidden a pregnancy test in the garage, but is it hers?); and Mia, the ten year old, mixed up kid, at the awkward stage where you know there is more going on in life than childhood, but you can’t quite grasp the adult world. Then of course there is their grasping helicopter parenting mother, who never quite gives either of them a break. It turns out that under stress, we all react very differently, and when their debt ridden father moves them to the countryside of his childhood, the reclaimed land of the Fenlands… things start to go horribly, horribly wrong for the family.
Entwined with looking absolutely normal to the world at large, it is very far from that with secrets bubbling away beneath the surface, layers and layers of them as you read on. There is a dark mystery surrounding the river, there are teenage relationships that the headstrong mother would not approve of… had she known. And ten year old Mia has finally discovered friendship, but being the ultra weird kid that she is, obsessed with the ancient past and the fossilised women in the Fen, she is not able to manage her friendship at all well. Things begin to spiral out of control when Lilly, buckles under the stress of it all, has a seizure in class… and her mum cannot accept that it is anything but a contagious illness, Mia is convinced it is a message from the distant past. Everything comes together in the last pages of the book, but you have to wind your way through the entire suspenseful book as things get further and further out of control and eventually everything comes to a head on a wild and stormy night. Not exactly a thriller, but there is a heavy air of suspense throughout the book. It’s a great weekend or holiday read, to be honest I read it overnight… quick read, family drama, teenage drama, all the drama.
My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
I heard about this book at the Penguin Highlights Show earlier this year, and always on the look out for a book that I can listen to with the father person… I chose this one from audible. This ticked all the boxes for: gripping, creepy and not entirely far fetched. Our usual… let’s listen for fifteen minutes before we go to sleep, became just fifteen minutes more, and then some. The story is, that a man and his wife, both with somewhat troubled childhoods, end up living what appears to be the most perfect life in the world… two teens, doing normal teenage stuff, perfect house, not so perfect jobs, but they are doing okay, more than okay. They have a past time, that began somewhat accidentally, they are serial killers… yup, serial killers. It very quickly emerges that they are less than honest with each other, and trust in this marriage can definitely not be taken for granted… they play each other off so well, who is trying to frame who… throughout the book your alliance changes, switching to and fro between the husband and the wife. Who is the main protagonist? Hard to say… but girls are disappearing and together they are responsible. This anything but heartwarming, but if you are looking for a tension filled read to get lost in, then you have it.
Young Adult/Teen Reads
The Truth About Keeping Secrets by Savannah Brown
This book comes with content warnings and is definitely not for my younger tween/teen audience, but it is a great young adult read and deals with tons of issues. I really enjoyed this book, a thoroughly gripping story. It opens at a funeral, Sydney our teenage protagonist, has lost her dad and she cannot understand why the school beauty queen is at the funeral. It turns out that while everyone believes that Sydney’s father died in a tragic accident, the only thing that Sydney is sure of is that it was a tragedy. While folk around her are convinced that she is battling to come to terms with her father’s death, she finds herself on a mission to prove otherwise. Turns out that June, who is in a complicated relationship with the richest boy in town, was a patient of her father’s, the only therapist around. But why, June’s life appears to be perfect?
June takes on the somewhat anti-social Sydney as a “project,” and gets her out of the house and back to school everyday. While Sydney, starts to lose herself in the friendship, at the expense of other folk around her… June may have ulterior motives for befriending her. The characters in this book are so real, you could know them, and that’s what makes it such a good read. Honestly, all these characters could be living next door, they are so real. They make mistakes, they recover from them… but the biggest mistake of them all, you would not believe. The book is gripping to the end, Sydney was so right to be sceptical… and of course there is a race against time. Gripping read… I really enjoyed it… a tame thriller/who dunnit/mystery that can easily be read in a weekend… The reason I count it as young adult, is because the teenage relationships in the book are complicated, and June was seeing Sydney’s Father for a reason.
