On the surface, these two books may appear to have little in common. After all, State of Wonder is about a scientist's Heart of Darkness-esque trip into the Amazon jungle in search of a researcher with the key to a miracle drug -- while The Lost City of Z is about the countless explorers that have quested after a lost city in the Amazon. But if you look beneath the surface, there are striking similarities: both are centered around the search for something, and both involve a great deal of introspection over the course of a long journey. What's more, they're set in the same area of the world. If you enjoyed the snapshot of the Amazon that Patchett presented in her novel, you will love Grann's detailed descriptions of the wonders and horrors found deep within the Amazon rainforest.
There are many books out there romanticizing the idea of buying a farm in Virginia and through hard work and dedication, making it home. Donna Ball accomplishes this well in her Ladybug Farm series, starting with A Year on Ladybug Farm, where three friends buy a dilapidated mansion in the Shenandoah Valley together. But while these books are enjoyable, it's easy to underestimate the amount of work involved in such a venture, as well as its precariousness. Enter Jim Minick with his memoir The Blueberry Years, in which he and his wife buy a farm in Virginia with the goal of creating a blueberry farm. The odds are stacked against Minick and the obstacles he must overcome are enormous. Yet, it's a rewarding, heartwarming book full of laughter and love -- making you think twice about that dream of retiring to a farm.
If your dream isn't a farm, then perhaps it's operating a bed and breakfast in picturesque New England. Though LeeLee Satterfield isn't thrilled at leaving her home and uprooting her family, she's willing to follow her husband and stand by his side while he fulfills his fantasy. For Carol Eron Rizzoli, it's restoring an old house and turning it into a cozy B&B. While discussing such varied subjects as nature, recipes and local culture, Rizzoli and her husband navigate the treacherous waters of owning and operating a B&B. While Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'Easter might fire up the imagination, The House at Royal Oak will bring the reader crashing back to reality as they enjoy Rizzoli's words -- also appreciating her hard work and dedication.
Room is a harrowing portrayal of a life spent in captivity, told through the eyes of a 5-year-old boy. The language is simple, the observations unguarded, making this book even more powerful. The reminder that some version of Room's plotline happens on a daily basis is frightening, but still worth reading -- through Jaycee Dugard's experiences in her memoir A Stolen Life. In this ripped-from-the-headlines kidnapping, Jaycee was taken at the age of 11 and held captive for 18 years. In her memoir, she gives a candid account of the years she was held against her will. It's certainly not the easiest book to read, but it is well worth it to remember how many out there like Jaycee aren't found.
In Emily and Einstein, the main character finds an old soul in a crotchety dog named Einstein -- one that saves her during the worst of times. It's a common theme -- finding yourself through the love of an animal, and nowhere is it more beautifully portrayed than in Julie Klam's memoir You Had Me at Woof. Klam details her relationships with Boston Terriers over the course of her adult life, and how it wasn't until she surrendered herself completely to a dog that she began to learn the keys to her own happiness. Klam's memoir is full of warmth and wisdom, and any animal lover, especially those going through difficult times, would do well to pick up her book.
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