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MOAM Book Club – COVID-19 Edition (Part 1)

First off, wash your hands. 20 seconds (don’t cheat).

Kudos to those of you whose creativity has sparked and who have been doing on-line workouts and organizing their cupboards and taking freebie courses. Me? Between the compulsive checking of social media and forwarding of funny memes and gifs I find it hard to focus on anything else, meal-planning and stretchy pants aside.

Until today that is. Today, I put on jeans (to ensure they still fit) and am self-isolating in my bedroom office to bring you my latest MOAM Book Club. You’ll find no classics, should-reads, or any sort of pandemic fiction. You will, however, find some great books I’ve enjoyed recently. I hope you’ll enjoy them too.

UPDATE: I started writing this post earlier this week. I am no longer wearing my jeans, but I did put in my contact lenses as I was starting to get those annoying dents on my nose. I’ve been doing a lot of chatting on the phone, enjoying zoom drinks, and didn’t get as far as I thought I would.

Consider this the first part of my list, to be continued as the week(s?) goes on. Another thing to consider: if you click on the book titles, or the pretty pics, you should be redirected to Amazon. And if you buy from that link, I just may make around $0.14… Every little bit helps…

So, without further ado – here are some books reccos. Would love to hear what you think..

Ask Again, Yes This story about two NYPD families reads like a movie. Two rookie cops live next door to one another in the ‘burbs. All is peachy keen until The Event that tears them apart. The book follows the kids from each family as their paths cross and uncross. An examination of love, memory, mental illness and forgiveness.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: Another brilliant novel by the author of The Underground Railroad (which you should also read. See review here) If you’re looking for uplifting, move on. This one’s a killer. A black boy in the deep south in the 60’s finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead of heading off to college, he is sent to a juvenile corrections centre with disastrous results. Based on the true experiences of ward in a reform school in Florida, this is a brutal, yet amazing read.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: Forget about this being a sequel to the book The Handmaid’s Tale. Think of it as a continuation of the TV series. This felt like Atwood wanted to ensure that the future seasons of the show followed her vision, as opposed to the show runners (remember Game of Thrones going off-book?) No question it’s a great book – a Booker winner? Hmm….I needed to read it to tie up the stories of Gilead. And the book does just that. With a bow.

The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess: Twenty-something Eve is an aspiring writer with zero confidence. After quitting her entry-level publishing job, she lands a job as an assistant to a bigwig writer, ready to embrace life in the summertime cottage fast lane that is Cape Cod. Cue bad choices, unrequited crushes, family dynamics and angst and you’ve got yourself a fun, somewhat soapy read. Some may also over-identify with their own experiences in similar worlds in their ‘20’s….Maybe.

Turbulence by David Szalay: This is a super short, super swift read about connection and turbulence – both in the air and on the ground. Each chapter follows a different situation in a different city (divided by airport code – pretty cute framing device). These little snapshots left me wanting more, but I liked ’em while they lasted.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano: Speaking of turbulence….Dear Edward is the story of a 12-year old boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash. That’s right. I was terrified to read this book but I’m so happy I did. Napolitano flips back and forth from the flight, and the stories of those on board, to Edward’s new life. This is a fast-paced, devastating yet exhilarating story. Even though you brace yourself for what you know if coming, you can’t look away. With all travel on pause for the next while, it’s the perfect time to crack this one open. Get your kleenex handy.

The Dutch House – Anne Patchett: This family drama takes place over the course of 50 years. After growing up in a Gatsby-esque world of splendour, a brother and sister find themselves booted out of the family home when their dad remarries. This is their story as they back to check on “their” house year after year, reflecting on their lives, where they were, where they are, and where they think they’re going.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum: This story takes us inside the lives of a Palestinian family in Brooklyn. Old school rules clash with modern expectations with tragic results. This is the generational story of the daughters of tradition trying to raise their voices – and have them heard. I loved it.

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Griffin: Looking for a good, fun, cheese-read? Look no further! This one reminded me a tiny bit of Celeste Ng’s books mixed with the Netflix show Elite. New money, old money and no money all clash at a fancy Nashville school when nudey pics get sent around. And while we always want to be on our kids’ side, should we?

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. If magical realism isn’t your thing, move on. But if it is, you’ll get right into this poetic novel. Slavery, separation of families, justice and reunification. There is a lot going on in these pages in terms of people, places, time and space. I keep re-writing and deleting plot summaries but each time I either complicate, or over-simplify, what this book is all about. It’s brutal and beautiful and reminds me so much of Toni Morrison’s work. It haunted me long after I finished it.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins: Oh, where to begin with this one? There is so much noise surrounding this book. Short version: the novel was getting a lot of positive press, even receiving Oprah’s coveted blessing. And then the controversy and criticism took over: cultural appropriation, trauma porn, right-story-wrong-voice, the list goes on (google for more info). This movement of who can tell what stories makes me very uncomfortable (see: Joseph Boyden, author of one of my all-time faves, The Orenda – which you should read if you haven’t. Review here). Every reader must make their own decision on what books they will read. This one is a fictionalized tale of a mother and son escaping gang violence in Acapulco, trying to make their way North to the US. I could write an entire blog post on this book alone, and am happy to have an actual book club meeting about it anytime. But for now, read it for yourself. Or don’t.

