Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

Love Books: Read This, Not That

Any book worth its salt has some love in it. Friendship, romantic love, sacrificial love, usually self-love whether glorified or not…humans are made to love and they will love something or someone as a default. In the last week, the two books I read actually had “love” in the title, but they were as different as night and day.

The Look of Love by Sarah Jio is classified as literary fiction, but it’s really not. The only The Look of Loveliterary thing about it is the premise. It had potential, in an O’Henry kind of way, but it falls severely short of the mark of good literature.  And it doesn’t make me happy to say that because I loved Jio’s The Violets of March and enjoyed several of her other books. The Look of Love isn’t anywhere close to Jio’s best work. The book’s main character, Jane, has a gift: she can see true love. She’s just figuring out that she has this gift at age 29, and she also learns that she has to identify the six forms of love before her 30th birthday or she will never find true love herself.

Here’s where you start thinking, “Wuv. Twue Wove.” (Books and movies come and go, but The Princess Bride never fails). The definition of true love and the six types of love Jane defines are not love. They are chemistry, lust, the kind of stuff from songs like “Hooked On A Feeling.” In Jio’s book. people can have love and then just fall out of it, find it somewhere else, and it’s all mystical and inexplicable.  I understand that elements of romantic love are kind of inexplicable, but love has reasons and choices and true love is selfless.

Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary WorldEnter the next book of the week with love in the title: Love Does. Bob Goff writes in memoir style about the kind of love that has transformed his life. The whole idea is real love doesn’t just feel or talk but it does stuff. It is action. It is being with people or giving to people, believing in people and telling them you’re for them. Real, perfect love is loving like Jesus. Now, before you roll your eyes, make sure you’re thinking about Jesus here and not the people who claim to follow Him. I’ve been a Christian my whole life, met some amazing and incredibly loving followers of Jesus, but I’ve still never seen anyone come close to Jesus. No one can love the unlovable like Jesus. And we’re all unlovable in some way. But Goff tells stories with humor and intelligence and, his favorite word, “whimsy” about how he has experienced love in his life. For example, when he was in high school, he decided to drop out and move to Yosemite. He packed his car, headed out of town, but stopped by a mentor’s house on the way to say goodbye. And this mentor answered the door in the early morning, and a few minutes later, was in the car with Goff, going on his journey not as a chaperon or a parent figure, but a loving friend who still let Goff hold the reigns but said, “I’m with you, Bob.” These and other stories will blows to bits the love presented in pop culture. Love Does is a challenge to trade in the watered down sensation of love in our movies and books for love that is soul satisfying and deeply changing. This book is also just a plain fun read and if nothing else you will laugh (Thanks to my friend, Mary, for lending it to me!).

So if you’re looking for some summer book love, read this, not that. And feel free to chime in with the books you think give a good picture of real love.

Reading, Reviews

Summer Reading Snippet Reviews

Well. It has been a coon’s age since I wrote a review. People tell me all the time, “I used to enjoy reading, but then I had kids.”

To which I say, “Whatever.”

Okay, okay, yes, it gets harder to read for fun when you have kids. I agree, and I’m not judging you.

Still, I find that this newborn stage is when I get more reading done than any other time in my life (besides the knee surgery time). What else am I going to do during those 3 o’clock/every other o’clock feedings? So while there hasn’t been much activity on the blog, I have been reading. Reading with a book in one hand and a baby in the other is much easier than typing a review for the blog with one hand. In short, I have been reading a lot and reviewing nothing. In an effort to catch up, this is a quick list and some snippet reviews of what I’ve read in the last two months.

A Long Time GoneA Long Time Gone, by Karen White

Karen White is a great writer. I don’t enjoy her earlier works because of the ghostliness (just not my thing), but she is so good at making her settings come to life. This is the second book I’ve read by her and it’s my favorite so far. The main characters are memorable and real. There are just certain phrases that take on their own meaning and are so right in the plot. “Yet here you are,” will never mean the same thing to me. You have to read it to know what I mean. White always has a dark element to her works, but this one has a good side of redemption, too. I enjoyed it.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, by Mindy Kaling

It’s kind of weird that I read this book at all, because I don’t watch The Office or The Mindy Project. A few bloggers whose work I enjoy mentioned it was funny, so I checked it out. It was funny. And that’s all I have to say about that.

A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet, by Sophie Hudson

This book is made of vignettes about the author’s family and their Southern traditions and funny stories. It was fun to read, but not all that relatable for me. I’m Southern, but I’m not that Southern. =) Still, a nice, enjoyable, light read.

The Girl on the Cliff, by Lucinda Riley.

Status: abandoned. There was no redeeming value in this book and I wasn’t enjoying it at all. I got about 1/3 of the way through.

