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.
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.
I read The Girl Who Chased the Moon, my first Sarah Addison Allen novel, and it may have made a sweeter treat than my funfetti cake with pink icing (my birthday fell on a Wednesday). The setting came to life enough to make me wonder if I’d rather move to a small town like Mullaby, North Carolina or back to a big city. I felt summer’s warm air as Emily gazed at the mysterious light in the trees outside her window and longed for some quiet reflection of my own. Then I wanted to go to Julia’s bakery to chat with Mullaby’s finest as each character had their own charm, making me want to belong to a community like that. This enchanting story floated as smoothly as the lights danced across the yard in the middle of the night, and with its fun came some depth in its female leads and their discoveries about their families’ pasts. It certainly only began my love for Allen’s magical stories and neat women.
Fun Note: I got this book at a meetup and book swap some of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club members, including our leader Anne Bogel, had in Nashville last summer.
books, family, How to Walk Away, Katherine Center, Lock and Key, Maggie O'Farrell, middle grade March, relationships, RJ Palacio, Sarah Dessen, spring, strength, The Language of Flowers, This Must Be the Place, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, wonder, YA
Springtime makes a perfect setting for growth as the green returns to the land and love and floral scents fill the air. I have compiled a list of books that feature a lot of character growth, particularly within family dynamics. Let these stories inspire us to develop ourselves and to connect with our family on an authentic, deep level.
Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen: Ruby starts in a dysfunctional family situation. After her mother disappears, she finds herself in a more stable home with the sister she hasn’t seen in years. Ruby learns how to adjust to a healthy, structured life as she makes new friends and reconnects with her family. Trust serves as a focal theme.
Wonder by P.J. Palacio: August embarks on his first year at a public school, and he and his family brace for how the other students will respond to his differences. The entire story reminds us of the importance of kindness. August’s parents and sister learn how to support him while he gains some independence, and August learns how to connect with those around him who have genuine relationships with him.
How to Walk Away by Katherine Center: This story mostly revolves around resiliency as Margaret heals from a plane crash. As she adjusts to living her life in a new way and discovers new ways to achieve her goals. Her parents and sister support her physically and emotionally, even as Margaret and her sister reconcile after a prolonged disconnect. Margaret thrives as we see her emotional, mental and physical strength, and she makes it with the help of her family coming together for her.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: This heartrending novel follows orphan Victoria as she goes through the foster care system her whole life and ultimately ages out. She sees what family means as she seeks familial connections. The characters have to conquer deep insecurities and learn how to trust as they navigate their relationships. The flowers and characters hold deep meaning and growth.
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell: A sweeping family saga, this story follows Daniel as he develops, and sometimes fails, his familial relationships. Covering multiple time periods as well as multiple continents, it shows the long term effects of Daniel’s choices. He grows as a man, father and husband as he faces triumphs and disappointments in life. This shows an authentic look at the struggle and importance of keeping a supportive family together.
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.
Harry Potter lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin after witnessing his parents’ deaths as an infant. The Dursleys provide the worst home environment imagination. Mostly ignored, Harry sleeps in the cupboard under the stairs with spiders, the other unwanted species in the house. He learns early that his adoptive family does not welcome questions. Early on, the book notes, “Don’t ask questions – that was the first rule for a quiet life with the Dursleys.” Harry first realizes this when he asks Aunt Petunia about the scar on his forehead and only finds out the truth later from a stranger. Though they may bring up uncomfortable conversations, questions play a crucial role in developing relationships as well as forming an identity and values.
Harry’s aunt and uncle deny him a lot more than his physical needs. They neglect him as a person, and provide him not only no familial bonds but no sense of himself either. Wondering what happened to his parents leaves a gap in Harry’s heart. The brush offs regarding his questions do not give him a route to learn about his own history, let alone forge his own identity. They also do not ask him questions, making it easy to gloss over the fact that they do not give Harry what he needs as a child. When they don’t ask if he got enough food after losing half his meal, they don’t have to acknowledge he may go hungry.
These scenarios play out in everyday life too. Rather than ask for more details, we assume someone can manage just fine. Not knowing someone could use help makes it easier to tell ourselves we don’t need to offer any. Guessing the answer to someone’s question or brushing it off as unimportant invites shame or distances trust because that person hears they struggle with a task simple to everyone else. Instead of pushing off the discomfort, let’s welcome the potential to grow from questions. Sorting through the answers can launch numerous positive aspects like a stronger sense of self, a deeper bond between the people discussing and a higher level of understanding.
Circe, Madeline Miller’s Greek mythology retelling, has earned its slot on my 2018 Top 10 Read list. It also takes the spot for most pleasant surprise. My depth of knowledge in mythological topics doesn’t go far. Yet this story still holds easy accessibility. Circemakes a thoroughly interesting character, and I find myself steeped in the setting’s atmosphere. She spends a lot of time alone on an island because her father has banished her. This gives her plenty of opportunity to contemplate her effect on others and if she desires any connections at all. Ultimately, family rivalry stirs the ultimate battle. Circe proves she makes a strong female character.
