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October Book

Shirley Jackson was formerly a name most recognized for the short story The Lottery (published in The New Yorker in 1948). However, it’s likely she’s now more commonly associated with last year’s Netflix horror series The Haunting of Hill House that had us all “scrying.” Written by Jackson in 1959, the gothic horror novel The Haunting of Hill House is often considered one of the best ghost stories, ever. During her more than 20 year career Jackson published a total of six novels, hundreds of short stories and two memoirs. The last novel she ever published was in 1962 just three years before her death. And that novel was We Have Always Lived in the Castle, our October selection!

The book begins six years after a deadly family tragedy at the Blackwood home. Eighteen-year-old “Merricat” Blackwood (our narrator), her elder sister Constance, and their uncle Julian were the only survivors. Now living on an isolated estate perched above a small town in Vermont, the local residents tell stories and build legends around this strange family.

“…I would hope that readers new to it might feel, as I did when I first discovered it, a quiet astonishment that such books can and do exist, and that writing can be so masterful. I’m envious of those that read it for the first time, and go on to discover Shirley Jackson’s astounding body of work encompassing the scary, the horrific and the just plain weird.

There isn’t a shred of the supernatural in Castle, though it feels like there is. It’s perhaps a story of what eventually makes the haunted houses so beloved of Jackson, the echoes of violence and emotion that are imprinted on the places in which we live. It’s obsessed with death but brimming over with life, and that’s perhaps the perfect recipe for the making of the best ghosts of all.”

The Guardian, David Barnett

Maybe it’s because the novel’s so short (barely over 200 pages), but there doesn’t seem to be much else to say of the plot without giving too much away. Although like The Haunting of Hill House, this one was recently captured on screen as a feature film just last year. So if you want to know a little more, take a look at the trailer (it seemed fairly spoiler-free)…

We look forward to diving into this eerie mystery for October—the perfect time for creep and strange in our reading life. We hope you’ll read with us!

Here’s how…
  1. pick up a copy and read along with us anytime before the end of October
  2. keep us posted on social using #booklymark and tagging @thebooklyclub
  3. stay tuned for our discussion post on Instagram and our reviews here on the blog so we can chat all about it!

 

P.S. you really need to watch The Haunting of Hill House if you haven’t already! Yes, it’s a little scary at first, but by episode 5ish it turns into SO MUCH MORE! Totally worth all the spooky parts. The last episode had me reaching for all the tissues.

September Book

School’s back in session, and it has us craving new school supplies, pumpkin spice and a literary classic. September’s our favorite time to read something straight off the required reading lists. And this go around we’ve selected The Bell Jar. First published in 1963, it’s the only novel ever published by writer and poet Sylvia Plath.

Born in Boston in 1932 and the daughter of academics, Plath’s story is one of great success and tragedy. She suffered the loss of her father when she was only eight years old. A strict authority figure, his life and death held a strong influence on Plath’s work. But Plath was an early writing talent. She kept journals starting at age eleven and was often published in regional publications. She achieved her first national publication when she was only eighteen. A graduate of Smith College, Fulbright scholar, and acclaimed poet, Plath reached high levels of success in her professional life, yet her personal life was conflicted.

{trigger warning: depression and suicide}

Plath suffered from clinical depression for most of her life. In her early twenties she made her first of many suicide attempts. At age twenty-four she married poet Ted Hughes. Sadly Plath suffered from depression, abuse, and beatings in her marriage to Hughes. After having two children they separated in 1962. Shortly thereafter, and less than one month after The Bell Jar was published, Plath took her own life.

Originally published under the pen-name “Victoria Lucas,” The Bell Jar is semi-autobiographical. Although the names and places have been changed, the narrative about nineteen year old Esther Greenwood parallels Plath’s experiences and her descent into mental illness.


“The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under — maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.”


Since its debut, this novel has reached classics status. Finding its way into school curriculums and required reading lists, this is one you’d have a hard time missing in your academic career. But whether you missed out or just feel like revisiting a classic after some time away, we’ll hope you’ll read along with us!

Here’s how…
  1. pick up a copy and read along with us anytime before 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 our reviews here on the blog so we can chat all about it!

Happy reading!

