April 2020 Book Marks
The world has turned upside down and sideways since I published the March blog. The speed with which life has been disrupted is stunning. I cannot turn on the TV or read one more thing with the C-word in it (COVID-19, to be clear.) And yet, at the same time, I cannot turn away. My heart breaks for so many in the midst of such bravery, unimaginable loss and absolute uncertainty. We human beings don’t do well with uncertainty. Give us a date, a deadline, a target to shoot for, a period of time in which to strap in and go to ground and we can adjust for that. But the not-knowing is crippling.
The valuable currency of our current situation is anything that provides a “wonderful distraction.” And reading, including audio books, offers multiple worlds we can crawl into and inhabit when we crave escape.
Thankfully, there’s a solid crop of April reads below, and given our home-bound circumstances, I’ve decided to polish my all-time list of favorite books and will send that out later this month. I’d also love to hear your thoughts and recommendations on your favorite books ever.
In addition to reading, the other mood-booster is music. Songs connect us to a place, memory or time. The lyrics magically light up in my brain and I’m transported to my teenaged bedroom with “Best of Bread” or into the back seat of Shawn Moore’s GTO, on the way home from school with my girlfriend, listening to “Walk This Way” for the first time. Yes, I did indeed purposely clarify the backseat thing, lest any of you were conjuring an illicit image.
So in that spirit, I wanted to share singdaily.com created by my friend and public school music teacher Suzanne Propp, to give us a song a day, complete with lyrics. Subscribe and receive your daily pick-me-up. She takes requests too!
Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles
If you enjoyed Jiles earlier book, “News of the World,” (soon to be a movie starring Covid-19 survivor Tom Hanks) then you’re in for the same kind of immersive time-travelling treat in a slow-burning, evocative story that is set in Texas, toward the very end of the Civil War. Simon is an itinerant fiddler, hoping to escape conscription as he travels with an itinerant band of musicians. Ultimately, the army catches up with him and he manages to stay alive in the military by using his craft as a musician. Playing on the eve of the surrender, he encounters Doris, an indentured Irish governess for a Union colonel’s daughter. Over the next three years, as he continues to travel around a war-torn landscape, he vows to find her. Written in beautiful prose, the novel is a sweet reminder of the lengths to which we will go to fulfill our heart’s desire.
You and Me and Us by Alison Hammer
Alex Gold is a working Mom with her own advertising agency, crazy hours and a work ethic that her daughter Cece resents. Tommy, her stay at home partner, manages the heavy lifting until a terminal cancer diagnosis changes everything. All of a sudden, the life Alex has built at work doesn’t mean a thing without her childhood love. She puts her career on hold to spend one last summer together in Destin Beach, Florida, even if it means being near Tommy’s ex, a semi-famous actress whom Cece idolizes. Hammer deals with heartache, heartbreak and the conflict of a mother-daughter relationship in the midst of grappling with the fact that the one person you counted on to be there is gone.
Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur
Born into a pedigreed WASP family, Adrienne’s beautiful, narcissist mother Malabar was raised to believe that her looks are her currency. One night she wakes her 14-year-old daughter with the words “Ben Souther just kissed me.” And so begins the author’s role as her mother’s “beard,” enabling the affair to continue for years until its inevitable, combustible ending.
The result of this complicity makes Adrienne a mental hostage, as her need to keep secrets stunts her own sexual awakening and growth as an adolescent, ultimately driving her into an ill-fitting marriage and a deep depression. Throughout her life, Adrienne’s mother dangles the promise of the family’s “priceless” necklace as a way to keep her close and demonstrate her love, the perfect metaphor for the leash Malabar has fitted over her daughter’s life. This memoir depicts all the ways in which we can damage the ones we love both intentionally and unintentionally. It’s also a depiction of the power of the parental bond, the overwhelming resilience of the human spirit and a reminder that, as parents, we have the power to break the cycle.
The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni
A remote Italian town in the Alps has long been dominated by one family, whose roots stretch back to medieval times. When Alberta Monte opens a letter informing her she has inherited a title and a castle, she’s excited to be whisked to Italy on a private jet. But there’s a dark side to the legacy and she soon realizes she is trapped by geography and the deep mountain snows. An odd collection of servants lives at the castle, and there are many illusions to strange, beast-like creatures in the mountains that devour men. But it’s the discovery of Alberta’s great-grandmother, living in the far tower, that sets her on a journey to discover the truth her family has kept hidden for so long. This horror/love story toggles between the fanciful, fearful and beautiful as it delves into human genetics, unwinds one family’s trove of secrets and explores the shackles of inheritance.
The Compton Cowboys: The New Generation of Cowboys in America’s Urban Heartland by Walter Thompson-Hernandez
Readers worldwide were captivated by the 2018 New York Times feature article about a group of African American men and women who defy stereotypes and continue the centuries old and proud tradition of black cowboys. But there’s a catch. Rather than green grass and wide-open spaces, their pasture lands are one of the most notorious communities in LA, with its history of rap legends and gang violence. Founded in 1988, the Compton Jr. Posse provided local youth with an alternative to the streets, connecting them with the rich tradition of black cowboys in American culture. The book contains a series of incredible characters from a former incarcerated drug dealer who is now a mentor, a single mother dreaming of winning a national rodeo championship and a group of twentysomethings who experience true freedom and protection when on horseback. The book is a wonderful portrait of people pushing back against an environment pockmarked with tragedy, triumph, transformation, racial tensions and ultimately redemption and belonging.
Time to Fly – Life and Love After Loss by Eileen Robertson Hamra
When Eileen Hamra learns that her husband has died in the plane he was piloting, she and her three children are paralyzed with grief and depression. Little by little, she finds ways to strengthen the bond with her children, return to the land of the living and open her heart to love again. She writes with honesty about how the tragedy of her husband’s death opened her eyes to the ways in which we sleepwalk through life, never asking the important questions about purpose or valuing the things that really matter. The book is a beautiful blueprint for how to choose to look at the world through a new lens. Especially during this time of great insecurity and uncertainty, this memoir is an important reminder that while we don’t get to control the script, we do get to choose how we spend our time and create an impact.
A Teen’s Life: Looking at Teen’s Lives Through Their Daily Struggles, by Uchenna L. Umeh
Teen suicide is on the rise and at-risk children are simply more susceptible. Dr. Lulu, as she is known, is a pediatrician who has made it her mission to prevent teen suicide. And if there is one take-away from this book, it’s that the best way to do this is to talk about it. In the end, all most of us want, especially teens navigating those highly emotional and often volatile years, is to be validated, listened to, respected and loved. Chock full of helpful statistical and data driven information, this book is also packed with empathy and compassion, including fictional letters from teens ( and responses from Dr. Lulu) that breathe life into real-life struggles. For anyone dealing with or concerned about this serious issue, the book is a powerful tool to understand and take action. There is no better time than during the present pandemic to check in with all of our children, especially those who are most vulnerable.
*These are books I genuinely love and am thrilled to recommend to my friends. These are Amazon affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I get a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. Alternately, if you prefer to rent books at your local library or buy from your local bookstore, I very much support that!
Lee Woodruff Speaker-Author-Executive Media Trainer