I did not have a lot of time last year to read, and when I did I often didn’t make the time, focusing instead on other things – or just playing on my phone. That’s a habit I want to break! I don’t know about anyone else, but a lot of my new year’s resolutions are about breaking bad habits instead of forming new ones. I don’t know what that says about me, but I’m just going to work as hard as I can to fix a few pesky little problems that cropped up last year. Any one of them is that I didn’t make time to read! I’m not one of those people who feel like you have to read, or read books just for the sake of meeting a goal, but I’m always happier when I read. I love getting lost in the stories, and I think reading a lot makes me a better writer, too. So! I’m taking my book club off hiatus, and really devoting serious time to it.
This Month’s Book
For January, I actually have three books I already have to read! Four a month is usually my goal, so what could it hurt to add another one! (She says, blissfully ignoring the stress that might cause. Ha.) So this is one that I’ve been interested in since it was released, but I haven’t gotten a chance to pick it up yet. So for January, I’ll be reading
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug-dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. In fact, by age twenty, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?
Still searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Their eight windowless “tombs” are the well-known haunts of the rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street’s biggest players. But their occult activities are more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living.
I hope you’ll read with me! I’ll be posting updates throughout the month – hopefully! – probably on twitter. I’m @craftymodmom if you want to follow me there.
Part of my job at the library is to lead a book club each month. This is something I really enjoy doing, and over the… two years now, I believe, that I’ve been leading it I’ve really come to appreciate the group and look forward to the discussion every month. Another thing this does is introduce me to books I wouldn’t normally read. This might sound silly since I’m the person who picks the books, but I try to cater to my group’s tastes more than my own. I sort of inherited the group. It had begun previously, and I took over when the old leader retired.
This month we read The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams, which I don’t think I ever would have picked up on my own!
The Golden Hour Beatriz Williamz William Morrow | July 9, 2019 485 p My rating: 3.5/5 stars
The Bahamas, 1941. Newly-widowed Leonora “Lulu” Randolph arrives in the Bahamas to investigate the Governor and his wife for a New York society magazine. After all, American readers have an insatiable appetite for news of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, that glamorous couple whose love affair nearly brought the British monarchy to its knees five years earlier. What more intriguing backdrop for their romance than a wartime Caribbean paradise, a colonial playground for kingpins of ill-gotten empires?
Or so Lulu imagines. But as she infiltrates the Duke and Duchess’s social circle, and the powerful cabal that controls the islands’ political and financial affairs, she uncovers evidence that beneath the glister of Wallis and Edward’s marriage lies an ugly—and even treasonous—reality. In fact, Windsor-era Nassau seethes with spies, financial swindles, and racial tension, and in the middle of it all stands Benedict Thorpe: a scientist of tremendous charm and murky national loyalties. Inevitably, the willful and wounded Lulu falls in love.
Then Nassau’s wealthiest man is murdered in one of the most notorious cases of the century, and the resulting coverup reeks of royal privilege. Benedict Thorpe disappears without a trace, and Lulu embarks on a journey to London and beyond to unpick Thorpe’s complicated family history: a fateful love affair, a wartime tragedy, and a mother from whom all joy is stolen.
The stories of two unforgettable women thread together in this extraordinary epic of espionage, sacrifice, human love, and human courage, set against a shocking true crime . . . and the rise and fall of a legendary royal couple.
The best thing about this book, for me, was Lulu’s voice. She had a very distinct personality – sharp and bright and sassy, I guess you’d say, and it made for vivid writing with a strong voice. It was fun to read, hearing what she had to say about what was going on. Everything else was just… okay, for me. It wasn’t bad, really, but I didn’t love it. You might have noticed in the summary that it’s the story of two unforgettable women, but one isn’t mentioned at all. Well, for me, at least, it’s because the two threads are so disparate they don’t feel as if they belong together. In fact they don’t really tie together until the end. For some readers, I think this could work, but for me I found the other women – Elfriede – to be a little less immediately engaging. Her story wasn’t uninteresting, and neither was she as a character, but it was a much slower-paced, more internal story as opposed to Lulu’s bright, Bahamian intrigue-laced adventures. A few of the ladies in my book club enjoyed Elfriede’s story more than Lulu’s, but I did not. I actually skipped her sections once or twice! (I would not have done this if I didn’t have a deadline I had to finish the book by, though.)
My biggest complaint about the book was that it was too long. At 485 pages, I feel like it’s fairly hefty, and with two separate narratives there can be a lot going on. I feel like I would have enjoyed the book more as two separate stories, maybe two books. However, the book is structured in a way that I don’t think would work without the two differing narratives. There are a lot of flashbacks and jumping around in time, and different sections of a character’s story take place in different years. Without the clean break of a new character, I do not think the sections could have been effectively separated in the same way. Having the same character jump between 1941 and 1943, then back and forth, all without a break, might have been jarring to readers.
