Blog Book Marks

April Book Marks

If T.S. Eliot is right, and April is the cruelest month, it’s also true that April showers are finally bringing May flowers. And therefore, this month’s indie book store pick is Rainy Day Books in Kansas City (rainydaybooks.com). Rainy Day has long been one of the country’s premiere independent bookstores, a must-stop for any author. If you want to know what the next big read is going to be, owner Vivien Jennings and her partner Roger Doeren have their finger on the pulse. Their endorsement is like the literary world’s good housekeeping seal of approval. On a book tour stop in Kansas City there a few years ago, Viv handed me her galley copy of “The Help” and told me she thought it would be a best-seller. Clearly, Rainy Day knows books.

This past week I visited Kansas City to honor my friend Myra Christopher, who is retiring after 30 years from the Center for Practical Bioethics, working to ensure patients rights in determining their medical directives and end of life care. During that trip I visited with Roger and Viv and we took this shot outside the hotel. I’m looking forward to seeing them both during Book Expo in New York.

Where ever you live, May spring be lighting up the brown with colorful blossoms.  And on those rainy spring days, what could be better for the soul than a book?

Historical Fiction:

My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

In the vein of unmasking the contributions of history’s hidden women, this untold story is finally getting its due.  It was high time, given the sensational popularity of the Broadway musical, that someone dug into the life of Eliza Hamilton. As a revolutionary wife, heiress, a woman who “stood by her man” and then became a grieving widow after the fateful duel, Eliza is the fledging nation’s first “Page Six” story. She must survive heartbreak and practice forgiveness after America’s first official Stormy Daniels sex scandal. OK, maybe Alexander’s mistress wasn’t a Colonial exotic dancer and porn star, but you get a feel for the very public nature of the transgression.

The unlikely romance between Eliza and Alexander is set amidst the backdrop of our nascent country, with glittering inaugural balls, riots and accusations of corruption. As an original “founding mother,” Eliza subtly shaped the country in her own right. The authors drew on thousands of Eliza’s letters as their source documents and the result is a book that takes us into the personal pain and flawed relationship, the disappointments and the imperfect union from Eliza’s perspective. Perhaps it’s time she has her own rap musical?

Fiction/Thriller:

All The Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson

When his father’s sudden death brings Harry home to a small coastal Maine town right before his college graduation, things quickly move from a simple death to something much murkier. Mix in a sultry step-mother, fraternal twins, secrets, affairs, a used bookstore and a little twisted sex and you’ve got a rocking thriller, masterfully braided together by Swanson. I read this book as if I were watching a Netflix movie, and if someone hasn’t already snapped this up for a screen play, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. The dialogue advances the story instead of bogging it down and I finished this baby in just two plane rides, riveted until the grisly, watery death of….. well, I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

Fiction:

We Own the Sky by Luke Allnut

Told from a father’s point of view, the title of this novel is the name of a website that protagonist Rob creates to write about the places he has visited with his son. Warning for anyone who avoids stories about losing a child, this is the hard center at the heart of the novel. But the book reads more like a love story between husband and wife and parent and child. Breaking through his grief, Rob must unravel his own issues and demons and confront the very thing that ended his marriage in  order to choose his way forward. This could have been a book that marinated in its own preciousness, but instead it’s an unlikely page-turner that keeps you rooting for the protagonist.  At it’s most basic level, this novel is about living in the after-space; carrying on after losing what we love the most. But it’s also a tale about marriage, love, forbearance and bravery.

Fiction:

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

I’m picturing Jennifer Lawrence playing the role of protagonist Ella Duran as she heads off to England to begin her Rhode Scholarship and “once in a lifetime experience.” Dilemma and choice rear their heads early. Almost as soon as Ella arrives on British soil, she is offered the chance to work remotely on an American presidential campaign for a female candidate. Having just escaped the world of politics, she is tempted by the promise of a bright, fast-tracked career in the White House if the candidate wins. The heart, however, has other ideas. When Ella meets a cheeky stranger named Jamie in a semi-mortifying manner, no one is more surprised than she to discover she is falling in love. But, alas, the Gods have a lightning bolt in store. When Jamie’s devastating secret is revealed, Ella must make a difficult choice about whether to follow her heart or her profession. The writing, the pace, and the depth of the characters all combine to make a tale that hangs together and has you rooting for these two unlikely souls to come out the other end. It’s a love story, a reality check, a tale of family, complications, sorrow and joy.

