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Highlights from Avonlea

Anne of Green Gables had been on my “to be read” (#tbr) list or faaaar too long (probably since watching the classic ’80s TV series). But for alas, it took me until now to finally get around to it. And either way, I’m so glad I finally crossed this one off my list! There was probably no better time to read it as the seasons begin to change.

The setting of Avonlea and the way L.M. Montgomery introduces each chapter with a romantic description of its changing seasons was a highlight for me. Anne, Marilla, Matthew, and Diana were all very charming characters, but Avonlea itself, the Lake of Shining Waters, the Haunted Forest, and the Snow Queen were my favorites. The natural setting was a meditative escape and had me dreaming of a visit to Prince Edward Island.

Also, I was surprised at what a fast read it was. I’d expected it to be more like a traditional “classic,” with a fair amount of tangents and portions being a little over-written. But I found the writing style very approachable, yet poetic. Which I guess makes sense since it was originally meant for a broader audience. I can really see why this book is so beloved. Seeing the world through Anne’s eyes you can’t help fall in love with all of Avonlea, and it was really refreshing reading the world through such bright and hopeful eyes.

I will say Anne’s arc was the only thing that threw me for a loop. A young girl who begins full of life and awe and passion is whittled down to a more adult, muted woman with practical notions. Which I guess the reader can interpret as they wish. I certainly didn’t feel like Montgomery was making a commentary one way or another on who Anne should aspire to be. In fact quite the opposite, maybe her intention was to share in a remorse that she’d dimmed a bit over time. So although part of me wishes we’d seen Anne’s fanciful notions carried on as she grew, I suppose that’s not how growing up works.

Overall this was a 5 out of 5 start read for me. Definitely a new favorite! And hopefully one day soon I’ll get to re-read it with my girls.

October Book

At The Bookly Club we read according to the season (more on that here). And what does fall put you in the mood for? For us it’s the perfect time to read something good and scary. We know, we know this year’s been scary enough! We’re definitely not in the mood for anything apocalyptic right now. BUT this October we’ve picked a book that’s a play on the classic haunted house story. And we think it’s just right time for curling up with a good book as the leaves change and the temperatures fall.



The Invited by Jennifer McMahon is a story about Nate and Helen; a young couple who decide to leave suburban life for a more rural setting on forty acres of land in the country. They plan to build their dream home together. As Helen finds inspiration through found objects in the local area—a beam from an old schoolroom, bricks from a mill, a mantel from a farmhouse—she becomes infatuated with the area’s dark history. The stories of Hattie Breckenridge, a local legend said to have died there about a century ago, and her descendants, consume Helen (the former history teacher). As the building goes on, the dream home soon becomes home to nightmares.


“A chilling ghost story with a twist: the New York Times bestselling author of The Winter People returns to the woods of Vermont to tell the story of a husband and wife who don’t simply move into a haunted house–they build one…”


Jennifer McMahon

McMahon definitely has an imagination for spook. Growing up in her grandmother’s house on the East coast, she was convinced a ghost named Virgil lived in the attic. And as an adult she settled in Vermont and found herself living in a cabin with no electricity and no running water as she and her partner Drea built their own house. Sounds like inspiration for The Invited to me! And they now live in an old Victorian in Vermont that some neighbors say reminds them of the Addams family house, “which brings me immense pleasure,” she says. McMahon is the author of nine books, with another set to release next Spring.

{side note: if you haven’t read her book The Winter People yet, it’s a MUST READ}

 

This modern retelling of the classic haunted house story is just what we’re in the mood for, and we hope you are too. Not into scary stories? You should be brave and join us! Here’s how…

  1. Pick up a copy from where ever you get your books, and read along with us anytime between now and the end of August
  2. Keep us posted on social using #booklymark and tagging @thebooklyclub
  3. Stay tuned for our discussion post on Instagram and/or our reviews here on the blog to share our thoughts

Spooky reading
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I mean….yeah

Quick summary: This book was stupid.

