The Good Father is a touching story about what it means to be a parent, told from the perspectives of three characters. Travis is a young single father who fought for custody of his child, even though he was a teen parent. His love for his daughter is unconditional and overwhelming. After a family tragedy,in desperation, he is forced to make some difficult choices in order to provide for Bella, and the repercussions of those decisions may be devastating for him and his daughter. Robin has put the daughter she gave away out of her mind–she was deathly ill at the time of the birth and agreed to give up custody. Erin is a mother lost in grief after the death of her three year old daughter. Their lives intersect when Travis and Bella meet Erin at a local coffee shop and though she is struggling with her grief, Erin recognizes that Travis and Bella are in need of help and she extends her kindness to them. Alternating chapters tell the story from each characters point of view, offering gradual insights into their intertwined relationships. This is a touching and powerful story about compassion, grief, choices, and unconditional love, with suspense and plot twists added. If you are a fan of Jodi Picoult or Kristen Hannah, you will enjoy this complex and heartfelt novel.
In this extraordinary memoir, Jim Abbott tells the story of his life as a child and of the years before and after becoming a major league pitcher. Not just a biography nor just a baseball story, Imperfect: an Improbable Life is the story of a man’s perseverance and dedication to overcome his physical disability and to gain acceptance for his achievements as a player and a person, not only as a disabled person. Abbott was born without a right hand and was raised by two young parents who provided unconditional love and who taught Jim to regard his disability as an opportunity and a challenge. As a child, Abbott hides his right arm in a pocket, enduring the teasing of other children for being different. He plays baseball and football with neighborhood children and gains acceptance for his abilities on the playing field. Hours of throwing a ball against a wall improve his pitching and his technique to throw then place the ball glove on his left hand for fielding. Abbott eventually plays high school baseball and football, wins an Olympic Gold Medal for baseball, was an All-American player the University of Michigan and is drafted by the California A’s baseball team. The book follows the ups and downs of his baseball career, and chapters about his life alternate with chapters describing each inning of the no-hitter that he pitched while playing for the New York Yankees. Inspiring is Abbott’s humility, and his belief that his example of achievement despite obstacles will inspire children with disabilities to reach for their own dreams. The most touching moments in his story are those before and after each game, when Abbott spent countless hours signing autographs, talking with families of children with disabilities, and answering hundreds of letters from disabled children.
Told with honesty and humor, this is a memoir not only about a career in baseball but of a life that inspires us all to overcome the burdens and challenges of living.
What would you take? When the Soviet police come to take her family away, fifteen year old Lina has 20 minutes to pack to leave her home in Lithuania. She chooses a few clothes, a family photograph, and drawing paper and pencils, leaving the loaf of bread cooling on the counter. She cherishes her treasures, but can’t help wishing she had also brought the bread. She and her mother and little brother are shipped to Siberia packed in train cars, always worrying about and missing her father. Through the book more and more of their dignity is stripped away as they experience horrible hunger, cold, and back-breaking work under the watchful eye of the completely unpredictable Soviet police force. But in the midst of this extremely grim story, we also get glimpses of the humanity that Lina and her fellow prisoners cling to; moments of sharing, kindness, and celebration together. And through it all, Lina draws with whatever she can get ahold of including dirt and ashes. The other prisoners smuggle bits of paper for her to use, having seen her special gift for expressing the truth of their experiences.
Between Shades of Gray brings to light a part of history that is often neglected. Powell’s story examines the basis of what it means to be human, expressing the best and worst of those in difficult situations, equally present in the police as in the prisoners. The subject matter is somewhat grim, but Lina’s determination to live and draw and the moments of kindness add enough light to make it a truly rewarding read.
This political thriller by Adam Johnson deservedly gets starred reviews from BookList, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal. The Orphan Master’s Son takes place in modern-day North Korea. The book follows the life of Pak Jun Do, from an orphanage, to a tunnel soldier, kidnapper, hero, starving prisoner, and impersonator. I had difficulty putting this book down even though I knew there were most likely horrors waiting around the corner. It was like watching a train wreck about to happen but being unable to take your eyes off of it. Reading about some of the physical and mental torture, starving people, and other brutalities inflicted on individuals was hard to stomach. To give a further sense of living under a dictatorship, the book is interspersed with narration by the national radio station that spouts propaganda all day long. As people are starving and living in constant fear, the national broadcasts paint a rosy picture of North Korea while portraying western nations as villainous. Some of the propaganda is so darkly funny that I would almost catch myself laughing at its absurdity. And of course the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il is ever present, if not physically then always in thought. The reader gets a real sense of the fear that the North Korean constantly lives under, where one misspoken word from yourself, lie from another, or bad luck can spell doom for yourself and your family. Amidst all the tragedy, there are some very touching moments and the love story is truly heartwarming. Obviously, don’t pick up this book if you’re looking for a light, feel-good read, but if you want a book that is intense and thought provoking, that will keep you thinking long after you have finished reading it, put this on your to-read list for 2012.
After contracting tropical pneumonia on a family vacation to the Dominican Republic and getting a taste of his own mortality, author A.J. Jacobs decides to go on a two year quest to become the healthiest man alive. Jacobs decides to go about this by tackling one body part per month. He starts with the stomach and finishes up with the skull. Along the way, he focuses on everything from the adrenal gland (lower his stress levels) to the skin to the hands. Throughout the book, Jacobs shares interesting studies that have been conducted about health and we learn how many health claims by “experts” are dubious at best. Jacobs approaches the topic of his own health with skepticism, humor, and a willingness to try new things in the name of trying to become the healthiest man alive. He obviously doesn’t make his goal, but he learns a lot along the way (and shares it with his readers). This isn’t a how-to-manual, but the quirky story of Jacobs’ experiences and the many people he meets along the way as he tries to improve his health.