Reading, Reviews

What Books Become Part of Your Life?

So many people are looking for good novels right about now. We need them in summer to take on vacation, or read by the pool, or just because books are always a part of life. Books can be the best vacation your mind can get. And isn’t it beautiful how there are enough different kinds of books and authors in this world so that every reader can find that book that will be just what they need? Writing a book blog is weird because a book I love may be a book you hate, or visa versa. Books speak to people in different ways and connect uniquely.  But since readers are always on the quest for the next great book, we go on sharing what we like and helping each other along the way the best we can. Novels -stories, settings, characters, themes – can be so powerful. Today I’m featuring some books by one of my favorite authors. Not everyone will like her books, but I will always read everything she puts out. Here’s why: I vividly remember every point in time that I was reading a book by Marisa de los Santos.

Love Walked InI read Loved Walked In at the desk in my hated cubicle a year after I graduated from college, or on the bench in the park where I went on lunch breaks to escape the office.

Belong To Me was my companion as I sat at my kitchen table eating Honey Nut Cheerios at 3:00 a.m. in the early throes of labor, and then later in a hospital bed as I nursed my newborn son. (That book made me cry buckets, but it could have been because of other stuff going on…)

Falling Together was in my hands at the beach on a cooler September day as I sat on the porch and wished the plot would get better already (hint: this one is not my favorite).

Belong to MeAnd just two weeks ago, I read The Precious One in the finally silent house after the children’s bedtime, as I curled up on the couch with a hot wash cloth on my face to ease the sinus pressure from a rare case of summer sickness.

This is how I judge an author’s power: if his or her novel intertwines with your life enough to become part of it. 

As I read The Precious One last week, I finally got an idea of why de los Santos’s books have that power in my life. She always includes a few characters who are good at forgiveness and loving and being a friend just for the sake of being a friend. The characters are not morally perfect and they don’t have easy lives, but they are good at loving the abandoned daughter or lonely neighbor or friend suffering cancer. These are the tough concepts so often thrown on us in modern fiction, but so gently dealt with in de los Santos’s work and by her characters. Her work helps me think harder about the kind of person I want to be in real life. It’s not the Bible, for sure, but if you’re a lover of fiction, I think you’re always looking for pieces of a book that you carry with you after the book is over to inspire you or make you laugh, to bolster your resolve or keep you grounded. I love finding that kind of book and those kinds of writers, and I get so excited to share them here on the blog. There are many, many wonderful non-fiction books that can be called life changing or earth shattering, but in my own experience, it’s novels with artistry and story that stick in my mind the most.

So tell me, which novels have been so powerful that they became a part of your life as you read them?

Reading, Reviews

Novellas for Your Beach Bag (Or Nightstand)

This week was a successful reading week, finally! The previous weeks were filled with book busts. I’ve discovered one of the best things ever for a beach reader, weekend reader, or a busy mom: novellas. The novella, a short novel or long short story, is a great form of literature because it gives a succinct plot, fewer characters to get to know, and the opportunity to be powerful and poignant without getting bogged down in details. I finished two last week.

The Uncommon ReaderThe Uncommon Reader was delightful. It’s written by Alan Bennett, much better known for his plays and screenplays than his novellas, but I wouldn’t mind if he writes more literary fiction. The Uncommon Reader is an imaginary account of Queen Elizabeth’s discovery that reading is a pleasure. From the beginning when she steps into the travelling library (we call those bookmobiles here in SC) parked at Buckingham Palace, to the end of the book, Bennett gives his readers a fun and witty glimpse into how books and reading changes lives, even uncommon ones. Of course, it’s all made up. But it’s still a fun read and even insightful at times into how reading widens a person’s ability to empathize or notice the small things.

Stella BainIn Stella Bain, a very short novel that I am classifying as a novella, author Anita Shreve ventures into the historical fiction realm, and does a decent job of telling the story of an American woman in World War I. Stella Bain wakes up in an army hospital in Marne, France in the middle of The Great War, not knowing how she got there or who she actually is. All she knows at the beginning is that she has the abilities of a nurse and ambulance driver. Going only on a strong feeling that she needs to make her way to London, she unravels the mystery of her past and finds the strength to put together her present. Warning: this plot is implausible. If you read books because you want them to be as close to real life as possible, don’t read this book. But if you read because it’s fun to go on an imaginary adventure and maybe learn a thing or two, this is a good book. I liked it better than Shreve’s other novels I’ve read, though I can see by the reviews that most of her fans prefer her other work. I was reminded strongly of the book Maisie Dobbs while reading Stella Bain. There were many similarities in themes relating to the horrors of the field hospitals and soldiers’ recoveries during The Great War. When I’m immersed in a book or even movie (Downton Abbey, Season 2, for example) set during that time, I actually get nightmares about it. May trench warfare never occur again. But that’s only a small piece of Stella Bain. If you enjoy historical fiction, it’s a good read written by a good author.

Other notable novellas I’ve enjoyed:

Ethan Fromme – not so much in a “what a delightful book sense” but in a “that is a fine piece of art” sense

The Blue Castle – a “grown up” book from the author of Anne of Green Gables

Breakfast At Tiffany’s – yes, it’s as good as the movie

Happy Summer reading!





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