Reader Recommendations with Amy Powers / by Madeleine

Readers, today we have another round of recommendations from a fellow bookworm! Amy Powers is here to tell us about five of her very favorite books. Amy is one of my lovely, in-real-life friends, a fellow educator, and the only person I know who can finish a book in two hours. (Seriously, she devours books.) Amy and I worked together last year, and while I'm now in a new district and missing her everyday, we love staying connected through our shared love of books!

EDIT: Amy recently officially joined the #bookstagram community as @thebumblingbookworm. If you like her picks and want to chat more with her about your favorite reads, find her there!

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Amy, tell us a little about yourself!

I teach fourth and fifth grade in an urban district north of Boston, MA. I'm voracious in my reading life and could literally read ten books a week, given the free time! I love the outdoors and history. I'm completely unorganized but in a lovable way. (Madeleine can attest to this, having been my co-worker last year.) I love books from every genre except self help because I'm still in denial about all my faults (just kidding, I'm fully aware of my faults). Other than that, I'm a divorced mom of two who is currently trying to navigate the tsunami-like waters of teenagedom. Oh, and I love all things bookish and literary.

Share with us some of your favorite titles!

Under the Lilacs by Louisa May Alcott

First up, when I was a little girl growing up in Middleton, Ma, we had the luxury of having a big, beautiful mischief- enticing lilac bush in our front yard. I spent a couple of years playing hide and seek and having mud-pie parties with my twin sister under its perfectly purple boughs. So when I was a teenager and I encountered Louisa May Alcott's Under the Lilacs one day in my father's old book collection, I was taken by the fact that someone else must've loved lilacs and found them as nostalgic as I did and still do. Ms. Alcott didn't let me down. 

Under the Lilacs is a charming novel of two circus runaways, Ben and Sancho, that one day cause mischief during a tea party that two sisters are having under the lilacs in their garden. (Can you see the parallel here for me?) The characters include Ben, Sancho, Bab, Betty, Miss Celia and Thorny as well as a few other memorable souls. In essence, Ben discovers that families/important relationships can form from the simplest of occurrences. Sweet Serendipity! I love everything about this novel. The characters, the settings, the proper language from generations ago... It makes my mind go straight back to the sweet scent of lilacs and mud-pies lingering in the air. This is a great book for readers that love old-fashioned stories, nostalgia and underdogs. I've seen it categorized as both a young adult novel and adult fiction. I think it bridges the gap for both. It's proven elusive to purchase in book form, which I still am attempting to do. I was able to download it digitally, however, and I continue to go back to it when I need comfort or a walk down memory lane.

Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane

Shifting gears completely, my second recommendation is a novel by Mark Mathabane entitled, Kaffir Boy. I'm not sure any other novel that I've ever read moved me the way this one did. I first read this in high school 20 some odd years ago. The feelings that this book wrenched from my very soul have stayed with me all these years. This is the devastatingly hopeful true story of a black youth's struggle to find his way in South Africa during the age of Apartheid. It's Mr. Mathabane's autobiographical account of his pursuit of life. Although I can't remember on which page my tears started to flow, I know that they continued throughout the book and well after. This is an intense read that evokes powerful feelings my friends. It also provided an education regarding the horrific regime that dominated South Africa. I will forever be moved by Mr. Mathabane's tenacity in finding hope, happiness and courage in such despair. (Yes. I'm actually tearing up while writing this.)

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

I've got another tear-inducing treat that honestly made me jump out of bed in the middle of the night and yell, "WHHHAAATT????!!!!"

The Story of Edgar Sawtelleby David Wroblewski, shocked me a little bit. This fictional account of a dog breeding family is so moving and left me with a bit of a hole to fill in my soul. It may have affected me so much because I am always rooting for the unsung heroes, the underdog, the characters that get treated as subhuman by those that feel they are superior... I'm not sure, but I was rooting so much for the main character, Edgar, that I actually got a lump in my throat. I also didn't realize, until the twisty end, that I had subtly gotten so absorbed by the masterful storytelling and characters. It's a novel sure to get you trying to think of a way to save the underdog!

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

One of my favorite novels in the history of history is Ruta Sepetys' Salt to the Sea. This story is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. I have no idea how Ruta Sepetys does this, but she's a master at it. The story of WWII refugees finding one another and trying to survive the Russian advance is mind- bogglingly fascinating. Not only does this book grip you with it's characters, it pushes you right into the fold of one of the most unknown human tragedies of the war. I had never even heard of the sinking of the German ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, when I began reading. Since I love history, the magnitude of this event should have been at least a blip on my historical radar and yet I knew nothing. I love the fact that four characters' stories came together in such a beautiful way. Ruta Sepetys took me on a roller coaster of emotions with this one! And I thank her for enlightening me on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, while telling such a compelling story. This book is categorized as a young adult novel, however, I really feel that it will appeal to all adult, historical non-fiction audiences as well. You HAVE to read this book!!! I know you'll love it and then you will want to call everyone you know and tell them to read it too! (I did! )

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson

My next recommendation is a little less emotional but just as gripping to my historical self.

Manhunt by James Swanson is one of my must reads if you love all things history and Abraham Lincoln. This is the story of the hunt for John Wilkes Booth after he shot President Lincoln. It follows the trail of Booth as he escapes from the Ford Theatre and makes his way south. This novel read like a movie and shines a light on the fascinating details that unfolded in the 12 day hunt for Lincoln's killer. It was mind-blowing to learn new information about both Lincoln's assassination and his assassin. I was taken aback by how many people were actually involved and Booth's network of political sympathizers. I couldn't put this book down. This novel of the background of one of the most important events in Americas' history was riveting! It was so well written that I went and further researched different people mentioned in the book. (I know, I'm a nerd) But this novel seriously had it all.

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Have you read any of these books? Have any read-alike recommendations? Tell us below!