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.
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).
Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place has a spot in my top 10 reads from last year and probably the top spot for book club selections last year and a spot on my all time favorites list. This novel covers so much territory in time, place, relationships, and more. Daniel Sullivan’s life saga brings infinite contemplations on life as he navigates personal and career triumphs and pitfalls. Each experience feels so real, and each character makes you wish you could meet them in some capacity. O’Farrell has such writing strength in style, depth, and intelligence, and that makes her an author whose work I want to complete.
After having Kristin Hannah on my radar a couple years, Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club finally got it to my currently reading stack, and boy did it take me for a trip through the wilderness both physically and emotionally. The story took place in 1970s Alaska, and she paints a vivid picture of surviving the harsh realities of a place with severe winters, periods of no sunlight and little connection to the mainland. While I enjoyed the detail, it made it crystal clear to me that I would not make it through my first season there. Not only did the Alaskan terrain prove difficult, but Leni’s home life did as well. Again, Hannah created a realistic aspect of her story in the Allbright family’s tension. She explored how the tumult affected all members of the family through different angles of pain. The wilderness of home added a whole new layer to the story as the characters formed relationships with their community and learned how to cope as well as survive. As Leni went from a happy child carrying her Winnie the Pooh lunchbox to school on her first day in Alaska to the adult who eventually started her own family, I felt gutted. She helplessly stood by her mother, staying silent about their situation, and the powerlessness of such trauma expanded well beyond them. Hannah made readers experience the darkness of such an Alaska frontier both outside and inside the home.
adventure, Beartown, book club, bookish, books, community, England, Fredrik Backman, friendship, Great American Reader, Harry Potter, Hogwarts, J.K. Rowling, Jane Austen, love, Persuasion, reading, Victorian literature, winter
February ends in less than a week, and spring comes soon. As I start to ease out of the winter blues, I have some books lined up for those days spent indoors. They range from atmospheric, character driven novels to classics.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman: This weekend I finally have this book beloved in book club circles on my docket. A couple chapters in I already feel immersed in the small forest town that revolves around its hockey team. Backman goes deep into the minds of his characters, and I sense a foreboding event. I anticipate reading how the characters respond to the situation and how they interact with each other. This community offers insight on relationship and organization dynamics.
Persuasion by Jane Austen: Though the novel doesn’t have a wintery setting, it transports you to Victorian England. The story explores social class and mores as well as its expectations for love. Anne has a failed love story in the background, so I look forward to seeing how encountering her lover again shapes her marriage prospects and how Austen’s trademark wit plays into it. I already find myself daydreaming about the cottages and the names as well as my Pride and Prejudice reread for my Great American Reader project.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling: The second installment in the Harry Potter series continues my Great American Reader project as well as my book club community read as we read the series this year. In England again, this time in the beloved Hogwarts castle, the school walls protect the students against the cold and darkness as Voldemort fights to gain power. Hogwarts offers respite from the winter as well as a fantasy adventure rooted in good vs evil. Harry and his friends continue to grow up and face moral dilemmas that make you root for them while wishing you attended Hogwarts too.
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 young adults as they come of age. Let’s take a look at some ladies as they’ve forged their way into adulthood.
My birthday fell on a Wednesday last week, and I got to celebrate the start of another year in my new pink attire. My best friend made us personalized shirts for our book club duo. In high school, she recommended Twilight to me after we realized our common reading interest in journalism class. The friendship only grew from there, forged in immortality right alongside our Edward Cullen Pop! mascot (on the shelf behind me).
Books make great friends, but the people who join us outside the pages make our own lives better. Like the stories we read, we experience continual teenage angst, the flutters of a budding love and the disappointments and victories in stepping toward dreams. The people beside us join us for encouragement, laughter and support. I’m so thankful for my best friends and all my bookish friends.
I have read A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, and I do not have words to portray properly how exquisite Towles writes. The story has the makings of a modern classic with its superb writing, fun and well developed characters and engaging plot. As Count Rostov carries out his house arrest in an elegant hotel, he finds himself connecting to the community there and eventually growing a family as an adoptive father. Smart as the classic Russian writers he reads, the Count shares unique insight into life and Russian politics at the time. The stagnant setting makes a nice contrast for the development of the Count.
I recommend this book for almost anyone. It has a lot of topics ripe for discussion in a book club, and it offers a highly engaging read.
Tip: Pair this with a viewing of Casablanca, preferably watching the film before reading the book or watching it as a break when you reach the halfway point in the book.
