Mira T. Lee’s debut novel, Everything Here Is Beautiful, is a tough book to discuss—though we attempted to do just that for my last book club meeting. It was suggested by one of our members last year, shortly after it was released, and when it finally got chosen as our monthly pick, I was looking forward to reading it. It’s a story about sisters, about immigrants, about mental illness. It’s a raw and powerful debut that I can’t recommend enough.
The novel follows two Chinese-American sisters, Miranda the oldest and Lucia the youngest, in the years after their mother dies from cancer. Lucia is adventurous and full of life, and when it’s determined that she has schizoaffective disorder, Miranda does everything in her power to keep Lucia grounded and get her the help she needs.
Welcome to the fourth feature focusing on the women within What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories by Laura Shapiro. This time I’m talking about Eva Braun, one of the more notorious women Shapiro covers in the book.
For those of you who don’t know, Eva Braun was Hitler’s mistress (and, at the very end, wife). While Hitler took precautions to appear unattached in public, in private, it was well-known that he was with Eva. She hosted many of the meals at Berghof, a Nazi party retreat in the Bavarian Alps. If you saw my review of The Taster, Berghof will be quite familiar to you.
When Etaf Rum’s A Woman Is No Man was shown as an option for the February Book of the Month, I didn’t hesitate to select it. The description of her debut novel ticked a lot of boxes for me. Rum takes us inside the lives of conservative Arab women living in America and leaves us gasping for air.
The novel is the story of three generations of Palestinian women — Deya, who is 18 and begrudgingly beginning to look for suitors; her mother, Isra, who desperately wants to find love, ultimately leaving her family in Palestine to marry a man living in Brooklyn; and Fareeda, Isra’s mother-in-law, who pressures Isra to bear sons and Deya to find a husband, even though both women want more for their lives than what is traditionally expected of them.
When I was invited to join the blog tour for Phaedra Patrick’s The Library of Lost and Found, I couldn’t turn it down. It was a book about books! I’m a huge fan of bookish novels — as I’m sure you are too. I haven’t read Phaedra’s bestselling The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper (yet), but based on its popularity, I knew I was in for a wonderful story.
Martha Storm is a librarian with a huge heart, who bends over backwards for others, even though they don’t often recognize her efforts. Caught in a bit of a rut, without many friends or close family, Martha craves meaningful relationships. When a mysterious man leaves her a tattered novel on the library’s doorstep, it’s a sign her life may be ready for a change.
When I read the description of Lorna Landvik’s Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes), I couldn’t resist picking it up. Not only did it sound chock-full of the small town charm I loved in Virgil Wander, it focused on a small-town newspaper columnist, Haze Evans. For those of you who don’t know me personally, my first job out of college was working at a newspaper — not as a writer, but as an advertising salesperson, and unofficially, a community events organizer. My time at the newspaper was a wonderful learning experience, and I was sort of hoping to get lost in a similar world again.
Haze’s column has been running for 50 years when she suffers a stroke and falls into a coma. In an attempt to fill the now vacant column space, the newspaper’s publisher, Susan, decides to run some of her past columns and reader responses, good and bad. Soon, the whole town finds itself swept up in Haze’s wise, witty and controversial words.
Welcome to the third feature focusing on the women within What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories by Laura Shapiro. This time I’m talking about Eleanor Roosevelt, who was one of the reasons I was so excited to pick this book up in the first place.
Eleanor Roosevelt was longest serving First Lady of the United States, living in the White House with her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, during the Great Depression and World War II. She is remembered as an activist, a champion of women’s and African-American rights. Eleanor was a feminist who embraced domesticity, and in fact, a huge part of her legacy was the incorporation of home economics into education (though she herself didn’t do chores or cook meals).
Joanne Ramos’ novel The Farm comes out on May 7, and I’m so excited that I was able to get an advance readers’ copy from NetGalley. Golden Oaks Farm, or the titular “Farm,” is a blissful paradise where women live during pregnancy to ensure they they deliver the healthiest baby in the safest environment. For nine months, the women are pampered with spa treatments, custom menus, and the best medical care. But these women are not allowed to leave the grounds, and they not even allows to keep the babies they carry.
These women are “hosts,” chosen and paid for by super-wealthy patrons who can’t or won’t have their babies themselves. For the hosts — mostly immigrants, becoming a surrogate opens up a world of possibility, but it’s not always an easy choice. Jane, a Filipina host, makes the decision to be able to better support her family, a daughter of her own and an elderly cousin, Ate. But it also means she will be leaving her newborn behind so she can bring someone else’s into the world.
Miriam Toews’ latest novel Women Talking was one of my most anticipated reads of 2019, and though it wasn’t exactly what I expected going in, I’m happy to say that it did not disappoint. It was a bit slow to start but ended up being a powerful read. I probably should’ve expected nothing less from Toews, who I discovered later, was raised in a Mennonite community until the age of 18. She has been working on telling this important story for years.
The majority of the novel is exactly what the title describes, or as one character puts it, “just women talking.” Eight Mennonite women sit in a hayloft to discuss a series of sustained attacks on the females in their closed community. The women have learned that men within their own community drugged and attacked the women in their sleep, and they must decide how best to protect themselves and their daughters moving forward.
For those of you who have been with me since the beginning, you may recall my love of Karen Thompson Walker’s previous novel, The Age of Miracles. Because of that, I have been anxiously awaiting her follow-up The Dreamers since I first heard about it months ago. I was lucky enough to get it from the library on its release day, and I wasted no time getting right to it!
Like The Age of Miracles, The Dreamers starts with a seemingly innocuous anomaly. This time, a college girl falls asleep and doesn’t wake up. Her roommate, Mei, is unable to wake her, and the girl is brought to the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep and then another, people begin to worry. The dorm is put on lockdown. As the mysterious illness spreads, the entire college town is quarantined, doctors are flown in to investigate and the National Guard summoned to keep order.
Many of you may know Kristin Hannah through her WWII historical fiction novel, The Nightingale, which was a huge hit when it was released a few years ago. It was the first of her novels that I’d read, despite her deep catalog. I found her storytelling to be powerful yet heart-wrenching, and though I loved it, I wasn’t exactly rushing to read another book that would wreck me. Yet, here I am.
In 1974, Ernt Allbright is adrift. After returning home from Vietnam, where he was a POW, he has become increasingly volatile and can’t hold down a job. He decides to pack up his small family — his wife Cora, and their teenage daughter Leni — and explore the wild frontier; they will become homesteaders in Alaska. Leni finds herself in a one-room schoolhouse with only one other person her age, a boy named Matthew.