Overall I enjoyed reading it, but it did not leave me with a strong impression after I’d finished. I cared about the characters, but I didn’t feel invested in the plot, and there was so much going on that without that investment it just didn’t draw me in. (Also, for anyone interested, since it does take place in the Bahamas – no, there’s no real discussion of the impact of colonialism and racial tensions are touched on but not addressed. It’s very obvious it was written by a white person and I believe the characters are all white, save for Veryl, whose voice is written in dialect which… was so unnecessary.)
Hello, everyone, and welcome to a new month! I will be taking a break from my book club this month, so there won’t be a new selection. However, I’ve got some exciting things planned for the new year! Because of how busy I’ve been, and because of the tragedy of losing my Mom earlier this year, I definitely let my book club posts fall to the side. I’d like to re-energize it a bit, and post more updates throughout the month, reviews, and discussions. I love reading and as a librarian, promoting books I’ve enjoyed – and literacy in general as a more big-picture goal – is important to me! So, starting in January, you can expect:
A more consistent schedule, with the first selection post up before the 5th and a final review post by the last day of the month
At least one check in throughout the month to update my progress and to see if any other readers are enjoying the book so far
An actual book review, talking about what I liked or didn’t like about the book, a rating, and possibly read-alikes for anyone who enjoyed the book
Discussion posts for more interaction, so if you’re interested you can read along!
I want to be more active on this blog, and I think that’s a great place to start. I try to read a lot anyway, so this will keep me accountable for reading as well as for blogging.
Thanks, everyone! See any book club friends in January!
This month, I am so excited about the book club choice. This is a book I’ve been waiting for ever since I heard it was coming out, and you can be sure I preordered it so I’d have it waiting for me after work on the day of release! For November, I have chosen…
The Stareless Sea by Erin Morgenstern!
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues—a bee, a key, and a sword—that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth. What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians—it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also of those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose—in both the mysterious book and in his own life.
I love this sort of book – literary braided with the fantastical – and I have so excited to get my hands on this. Now, contrary to my usual tendencies, I haven’t read any reviews. I want to go into this with a totally blank slate. I don’t want to know anything about it – I want it to be a completely fresh experience.
You might know Erin Morgenstern from her first book, The Night Circus, which is one of my favorite books. Probably one of my top twenty books of all time, to be honest.
If you read The Starless Sea let me know what you thought! I’ll be posting updates on my Goodreads as I read.
Since October is when you can really start to feel the crisp bite of fall, and because it’s Halloween, I wanted to choose a ~spookier~ read. Don’t worry – nothing too scary! But for this month I have chosen a classic from a titan of American literature: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I really like Jackson’s work – you’re probably at least familiar with her short story “The Lottery.”
Shirley Jackson’s beloved gothic tale of a peculiar girl named Merricat and her family’s dark secret
Taking readers deep into a labyrinth of dark neurosis,We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when a cousin arrives at their estate.
There was also a movie put out recently, but I haven’t seen it! It might be fun to watch it with the book, though, right?
Keep an eye out for my review of September’s book soon! I’m trying to be really thorough and write up a really good review, so it has taken me longer than I expected.
Today is the first day of fall, the autumnal equinox, in which day and night are the same length. I’m always hit with a sense of sadness at the end of something, even something as perennial as summer. I handle this feeling as I handle most little setbacks in my life – by jumping into a book. With summer at a close, there won’t be any more beach reads! I can’t decide which I like better – fun, easy books to match the vacation atmosphere, or dense, complex books since I have the time to parse them. Sometimes you do want something that will enhance that easy-going, relaxed vibe, books that are as delicious and quick as candy. But on vacation, with so few worries, isn’t that the perfect time to really dive into a difficult book you’ve always wanted to read? You finally have the time you need to really enjoy it! I’ll read just about anything at just about any time, though, so maybe I’m an anomaly.
Have you read something great this summer? I’d love to hear about it! And, for those of you like me who aren’t looking forward to that creep towards winter, here are a few end of summer reads to take your mind off it!
10 End of Summer Reads
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
In a sleepy seaside town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth “Evvie” Drake rarely leaves her large, painfully empty house nearly a year after her husband’s death in a car crash. Everyone in town, even her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and Evvie doesn’t correct them.
Meanwhile, in New York City, Dean Tenney, former Major League pitcher and Andy’s childhood best friend, is wrestling with what miserable athletes living out their worst nightmares call the “yips”: he can’t throw straight anymore, and, even worse, he can’t figure out why. As the media storm heats up, an invitation from Andy to stay in Maine seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button on Dean’s future.
When he moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie’s house, the two make a deal: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s late husband, and Evvie won’t ask about Dean’s baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken—and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. To move forward, Evvie and Dean will have to reckon with their pasts—the friendships they’ve damaged, the secrets they’ve kept—but in life, as in baseball, there’s always a chance—up until the last out.
A joyful, hilarious, and hope-filled debut, Evvie Drake Starts Over will have you cheering for the two most unlikely comebacks of the year—and will leave you wanting more from Linda Holmes.
