The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux

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The Mosquito Coast is the story of a man, Allie Fox, who uproots his family from their Massachusetts farm in order to start a new life in the jungles of Central America. We are told Allie and his family’s story through the eyes and voice of his 14yo son Charlie–a boy who watches as his father becomes more obsessive and less tied to reality.

For more books frequently found on high school reading lists that won’t bore you to tears, check these out:

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The Beach by Alex Garland

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Colony by Anne Rivers Siddons

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Maude is 90 years old and looking back on a full life while waiting for her granddaughter to bring her home. The primary setting of Maude’s imaginings is the summer colony in Maine where the multi-generational home of her husband’s family is as well as the other two families that became entangled with their own.

For more novels where setting is as much a character as the protagonist, check these out (and, yes, they are all by Anne Rivers Siddons):

Islands by Anne Rivers Siddons

Outer Banks: A Novel by Anne Rivers Siddons

Sweetwater Creek by Anne Rivers Siddons

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

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Even though I’ve been proven wrong time and time again, I am always wary about celebrity memoirs. In the case of Not My Father’s Son, I thought, could a person be gifted at acting, singing, dancing, AND writing? Well, let me tell you, the answer is a resounding YES. Alan Cumming’s writing is painful and honest and beautiful. He brings the reader into the most vulnerable parts of his life and he does so with plenty of honesty and humor. A must read.

For more surprisingly poignant memoirs by talented celebrities, check these out:

Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

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The Bigtree alligator-wrestling dynasty is in decline, and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, formerly #1 in the region, is swiftly being encroached upon by a fearsome and sophisticated competitor called the World of Darkness. Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, has just died; her sister, Ossie, has fallen in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, who may or may not be an actual ghost; and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, who dreams of becoming a scholar, has just defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their family business from going under. Ava’s father, affectionately known as Chief Bigtree, is AWOL; and that leaves Ava, a resourceful but terrified thirteen, to manage ninety-eight gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life animated by ancient lizards and lawless hungers, Karen Russell has written an utterly singular novel about a family’s struggle to stay afloat in a world that is inexorably sinking.*

*This incredibly complicated synopsis was taken from the publisher. I was unable to do as succinct a job.😉

For more quirky and endearing stories with young female protagonists, check these out:

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by C. Alan Bradley

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

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After Pat Peoples and his wife Nikki separate, he goes to live with his parents but everything seems changed. No one wants to talk to him about Nikki, his old friends are busy with their families, and his new therapist seems to be recommending adultery as therapy. He meets Tiffany, a clinically depressed widow, who offers to act as a liaison between the couple if Pat will give up watching football, agrees to perform in the Dance Away Depression competition and not tell anyone about their contract.*

If you would like to read more books that were later made into amazing films, check these out:

The Descendents by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Contact by Carl Sagan

Big Fish by Daniel Wallace

*Publisher’s summary.

 

 

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

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“Are you there, Satan, it’s me, Madison.” 13 year old Madison dies over Christmas break at her Swiss boarding school and inexplicably finds herself in Hell. Her cellmates, in a perfect echo of John Hughes’ classic film The Breakfast Club, are a cheerleader, a jock, a nerd, and a punk rocker. Palahniuk’s version of Hell is all sorts of clever including the job Madison has, as a telemarketer in a sweltering call center. A fun, strange, quirky novel. Highly recommended.

For more books that explore themes of hell and death in a clever manner, check these out:

The Gates by John Connolly

The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

The Paris Review Interviews

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If you are an aspiring writer you must read The Paris Review, especially the interviews. Learn about the process of writing from luminaries like Dorothy Parker, Kurt Vonnegut, T.S. Eliot, and Ernest Hemingway. In the words of Salman Rushdie, “taken together, they form perhaps the finest available inquiry into the ‘how’ of literature, in many ways a more interesting question than the ‘why.'”

For more reading about writing, check these out:

On Writing by Stephen King

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr and E.B. White

The Speed Queen by Stewart O’Nan

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“Why did I kill them? I didn’t kill them. I was there, but I didn’t kill anyone. I know exactly what happened, though. It’s pretty boring, actually. It’s pretty normal. I don’t think people will be that interested. But if anyone can make it interesting, you can. You’ll make it funny, too, which is right. Sometimes it was really funny. Even now some of it’s funny.”

Marjorie Standiford is the Speed Queen, one of Oklahoma’s Sonic Killers, and as she sits on death row, hours away from execution, she speaks into a taperecorder to relate her life story to the famed horror novelist who bought the rights.

For more examples of a story told in inventive ways, check these out:

Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King (a novel told as a confession to police)

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan (a playful novel told in a dictionary format)

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher (a novel told in hilarious letters of recommendation)

 

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

 

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“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” One of the most memorable first lines in literature followed by a haunting, beautifully written novel that the author has referred to as his love letter to the English language.

For more stunning fiction by Russian authors, check these out:

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

*PS–The audiobook of Lolita (read by Jeremy Irons) is phenomenal. FYI.😉

Bootlegger’s Daughter by Margaret Maron

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“This smart, sassy series introduces Deborah Knott, candidate for district judge–and daughter of an infamous bootlegger. Deborah’s campaigning is interrupted when disturbing new evidence surrounding a murder that has never been solved surfaces and she is implored to investigate.” —from the publisher

I love the Deborah Knott series. Like most series fiction there is a wonderful familiarity between the main character and the reader, but unlike many series the protagonist grows and changes from book to book. Good mysteries, great characters, and lots of southern charm–these titles are a treat.

For more mystery series, check these out:

M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series

Rhys Bowen’s The Royal Spyness series

Diana Mott Davidson’s Goldy Schultz series