February 2022 Book Marks
I didn’t initially raise a family of readers. It’s not that they didn’t like to read, but there were lots of other beautiful distractions by the time they hit adolescence. Like the internet. And cell phones…the hypnotic eye candy of Instagram, Snapchat and Tik Tok.
But any good marksman needs patience to bag their prey. Mandating that my kids read a book would have sent them eyerolling to the blackjack table, just to show me a thing or two. Whoever fell in love with the son of the family friend that your mother tried to shove in your face?
I lay in wait, pretending not to care, modelling bookish behavior and keeping my trap shut. There was enough eye rolling already. Keep reading, I told myself, and someday they just might turn into readers too.
Fast forward a few years, first my son and then older daughter would occasionally ask if I had a good book idea. Then a call from my twins— could I recommend a book for their friend’s book club? I yawned, fighting the urge to do a happy dance, sitting on my hands to suppress a fist pump.
With everyone home this past holiday season, I assembled the equivalent of a literary deer blind in the upstairs hall outside their bedrooms. I loaded a rolling shelf, let’s call it an “in-house book mobile,” and stacked it with some of my faves. Little by little, they went for the bait. Books migrated into rooms, I spied a spine left open on the coffee table, a paperback left on the couch.
Recently, I stumbled on my daughter blinking back a tear while listening to an audio book and I knew my job here was done. They had all discovered the joy of how art and literature can move us; embed itself in our emotions. I love it when a story stays in my head for days. There’s simply nothing better in my book.
The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Allison Pataki
Pataki has done it again with a totally engrossing and detailed look at a one-of-a-kind woman who shaped history. Marjorie Merriweather Post’s story goes back to the decades following the Civil War, when her father founded the C.W. Post cereal company in Battle Creek, Michigan (rival to Kellogg’s) which ultimately became General Foods. Marjorie’s keen mind and entrepreneurial spirit allowed her to make critical decisions for the company, even though as a woman she was not allowed a seat in business. One of her accomplishments was forseeing the future of frozen foods with the purchase of the tiny Birds Eye company, moving American households toward convenience and refrigeration. But her keen business eye didn’t translate into choosing men. She was unlucky in love, marrying and divorcing four husbands and raising three daughters, one of them the movie star Dina Merrill. Post was visionary, philanthropic and patriotic, stationed as the ambassador’s wife in Moscow in the run-up to WW2 and ultimately donating her home in Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago to become the winter white house. I enjoyed this book from cover to cover.
The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang
The people in Haven, Wisconsin have patronized the delicious food at Fine Chao’s restaurant for decades and watched the three Chao sons grow up. But one day their mother leaves the house to live peacefully at a nunnery and shortly after that, their brash and tyrannical father is found dead. Was he murdered? The ensuing trial draws the attention of the entire town as we learn more about each of the sons and what drives them, from Dagou the head chef, to Ming the successful but tortured soul and James, a lost college student. With her signature wit and ability to parse the undercurrents of a small town, racism, family and the pain of betrayal, Chang creates a wonderful story that is so much more than the sum of its parts.
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
Frida feels like she is failing in so many areas of her life. She has a mediocre job, one that isn’t as lofty as her Chinese immigrant parents had envisioned and her husband has fallen in love with someone else. As an exhausted single parent, she has one lapse in judgement on a “very bad day,” that will ripple out to have amazing repercussions. The government is tired of “unfit parents” and their lack of “re-education,” so they’ve developed a big brother constant monitoring system that uses data to determine where if someone is a fit mother. As the story veers into sci-fi with an ironic touch of reality, Frida’s situation keeps the book galloping as she is forced to attend a “school” to learn mothering fundamentals with some super creepy teachers. The ending surprised and satisfied me.
Still Life by Sarah Winman
It’s Italy in 1944 and bombs are dropping as the Allies advance. Ulysses, a young English solider, is in the wine cellar of an abandoned villa. He meets Evelyn Skinner, an art historian who is in Italy to salvage valuable paintings from the ruins and to try to recapture some of her childhood memories. This chance meeting sets the direction that Ulysse’s life will take over the coming decades but also sets a course for history. This beautifully drawn tale sweeps through each decade to create a picture of how individuals make up a family and how beauty lives within us and all around, if we just open our eyes to see it.
It Ends With US by Colleen Hoover
Lily Bloom has grown up in a house where her father physically abused her mother. She carries such loathing for him that she is unable to deliver his eulogy. Part of this enmity is tied to what happened in her childhood when Lily befriended a homeless, teenaged boy who becomes her first love. Fast forward to Lily, living in Boston and opening her own flower shop. Through a series of coincidences, she runs into a man she’d met briefly on the night of her father’s funeral. He’s a handsome neurosurgeon who made it clear he’s got no interest in a relationship, until he begins to fall for her. When love proves irresistible, he and Lily marry quickly, but there are early signs of trouble. Lily must finally confront that hard truth that she may have married a man just like her father. Will she be strong enough to break the cycle? This book, partly based on the author’s own life, shows us that domestic violence can take many forms and happen in all different types of marriages.
*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!