Sucked right into Grady Hendrix’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, I gripped the pages like a vampire sinks its teeth into its victim. A strong sense of a southern community filled with housewives made a perfect setting for a vampire to sneak into the house next door. The mystery and drama led me through a delightful escape as I grew more interested in the heroine Patricia. It reminded me of Fright Night with an age adjustment and less gore and language. I felt reluctant to return to the real world and continue to yearn to turn these pages again. There will be regular rereads of this in the future.
So far I have adored every Kate DiCamillo story I’ve read, and her Newbery Honor book Because of Winn-Dixie tops my list. Young Opal rescues her new dog Winn-Dixie, but the canine saves Opal as much as Opal saves her. Together, they embark on a journey to find a place to belong. The courage Opal finds with a friend by her side warms my heart, reminding me of the importance of support. Those brave steps forward lead to new friends and shares hope with readers as they sympathize and laugh with Opal. The characters give the story a perfect flair.
*Link is to my Bookshop affiliate page.
After hearing numerous students gush about Shannon Messenger’s middle grade series The Keeper of the Lost Cities, I finally have read the first book myself. It lives up to their hype. Sophie makes a likable, admirable, and relatable protagonist. An encounter at a museum leads her to discover her identity as an elf, and the story follows her adjustment to a new world, family, and friends. Though she feels like an outsider at her new school as much as she did at her human one, she embraces her abilities and explores their potential. Vaguely reminiscent of Harry Potter, I find this a brighter alternative. Messenger achieves a great balance between world building and character development, and I find myself tearing through the pages. I’ve acquired the next installment already and happily reported to my students I enjoyed it (and thanked them for the recommendation).
Jasmine Guillory’s latest romance Party of Two surpassed my expectations. With more substance and maturity than her previous stories, these characters had me not only rooting for their relationship but celebrating their personal growth. Lawyer Olivia Monroe and junior senator Max Powell have more age and career experience under their belts than the leads from The Wedding Date and The Proposal, and this serves to their advantage. They have a sense of their values and goals and take the time to consider how their next steps might or might not progress them. The communication and reflection may seem like they would slow down the story, but it allows the readers to savor the romance as well as contemplate healthy relationship adjustments.
I read Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein with a friend as a fun way to connect while we don’t get to see each other. The story follows a predictable but fun romance plot when would have been Olympic gymnast Avery reconnects with another former athlete when she moves back to their hometown and they start working together. Their shared goal to get a talented gymnast into the 2020 Olympics makes a good central point for discussion points like the abuse scandal, career and purpose, healthy relationship dynamics, and more. While these issues don’t get detailed responses on the pages, the characters, particularly the women, make positive models for how empathy and empowerment can grow when people reflect and adjust. I would have loved to see more character development there but appreciate the strong frame. Overall, it makes a quick but fun and motivating read.
Abby Jimenez’s latest romance The Happy Ever After Playlist came into my orbit thanks to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Summer Reading Guide. The quick banter between Sloan and Tucker hooked me immediately. I found myself smiling at their quips, rooting for the relationship to evolve. The Happy Ever After Playlist maintained its fun tone throughout but unpacked some weight later in the story. Seemingly small yet realistic issues came to light, showing the characters making tough decisions to balance personal, career, and relationship goals. Themes of resilience and friendship abounded as Abby Jimenez’s characters moved forward in their lives. The story made a delightful escape as I stayed home and walked through the delights involved with falling in love, stepping forward in a career, and building emotional strength after setbacks by reading Sloan’s story.
Sarah Addison Allen weaves magic into real life, and the enchanting Lost Lake does not disappoint. Emerging from her initial mourning period, widow Kate takes her daughter to Lost Lake for fresh perspective. The destination that used to draw crowds for vacations no longer holds its allure, but it still pulls Kate and Devin into its orbit. They connect with the regulars at the lake as they too face new adjustments. Together, they find hope and resilience no matter their ages. Rich in backstory, small town camaraderie, and love, Lost Lake has you rooting for its characters to reach their next growth point.