 

Riggins Meets Summer

Our August selection, The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker, seems a hit or miss for most readers. Either they love it, or Calla’s rampant millennial-ing  is too much to overcome. Personally, I was in the love it category! Don’t get me wrong, for the first 150 pages or so I severely disliked Calla. She starts off as an entitled, twenty-six year old city girl with little appreciation for any lifestyle outside of her own. She’s not an unkind person, just highly unlikeable. But after a point, and one specific scene at her father’s charter company, she starts to shed the self-absorbed persona and open up to the new world around her. After that, I was hooked!

The story begins when Calla hears of her estranged father’s cancer diagnosis (from her stepfather of all people, who I think is sneakily one of my favorite characters). After twenty-four years away she flies to the wilds of Alaska for a visit. She’s flown in by Jonah; a pilot with her father’s charter company, “Wild.” Jonah is a risk-taker, sarcastic, and brutally honest. In a lot of ways he’s the reader’s voice on the page calling out Calla on all her vapid behavior. Calla and Jonah are fast enemies, having no patience for each other. He calls her “Barbie” and she calls him “Yeti.” Think Tim Riggins meets Summer Roberts. But of course after a lot of sarcastic banter, and a few high-risk situations, the tides turn.

As I was reading I kept picturing Calla and Jonah’s story as something out of a CW series. Somewhere between Everwood and The Hart of Dixie maybe? A city girl finds herself wildly out of place due to unforeseen circumstances. But after a few comical fish-out-of-water incidents, and some lovable townie characters, she surprisingly finds herself feeling at home. And the rugged love interest doesn’t hurt.


 

“And just like that, I sense a circle closing. Back to the beginning, and near to the end.”

 


Although The Simple Wild falls solidly into the romance genre (not my usual read), it felt like more than just sexual tension and love scenes. The setting alone was a learning experience with so much interesting detail about what it’s like to live in an isolated Alaskan village. And there are strong themes of family, sacrifice, regret, redemption and telling your own story. The Simple Wild pulled at my heartstrings more then I’d been expecting. Calla’s relationship with her father, their healing and her evolution all had more gravity than I’ve experienced in this genre. And in my mind Calla’s character definitely evolved enough to have me rooting for her in the end.

The setting, characters, and love story all had me invested. I didn’t want it to end! If you’re at all interested in reading a good love story I encourage you to give this one a try. It will carry you to another world and a heartfelt story of love and family. Happy reading!

August Book

We’ve picked our August beach readThe Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker … and we hope you’ll read with us! We’re definitely in the mood for a good summer read we can take along to the beach, the pool, or on those sweaty summer commutes. Whatever your plans, The Simple Wild seems like a great addition to the summer TBR (to-be-read list).

And reading with us is pretty simple…

  1. pick up a copy of The Simple Wild and read along with us anytime before the end of August.
  2. keep in touch on social using #booklymark and tagging @thebooklyclub.
  3. stay tuned for our discussion post on Instagram and our reviews here on the blog at the end of the month so we can chat all about it!

But enough of that, on to why we’re so excited about our latest pick. K.A. Tucker is a new author to us, but we’ve heard nothing but good things from other readers who’ve already picked up The Simple Wild (nominated for Goodreads Best Romance in 2018). Author of over a dozen other novels—everything from romance to thrillers to YA fantasy—Tucker specializes in what she calls “captivating stories with an edge.” And The Simple Wild, Tucker’s 17th novel (give or take), falls into a category she calls “standalone contemporary romance.”

It’s the story of Calla Fletcher, a city girl whose life takes a twist, and a turn, landing in her the Alaskan wild. Since the age of two she’s been living her life in Toronto, far from her estranged father Wren Fletcher. But then she gets the call that changes everything. Wren’s days are numbered, and it’s time for Calla to travel back to her birthplace and give their relationship a last chance. In the remote Alaskan town Calla is out of place to say the least. Far from what she knows as home, she finds herself wandering the wilderness, encountering foreign wildlife and the less charming parts of rural life. Least charming of all is Jonah, the local pilot who labels her as unfit for life in the wilderness on the outset. Determined to prove him wrong, Calla surprises herself by feeling deeper connections to this distant home, and to Jonah. But Calla doesn’t plan to stay, and Jonah would never leave.

We’re definitely intrigued! If you’re the slightest bit interested you should most definitely read with us. It will be a fun one, we promise. And we’d love to hear from you!

