In May my IRL book club read books with a focus on maternal figures or relationships in them. Here's what we talked about.
Everyone seemed to notice the disparity and rather troubled duality of the role of mothers or maternal figures in literature. There are lots of children's picture books about the bond and reliability of mothers, then mothers tend to go to the background, if they're present at all, in chapter books, and then seem to become a catalyst for plot points, subject to, or participants in, or causes of abuse in books for adults, and it's just a bit sad that there's not more continuity there across experiences. The stories of functional and present mothers/grandmothers/aunts/sisters are stories that should still be told.
We noticed something else that seems to happen if the mother is not present. There often is a character who acts as a surrogate, the maternal figure that's not actually the mother. There are a lot of wonderful literary characters that fall into this category that are some of our favorites. Ms. Honey from Matilda, for example, fits this characterization.
It was a fascinating discussion.
What I'm enjoying about this "read a book on this theme" style of book club is that everyone has something different to talk about because everyone read something different. But by looking for the same thing, we all have the same thing to pay attention to in our different books.
Here's what we read and discussed for those of you interested in adding to your TBR list:
The Mother Daughter Book Club, by Heather Vogel Frederick
Becoming Naomi Leon, by Pam Munoz Ryan
Finn Family Moomintroll, by Tove Jansson
Life on the Refrigerator Door, by Alice Kulpers
Cheaper by the Dozen (and it's sequel), by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live, by Heather B. Armstrong
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd
Matilda, by Roald Dahl
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Eight Cousins, by Louisa May Alcott
The School Story, by Andrew Clements
Next month our theme is Children's Books! You're welcome to play along at home :) Happy reading!
The month started off really slowly for me. Finishing the semester of Grad school took it's toll, but I ended up reading much more than I expected. Books have always been an escape and it looks like I needed one this month!
Here's what I read:
The Book of Delights, by Ross Gay - I absolutely loved this little book of essays. Ross Gay wrote every day for a year and turned it into these 102-ish short essays about things that delighted him. He's a poet, literally, and it shows in the prose. An incredibly life giving collection that will increase your awareness of the delights in your own days.
The Scent Keeper, by Erica Bauermeister - You can see my review here.
My Plain Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows - this is the second in a series of historical retellings, in this case a retelling of Jane Eyre. But! In this version Jane sees ghosts and is being recruited by a society not to far removed from the Ghostbusters. It's hilarious and I recommend the audiobook highly. The previous book in the series, My Lady Jane, is a retelling of Lady Jane Grey, but some people turn into animals. Also very funny.
My Lovely Wife, by Samantha Downing - this twisty thriller is not heavy on blood and gore, which I appreciated, and deals with a couple who have landed themselves in the situation of killing people. It's all the things a summer thriller should be: compelling, strange, almost unbelievable, and unputdownable. I read it in two sittings.
The Burning Issue of the Day, by T. E. Kinsey - the 5th in the Lady Hardcastle series, this is a delightfully funny and refreshing historical cozy mystery. I love this series for the cleverness of the mysteries, the female friendships, the characters, and the humor. I've mentioned before that Historical Fiction isn't my thing, but these are great. The series is free on Kindle Unlimited and is definitely worth it if you have that service.
Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy, by Martha Wells - the 3rd and 4th books in the Muerderbot Diaries. The 4th, Exit Strategy, is the final novella in the series but there will be a full length novel in the future. If awards matter to you, this series has won lots of them for good reasons.
A Study in Scarlet Women, by Sherry Thomas- the first in a new to me series, this is a gender switched Sherlock Holmes retelling, but also a historical fiction I very much enjoyed! The gender swap is interesting and well written, the writing is charming, clever, and compelling, and the mystery was clever. I'm listening to this series on Hoopla through my library, so it's worth checking yours for it too! There are three in the series at the moment, with a 4th planned for October.
The River, by Peter Heller - this is a phenomenal book. I love Peter Heller's writing and was nervous to read more for fear it wouldn't be as good as The Dog Stars. The River is as good and manages to be peaceful and thrillingly compelling at once. The story is of two college friends on a river trip who then encounter a suspicious situation, pressure from a looming wildfire and being far from civilization. It is a wonderful story that will expand what you thought fiction was capable of doing.
