booked reading weekend
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AJ Finn, All We Ever Wanted, As Bright as Heaven, book recommendations, book review, books, Daisy Jones & The Six, Emily Giffin, female, historical fiction, How to Walk Away, Irene Hannon, Katherine Center, Lisa See, mystery/thriller, Pelican Point, reading, resiliency, spring, strong, Susan Meissner, Taylor Jenkins Reid, The Island of Sea Women, The Woman in the Window, women's fiction
As spring flowers bloom, we remember how they survive the cold, dark season to return and thrive again. We too need a reminder of our resilience. These books feature strong female characters who endure loss of family members, accidents that alter the body’s abilities, trauma, career obstacles, military occupation and more. Taking place during different time periods and in different areas, they offer a variety of people and places. Consider picking up one of these recent novels.
Katherine Center’s How to Walk Away introduces Margaret just as she graduates from her MBA program and gets engaged to her longtime boyfriend. Then her dreams literally crash as her new fiancé loses control of the plane and they land in flames. Margaret finds herself in the hospital without the use of her legs, the job she accepted and her fiancé. As heavy as this sounds, the strength she gains as she goes through physical therapy and adjusts her life to meet new goals shows such an admirable resiliency.
Lisa See’s latest novel The Island of Sea Women shares so much historical and cultural research through Young-sook’s life as a haenyeo on the Korean island Jeju. Continuing the tradition of the women in her family, Young-sook learns how to dive to earn a living so she can contribute to her family’s household and later her husband’s and children’s educations. Witnessing the dangers of the sea and the horrors of military occupation, she carries the weight of loss as she cares for her family. Most importantly, her lifelong relationship with her childhood best friend Mi-ja carries the themes of female friendship and forgiveness.
Emily Giffin’s All We Ever Wanted revolves around a privileged community in Nashville community and a couple families whose high school aged children end up at the center of an inappropriate photo scandal. Differences in age, gender and class come into play as each character protects their reputation and values. The mother of the boy who took the photo gives a nuanced look at the long term effects of such situations and serves as a catalyst for progress.
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s runaway spring sensation Daisy Jones & the Six flows as an interview that tells of the formation, fame and fade of a successful band in 1970s Los Angeles. Though it has the usual expected elements of rock n roll, it has an unexpected spine to its antics. Band leader Billy Dunne’s marriage exemplifies a relationship with a solid foundation and staying power. His wife Camilla and Daisy show the spectrum of struggle with maintaining a sense of self, purpose and connection when it comes to career and marriage.
Susan Meissner’s historical fiction novel As Bright as Heaven takes place during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. The Bright family moves to Philadelphia to join the family business at a funeral home. As war and flu threaten to tear families and communities apart, the three sisters learn how to survive and how to stay connected to each other. The ladies mature faster than normal due to their circumstances, but they still fulfill their dreams. Rich in history and familial themes, this story shows the depth and timelessness of strength.
Irene Hannon’s Pelican Point, the fourth installment in the Hope Harbor series, sweeps its characters right off the page in its small ocean town setting. Ben Garrison returns to Pelican Point to inherit a lighthouse that he intends to sell so he can move on with his life. He meets Marci, who wants to save the lighthouse, and tensions arise. As they get to know each other and their neighbors, they see healing happening as issues get brought to light. Ultimately, Marci shares her strength with those around her so they can all progress.
AJ Finn’s The Woman in the Window pays homage to Alfred Hitchcok films in his debut mystery/thriller. Anna Fox lives alone, and she doesn’t leave the house. Struggling with illness, her she connects to an online group where she offers support to others. She witnesses a murder at the house next door but no one believes what she saw. Anna’s story demonstrates strength in the face of fear and doubt.
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.
This Great American Read project gives me the perfect excuse to reread the Twilight series. Reading the first installment over Valentine’s Day week as a buddy read with my best friend makes it even better. We have developed our friendship since junior year of high school, starting with book talk. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight is one of the first books we read almost together. We have discussed the rest of the series as we’ve read them together and see almost all, if not all, the movies together in theaters. The Edward Cullen Funko Pop now reigns as the mascot of our Book Club Duo. Needless to say, the Twilight series has a special place in my heart.
