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The Book Beat - January 31, 2021

My new girl-reading-book figurine. I love it!

Happy Sunday, book friends! It's the start of week 46-ish of the Covid pandemic. How are we feeling? I know, I know. Enough already, right? I truly do see a glimmer of light at the end of the long tunnel, so I'm trying to stay positive. Plus, it's going to snow here in southeast PA and, well, I guess I'm OK with that, too, since I don't have to drive in it, my kids don't have to go on the bus in it, and a snow day just becomes another Zoom day, right? Plus, what better snow-day activity is there than reading by the fire with a mug of hot cocoa or a cup of tea?

And, wow, do we book nerds have a bunch of books to choose from! Many books are hitting shelves this year; TBR piles are still toppling over from the stellar literary offerings from last year; TV/movie book adaptations continue to explode on the screen; Dolly, Reese, Jenna, Oprah, and more of our Patron Saints of Books continue to recommend favorites; independent bookstores are doing really well during these tough times; and, in general, books are rivaling streaming as the pop-culture art of the moment...and I couldn't be happier.

So, I'm going to let the books do the talking, instead of me. Enjoy this week's book news and stories and, as always, keep reading.

New Picture Books: Knowledge, Depth & Art

I adore A Snowy Day, Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Construction Site, and all the other picture books that entertained and educated my kids and I when we were early readers. Gorgeous art, absorbing writing, and important lessons skillfully placed among the vibrant illustrations and kid-friendly words. Two new picture books take this format to dazzling new heights. And as a booklover and art fan, I had to have them. Adding a new genre to my book-buying obsession? Always.

I've written before about my enjoyment of Zora Neale Hurston's writings, so I "jumped" at the chance to check out Jump at the Sun, a new picture book that shares her life story with evocative prose and beautiful illustrations. Although Zora's career ended with her destitute and being buried in an unmarked grave, her childhood and experience as part of the Harlem Renaissance is fascinating and lends itself well to a children's book that focuses on the themes of the power of story, creativity, and following your dreams.

The second book, Nicky & Vera, attracted my attention due to the recent report about how 66% of millennials don't know the truth of the Holocaust (link to study below). Wow. When I read that this book was based on the true-life story of a young man named Nicholas Winton who helped 669 refugees (mostly kids) living in Prague (including a young Jewish girl named Vera Gissling) escape capture by the Nazis, I knew I had to read it. You might've seen the viral British talkshow clip where, unbeknownst to Nicholas, many of the children he had helped rescue were sitting in the audience (link below). The writing and illustrations (which are stunning) for this book are done by a Czech man himself, Peter Sis. This book is a subtle yet informative way to introduce this difficult subject into conversations with young children and then build on details as they get older.

If you have young kids and even if you don't or your kids are older, both of these books would make great additions to any library. With phenomenal art, amazing writing, and storylines that gently educate about weighty subjects, these picture books are in a class by themselves.

Pandemic Perk-Up: Romance Books to

Warm the Heart

I've talked about some of my favorite romance books before, but I'm going to share a few more because, one, I've read an LOT of them, and, two, you can never get enough romance, amirite? If you're looking for a way to relax, forget your stresses during Covid seclusion, or just looking for some V-Day inspiration, I humbly offer...

The Bridgerton Novels: The Viscount Who Loved Me and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton

These are my favorites of the eight-book set. Anthony's story takes place in The Viscount Who Loved Me and it's wonderful. My fave scene (that I can't wait to see translated onto the small screen since NETFLIX HAS FINALLY GREENLIT SEASON 2!)? The Bridgerton clan engages in a very serious (and hilarious) game of pall-mall with a certain, Kate Sheffield, whose love-hate relationship with the viscount-who-says-he-won't-fall-in-love-but-will-of-course-fall-in-love is sharp and sexy. And since I can't resist casting future Bridgerton seasons in my head, I humbly suggest actress Daisy Edgar-Jones for Kate. British, brunette, and--as evidenced in Hulu's Normal People--she can efficiently and confidently take a man down with a cutting remark. She'd be perfect.

Romancing Mr. Bridgerton features my best girl, ginger wallflower Penelope Featherington, finally finding her happily-ever-after with a certain Mr. Bridgerton. Satisfy your hankering for an unrequited-becoming-requited romance by checking out the book, since the streaming version of this probably won't be broadcast until 2024?! Since it took 20 years for the books to be adapted on TV, I guess I can wait a few more years. And, yes, I'm betting we'll have a season four because, if you didn't hear the news, Bridgerton is the Netflix's biggest debut EVER.

I'm a huge fan of Victoria Dahl's early romances, specifically the Tumble Creek and Donovan Brothers Brewery series. Super-steamy, witty, and fun, they're definitely a great way to warm up a on cold winter's day. My faves? Start Me Up and Real Men Will.

All of Jennifer Crusie's early standalone romances are a delight, especially Welcome to Temptation and Bet Me.

Historical romances as good as Bridgerton? You can't go wrong with Sarah MacLean, Tessa Dare, Sabrina Jefferies, or, the queen, Lisa Kleypas.