To Night Owl, from Dogfish, by Meg Wolitzer and Holly Goldberg Sloan - this is a charming epistolary novel aimed for children/tweens (there's a little talk of periods), but was delightful and entertaining for me to read also. It's the story of two girls who's dad's have started dating and want the girls to get to know each other at summer camp. One of the girls contacts the other to start planning how to ensure their families do NOT become united. A charming friendship ensues, and this book takes what you thought you remembered about the plot of The Parent Trap and turns it around into an absolutely lovely, honest, kind, and adventurous story of family found and growing, and the joys of summer possibility. Loved it.
The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live, by Heather B. Armstrong - this was a fascinating memoir of a woman who has severe depression. She undergoes a treatment that basically turns the brain off and on again in an attempt to help lessen her situation's severity. I listened to this in audio and Heather narrates it herself. Her relationship with her mother was striking, her journey to and through this ordeal was fascinating, heartbreaking at times, and often jaw-droppingly moving. I especially remember the moments when she recalls feeling improvement the first few times after such a period of intense darkness. This is a great memoir of an unforgettable experience.
***Please be careful with yourself when going into this one. Heather describes things very accurately. If you've experienced depression it can be difficult and might be triggering for some people.
The Bride Test, by Helen Hoang - I really enjoyed Hoang's first book, The Kiss Quotient, and was excited to pick this one up. Contemporary Romances are still a little new to me, but they're really enjoyable. They're fun, dramatic, sexy, and have that same quality that make the best romantic comedies so endearing. The premise of this one is a little unbelievable, but that is part of what made it so fun to me. What I want to mention here, is that Hoang's characters express degrees of Autism, which comes from her own experience. She's doing really great things for the landscape of books and reading as a whole, and for the Romance genre in particular, by increasing representation in this area. It's wonderful for that reason, and her books are really a fun time!
***This is a romance novel with some steamy encounters, so know that going in.
People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Deadbeats, and Other Suburban Scourges, by Jen Mann - I was hoping for so much more from this book and I really did not like it. Where I wanted to find that level of self-aware snark I enjoy, I found annoying, hypocritical and judgmental rants about other women that Mann interacted with. There's no mention of competitive crafting either, which I was looking forward to. Skip this and read Jenny Lawson instead.
If Cats Disappeared from the World, by Genki Kawamura - picture it (no, not Sicily), you're about to die, and then the devil shows up in a Hawaiian shirt to make you a deal - for every day you extend your life, you have to chose something to disappear. What would you do? Translated from Japanese, this novel is about a young postman who has to deal with his mortality, his past, and what he is willing to give up for a future. It is really cute, charming, thought provoking, and unique. It's also really short so it'd be a fun one to add to your list if you don't mind having some feelings to go with it.
Phew! A great month of reading. What did you read in May? I'd love to hear.
Hello and welcome!
I'm so grateful and excited to have the chance to share this book with you, and let you know what I thought. It's always exciting to see a book before it's officially published, and even more of a priviledge to be part of helping more people hear about it. I get excited every time I get book mail, asked to participate in a blog tour, or give a review, and even more excited when I hear back that someone enjoyed reading something I recommended! Books are the greatest, aren't they!
This is the first book I've read by Bauermeister, and I was impressed. Intrigued initially by the cover, I was even more intrigued reading the synopsis, "Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them. As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world--a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination." (from Goodreads)
I was caught from the beginning of this novel, which is always something I'm skeptical about, and I read the first part (of three in the story) in less than an hour. Time flew by and I wasn't aware of it! Always a good sign. The book is broken up into three parts, the first dealing with her childhood on an island with her father. It's hard to tell much of what happens in the other parts without giving anything away, but the language and skill Bauemeister writes with creates a world you can't help but enjoy and be interested in hearing more about.
The character of Emmeline is intriguing and clever. She's a sharp and curious girl, willing to be courageous, brave, and resourceful. The first part of the book raises some compelling questions, problems, and issues Emmeline has to work out, and I was pleased with the plot's direction, the construction and flow of the story, as well as the answers we're given to those questions. This world of scents and smells, the memories they invoke and compell us and Emmeline to discover are curious, unique, and interesting.
