Friday, November 25, 2016

Contemporary Fiction: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Imbolo Mbue's Behold the Dreamers has appeared on Buzzfeed's list of "Incredible New Books You Need to Read This Summer." Exploring the lives of a Cameroonian couple that immigrated to the US, the book looks at the pitfalls of the so-called American dream against a New York City backdrop.

The Situation: It is 2008 and Jende and Neni Jonga live in a tiny apartment in Harlem with their young son Liomi. After leaving Limbe, their hometown in Cameroon, Jende lived in New York City for years, working hard and saving up enough money so that his wife and child could join him. Now they live a decent, if somewhat cramped and tenuous existence as Neni attends school with dreams of becoming a pharmacist, and Jende just landed a job as a driver for an extremely powerful and wealthy Wall Street executive. While working and saving up money is certainly a big part of Jende and Neni's plan for carving out a life in the US, there is also the matter of Jende's expired visa and the possibility that he may be deported. Hard-earned money must be spent on immigration lawyers, applications, and fees. And then there is the long wait that may only result in a denial. But currently, both Jende and Neni have friends in New York and decent jobs. And of course, they have each other.

The Problem: While Jende may have landed a great job as a driver for Clark Edwards and his family, he doesn't anticipate becoming an unwilling observer, and sometimes participant, in the issues surrounding the wealthy man's work and family. As the recession hits, Clark's firm is hit hard, and while the demands of his job were already putting a strain on his marriage, the financial crisis threatens to push everything over the edge, and the formerly financially comfortable Edwards family begins to panic about how their lives will change. Meanwhile, Jende must oscillate between loyalty to his employer, providing for his family, and securing the ultimate dream of American citizenship, all in a time when it looks like he could loose any of those things at almost any moment. The strain of trying to achieve the American dream may prove to be too much for both families.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel set in New York City in 2008, just as the US economy is taking its downturn. Jende Jonga is an immigrant from Cameroon who is currently staying in the US beyond the original expiration date of his visa. The job he lands driving for Clark Edwards is by far the best paying job he has ever had, but it makes him privy to certain details about Clark's work and family life. It's two families on extreme opposite ends of the socio-economic scale, and yet they both have struggles in their marriage, their careers, and ultimately want to carve out a nice life for their children. Granted, Jende's worry about having enough money to buy food is incredibly different from Cindy's, Clark's wife, of having to possibly let go of the maids or nanny. And while the Edwards have plenty of money, that does not mean they are immune to marital issues, or problems with their children. Both families must reevaluate what they are willing to do and sacrifice in order to achieve their version of the American dream. And instead of looking at a white family and a black family, the reader gets to look at a white family and a Cameroonian family, which is entirely different, as Cameroonian families have different rules as far as how wives behave towards their husbands, and obligations to family still living back home.

My Verdict: On Goodreads this book was described as "compulsively readable," and I understand exactly what they mean. While there isn't much suspense or action, I had to keep reading just to know how everything was going to turn out. As if Jende and Neni's story wasn't enough, the drama that circles around the Edwards family is also captivating, giving the reader two families of fully developed characters to become invested in. There were moments where I felt the story dragged a little bit, but even then there was dialogue to follow, or careful descriptions to consider or take note of. I am always interested in reading the stories of different immigrant groups as they do their best to make a life for themselves in the US, and Mbue's novel is another example of how tough living in the US can be if you weren't born here, and sometimes even if you were.

Favorite Moment: When Neni marvels at the food that is prepared and served at gatherings at the Edwards summer home.

Favorite Character: Jende's cousin Winston is a Cameroonian success story. He also immigrated to the US, and now has a great job and is able to assist Jende in his current quest for a green card. 

Recommended Reading: I recommend Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Instead of focusing on immigrants from Africa in modern day America, Gyasi's book follows the history of a Ghanaian family from pre-slavery days to present day.     

Friday, November 18, 2016

Young Adult Fiction: Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer

If author John Green endorses a book, chances are I am going to pick it up and read it. And with Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer, Green said it is the "smartest and funniest book about spontaneous combustion you will eve read." Yep, you read that right. Spontaneous freakin' combustion.

