The hustle and bustle of September can leave us all a little frazzled and in need of an escape. In this month’s Now Reading, we are featuring the books some of us Literary Mamas read when we need more than Calgon to take us away. These books represent our escape into the written word when we can’t actually leave our daily routines.
I, like most of the world, recently finished binge-watching the television show Stranger Things. After I finished, I found myself left with a TV show hangover. I wanted more. Based on the advice of the blog Book Riot, I found my escape and hangover cure in the book My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. While the book is borderline cheesy, it’s wildly entertaining in both its nostalgic decade and subject matter. The text transported me back to the 1980s with a story that’s part Go Ask Alice, part Stephen King horror, and part Sweet Valley High. Focusing on teenage best friends Gretchen and Abby, the book does not disappoint with 1980s references that make you want to grab a can of Aquanet and listen to Bon Jovi while you read along. Complete with yearbook excerpts and a teen magazine quiz, this YA novel genuinely provided the escape I was looking for in a book and the writing wasn’t bad either. While it’s a story-driven piece that doesn’t delve deeply into any character’s inner thoughts or motives, it’s pure fun from start to finish. Hendrix shows off his writing talent with his in-scene descriptions and ability to write teenage girls without sounding trite. If you’re looking to transport back to the eighties, I highly recommend watching Stranger Things and reading My Best Friend’s Exorcism.
Fiction co-editor Suzanne Kamata found her escape in Kaui Hart Hemming’s hilarious third novel How to Party with an Infant. She writes, “The book is the story of single mother Mele Bart, a Hawaiian transplant navigating mommy culture in San Francisco—a world of preschool consultants, wooden toys, and potty boot camps. When she announced her pregnancy to her lover Bobby, a chef, she found he was already engaged to someone else. Now, Bobby’s wedding to his oh-so-perfect cheese-making fiancé is only a week away. Mele and Bobby’s daughter Ellie is going to be the flower girl, and Mele is trying to decide if she should accept an invitation to the ceremony. As a distraction, Mele, a former MFA student-turned-food-blogger, is working on her entry for the San Francisco Mommy Club’s cookbook contest. Through answering essay questions such as ‘Does your husband cook?’ and ‘How have your friendships from SFMC changed your life?’ Mele recounts stories culled from her new playground friends, along with recipes inspired by their mishaps and heartbreaks. The books focuses on her stories and her efforts to heal herself.”
Managing Editor and Senior Editor Karna Converse, tackled a mammoth read this month with I Know This Much is True . She says, “It’d be easy to be intimidated by the number of pages (900) in this 1998 novel by Wally Lamb, but I’m sure readers will be as invested in this multi-layered novel about twins, mental illness, and omertà—the code of silence—from its opening line, just as I was. Narrator Dominick Birdsey is 41 years old when he’s forced to face the depth of his twin brother’s mental illness. This, in turn, sends him searching through a tangled web of family history that raises more questions than it answers. About two-thirds of the way through the book, Lamb introduces a secondary story—that of Dominick’s Sicilian grandfather and namesake. Seven chapters of ‘The History of Domenico Onofrio Tempesta, a Great Man From Humble Beginnings’ alternate between chapters of Dominick’s personal story and struggle for self. Only when Dominick reads his grandfather’s story, are three generations of family secrets resolved, and only then does Dominick find his true worth. There’s no denying the long-lasting effect omertà has on a family; I Know This Much Is True is sure to have readers thinking about and exploring their own family secrets.”
Christina Consolino, Senior Editor and Profiles Editor, shares, “The book I’m currently ‘reading’ is a bit different from my normal picks. Making Art from Maps, by Jill K. Berry, is exactly what you’d think it is: a book about making art from maps. I have long been fascinated by maps, but never thought to do anything creative with them until I picked up this book. Berry, both an artist and a writer, takes us on a creative journey that leads us from a two-dimensional piece of paper to just about anything you can envision: mini-dioramas, drink coasters, wreaths (complete with flowers constructed from maps, of course), and even jewelry. The book includes a list of tools necessary to turn maps into something spectacular, as well as step-by-step instructions for most pieces. Berry has also curated vivid photographs from artists across the globe that showcase what structures can arise when you add a bit of creativity and ingenuity to a simple map.”
Profiles Editor Kelsey Madges read a 2016 Newbery Honor Book, The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. She says, “The middle-grade historical fiction novel is the story of two poor children, Ada and Jamie, living in London during the beginning of World War II. Ada, the older sibling, was born with a clubfoot. Their abusive mother is ashamed of Ada’s disability and has kept her confined to their small apartment. The world Ada knows is limited to the view of the city street she sees from the apartment window. When Ada’s younger brother Jamie comes home from school talking about children being sent out of London because of the war, she knows she must be on the train with those children. Ada makes her escape, and she and Jamie are the last chosen of the London children who arrive in the English countryside. They are sent home with the reluctant Miss Smith, a single woman lost in her own grief. The characters in this novel, especially Ada and Miss Smith, are beautifully developed. As difficult as it feels to be away from what is familiar, the children slowly begin to accept an adult who actually cares for them. With the war closing in on England, and Ada finally beginning to trust Miss Smith, the children’s mother returns and drives the book to its heart-wrenching conclusion. I appreciated that this book reflected some of the harsh realities of the war—rationing, air raid sirens, bomb shelters, casualties, and general fear and uncertainty, without overshadowing the story unfolding among the characters. Although the mother’s treatment toward Ada and Jamie is certainly distressing, this novel would be a good choice for young readers who are interested in the time period but cannot handle the emotional intensity of World War II fiction that focuses on the Holocaust.”
Libby Maxey, Literary Reflections Editor, shares, “I always come slowly to the books that everybody is talking about, and my latest better-late-than-never read is Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. It hardly needs my recommendation, having won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009, but I want to sing its praises all the same—especially because I found it so far superior to Strout’s most recent novel, the dull and mawkish My Name Is Lucy Barton. The short stories in this collection open windows on the lives of various residents of a small seaside town in Maine; Olive, a hard-edged, no-nonsense math teacher, appears in every one, if only barely. All of the featured characters are well-drawn, but Olive is perfection—at once insufferable and admirable, mean and sympathetic. She is a complete and completely recognizable human being, whose sardonic thoughts are often hilarious, even as she struggles with her grown son’s decisions, her husband’s failing health, and her own overweight, aging body. Without pretension, these loosely linked stories portray the human condition as richly, deeply, and insightfully as any novel could. The ending of ‘A Little Burst’ is particularly delicious after Olive, lying down to escape the ordeal of her son’s wedding reception, overhears her new daughter-in-law talking about her—but I won’t spoil it, just in case I’m not the last literary mama to discover this gem.”
For more reading suggestions from Literary Mama check out our Goodreads page. Are you reading a book you must share? Tell us about it in the comments below.