Happy reading, Bookly friends 🙂

Birthday Book Exchange

 

I’m not usually one to celebrate my birthday, at least not in a big way. I didn’t grow up with involved kid parties, and it makes me pretty uncomfortable being the center of attention. But this year was a little different.

Thirty-five is a big milestone for me. As my husband so kindly pointed out, I’m halfway to seventy. But also, my girls start school in a few weeks, which means it’s the end of my four-year tenure as a full-time stay-at-home parent. It’s been good, bad, and ugly. It’s been perfect. But this birthday felt like a good time to celebrate the start of a new chapter!

the infamous cheese board

My husband and sister-in-law put together the best book-lover’s birthday cocktail party. Some champagne, Spaghetts, a few Trader Joe’s favorites, and Fitzy’s signature cheese board. What else could a girl need??

If you guessed books you’re in the right place. They had the idea to include a book exchange with the cocktails and appetizers, and it was perfect!

 

how it worked.

The rules were simple… each of the ten guests brought one of our favorite books, gift-wrapped. After a few toasts and snacks each book was labeled with a number, and slips of paper were marked one through ten. Starting with me, we went around in a circle picking a slip of paper, unveiling the number, and then opening the corresponding book. After the reveal, whoever brought the unwrapped book shared their story of why they brought it, what it’s about, and what it means to them. It worked out surprising well, and was thoroughly entertaining!

What if someone picked their own number, or a spouse’s number? They just redrew. And after everyone opened a book, we opened the floor to trades. My husband was the last to open one, Station Eleven, which he’s already read (and loved!). So he and my sister-in-law traded since she’s never read it, and she had The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which he was intrigued by. It all worked out!

 

 

I picked up a thriller, The Good Girl, from a friend who’d been recommending it to me and The Bookly Club for months. Now I finally have a copy! And one friend ended up with a meditation book just hours after we’d be talking about how he’s trying to get more into meditation. My friend who only reads non-fiction received The Uninhabitable Earth, a high-praised study on the climate crisis. And the book I brought (my favorite so far this year) The Heart’s Invisible Furies, ended up in the hands of a good friend who’s always looking for recommendations.

The exchange was such a fun addition to an already great night. It made for a fun activity toward the end of the night, and this way everyone left with a gift!

I highly recommend putting a book exchange on your calendar, it’s so fun seeing what friends come up with. And it’s even more fun adding a new book to your collection. Not to mention one that comes highly recommended, from a trusted source. Even better! I’m lucky to be surrounded by so many great people and good books. Thirty-five is shaping up to be a very good year!

 

the complete stack of books exchanged.

  1. Creative Alchemy
  2. The Name of the Wind
  3. Station Eleven
  4. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
  5. The Good Girl
  6. At Home
  7. The Heart’s Invisible Furies
  8. The Tipping Point
  9. Shoe Dog
  10. The Uninhabitable Earth

Hope in a Critical World

First let me say, if you haven’t read anything by Rebecca Solnit yet please put her on your list! Even if it’s just googling one of her articles or essays. I feel a bit redundant saying this, because I feel like I’m always prosthelytizing her work. But I mean it! Our July book Call Them by Their True Names is the third book of hers I’ve read (in addition to Men Explain Things to Me and The Mother of All Questions which I loved).

Call Them by Their True Names is her most recent published collection of essays. The subtitle being American Crises (and Essays), is exactly what she delivers. From immigration, to mass incarceration and wrongful imprisonment, gentrification, voter suppression, freedom of the press, misogyny, racism, climate change, healthcare, gun violence, the oppression of native peoples, Donald Trump… she covers it all! And I’m here for it.


We are all rowing past on another, and it behooves us to know how the tides move and who’s being floated along and who’s being dragged down and who might not even be allowed in the water.”


 

This is the book I needed on November 8th, 2016. Her words articulate so much of what I’ve been feeling for a long time. And although some of what she writes is raw and hard to read, they’re truth. I found myself feeling like I did fresh off of the 2016 election. So, so angry. But we should feel that way. These stories deserve our attention. And let me be clear, as one privileged white woman reading the work of another, I understand her writing is just one lens. But I respect the stories she tells and her activism as an ally. Anyone who can speak truth to power in this culture of “fake news” and twitter abuse is worth reading.