And, finally, newer romance-chick-lit-women's-fiction hybrids I loved? Evvie Drake Starts Over, One to Watch, The Royal We, Get a Life Chloe Brown, and The Roomate.

Literary Stamps: USPS, Take My Money!

When I first started this blog, I shared my investment in A Snowy Day stamps. Well, the USPS knows a good thing when it has one, because they've expanded their literary collection to include Walt Whitman, Henry James, the writers of the Harlem Renaissance (including Nella Larsen, one of the authors I wrote about last week), and--coming later this year--sci-fi phenom, Ursula K. Le Guin.

I was first introduced to Le Guin during my 2020 A Short Story a Day Challenge. Her story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" (link to my Instagram review is below) is amazing. Of all the stories I read last year, it's one of the top five that stayed with me and one I think about often. Le Guin was one of those sci-fi writers who used their talent to tell stories of profound themes and concepts--stories you won't forget. I have many of her books on my never-ending TBR pile, but I hope to get to them sooner-rather-than-later. Also, PBS featured her in a wonderful episode of American Masters and if you've never seen her 2014 National Book Award speech in all its rousing, give-it-to-the-man glory (the "men," in this case, being her own publisher, Amazon, and any publisher that uses authors like "commodity profiteers"), click on the link below and watch. It made waves in 2014 when she gave it and is still resonant all these years later. Le Guin passed away in 2018.

Preach, Nora

This past week, THE romance writer of all romance writers, Dame Nora Roberts clapped back at some of her readers after a brouhaha erupted on her Facebook page when it was announced that Alyssa Milano, a vocal Democrat and activist for the #metoo movement in addition to other social-justice issues, was cast as the lead for the Netflix adaptation of Nora's book, Brazen Virtue. I could write my thoughts, but I think Nora did an amazing job responding to the vitriol (Nora's post is below, as well as an article about the uproar and another fun article about Nora). I will say one thing: When are the In Death novels going to hit the small screen? Eve Dallas and Roarke in full, living color?! Be still my Nora-loving heart.

What I Read This Week...

Outlawed by Anna North (3/5)

In an "alt-history" of the late 19th century (90% of the world's population has been killed by a flu), a barren woman named Ada is facing being hanged as a witch in her small town because her inability to have children is, one, viewed as unacceptable, and two, seen as the catalyst for all the ills that befall all women in the town. Rather than face death, she escapes and joins up with an outlaw group called the Hole in the Wall Gang, which is home to women who are all barren, including their leader, The Kid. This "feminist Western" hits on intriguing themes affecting women, yet I found my attention waning near the end. I can't pinpoint why other than while I was drawn to Ada, I didn't get the same strength of connection to the other women in the gang. It's still a worthy book to read, if only to appreciate the twist on the traditional narrative of a group of male outlaws and its discussion of issues affecting women. If you need more info, another review is below.

Passing by Nella Larsen (5/5)

This short 1929 novel is told from the point of view of Irene, a light-skinned Black woman who meets up with her childhood friend, Clare, who "passes" as a white woman and is married to a racist white man who has no clue his wife is part Black. Clare, missing the friendship of her Black friends from childhood, starts attending dances and teas in Harlem with resident Irene and her family. A riveting exploration of the concept of "passing" and Irene's obsession with Clare, this book is terrific. A movie based on it just premiered at Sundance and is getting good reviews. If you're interested in reading more fiction about "passing" and its social implications/discussions, read The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett or "The Office of Historical Corrections" novella by Danielle Evans.

Working My Way Through...

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi - I just started this National Book Award winner, but so far, so good.

Credo by William Sloane Coffin, The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Accidental Saints--Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber and Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

I'll be frank, seeing signs that said "Jesus Saves" at the recent Capitol riot shook my spirituality and sense of faith in ways that have been trembling for a while, but have now become a full-on earthquake. So, as usual, I sought guidance in books. These four are the ones I'm slowly working my way through or have on tap to start when time permits. With these, I can't just sit and read them straight through. I have to take my time, taking notes and doing additional research on the ideas and commentary contained within. It's like I'm back in school again! Yet, as I've said before, to me LIFE is school and I always need to keep learning, growing my knowledge, and opening my heart and mind to the change that is necessary for progress. If any of you have read any of these and want to "chat" them, let me know! All in all, I'm loving what I'm reading so far.

Cover of the Week:

The Dating Plan by Sara Desai

When it comes to romance books or shows or movies, there's one trope I love above all others: the fake dating/marriage trope. The heated looks. The hate-you-but-really-love you energy. The "Oh, I guess we have to kiss to fool them" moment. Is there anything more delicious? I don't think so! This book takes that trope and injects it with a multicultural twist and some steamy romantic comedy. It is next on my TBR pile and I can't wait.

Romance/chick-lit/women's fiction has really upped its game in recent years with fun, fresh, vibrant covers. Artist Marina Muun does a lovely job with this one. The realistic depiction of the characters (remember when romances had all white and blonde-haired cover models no matter what the characters inside were?), a gorgeous purple/pink/green color way, florals in honest of Daisy, the heroine; and a rendition of the Golden Gate Bridge to place the setting? It's an eye-catching delight that lets you know you're in for some fun.

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