Read This Book

Read These Books by Sarah Addison Allen

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Do you like a bit of whimsy?

Can you deal with the occasional cliché in your writing?

Are you partial to adorable love stories?

Do you like strong, complex female characters?

If you answered no to any of the above questions, these books probably aren’t for you. If you answered yes to them, however, you’re about to be blown over by a gust of warm wind that probably smells like raspberries and feels like love.

Sarah Addison Allen’s books take place mainly in the South, an area that has always grabbed my imagination with visions of heat, old-fashioned manners, big old trees, picnics, and long lazy days. The books take me right into that world, replete with fancy outdoor parties and baking cakes and falling asleep outside in the backyard and fireflies and small, quiet towns. I love that vibe, I can’t get enough of it. It’s a world where people carve the initials of their high school sweethearts into tree trunks and go star-gazing and there are local legends and magic in the air and quaint boardwalks and general stores. It’s sunny and happy! There is good food! What’s not to love?

All the books have a little bit of magic in them, magical things that happen to the characters. It’s hard to describe without giving examples, so: in Garden Spells, the plants and fruits grown in the backyard of one family have strange and subtle effects on other people, making them feel regret or love or any number of other things. In The Sugar Queen, one of the characters is always being followed around by different books that appear in her path just when she needs most to read them. In The Girl Who Chased the Moon, there are mysterious lights dancing in the forest behind the house at night. It’s never big magic that the characters do, it’s more like serendipity, happy whimsy that makes their lives sparkle.

But even though most of the time, the books are filled with love and sunshine, the author isn’t afraid to tackle difficult issues. She manages to work themes of domestic abuse, teen pregnancy, bullying, questioning one’s sexual identity, low self-esteem and lots of other types of turmoil into her books in a way that seems real. Those problems are a part of the characters’ lives, but so is love in all its forms: between sisters, aunts and nieces, brothers, twins, lovers, friends, old love, new love, every type of love there is. The love she describes is enough to conquer all the bad stuff.

I think what I like best about these books is how they make me feel. It’s exam season and I’ve had my fair share of stressful days lately. But I decided to start re-reading these books that I love so much and they’ve been buoying me up with a little love, a little comfort, a little joy and hope. They’re the perfect companions for my current high-stress lifestyle – they’re fun and fast to read. They feel like summer and home.

I’d recommend starting with Garden Spells, her first (and most popular) novel.

After that, there’s

..and she’s coming out with a new novel “Lost Lake” sometime in 2013. I’m jazzed, obviously.

I can’t really say for sure that these novels are for everybody. There’s probably a big group of people who wouldn’t like them one bit. But for me, they’re wonderful, and I like to share things I think are wonderful. I’d say if you liked The Night Circus, there’s a good bet you’ll like these too.

Happy reading!

Read This Book: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Reading this book was practically a religious experience (and trust – I do not have those very often!). I read it in one sitting, which despite my love of books, does not often happen. I barely moved out of my bed for hours – hours that I barely noticed passing. Strangest part is, it’s not even fiction! Usually it’s novels that pull me in this much, but I think it must be the wonderful storytelling that this book is packed with that hooked me.

This book by Cheryl Strayed was a nominee for best 2012 nonfiction book on GoodReads this year, and I put it on my to-read list without thinking too much of it. I almost feel lucky that I decided to check it out of the library, because (*cheesiness alert*) I hate to think that I might not have read this book. I’m serious! It was exactly what I needed to read, exactly when I needed to read it. As a twenty-one-year-old who is weeks away from finishing her second-last undergraduate semester, this book was a salve and an inspiration. I know I sound totally cuckoo, and maybe I am, but it left a huge impression on me.

The book is a collection of the letters and answers to an online advice column called Dear Sugar. The questions range from coping with jealousy to dealing with rejection to leaving relationships to insecurities of all types to learning how to love again to facing reality. Those stories are all very interesting. But my favourite part is reading her answers, because they aren’t just answers. Yes, there’s wisdom (buckets of it), and many simple, simple truths (that everyone needs to hear, I think). But what makes this book so special is how the author weaves in the stories of her own sadness, despair, heartbreak, resilience, happiness, love, and strength. Reading these conversations is like a glimpse into the real, accessible, relatable world. The advice she gives is like a DIY guide to being a strong, healthy, capable adult.

I filled a few pages in my notebook with quotes from this book, and I am going to buy my own copy soon. I am thinking of giving this book as a gift to my close friends this Christmas – it’s that good, people! It’s one of those books that should be required reading, you know? Okay, happy Monday you beautiful souls – let’s all go and be better people today, shall we? xo.

(ps. get it here, if you’re interested)

Read This Book: Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant

The simple fact that we’ve done book club more than once means that I’m calling the endeavour a huge success. Neither time were we more than 4 people, but I’m going to go with the old adage “quality over quantity” on this one. Both our discussions were very interesting, and totally different, since the two books we’ve read so far have very little in common. And this second one, I can safely say it’s far and away my favourite of the two.