I enjoyed spending time in this world. It was fun to explore, compelling and quick to read, and the writing earned the feelings from me, which I always appreciate. After this, I'm eager to read more of Bauermeister's backlist and thrilled to have found a new author to follow!
If you're in the mood for something atmospheric and compelling, with just the right amount of mystery
Our book group's April task was to read some poetry we recently met to chat.
If you're looking to get more poetry into your life, here are a few quick suggestions:
Ok, on to my recommendations, personal favorites, and what we talked about at Book Club:
It was wonderful to have a dedicated time to explore some poetry with friends. We reminisced about poems we remembered from different parts of our lives, and the parts of our lives that poems reminded us of. It was a really nice time.
I love the no pressure atmosphere of this book group. Sometimes I'm in the mood for a more academic and intense discussion, but it is so refreshing to be able to show up with no expectations or homework to have accomplished ready to present and defend. To bring what we've been enjoying, what we thought, and know that's enough and will be received by friends, and food, for a few hours each month, is exactly what fills me up at this moment in time.
I'm thinking of making a little guide for anyone who's interested in some tips for starting their own book club. What would you like included in that? Any questions you've ever wondered about book clubs or how to make them work for you? I'd love to hear from you.
We have all read and heard about books that describe the unexpected journeys of a grumpy old man who is charmed into an adventure and those are great books.
But what about the old women? They’re still there, aren’t they? Where are the books about their adventures? With their issues?
I have three to share with you today that are each incredible and describe women who have lived and learned, loved and made mistakes, and are STILL doing those things. We don’t really think people stop learning, living, loving, engaging, thinking, feeling joy and sadness and personal growth once they hit a certain age, do we?
I love the TV show, The Golden Girls, and these novels about women who have led rich and long lives fill that space in my head and my heart where Rose, Dorothy, Blanche, and Sophia keep residence. They are very much worth reading.
The Woman Next Door, by Yewande Omotoso, is one of the best books I read in 2018, and deals with the lives and relationship between two elderly women who live next to each other. They have opposite backgrounds and Omotoso’s writing exquisitely examines each of them.
Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruff, was a quiet punch in the face to me, and totally unexpected. It’s short, concise, and deeply tender. Haruff tells a story about two older people who begin spending their nights lying next to each other in bed, just talking. It is impressive and made me cry, remember friendships and long for that deep understanding and connection, while also writing about how temporary everything is. It’s beautiful and I can’t recommend it enough.
Three Things About Elsie, by Joanna Cannon, was another unexpected favorite. I love the cover first of all, and at times I can barely see the woman disguised in the floral background. Cannon brings us into the thoughts and remembrance of Florence, a woman who has fallen and is looking back on her life as she waits for someone to notice that she hasn’t shown up to something yet. I was not expecting this to have glimmers of mystery, suspense, and to deal so carefully with the issues of memory and reliability that show up more with age. It is worth your attention and is great in audio.
Let me know if you read any of these, or if you have any recommendations for me to check out!
Our Shared Shelf (Emma Watson)
It is only fitting that Emma Watson, who famously portrayed Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter movie adaptations, also leads a book club of some interest. Our Shared Shelf was created in the beginning of 2016 by Emma in relation to her role working with UN Women as a way to share her reading on equality. The group has an active following on Goodreads, and provides content on the platforms linked above as well. The selections were initially provided monthly, until the end of the summer of 2016 when the group switched to recommending one or more books every two months.