(I’m reading Evvie Drake Starts Over for my September book club pick! Keep an eye out for a discussion post at the end of the month!)
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Toby Fleishman thought he knew what to expect when he and his wife of almost fifteen years separated: weekends and every other holiday with the kids, some residual bitterness, the occasional moment of tension in their co-parenting negotiations. He could not have predicted that one day, in the middle of his summer of sexual emancipation, Rachel would just drop their two children off at his place and simply not return. He had been working so hard to find equilibrium in his single life. The winds of his optimism, long dormant, had finally begun to pick up. Now this.
As Toby tries to figure out where Rachel went, all while juggling his patients at the hospital, his never-ending parental duties, and his new app-assisted sexual popularity, his tidy narrative of the spurned husband with the too-ambitious wife is his sole consolation. But if Toby ever wants to truly understand what happened to Rachel and what happened to his marriage, he is going to have to consider that he might not have seen things all that clearly in the first place.
A searing, utterly unvarnished debut, Fleishman Is in Trouble is an insightful, unsettling, often hilarious exploration of a culture trying to navigate the fault lines of an institution that has proven to be worthy of our great wariness and our great hope.
His Hideous Heart ed. by Dahlia Adler
Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways. Contributors include Dahlia Adler (reimagining “Ligeia), Kendare Blake (“Metzengerstein”), Rin Chupeco (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”), Lamar Giles (“The Oval Portrait”), Tessa Gratton (“Annabel Lee”), Tiffany D. Jackson (“The Cask of Amontillado”), Stephanie Kuehn (“The Tell-Tale Heart”), Emily Lloyd-Jones (“The Purloined Letter”), Amanda Lovelace (“The Raven”), Hillary Monahan (“The Masque of the Red Death”), Marieke Nijkamp (“Hop-Frog”), Caleb Roehrig (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and Fran Wilde (“The Fall of the House of Usher”).
Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.
As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story…until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.
Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s sordid past and into the secrets kept within its walls. What she discovers pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.
I Like to Watch by Emily Nussbaum
From her creation of the “Approval Matrix” in New York magazine in 2004 to her Pulitzer Prize–winning columns for The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum has argued for a new way of looking at TV. In this collection, including two never-before-published essays, Nussbaum writes about her passion for television, beginning with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the show that set her on a fresh intellectual path. She explores the rise of the female screw-up, how fans warp the shows they love, the messy power of sexual violence on TV, and the year that jokes helped elect a reality-television president. There are three big profiles of television showrunners—Kenya Barris, Jenji Kohan, and Ryan Murphy—as well as examinations of the legacies of Norman Lear and Joan Rivers. The book also includes a major new essay written during the year of #MeToo, wrestling with the question of what to do when the artist you love is a monster.
More than a collection of reviews, the book makes a case for toppling the status anxiety that has long haunted the “idiot box,” even as it transformed. Through it all, Nussbaum recounts her fervent search, over fifteen years, for a new kind of criticism, one that resists the false hierarchy that elevates one kind of culture (violent, dramatic, gritty) over another (joyful, funny, stylized). I Like to Watch traces her own struggle to punch through stifling notions of “prestige television,” searching for a more expansive, more embracing vision of artistic ambition—one that acknowledges many types of beauty and complexity and opens to more varied voices. It’s a book that celebrates television as television, even as each year warps the definition of just what that might mean.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.
Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.
As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Everyone knows DAISY JONES & THE SIX, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.
Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ’n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.
Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.
Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.
The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.
As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place.
Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives–even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.
The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.
What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.
Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.
It was everything.
She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.
Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, The Turn of the Key is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.
Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
Jia Tolentino is a peerless voice of her generation, tackling the conflicts, contradictions, and sea changes that define us and our time. Now, in this dazzling collection of nine entirely original essays, written with a rare combination of give and sharpness, wit and fearlessness, she delves into the forces that warp our vision, demonstrating an unparalleled stylistic potency and critical dexterity.
Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly through a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Tolentino writes about a cultural prism: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the advent of scamming as the definitive millennial ethos; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the punitive dream of optimization, which insists that everything, including our bodies, should become more efficient and beautiful until we die. Gleaming with Tolentino’s sense of humor and capacity to elucidate the impossibly complex in an instant, and marked by her desire to treat the reader with profound honesty, Trick Mirror is an instant classic of the worst decade yet.
As you can see, I’ve got something of a variety here, so hopefully you’ll be able to find at least one thing you might like. A collection of creepy YA shorts, essays, a rom-com, and two suspenseful stories (couldn’t help myself there, I love a good mystery). If you’ve read any of these let me know! And feel free to comment with any other great end of summer reads!
My goodness, it seems that for the past few months, read-alongs just haven’t worked out! Because of how awful August was when my mom passed (which still doesn’t feel real, I still haven’t come to terms with my loss), I didn’t read very much. Reading is something I enjoy, and a great distraction because of how absorbing it can be, so I’m trying to get back into my reading habits! So! A new September book! For this month, I have selected…