East of Eden by John Steinbeck
This fat book has been on my shelf forever. I loved Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, but it always seemed like such a commitment to start this one. Finally, I decided I'd rather go ahead and read it, then have to lug it with us when we move. It took a while, but it was definitely a worthwhile read. As the title suggests, this epic family drama about a father and his twin sons in California during the early 1900s has a lot of Biblical allusions. Drawing from the stories of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, the prophet Samuel, etc., it's a story about people's free will and ability to turn away from evil. It drags in places, but the story overall is quite gripping.
Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
I love Hale's young adult books and had read and enjoyed Austenland a few years ago, so decided to give this one a try. This story about a recent divorcee who gets caught up in a murder mystery during a Jane Austen period re-enactment vacation was pretty silly but good fun all the same. I think Hale is poking a bit of fun at the Austen fan-fiction genre in general, so the book doesn't take itself too seriously.
As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, edited by Joan Reardon
When Julia Child was living in France, she wrote a fan letter to an author in Cambridge, MA. His wife responded, and a lifelong friendship was born. It was so neat to see the deep friendship between Avis and Julia develop solely through letters. Both women were whip-smart, and their letters are hilarious and insightful. And it's interesting to read about Avis's huge part in getting Mastering the Art of French Cooking published. While some of the details about politics in the 1950s were a bit tedious to read, overall the letters are entertaining and inspiring. I now have gotten my friend Mica to agree to be my pen pal after we graduate. Perhaps our letters will be turned into a book someday, too. :)
Young Adult Books
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
This fictional story of a teenage boy who is imprisoned and put on trial after becoming entangled in an armed robbery is eye-opening. Although it is fiction, it is not a stretch to assume that similar situations happen every day. The boy struggles to retain his humanity while in prison. He tells the story of his trial in the form of a screenplay, which allows him to see himself the way others see him. A gripping, sad story.
A Monster Calls (inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd) by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay
Siobhan Dowd had the idea for this story but wasn't able to write it before she died, so she asked Patrick Ness to finish it. A teenaged British boy begins being visited by a monster at night when his mom, who has cancer, takes a turn for the worse. The monster says he will tell the boy three stories, and then the boy must tell his secret nightmare. The book interestingly explores the ways we interpret stories and calls into question what is truth. A definite tear-jerker (I bawled for about 30 minutes after finishing it) but a worthwhile read.