The book club is currently reading two books for July and August of 2019, Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, by Yusra Mardini, and Solito, Solita: Crossing Borders with Youth Refugees from Central America, Edited by Steven Mayers and Jonathan Freedman, and the entire list of selections is below:
January 2016 – My Life on the Road, by Gloria Steinem
February 2016 – The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
March 2016 – All About Love, by Bell Hooks
April 2016 – How to Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran
May 2016 – The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson
June 2016 – Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
July/August 2016 – Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl, by Carrie Brownstein
September/October 2016 - Half the Sky, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
November/December 2016 – Mom and Me and Mom, by Maya Angelou
January/February 2017 – The Vagina Monologues, by Eve Ensler
March/April 2017 – Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
May/June 2017 – The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
July/August 2017 – The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf
September/October 2017 – Hunger, by Roxanne Gay
November/December 2017 – The Power, by Naomi Alderman
January/February 2018 – Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge
March/April 2018 – Heart Berries, by Terese Marie Mailhot
May/June 2018 – The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, and The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore
July/August 2018 – Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur
September/October 2018 – Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier
November/December 2018 – Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper, and Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister
January and February 2019 - The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write, edited by Sabrina Mahfouz
March and April 2019 - Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl's Confabulous Memoir, by Kai Cheng Thom
May and June 2019 - Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
July and August 2019 - Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, by Yusra Mardini, and Solito, Solita: Crossing Borders with Youth Refugees from Central America, Edited by Steven Mayers and Jonathan Freedman.
Girls Night In:
Newsletter sign up here
This book club is the offshoot of one of my favorite newsletters that I've been following along with for the past few years. Sent out every Friday morning, the newsletter focuses on interesting articles, interviews, health care, the joy of staying in rather than partying late into the night, and is a wonderfully comfortable e-mail I look forward to each week. By their own description, the Girls Night In book club reads, "books that are written by women and non-binary authors, are available/accessible to our community, and allow for a lively discussion". They also host in person meet ups in some larger cities that would be fun to go to if you ever have the chance.
March 2017 – Swing Time, by Zadie Smith
May 2017 – Startup, by Doree Shafrir
August 2017 – The Mothers, by Brit Bennett
September 2017 – Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of Unruly Women, by Anne Helen Peterson
October 2017 – Reset, by Ellen Pao
November and December 2017 – Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
January 2018 – The Power, by Naomi Alderman
February 2018 – Goodbye, Vitamin, by Rachel Khong
March 2018 - Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship, by Kayleen Schaefer
April 2018 – Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
May 2018 – The Female Persuasion, by Meg Wolitzer
June 2018 - The Ensemble, by Aja Gabel
July and August 2018 – Educated, by Tara Westover
September 2018 – An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones
October 2018 – Circe, by Madeline Miller
November 2018 – Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay, by Phoebe Robinson
December 2018 – I Might Regret This, by Abbi Jacobson
January 2019 – The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin
February 2019 – All You Can Ever Know, by Nicole Chung
March 2019 – The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, by Anissa Gray
April 2019 – A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum
May 2019 – American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson
June 2019 – From the Corner of the Oval, by Beck Dorey-Stein
July 2019 – The Confessions of Frannie Langton, by Sara Collins
Welcome to a new segment I'm calling "Book Report" where I re-read a book I loved or remember enjoying, but don't remember anything else about. Should be fun, with a slight chance of trauma, embarrassment, and the possibly negative effects of the passing of time...sounds great, right? For funsies, I'll be including an adorable picture of myself around the time I was into each book (If such a picture can be found).
Let's dive in with my first pick: Into the Land of the Unicorns, by Bruce Coville.
My personal copy didn't look like this, but I also have no idea where it went. I remember spending lots of time staring at the cover though, and how much I loved the story behind it. As a kid growing up in the 90's, this hit on lots of the themes I resonated with, and was delighted to see during my re-read:
-all the feels
-traveling to another world (and the implications of having what you thought was fantasy actually be real)
-the "surprise! you're really important and have a big job to do and the fate of this world is at stake!" trope that I still love, and remember was high on the list of things I went to in my imagination and playtime.
-"we leave at first light!" style adventuring, feat. tall grass up to your waist
-communicating with animals
-a Big Bad Unknown but Powerful Evil (who also can live for a really long time), literary variation on the video game's Boss, which I feel like was a thing in playground games back then too.
-magical JEWELRY (the power of a mystical locket had me totally captivated every time)
I can tell you what, I know exactly why little-me loved this book.
We meet Cara Diane and her grandmother as the story begins in medias res while they are seeking refuge from an unknown follower. Cara's grandmother knows more than she's telling, but she's so loving that Cara trusts her enough to LEAP OFF THE ROOF OF A CHURCH AT HER WORD and what do you know? She's transported to the world of Luster, where unicorns live.