How to describe this book? It’s poignant. That’s the word that kept coming up in our discussion. Someone mentioned that the whole book is about grief – it sometimes barely feels that way when you’re reading it, but looking back at it, it’s very, very sad. But it seems also to have a strange glow about it, it’s somehow whimsical and special and happy in its own little way.

The story is about a girl, mid-twenties I’d say, named Audrey, who has a tortoise and lives alone, far from her home, in Oregon. She hears that her father has passed away, and flies home, leaving the tortoise with friends. When she gets back to St. John’s, Newfoundland, she has to cope with his death, and the sadness of both herself and her Uncle Thoby who has always lived with them. It’s incredibly difficult to explain the plot, since there are several flashbacks to her childhood and it’s mainly character-driven. But suffice to say that I didn’t find it boring in the slightest.

The writing is wonderful. As one of our book clubbers pointed out, each last sentence of a chapter is very beautiful and, well, poignant. The writing can at times seem very blunt and straightforward: there are no quotation marks for dialogue, nor exclamation/question marks. Our whole book club, I think, felt that this made you have to engage a lot more with the writing, sometimes having to re-read a sentence to see what sense it’s meant to be read in. And I love the style of writing, because it seems so honest, and while reading you feel as though you’re inside her head (or inside the head of her tortoise Winnifred, whose narrative is both entertaining and touching).

I can’t really pinpoint what makes this book so good. Would it help if I said I nearly cried a couple times, and actually cried at the very end? (I rarely cry at books). Or that Audrey’s sometimes child-like way of looking at the world is so endearing and, at times, relatable? Or that it makes you want to move to a small town and have a Great Safe Adventure with a few special people that you love very much? Or that although it’s sad, it’s also very funny?

For all those reasons, and many more, I adored this book. A review can’t do it justice, but rest assured it’s quite wonderful. If you don’t believe me, know also that it’s won awards and has great reviews. I really hope you give it a chance, it’s a lovely book.

Happy Monday everyone!

Read This Book: Cemetery of Forgotten Books Series

It’s impossible to deny that I’m a total nerd when it comes to books. My whole family adores reading (save one sister who hates it, and who we regard as an anomaly – just kidding, love you sis!) so this love has been instilled in me since I was young. My dad used to take me to the library every week, telling me it was library policy that I could only take out ten books at a time. I would spend the better part of an hour hemming and hawing, stalking the shelves, sitting cross-legged on the floor, sometimes trying to decide between one book or another. I know right? I would go back in time and tell myself: “Lighten up, kid. You’ll be back next week.”

Wanna hear the kicker? So the summer after first year (of UNIVERSITY, that is), I accidentally tried to take out 11 books/magazines. And…nothing happened. I sort of recounted and looked at the lady, before asking whether I had to put something back. And guess what? The policy has always been 50 items at a time. The first time my dad heard how angry I was to be duped my whole life, I’m pretty sure he laughed so hard he cried. I think it’s pretty funny too…now.

The point is, I love books, I love to read. Please note: I never ever once finished all ten in the 1-2 weeks I had them out. I just loved seeing a big stack and being able to choose one from many. Maybe I’m a little greedy when it comes to books. Scratch that, I’m totally greedy. My dad was just trying to keep that greed in check, and who can blame him, really?

So that’s probably why I worked at a bookstore in high school: the discounts made it easier for my book greed to thrive. Another perk – I was surrounded by people with amazing taste in books. Some of the best books I’ve ever read were recommended to me by coworkers, including the series I’m telling you about today.

When Shadow of the Wind hit our little Chapters, I think it had accumulated four different Staff Picks stickers by the end of the month. And I did not work with people who like mediocre books, they have impeccable taste. Remember the book preview that I stumbled onto? She introduced The Night Circus by saying “this is the best book I’ve read since Shadow of the Wind” which made all us book-o-philes gasp and sprint for the nearest display.

The books are written by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and translated from Spanish. There is a preface in the third book which informs the reader that although some characters and locations are woven into all three books, they needn’t be read in order. This was a wash of relief for me when I began The Prisoner of Heaven, because it had been so long since I’d read books 1 or 2. I’m now planning on starting the series again from the beginning!

You can tell while you’re reading them that they’re books created for people who are passionate about books. They’re almost like nods to the folks who love whiling away hours in bookstores, libraries and armchairs, reading reading reading. There is not only a prominent (magical, wonderful, amazing) library in each book, but also a beautiful, quaint bookstore, characters who love to read, and characters who love to write. It’s almost like the author is extending a warm hug to any kindred spirits of his.

The books are all different, but they all revolve around books and writing, they all have some dark (“gothic” as the book flaps tend to say) themes, and they’re all quite excellent. They come highly recommended by me and (going out on a limb here) the entire fiction department at my old store. And the Random House book representative. And if that’s not enough recommendation for you, then I’m sorry, I tried.

I hope you give them a try and truly enjoy! I’ve collected my copies one by one over the years, all gifts from my Dad. What can I say? He owes me.

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