The Situation: Mara Carlyle is a senior at Covington High School in Covington, New Jersey. She is more or less your average teen trying to make it out of high school with the help of her best friend Tess, and a fair amount of drugs she is able to buy from a pair of twin dealers. Up until her senior year her life has pretty much gone unremarked, but when one of her classmates literally explodes in the middle of third period pre-calculus, Mara knows things are about to get a little crazy, to say the least. And while poor Katelyn was the first victim, she will certainly not end up being the last.

The Problem: It's generally problematic when the kids in your senior class start blowing up without any warning or provocation. Naturally, the normal explanations (as "normal" as an explanation for something like spontaneous combustion can be) are sought, such as terrorism, tainted drugs, something environmental, something genetic, etc. But as more kids continue to blow up, and more explanations are crossed off the list, both the Covington locals and the US Government get desperate as the former wish to escape what appears to be their fate, and the latter wish to at least contain it if they can't stop it. Kids attempting to escape Covington are captured and brought back. While a few manage to cross state lines, it is eventually proven that what has become known as the Covington Curse is not dependent on proximity to the city or high school. As Mara's world falls around her, she makes an attempt to rally her fellow classmates into a life of semi-normalcy. But when one combustion hits close to home, Mara starts to wonder if she is the source of the Covington Curse.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in the fictional town of Covington, New Jersey. Told in the first-person by local senior Mara Carlyle, the book covers her senior year of high school and the strange events that take place, namely the spontaneous combustion of a lot of her classmates and the reactions that follow. There is plenty of fear, some suspicion, almost complete confusion, and a whole lot of questions. Mara admits from the beginning that she is a less than trustworthy narrator, but she is all we have, so we have to trust her enough to continue with the story. She doesn't hold back on the filthy language or inappropriate jokes and puns about her fellow classmates going out with a bang, and does little to attempt to hide the less favorable aspects of her own personality. But if she isn't willing to hide that stuff about herself, then there is little chance she is hiding anything about the situation. And with this particular situation being as crazy as it is, the students experience everything imaginable, from school being canceled; to extreme boredom because school is canceled; to being quarantined in a makeshift seclusion tent; to being allowed to riot and destroy property after a particularly beloved student becomes another one in the string of combustions; to eventually rebuilding their own school just so they can finish their senior year; and then to once again being allowed to to do what they want when it appears there are no answers and the entire senior class is doomed. It's a case study to what happens to a small community when the unthinkable (and unbelievable) happens with no answers or predictability.

My Verdict: This book is a crazy ride. Granted, with a subject like spontaneous combustion, there is really nowhere to go but down when it comes to the craziness and excitement. Unfortunately, that is eventually where this book goes after the first half. In the beginning, while kids aren't exactly exploding left and right, it happens often enough that you wonder when it will happen next (and to who), but not so often that you get used to it and accept it as a reality. The reader has front row seats to watching the small community unravel as it searches for answers. But somewhere along the way, even while students continue exploding, the novel gets off track and manages to become less and less interesting. While spontaneous combustion is certainly a compelling topic to base a novel, turns out it can't be the only interesting thing about the story, and that's what happens with Spontaneous. If the book isn't talking about the exploding bodies, or looking for answers regarding exploding bodies, then there isn't a whole lot to be interested in. Even the characters aren't compelling enough to be sufficient between combustions. While Mara may be in-your-face and always ready with a ridiculous joke or quip, she isn't endearing enough to be loveable, and neither is her boyfriend, Dylan. There wasn't much that made me want to root for these people, other than the general desire to not see anyone else die. Basically, the book is fun at first, and then becomes less and less fun the longer it goes on.

Favorite Moment: This is going to sound terrible (because it is), but anytime a student exploded were my favorite moments. Not because I'm into gore and blood (I'm not), or because sometimes the characters that disintegrated were less than loveable, but more because of the way Mara talked about it. There's little fanfare, before or after, and she takes you right up to the moment it happens, and then it happens, just as suddenly and unexpectedly as if you were there with her when it did.

Favorite Character: Mara's friend Tess is the kind of friend every high schooler needs. The two girls have their differences, but are truly best friends for life and never disappear entirely from each other's lives.

Recommended Reading: Okay, so Bleak House by Charles Dickens is incredibly long, but oh so worth it. Plus, it has a spontaneous combustion in it, and it's handled very differently from how Starmer described the ones in his book. However, because I know the book is long, and draining, I will say that the spontaneous combustion is (mercifully) near the beginning, and it is glorious.        

