It looks like a little glimpse of spring was all my reading life needed to get some oomph back! March found me with some great reads and listens on my nightstand and in my ear. My picks were quite varied this month. I mixed new with old, happy with sad, and serious with downright fluffy YA fun. I read two books that have me desperate for a trip to Italy. It was a good reading month, friends! Here’s what I loved, liked and just couldn’t finish in March:
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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
When this memoir first started appearing on my radar, I dismissed it as something I just wouldn’t want to pick up. Dr. Paul Kalanithi was just 36 and finishing up his training to be a neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Beyond his dream of becoming a doctor, he also dreamt of one day being a writer. He never imagined he’d have such a short time to accomplish both. Paul passed away in March of 2015. An instant best-seller, this book has been popping up everywhere in papers, magazines, websites and blogs. When it appeared on my library’s express shelf, I thought the book universe must be trying to tell me something, and so I took it home. Once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. Paul’s voice comes through clearly, and it is honest, endearing and heartbreaking. The book took on additional weight and meaning as one of my neighbors unexpectedly passed away as I was reading it. Don’t skip the epilogue at the end, written by Paul’s widow, Lucy.
After You by Jojo Moyes
I’ve yet to read anything by Jojo Moyes that I haven’t loved, but by far my favorite is Me Before You. (Anyone else stocking up on tissues in anticipation of the movie this summer?) After You takes readers back to Louisa Clark, who is trying desperately (without much success) to figure out how to live a life Will Traynor would’ve been proud of. A freak accident and an unexpected visitor give Louisa the jolt she needs to change directions. The question is whether she’ll be brave enough to respond. It’s hard to match the chemistry behind the love story of Louisa and Will that Me Before You provided, but After You does a fine job of crafting a new story for characters we’ve come to love and tying up some loose ends. You won’t sob at the end of this one, making it a perfect beach or pool read for this summer.
This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith
More like This is What Fluffy YA Fun Looks Like. Smith’s book read like a modern-day version of my tween/teen daydreams: Quiet girl-next-door strikes up flirty (yet completely anonymous) relationship with boy via email, thanks to one mistyped character in an email address. Boy, who happens to be world-famous teen-heartthrob, figures our where girl lives and convinces the producers of his next big movie to film on location in girl’s small town. Will they fall in love in real life? Can they survive jealous friends, meddling agents, and keep their relationship under wraps? OH, THE DRAMA. But it totally works and I loved it. Elena loved it, too.
Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
Anthony Doerr is the writer behind my favorite book of 2015 (and one of my favorite books of all-time), All the Light We Cannot See. In 2004, as his wife was recuperating in the hospital from delivering twins, Doerr finds out that he’s won the Rome Prize. With a studio in Rome and a stipend waiting for him, Doerr, his wife and his infant twins travel to Italy to live for a year. Sleep and words are hard to come by in Rome, but beauty and good food are not. It was so interesting to read of Doerr’s struggles to write what would eventually become his Pulitzer-winning novel, and to see how this time in Rome played a part in a book that wouldn’t be born for nearly 10 more years.
As Doerr witnesses the historical announcement of Pope Benedict XVI first-hand he writes this:
“The glory of architecture, the puffing chimney, the starched white robe – these details are carefully chosen; they are there to reinforce majesty, divinity, to assure us that what is said to be happening is actually happening.
And doesn’t a writer do the same thing? Isn’t she knitting together scraps of dreams? She hunts down the most vivid details and links them in sequences that will let a reader see, smell, and hear a world that seems complete in itself; she builds a stage set and painstakingly hides all the struts and wires and nail holes, then stands back and hopes whoever might come see it will believe.”
Reading this, I realized that this is what makes Doerr and All the Light We Cannot See, in particular, so very special. I was able to see, smell and hear World War II in the village of Saint-Malo perfectly, just as I was able to do with Doerr’s Rome. What a gift. This book is equally wonderful for all the senses.
Find the Good by Heather Lende
This was a quick read (or listen, for me) that just brightened my day. Lende is an obituary writer for the local paper in her small Alaskan town. You would think, in a small town where everybody knows each other, that this would be a depressing job. Instead, Lende uses the lessons she learns from the lives of the deceased and the loved ones they leave behind to inspire us to find the good in the world around us. As she says, “We are all writing our own obituary every day by how we live. The best news is that there’s still time for additions and revisions before it goes to press.” Her essays are relatable, funny and touching.
