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February Book

We’re back to announce our official selection for February!
We’ll be reading The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes, and we hope you’ll read along with us! But more on that later…

Jojo Moyes, most notable for Me Before You (her tragic romance novel turned movie starring Emilia Clarke), recently published a historical fiction novel that’s getting a lot of attention. Including ours! Released in October of 2019, it was selected for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine bookclub in November. And we can’t seem to open Instagram without seeing another book lover rave about it.

It’s based on the true story of a New Deal initiative backed by Eleanor Roosevelt called the Traveling Library. The Depression left much of America in poverty, but none were hit quite like the coal-mining counties of Kentucky. Without access to public libraries, and many illiterate, women were called upon to travel the counties and deliver books to those most in need. From 1935 to 1943 these women rode on horseback delivering books to homes and schoolhouses, earning names like packhorse librarians, book ladies, and paddle sack librarians. It proved to be immeasurably successful.

{To learn more listen to this podcast by The Kitchen Sisters}

The Giver of Stars follows a fictional member of the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky; Alice Wright. Eager to escape English life, she marries American Bennett Van Cleve. Although their life in Kentucky doesn’t bring Wright the excitement she craves. At first.


“… a richly rewarding novel of women’s friendship, of true love, and of what happens when we reach beyond our grasp for the great beyond.”


When she hears of the need for women to join the Traveling Library, she jumps at the chance. Alice Wright quickly finds an ally in fellow librarian Margery; a uniquely independent woman. And they’re joined by three other determined women who set off on an unpredictable journey. We’re mood readers at The Bookly Club, and in February we like to read a love story of sorts. And although this might not be your typical romance, it seems to be a story about the love of books, love among friends, and the test of true love. Five unconventional women set out on an unconventional path and find love in many different forms. And we can’t wait to read all about it!

We hope we’ve done our job in convincing you to read along with us 🙂
Here’s how…

  • pick up a copy from where ever you get your books, and read along with us anytime between now and the end of February
  • keep us posted on any thoughts and/or progress you wanna share social using #booklymark and tagging @thebooklyclub
  • stay tuned for our discussion post on Instagram and our reviews here on the blog so we can chat all about it!

Happy reading, x

Happiness and Hope

I can safely say this is one of my leading favorites for any of our November selections. It’s a month when we pick a book that circles around family; the drama, the trials, the love, and everything in between. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue was no different. A top book of 2017, Mbue’s debut novel, Oprah’s Book Club 2017 selection, and a New York Times bestseller. It’d been on my list since its debut, and I had high hopes!

It’s the story of the Jonga family, and their journey to a happy life. Jende Jonga moves to New York City from Cameroon to find a job, provide for his family, and dutifully walk the path to citizenship in the land of opportunity. The book begins when he gets a stable, well-paying job as a chauffeur for Mr. Clark; a top executive at Lehman Brothers. The catch? It’s 2007. You may think you’re witnessing an American dream about to come true, but it’s much more complicated.

The characters are powerfully written. I was deeply invested in each of their stories, and each of their dreams, no matter how divergent they were. Jende shoulders the pressures of his family’s future, life as an African immigrant, and his own dreams of becoming someone greater than he could have been in Cameroon. His wife Neni dreams of becoming a pharmacist, a life of possibilities for her children, and a home in America. But dreams, especially immigrant dreams during the great recession, can change course.

Each member of the Clark and Jonga families suffer through their own challenges. But they’re all forced to consider, in a very real way, what they’re willing to sacrifice to make their dreams come true. They’re faced with unfair questions like: is your dream right? Is it good? Is it worth it? Is it really yours? The paths they each take change them in different ways. And they find themselves asking, who have you become while chasing this dream? Is this who you want to be?


“Our people say no condition is permanent… Good times must come to an end, just like bad times, whether we want it to or not.”


With short chapters, great writing, rich and diverse characters, Behold the Dreamers was a delicious, moving, roller-coaster of a book. It was simultaneously heart-warming, tragic, frustrating, nightmarish and idealistic. The fates of each character had me hooked at the way through. Would these families find happiness? Would their dreams come true? Were those the same thing? I love when a book can be more than one thing. When it can tell a story that’s both desperate and hopeful. It doesn’t take sides. Mbue does a beautiful job showcasing how life and family are ever-changing and complicated. She shines in that gray area. And I LOVE when an author can leave you thinking that things weren’t all right or all wrong, they just are. (Our current immigration policies being the exception in my opinion).

Without giving anything away, this book didn’t end in a neat and tidy little bow. Things broke. Some dreams stayed out of reach. Some found the light. Some dreams changed. This book wasn’t a happily-ever-after kind of story. But much like the American dream, it gave you just enough of a taste of possibility to shed a light of hope over these family’s stories.