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Goodreads Choice Award 2016 Final Round

This is it you guys. This is your last chance to vote in the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards. We have entered the third and final round of voting, so be sure to support your favorite books of the year.

For this round, the number of nominees per category has been cut from 20 to ten, and immediately my heart breaks because Shelter by Jung Yun has failed to make it into the final round for Best Fiction. So what is my guess as to who the winner will be? Honestly, I am not sure, but I have heard good things about both The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, and Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.

All three of my favorites for Best Historical Fiction - Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead - have made the cut. I will be sticking with my initial vote for Lilac Girls, although I will be thrilled if any of them win.

Even though I had my doubts, All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders has made it into the last round for Best Fantasy. But again, I doubt it could garner more votes than J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but I will vote for it anyway. 

Things are just as they should be over in the Best Science Fiction category as Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long Cosmos is holding on. I will admit that I really want it to win, both because it is the last book in the series and also because it is one of the last books Pratchett worked on before his death in 2015. 

Truly, Dot Hutchison's The Butterfly Garden is still in the Best Horror category because it deserves to be. There may not be any ghouls or goblins or demons in the book, but the human villain is also incredibly realistic, as the kidnapping of girls and young women is a reality that occurs way too frequently in our society. 

While I am not surprised that A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard did not make it into the final round for Best Memoir & Autobiography, I am shocked that The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner also did not make it. But hey, the readers have spoken. Not every favorite can make it to the final round I guess.

However, both The Midnight Assassin by Skip Hollandsworth and All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister are finalists for the Best History & Biography category. I would love it if Traister's extensive look at a fascinating cultural shift in our society were rewarded with a win, but she is up against a biography of Leonard Nimoy by William Shatner.

I was so proud of myself for having read a graphic novel before it was nominated, but sadly, Patience by Daniel Clowes has failed to make it into the final round for Best Graphic Novels & Comics, which is a shame really because it is incredibly good.

At least two out of three of my picks for Best Debut Goodreads Author made it to the finals. While you can still vote for either Lilac Girls, or The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Imbolo Mbue's Behold the Dreamers has not made it to round three. This is actually a really tough category this year as I have heard good things about many of the books that were presented.

And last but certainly not least, in fact it is my favorite, there is the Best Young Adult Fiction category. Somehow, while Zentner's The Serpent King made it to the final round for the previous category, it did not make it in for this one. So the only dog I still have in  this race is Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. And honestly, I think it has a good chance of taking the ultimate prize. Of course, the one to watch will be Holding Up the Universe, written by last year's winner, Jennifer Niven.

As far as books that have appeared on this blog alone, there are still ten finalists across seven categories to choose from. Voting for this third and final round ends on Sunday, November 27th, with the winners being announced later that week. So, you have two weeks to make your voices heard and support your favorites from 2016.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Contemporary Fiction: Bright Midnight by Chris Formant

After reading the premise I agreed to be sent a copy of Chris Formant's Bright Midnight in exchange for a review. Most music fans, of almost any genre, are familiar with the Myth of the 27 Club. Several artists - including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison - died at the age of 27, at the height of their popularity. Formant's novel surmises that these deaths weren't suicides, but instead carefully planned murders.

The Situation: Gantry Elliot may have what many consider to be a dream job, but he feels ancient and a bit under appreciated when he is around many of his coworkers. As a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, Elliott has reported some of music histories greatest moments, and subsequently, his knowledge about the industry approaches encyclopedic. But with a focus on classic rock, he doesn't get to write as much as he used to, and the 20-somethings that now surround him at work disregard him as out of touch and a little too old school. When a mysterious package shows up on his desk claiming that a member of the infamous 27 Club was murdered, Elliot initially shrugs it off as a prank. But the packages keep coming, and the clues inside turn out to be artifacts that only someone incredibly close to the artists themselves could possibly have in their possession.

