All posts filed under: Reviews

A Call for Justice and Mercy

An interesting little background note before I jump into my review: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson has popped up on the Bookly Club radar almost yearly, only to be outvoted by another book. Until this year, when we decided to read it in conjunction with the release of the film of the same name starring Michael B. Jordan as Mr. Stevenson himself. I haven’t seen the film yet, but if it is even half as good as the book, I recommend you watch it. For those who haven’t read the book, Just Mercy is Bryan Stevenson’s first hand account of starting the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit law office in Alabama, the early days of his work, and many examples of the cases he has handled since EJI’s founding in 1989. If you’re interested in EJI, Bryan Stevenson, or a more detailed synopsis of Just Mercy, you can find all of that here. I read Just Mercy over the course of about a week back in January, before coronavirus or quarantines, or working from home and parenting two small children who are …

Giving Five Stars

Before reading it I’d definitely heard of our February book, The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. I don’t live under a rock! Jojo Moyes is a beloved author (see Me Before You) AND Reese picked The Giver of Stars for her Hello Sunshine book club. So it was hard to miss. And most people who’d read it had nothing but good things to say. And that made me nervous. I feel that way anytime a book gets a lot of hype. Maybe because nothing can ever really live up to that hype? Or I just feel like I’m not usually the type of reader that likes the books that are so beloved? Too polarizing? Either way, that’s usually a turn off for me. But I was willing to give it a shot. Anything for The Bookly Club, right? I did do a lot of research on the story. So I knew the history it was based on. And of course I’d read the blurb, so I knew essentially what it was about. But I …

A little bit of nice…

Full honesty here – after reading the synopsis of this book, I expected to not entirely enjoy this read. I’m not entirely sure why but just a gut thing. After reading it, here is what I can say – for what it is, the book is delightful. The hard and handsome landscape contrasts the somewhat airy and pretty story very nicely. The pace is excellent without sparing imagery, making it a hard one to put down. Plus, I really enjoyed learning a bit of badass women history. I mean, these women were freaking amazing. The other side of the coin is that the story certainly lacks for some character complexity. Each person in the story, while serving a very distinct purpose, is either decidedly good or decidedly bad (or at the very least deeply flawed). No character is particularly challenging. Everything is made easy for you in the book – including Depression Era Kentucky, which is made to feel quaint.  I felt it a bit problematic that families living in abject poverty hoping for a …

Food for Thought

I feel like a broken record mentioning that The Book of Joy has been on my list for awhile, but one thing I really love about this bookclub is that we often read backlist titles (aka older books, not newly published titles). So yet again, I’m so glad to have checked another book off my long list of books to read. But on to the good stuff… Besides feedback like, “this book is amazing!” I didn’t really know what to expect from The Book of Joy. Outside of having watched Seven Years in Tibet decades ago, and being able to put a face to the name Desmond Tutu, I could have told you very little about the book’s co-authors. And still this book surprised me in many ways. First was its humor. The Book of Joy is the product of a week of conversations between Reverend Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama around joy, and moderated by author and collaborator Douglas Abrams. Maybe I expected it to be a little dry and overly …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …