Growing up much of my young life without television made me an avid reader. Trips to the library were my weekly highlight and I often read my favorites over and over again. My happy place is in an independent bookstore where the clerks have penned a brief description of why they like a certain book. I often times find generic online descriptions don’t really match the reality of the story, I want to know the real deal before delving into a book. I prefer personal recommendations rather than blindly picking something off the New York Times Bestseller list. Many people are big fans of Oprah’s Book Club picks, but I must admit I am not. Selections by Jenna Bush Hager for the Today Book Club or Reese Witherspoon for her Hello Sunshine Book Club are generally more to my liking, although I have found my all-time favorite books through friends. I have been in a small amazing book club for more than a decade and while I have not loved every book we have read, I appreciate having my literary horizons expanded to new book genres I would not normally pick.
While the world is currently in pause mode, you may have a few extra moments and want to reread an old classic or try something new. I asked the Friends of the Library ladies and gentlemen and my book club friends for their top recommendations in the hope of opening up your reading horizons and giving you an enjoyable escape. And while I prefer to hold a real paper book, I also own a kindle to read on trips and now use in quarantine. I always keep a list of sample books available for when I am in search of the next great read. You don’t have to be a bibliophile to enjoy a good book.
Let’s start with Non-Fiction and Memoirs ~
- Both Tattoos on the Heart and Barking to the Choir by Gregory Boyle come highly recommended by all my friends who read them, Carolyn says “Love and trust brought to the gangs of Los Angeles by a priest. Stories from his heart about tragedy and redemption, written with humor and inspiration. My go-to book when I need to be reminded of the far-reaching effects of kindness.”
- Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown has been around for a few years and is an inspiring read and interesting angle of World War II for both men and women. “Loved this book because the underdog wins! The author wrote with great detail, one could smell the wood as it was honed to perfection and feel the cold sea as the boys practiced in the early morning to realize their dream of a lifetime,” comments Carolyn.
- From the moment I picked up The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls and read the first page where she was in her elegant attire in a limo and saw her mother dumpster diving, I was hooked. Her superb writing somehow makes you not feel so sad for her desperate life situation growing up. The movie version of this book is also excellent, which is often not the case for books made into movies. Walls has written two other books about her family’s life, Half Broke Horses and The Silver Star, but The Glass Castle is by far my favorite.
- Although Wonder by R.J. Palacio is categorized as teen reading, I think adults will find Augie Pullman a hero as well. The movie is also excellent, and this story inspired the Choose Kind movement which is always a message the world needs to hear.
- Friends of the Library President Marsi recommends Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harar, saying “This is a book about a brief history of mankind. My younger son read it and told me it changed the way he viewed the world. It is easy to read, was well researched, and provided me with a perspective on how humans have radically changed the earth in a very short period of time.”
- Both Marsi and I highly recommend The League of Wives by Heath Hardage Lee, who recently spoke here. This is a book about wives of military men captured by the Vietnamese during the war and how they worked valiantly to have their spouses released and treated better while imprisoned. These wives and mothers, many from Coronado including one of the leaders Sybil Stockdale, in the mid to late 1960s and early 1970s, formed an alliance and through grit and determination worked together to achieve a goal.
- The Invisible Wall, The Dream, and Golden Willow are all part of the amazing trilogy by Harry Bernstein, who started penning these memoirs at the age of 93. You won’t soon forget these haunting WWI true stories.
- In the true story of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, William Kamkwamba makes the best in dire circumstances in his country of Malawi. I guarantee you will be impressed with his ingenuity and the difference one can make even under dire conditions.
- The biography Sol Price by Robert Price comes highly recommended by Marsi, who comments “I grew up in San Diego and my family always shopped at a nearby Fed Mart. Sol Price revolutionized large warehouse store shopping and brought lower prices for the consumer to many cities in the U.S. and Mexico. He was also a philanthropist who has had a lasting impact on our region.”
- There are a lot of great Coronado authors and connected stories including Eva’s Story by Eva Schloss, who recently presented her harrowing holocaust tale here. Don’t forget about the 2020 Coronado Community Read The Library Book and Crown City by the Sea by local Jennifer M. Franks. I know there are many more and I encourage you to email me so we can share a complete list with the community. Feel free to send me any book recommendations you have because these are just a few and the list is endless.
Moving on to Fiction, Science Fiction, Military, and Other Genre ~
- Nine Women, One Dress by Jane Rosen is a light, fun, contemporary read that our book club enjoyed and is reminiscent of Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. You are sure to be drawn in as the right little black dress changes the lives of nine unrelated women who need a little magic in their lives.
- My friend Pam recommends one of her all-time favorites Snow Flower And The Secret Fan, commenting, “It was a very moving story about two women in nineteenth-century China. Lily, a farmer’s daughter, and Snow Flower, whose family was wealthy. It follows their lives from childhood to the end of their lives, including the foot binding ceremony. I found it to be informative and educational regarding Chinese history and culture. Lisa See took me on a journey to another time and place and gave me a story that touched my heart.”
