Note: this is a list of books we’ve read in the last six months, not ones published then.
1) Salt to the Sea by Rita Sepetys
Wow, what a good book. If anyone asks “What is good historical fiction?” this is the answer. It’s a story about a little-known historical event (probably not well known because it happened towards the end of WWII) but it still manages to encompass a wide scope of characters and ideas. It’s told from the perspective of four different characters, from four different European countries, each with a different mysterious backstory and unique way of storytelling. The book isn’t terribly long, but not short either. It’s the perfect length for its story. It’s a combination of historical fiction and mystery, since each of the characters has secrets that none of the others knows. The reader doesn’t figure out who everyone really is until almost the last page.
2) Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
This might seem at first glance to be a children’s story, but it’s most definitely not. Not only is it creepy, but the plot and characters prove it to be at least a Young Adult novel. The narrator is sixteen-year-old Jacob, whose grandfather is the most important person in the world to him. Grampa Portman escaped the Nazis in Poland before WWII and lived in a children’s home in Wales. The story involved Jacob traveling to this children’s home, which was destroyed by a bomb in 1940, or so the townspeople said. But of course they still live there, just not in the way that Jacob expected. The writing is good, the characters are fun, and the plot is straightforward and leaves room for a sequel. I enjoyed the subtle parallels drawn between the Nazis and what are called “wights”. There are also some very funny parts, but some creepy parts as well. These people are, after all, very peculiar.
3) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Another WWII story, but worlds different than Salt to the Sea. This one is told from two different perspectives: Verity, a female British spy who has been captured by the Gestapo in France and held for interrogation in a prison, and her friend Mattie, another British spy in France who was not captured. The first half of the book is the manuscript that Verity writes to tell her story while in prison, due to the deal she made with her captors. While giving the Gestapo all the information they want, she managed to tell the story of her friend Mattie. The second half of the story is told is entries from Mattie over the same period of time as verity is writing, and at the end their two stories come together. This is one of the most authentic historical fiction books I’ve ever read. The detail put into the planes is amazing—the author is a pilot.
4) The Martian by Andy Weir
This in not an average sci-fi story. It’s all real science. It’s not boring in the least. It’s also not what you think of when you hear the synopsis. Mark Watney, the botanist accidentally stranded on Mars, is doomed to a fate of endless potatoes, disco music, and TV shows from the 70’s. He’s the only person on Mars and he has to figure out a way to survive for the next several years with no extra supplies, no communication with NASA or his fellow astronauts who are on their way back to Earth, and no good music. Luckily, he’s there on Mars with all the equipment needed to survive on Mars—he just needs to make it last several years. Undoubtedly the best part about this story is Watney’s hilarious attitude about his plight. If it weren’t for his snide comments and jokes to himself, the book wouldn’t be as good. But—it is!
5) The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
This is certainly a unique book. It’s told from the perspective of Death, as most people know. But Death isn’t unfriendly. The main character is Liesel, a girl who lives with her foster parents in a small town in Germany just before WWII. It follows her for the next five years while she lives her life on Himmel Street along with her parents, her neighbors, and her friends, including a boy called Rudy and a Jewish man called Max. The book is set, for the most part, only in this small town, but it covers a wide area of ideas throughout the story. It’s a long book, but everything’s in it for a reason. The way it’s told is surprisingly humorous, although it’s not light humor. There are different pieces incorporated into the writing, including stories written by characters and side notes made by Death, who sometimes acts as a commentator on the story.
6) Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
This book is genuinely funny. It’s about a girl with an anxiety disorder, which may not seem like the sort of book that’s funny, but there are countless characters and situations that are so ridiculous, or so real, that they’re hilarious. For example, the main character’s mom is obsessed with stopping her fifteen-year-old son from playing video games, to the point that she breaks his computer. Audrey, the main character, becomes friends with a boy called Linus who wants to help her recover from the incident that triggered her anxiety—by the way, whatever incident that was is never discussed in the story, just hinted at. Audrey’s story includes tidbits about her family (a relatively normal one, but special because they’re very real), most of which include her mother’s ambitions to improve the family by taking away electronics from the house.