The Aviator's WifeThe Aviator’s Wife, by Melanie Benjamin

This is a popular pick for book clubs right now, but I couldn’t figure it out. It was all about a very unhappy marriage to a famous guy. I guess that’s just not my type of book. Also abandoned 1/3 of the way, through. Apparently my theory is if you can’t find any reason to keep going after 1/3 of the book, you’re well entitled to pitch it. (I mean return it to the library, of course; don’t actually throw the book away).

The Glory Cloak, Patricia O’Brien

I discovered that Kate Alcott is actually a pen name for the author Patricia O’Brien. Since I’ve really enjoyed the two books by “Kate Alcott,” I was excited to read work by Patricia O’Brien. Unfortunately, O’Brien does the whole “I love this literary character so I’m going to imagine a plot about her and write some fiction.” The Glory Cloak is about Louisa May Alcott and Clara Barton, and their imagined friendship. It sounded intriguing, but yet again, I found myself abandoning a book. O’Brien painted Louisa in a harsh, overbearing way. I’m sorry, but I can’t believe she was actually like that and wrote the things she did. The last thing I need is a fictional account of someone to ruin their good reputation in my mind. That’s just silliness.

Morning Glory and Goodnight June, by Sarah Jio

Goodnight JuneSarah Jio has been my favorite summer read author this summer. Her plot lines can get a little predictable, though. By the time I got to Morning Glory, the fourth book I’ve read by her, the mystery element of it was not quite so fun and the characters from other books were starting to mesh together in my mind. Jio’s books are probably all enjoyable in their own right if you don’t read them back to back to back. Then I read Goodnight June, Jio’s most recent book, which really didn’t have the artistry that Jio usually puts into a book. Still, if you like literary fiction and you like the children’s book Goodnight Moon, it was a fun trip into an imagined history of the book. As I mentioned earlier, imagined histories of literary figures kind of bother me, but I was able to suspend belief for this book and I wasn’t too attached to Margaret Wise Brown to begin with. Besides, she is quite endearing in this fictional account of her. And I actually didn’t see the twist at the end coming, so it wasn’t all that bad. I just missed the descriptiveness and felt the character and plot development was very rushed. Some events transpire too suddenly and neatly to be believable.

There’s one other book I’ve read and loooved, but I will write a separate post reviewing that one, so stay tuned!

I’ll also be posting my Fall reading list soon. I had fun reading this Summer, but my reading list was sorely lacking of classics and deeper works of fiction or nonfiction. When I’m in this sleepless, hormonal stage of late pregnancy and newborn mothering, it’s crucial for me to keep the mood light in my reading. Plus, my brain is just so tired. But my baby slept for six straight hours two nights in a row, so maybe the exhausted-beyond-belief stage is easing up. My Fall list will include more non-fiction and some classics I’ve been meaning to read for a while. So look for my Fall reading list here soon!

Reading, Reviews

Blackberry Winter, by Sarah Jio

Blackberry WinterA few nights ago I looked up from a book and said to my husband, “Remind me to never read sad books about children when I’m pregnant.” He looked at me in exasperation and said, “Gah! When is it ever a good time for you to read sad books about children?” That’s a fair question. But I chose to read Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio because I loved her writing and story telling style in The Violets of March. Somehow, I trusted Jio not to plunge me too deeply into the depths of despair. Yes, it was a mostly blind decision, but it turned out to be a good one in the end.

Here’s the synopsis of the book:

Seattle, 1933. Single mother Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, goodnight and departs to work the night-shift at a local hotel. She emerges to discover that a May-Day snow has blanketed the city, and that her son has vanished. Outside, she finds his beloved teddy bear lying face-down on an icy street, the snow covering up any trace of his tracks, or the perpetrator’s.
Seattle, 2010. Seattle Herald reporter Claire Aldridge, assigned to cover the May 1 “blackberry winter” storm and its twin, learns of the unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth. In the process, she finds that she and Vera may be linked in unexpected ways.

If you’ve read many of my posts, you know I’m not a big fan of the back-and-forth between history and present day narrative. However, I think there are some writers who do a good job with it and Sarah Jio is one of them. The difference maker is Jio’s ability to make both times and all characters involved come to life. Each character in the two books I’ve read by her faces circumstances that are really, really, hard. Jio brings in the everyday tragedies of the human experience – miscarriages, losing a parent, unhappy marriages- the things that are always happening to someone, somewhere, into her writing and still manages to leave readers with a brightened outlook on life. I also appreciate how Jio can deal with some messy, true-to-life themes in her writing without feeling the need to drag readers through the muck of every detail. In other words, there is no hint of erotica or violence in her writing. That’s something I really appreciate.

When I finished Blackberry Winter, I wanted it to keep going. That odd friendship between a reader and book characters formed that only really good books can create. I’m eagerly awaiting Jio’s latest book, Goodnight June, to become available at my library. Until then, you might find me at the library in the J Fiction section, because apparently I’ve missed quite a few Jio novels in the last few years. Perfect for summer reading!