The Problem: These clues that keep landing in Elliot's lap could lead to the biggest story of his career. But if the members of the 27 Club were murdered by what appears to be a serial killer, then why is someone turning over the evidence now? Is the killer still out there? And why does this mystery messenger seem to know where Elliot lives and where he is at all times? It becomes enough to get the FBI involved, and for Elliot to begin looking over his shoulder. Even Elliot's skeptical boss, Alex Jaeger, becomes involved as he sees the potential of what a story like this could do for Rolling Stone. But even with the mystery informant seemingly giving up all of the good information, it soon becomes clear that this story won't be easy to get, and it will take the combined efforts of officials in three different countries to get everything they need.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel set in present day, but it looks back in time to when musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Peter Ham, and others, were turning up dead, all at the age of 27. The cases concerning their deaths are eventually opened as cold cases and investigated all over again, when initially they were accepted as suicides, or accidental suicides. To realize such a thing now, with so much time having passed, would mean bringing to light a massive cover up that someone had managed to keep hidden, and most likely wants to keep it that way. Naturally, issues of greed and fame come up, and Elliot begins to wonder just how deep this thing seems to go. Anyone who is a fan of any of the above named artists would recognize some of the details surrounding their life and death. Formant takes classic rock history and manages to play with it just enough to offer a plausible alternate version of history.

My Verdict: While the premise is certainly fun and interesting, and it is fun to somewhat go back in time and look at the lives of some of classic rock's biggest stars, I wish the fun translated through to the more mundane aspects of the actual investigation. It was fun to read about Elliot having mysterious clues dropped off at his job or apartment, but the book becomes much less fun once he officially joins up with the FBI and the actual investigation begins. Essentially, any part that didn't have Eliot in control of the story was almost always guaranteed to be boring, and the further along we get into plot, the more Elliot would disappear. Formant does manage to pull it all together in a very intense and entertaining final 100 pages or so, which is impressive considering just how much he puts out there. All of the pieces seem to fit together nicely with very few loose ends, and a good amount of action.

Favorite Moment: Whenever Elliot's cowboy boots are mentioned. As a native of Texas, he still insists on wearing them even though he now lives in New York City (and I want to be clear here, not everyone who lives in or is from Texas wears or even owns cowboy boots).

Favorite Character: I empathize with Elliot, but my favorite would actually have to be FBI Agent Raphael Melendez. He would end up taking the lead on the case and is actually the one taking the most risk in pursuing it in the first place.

Recommended Reading: I recommend The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore. It isn't quite of the same vein, but Moore does reimagine the stories of King Lear, Othello, and The Merchant of Venice into a hilarious adventure involving murder and romance. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Goodreads Choice Award 2016 Semifinal Round

The first round of voting for the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards closed on Sunday, and now readers can vote in the semifinal round until this coming Sunday, November 13th.

For the semifinal round, the original 15 nominees for each category remain as options, but now they are joined by five write-in votes. So if you were already having a hard time picking between multiple options in certain categories, now that choice has been made even more difficult. Of course, you may have submitted your own write-ins, and now is the time to see if there were other readers who felt the same about a deserving book or author as you did.

You can read about my first round predictions in my post from November 8th. Today I would only mention any new nominees that also happened to be picked for Door Stop Novels

But really, the only thing I have to say is that I am sad my write-in vote of All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister did not make it in for the Best Nonfiction Category. Thankfully, I can still vote for it in the Best History & Biography Category. It looks like I will not have any Door Stop Novels in the Nonfiction category this year. If I had only scheduled my reading of The Fire This Time by Jesmyn Ward for before December, I am sure I would be voting for it.

Same can be said for The Reader by Traci Chee, though I am already voting for The Serpent King for Best Debut Goodreads Author.  

I suppose this is what happens when so many of your favorites are introduced in the first round; it does not leave much room for new ones to be introduced in the second one.

However, things do begin to get intense in the third and final round, which will begin on Tuesday, November 15th. The semifinal round could be the last time you see some of your favorites, so be sure to vote to keep them in the competition.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Young Adult Fiction: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

When a reviewer asserts that an author may be a rival to well-known young adult fiction author John Green, it certainly makes me take notice as I adore Green and pretty much everything he does. That is exactly what has been said about Jeff Zentner and his book, The Serpent King, which follows three small-town teenagers during their senior year of high school.

The Situation: Dillard Early, Jr, or Dill, has had a few hard years. First, his father is serving jail time for possessing inappropriate pictures of children on his computer. It also doesn't help that the man was a well-known snake-handling preacher with a penchant for handling rattlesnakes and copperheads, while also convincing his congregation to drink poison as their survival would be a sign of having strong faith. Due to the prison sentence, and mounting debts, Dill's life consists of school, work, writing songs he never intends for anyone to hear, and hanging out with fellow outcasts Lydia and Travis. Lydia has managed to put herself on the fast track out of Forrestville, Tennessee, mostly due to her fashion blog and high grades. And while Travis may be a big guy with matching strength, his softhearted nature keeps him from standing up to his alcoholic and abusive father.

