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BETWEEN THE LINES

Favorite reads of 2019 - so far!

It's already August, and I'm late with my list of favorite books read in the first half of 2019. I'm grateful for the worlds these books opened up for me, and for the characters they invited me to hang out with while I lived inside their stories.
 
The Hillsboro Story: A Kaleidoscope History of an Integration Battle in My Hometown, by Susan Banyas. I don't usually read nonfiction, but when Mary Bisbee-Beek tells me to look at a book, I pay attention. This book hooked me right away. The author was an 8-year-old child when she watched black neighbors protest the failure of the town to integrate her white school after Brown v. Board of Education. Decades later, she returns to her childhood home to revisit and explore that legacy. This is a fresh and fascinating look at a critical time in our history.
 
The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Like some of my favorite novels (Exit West, Weather Woman, Kindred), Coates uses a single element of magic realism to animate an otherwise realistic narrative. As in those other books, the out-of-the-usual element has the effect of opening up the story, inviting the reader to make a fictional jump with the author. Loved this book, which will be out in September.
 
Love That Moves the Sun, by Linda Cardillo. I guess this is a year of new reading experiences for me. I don't often read historical fiction either, but I devoured this story about the 16thcentury Italian poet Vittoria Colonna and the sculptor Michaelangelo. How could I not – it explores art, writing, love, and history. 
 
The Time of Our Singing, by Richard Powers. I blogged earlier that this book had me gobsmacked, and several months later, I still feel the same way. Somehow Powers connects art and time, activism and self-expression, racial and ethnic strife, music and science, in a story that never feels contrived or preachy. It's heartbreaking, beautifully lyrical, and tells an important story for our times.
 
The Women of the Copper Country, by Mary Doria Russell. What an exciting read! Annie Clements lives in a 1923 copper-mining Michigan town where immigrant miners' lives revolve around daily hardship and frequent underground tragedies. Her struggle for justice in a turbulent time and place is both a dramatic story and an instructive one for readers who care about economic justice today.
 
Sugar Land, by Tammy Lynne Stoner. Oddly enough, this novel is also set in 1923, but in a very different landscape: Midland, Texas. Young Dara falls for her best girl friend and escapes from that impossible love to work at a state prison, where she becomes friends and allies with the blues singer Lead Belly. A wonderful and compelling story of a young woman, small-town pettiness, and finding her way out.
 
Prayers for the Stolen, by Jennifer Clement. I heard the author read from this novel last winter and immediately bought and read the book. The main character, Ladydi Garcia Martinez, is a young girl abducted in the Mexican drug trade, and her story feels like fiction ripped from the newspaper. Clement, who is president of PEN International, brings to this story a potent mix of journalism, lyricism, history, and even humor. Highly recommended!
 
The Butterfly Girl, by Rene Denfeld. I loved Denfeld's first two novels and eagerly awaited this one. It did not disappoint. She once again weaves compelling story-telling with lyrical writing and strong characters – a young girl living on the street and traumatized by sexual abuse, and an investigator in search of her own sister, kidnapped two decades earlier. Denfeld writes about things that matter. There's a lot at stake in this novel, and the author takes us there without flinching.
 
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong. This is a hard book to describe, beyond the jacket text that it's a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. It's so much more: It's poetry. It's family history and legacy. It's about love. About being an outsider. About finding one's self and one's story. About the importance of story.

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