It takes a bold person to step forward in the face of injustice. Especially when the injustice is accepted as part of the culture.
In January of 2015, Chanel Miller attended a frat party at Stanford University. What started out as an average college fraternity party turned into a life changing event for Ms. Miller. She was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner, who received a notoriously light sentence for the crime he was accused of.
In her new book, Know My Name, Ms. Miller tells her life story up to the that night and the aftermath that followed. In the book, she tells her story from the night of the party to the agonizing process of being examined at the hospital for the rape kit, identifying her rapist and finally, going through the trial.
I loved this book. If I was to compile a list of top ten books of 2019, Know My Name would be on it. The pain of whole experience is honest, brutal and at moments, hard to read. But it is well worth it, especially when Ms. Miller comes out on the other side not as a victim, but as a woman whose strength outpaces her pain.
War often forces us to make choices that would not be made during peacetime.
The Last Train to London: A Novel, by Meg Waite Clayton, was published last month. It starts in 1936 in Austria. Stephan Neuman is fifteen years old and best friends with Žofie-Helene. Stephan comes from a upper class and influential Jewish family. Zofie’s comes from a Christian family; her mother publishes a newspaper that is decidedly anti-Nazi. Then the Nazis invade and their lives are forever changed.
In the Netherlands, Truus Wijsmuller cannot sit back and do nothing. She travels back and forth to Nazi Germany, getting out as many Jewish children as she can. Known to the children as Tante Truus, she is one of the adults who coordinates what will be known as the Kindertransport. It maybe the only way out for young people whose lives and futures are at stake.
This book is brilliant. What struck me about this book is that it is incredibly relevant to the world that we live in in 2019. There was language and action that is not too far off from what often makes the local news. There were also, as there are now, individuals who are willing to put their lives on hold to save the lives of others.
Writing about your own life requires introspection, honesty and the ability to examine what you have or have not accomplished.
Claire Tomalin is known as the author of quite a few successful biographies. Her new book, A Life of My Own, is her autobiography. Born in 1933 to a French academic father and an English musician mother, Tomalin used books and reading as an escape hatch from her tumultuous and painful life. As a child, she watched as her parent’s marriage crumble.
In her adult years, her own marriage was far from picture perfect. Her late first husband was not exactly loyal to his wife or his vows. Her son was born disabled and she lost one of her daughters to suicide. But she was able to maintain a respected literary career and find love again, even after her disastrous first marriage.
I have to be honest. I love Ms. Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen. It is brilliant and as perfect as a biography can get. However, I found this book to be on the boring side. I should have been inspired by how she overcame what stood in her way. But I wasn’t.
Sometimes love and the right person is closer than we think.
Tessa Bailey’s new novel, Fix Her Up, is set in the small suburban community of Port Jefferson, New York. For most, if not all of her life, Georgie Castle has been looked down as the baby of her family. She has also nursed a crush on Travis Ford, her older brother’s best friend since junior high.
Georgie earns her living as a children’s entertainer and birthday clown. Travis was once the hottest thing in major league baseball since sliced bread, but a physical injury has put an end to his career. Post professional baseball, Travis’s life consists of alcohol, takeout and self pity. Then Georgie pushes her way in and forces Travis to get back on his feet.
They plan to pretend to date to shock her family and give some life back to his career. But this pretend dating turns into something more.
I can’t say that I loved this book. There are sections that, frankly added more to the narrative that was needed. However, the book also has moments that are funny, that are sexy and that are emotionally raw, elevating Travis and George above what is expected of lead characters in this genre.
Life has a way of throwing us curve balls when we are least expecting or liking them.
Nina Hill is the titular character in the new Abbi Waxman novel, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. Nina Hill is content with her life. The daughter of a single mother, Nina lives with her cat, works at a local bookstore and spends her free time at book clubs and pub quiz tournaments.
Then she is thrown for two loops. The first loop is that the father she never met dies and wants to bring her into his large extended family. The second loop is her attraction to Tom, a member of a rival quiz team.
I loved this book. I loved that I totally understood Nina’s perspective and why she reacts to the changes in her life. I also love that Ms. Waxman approaches mental health in a way teaches without preaching or standing on a soap box.
Love at first sight is cheesy, predictable and boring. Hate at first sight is fun, interesting and when done well, has the ability to suck a reader or viewer into the story.