- A heartwarming and humorous trilogy that my book club highly recommends is The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect and The Rosie Event by Graeme Simsion. You are sure to fall in love with Professor Don Tillman, whose “quirky” personality, most likely due to highly functioning Asperger’s, as he navigates dating, marrying and later having a child with the lovable Rosie.
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is set in Moscow after the revolution and during Stalin’s reign. “Well written, engrossing characters, hard to put down,” says Marsi.
- You will be hooked from the first chapter that tells the story of a full body tattooed nun in Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant. There are many twists and turns as you are immersed in the historical fiction of renaissance Florence, Italy.
- A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is a quirky Swedish tale that will tug at your heart strings. It’s hard to imagine a book that makes you smile as the neighbors unwittingly thwart multiple suicide attempts and treat him as family, but this one does just that.
- My friend Barbara is also an avid reader and highly recommends News of the World by Paulette Giles. “After the Civil War, an aging itinerant gives newspaper readings in Texas towns to make a living. He agrees to return a young girl who was kidnapped by the Kiowa back to her family. Love this historical fiction that explores family, honor and trust.”
- The Island of Sea Women comes highly recommended by Barbara about “Two girls living on a Korean island who are part of the all-women diving collective that existed into the ’50s where women dove for seafood in cold, deep ocean water without tanks or wetsuits to support their families. Men cared for children and homes. Fascinating story about a culture I never knew existed.”
- Barbara also suggests reading anything by Sara Alexi who wrote series of books—The Greek Village, The Greek Island etc. “These books are very real as the author lives in a Greek village with interesting characters and complex and sweet stories.”
- Catherine Ryan Hyde books are also on Barbara’s list. She likes all of them, but got hooked reading Stay, and comments, “These stories are about people, often teens, who have hard and sometimes terrible lives and overcome them by receiving kindness and encouragement from someone.” Reviews say, “full-blooded characters with dialog that rings true and not a word to spare.”
- My friend Tami loves books by Sarah Addison Allen, especially favorite are Garden Spells and The Peach Keeper. She says “They are quirky & include a bit of plant magic in them and are a ‘feel good’ read. Right now, she is reading Tana French’s Faithful Place, which is a mystery set in Dublin, narrated in the first person by a detective who investigates the girlfriend who jilted him years earlier.
- Several friends are big fans of Kate Morton’s long Gothic mysteries. My friend Tami highlights her favorites as The Forgotten Garden and The Secret Keeper, which she says are “beautifully woven and keep me guessing until the end.”
- The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is “a gripping historical fiction story about female British spies who worked in Northern France during WWI, with a plot that includes a parallel post WWII story,” says Marsi.
- Terminal List and True Believer are the first books in the series by former Navy SEAL Jack Carr which come highly recommended by my husband and his friend Todd. If you are a fan of thrillers, especially involving Navy SEALs and Specials Ops, then this fast-paced book will keep you wanting more.
- Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and No Easy Day by Mark Owen are also great reads recommended by several people if you want firsthand accounts of how Navy SEALs train and operate.
- Friends of the Library Board Member Jim has read The Dark Tower series of seven books three times. He says, “It’s a Stephen King fan’s must read with epic fantasy and a modern-day twist.”
- The Dune Trilogy comes highly recommended by several of my reader friends. Jim says “These are the bestselling science fiction books of all time and for a reason! I’ve read this series twice. If you like political and military strategy, this book series is well worth diving into.”
- Continuing in the science fiction arena, Jim gives a shout out to the Red Rising trilogy as “One of my favorite contemporary science fiction series which is now on its fifth release. The first three books are amazing. Think Hunger Games written for the 18+ crowd.”
- The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, China’s bestselling Science Fiction author, is described by Jim as “A very existential series discussing first contact with an alien race. It took a little bit to get into the first one, but from then on I was hooked.”
- The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday is recommended by Jim as “a practical how-to guide on how to deal with adversity based in stoic philosophy (Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca, and others).”
- Finishing up with the classics, Marsi always recommends Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. She says “In high school and college I read classics by American (Hemingway, Fitzgerald) and British authors (Bronte, Dickens), but did not read Jane Austen until I was 40 and became a big fan. Her writing is witty, the women are mostly strong and independent, and stories include biting social commentary about marriage for social standing rather than love.” There have been several good movies made of Austen’s books.
When this quarantine is over and we can once again go out and about, I encourage everyone to visit the Friends of the Library Second Hand Prose book shop behind the library on D Avenue. This cozy shop is run by volunteers and chock full of books of every genre for kids to seniors. The best part is that all proceeds go to benefit our incredible Coronado Public Library, which offers a comprehensive array of services for everyone in the community. Stay tuned for the book event of the year when the Friends of the Library reschedules their 50th annual Book Fair which usually boasts a selection of more than 20,000 books for sale.