I recently reread this classic that also made the first spot on the list of books that brought tears to my eyes. Reading this as an adult affirmed its status in literature. Wilson Rawls wrote a story about a boy worthy of our cheers as he worked to buy and train his hunting dogs. Immersed in the poor, rural setting, I felt a content participant in Billy’s life. I wanted to encourage him on his quest to become the best coon hunter as I saw the people in his life come together for a common cause. Loyalty and dedication abounded as positive themes throughout the story, not only from the dogs but from Billy as well. He made a good example what it takes to overcome odds and meet goals.
My library book club leader and friend Delois recently interviewed me for a book recommendation feature on the library’s website to highlight selections available on OverDrive and Libby courtesy of the library.
Here is the interview:
Anatomy of a Book Club: Up Close with KIRB Appeal Book Club Members #2
Delois Walters: Library Assistant, Book Club Moderator
In the upcoming weeks, I’ll introduce members of KIRB Appeal, a multi-generational, diverse book club that meets at the Bob Kirby Branch Library.
Our featured reader this time is Kayla Stierwalt.
The Gown by Jennifer Robson (Available through OverDrive/Libby)
DW: Kayla, I don’t think I have met anyone else with your last name here in Bowling Green. Are you from Kentucky?
KS: I do have an unusual last name—I haven’t me anyone outside of my family who bears the name. I am actually a native of Missouri.
DW: What brought you to Bowling Green?
KS: I came here from Texas right after Hurricane Harvey. You could say I was escaping hurricanes and the heat, mainly the heat!
DW: I remember your first visit to the library—you were excited about getting your library card, but dejected that you had just missed the Friends of the Library book sale.
KS: Yes, books were on my radar and since I missed the book sale, you invited me to KIRB Appeal for a book discussion. I was so happy to make connections there.
DW: You recommended the book The Gown by Jennifer Robson. Why did this book grab you?
KS: I really enjoy reading historical fiction and I was attracted to this book because it is about the wedding gown of Queen Elizabeth, and because it has an element of intrigue as well as a dual time-line.
DW: What else did you like about this book?
KS: I liked the themes of friendship and resilience, and it was hopeful.
DW: Kayla, you’re fascinating; you contribute book reviews to a blog, you enjoy doing research, and in addition to being an avid reader, you write as well. If you were writing the ending to this chapter in all of our lives about living through a pandemic, what would that ending be?
DW: Just as The Gown is a hopeful story; I would write a hopeful ending. This has been a time of hope and growth for me. I am fortunate to be employed and have everything that I need. My wish is that when this is over, people will reflect on what we’ve gone through, slow down, and continue to show kindness, so we can grow and become better people, because we are all in this together!
DW: I know literacy is very important to you. You said something earlier about your job as a teacher’s assistant that made me smile. Do you know what I am referring to?
KS: I’ll bet you mean when I said the favorite part of my job is when I take my group to the library—it’s my Happy Place!
The Gown is available to download through the WCPL digital catalog as an eBook or an audiobook through OverDrive & Libby.
Guys, libraries provide so many services for communies. Right now funding sources question that. I still am learning exactly how much they offer, but I can tell you I felt especially delighted when I realized I could get free access to Mango Languages to learn Arabic. During my time in quarantine I also have registered on Hoopla, which makes a good resource for trying new music, audiobooks, TV shows, and more. Next, I’m exploring research options as I help a student with a project. Let’s keep our libraries alive so communities can thrive.
Last year I fell in love with Taylor Jenkin Reid’s Daisy Jones & the Six immediately after its release, ready to read it again before I turned the last page. Her prior book The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo did not disappoint either. Following a similar interview style format, the story followed actress Evelyn Hugo over the course of her career and husbands. Reid immersed readers in the Hollywood lifestyle and reminded us appearances do not tell the whole story. Though on some levels I couldn’t relate to Evelyn, I found myself wrapped up in her tension to propel her career and to fulfill her desires for her home life. Success in both posed an impossible challenge. Then despite some unlikable characteristics, Monique finds her own resolve strengthening as she interviews the star. The growth there made a great catalyst for moving forward with a proper foundation, one possibly not found in Evelyn’s history. I adore Taylor Jenkin Reid’s writing style and voice and look forward to reading more, especially Daisy Jones again.