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
This was my pick in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge for “A book you’ve already read at least once.” Kate DiCamillo is a master at writing books for children that adults will love. She’s also extremely gifted at writing books that make wonderful read-alouds. Despereaux the mouse may be small (even if his ears are extremely large), but he is mighty and brave when it comes to his love for the Princess Pea. Nothing can stop him from rescuing her – not the deep, dark dungeon, the rats, the butcher knife, or his own family’s betrayal. But it’s in the journey in which he learns what’s really important: love, loyalty and soup. Eli wasn’t captivated by the first couple of chapters, but I urged him to give it a few more nights of reading … and he was hooked. We especially love the character of Miggery Sow. Not only is she fun to read as a narrator, but she speaks to the heart of what all children want: to be heard and seen.
10% Happier by Dan Harris
This book found me by way of Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier” podcast, in which Harris was a guest on the show. He was engaging and funny and got me curious about something I never thought I’d be interested in: meditation. 10% Happier tells Dan’s story of how he overcame an addiction to the drugs and alcohol he used to fuel his need for an adrenaline rush. You may know Dan as a news anchor on ABC. His impetus for finding something other than drugs to calm his mind? A live, on-air panic attack on Good Morning America. Harris is skeptical at first, but eventually finds that meditation is able to sooth him like nothing else he’s ever tried. It isn’t a miracle worker, but he does believe that it makes him 10% happier. If you approach this as a manual for learning how to meditate, you’ll be disappointed (although Harris does offer tips and resources at the end of the book). However as a memoir and as a means to see if meditation might be right for you, this book was a fun and thoughtful read.
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
I kept putting off this particular Rainbow Rowell title because many reviewers didn’t enjoy it as much as some of her other titles. I adore Rowell’s writing, with Eleanor & Park being one of my favorite books of all time. The reviewers are both right and wrong. I agree, it’s not as charming or engaging as some of her other books. It’s a really hard plot to explain, involving estranged spouses and a magic landline telephone. But it’s not a book Rowell fans should automatically dismiss. She’s still in there, even if the characters aren’t as lovable. And I’ll take a little Rainbow Rowell wherever I can get her!
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
I picked up Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel after seeing the Broadway musical based on the book in my recent trip to New York City. I absolutely loved the play and wanted more. Bechdel tells the story of what it was like growing up with a closeted gay father, all the while questioning her own sexuality. As she finds herself and is able to come out to her family, her father finds his walls closing in. Just as Alison is able to live her life truthfully, her father ends his. This tragic story is also mixed in with recollections of family life in the 70s. The family ran the town’s funeral home, and her father’s hobby/obsession was restoring the Victorian home they lived in. I got lost in some of the text and reflections, but overall I enjoyed the story and the format. Even though it’s a graphic novel it’s definitely not intended for younger teens. I’d hoped I could share it with Elena, but it will need to wait a few more years. If you’re in NYC, definitely make plans to see the show!
New & Noteworthy
Only in Naples by Katherine Wilson (Available April 19)
I received this ARC from Netgalley.
What happens when you roll a food story, a travel story and a love story all into one? You get one delicious, entertaining read! That’s exactly what Katherine Wilson’s debut memoir is. Katherine goes to Italy for what was supposed to be a 3-month internship. Instead she falls in love with an Italian. She’s embraced by his Neapolitan family, and through his mother, Raffaella, she learns some of life’s most important lessons: how to love fiercely, how to dress up any outfit with a belt, and how to feed a family with love … and lots of pasta. The writing is sweet and funny, and sure to have you craving Italian cuisine for weeks. Don’t miss the recipes at the end with Raffaella’s commentary mixed in with the directions – they had me rolling! A truly fun read that will leave you hungry for more tales of the Avallone family. This was my pick in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge for a “A book published this year.”
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
I had such high hopes for this book, almost selecting it as my book club pick. It’s been on nearly every book-of-the year, must-read list, it’s set in England, and it’s about birds. Doesn’t it just scream Perfect for Angie? But I just couldn’t get into it. I never connected with the author’s story or the hawk. Perhaps it was coming, but I gave up after more than 2 hours into the audio version. Did anyone else read it and love it? Did I give up too soon? I’m curious.
What have you read and loved lately?