Almost immediately after arriving, something tries to drown her and steal the magical amulet she wears round her neck, but she wakes up in a cave and is tended to by a grumpy, but very capable, bearish creature. Shortly after drinking a magical beverage, Cara meets Lightfoot, the unicorn, who STABS HER IN THE CHEST WITH HIS HORN to heal her.
CAN YOU FEEL THE DRAMA?! It's as thick as the Lisa Frank folders I filled with drawings of unicorns.
Not to spoil the rest of it for you, but the three of them, plus a few other creatures and friends met along the way, discover that what they have stumbled upon requires a quest, as it could destroy the entire unicorn species and allow for Luster itself to fall to its doom. See, the amulet Cara has, is a portal that connects Earth to Luster, and there is a significant group of humans with the last name of Hunter, who's destiny is to kill all Unicorns. The Hunters (maybe a cult, but IDK) are led by a maybe immortal woman named Beloved, with a rather troubled past and part of a unicorn horn in her heart.
Thus the journey is set, for Cara, Lightfoot, and the rest of their ragtag group of misfits and outcasts, to cross the wilds of Luther to bring their plight to the queen. Along the way they meet the keeper of the Unicorn Chronicles, who writes the stories and unicorn history and lives in the best house I could possibly imagine, and a dragon WHO'S HEART IS IN A BOX plays a significant role in their progress.
This was so much fun to read. It's the first of a series of an epic adventure, and in my opinion is a great beginning to fantasy literature for kids, and would be a fun read for anyone. There's nothing that I noted to be problematic or that has aged poorly, so I think it still holds up and would be great to read aloud too.
Have you read this yet? Have you ever gone back to re-read favorites from other parts of your life? I'd love to hear about it!
Next book report: Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh.
Belletrist (Emma Roberts)Emma Roberts is famously known as an actress, and the niece of Julia Roberts, but the young actress has also cultivated an intriguing niche for herself through her book club, Belletrist, which she runs with Karah Preiss. Belletrist features an independant bookstore each month along with their book selections. Belletrist is most active on Instagram and their Facebook group features discussions and interesting content relating to the bookstores and recommended reading. Belletrist features literary lifestyle content on their website in addition to their book selections including interviews, videos, the shelves of other celebrities, and content I haven't seen in other celebrity book clubs. Belletrist is unique and has found a healthy following among a more contemporary demographic.
The Belletrist book selection for July 2019 is Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo.
The full list of selections:
March 2017 – South and West, by Joan Didion
April 2017 – The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy
May 2017 – Marlena, by Julie Buntin
June 2017 – Touch, by Coutney Maum
July 2017 – Sex and Rage, by Eve Babitz
August 2017 – Stay With Me, by Ayobami Adebayo
September 2017 – The Answers, by Catherine Lacey
October 2017 – The Dark Dark: Stories, by Samantha Hunt
November 2017 – The End We Start From, by Megan Hunter
December 2017 – Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado
January 2018 – The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin
February 2018 – An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones
March 2018 – Ghost Notebooks, by Ben Dolnick
April 2018 – Laura and Emma, by Kate Greathead
May 2018 – Welcome to Lagos, by Chibundo Onuzo
June 2018 – Visible Empire, by Hannah Pittard
July 2018 – Dead Girls ,by Alice Bolin, and Godspeed, by Casey Legler
August 2018 – The Incendiaries, by R. O. Kwon
September 2018 – The Optimist's Daughter, by Eudora Welty
October 2018 – Scribe, by Alyson Hagy
November 2018 – Bringing Down the Colonel, by Patricia Miller
December 2018 – Dumplin’, by Julie Murphy
January 2019 - The Dreamers, by Karen Thompson Walker
February 2019 - Joy Enough, by Sarah McColl
March 2019 - Gingerbread, by Helen Oyeyemi
April 2019 - The Ash Family, by Molly Dektar
May 2019 - The Farm, by Joanna Ramos
June 2019 - Searching for Sylvie Lee, by Jean Kwok
July 2019 - Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo
Hello Sunshine (Reese Witherspoon)
The book club is currently reading The Night Tiger, by Yangsze Choo. The complete list of previous book club selections is below:
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