What Are You Reading?

My favorite question in the world to ask and answer is, “What are you reading?”

I stepped up my reading game as I finished my graduate school program last spring. For a long time my answer to my favorite question was probably an article about successful strategies for teacher mentoring in Australia. Australians are doing a lot of interesting research on this topic, if you want to know.

My reading list since spring has been much more varied. My reviews are always four and five star because I don’t continue reading things that don’t interest me. I am a very rude reader. If you’re a book that isn’t appealing to me, I walk away without saying sorry.  Other than that, I have no preferred genre or type. I’m like a black bear of reading. I’ll consume anything as long as I like it.

Here are nine of the books I’ve read lately and what I thought of them:


The Animals by Christian Kiefer

This is a novel about hardscrabble life full of discomfort, pain, hopelessness. A novel about people on the margins of the American Dream, living in trailers and stucco apartments. The story follows a young man as he makes the decision to change the course of his life through sheer force of will. It’s a hardcore life adventure that pulls no punches. This author writes with brutal honesty and compassion, muscular urgency and spiritual grace, simplicity and poetry. This is a heartbreaking work from a brilliant author. It also has a bear in it, which is awesome. Highly recommend.


Electric City by Elizabeth Rosner

Ms. Rosner writes with elegant power, offering a fascinating inside view of oft overlooked aspects of the American experience. A love story at its core, it also provides insight into the story and contributions of Charles Proteus Steinmetz. It also intertwines the stories of three young characters: a child of European Jewish immigrants, the son of the wealthiest family in town, and the grandson of a Native American canoe maker who feels deeply the pull of his ancestral legacy. I was riveted throughout, and deeply moved by this author’s spare but gorgeous use of language. I enthusiastically recommend.


A Tree Born Crooked by Steph Post

This novel is a literary, unsentimental look at the lives of characters most people have written off or disregarded, including even themselves. James and Marlena cling to basic human goodness and perhaps the hope of love and connection despite their damaged and damaging relations and their own hard drinking. Steph Post is a talented writer. Her portraits of the people and the land lack any romantic or sentimental charge whatsoever, yet maintain a vivid dignity throughout. On top of the gorgeous and evocative writing, the story is a cinematic page-turner. This was good reading, and I will look forward to whatever Steph Post writes next. I also hope Hollywood picks this one up, makes a movie from it, and casts Thomas Hardy as James. That would be awesome.

201408-omag-books-6-949x1356Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Believe the hype. This novel tells all the truth possible. At 470 pages (hardcover), it was too short. I turned the last page and felt changed, punched in the guts, ruined yet hopeful. This is grandiose and subtle at the same time, a beautiful, horrible, devastating novel. It is set in the rise of the neoconservative eighties, and this aspect of the story resonates today. The main character is flawed as hell, but still deeply good and insightful when few around him seem as capable of those traits.  I loved it. Thank you for writing it, Mr. Henderson. I will read everything you ever write.


Naked by Stacey Trombley

As a high school teacher in a city with one of the worst underage sex trafficking problems in this country, I deeply appreciate this respectfully written story about a young girl desperate to work towards a normal life after years of prostitution. There are fathers like hers out there, experiences like hers. I so appreciate novels that address real life through characters and narratives that are well written and engaging. I rooted for Anna and her friends all the way. The last third of the novel came together particularly beautifully. I will recommend this novel to my students.


Hollywood Witch Hunter by Valerie Tejeda

By a third of the way in, I was casting the actors for the television series for this novel in my brain. It would be a perfect show with lots of seasons. The characters are strong and complex and fresh. The world-building is interesting and rooted in a cool setting to begin with. The action is surprising, fun, exciting. I will be recommending this novel to my high school students looking for fresh, exciting paranormal YA with a protagonist who is real, complex and strong.


We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I just finished this novel the other night. Late into the other night because I couldn’t stand to put it down. The story follows a young mother named Letty whose parents move back to Mexico, leaving her to raise her two children alone. It’s a coming of age story for Letty as well as for her teenage son as they learn to navigate life on their own. Overarching storylines involving migratory birds, justice for migrants and inequities in education create a rich, complex story that will leave you, as I was, turning pages long after you were supposed to turn off the light.


The Same Terrible Storm by Sheldon Lee Compton

This collection of short stories is a study in the potential of the form to tell a profound form of truth. The language of this author as twisty, unrelenting and gorgeous is as the Appalachian geography of the stories’ setting, nearly every line startling in its unsentimental poetry. Every story delivers a beautiful, heartbreaking punch in the stomach. These are characters born into a hard world, as tough as the land they live on as in this description of a young farmworker: “He’s just a boy, but big as a mountain, like he was craved out of petrified wood and braided together with cedar strips.” This collection is visually stunning in its imagery and detail. The stories linger in the imagination like short films long after reading. The Same Terrible Storm is a must for any reader or writer of short stories.


The Revenant by Michael Punke

This is like Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet but for adults. Glorious historical fiction. This book held me hostage until I finished it. I could not put it down. A perfect balance between gorgeous depictions of the land, historical accounts and action. One of the best books I’ve read this year. Highly recommend.

Maureen O’Leary Wanket is the author of How to Be Manly and The Arrow.


    1. You’re welcome. You rock.


  1. […] I’m especially grateful to Maureen Wanket for reviewing and including my short story collection THE SAME TERRIBLE STORM at The Arrow. To read, visit the site here. […]


    1. Sheldon Lee Compton, you are a genius in my opinion. I will read anything you ever write.


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