Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park

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Daughters of a Nation, by Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart, Piper Huguley, and Kianna Alexander

daughters-of-a-nationA feast for the mind as well as the heart, each of the four stories in this romance anthology are set in the turbulent decades surrounding the dawn of the 20th century in the United States; a time when legal slavery had recently been abolished but women and blacks had yet to obtain the right to vote. The stories feature four spirited African American females who are determined to make positive changes through political activism. Readers will find a mix of timely themes including racism, women’s rights, and immigration, each with a light dusting of romance which does nothing to distract from the subject matter.

All four of these stories are fantastic, but I want to highlight my two favorites. “In the Morning Sun” by Lena Hart is about Civil War widow Madeline Asher who moves to Nebraska to teach reading and writing to African Americans as well as inspire them to fight for suffrage. Meanwhile, she must fight against the passion she feels for a white Union veteran with whom there’s no future, due to the strict ban on interracial marriage. “Let Us Dream” by Alyssa Cole is set in 1917 Harlem. With women’s suffrage on the ballot, cabaret owner and natural born entertainer Bertha Hines is determined to convince her patrons to vote in her favor. She finds an unlikely ally in a disenfranchised Muslim immigrant, and their uneasy friendship soon blossoms into something much more.

Stimulating on multiple levels, this is a great read for anyone who values love and freedom.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Daughters of a Nation.

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Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner

good bed weinerWhat do you do when your recent ex calls you out in a newspaper column with his insights on “loving a larger woman”? Candance “Cannie” Shapiro is faced with this in the middle of other life events, and we get to watch her navigate her way through love, friendship, career woes, and body image and daddy issues—all while the bright light of low-level notoriety shines upon her.

Cannie Shapiro has recently broke up with Bruce when he publishes his column about their relationship. Everyone in her circle knows whom he is referring to, and she is embarrassed and hurt. When she confronts him about it, it goes about as well as you can imagine. Soon after an ill-considered liaison at Bruce’s father’s funeral, Cannie decides to take charge of her life. She joins a weight-loss program, decides to get a screenplay published, and pushes through her life’s difficulties.

This is a good attitude, because the hits keep coming. She isn’t able to join the weight loss group (for reasons that I won’t spoil), but gets out to LA to discuss a treatment of her screenplay. She lives the good life in LA for a while, but there still is a tether to her previous relationship with Bruce that keeps pulling her in different directions. A tragedy leads to a revelation near the end of the book, and… You know, while writing this I keep needing to censor myself so as to not give spoilers, so. There are twists and turns, happy and sad, and it’s all wonderful so read it.

This book is about navigating life, with all its joys and tribulations. Things don’t always go the way Cannie imagines they will, but her stick-to-it-ness and chutzpah fuels her transformation and allows her to re-focus on herself and worry less about the noise around her. It’s well-plotted, and the engaging main character and her all-too-real tribulations make this an uplifting read.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Good in Bed.

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Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty

big little lies moriartyThis book comes with trigger warnings for sexual violence and domestic violence.

Jane, Madeline, and Celeste are all mothers of children at Pirriwee Public School. Single, divorced, and unhappily married respectively, each woman finds an easy friendship with one another despite the vast differences in their lifestyles. Over the course of the school year the three get to know one another whilst combating school yard drama, helicopter parents, holier-than-thou ex husbands, and painful secrets of both the past, and the present, all of which culminate in a tragedy at the school’s Trivia Night fundraiser.

Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of Jane, Madeline or Celeste, and the perspective switches rapidly. This not only keeps the story interesting, but it also allows the reader to experience the same events through different characters. I found that it enabled me to better understand the story. Each character has a unique sense of humor, meaning that each chapter is hilarious in a different way. Despite the sometimes tragic subject matter, Moriarty manages to keep an overall hopeful, light-hearted tone, but she is never glib. The book is a balance of tragedy and comedy, petty squabbles, and serious issues, and ultimately a highly enjoyable read.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Big Little Lies.

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Landline by Rainbow Rowell

landline rowellGeorgie McCool writes for a terrible but widely successful TV show with Seth, her best friend and writing partner since college. Together over the length of their careers they have been working on the perfect sitcom. After a decade of dreaming, they finally get an opportunity to pitch their show to a producer. Georgie and Seth are psyched, and there are only like 500 reasons why this is the worst time ever for this awesome break. Georgie has plane tickets for a long-awaited excursion with her husband, Neal, and their two daughters. Neal and Georgie’s marriage has been screaming for help for years, and when Georgie breaks the news that she has to stay in California for the holiday to write several episodes of a show that only has a slim possibility of being produced, Neal decides to take their girls anyway, leaving Georgie devastated. Does this act signify the end of their marriage?

