And now, to break my five-month-long silence . . . it's time for my recap of recent reading! And by "recent" I mean, everything I've read since the last time I did this, which I believe was around this time last year.
Rescuing Julia Twice: A Mother's Tale of Russian Adoption and Overcoming Reactive Attachment Disorder
by Tina Traster
I was a little disappointed by this book. The writing was fine, the story was interesting . . . it was just that it wasn't really a book about Reactive Attachment Disorder. It was more of a story about an unhappy woman with mother issues learning to cope with the ups and downs of her own motherhood and learning to accept the child she has, not the child she wants.
I did a longer review of this book on Adoption.com. Read it here.
by Mary Doria Russell
This is one of my favorite books of all time ever. It's sci-fi, but don't let that throw you. There is a lot of depth and beauty in this story. Russell creates a cast of characters who are realistic and engaging. (I actually talk about them as though they are my real-life friends, a habit that is unnerving to my poor husband.) The novel includes the exploration of a new planet, where the space travelers--a modge-podge group of people that includes scientists, priests, and a doctor--encounter an entirely new planet peopled by two distinct intelligent races. Drawing on her background as an anthropologist, Russell's world is believable and fascinating, the cultures and ethical and moral questions that arise from them, mesmerizing. On top of this, she explores the complexities of faith, the limits of human suffering, and the age-old "problem of evil." She accomplishes all this with sweeping grace, without being pushy or didactic, and prose that reads like poetry.
by Jodi Picoult
You can't ever go wrong with Jodi Picoult. The Storyteller is the story of Sage, a lonely baker who strikes up an unlikely relationship with an elderly man who visits her bakery regularly. As the two get to know each other more closely, he entrusts her with a terrible secret, a secret that touches her family's past in a profound way.
This was a fascinating look at the Holocaust from the perspectives of both a Nazi soldier and from a victim living in a concentration camp. For me, it brought the horrors of the Holocaust down to a very personal level, helping me see both the horrors, the utter lack of humanity, and the few beautiful that emerged from this event. Picoult succeeds in weaving together the modern plot with the Holocaust story in a tasteful and thought-provoking way.
(A delightful part of The Storyteller is the bakery where Sage works. It is called "Our Daily Bread" and run by a former nun with hot pink hair. The barrista is a dude who speaks only in Haiku.)
That One About Near Death Experiences
I totally don't remember what it was called or who it was by. It was interesting, but only followed the stories of a few people. I didn't really love its structure. I much preferred Life After Life.
by Larry Murray
This is a sweet story that lifts the heart and makes you want to be a better person. The main character, Charles, is an adorable old man whom I absolutely love. (I'm a sucker for adorable old men.) I learned so much about dairy farming and now, whenever I'm sick of doing the dishes or cleaning the house, I say to myself, "At least I'm not getting up at 4:00 AM seven days a week to milk the cows."
by Jodi Picoult
This heavily-researched novel provided a lot of insight into the mind and struggles of someone who has high-functioning autism, as well as a peek into how autism impacts families. A compelling mystery keeps the story and characters moving.
The Red Tent
by Anita Diamant
This is another one of those books that I'm a decade late in coming to, but it was fascinating. I was so intrigued by the feminine perspective of the biblical world as imagined by Anita Diamant. This story was made even more interesting by the fact that I was simultaneously reading Karen Armstrong's A History of God, which provided me with a better perspective on the book's melding and merging of pagan religion with the monotheistic faith of the Israelites.
A History of God
by Karen Armstrong
I didn't actually finish reading this book, because when I was about halfway through Abraham informed me that it wasn't well-regarded in "History of Religion" circles. It was fascinating, though, and I would love to find something similar but possibly more academically accepted.
by Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart was taken from her home in the middle of the night at knife-point. She was forced to camp in the mountains above her home town for months, then in a makeshift camp in California, suffering starvation, humiliation, and degradation. Her experiences were gripping, but in reading this book I was most impressed with the grace with which she handled her situation, her ability to have gratitude while she suffered while experiencing intense physical and emotional deprivations and daily sexual assault, her unwavering faith in God, and her ability to overcome what she had experienced and move forward to live a full and healthy life. This was a fascinating read.
by Lee Child
Typical Jack Reacher. Nothing to shout about from the rooftops, but an entertaining read.
by Andrew Morton
I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I read this. It was like reading a 400-page long People magazine, with less pictures. But I just couldn't stop, despite the book's aggravating misuse of commas. It was intriguing to observe Jolie's transformation from the epitome of Hollywood "bad girl" to a wife, mother of six, and inspirational philanthropist.
Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail
by Malika Oufkir
Malika Oufkir was raised in a palace by the king of Morocco, brought there as a companion for his younger sister. She viewed the king as a second father, and he loved her equally as well. Her family was wealthy and very prominent in the country, her father serving as the country's military leader. She was raised in opulence, enjoying every comfort life could offer, surrounded by friends and riches and adventures. She had high hopes of becoming a famous movie actress. And then everything crumbled. Her father led an unsuccessful coups against the king and was perfunctorily executed. The king then had her and her mother and her five younger siblings imprisoned for the next twenty years. She describes their suffering and deprivation and the courageous way they maintained their sanity during those dark years. After fifteen years of being locked away, she and her siblings dug a tunnel with their bare hands . . . and escaped.
Tess of the D'urbervilles
by Thomas Hardy
I didn't finish this book because I lost it halfway through. But I've read it before. And it's good. My coworker Courtney picked it up and was riveted through the entire tale. She'd come into my office and we would gripe together about its heart-breaking plot twists.
Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage
by Kay Bratt
When Kay Bratt and her family moved to China for a period of several years, she decided to make her time there meaningful by volunteering in an orphanage. However, what started as a few hours a week spent helping out in an orphanage snowballed into a massive effort to significantly improve the quality of life for the children living there. Appalled by the conditions she found in the orphanages, and the way the staff treated the children, Bratt worked first to build trust with the staff at the orphanage. Once they were comfortable with her, she was able to bring about great improvements, leading a growing group of volunteers and soliciting donations to help the children with their daily and medical needs. Her experiences were fascinating to me, and very eye-opening about the importance of reaching out and helping children around the world.
by Ally Condie
YA dystopian fiction, starring an emotionally repressed female protagonist who is in love with a guy who has a name that's actually a word. So it felt a little cliched, but I still enjoyed it. Condie has an appealing writing style and an imagination that created a fascinating futuristic world.