The best books we've read recently ...
This month, we're taking a slight reading break and recommending our favorite books that we've read outside of work in the last six months. But don't worry, we'll be back next month with our reviews of The New York Times Best-Seller "The Silent Patient" by Alex Michaelides.
"The Tattooist of Auschwitz," a novel by first-time author Heather Morris, tells the story of Lale (Lali in the book) Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, who was imprisoned at Auschwitz in 1942, and forced to tattoo numbers onto the arms of thousands of incoming prisoners. The Tätowierer (tattooist in German) holds a privileged position in the camp and, risking his own life, Sokolov uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money, taken off the bodies of murdered Jews, for food and medicines to keep his fellow prisoners alive. At the camp, Sokolov meets a Slovakian girl, Gita, and they fall in love. The book glosses over many of the horrors of the concentration camp, only briefly mentioning the gas chambers and crematoria and the deplorable treatment of the prisoners, focusing more on Sokolov's survival and love for Gita. Sokolov is a true survivor and stops at nothing to help other prisoners and secure his own position in the camp. This unlikely love story is mostly true. The real-life Sokolov was a tattooist at Auschwitz, where he met Gita Furman. The couple later married and moved to Melbourne, Australia, where they raised a son. Morris interviewed Sokolov over several years before his death in 2006. The book was truly compelling and utterly un-put-downable. It's without a doubt a book that will stay with me a very long time — it's that unforgettable and will keep you thinking about the story well after you've put it down.
— Margaret Button, associate features editor
Right around the time spring is supposed to arrive, I'm looking to read something simple and angsty. I usually reach for a book from the Young Adult section. Rebecca Hanover's "The Similars" checked all of my boxes — angsty teens, a private school, clones and forbidden love/love triangle. As a bonus, the author is a writer for the soap opera, "Guiding Light." The first half of the book was a dream. Emma returns to her exclusive boarding school in Vermont (a plus for this girl from the Berkshires, a stone's throw away from the border of Vermont) just months after the suicide of her best friend, Oliver. Beginning junior year would be hard enough with that fact alone, but the campus is all a-Twitter about the arrival of The Similars, six clones who were created outside of the law. Not only that, but the clones, made without the consent of the families of the children they are identical too, are copies of Darkwood Academy students. Much to Emma's dismay, one clone shares Oliver's DNA. The book raises wonderful questions about human rights, citizenship and ethics, all while following Emma as she becomes a member of The Ten, Darkwood's secret society. And just when you think the book can't get any better, Hanover's soap opera background comes into play with so many twists and turns — there's the reclusive (and evil) billionaire guardian of the clones; the connection shared by The Ten's parents, secret messages, a secret lab, a kidnapping, truth serums, secret identities, secret siblings, sibling rivalries, revenge plots and secret twins. It's almost too much of a good thing. The book was a quick, fun read. My only regret is having until January to read the next book.
— Jennifer Huberdeau, UpCountry Magazine editor
As an avid memoir reader who loves real-life stories about ordinary people who live in and rise above extraordinary circumstances, I couldn't put down Tara Westover's best-selling book "Educated." The back story of Westover's life is enough to draw you in — raised by survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she didn't step foot in a classroom until she was 17, wasn't vaccinated or given antibiotics until she was in college and was essentially raised off the grid without a birth certificate or school records — but it's her ultimate story of survival that makes this book stay with you long after you finish it. Behind all the bizarre, often frightening stories of her childhood is a woman grappling with the mental and physical abuse she withstood at the hands of her older brother and father. She struggles not only with understanding the basics of hygiene when she leaves her home to go to college — using too much soap was considered wasteful and unnecessary by her parents, who used herbs and home remedies instead of traditional medicine — but also with the lasting effects of coming to terms with the abuse she withstood. Like so many women in her position, she makes excuses for their behavior, forgives and more than once returns to her childhood home putting her education, future and her life in danger. You can't help but root for Westover as she beats unimaginable odds to go on to study history at Harvard and Cambridge. It's all so extraordinary, it's almost unbelievable if it wasn't for the small voice threaded throughout the story of a young woman still looking to feel at home in a place so far away from where and how she was raised.
— Lindsey Hollenbaugh, features editor
Coming off of reading Tommy Orange's "There There," for The Eagle book club, I decided I hadn't read enough works by Native American authors and really wanted to fill in some of those gaps in my literary background. I picked up "Heart Berries: A Memoir," by First Nation Canadian writer Terese Marie Mailhot, and spent most of the two hours it took to read it sort of awestruck, wishing desperately I had someone to read it aloud to. "Heart Berries" is Mailhot's story, and she puts it all out there, discussing her childhood on a reservation, her race and gender and the relationships she has made complicated by her mental illness, with an honesty and rawness that is remarkable. This memoir sort of eschews a structure in a way that does at times get slightly difficult to follow, and Mailhot's stunning prose — I can't say works against her, because it's so gorgeous, but it does in places steal the show, catching you so far up in how beautifully she's saying something you find you've failed to pay attention to what she's saying. That's OK though, you can always read it twice. In fact, you should.
— Meggie Baker, calendar editor
I'm in the middle of "Freshwater" by Akwaeke Emezi, so I'll use this space to talk about the last book I read instead. Lauren Groff's "Fates and Furies" details the marriage of Lotto and Mathilde. The first half is told from Lotto's perspective. Mathilde takes over in the latter portion. The novel has been out for several years now and garnered much attention when Barack Obama picked it as his favorite book of 2015. As the framework advertises, Lotto and Mathilde have drastically different impressions of their marriage, which begins just after they graduate from Vassar College. Lotto is a handsome actor-turned-playwright who is enthralled by but not observant enough of his wife. Mathilde is a mysterious, confident, pragmatic character who has kept a great deal from her husband. Let's just say that the skeletons in this marriage could fill more than one closet. Because of the structure, the reader gets a peek into that darkness a bit too soon for my taste, dulling later surprises a tad, but Groff's stylistic mastery makes for a delicious read throughout. Her sentences are worthy of study.
— Benjamin Cassidy, arts and entertainment reporter
Book pick from our reader: The best book I've read in the last six months is "The Friend" by Sigrid Nunez. This beautiful book looked right inside my heart with its insight into grief and healing, the art of writing, friendship, and the bond between humans and dogs. I identified so deeply with the loss of a loved one and with the difficulty of putting thoughts into words, and with the deep love one can have with a dog. I sent a copy to my daughter and recommended this book to all my dear friends.
— Susan Zuckerman, Pittsfield (Susan won our copy of last month's book club pick "Elevation" by Stephen King)
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