…MORE BOOKS…AUDIBLE RECCOS…HONOURABLE MOAM MENTIONS…..
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March 26, 2020   2 Comments

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MOAM BOOK CLUB!!!

Remember the MOAM Book Club? It’s back! Get out your must-read lists, ‘cuz these books really should be on ’em….

 

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr

I read this Pulitzer-prize winning book pre-prize last summer. In one sitting. I couldn’t put it down, and neither will you. Set in the years leading up to WWII, it’s two stories which ultimately converge into one. A young blind girl who has learned to find her way via intricately carved cityscapes created by her father, ends up with one of France’s national treasures. A German orphan obsessed with building radios is forced to join the Hitler Youth where he reluctantly rises through the ranks. This is storytelling at its finest.

THE ORENDA by Joseph Boyden

And speaking of finest, this book is truly one of the greatest books I’ve read in years. Don’t let the subject matter (Iroquois vs Hurons, Jesuits, Canadiana) or size (512 pages) scare you off. Even if you’re not a historical fiction fan – and especially if you are – you will love love love this deep and haunting and devastating book…

MY BRILLIANT FRIEND / THE STORY OF A NEW NAME / THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY – by Elana Ferrante

Collectively known as The Neopolitan Novels, this trilogy has been gripping Italy for the past few years. Written under a pseudonymn, they tell the story of 2 friends growing up in the Sicily of the 1950’s. Through times turbulent and peaceful, rich and poor, what appear to be “women’s novels” are so much more than that. Capturing the periods in which the stories are set beautifully, Ferrante, whoever she – or he – may be, draws fantastic characters who you won’t soon forget. Best of all? The fourth (and final) book is being released in September. If you start now, you can pre-order it (I already did)

IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT – by Judy Blume

Growing up devouring the writing of Judy Blume was de rigeur for any of us growing up in the 70’s. Sure, we figured we outgrew her – but did we ever, really? With this latest novel, written for adults, she demonstrates that you can’t actually outgrow great writing. The woman really knows how to spin a yarn. Set in the New Jersey of the 50’s, 3 plane crashes proufoundly affect the lives of those living under the flight path. First loves, growing up, moving on….Judy Blume covers it all – and so damn well. She’s still got it. Always has, always will.

THE CHILDREN ACT – Ian McEwan

I adore Ian McEwan. Just love him. So it goes without saying that if you’re a fan of his, you’ll read this book!A judge must determine what is best for a child suffering from Leukemia – who also happens to be a Jehovah’s Witness. As she debates what is “right”, her own personal life is falling apart. Stunning. Gripping. Thought-provoking. Ian McEwan at his best.

ALL MY PUNY SORROWS by Miriam Toews

Heartbreaking, yet funny, and gorgeously written, the story of two sisters: one a brilliant but suicidal pianist, the other a hot mess trying to take care of those around her. Life and death, families and lovers, Toews gets into all of it. Loosely based on the author’s own experiences, the writing delves straight into the darkness yet somehow finds the light. A brave and beautiful award-winner.

WE ARE NOT OURSELVES by Matthew Thomas

This sprawling, ambitious saga marks the author’s debut. And what a grand entrance to the literary scene it is! Clocking it at 641 pages, it’s a big and meaty story of a family. Eileen is the daughter of Irish immigrants, and we follow her life as she grows up, gets married and has a family of her own. Mirroring life in America in the second half of the 20th century this is a poignant and stunningly observed piece of writing. There exists in the middle of this book a letter from a father to his son that had me bawling. If I read it on paper it would have been earmarked, underlined, highlighted or, possibly ripped out.  Epic.

WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES by Karen Joy Fowler

I mention this book for those who confuse it with the one above. It’s another great read – though not on the same level as the Thomas novel. The family in this book is what some would call unconventional: Mother, father and three children. Except the youngest is a baby chimpanzee. Yes, you read that right. This is an intriguing and interesting take on a typical family that is anything but normal. Domestic terrorism, animal rights, family dynamics – this has it all. Super smart and very different. Well worth picking up.

BIG LITTLE LIES – Liane Moriarty

Set in the ‘burbs of Sydney, Australia, this is another domestic page-turner by the author of The Husband’s Secret. Characters and their stories are interwoven as the new single mom in town finds herself both ostracized and exalted after her son is accused of being a bully. This is the perfect summer read for those who enjoyed The Slap. Addictive!

DIRTY LOVE by Andre Dubus III

What does happily ever after mean? Does it exist? Or, like an elusive brass ring is it always moving a little further away, slightly out of reach? In this group of interlocking novellas, Dubus explores it all from the points of view of a cuckholded husband, a philandering bartender/poet, a young girl trying to escape a social media mistake, and a lonely overweight woman who wonders whether she’s failed to launch. Simple, smart and raw.


I DON’T HAVE A HAPPY PLACE by Kim Korson

I couldn’t leave this memoir/book of essays off my list. It’s biting and smart, filled with fab 70’s and 80’s references and I happen to enjoy anything evocative of my own childhood/adolescence/coming of age/adulthood.  The fact that it was written by an old friend whose observations and crankiness always cracked me up? Well that’s just a bonus.

July 23, 2015   No Comments

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