I read Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire for a book club, and it blew me away with its insight into culture, religion, politics, and family. Adapting the play Antigone to novel form, Shamsie adds even more depth to the storyline. The two sisters and their brother find their lives separating as they follow their adult paths, a shaky family background underneath them. A boy enters their lives, adding a clash in politics. The London setting provides a realistic and modern backdrop for engaging insight into our times. This novel makes a great book for discussion on accepting, assimilating, and adapting cultures.
Sarah Dessen’s latest novel The Rest of the Story hit shelves just in time for summer reading. It even takes place at a lake during summer as Emma Saylor visits her maternal grandmother she hadn’t seen since early childhood. As she reunites with her mother’s extended family years after the loss of her mother, she starts to learn some background. Dessen tackles developing new family relationships, handling the risks of alcoholism, and first love all within the view of a North Carolina lake. The slowly budding romance brings both sweetness and depth as Saylor develops her identity. Though generally revolving around teens, the story delivers a reminder to readers of all ages that we can learn more about ourselves and family by acknowledging the details, flaws and all, rather than ignoring them.
I had the pleasure of reading the last part of this book set on a lake resort at a lake at a state park with my best friend. We read it together for our long distance book club, this time reading the final section and discussing it in person.
The first day of summer coincidentally also begins the weekend. As another season starts, I recommend these fun stories that take place during the summer. They have an easygoing flow yet still have depth as the characters face new circumstances and face the heat.
The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen: This book came out this month, just in time for summer. Emma Saylor finds herself reuniting with a grandmother she hasn’t seen since early childhood. As she connects with cousins at North Lake, where her parents met, she discovers more of her deceased mother’s history. In turn, she learns how to root her identity to grow into her future.
The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen: With a character going by a similar name in a similar storyline (even the same state) to Sarah Dessen’s latest, this Sarah’s novel follows Emily Benedict as she ventures to her grandfather’s house in Mullaby, North Carolina. She too reconnects with the community of her mother’s past and finds a connection to another family. Learning about her mother’s past, she overcomes some generational obstacles in a magical setting.
The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks: Ronnie also returns to North Carolina, this time to stay with her dad for the summer. Having struggled since her parents’ divorce, she grows in her new scenery as she develops stronger roots with her father. Between the summer, the beach, and a love interest, Ronnie experiences the ocean’s beauty, waves, and tides.
How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O’Neal: Baker Romola welcomes her stepdaughter-in-law to her home and develops a new relationship as she aims to save her bakery. As they grow closer, Romola examines her own roots. A summer she spent with her aunt as a teenager shapes her future familial relationships.
Tracie Miles writes an accessible starting point for adjusting perspectives and making life improvements in Love Life Again: Finding Joy When Life Is Hard. Each chapter covers a topic that includes an application the reader can make after reading. It makes a great discussion book to cover with a partner who wants to reach similar goals, and it may pay off to read only one or two chapters a week to give ample opportunity for applying the concepts. The content mostly stays at a surface level, making it a guide beneficial to anyone. However, for those with mental health issues I would suggest it as a starting point or supplement to licensed therapy. As someone who needs more I still find encouragement and direction from this work because each small step makes a different. It serves as a reminder for some of the everyday tasks I can maintain to keep up my mental hygiene as well as my Christian walk and relationship with God.
The girls in Mean Girls wear pink on Wednesdays. Though we think we leave drama and teenage angst behind when we graduate high school, the world continues to hand us lemons. We still struggle with maintaining a firm foundation of our values, discovering our identity, pursuing our purpose, developing relationships and more. The teenage angst lives on; therefore, we can still learn from women as they come of age. Let’s take a look at some ladies as they’ve forged their way into or through adulthood.
In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second Harry Potter installment, Harry’s best friend Ron notices Hermione’s habit to seek knowledge from a trustworthy, reliable resource when she doesn’t already possess the information she seeks. He says, “When in doubt, go to the library.” This exemplifies Hermione’s thirst for knowledge and her firm grounding in pursuing it rather than basing her decisions on guesswork or assumptions. An intelligent girl already ahead of her peers, she still ensures she uses the right information. We can all benefit from that mindset as we go about taking care of our health, pursuing our careers and connecting with one another. Rather than guess from what we know and potentially miss what we really meant to do, we can consult the proper resources to make informed decisions. While Ron and Harry find themselves in troublesome situations on a regular basis, Hermione typically succeeds at her pursuits. Smart women applying their knowledge win the day.
