Day After Night by Anita Diamant (Simon & Schuster, 2009)
This novel remembers the victims of the Holocaust through the eyes of a few Jews who survived it and made it to Palestine to start new lives. Diamant tells the story of a group of young women temporarily imprisoned in a holding facility in Palestine, waiting to be allowed by the British to become citizens. While they are waiting, these very traumatized young adults try to reconnect to their peers and adjust to the idea of a future in a new land that their lost friends and families will never see. Since their official papers are long gone, eventually the Israeli army breaks in and helps them all escape. When the book ends, you feel like it’s only the beginning of the story and you want to know what happens next. She does provide a short synopsis of the women’s futures, but a sequel would have been even better.
Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich our Communities and Our Lives by Jarrett Walker (Island Press, 2011)
Most books about public transportation immediately become mired in jargon and tedious math. This book is refreshingly different. Walker explains the why and hows of public transportation in a simple and clear way that anyone can understand. He believes that we all should be able to weigh in on how best to serve our communities with public transit, whether that involves buses, trolleys, or rail systems. Walker takes apart the intimidating complexity of transportation systems by focusing on only one aspect in each chapter: routes, connections, fares, frequency, density, and so on. By the end we can see clearly how the pieces fit together, what tradeoffs are unavoidable, and where some of our cities went wrong.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Viking, 2013).
This novel has two different narrators. One is Nao, a teenage girl living in Japan in the early 2000’s, who spent most of her childhood in California and is having trouble re-adjusting to Japanese culture. This is not surprising as there is an appalling amount of bullying. The other is a Canadian novelist named Ruth, of Japanese heritage, who finds the girl’s diary (in a sealed plastic bag) washed up on the beach one day near her home in British Columbia. The story also involves Nao’s great-grandmother, a Buddhist monk, and her son who was a suicide bomber in World War II but left behind a diary as well. The details of Japanese culture are fascinating but the focus on suicide (both Nao and her father keep contemplating it) is rather morbid. Father and daughter do decide to live in the end though.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (Simon & Schuster, 2013)
This is a hilarious novel which will cheer almost anyone up. It is particularly funny if you have any experience working in higher education or know scientists. While most of the book takes place in Australia, it doesn’t require any previous experience with Australian life to appreciate. It is easy to predict that the hyper-organized scientist who tries to find a wife using a questionnaire will end up with someone who meets very few of his stated criteria. What makes it funny is all the things that happen along the way.