“To names something truly is to lay bare what may be brutal or corrupt—or important or possible—and key to the work of changing the world is changing the story, the names, and inventing or popularizing new names and terms and phrases […] The process works both ways. Think of the Trump administration’s turning family reunification, which sounds like a good thing, into the ominous, contagious-sounding ‘chain migration.’ Think of the second Bush administration’s redefining torture as ‘enhanced interrogation,’ and how many press outlets went along with it. Of the Clinton administration’s hollow phrase ‘building a bridge to the twenty-first century,’ which was supposed to celebrate the brave new world tech would bring and disguised how much it would return us to the nineteenth-century economic divides and robber barons. Of Ronald Reagan’s introduction of the figure of the ‘welfare queen,’ a mythic being whose undeserving greed justified cutting off aid to the poor and ignored the reality of widespread poverty. There are so many ways to tell a lie.”


 

I was underlining and writing in the margins all over this book! If you couldn’t already tell by all the quotes I’m adding to this post. I love reading an author like Solnit because I don’t feel like I’m just passively reading. I’m actively learning through her writing. So often witnessing today’s news gives me a gut reaction but I feel void of sufficient language to explain how or why what’s happened is unjust or unamerican or just plain wrong. Reading essays like these puts words in place of that void. And I’m thankful Solnit’s words are written with hope. As a woman raising two young women in this world it’s easy to turn fatalist and become fearful. But Solint’s essays in Call Them by Their True Names, although they don’t shy away from ugly truths, look to the future with hope.


“I find great hope and encouragement in the anxiety, fury, and grief of my fellow residents of the United States. It’s not that I’m eager to see people suffer but that I’m relieved that so many are so far from indifferent. I feared after the election that those of us who are not directly targeted would do what people have often done during despotic regimes: withdraw into private life, wait it out, take care of themselves and no one else. Something else happened instead.” 


 

If I haven’t convinced you yet, let me say it outright; read this book! Maybe not in one sitting. It’d do well to space it out. Read the essays one at a time, give them each their deserved thought, and give yourself time to process. But definitely pick this one up. 5 out of 5 stars from me!

July Book

Welcome, welcome! Hopefully you’re a return member, but if not, welcome to The Bookly Club  🙂 We hope you’ll read with us! Each month (or two) we select a book to read together based on a seasonal theme. Since we can’t all be in the same place, luckily we have the internet so we can all talk books, anytime, from wherever we are.

In July our theme is The Patriot. With 4th of July right around the corner, we like to take this month to read something about Americana. And we don’t shy away from ugly truths. It’s important to push the boundaries of how we see our country, our patriotism, who we are, and who we should be as Americans. Who we are and who we should be is different for everyone. So we like to read as much as we can of what different people think that means.



That’s why we’ve selected Rebecca Solnit’s most recent essay collection Call Them by Their True Names, American Crises (and Essays). If you don’t know of Rebecca Solnit yet, we’re very happy to be the ones to introduce you to her. She’s a writer, feminist, historian, and activist who’s published over twenty books on a variety of subjects. Since starting her career as an independent writer in the late 80’s she’s received much acclaim and praise. She’s a regular contributor to numerous publications, including The Guardian and Harper’s Magazine where she authors the Easy Chair column. Not to mention her most recent books which have reached unforeseen popularity, Men Explain Things to Me, The Mother of All Questions, and Hope in the Dark. The most recent being Call Them by Their True Names, American Crises (and Essays) which was just published in September of last year.

“In this powerful and wide-ranging collection, Solnit turns her attention to battles over meaning, place, language, and belonging at the heart of the defining crises of our time. She explores the way emotions shape political life, electoral politics, police shootings and gentrification, the life of an extraordinary man on death row, the pipeline protest at Standing Rock, and the existential threat posed by climate change.”

With essays like “The Loneliness of Donald Trump,” “Naive Cynicism,” “Climate Change is Violence,” and “Hope in Grief” we expect this collection to be a fraught and challenging, but informative. We hope you’ll read along with us this month, and learn a little bit more about the current America. If you do want to join it’s pretty simple… read this selection sometime in July, stay in touch via social media using #booklymark, and come chat with us about the book anytime either in the comments here on the blog or on Instagram!

Talk soon,

Bookly

 

Teenage Nostalgia

I knew fairly little about this book before starting. I was surprised to find how much of it I related to. It’s the story of Jessie. She and her father move from Chicago to Southern California just as she’s starting her junior year of high school. Not too long before this move, they’ve lost her mother to cancer, and now her father’s moving them across the country to live with his new wife, and her son. Their new home is grand and pristine. She feels unwelcome among the richness, and dramatically out of place at her new private school where money rules. The only welcome she receives comes via email from “Somebody Nobody;” an anonymous classmate of Jessie’s who volunteers his knowledge of all things Wood Valley High School.

