Top Ten Tuesday: Recommended reads I loved

Hello, fellow bloggers…it’s been a few days since I’ve posted, as things have been pretty hectic.

Here is my first attempt at Broke and Bookish‘s Top Ten Tuesday. This week’s topic is recommended reads. My picks all originated from friends, family and coworkers.

Without further ado …

1. “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier


“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again …”
The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.
First published in 1938, this classic gothic novel is such a compelling read that it won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century.

To give you an idea of how advanced a reader I was as a kid, I first read “Rebecca” in sixth grade (granted, I’m sure a lot of it went over my head). We were preparing for a long car trip and I was looking for some books to take with me. My mom dug out her old copy of “Rebecca,” and I instantly fell in love.

Unfortunately, that was the school year that my locker was broken into multiple times. Someone decided to rip up my Hanson posters, break several floppy disks (good Lord, this was almost 20 years ago) and – worst of all – steal that beloved book.

I gave “Rebecca” another read as a senior in high school, and the full creepiness of the story finally registered. After that, I devoured several more of her books (“Jamaica Inn” and “My Cousin Rachel” are amazing as well) and she became one of my favorite authors!

2. “The Weight of Blood” by Laura McHugh


For fans of Gillian Flynn, Scott Smith, and Daniel Woodrell comes a gripping, suspenseful novel about two mysterious disappearances a generation apart.
The town of Henbane sits deep in the Ozark Mountains. Folks there still whisper about Lucy Dane’s mother, a bewitching stranger who appeared long enough to marry Carl Dane and then vanished when Lucy was just a child. Now on the brink of adulthood, Lucy experiences another loss when her friend Cheri disappears and is then found murdered, her body placed on display for all to see. Lucy’s family has deep roots in the Ozarks, part of a community that is fiercely protective of its own. Yet despite her close ties to the land, and despite her family’s influence, Lucy—darkly beautiful as her mother was—is always thought of by those around her as her mother’s daughter. When Cheri disappears, Lucy is haunted by the two lost girls—the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn’t save—and sets out with the help of a local boy, Daniel, to uncover the mystery behind Cheri’s death.

What Lucy discovers is a secret that pervades the secluded Missouri hills, and beyond that horrific revelation is a more personal one concerning what happened to her mother more than a decade earlier.

The Weight of Blood is an urgent look at the dark side of a bucolic landscape beyond the arm of the law, where a person can easily disappear without a trace. Laura McHugh proves herself a masterly storyteller who has created a harsh and tangled terrain as alive and unforgettable as the characters who inhabit it. Her mesmerizing debut is a compelling exploration of the meaning of family: the sacrifices we make, the secrets we keep, and the lengths to which we will go to protect the ones we love.

Blood truly is thicker than water. As main character Lucy muses near the end of the book (no spoiler here): “I hadn’t taken into account how a place becomes part of you, claims you for its own. Like it or not, my roots tangled deep in the rocky soil.” This book shows how far a family is willing to go to protect its own, and that sometimes your strongest advocates aren’t blood at all.

This book was hard to put down, and while I could usually surmise what secret was waiting around the next corner, I still found myself taken by surprise many times. The way the author ties together the past and present is fascinating. There were a lot of seemingly insignificant nuances that took on deeper meaning later in the story, and I frequently found myself flipping back to previous pages, rereading certain paragraphs, and thinking, “Aha.”

My trips to and from college in Oklahoma took me through the Ozarks, and I remember thinking it was a seedy area considering its tourism industry (albeit a waning one). I swore I could hear banjos in the distance, and I heard them again when I picked up this book.

I was drawn to “The Weight of Blood” after learning the author is related to one of my best friends (a teacher), and is the sister of a lovely woman I’ve come to know professionally in recent years (also a teacher). Literary talent and passion certainly are in this family’s genes.

McHugh’s second book, “Arrowood,” came out in August and it is incredible. It’s set in my hometown, so the mentions of familiar places and events were pretty exciting.

My husband just rolled his eyes and made fun of me when our library announced that McHugh is coming to town for a book signing and reading on Nov. 29. I was giddy at the news. Yes, I have a girl crush; don’t judge me.

3. “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak


It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

This book … I can’t say enough about this book. It made me angry and happy and sorry and hopeful.

The concept of Death as a narrator made me uneasy at first, but considering that the book is set in Nazi Germany during World War II, it’s actually perfect.

Also, all the foreshadowing in the world couldn’t have prepared me for the way this book ended. I still cried, and books rarely make me cry. Liesel, you are my spirit animal …


4. “Room” by Emma Donoghue


To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

I first came across “Room” at my brother and sister-in-law’s house in 2011. I flipped through it a bit, then put it back on the shelf. Not interested.

Fast forward to 2015, when someone brought it to the book swap group I attend each month. I was a few years older by this time, and hearing it described by a friend who’d read it instead of relying on the book jacket sparked my interest.

Emma Donoghue has done something really special here – describing a strange and sad state of affairs from the perspective of a 5-year-old boy. I read “Room” shortly before the movie was released, and as usual, the book was so much better than the film. Bree Larson killed it as Ma and Jacob Tremblay was perfect in the role of Jack, but still.