Pop culture, whether a book, movie or TV show, can bring people together. The Twilight series has done that for me and Katrina, and I continue to bond with people over other entertainment pieces. Having a common story to discuss gives a starting point for numerous discussion topics. People grow over the shared laughs and the experiences the conversations allow them to have. Fictional, and nonfictional too, characters can give us a way to lead into sharing a detail about ourselves. We can learn about others through the reading and discussing as well. Stories give voice to perspectives.
The classic The Count of Monte Cristo gives us an adventurous revenge tale that has stood the test of time. Entertaining since its 1844-45 release, this story holds themes and plots of intrigue that still interests readers today. It even has inspiration from a true crime, a topic that has boomed into its own nonfiction category recently. The actual book resembles a brick in its physical dimensions, but so far it reads simply enough.
First, the story begins in Marseille, France near a Notre Dame de la Garde port in 1815. Young Edmond Dantes leads the ship Pharaon to Fort Saint-Jean as its first mate, and he has the promise of becoming captain due to Captain Leclere’s death during the voyage. At somewhere between 18-20, Dantes already holds a lot of hope for a satisfying life with the prospect of becoming a captain so young and marrying a beautiful woman.
Dantes couldn’t fill a 1,000+ page book if those details unfolded so easily though. Danglars, the supercargo slightly older than Dantes and generally less well liked, greets ship owner Morrell with a story about Dantes that contradicts the one Morrell heard from Dantes. This only marks the beginning of the words Danglars spins to paint a negative portrait of Dantes. He later demonstrates how a pen and words can hold as much as and more danger than a sword or pistol.
Sweet reunions abound when Dantes visits his father and then his fiancé Mercedes to arrange their marriage. However, Mercedes accepting Dantes stings Fernand because he wants to marry his cousin Mercedes. Upon leaving, he accepts the invitation to join Danglars and Caderousse as they plot a downfall for Dantes. This leads to an interruption at the betrothal party that ends with men arresting Dantes. In a parallel scene, we see the judge Villefort leave his own betrothal party to oversee Dantes in court. The lies continue to thicken as Villefort sees the letter allegedly condemning Dantes reveals a secret about himself. So he sends Dantes to a cell at Chateau D’If.
These first seven chapters set up a story of secrets and deceit. The players who play a key role in Dantes’s arrest cater to their selfish ambition and jealousy despite the harm they cause. Now I wonder to what lengths Villefort will go to keep his secret and therefore maintain his position in society and how far Danglars will go to get his desired status on the ship as well as how deep his dislike for Dantes goes and why. Of course the story continues with Dantes going to jail, so I wonder how he will handle imprisonment. I know a revenge plot and treasure adventure has yet to unfold.
Last fall, PBS launched a special series revolving around the books Americans consider the best called The Great American Read. The list includes 100 classic and modern works that cover a variety of topics. I aim to spend however long it takes reading, researching and writing about these books. Here on my blog, I am sharing my updates with you. Together we can delve into what makes these books worthy of our consideration.
First up, we have:
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (#30)
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (#41)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (#3)
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.
blink-182, books, Dracula, Edward Scissorhands, entertainment, fall, Frankenstein, Halloween, I Miss You, Isaac Marion, Michael Jackson, movies, pop culture, reading, Stranger Things, The Rules of Magic, thriller, Twilight, Warm Bodies, weekend
Even though Halloween ranks last on my list of favorite holidays, it does fall during my favorite season. I do find it fun to participate in the seasonal festivities. In honor of that, I’ve created a list of suitable Halloween themed entertainment that fits the theme without including a scare factor. Consider these movies, books and songs for the upcoming weekend and holiday.
Bonus: The third book installment by Isaac Marion releases in a few weeks.
“Thriller” by Michael Jackson
This song captures 80s pop culture as much as it does Michael Jackson’s rise as the King of Pop. Fun rather than scary, the hit has pep and even includes its own zombie inspired dance. It also makes a perfect background song for the Stranger Things 2 trailer, a modern cultural phenomenon showcasing the 80s that released Halloween weekend last year.
“I Miss You” by blink-182
This song has the lyrics and the video to capture the more emo side of Halloween. The music video takes place what could represent Dracula’s castle and its eerie outskirts, including a graveyard. The song mentions nightmares and references Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas. It even uses a simile comparing a spider eating insects caught in its web to relational angst as they sing, “like the webs from all the spiders/ catching things and eating their insides/ like my indecision to call you…” Oh, how I miss the teenage years when I first heard this song.
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.