I received a copy of Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter from NetGalley.
Summer by the Tides makes for breezy fun at the beach as a positive summer read. After losing her treasured job and her boyfriend, Maddy returns to Seahaven to find her missing grandmother. Her two older sisters, who are estranged from each other, arrive at the cottage as well. The family goes through the physical and emotional process of clearing out the attic and their past. Maddy even finds a nice, handsome next door neighbor. The story unfolds rather straight forward and predictably, making it a comforting read as you imagine beach waves just off your porch.
Look for this book on May 21 as it releases just in time for summer.
2018, A.J. Finn, angst, Anne of Green Gables, authentic, best of, books, career, Christian fiction, Circe, classic, connection, dreams, faith, family, Fiercehearted, Greek mythology, growth, healing, high school, Holly Gerth, How to Walk Away, imagination, innocence, isolation, Jenny Han, Katherine Center, kindness, L.M. Montgomery, literature, Madeline Miller, Maggie O'Farrell, mental health, mystery, obstacles, opportunities, perspective, progress, R.J. Palacio, Rachel Hauck, relationships, resiliency, strength, The Woman in the Window, The Writing Desk, This Must Be the Place, thriller, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, wonder, YA
Happy New Year! As we begin a fresh calendar year, I want to share my top reads from 2018. That way we can start our reading lists with good titles and a reminder of the plethora of wonderful reads awaiting us.
- How to Walk Away by Katherine Center: This book follows a woman my age as she finishes her MBA program. As she anticipates starting her new job and accepting her fiancé’s proposal, her dreams literally go up in flames in a plane crash. Margaret must learn to heal physically, emotionally and mentally as she learns a new way of life and builds new dreams. Talk about a reminder of human resiliency. This book demonstrates hope and holds a wonderful sweetness.
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio: This read also reminds readers of human strength. It proves the power of kindness, especially in small actions. Little boy August constantly deals with obstacles in life, some seen by others and some not. He faces ridicule and misunderstanding by his peers, but he maintains strength in character. I highly recommend to readers of all ages as we all need to show more kindness.
- This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell: A complicated family tale, this story delves into the depths of familial relationships. Daniel Sullivan encounters tragedy and triumph as he navigates his life and looks back on his mistakes and accomplishments. Through it all, we see the core of a family and how it holds together, sometimes in unexpected ways.
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han: This YA gem hits the mark! It makes such a sweet, fun story, and it even introduces a character with a Korean background. Not to mention, it involves a teenage girl with admirable qualities (I find it especially refreshing to see a realistic and innocent perspective on sex). The book takes you to the thrills of high school while also exploring the angst and growth experienced during that sometimes tumultuous time. *The movie did a great job capturing all this on screen too. I’d consider Peter for a Valentine nominee this year.
- The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck: This has introduced me to Hauck, and I wholeheartedly look forward to reading more of her books (I have a couple in my birthday book stack). The story goes back and forth in time between two young women embarking on writing careers and struggling to find mutual understanding with their mothers. Each one faces obstacles and yearns to stay true to her values and to develop her faith. The issues are relatable, and the women likeable.
- Circe by Madeline Miller: Circe serves as my pleasant surprise for the year. Getting my first deeper look into Greek mythology, I find myself more interested after reading this book. The themes of isolation, abandonment, love, connection and more play out in unique ways. I have enjoyed getting pulled into such a different story and learning some of the characters’ background.
- The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn: Finn’s debut also goes outside my typical realm as it fits into the mystery/thriller category. However, to my appreciation, this book doesn’t involve gory violence or other sick scenarios. In an homage to Hitchcock style movies, it explores the real pitfalls of isolation and mental health. It sends a positive message of the importance of connection. Now I want to watch some of the movies that inspired Finn.
- Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center: A release coming later this year, Center’s next book continues her sweet stories with positive outlooks. It explores building new relationships and forgiving people who have caused significant harm. Again, it reminds us of the power of human connection and a strength and hope to move forward.
- Fiercehearted by Holley Gerth: Gerth feels like a kindred spirit in her devotional style book with short chapters. Each anecdote carries such an authentic tone, and she has a unique perspective always open to learning. Seemingly ordinary details in life become opportunities to grow. She reminds me that God speaks to us at all times, willing to guide us at every step.
- Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: I can now say I’ve read this classic, and I love it. Anne has such a contagious positive outlook on life. Orphaned and learning from her adoptive mom Marilla how to lead a more civilized life, Anne’s imagination both gets her into trouble and keeps her head up. She takes her lessons in stride and makes so much progress.
Cheers to another great year of reading!