The Places I have Cried in Public by Holly Bourne
Holly Bourne is a genius of teen and young adult literature… and while my older teens could read this book, I wouldn’t leave it lying around for my tweens to dip into. If you are looking for a “little unrequited love story” then this is not the title for you… it is the first time I have read a book for teens about emotional abuse (and every other kind of abuse), where the topic is covered honestly and with a good outcome. The story is about Amelie, the new girl in town… who has left her true love, Alfie in the north, and has started at a fresh school, fresh city… every thing is new, including the good looking and extremely charming Reese. Everybody warns her about Reese, but his charm envelopes her and she cannot see how he is twisting her into his web. The story unfolds as Amelie makes a map, and each chapter is a visit to a site where she has sat and cried… and by the end of the book she has cried and cried and cried.
I like Amelie, she is a regular gal, who likes her parents, she works well with her teachers, she is liked at school… and then finds herself trapped in the grip of a seemingly nice guy. She loses her friends, her school work stumbles, she distances herself from her parents… everything changes. A wise and experienced councillor helps Amelie to recognise the trap that she finds herself in…
This book is an important read, one that will give hope to the hurting and relief to those who have been hurt, it is written for survivors and victims. It is one thing for your kids to know that, “You’re no means no,” and when love hurts this much that it just isn’t love, but if they can read it in a book and hear it from another voice… then that’s magic right there. Holly Bourne has written a treasure here, not an easy read, but an excellent read. The kind of situation most parents wouldn’t want their kids to be in, and the kind of book that they wish had been available to them when they were younger. Do the maths: Our kids find themselves in tricky situations, and it is books like these that help know that there really is help for them, or their friends out there. I have to say that it is the first book I have read, ever, where the councillor is helpful, not just to Amelie, but to the reader, she is a good listener and provides sound comments, for Amelie to think about. She doesn’t fix, but she does support Amelie through this really difficult time. I would love to meet Amelie in a few years time, she has endeared herself to me, and I want to know that she is okay, that she survives it all. I am putting this book on to my “Best Books of the Year List”… it deserves it on every level.
And a Teen Read
Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Miracle
Finally, a book without a hidden agenda… just a read about some teens, it is sweet, it is light and it is lovely. I was a little put off when I discovered that it was a collection of three short stories, but I quickly got over that when I realised that all the characters, and so the stories were connected.
- The Jubilee Express by Maureen Johnson: Jubilee, is gathering her thoughts for the perfect Christmas Eve party with her “perfect” boyfriend (who seems to have quite a few faults!), when she gets a call to say that her parents have been arrested and she needs to catch a train to Florida, to spend Christmas with her grandparents. This is of course the ultimate teenage nightmare, only it gets worse, because her train is caught in a typical East Coast winter storm… and she finds herself seeking refuge in a Waffle House surrounded by thirteen Cheerleaders…
- A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle by John Green: Tobin’s parents are caught out of town for Christmas, they can’t get home because of the storm, so he decides to spend the holiday binge watching bond movies with his mates. These guys have been friends, since forever, and one of the guys, Angie, isn’t so much the tomboy she used to be anymore… and though they have been somewhat blinkered until now, she is definitely not just one of the guys anymore. Needless to say, when his friend that works at the Waffle House calls to say that they have been invaded by cheerleaders, he and the guys decide that a dash through a blizzard, for a worthy cause, would be far better time spent than a movie marathon. Somewhat predictable…
- The Patron Saint of Pigs by Lauren Myracle: This is the story of Addie, who is an extremely self absorbed teen, who not only kissed a boy, who wasn’t her boyfriend, but then thought that saying “sorry” would fix it. Basically, Addie has a lot of growing up to do and the redeeming feature of this book is very much: the tea cup pig… have you ever heard of a teacup pig… it is a thing, pop over to instagram and take a look!!!
If you love Christmas reads and love stories and happy endings… then this is a great read for you… I know my John Green fan is going to absolutley love this!!!
Amazon Affiliate Links to The Books in this Post
All these books were given to us for review purposes by Penguin Random House South Africa and Struik Nature. This is not a sponsored post and opinions expressed are entirely our own.