So whatchya’ reading this summer?


Review: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of WingsThough a life long Southerner, I am not a big fan of Southern Literature. But ever since reading The Secret Life of Bees, I knew I would always give any novel by Sue Monk Kidd a try. Mermaid Chair left me pretty disappointed, but I stood by my love of Bees and put myself on the library waiting list for The Invention of Wings as soon as it came out. Here’s what The Invention of Wings is about:

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love. As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

I enjoyed the fact that this book was based on real abolitionists, the Grimke sisters. They were remarkable women in a time when women weren’t supposed to be remarked on for anything but their choice of dresses and hair styles. They were Southern Belles gone wrong, in their society’s opinion. I also appreciated how this novel portrayed a reality of slavery in Charleston, South Carolina, without being as graphic as the recent popular novel, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. Having been to Charleston countless times, it was a hard reality check to really imagine what some of those historic buildings were housing three hundred years ago. The historical element of the novel was the novel’s best point.

Where the book disappointed me was in the character development and very inwardly focused narrative. The narrative switches from the first person perspectives of Sarah and Handful. I got very sick of being in Sarah’s head especially. If Kidd wanted me to feel stuck in molasses, she made her point. Handful’s narrative was more humorous and interesting. I would have rather heard more about Sarah’s sisters, Angelina, but it turns out there’s not really a whole lot known about her. She was the one with spunk in the Grimke family. The slow moving span of 35 years that the novel covers and the misguided patience of Sarah throughout her life made me tempted to throw the book down in frustration. But it was on an e-reader, so I didn’t throw it.

Because of the slow pace and tiresome narrative from Sarah, this book is a 2.5-3 out of 5 star book for me. If you’re interested in the Southern history and the Grimke sisters, I would recommend it, but if you are simply looking for a book that is similar in style and feel to The Secret Life of Bees, I’d give Beth Hoffman’s Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt or Sarah Jio’s The Violets of March a try.

The Violets of March       Saving Ceecee Honeycutt

Reading, Reviews

Coastal Reads

I don’t travel a whole lot (much less than I would like), but when I do, I love to have a book with me that’s set in the place I am visiting.  When I was in London several years ago, I was reading David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.  The feel of stepping into a place that has been set in a famous book and has been there for over a hundred years is surreal.  More often, though, my reading happens when I’m not traveling, but firmly set at home.  That’s why I love a book that describes a place so well, I can imagine being there.  There are some places I am dying to go see because I’ve read books about them.  In the past few months, I’ve read a couple of books set on two coasts that are now calling my name.

The Violets of MarchThe first coastal call came from The Violets of March by Sarah Jio.  Set on Bainbridge Island in Washington’s Pugent Sound, it’s one of those books that sucks you right into the setting.  I enjoyed how Jio described the area so vividly without going on and on about it.  She has the rare gift of weaving the setting into the plot seamlessly.  How many times have you read a book and gotten sick of all the descriptions?  I wouldn’t worry about that if you’re thinking of reading this book.   The plot started out a little shaky:  a 30-something woman dealing with a washed up marriage is living in New York but is forced to go back to her roots.  Sweet Home Alabama, anyone?  Thankfully, the plot is much more exciting than the kind of book that deals only with past emotions.  Yes, there’s some emotional baggage the main character, Emily, is working through, but there’s also a mystery to unravel.   And I love a well written mystery. I’m of the opinion they’re pretty rare.  Sometimes the tone reminds me of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, though it’s not quite so dark.   I’d recommend The Violets of March to just about anyone.


The next coastal book I read brought me back home to the East Coast.  Moon Over Edisto by Beth Webb Hart is about a woman who Moon Over Edistolives in New York City, is about to get married, and has to return to her hometown, Edisto, to take care of her family in a crisis.  Wait…am I getting these two books confused?  Because, hello Sweet Home Alabama again.  No, they’re different books, but I’m now realizing the starting premises of these books are fairly similar. However, Moon Over Edisto doesn’t turn into a mystery to be solved, but a story of how to forgive and the freedom and healing forgiveness brings.   The setting is very intertwined with the plot, as two main characters are artists.  A lot of the scenery is built on the description of what artworks these two characters are creating.   I wish I owned the real paintings and not just descriptions of their art, because it sounds beautiful.  Though I’ve lived in South Carolina my whole life and visit the coast often, I’ve never been to Edisto.  I know, it’s sad.  After reading this book, I realize even more it’s a problem that must be remedied soon.


I can’t embrace travel literature–I need a good plot and intriguing characters to keep me reading–but I think mental travel is one of reading’s greatest qualities.  And even if you’re not looking for a book to take you to a new place, these two books are pretty good light reads apart from their settings.  I’d love to hear what you think if you decide to pick one up!