Fiction:

You Think it I’ll Say It  by Curtis Sittenfeld

If I’d gone to high school with Curtis, she’d be the smart, cheeky,  friend who always had the peppermint Altoids, tampons, Advil and crumpled (but still serviceable) Marlboro Lights in her backpack. She is a whip smart observer of the human condition and the overlooked but obvious moments.  So when this author pops out a book, I immediately drop everything to read it. And if you think of essay collections as a greatest hits literary box of chocolates, Curtis’s latest effort does not disappoint. The essays draw on various aspects of relationships and connectivity, ranging from a secret brother and sister in law relationship over classical music, to an unexpected meeting on a honeymoom with the blonde high school mean girl, the misinterpretation of sexual cues between two married couples, and so much more. It’s Sittenfeld’s uncanny ability to articulate a complex emotion or moment and extract the story like pulling taffy. This book makes for a tasty read, chapter by chapter.

Non-Fiction Essay Collection:

What Would Virginia Woolf Do? And Other Questions I Ask Myself as I Attempt to Age Without Apology by Nina Lorenz Collins

Entering her 40’s, the author found herself in peri-menopause and full of anger, questions, emotions and luckily, an intact sense of humor. So, what did she do? Natch, she turned to facebook for solace and ended up creating a community of like-minded gals who shared thoughts, answered questions and kicked around topics near and dear to the ides of mid-life. When the group needed a name, one of them came up with “WWVWD,” an ironic title since the real Virginia Woolf committed suicide in her 50’s (proving that menopause is not for the faint of heart.)

What happened next was unexpected. The community ballooned to a group of more than 8,000 similarly ballsy and opinionated women of a certain age, with some wonderful insights. This collection of essays grew out of conversations on the site, and I relished reading (and underlining) each chapter, ranging from musings on beauty (chin hairs) fashion, sex and relationships, snoring, parenting, emotions, health and money. And so much more.

For any woman who has ever wanted to “demystify the agony and potential humiliation of no longer being young and perfect,” this is your next book. Reading it will be a little bit like watching “Cats,” you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you shake your head “yesssssss.”

Biography:

Eunice- The Kennedy Who Changed the World by Eileen McNamara

For a century, America has been fascinated by the Kennedys. Eunice Kennedy Shriver was the fifth child of Joe and Rose Kennedy and in the estimation of many, probably the one most qualified to be president… if she hadn’t been female. She was tough, smart, curious, religious, convicted and bred to make a difference in the world. She did so in ways that had a profound and positive impact on how we view and include those with disabilities. Some would argue that her legacy is just as significant as her famous brothers.

I had the chance to interview Maria Shriver this past November and we talked about this book and her “formidable” mother. Maria’s take on “growing up Shriver,” meant they didn’t talk about emotions. Instead, they moved through the hard times with physical activities, like sailing and football. Her mother never talked to her about her Uncle’s assassinations, her Aunt Rosemary’s lobotomy and other hard truths. (In my family we refer to it as “WASPed away.”) Part of Maria’s quest today to openly and honestly discuss topics like death and Alzheimer’s is in response to that upbringing.

Maria’s love and respect for her mother, the woman who never stopped moving, asking, demanding of those who worked for and around her, is vividly drawn by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eileen McNamara. The words “No” or “I can’t” were not in her vocabulary and she chewed up and spit out assistants like Pez candy. The author sifted through more than 30 boxes of letters and material to reconstruct Eunice’s incredible life, which culminated in the Americans With Disabilities Act.

There are fresh insights in the book, culled from her letters, about the decisions and reactions Joe Kennedy made regarding Rosemary’s schooling and the ultimate lobotomy treatment that went horribly wrong. The biography spans four generations of Kennedys and includes Eunice’s relationship and courtship with Sargent Shriver, politicians, high society, the British Court of St. James and so much more. The result is a very human picture of a woman who ultimately found her own, voice, cause and center.

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