The Problem: Dill's daily life is fairly miserable, but the one thing that makes it even more so is a visit to his father in prison. Dillard Early, Sr. seems to get stranger and harder to talk to with every visit, and he still can't seem to admit that he is where he is because he did something incredibly wrong. But avoiding visiting his father only earns him a serious guilt-trip from his exhausted mother. While his family relationships are falling apart, things don't go so well with his friends either as he faces the reality of Lydia leaving for college in New York, which makes hims resentful, causing him to pick fights with her during what will end up being their last year to hang out together. And his mood doesn't improve when she pushes him to also apply for college and maybe get of their small town. For Dill, graduation is beginning to feel more like an ending than a beginning, and before that happens, there is one other ending he must face that he wasn't planning on.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fiction novel set in a small town in Tennessee. Some of the common themes that usually come from a small town setting are present, such as the girl wanting desperately to get out and attend college in the big city, and the boy that feels like he will be stuck there for the rest of his life. Travis even serves as the guy who is actually content where he is and would never entertain thoughts of being somewhere else. And of course there is the unfortunate small town trait of everyone knowing who you are and your family history, especially if said family was part of a recent scandal. Dill can't go anywhere without someone recognizing his face or name. And if they aren't wary of him because of what his dad did, they are angry at him for their perceived belief that it is his fault his father is in jail. As each chapter is told from the point of view of either Dill, Lydia, or Travis, another theme that comes up is the irrefutable and ever-present fact that parents just don't understand. Dill's parents can't understand (or refuse to) why he would want to leave Forrestville when he can stay and work and help pay off the family debts. Travis' father doesn't even attempt to understand his son and his interests. And while Lydia may have won the gold medal among her friends when it comes to parents, even she doesn't get why they would choose to live in such a small town when there are big cities with better opportunities. Oh, and then there is the snake handling. Since the events of this book take place after Dillard Early, Sr's arrest, and after the collapse of his congregation, any scenes of actual snake handling happen through flashback. But Dill's father and mother both believe strongly in the signs of the faith and perceive anyone who doesn't have them as not being a true follower.

My Verdict: Well, I can say that I get the hype now, because this is a fantastic book. Writing about three misfit seniors in high school navigating small town life is certainly not a new idea, but Zentner does it well, and he does it with an original story line and great characters. Sure Dill can be annoying in his more brooding moments, and Lydia was easily one of my least favorite characters for about the first two-thirds of the book, mostly because of her self-righteous attitude and inability to recognize exactly how much suffering her friends endure. But hey, they're teenagers. It's all about them. And while the snake handling could have easily been something thrown in just to keep things interesting, Zentner makes it more than just a one-note detail in Dill's past. The book is surprisingly complicated, without being hard to read or cumbersome, and I think there is something in Dill, Lydia, or Travis that almost everyone can relate to.   

Favorite Moment: When Travis stands up to his abusive father.

Favorite Character: Lydia's father, Dr. Blankenship, is almost too good to believe. But I decided to anyway because he is so much fun, without being the parent that ends up being more like a friend. Not only is he great to his daughter, but he's great to her friends, even offering to drive Dill up to the prison to see his father.

Favorite Quote: "I'm tired of watching the world grind up gentle people. I'm tired of outliving those I shouldn't be outliving. I've made books my life because they let me escape this world of cruelty and savagery. I needed to say that out loud to somebody other than my cats. Please take care of yourselves, my young friends." - Mr. Burson, the local bookstore owner. 

Recommended Reading: Since John Green was mentioned before, I recommend Looking for Alaska, over his most recent novel, The Fault In Our Stars. Both are good, but Looking for Alaska explores a different kind of heartache.          

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Goodreads Choice Awards 2016

It's that time of year again. It is time for readers to cast their votes for the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards. For me, this is one of three November events that makes it my second favorite month of the year. Not only do I enjoy casting my votes for my favorite books, but I also love to see which ones made it onto this blog, while also discovering new books to read and possibly blog about in the future. 

The ultimate winners of the Goodreads Choice Awards will be chosen by you, the readers. So be sure to make your vote count. 

