First up, Kate DiCamillo's The Magician's Elephant. Absolutley excellent. It may be on of the loveliest, sweetest, most darling books I've ever read.
Though aimed at young readers (ages 9-12, roughly), it's characters and story lines are enjoyable at any age. It's tame enough to be read aloud to younger children, but engaging enough for adults. The characters are so interesting, so complex, that you become deeply invested in their fate.
While leading separate lives, several characters become connected through one simple, magical occurrence. A fortune teller, a boy, a soldier, a police officer, a noble woman, a magician, a servant, another noble woman, a homeless man, a homeless man's dog, an orphan, a carver, and an elephant make up the cast, and they're just as varied and unique as they sound.
Above is just one of the many lovely illustrations that accompany the melodic prose. The primary themes focus on hope and family, with a dash of following your heart. It's a touching story, well written, and not one you'll soon forget.
The House Girl, by Tara Conklin, I happened upon at the library. It deals with heavy materials, stomach dropping tragedies, and weaves time together from pre-Civil War experiences to present.
It does start off a tad slow; I was much more concerned with the slave story line than the modern lawyer's for the first sixty pages or so. Then Conklin reeled me in like a fish, and I didn't want to put the book down. Only a book addict would stay up reading for two hours after both her baby and her husband went to bed. Though I was more tired for a few days, I didn't regret staying up to finish the book.
Conklin's debut novel is well-written, thoroughly researched (or so I assume, as it seems historically accurate and I didn't notice any contradictions). Portraying slavery and racism is always tricky, but Conklin executes it well. We see many unique characters that are not stereotyped, as well as the different issues of house slaves and field slaves.
Conklin ties everything together nicely, but this is not an easy, happy read. The plights these characters face is not so different than slaves actually did face, and some moments can be hard to get through. We also see a glimpse of the Underground Railroad, and its operators.
Overall, a good (if tough, emotionally) read.
I hope this helps your fall book hunt. My advice is to grab a book, snuggle under a blanket, and read away these grey days. Happy reading!
I'd love to hear what you've been reading in the comments section!