Longer thoughts: It starts with a rape and ends with the author pretending it wasn’t. The interaction begins with Henry following a very intoxicated Tess up the stairs under the pretense of helping her because she is wobbly and drunk. Once upstairs, he kisses her. She says “I can’t. I’m engaged.” And then she “gives in.” Cut to baby and a complete denial of what this encounter was. I really found it odd that Chamberlain made no real effort to address the four letter word in the room. Moreover, she wants us to root for this dude later on. If she meant it to be a wild night where both parties got carried away, perhaps she should have tried a little harder and dedicated more than a paragraph on how these characters ended up in bed.

She lost me after that. It only went downhill from there with extremely one-demential characters that basically existed to tell Tess that there is “more than meets the eye.” Ooooo. In order to draw out the mystery, a main character is killed off. She got to close to just being upfront with Tess, so she had to go.

The interesting history about immigrant Italian communities in Baltimore and a polio epidemic and important commentary on race and injustice were completely overshadowed by a landslide of crap. Tess felt like a soap opera character. If her evil twin showed up, I could not have been remotely surprised.

In summary: No.

All of the Things…

The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain definitely had all of the components of a beach read. There was death and loss, marriages, childhood friendships, engagements, broken engagements, an epidemic, an unplanned pregnancy, a world war, family feuds, long lost loves, issues of racism, sexism, classism, sexual assault, family secrets, gas rationing fraud, a car accident and more death, some mysticism and spirituality thrown in.

This book had all of the things. And honestly it left me a little dizzy.

The protagonist Tess DeMello was born and raised a good Catholic girl from Baltimore. She was engaged to be married to her childhood sweetheart when one “mistake” changes everything. Although what the book blurb describes as a mistake I’d describe as sexual assault.

I don’t consider this a spoiler since it happens within the first 30 pages of the book…

Tess gets uncharacteristically drunk during a night out with her best friend Gina. They meet two strangers and join them for drinks under Gina’s encouragement. Tess and one of the men, Henry, exchange almost no words during drinks and then dinner.  But after they return home (they’re all staying at the same boarding house), Henry follows Tess up to her room uninvited and they sleep together even though Tess offers no invitation, no consent, and is barely able to stand. And she’d been a virgin. A few of the characters in the book ask her the question at different points, “did he rape you?” To which she replies “No” each time, blaming it on herself and the cocktails.

The lack of acknowledgement by any character or storyline that this was sexual assault was the book’s first misstep for me. The story even goes so far as to develop Henry as an admirable character. So I guess all of this is to say that the book and I got off on the wrong foot.

And yet I wanted to like Tess, despite rolling my eyes at some some very out-of-character choices. I was rooting for her story, but ultimately I couldn’t figure out which thread to follow. Should I be invested in her nursing career, her old love, her new love, her path to motherhood? All of which were in conflict with each other. And was the subplot of the Henry’s mysterious relationships, or his mysterious occupation, the town mystic and his vague messages from beyond, or the small town dynamics and emerging Polio epidemic the one to follow? For me, there was just so much going on that I never fully invested in any one storyline. And I couldn’t tell where it was all leading, but not in a good way.

It was a compelling enough story for me to read it quickly, but I wish a few of the subplots or odd left turns had been left out. I can’t say this is a book I’ll be recommending, but I also don’t think it’s a waste of a read. For the right reader this could be a fantastic story that keeps you guessing! It just wasn’t for me.

Thanks for reading!

High Drama, Low Believability

Our theme for August is “Beach Read,” and while The Stolen Marriage may not be a typical beach read, it certainly ticks the “Beach Read” boxes of being quick, and with quite a high mix of drama.

Chamberlain certainly didn’t hold back in terms of the dramatic themes in The Stolen Marriage. Discussing the book with the other “Katherines,” I kept finding myself sliding into a Stefon-like description (“This book has everything – the polio epidemic, death, World War II, abandonment, abortion, adultery…” and I’ll stop there even though I could easily tick off 10-15 more things, but there would be major spoilers). In many ways, it felt like every chapter was also the introduction of another new element (SPOILER ALERT: “…mediums, secret relationships, arson…”). And while that kind of drama can certainly be entertaining and engrossing, it can also be incredibly overwhelming and unbelievable. For all of these terrible things to happen to one person in the span of a year!? Well, the book might as well have been about 2020.