While staying with her eccentric mother and sister, Georgie finds her rotary phone in her old bedroom. Unable to reach Neal on his cell phone, she desperately tries the landline where Georgie used to call him on holiday breaks in college. Neal answers, but it’s not present day Neal—it’s Neal from 1998! This is the Neal who broke up with Georgie only to propose ten days later on Christmas Day. Is this phone magic? Will Georgie get another chance with her soul mate? Is Georgie insane? Yes.

What follows is a devilishly cute story of true love, long distance, and magic. Every character is unique and endearing (just like all of Rowell’s characters). I never wanted this story to be over and you won’t either. Georgie McCool more than lives up to her name.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Landline.


The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

house of mirthIf you’re a Jane Austen fan but haven’t read anything by Edith Wharton, then you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of The House of Mirth. Although Austen and Wharton lived nearly a century apart, Wharton’s The House of Mirth touches on many of the same themes as Austen’s work, exchanging English high society for American. Just one caveat: Wharton’s stories tend to be much more tragic than Austen’s.

Lily Bart, a 29-year-old beauty born into high society in New York City, has fallen on hard times since the dissolution of her father’s business and the subsequent deaths of both her parents. She now lives off the good graces of her pitiless aunt. As Lily struggles to maintain social standing, she must bury her feelings for the handsome Lawrence Selden, because his status wouldn’t elevate Lily high enough to recover what she has lost since her parents’ deaths.

My coworker describes Wharton as the Anti-Austen, because their stories have very different outcomes even though their writing styles and subjects are similar. Writing around the time of the publication of Darwin’s famous theory of evolution, Wharton was possessed with the idea of “social determinism,” meaning that people who are born into a social circle are unable to function outside it. So much for the American Dream, huh? Regardless of how you feel about that, Wharton’s ingenious writing is food for thought and still relevant 100 years later.

As a work in the United States public domain, The House of Mirth is available as a free ebook download from Project Gutenberg.

The library also has physical copies available. Check the PPLC Catalog for The House of Mirth.

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Dietland, by Sarai Walker

dietlandFor any woman who has despaired because she doesn’t fit the definition of “standard beauty,” Dietland is a must-read.

Plum Kettle is a 300-pound woman in her late 20s who dreams of a life in which she is thin and confident. Swearing off parties, clubs, bars, beaches, amusement parks, and airplanes because she’s embarrassed by her weight, Plum rarely leaves her apartment except to go to a local coffee shop where she answers emails to the editor of a teen magazine for a living. The salary isn’t much, but the health insurance will help her reach her true goal: weight-loss surgery. Plum fully expects to live the life she’s been waiting for after the surgery. At the very least she’ll finally be able to wear all the “thin clothes” she has bought online. But Plum’s plans are derailed when she confronts the strange girl who has been following her.

At its heart, Dietland has a straight-forward message about the evils of female body objectification in popular media. Don’t expect a sweet, demur story here; this book has a bone to pick, and the plot will surprise you.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Dietland.

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A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff

vintage affair usLight on romance and heavy on vintage fashion, this engaging novel was just the thing I needed to lift me out of the vapid chick lit rut I’ve been in lately. The dense plot has a lot of story threads, but they all tie up well enough in the end that I felt like I got a few good stories for the price of one.

Pheobe Swift takes a financial gamble when she opens her own vintage clothing store. She loves how the clothes seem to get a second chance at life when they get new owners. She also can’t help but wonder about the clothing’s makers and previous owners. As business begins to trickle in, Pheobe’s social circle grows in inexplicable—and fateful—ways. These new friends and lovers will help her find solace in the tragedy that haunts her.

My favorite thing about this book is the descriptions of the vintage clothing. I don’t have any interest in fashion, but the garments are described so well that I could see them clearly in my mind. The main character, Pheobe, is smart and sophisticated but doesn’t flaunt it; she’s one of the few book characters that I wish were real so that we could be friends. I recommend this book to fashionistas, of course, but also to anyone looking for a women-centric novel with some substance.

Check the PPLC Catalog for A Vintage Affair.