Side note: Has anyone read Donoghue’s new book, “The Wonder”? Is it any good?


5. “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin


A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over – and see everything anew.

A book about a bookstore – what could be better? This is another title I learned about at book swap. I love the book blurbs at the beginning of each chapter. Mr. Fikry just wants to be left alone and sell books, but an abandoned baby and a persistent salesgirl for a publishing company have other plans.


6. “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn


On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

This book is probably about the most cliche’ choice on my list. Don’t care; I loved it. It’s the kind of book that made me ask the question, “Will I really like this? Are you sure?” and the answer from my friend was a resounding “YES.”

As I read “Gone Girl,” I remember thinking the whole time, “Wow, I’m glad I’m not ‘Amazing Amy’ crazy.” Books like this make me feel better about my life.

Final note on this book: Really tired of every new suspense thriller being dubbed “the next ‘Gone Girl'” or “for fans of Gillian Flynn.” Is it just my imagination…?


7. “Before the Fall” by Noah Hawley


On a foggy summer night, eleven people – ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the passengers disappear into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs – the painter – and a 4-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of a wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the tragedy and the backstories of the passengers and crew members – including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot – the mystery surrounding the crash heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy: Was it merely dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations – all while the reader draws closer and closer to uncovering the truth.

The fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

This book wraps up about as abruptly as, well, a plane crash. Although I felt a bit cheated by the lack of foreshadowing (even though there were subtle hints planted through the book that made me wonder), I suppose that’s what makes for a good suspense novel. I certainly was surprised by the ending, considering how much the author focuses on other characters and sets the tone for a couple of other plausible scenarios as to what – or who – caused the crash.

I enjoyed how Hawley took his time unfolding the days that led up to disaster, dissecting the lives of the main characters – even devoting a few pages to has-been-painter-turned-heroic-crash-survivor Scott Burroughs’ idol, fitness pioneer Jack LaLanne (who, by the way, was also an inspiration to my late grandmother).

And Scott, a rather unwilling hero, is by far my favorite character. Maybe everyone who reads this book feels the same, and it just goes without saying. The way he finds himself in the middle of all the chaos, considering he almost missed the flight, is a delicious irony. And the way he stands up for himself, for what he knows to be true, for the boy he rescues, and the ultimate stand he takes at the end of the book … brilliant.
I guess my takeaway from this book is that it’s best to leave your assumptions at the door …


8. “Ghost Boy” by Martin Pistorius


They all thought he was gone. But he was alive and trapped inside his own body for ten years.

In January 1988 Martin Pistorius, aged twelve, fell inexplicably sick. First he lost his voice and stopped eating. Then he slept constantly and shunned human contact. Doctors were mystified. Within eighteen months he was mute and wheelchair-bound. Martin’s parents were told an unknown degenerative disease left him with the mind of a baby and less than two years to live.

Martin was moved to care centers for severely disabled children. The stress and heartache shook his parents’ marriage and their family to the core. Their boy was gone. Or so they thought.

Ghost Boy is the heart-wrenching story of one boy’s return to life through the power of love and faith. In these pages, readers see a parent’s resilience, the consequences of misdiagnosis, abuse at the hands of cruel caretakers, and the unthinkable duration of Martin’s mental alertness betrayed by his lifeless body.

We also see a life reclaimed—a business created, a new love kindled—all from a wheelchair. Martin’s emergence from his own darkness invites us to celebrate our own lives and fight for a better life for others.

I don’t read many books about medical oddities and miracles and such, but this man’s story is intriguing. He overcame unimaginable odds, determined to lead as normal a life as possible.


9. “Among My Klediments” by June Carter Cash


June Carter Cash, wife of 35 years to Johnny Cash, daughter of legendary Maybelle Carter, mother of country singers John, Carlene & Rosanne and a member of the legendary singing Carter family (also a distant cousin to former President Jimmy Carter) shares her childhood memories as well as her life as a famous country entertainer. June Carter Cash passed away in 2003 at the age of 73. A warm, witty and intensely honest memoir.

I loved this intimate look into the life of a First Lady of country music. I found it on my desk one day, a used book sale find picked up by a coworker.

I’ve read several of Johnny Cash’s biographies as well as his autobiography. It was interesting to read about him from his wife’s perspective, and to learn more about where she came from and the struggles she faced over the years.

10. “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien


In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when it was first published in 1937. Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent.

I had no interest in Tolkien’s work until the release of the first “Lord of the Rings” movie when I was a sophomore in high school. I borrowed a friend’s copy of “The Hobbit,” and I finished it in two days. I’m typically not a big fan of fantasy, and most of Tolkien’s work is so detail-oriented it’s overwhelming. What drew me in were the characters – especially the hobbits. I wouldn’t mind living in a cozy hole in the Shire, myself.


Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

I’ll be back with more literary goodness in a day or two. Good night, friends!

3 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Recommended reads I loved

  1. Before the Fall has been on my read list for a while. I debated about reading Gone Girl then went and watched the movie (books are always better) and hated the ending so much I’ve scratched the book from my list. I do love Tolkien’s trilogy. I read it as a sophomore in high school too, but that was many moons ago 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Book Traveling Thursdays: Favorite author | That Book Lady Blog

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