Elizabeth Gaskell‘s 1854 novel, North and South, starts with the standard hate at first sight narrative with issues of politics, wealth and worker’s rights thrown in. Margaret Hale lives a comfortable life with her parents in the south of England. When her father is forced to leave the Church because of a disagreement with his bosses, the Hales move to Milton, a town in the north of England.
While Mr. Hale is employed as a tutor to the mill owner John Thornton, Margaret begins to explore. She is quickly disgusted by the poverty, the dirt, the grime and an obvious distinction between the mill owners and the mill workers. She is also disgusted by her father’s pupil, who she believes to be cold and emotionless.
Then Mr. Thornton proposes marriage. The battle of misunderstood messages, a polar opposite world view and the fight to hide their mutual attraction begins.
Though this book is set in the mold of Pride and Prejudice, Gaskell takes it to another level. She is telling the story of the working class in 19th century mill and factory communities that often seen and not heard in these kind of stories. I have seen the miniseries, but up until recently, I had not read the book. I loved the chemistry between the lead characters and the brilliant way that the author highlights the real issues of working class characters.
Bullying in school is an age old experience. But few writers have used that as a basic narrative as Stephen King.
In his classic 1970’s novel, Carrie, Carrie White is having a teenage experience that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Socially awkward and quiet, she is bullied by her peers at school and by her ultra-religious mother at home. When she is humiliated at a school dance, her telekinetic powers come forward and all Hades breaks loose.
I have a confession to make: this is the first time that I have read Carrie. I have seen the movie adaptations, but I have yet to read the book. What I liked about this book is that King takes an unorthodox approach to the narrative. He tells Carrie’s story not just from her perspective, but also from the perspective of the wider community that is affected by her bullying.
“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
The new book, The Song of the Jade Lily, by Kirsty Manning is about the power of friendship during difficult times. The book is set in two different eras. In 1939 Shanghai, native born Li and Jewish refugee Romy are best friends. Like millions of others across the world, the girls are unaware that the coming war will forever change their lives and their friendship.
In 2016, Romy’s granddaughter Alexandra leaves London with a broken heart and takes refuge in her grandparent’s home in Australia. Her grandfather is dying and the secrets of her grandparent’s past are slowly being revealed.
After her grandfather passes away, Alexandra moves to Shanghai for work. But she is also curious to see if the city can reveal the secrets of her family’s past. What she discovers will finally reveal what has been kept locked away for decades.
This book is amazing. Ms. Manning tells the story of friendship that remains strong, even when war threatens to tear the friendship apart. She also tells the story of Shanghai, the only port that would take Jewish refugees who could not obtain visas. It is a narrative that in the overall Holocaust narrative, that does get the spotlight that it should.
But it was not always this way. It is thanks to the original members of the Jane Austen Society that Jane Austen is alive and well in our culture.
Coming out next Spring, The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner tells the story of the founding of the Jane Austen Society. Just after World War II, Chawton, the village where Austen wrote and/or revised her six novels is a sleepy little English town. There is a trickle of visitors to Chawton House, the ancestral home of Jane’s older brother, Edward Austen Knight, but not enough to call it a tourist attraction.
Through their love of their local celebrity, the original members of the Jane Austen Society are able to preserve the memory of Austen’s name and work for generations to come.
I really liked this book. Though the characters are fiction, they embody why Jane Austen is still one of the most popular authors today. The characters in this book are all different, but what brings them together is the love of Austen and the beloved fictional worlds that she created.
They say that history is written by the victors. They may also say that history is written by those who have access to the pen. For thousands of years, men have told their stories. It is only recently that women have been given the pen and the spotlight.
When her father named as the American minister to France, Patsy travels with her father. Compared to her Virginia home, Paris is another world entirely. Growing up within the world the of pre-revolution French aristocracy, Patsy becomes suspicious of Thomas’s relationship with Sally Hemmings. She also falls in love, but this love will not turn into marriage.
After Patsy returns home, she follows the prescribed path of marriage and motherhood. But her life will not be that of the average American woman of her day. It will not only shape the lives of her family, it will shape the lives of millions of Americans.
Based in on real life letters, this book tells the story of the early days of America from the female perspective. It is a perspective that in either fiction or non fiction, is not given the attention that it should receive. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is well written, well researched and worth the time it takes to read.