Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah

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This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for a long time. I had clients, and close friends, both recommend Winter Garden to me… but the cover just looked so cheesy that I was definitely judged the contents! So when yet another close person to me in my life said, you need to read Winter Garden, I picked it up finally.

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard, while the other traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. The one thing that these two sisters have in common is an unbreakable bond with their father, and an almost non-existent relationship with their mother. But when their father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves having to comfort their cold, and distant mother, Anya. As children, the only connection they had with Anya was the unfinished Russian fairy tale she told the girls at night. When their father is dying, he requests one last wish… that Anya tells the whole tale. This begins a curiosity in the girls, who find out that the fairytale, is actually the real life events of Anya in war-torn Leningrad during WW2.  Between the fairytale, and the bonding with their mother, Meredith and Nina discover the harrowing story of their mother’s life before they were in it.

Okay, so be patient with this novel in the first 100 pages. I wasn’t completely hooked until I realized the fairytale was actually Anya’s real life story. But when things really started to unwind, I found I was unable to put it down! I ripped through the last 200 pages in one day.

This was a WW2 history which I wasn’t aware. Learning the St.Petersburg was actually called Leningrad when Stalin was in power was completely new to me. What’s incredible about this story is it’s just the story of a woman and her experience getting through the war. You realize how much could be lost in just a few short years. Then once the war was over, you are expected to live on. How does one do this? How do you just start over? These are the questions that you are asking yourself this whole novel.

Seeing the sisters develop a stronger relationship with their mother was probably the most rewarding part of this novel. You see just how hiding a part of your past can truly affect the people around you. As a mother, I think we want to protect our children from the bad things that happened to us, or the bad things that we had done to other people. But when we open up and become vulnerable, it lets your children know that we are all just humans trying live.

We women make choices for others, not for ourselves, and when we are mothers, we…bear what we must for our children. You will protect them. It will hurt you; it will hurt them. Your job is to hide that your heart is breaking and do what they need you to do.

If you are a lover of historical fiction, and complex family relationships… then this is the perfect novel for you. Because of the large amount of WW2 fiction being produced nowadays, it’s always refreshing to hear a story that you’ve never heard before.

Anywho, that’s all for now. Happy reading, friends!

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This is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel

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I need more of this book. I need more time with these characters, and who they become. This is How It Always is will definitely make my favourites of this year. It is a contemporary fiction novel, that was deeply emotional, and would be a great pick for a book club! I put off reading this book for awhile, because I felt as if everyone was reading this book. Turns out, everyone SHOULD read this book… NOW!!!!

Here’s a quick synopsis: Penn and Rosie have four boys, and decide to try for a girl. Rosie becomes pregnant, and she prays for a girl. She even has her name picked out, then they have a boy, Claude. When Claude decides he would rather be a fairy, than a boy, and wear dresses, and have long hair, it becomes obvious to the family that Claude (now Poppy) is transgender. Rosie and Penn decide to move to Seattle in hopes that it will be a more accepting city, but they decide to keep a Poppy’s identity a secret, and also ask that the brothers do as well.

I wish for my child, for all our children, a world where they can be who they are and become their most loved, blessed, appreciated selves.

Oh man, this book is a tear jerker. It’s full of emotion, and big topics that are very relevant, and important. But most of all, the writing was incredible. There were a few things (other than the story) that I really loved about this book. One being that Laurie Frankel dropped little literary references throughout, and it was like a tiny little gift for people who love literature! Second was that Penn, the father, used a fairy tale to connect with Poppy, and the rest of his children. He used this fairy tale as a teaching tool for his kids. Lastly, the author’s note. Laurie Frankel describes that her son is now a little girl, and that although that fact may be the same, her families personal story is not this one.

Here’s why you NEED to read this book. In a world that is full of stereotypes and judgements, this book just reinforces why we need to take a minute and give people chances. We all do it, we make a judgement within 90 seconds of meeting someone. But isn’t it true that people are just more layered then what 90 seconds can provide. If we could all just accept people for who they are, and actually be the authentic version of ourselves, wouldn’t the world just be so much less stressful. Imagine if we all just gave people the benefit of the doubt, realized that we all go through things, and will continue to. That people will continue to evolve and change throughout a lifetime, and that’s what is so beautiful about being human. This book has reminded to not judge, to remember that beauty comes in all forms. Inside and out.

That’s all for today! Happy reading, until next time!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

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I recently picked this book up off my TBR shelf. I spent a delightful hour long conversation at my local bookstore (Hunter Street Books) with a bookseller there. Turns out we had very similar taste in books, and she handsold me Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. This novel reminded me so much of The Rosie Project. It was creative, funny, and also tragic.