In conclusion, I loved this book! And you should go read it now 🙂

December & January Book

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. Two spiritual giants; his Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Five days and one timeless question:

How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?

In April 2015 Archbishop Desmond Tutu traveled to the Dalai Lama’s home in India to celebrate his Holiness’s 80th birthday. In honor of this event, they wanted to create a gift they could share with the world. Over the course of a week, the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama were interviewed by co-writer Douglas Abrams to discuss what it is to live a joyful life.


“We are sharing what two friends, from very different worlds, have witnessed and learned in our long lives. We hope you will discover whether what is included here is true by applying it in your own life. Every day is a new opportunity to begin again. Every day is your birthday. May this book be a blessing for all sentient beings, and for all of God’s children—including you.”


Both men are Nobel Peace Prize recipients. Both have suffered years of exile and violent oppression. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people and has lived in exile in India since the 1959 uprising. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African theologian, has been a devout anti-apartheid and human rights activist. Together these men have over 150 years of experience and wisdom and so much joy. This book is their way of sharing it with the world, and whatever they have to share, we’re here to listen.

December and January is always a good time for something new. A time to be better and grow in some way. And we like to do that with a book. So there you have it! This December and January we’re reading The Book of Joy to learn something new for a new year. And hopefully it spreads little joy this season. You should read with us and find a little joy this new year, too! How? Here’s all you need to know…

  1. pick up a copy and read along with us anytime before the end of January
  2. keep us posted on any thoughts or progress you wanna share 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! x

Rebecca meets Salem

We first meet 18-year-old narrator Mary Katherine Blackwood during one of her biweekly walks through the local town that sits under the shadow of her family’s Manderley-esque estate where she, her older sister Constance, and frail Uncle Julian live. They are the only three living in the “castle.” Once members of a large family, they’re all that’s left after the others were murdered with arsenic during dinner. The sugar on the blackberries wasn’t sugar. Luckily Constance never takes sugar, and Mary Katherine (aka Merricat) was sent to her room without dinner. Uncle Julian only took a bit.

The sisters are odd to say the least. Sure, Constance was the lead suspect for having poisoned the family, but their dynamics are also quite unusual; and a little bit haunting. They live a life of routine and simplicity. Gardening, taking delicious meals together (always crafted by suspected murderess Constance), sending Merricat into town for food and library books, and taking diligent care of poor Uncle Julian. Uncle Julian is weak and without much memory. Although he spends most days recalling the event and working on his book of its chronicling. He acts as a constant reminder of what happened to the Blackwoods.

Constance is an agoraphobe, or so Merricat says. She never wanders further than her garden. And Uncle Julian can barely move from his room to the table. This leaves Merricat as the only connection to the outside world. She ventures into town on Tuesdays and Fridays for supplies. With every step she narrates her hatred for the residents and their hatred for her and her family. This mutual disgust is never quite explained. It seems a product of otherness, fear of the unknown, and the tension between the haves and the have nots. Although I couldn’t help but distrust Merricat from the very beginning. She was so angry. She spends much of her day checking the various trinkets she had buried around the property to keep out the unwanted out. Merricat, her trusty black cat Jonas, and the hatred of the New England townspeople definitely felt like a Salem witchcraft analogy.


“Merricat, said Constance, would you like a cup of tea?”
“Merricat, said Constance, would you like to go to sleep?”
“Oh, no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.”


The charming existence the sisters and their uncle play at is disrupted when Cousin Charles arrives. A money-hungry “bastard.” He peruses Constance’s alliance but is cruel and disparaging toward Merricat and Uncle Julian. The orderly isolation of the Blackwood estate soon comes crashing down. In an epic way. I won’t give too much away, but after the climactic chaos Merricat finds a way to revert back to an altered state of their simple routines.

I didn’t find the Blackwood’s story scary necessarily. But it was disturbing. Merricat’s narration was suspicious. Constance and Uncle Julian seemed victims of Merricat’s manipulation. She kept them fearful and reveled in the oddities that kept them at a distance from everyone else. I read the events through a lens of an unreliable narrator and it made me question everything. Although Merricat describes their sisterly relationship as one of mutual love and understanding, it also felt like Merricat kept Constance trapped, afraid, and ultimately hidden away in the dark. The whole atmosphere felt claustrophobic and tense. But in a thrilling, well-written, atmospheric, page-turning way.

This was the first of Shirley Jackson’s books I’ve read, and I loved her writing! I’ll definitely be reading more of her work. There was so much to unpack. Themes of otherness, persecution, trust and fear, and the odd little characters like Jonas and the House cleverly weave in many layers of meaning. Although readable and quick, I still felt like there was so much to read into Jackson’s writing. It’s only 146 pages long, but full of metaphor, deeper themes, mystery, and complex characters. In a lot of ways I felt like We Have Always Lived in the Castle was reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, although shorter and set in a Salem-like town with Salem-like townspeople. I’d definitely recommend this one for fans of books like Rebecca, Flowers in the Attic, the Flavia de Luce series, or anything eerie set in New England. But I’d also just recommend this as a great fall read!

November Book

This November we’ve picked a family saga that’s been on our #tbr (to-be-read list) for quite awhile. Well, for about three years which is like a decade in book nerd years. Cameroon native Imbolo Mbue’s best-selling debut novel Behold the Dreamers was released in 2016. It won the coveted spot as Oprah’s Book Club selection for 2017. It won the 2017 Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction, was named a New York Times Book Review notable book of the year, and was on numerous lists as one of the best books of 2017.

The high praise seems endless. And the story is still just as relevant and topical as it was three years ago. Set during the 2008 financial crisis, Mbue’s novel follows two disparate families; the Edwards family and the Jonga family. Clark Edwards is a senior executive at Lehman Brothers, he and his family live a life of wealth and privilege in New York City (with a home in the Hamptons on the side). Jende Jonga, his wife Neni, and their six-year-old son have come to the United States from Cameroon looking for a better life. Jende counts himself lucky when he gets a job as Clark Edward’s chauffeur. Jende’s wife Neni is even offered seasonal work at the Edward’s home in the Hamptons. But shortly thereafter Lehman brothers, and the global economy, collapses.


“Bright and captivating… illuminates the immigrant experience in America with the tenderhearted wisdom so lacking in our political discourse.”

The Washington Post


The Jonga family struggles to find home, freedom and stability in a new world. The Edwards family struggles behind the facade of privilege and financial crisis. Each of the four lives course through their own unique conflict, but ultimately the Jonga family finds themselves having to make a nearly impossible decision.

A story of immigration, family, and privilege could not be more timely. We’re looking forward to reading more about the paths these two families take. The book’s numerous accolades don’t hurt either. But we hope you’ll read with us! Want to know how?

  1. pick up a copy and read along with us anytime before the end of November
  2. keep us posted on any thoughts or progress you wanna share 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, x

Time Will Tell

My eight-grade English teacher recommended The Bell Jar to me. She thought I could challenge myself to take on extra reading. She allowed me pick whatever I wanted from the class library. And although I remembered little to nothing of the story, I remember liking it. It was the first book I’d read in school that clicked in a different way. Not that I had too much in common with Esther, but reading a book about a young woman, written by a young woman, made an impression. Outside of The Bell Jar school reading was all Mark Twain, JRR Tolkien, C.S. Lewis. But Sylvia Plath was different.

That English class added a lot to my love of reading. And in my adult life I’d always wanted to revisit The Bell Jar. Rereading it felt like recalling a vague memory, but through an entirely new lens. I’m 20 years older, I have two young daughters, I see a therapist, I’ve been married for 9 years, I’ve finished my education…  everything theme in this book was brighter this time around. Coming of age, motherhood, mental health, marriage, education. It was all made so much richer after time away. As it should, right?

I kept thinking about how Plath published this book when she was a young mother, just months before her death. I felt like I was reading her inner thoughts. So much of the story is a retelling of her own experiences. It’s likely because of this that the book feels like it holds a part of her soul. She writes so precisely about protagonist Esther’s “mental breakdown,” and her troubled path to recovery. The authenticity of her experience is on every page. In the end young Esther confesses that she fears when the bell jar might find her again. It seems it found Sylvia.


“Then I decided I would spend the summer writing a novel […] A feeling of tenderness filled my heart. My heroine would be myself, only in disguise. She would be called Elaine. Elaine. I counted the letters on my fingers. There were six letters in Esther, too. I seemed a lucky thing.”
— The Bell Jar, Sylvia (six letters) Plath


This was a slow read for me. It’s the opposite of a light page-turner and far from escapist. And I wouldn’t classify its reading as enjoyable. There were several moments when it showed its age, sometimes cringe-worthy. And it was painful to read about the disintegration of Esther’s sanity. It felt like Plath wrote her protagonists’s struggles from a place of both self-hatred and empathy. At times she wrote Esther as petulant, apathetic, hateful. And others she was hopeful, warm, intelligent. But she never really wrote her as entirely aware of her illness. I don’t think Plath was either. She calls it the bell jar because she’s without the words to fully describe what is happening to her. This was the saddest part of the book for me. It’s so telling of a time when mental health was illegitimate. Esther’s illness was without hope, without a clear diagnosis, and no way out. She was lost in a system of shame.

But after all that, I liked it. I really did! Her writing is poetic, funny, and deep. It’s a fascinating step back in time. I felt like I was truly bearing-witness to one woman’s experience. And taking into account the context of the author, her history, and her tragic end, makes the reading experience that much more impactful. I’m glad I gave this one a reread. And it will be interesting to see what I think when I read it again in 20 more years 🙂

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 🙂