On the Bookshelf Pt. 7

Welp, I blinked and it became October! Luckily I was able to breeze through many summer days by working through a fat stack of fresh titles. Below are a just a few for my fellow bookworms to peruse. Read anything good lately? Share your own favorites in comments!

A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott

Through Julie’s eyes, we get a front row seat to the making of Gone With the Wind, as well as the love affair between Carole Lombard and Clark Gable. In addition, we get to see Julie’s own budding love affair and her experiences as a woman trying to break into screen writing during the Golden Age of Hollywood. That glittering Hollywood sign might be a tourist attraction today, but did you know it was initially an advertisement for a home development? It was Hollywoodland in 1930! Gone with the Wind was in constant turmoil from start to finish, but this novel was an interesting insight of industry pioneers. This story fused fictional and real characters together in a mesmerizing tale. My favorite moment was when Julie saved a dog from her jerk boss. Readers with language sensitivity should know there are some racial slurs in this book, illustrating the time period.

Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands

Mrs Seacole’s is one of the earliest autobiographies of an Afro-Caribbean woman, a pioneer, and of whom a statue in London was erected in 2016, at the St Thomas hospital. Born in Jamaica in 1805 to a Scottish lieutenant father, and a healer mother, who used traditional Caribbean and African herbal medicines. She had knowledge of how to handle tropical disease and did receive training in nursing, though the Nightingale Foundation has stirred up some controversy of her simply being an innkeeper. She nursed soldiers and patients through the 1850 cholera epidemic and went to Crimea to be of service during the war. I really enjoyed reading about a woman in the 19th century having independence. I found her to be an inspiring role model. Her autobiography ended with her return to London, though soon after she and her partner Day, filed bankruptcy. They were discharged and she returned to Jamaica, then back to London in 1870 where she assisted the royal family until her death.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Solitude enchants as it investigates all the grand schemes of Macondo, it’s religion, war, marriages as well as the minutiae, siblings arguments, household chores, the gypsy carnival that comes to town. Dreaming of the future only to long for the past, this will tug on your heartstrings while it traces Latin American history while weaving an amazing tale. This epic has a multitude of voices in the Buendia family, as it is a character exploration, but the magical realism really engages the imagination. Keep an eye on the names, because they are similar across six generations, but their personalities tend to be unique.

Marquez said this was inspired by experiences living with his grandparents. It came together while he was on vacation with his family in Acapulco. He spent 18 months writing the novel in 1967, selling his car, pawning appliances and receiving extended credit to stay afloat. It won a Nobel in 1982. It took about 3 weeks for me to work through this 400+ page story, but it will stay with me forever.

The Island by Adrian Mckinty

This thriller is packed with mayhem. I guess no one plans on a vacation from hell, but this is essentially it! A family from Seattle tags along on the doctor dad’s work trip to Australia. Heather is his second wife and the kids have yet to warm up to her. But their nice trip goes south quick and they are a world away from anything they know. Heather has to rely on survival skills her military father taught her to save her new family. I personally would have tried to swim off the island, but I know she didn’t want to leave the kids or put them at risk. Though Dutch Island is a fictional place, I am relieved it isn’t real because I never want to visit!

Sharp by Michelle Dean

If you like biographies or just want to dip into the genre, Sharp eloquently weaves fact and opinion without going overboard. Dean herself comments that this is not a perfect demographic sample. It was sad to read women of color were not recognized let alone documented as meticulously as their white contemporaries. She included a chapter about Zora Neale Hurston with as much information as she could find.

And if I may nurse an old wound once more, I was frustrated reading this book, not because of it’s subject, but because we read Fitzgerald and Hemingway in high school, of course, and it’s deserved. They’re writing is spectacular. But I only stumbled into women’s work, like Dorothy Parker by accident in college. I love her hilariously melancholic poetry. But to be fair to my high school curriculum, we did read Rebecca and Wuthering Heights. It just puzzles me that there seemed to be plenty of female writers through the twentieth century as male counterparts, but the excuse was always women weren’t allowed to write/have professions, therefore there was no material for us to study. Yet here is a collection of biographies about women who wrote. I guess I have to go to therapy to figure out how to let this one go ’cause boy is it triggering!

In each chapter I could see myself in these women who came before me, particularly Hannah Arendt, German philosopher and Holocaust survivor. I loved how Dean included chapters that explored their interactions and encounters with each other. It was not exactly a feminist sisterhood, but I think they could rely on each other, professionally, and at times, personally, more than they realized.

Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon

I found Reese Witherspoon’s cornbread chili pie recipe online, tried it, and really enjoyed it. So I picked up Whiskey in a Teacup for more inspiration. It includes many recipes from her grandmother, Dorthea, and lots of tips and how-to gems about Southern hospitality. I always love when people share stories about their grandparents. Mine were (and are) so important to me. This memoir of Southern Living is fun and comforting, including a chapter on her book club! Even though it’s monsoon season there was no rain during the day. I wouldn’t dare turn on the oven to make a baked brie while I worked through my summer reading, but it’s definitely on my fall bucketlist. I also can’t wait to try her summer porch picnic.

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