This isn’t a spoiler at all, but it turns out Eleanor Oliphant is NOT completely fine. Eleanor is struggling socially, and has the habit of truly speaking her mind. She isolates herself from human contact, and spends her weekends eating frozen pizza, and drowning herself in vodka. Here enters Raymond, her co-worker, who helps her take care of an elderly man who has fallen. This experience has bonded Eleanor and Raymond, and it turns out they each can help each other’s damaged hearts.

Time only blunts the pain of loss. It doesn’t erase it.

I am usually not a fan of “fun” books. I like a really dark, introspective novel. I like when a book makes me reflect and think a lot. But this book just brought together those two worlds for me. Eleanor, within 20 pages of this novel, has decided to get her first waxing of her nether regions. That scene had me dying of laughter. I actually chatted about this scene to a friend who also read this book, and we both teared up for the laughs.

Then this novel had me welling up at certain points. Eleanor’s childhood, you find out, has jaded her. She has shoved this childhood down so far within her in hopes she wouldn’t have to deal with the emotions that came along with the trauma. Now, at 30 years old, we watch Eleanor deal with her traumatic childhood, and climb out of her socially anxious box.

Although it’s good to try new things and to keep an open mind, it’s also extremely important to stay true to who you really are.

This book was such a gem. Like I said earlier, it made me have the same feelings that The Rosie Project did. I loved, and will be recommending it completely to many different types of readers.

Until next time… Happy Sunday, bookish friends!

 

Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult

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Wow. Let’s talk about a book that completely moved me. I was in tears 62 pages into this novel, and telling EVERYONE (Yes, sorry co-workers & friends!) about this book. Jodi Picoult is a best-selling author of twenty-four novels. I quite like the big topics and feelings that she dives into, but her sometimes her novels are seem formulaic, but always fantastic. Small Great Things is an amazing book, and such an important read!

In Small Great Things you are introduced to Ruth Jefferson, a labor and delivery nurse at with twenty years’ experience. On her shift, Ruth begins to do her check-ins with the newborns, when she is told she is being re-assigned from one particular family. The parents are proud white supremacists and Ruth, who is African American, is told not to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she follow the hospital orders or does she intervene?

Jodi Picoult is tackling some HUGE topics in this book. Racism, privilege, and compassion, are just a few that stand out to a reader. And these big topics are ones that need to be approached with caution, writing this novel could not have been an easy task. There were moments when I was reading that had me in tears, and others that left me feeling a gut-punch of awkwardness. But one thing that really stood out to me was the paragraph in which active racism, and passive racism is brought up. Read this passage below, and stop and think about what it means:

Active racism is telling a nurse supervisor that an African American nurse can’t touch your baby. It’s snickering at a black joke. But passive racism? It’s noticing there’s only one person of color in your office and not asking your boss why. It’s reading your kid’s fourth-grade curriculum and seeing that the only black history covered is slavery, and not questioning why. It’s defending a woman in court whose indictment directly resulted from her race…and glossing over that fact, like it hardly matters.

Please go read this book, it’s intense, full of emotion, and again… it’s so important. I hate when people say “This book is important” it just sounds so righteous, but I’m saying it anyway… because sometimes a book is important.

So, I will just be over here stuck in a book hangover for a couple days after this one! And looking forward already to her next release, Spark of Light. Until next time, happy reading!

 

Everything I Never Told You

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Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng, was my in real life Book Club’s next book. I was super excited when I heard this as I loved Ng’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, and had been wanting to read this one for awhile.

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

 Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, a Chinese American family, living in rural Ohio in the 1970’s. Her parents are bound and determined that Lydia will live the dreams that they never pursued. All this changes when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, and the Lee family starts to fall apart. In this falling there are family secrets, and resentment seething out of each of the family members.

The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you–whether because you didn’t get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.

This is a story of grief, family struggles, and love. This subtle, suspenseful story  had me flipping the 292 pages so fast that I couldn’t stop. I read this book in two days, and would highly recommend it. Ng has captured the ability to build tension in a story at a comfortable enough pace that you want to read every word, but also need to know what is going to happen in the end. She also was able to have the reader feel so much empathy for each character, and the difficulties they were having. She moved from one character’s train of thought to the next so flawlessly that you can’t help but admire her prose. I found it hard to believe that this is her first novel!

You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing. Children who no longer needed you. A husband who no longer wanted you. Nothing left but you, alone, and empty space.

This novel was very layered. Obviously the story line of figuring out how Lydia was killed… but even more so you were sucked into the struggle of motherhood, and the complexity of a bi-racial family. In this time period (1970’s), bi-racial couples were not common, but also rarely accepted. Ng was able to tell the struggles that went on within their family, and the marriage.

This was a fantastic book for out book club to dig into. We had tons of conversations about the relationships within the novel, and there were definitely different points of view brought up. I love it when a book can dig up some deep feelings within a reader.

Until next time, happy reading!!