I have been a reader nearly all my life – in fact, I have a vivid memory of when I looked down at the pages of a book and could suddenly read the words for the first time! I gravitate towards books that deal with tough topics such as mental health, family dynamics, self-identity, sociopolitical issues, and religion; those topics dominate both my fiction and nonfiction reading. When I need a break from more serious topics, I look for a good love story, or step into the realm of magic and the paranormal. I also enjoy history and historical fiction, as well as family sagas or novels that follow one character throughout their life. Two of my favorite books are White Teeth by Zadie Smith and The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, both family sagas with complex characters, but one being contemporary (White Teeth) and the other historical (The Thorn Birds). Character is what matters to me most, even in nonfiction! I like to “meet” people through my reading and learn about their lives, and the more connected I feel, the more likely I am to love the book.
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Rachel’s Book Reviews
A darkly humorous and multifaceted saga, Smith’s story of a modern London struggling to accept its relatively new status as a multicultural society gives an honest view of humanity through multiple lenses. With characters you’ll love and hate (and the lines are often blurry), Smith examines the thorny realities of race and culture that arise when new people come to an old place.
Told through a child’s eyes, this novel focuses on the pervasive racism in a small Alabama town in the 1930’s, and particularly the trial of a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. Atticus Finch, the child narrator’s father, defends the black man in court, and throughout the book dispenses enough wisdom and kindness to easily become one of the best characters in all of literature. With lovable characters and important lessons that are still relevant, this novel is a must-read.
The Thorn Birds is a sweeping historical family saga set in New Zealand and Australia. With a strong cast of characters and an absorbing plot, readers will find themselves engrossed in each character’s story, our connection to each generation made stronger by our familiarity with their predecessors. Dealing with themes of love, loss, morality, and desire, this read is a satisfying journey that is sure to stick with you.
Don’t be fooled by the silly title; this Young Adult novel is an incredible work of body positivity, before the movement swept over social media. Told from the perspective of a young, curvy woman, the book explores how weight can affect a person’s self-image, self-worth, and relationships with others. An unflinching look at how our society treats heavy people, with a hopeful message of self-acceptance at the end.
An undeniable classic, Jane Eyre is the tale of an orphaned girl who, after finishing her term at the harsh and joyless Lowood School, becomes a governess at the mysterious Thornfield Hall. There she meets Mr. Rochester, who both confuses and impassions her. The two come to confess their feelings for one another, but the story doesn’t end there; ensuing events leave Jane in a crisis of morals, and this novel is largely about her struggle to decide between what she wants and what she feels is right.
Absorbing and well-written historical fiction with a love story at its heart, this novel has something for most people to enjoy. Whether you have a fascination with royalty, ancient Egypt, or relationships and family dynamics, Moran’s addictive novel will have you quickly invested of the tale of Nefertari, a woman who comes to power through marriage despite being related to the late, and hated, queen Nefertiti.
Widely known for its movie adaptation, Girl, Interrupted is a memoir of a woman’s internal struggle and her time in a mental health facility. Well-written, honest, and moving, this personal story will firmly place you in Kaysen’s perspective. Even if you’ve already seen the film, this relatively short but highly impactful work is well worth the read.
A heartfelt tale of a widowed father who is left with the overwhelming task of raising his children alone, this is an accessible novel that tells a story that isn’t often told. Set in Hawaii, the novel offers an honest view of parenthood, with a surrounding theme of what remains when a people and culture no longer have true ownership of the land that was once their own.
A hefty novel with a strong sense of place, this story, set in Maine in the 1930s and ‘40s, focuses on the life of Homer Wells, who grew up in an orphanage-slash-clinic with a doctor who provides illegal, but safe, abortions. The novel follows Wells from his childhood in the orphanage through his adulthood spent working at an apple orchard; all the while, our main character struggles with his sense of self and various moral dilemmas. Told with humor and unsentimental acknowledgement of what makes us all human, the novel also offers an intelligent discussion of one of our society’s most debated topics.
Truly unique, this is a paranormal Young Adult novel unlike any other you’ve read. Dark, beautifully written, and tackling serious issues such as depression, drug use, and fundamentalism, this book explores the concept of the soul and what might, potentially, make someone lose it. The novel centers on two ghosts who take over the bodies of soulless teenagers, and we get a first-hand look at the reality and consequences of abuse.