I recently read The Oedipus Cycle by Sophocles after reading Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. Perhaps I should have read this one first considering Home Fire puts Antigone in novel form in a new time and place. However, reading it after gave me a greater appreciation for Shamsie’s work and allowed me to see it as fresh rather than guess the next point.
This ancient Greek tragedy makes for a different read. Where Home Fire makes its story relevant to current situations playing out in the world, The Oedipus Cycle provides the dark drama fitting of an old play. Yet they still carry a lot of the same weight when it comes to power, particularly in country and family dynamics. These plays give more context to the whole story, which fills in some of the background not provided in the retelling. Yet I still found Shamsie’s work had more depth to it, possibly due to the novel format allowing that or me relating to the current times more than the ancient Greek time. The myth element provides some intrigue, but Shamsie’s update to religion makes it that more accessible and realistic. It gets interesting to compare the power dynamics considering those differences. Ultimately, Sophocles reminds us how chasing power can come at the expense of a loss in family, kingdom and more.
Anne of Green Gables sounds like a perfect spring or summer read considering the green landscape, blooming trees and adventurous Anne, but I see it makes it onto fall reading lists as well. More importantly, it has made it onto my fall reading list, made even better by doing it as a community read with fellow Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club members. I finally have met Anne Shirley, and I must say I immensely enjoy her story thus far (I’ve read the first quarter).
Readers meet Anne when her adoptive father Matthew Cuthbert picks her up from the train station, and immediately her curious and adventurous spirit shows. Throughout her ride to Green Gables, she asks Matthew questions and marvels at the beauty of the landscape around her. Matthew answers honestly several times, saying, “I dunno” in response to the red headed child’s musings. Yet she maintains her sense of wonder. Responding to one of Matthew’s “I dunno” answers, she says:
“Well, that is one of the things to find out sometime. Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive-it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?”
We all have this sense of wonder to some extent, imaginative spirits or not. Thankfully, we don’t know all there is to know in this world. The quest for knowledge keeps us moving forward, hopefully developing as people in the process. As we learn more, we can understand ourselves and others more. We can continue to progress our lives, goals, careers, and relationships.
Consider spending some time gaining a better understanding of a topic, whether it involve conflict management, nutrition, spiritual growth, history, or any number of subjects. Books exist covering numerous concepts, and most cities have groups or resources we can use to gain this insight. Even simply talking to people around us and asking the question Kelly Corrigan wisely learns and explains in Tell Me More (this month’s Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club selection), can lead to greater insight on endless topics. Let’s seek to know more!
What would you like to learn? On what topic would you like to gain a greater knowledge? I’d love to know; share in the comment section.
I have finished reading the book brick known as Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty for a buddy read with some fellow Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club members, and boy do I feel blown away by this classic western. It has all the elements of a great story: rich setting, great cast of characters, tension and growth among the group members, a tinge of romance and more as the men route their cattle herd from Texas to Montana.
This book has the feel of an epic and vaguely reminds me of The Lord of the Rings. The group sets off for a long journey where they face numerous trials involving the settings and people they encounter along the way. They also develop a greater understanding of themselves as the battle their perils. I feel thankful I don’t live in this time period as it seems even the women faced their own struggles to have happiness and a sense of independence in this world. I most relate to the scenes on Clara’s homestead as they build a home and welcome travelers, even inviting a couple new people into the extended family. They too face death and heal from it and other disappointments, but they show how they can support each other. My favorite character Lorena might not survive without her friends to stick by her side and remind her she has a place and help she can offer. Augustus offers her a safe place on the journey, and Clara provides a safe place in the home she shares. Most the men, however, have to work together to keep each other safe from the elements so they can become the first herdsmen in Montana.
McMurty writes such vivid scenery and characters. Though western falls outside my normal reading realm considering the last one I read was just over ten years ago, I fully appreciate this book. The characters feel authentic, and their dynamics remind me those tensions exist in any setting. The border war comments they hear in Missouri about Kansas remind me of what they still say in Kansas City; I even remind people of that when they mistakenly say I hail from Kansas and I correct them to say Missouri (unfortunately now it seems I reside on the wrong side of the border in Kentucky, but that can change). These pages take you to another world while reminding you of the present. It certainly deserves its spot on The Great American Read.
I give this book 5 stars and recommend it to readers of all genres. I’m glad this group supported each other in tackling a large book outside their normal reading genres.