April 2021 Book Marks
“Joy” is an emotion in short-supply these days. But my family has something to celebrate after this dumpster fire, sci-fi-movie of a year.
It’s our very first family wedding! My nephew Collin is tying the knot with his love, Nadia. This was the first grandchild among we three sisters, and, as you can see from this 33- year-old photo, I was smitten. Still am.
We’re all hoping that the newlywed McLoughlins have their own little bundle of joy. Take it easy… I’m allowed to say that!
As parents, we’re in that zone that feels a little like senior year college acceptance period. You’re excited for someone else’s kid, and you hope like hell your own kid gets their first choice, too. Note to my kids—no need to rush this right now. Especially the grandkid part.
Taking a vow to join your life with another person is a leap of faith and a belief in the power of love, even through the hard things. It’s also a sign of hope. And hope is another emotion in short supply lately. When I look back at old pictures, and I think about the first time I held this little guy (and he peed on my face) I feel enormous hope.
So, I’m packing my brightest dress. I’m going to mist up when they kiss, laugh extra loud at the toasts, grab that third glass of champagne, wear sensible shoes so I can bust out “the worm” dance. Yup. I’m ready for a little joy and I wish the same for you.
Just in case there’s no wedding in your immediate future, cozying up with a book is just another form of joy!
Between Two Kingdoms – A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad
Many memoirs about injury or illness can feel like a linear journal of doctor’s appointments and treatments, but not this book. Told with brutal honesty and beautiful prose, this tale of resilience and love kept me thinking about it long after I closed the book. When Suleika began feeling fatigued in her senior year of college, she wrote it off to partying and studying. A year later, newly in love, living in Paris and working toward her dream of being a war correspondent, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Leukemia. What follows is an engrossing story of a young woman battling death, the complexities of family relationships, her boyfriend’s devotion and her desire to understand how healing begins when you learn how to live after the cancer’s devastation. Suleika rose to notoriety with a New York Times column about living with cancer and garnered hundreds of pen pals whom she visited on a country-wide road trip with her dog. You may not think you want to read a book starring cancer, but you do.
The Light of Days – The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos by Judy Batalion
The long overdue look at the many brave, female resistance fighters during WW2 has brought to light the incredible and life-threatening women who risked and gave their lives to topple Nazis. This little known, but important story of the “ghetto girls” in Poland has already been optioned for a movie by Steven Spielberg. The author, a granddaughter of Polish Holocaust survivors, brings us a well-researched story of real-life heroines, (some teenagers) who witnessed the murder of their families, destruction of their communities and internment in the camps. The group formed friendships to fight back with everything from life-saving underground bunkers to hide Jews, sabotaging supply lines, bribing the Gestapo and fighting for freedom against incredible odds. Powerful and inspiring, this book chronicles the extraordinary acts of brave women who helped to weaponize Poland’s Jewish youth groups to resist the Nazis.
Did I Say That Out Loud? Midlife Indignities and How to Survive Them by Kristin van Ogtrop
Van Ogtrop writes the things I think in my head and, OK, some of the things I say (like why are we all suddenly saying, “100 percent?”) As a journalist and magazine editor, she skillfully coalesces some of the moments, experiences, thoughts and triumphs that many of us (females to be precise) endure in the middle place in life. From the essay about losing her puppy to the funny insights about co-workers and bosses, insomnia, exercise and parenting, her observations about these years when we find ourselves both grateful for life and infuriated at part of it, will both entertain and strike a chord.
Little Matches, A Memoir of Grief and Light by Maryanne O’Hara
When Caitlin, the author’s only child, is diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, they are told that her daughter could either live a long life or be dead within months. It was that much of a crap shoot. At age 31, Caitlin lost her battle with the disease while waiting on the transplant list for a pair of lungs. The devastation and crisis that followed opened Ohara’s eyes to patterns that led her to believe in proof of her daughter’s enduring presence all around her. This memoir is brave and raw, but also therapeutic. For the reader, the story is a powerful reminder of the importance of living in the moment and letting go of life’s small annoyances. This book, a little bit of everything from letters, emails, meditations and journal entries. It’s a reflection on motherhood, life and death and rising from your knees to use your story to help others.
Love in Color by Bolu Babalola
A British-Nigerian journalist and writer, Babalola’s debut anthology of love stories celebrate romance in its many forms. Drawing from mythology, folk tales and love stories from West Africa, she layers in ancient Middle Eastern legends and long forgotten tales to make a sharp, moving collection.
The Scaffold Effect – Raising Resilient, Self-Reliant, and Secure Kids in an Age of Anxiety by Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D.
We are living in anxious times, and the global pandemic has heightened anxieties and issues with our most vulnerable population—our children. Prominent child psychiatrist and founder of the Child Mind Institute, Koplewicz provides a blueprint for raising children using what he terms “the scaffold effect,” a way to provide support like a scaffold does when a building in under construction. This stable, steady and warm nourishment helps put kids on the path to independence, versus the never-ending parental problem solving and involvement that can have the opposite effect. This book guides parents from infancy through young adulthood with effective and simple strategies for raising empowered, capable humans.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
This award-winning book by the author of “Homegoing” made everyone’s list a while back. I finally got a chance to crack it and was mesmerized by the story of an immigrant family that weaves in neuroscience, evangelical faith, suffering and salvation. Gifty is the daughter in a Ghanaian family who grew up in the American South with a mentally ill and suicidal mother. Her talented athlete brother, Nana, has died from an oxycontin addiction following an ankle injury. Gifty is a 6th year PhD candidate at Stanford, studying the neural circuits of mice that control addiction and depression. Determined to unlock the key to the suffering she has seen around her, it is the forces of her Christian faith that also offer her solace. Gyasi is a compelling storyteller who has mapped out a new territory with her language and range.
Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson
Right out of the gate this story grabs every parent by the throat with their worst nightmare – the kidnapping of a child. Wealthy Atlanta couple Trey and Bree Cabbat have one son and you guessed it; he is kidnapped. In order for Bree to get her child back, she must follow the kidnapper’s directions to the letter and involve no one else. But as Bree moves into the web of a dying psycho and her addicted daughter, she becomes complicit in a crime. When she finally asks her childhood friend for help, they uncover secrets about the real identity of her husband and they must make choices that could exhume long buried truths. I predict this will be made into a streaming show and I’m imagining Reese Witherspoon in the lead role.
*These are books I genuinely love and am thrilled to recommend to my friends. These are Bookshop.org 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!