It was also hard to throw my support behind most of the characters, with the exception perhaps of Vincent, who really seemed to get the shortest of all sticks here. Tess was whiny, Henry was a liar, his family was cruel, and even though each character also elicited sympathy, so many of their choices worked against their likability.

Now. All of that being said… I think I kind of liked it? I even recommended it to a couple of people who I know love very dramatic, period fiction type novels. I certainly am open to reading more from Diane Chamberlain. That said, I was also a major follower of Nicholas Sparks and devoured pretty much every book he wrote up through approximately 2012. So if you have that same guilty pleasure, maybe you’ll enjoy The Stolen Marriage too.

September Book

Pictured above: Puffin in Bloom edition of Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Here at The Bookly Club September is the season when we visit (or revisit) a scholastic classic. Normally this is when we’re heading back to school and dreaming of school supplies. But again, this school year will be looking very different. However, we still have the books we love! So for September we’ve picked a beloved classic.

And what is there really to say about our September book? First published on June 13th, 1908, this book and its characters have taken on a life of their own. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery has been translated into 36 languages, sold over 50 million copies, and is one of the best-selling books of all time. And yet, I’ve never read it! I’ve watched the 1980’s seriesand the latest adaptation Anne with an E on Netflix, but I’ve never read the book. So for many of us this will be a re-read, but for some of us this will be a long overdue first read!

Lucy Maude Montgomery

Lucy Maud (L.M.) Montgomery was a Canadian-born author who grew up in the town of Cavendish on Prince Edward Island. A dreamy place we hope to visit someday (girls’ weekend 2022!?).

She was raised by her grandparents, and lived a rather lonely childhood. But this fostered in her a great imagination and creativity. The setting and many of the characters in Anne’s story were directly inspired by Montgomery’s childhood on Prince Edward Island. So much so, that there are now tourist sites on the island dedicated specifically to Anne of Green Gables, and provincial license plates once bore her picture.

Montgomery wrote this series for all ages. And it begins with the story of an 11-year-old orphan with red hair named Anne. She’s mistakenly sent to two siblings in the fictional town of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert were hoping to adopt a boy into their family to help with farm work and Anne is far from what they’d expected. But what begins as a mistake, soon turns into a heart-warming story of belonging, home, community and the universal pains of growing up. We’re very excited to start this in fall. It seems like the perfect time for a visit to Avonlea.

We hope you’ll join us! Reading along is pretty easy, here’s how …

  1. Pick up a copy from where ever you get your books, and read along with us anytime between now and the end of September
  2. Keep us posted on social using #booklymark and tagging @thebooklyclub
  3. Stay tuned for our discussion post on Instagram and/or our reviews here on the blog to share our thoughts

Hope to hear from you soon!
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August Book

At The Bookly Club we pick a book for August that fits in your beach bag. Not literally (although if a book doesn’t fit in your beach bag you’re doing it wrong), but it should be a book you’d want with you on a day at the beach. Granted, this year’s a little bit different. A lot-a-bit different actually. Beach-going and summer vacations aren’t the care-free relaxing endeavors they once were. In fact, if you’re like us, they aren’t happening at all. Or if we do, our beach bags are over-stuffed with PPE and hand sanitizers, and maybe a book.

But no matter where we’re reading from this summer, we’re still in the mood for a “beach read.” Something that moves fast, isn’t too long, with maybe a touch of romance, likeable characters, and light on the gravitas. And Diane Chamberlain’s The Stolen Marriage fits that bill for us!

A lifelong book lover, and author since the late 1980’s, Chamberlain has authored dozens of novels. And The Stolen Marriage is one of her more recent books; first released in the fall of 2017.


My stories are often filled with twists and surprises and–I hope–they also tug at the emotions. Relationships — between men and women, parents and children, sisters and brothers – are always the primary focus of my books. I can’t think of anything more fascinating than the way people struggle with life’s trials and tribulations, both together and alone.