I read Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly to discuss at my local Barnes & Noble’s book club last night. Kelly continues her historical fiction series focused on a member in an earlier generation of the real family also depicted in her debut Lilac Girls. The story brings Russia circa 100 years ago to life with its depictions of the luxurious places and wealth. A fellow book clubber who visited many of the same sights affirmed the descriptions did them justice. However, we all agreed we couldn’t relate to the characters’ wealth what with their handful of houses spread across countries (in response to a discussion guide question we ultimately reworded to generate better responses). The story covers several places and people, an aspect that at times hurt the story. Though a plot driven novel, switching between three main perspectives made some of the build up fall short, sometimes leaving the reader mentally catching up instead of moving forward still engrossed in the story. As a generally character driven fan, the overall setup made it feel less deep than I anticipated and desired. However, that lighter feel made the Bolshevik revolution and some of the horrors witnessed less heavy, and I appreciated not dwelling on depictions of the unfortunate deaths. I learned a little more about Russian history without getting bogged down with details or war weight. The story focuses on females who show strength in their survival despite terrible circumstances. Yet we could have learned so much more if they had fought to thrive.
Regarding Kelly’s approach to this series, I like how she takes the stories backward in time for historical periods rather than forward. Covering the Bolshevik revolution and next the Civil War era gets us to times not depicted as often as World War II (like Lilac Girls).
Bowling Green, Kentucky hosted SOKY Book Fest on Western Kentucky University’s campus the last weekend of April.
Angie Thomas presented as one of the keynote speakers, demonstrating her activism through the spoken and written word. She urged the audience to use their own voices to make a difference as well. I noted that these opportunities present themselves more often than we realize because they seem so small or ordinary. Thomas’s readers laughed repeatedly with her pop culture references, particularly when she shared that she couldn’t relate to Twilight during its popularity reign (I found that to be a positive sign). A message we all needed to heed, Thomas spoke poignantly, intelligently and engagingly about the importance of using our voice rather than remaining silent.
Ann Gabhart returned again, this time coinciding with the release of her latest historical fiction novel The Refuge. She even remembered speaking to me last year, so we had a nice chat about her books and the disruption social media makes on the reading life. A Kentucky resident herself, Gabhart shared her historical influences on her books during a panel discussion I attended.
This festival brings so many authors and readers together and gives numerous opportunities to learn about the writing process through author panel discussions and even writers workshops. The authors engage with the readers as they mingle, and the whole experience brings so much insight. I have enjoyed each of my visits immensely.
This theme’s suggested grouping takes us back to rock scene of California (and the rest of the country) during the 1970s and 1980s as we read Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid and watch Almost Famous and Rock of Ages. From behind the scenes as an insider and an observer perspective, we find that the rock n roll lifestyle makes it difficult to maintain stability, particularly in relationships. Young William, a teen writing for Rolling Stone magazine, witnesses an up and coming band called Stillwater grapple with success as they tour together in Almost Famous. Around the same time period, Daisy Jones & The Six forms and finds fame as they clash over how to make their records. Talented musicians, they succumb to the expected trials of rock n roll. Yet a key character serves as a moral grounding to keep the band’s lead from going over the edge. Rock of Ages gets into the period after the breakup of Daisy Jones & The Six and shows the emergence of a solo artist from a highly successful band as well as the breakout of a couple other stars. The rock star lifestyle has more than the rough edges audiences or listeners may see, and the artists use their experiences to fuel their music.
I received a copy of Julie Klassen’s The Ladies of Ivy Cottage from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for a review.
Though the second in a trilogy, this story is my first Klassen and stands on its own. The ladies form a neat community as they learn to adapt to new situations in Victorian era England. As their friendships blossom, so do their skills at business to care for themselves. Rachel opens a library in the cottage, Mercy runs a girls school, and Jane manages an inn. Their strength comes from within just as much as it does from staying connected to their community. Of course, some love interests find their way into the mix as the ladies navigate their futures. Reading about ladies facing difficult odds with grace by helping each other makes for an encouraging read. I look forward to reading the latest and last in the trilogy (then likely the first).