For the category of Best Fiction, I easily and without hesitation vote for Shelter by Jung Yun. This book asks the question of what obligation do we have to family members who used to abuse us? When it comes down to it, do we owe anything to the people who made our lives miserable now that they really need us? Yun explores this questions openly, without holding back, and I recommend this book to pretty much everyone.

Best Historical Fiction always seems to be a category I swing and miss on, but this year there are three Door Stop Novels to choose from. First there is Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a story that follows two branches of the same family line, stemming from one woman from 18th century Ghana. While one of the family lines experiences slavery firsthand in the New World, the other still was not immune to the effects of the peculiar institution, even as descendants are well-off and privileged in Africa. Then there is The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which follows a runaway slave as she uses the historical escape route, here presented as an actual railroad that runs underground, and moves from state to state in an attempt to not fall into the hands of her former owners. My guess is that this will be the ultimate winner for this category, but at least for this first round, I will be voting for Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. Despite my attempts to stay away from books that deal with World War II, I found myself reading this one, and I absolutely loved it. But both Homegoing and The Underground Railroad are great too, so really any of these would deserve to win. 

I believe for the first time ever, I have read a book that has been nominated for the Best Fantasy category. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is a wonderfully imaginative book about outcasts Patricia and Laurence and the epic battle between science and magic. The book makes the reader wonder if these two will come together to save humanity, of effectively aid in tearing it apart. I am not expecting this book to win though, especially as it will be going up against Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling.     

I am so pleased to see that the final book in Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth series made it into the nominees for Best Science Fiction. The Long Cosmos finishes out the series that has followed Joshua Valiente as he travels across the Long Earth, and then even further into other places unknown. Of course, the ending of the series was made even sadder due to Pratchett's death in 2015. So again, I am glad to see this book here and am delighted to vote for it. 

I had a feeling that the book in my most recent blog entry would make it into the Best Horror category. The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison is just that good, and that terrifying. The Gardener is all at once a kidnapper, serial killer, and serial rapists, who of course has also convinced himself that he is saving his victims from something. If you're looking for a good horror story that simultaneously will show just how messed up humanity can be, this is the story for you. 

 For Best Nonfiction, I have decided to do a write-in vote for Rebecca Traister's All the Single Ladies. This book looks into the growing trend of women deciding to not only get married later in life (if at all) but also have kids later in life. This shift has set off many changes in American culture that few saw coming, and I found the information Traister presented to be both fascinating and informative.   

For Best Memoir & Autobiography, I did enjoy A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard, a memoir in which Hazzard chronicles his time as an EMT in Atlanta. But I think I will actually be voting for The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner, a heartbreaking and emotional tale about life in a polygamist cult and what it took to break free.

Well what do you know...Traister's All the Single Ladies has been nominated for Best History & Biography (an interesting place to have it, I think), along with Skip Hollandsworth's The Midnight Assassin, a book that talks in detail about the country's first serial killer in Austin, Texas. Even though I already gave it a write-in vote, I do believe I will be sticking with All the Single Ladies for this category as well. 

And of course Patience by Daniel Clowes (of Ghost World fame) is nominated for Best Graphic Novel. Of. is really good though, and it absolutely gets my vote.

Lilac Girls makes another appearance in the Best Debut Goodreads Author category. But my vote will be going to The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. Poor Dillard Early, Jr, or Dill, can't seem to win for losing. If people aren't avoiding him because of the crimes of his father, then their blaming him, saying he should have been the one to take the fall. It's a different take on small-town life that almost anyone could relate to. Also nominated is Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue, which follows immigrants from Cameroon as they attempt to make it in New York City. Both of these books will have blog posts coming out about them later this month. 

The Serpent King shows up again in my always favorite category of Best Young Adult Fiction. And honestly, I would almost put it in a tie with Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, with the latter coming out on top, but only barely. Both novels have the story shift between different characters with each new chapter, but Sepetys tells the story of four teenagers, all from different countries and with different motives, as they struggle to survive World War II, and end up boarding the ultimately doomed ship of the Wilhelm Gustloff. I am always a sucker for the way Sepetys tells a story, so I will be voting for her. 

And there you have it. For this year's awards, there is a record 15 total Door Stop Novels that have been nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award, with a few of them nominated in multiple categories. Naturally, I hope my favorites take home the final prize, as I am sure you are too. But that can only happen if we vote in all three rounds, with this first opening round closing on Sunday, November 6th.