The Stolen Marriage is set on the East coast in the 1940’s (North Carolina by way of Baltimore), it tells the story of Tess DeMello and how one night changes the course of her life forever. During a time of war and the Polio epidemic, this young nurse finds herself having to navigate layers of secrets, tragedy and somehow get back to the life she wants to live. There are some heavier themes sprinkled in the story, but it’s fast-paced and hopeful. Also, ironic that we’ve picked a story taking place during an epidemic. Good or bad? We’ll find out.

We hope you’ll read along with us! It’s really simple, here’s how …

  1. Pick up a copy from where ever you get your books, and read along with us anytime between now and the end of August
  2. Keep us posted on social using #booklymark and tagging @thebooklyclub
  3. Stay tuned for our discussion post on Instagram and/or our reviews here on the blog to share our thoughts

Happy reading, friends!

Barracoon: Further Reading

Hi! It’s been a while since y’all have heard from me here and I’m excited to be back for our July pick, Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston. I read this in November of 2018, so instead of providing a review (because, let’s be honest, it’s been TOO long since I read it for me to remember anything that the other lovely Bookly ladies haven’t already covered), I thought I’d round up some further reading and reviews for you to check out! (Tip: If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend listening to it.) Alright, check out the links below to learn more about this incredible book.

This blog post from The Stacks (we highly suggest subscribing to their podcast!).

Goodreads reviews from Never Without a Book, Renee at Black Girl Magic, and Reggie.

These video reviews are the perfect way to feel like you’re part of a book club: Brown Girl Reading and Left On Read.

These podcast episodes from the New York Public Library, NPR, and 1A.

Instagram posts from @bookofrachael, @booksbythecup, @booksnailmail, and @kenyanbibliophile.

And finally, these articles from The Atlantic and The New Yorker.

 

If you’re looking for some books that complement Barracoon, pick up…

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Homegoing Yaa Gyasi

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Stamped From the Beginning Ibram X. Kendi.

History

One cannot review Barracoon. One reads it and is given something that we rarely get in this world – someone’s story unedited, unforgiving, and un-redacted. American history in education is full of redactions to suit a purpose. To whitewash the history of slavery is a reflection of those who wrote the history books – white people hoping to to make slavery more palatable and, in a sense, more forgivable by disconnecting it from today and diminishing the horrors. Even more than that, the only voice we hear is white. That disconnect and silencing aids in the insidious creep of racism into our societal constructs of today – ever less apparent to those who benefit from it.

Zora Neale Hurston is an incredible gifted writer. To refuse to alter the voice of Oluale Kossula, she shows herself to be more than a gifted writer. She shows herself to be measured and endlessly dedicated to capturing the truth. The recovery of this work allows us a chance to listen to a voice of truth, our real history.

With each review of Barracoon that we post, we will include a link to an #ownvoices review from a Black reader. I’d like to share with you…  Tayari Jones’s thoughts on Barracoon.

 

In Their Words

In school I learned about enslaved Africans. I learned how millions of men, women and children were kidnapped from Africa, shipped to America, and lived and died enslaved in this country. But I learned of these stories from whitewashed history curriculums.

I had never read of slavery from the words of a person enslaved. And author Zora Neale Hurston takes such care and commitment in recording Kossola’s story. I am thankful she shared her talents, her dedication, and for Kossula’s strength in sharing his life. There’s a kind of tragic poetry to the words Kossula shares, and I felt honored to be let into his story through Barracoon. This book is a rare and important one. And I don’t throw that term around loosely. Barracoon is a must read. It’s our history, and it’s past time we start centering more voices like these.

Hurston understood in 1927 even better than we do now how important it is to hear our stories through the voices of those who experienced them. And with that, I’ll stop talking. I want to share with you all a few #ownvoices reviews of this book…

The Power of Untold Slave Stories
by Torry Threadcraft for The Atlantic

Black & Bookish review
by Antoinette Scully

The Stacks Podcast review
by Traci Thomas

Now go pick up a copy and read it!