Monday, October 27, 2014

Four books for fall

I, like so many people, love fall. Maybe because I have a fall birthday, maybe because I grew up in the Midwest (where fall is lovely and perfect). Regardless, it's probably my favorite time of year, and I love many things about it: the weather, the smell in the air, the color of the leaves (when I'm able to see them), pumpkins, apples, cinnamon, spice, back-to-school, football, fires, boots and scarves and sweaters (not so much in South Texas, of course, but I've been known to rock boots, short sleeves, a skirt and a scarf when I can. It's all about adapting fall traditions).

Fall is the beginning of the "cozy" seasons: the days are shorter, the air cooler, and it's perfect for curling up with stories. Here are some good stories for fall:

1. Anne of the Island and Anne of Windy Poplars, by L.M. Montgomery
Basically, I think the Anne of Green Gables books are perfect for any time of year, but these two books in the series are especially well-suited to fall, because they both have a school setting. Anne of the Island being Anne's college years, and Windy Poplars telling the story of her years teaching at a private girls' school while Gilbert finishes medical school.

2. Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Two things make this a perfect fall book in my mind: the Midwest and football. Dairy Queen is the first of a fantastic trilogy about D.J. Schwenk, the daughter of a dairy farmer, the sister of two all-star football players, and a darn good athlete on her own. It's part coming of age story, part romance, part sports story, and 100 percent fantastic.

3. Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater
This is the first book in Stiefvater's Mercy Falls trilogy (well, kind of a quartet now). It's set in the Midwest, and cold weather is practically a character. It's a supernatural teenage romance, which isnj't for everyone, but Stiefvater is a fantastic, lyrical writer. A secondary fall recommendation would be The Scorpio Races, with its haunting tone and vaguely British Isles setting.

4. Chime, by Franny Billingsley
This surreal book has witches, magic, sisters, family, romance, and a moody atmosphere that is also perfect for reading by firelight (or just turn the lights down low if you're climate is too hot for a fire 364 days out of the year). You can check out my expanded thoughts here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Reading...A Northern Light

A Northern LightA Northern Light is the story of a girl who lives in rural New York during the turn of the 20th century, a girl who dreams of leaving her small community to study, write, and explore the world outside of the woods. But Mattie's mother is dead, her older brother left home, and her responsibilities to the rest of her family seem like a life sentence. Mattie is ready to make the best of it -- to give up her dreams in favor of marrying the handsome Royal Loomis and making a life as a farmer's wife. It many would be a good life...but not the life she had planned. Royal doesn't understand that part of Mattie that reads anything she can get her hands on, that writes any chance she gets, that plays vocabulary games and loves learning. 
As Mattie wrestles with the conflict between her dreams, the realities of poor, rural life, and societal expectations, she takes a summer job at a swanky hotel up on the lake to earn money for her family and in expectation of marrying Royal. But during the murder of a young girl shakes up everyone at the hotel, perhaps Mattie most of all. 
I've read one other book by Jennifer Donnelly (Revolution) and I absolutely love how grounded her books are in their time period. Donnelly manages to paint a very rich picture of whatever place and period her characters are in, from the dirty and messy realities of life to the poignancy and beauty found in every day. Her characters are layered and very real. Their hopes and dreams are timeless, but the limitations they face put the story firmly in its unique time period -- from Mattie's best friend Weaver's struggles as a young black man in 1907 to the amount of effort it takes for a poor white woman to dream bigger than her back yard.

I'm not going to lie, there is a lot of sadness and hardship in A Northern Light. But there is also a thread of hope that runs through the story, mirroring the sadness and joy of real life.

Bottom line: if you like grounded, realistic historical fiction you can't go wrong here. And if you're typically not a historical fiction fan, but like books with rich characters, and a story of struggle and hope, give it a try.