Granted I didn’t move to Southern California after such a loss as Jessie experienced, but I did move from Chicago to Southern California as I started my junior year of high school. And formerly a student of public schools, I started at a private school in California where image and brands seemed king. Although unlike Jessie there was no new family, and no secret e-admirer. Unfortunately (the admirer part, not the new family). But so many of her experiences with that move felt very familiar. I found it very easy to fall into Jessie’s world, and Buxbaum’s writing made it even easier.


“Perfect days are for people with small, realizable dreams. Or maybe for all of us, they just happen in retrospect; they’re only now perfect because they contain something irrevocably and irretrievably lost.”


It was authentic, fast-paced, and kept you guessing just enough to rush to the end and Jessie’s reveal of SN (aka Somebody Nobody). Buxbaum balanced the high school politics with the power of young friendships, and the gravity of the loss of family. The story was equal parts fun and sincere. It felt like reading an early episode of The OC or Dawson’s Creek with all its gloriously indulgent teenage nostalgia.

So, in conclusion, if you’re looking for an entertaining, thoughtful, quick read with all the oh so sweet high school cliches, this is exactly what you should put on your reading list!

A Balance of Grit and Comedy

I hadn’t heard of Michael Arceneaux’s I Can’t Date Jesus until taking a poll on Instagram for reading suggestions. We asked our followers for suggestions on what to read in 2019, and this came through as an April recommendation. I think mostly because of the title, all of us Bookly Katherines were immediately intrigued. I mean, titles don’t get much better than I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé.

I also hadn’t heard of Arceneaux until reading this, his debut essay collection. But this is one of my favorite experiences, uncovering a new (to me) author and their work. His essays cover a range of raw experiences from flawed family dynamics, growing up in Texas, living in an oppressive culture as a gay black man, dating, to faith and Christianity, etc. I found all 15 essays raw, humorous, self-aware, and immersive. His vulnerability enriched each story. And as a privileged, hetero white female who grew up mostly overseas my life experiences have little in common with Arceneaux’s. But his writing was welcoming and intelligent, leaving the reader more aware and challenged in all the right ways. Not to mention how important it is to read authors we don’t share history with. How else do we grow as readers? Or as people?

I wouldn’t recommend reading this one in one or two sittings. Instead, I’d recommend reading it as I did; chapter by chapter spread out over the course of several weeks. It say on my bedside table where I could pick it up when I needed a respite in between A Game of Thrones chapters. It was a good balance of gritty and comical that kept me coming back. So if you’re a fan of essays, nonfiction, or memoirs I definitely recommend you add this to your list!

May & June Book

This school year has finally coming to a close, and we couldn’t be happier to welcome warmer weather and summer vacations! And as is tradition around here at The Bookly Club, in May & June we like to celebrate with a great YA read.

Although none of us here at Bookly would likely self-profess as YA super-fans, we’ve enjoyed most of our the young adult selections in the past (Salt to the Sea and The Perks of Being a Wallflower among the favorites). Plus, what better time of year to revisit being young and oh so dramatic… signing yearbooks on the last day of school, looking forward to summer reading lists (just us?), and everything in between.

This May & June (we like to combine these months for a little break during a busy time of year) we’ve selected Julie Buxbaum’s Tell Me Three Things. Now the author of five novels (her latest just released May 7th), Buxbaum started her career as a Harvard-educated lawyer. But like so many, her initial path took a welcome turn leading her to a career as an acclaimed author. And after her first two books, she debuted her first YA novel which became a breakout hit ending up on the New York Times best-seller list. That book was Tell Me Three Things.


“Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son, and to start at a new school where she knows no one.

Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?”


 

We’ve been hearing nothing but good things so far, and it seems like just the book we’re in the mood for. Full of angst, drama, humor, and teenage sweetness, we’re all in for this spring read!

And we hope you’ll read with us. How? Read at your own pace and finish up sometime by the end of the June. You can share your thoughts and updates as you read here or on Instagram (don’t forget to use #booklymark and tag us @thebooklyclub). Then on the last day of the month look out for our Instagram discussion post to join in the conversation!