The Submission by Amy Waldman
This was Kalamazoo's Reading Together book for 2013, and one of my book group's choices as well. The book opens with a committee's choosing the design for a memorial to those killed on 9/11. After making their selection, they learn that the designer is Mohammed Khan, an American Muslim.
The rest of the book addresses the chaos and conflict that arise: can we remember the dead with a memorial designed by a Muslim? The book had great potential, and indeed, generated excellent discussion in our group. Still, I found the writing to be sub-standard, and the storyline contrived, so, for me at least, it was not a memorable read.
Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate), by Amy Thomas
This was a fun read - especially if you plan to visit Paris, and want to know the best places to buy sweets. Thomas travels to Paris to work writing copy for Louis Vuitton, and shares with us her sweet culinary adventures, as she savors the chocolates and pastries throughout the city.
By no means a literary masterpiece, this was an enjoyable memoir. When Abbott was born, one of his arms was a mere stump. His young parents managed to hold things together, and raised him to figure things out for himself - so he figured out how to be a major league baseball pitcher.
I liked his willingness, whatever else was going on, to talk to his young fans, with similar physical challenges, and assure them that they, too, could choose their own future. (And, what's not to like about a one-handed pitcher describing his own no-hitter?)
This was an easy read, about the remarkable relationship between Laura (a sales exec) and Maurice (an eleven-year-old panhandler). They met nearly every week, for years, and built a friendship that spanned decades. It was a remarkable commitment on Laura's part, and made me wonder if I would do the same.
This mystery featured a precocious eleven-year old scientist / detective, in a small English town. It was a quick, enjoyable read (the first in a series, although I haven't read any of the others).
The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, books 1-3), by Suzanne Collins
The first of these books was excellent, if a bit disturbing. In Katniss's world, the Capitol controls the outlying districts by holding the annual Hunger Games competition, in which one boy and one girl from each district are sent to compete - to kill or be killed. Katniss is chosen as a competitor, and we see everything from her perspective.
Collins created an astonishing, amazing world, and that first game was gripping. Alas, books 2 and 3 were nowhere near as satisfying. They seemed rushed, and especially the third had pieces that just made no sense to me. I'd recommend the first, and then you can ask someone to recap the remaining books for you, and save you the effort of reading them.
Defending Jacob, by William Landay
A high school student is killed, and the town's prosecuting attorney begins to suspect that his own son, Jacob, might be the murderer. I thought this would be an interesting book, but it was only so-so. Jacob's behavior was creepy and disturbing, and his father seemed to make one bad choice after another. I don't think I'd recommend this one.
(It occurs to me that perhaps the psychological thriller genre is one that I should avoid.)
This is the story of a city inside a cave. The residents have no memory of any other life, and the infrastructure of their society is crumbling. Two twelve-year-olds take on the challenge of solving a decades-old puzzle, and finding a way out of their city, and to a new life. I recommend this one for the middle-school audience it was written for.