Amy Clark

Great Reads for Moms: April ’10 Edition

April was a rich, rich month of reading for me. I think I have read 22 books so far since January and I couldn’t be more proud!  If anyone complains about laundry not being done, floors not being swept, or the house looking like a tornado has been through it I have the perfect excuse. I am forced to remain dedicated to my site and to my readers and leave all of these things to the wayside to provide great reading ideas for you each month. Oh, the sacrifices I make…well, at least that is the case I present to my family! To my credit, is there anything more frugal than reaping the beautiful benefits of the library system?

As the television seasons are winding down, this is the perfect time to pick back up a little reading and start a new “season of shows,” that is ultimately, way more satisfying! Get back into the groove of reading this month and let me help with some new ideas to add to your beach bag this summer!

Here are my top picks for the month of April! Just as an aside, I read many more  books than are just featured here, but try to feature the ones that are my absolute best picks of the month here. If you want to read more, please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! My username is momadvice and I am always happy to connect with people there too! There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile is now over a hundred entries long.

Shelter Me by Juliette Fay

Four months after the tragic death of her husband, Janie is greeted at the door by a contractor who has come to make a porch addition on her home. The twist is that Janie did not request the contractor and had no idea that any renovating would even be happening. This porch was a gift that her husband, Robby, had decided to buy for her as a surprise before he passed away.

Although Janie is in no mood and has no desire for a new porch, the job has already been paid for and the contractor, Tug, insists that it was definitely something her husband would have wanted.

As the construction begins on the house, Janie’s heart and life are under construction as she discovers who she is without her spouse. An unlikely support group forms- the well-intentioned priest who comes even when Janie swears at him and dreads his visits, the busy-body aunt who fills in for her absent mother, her cousin who brings her treats from his bakery with his Barbie-look-alike photographer girlfriend, the bossy neighbor who knows exactly how Janie should handle things, and even the quiet contractor that witnesses the comings and goings of this unlikely cast of characters that help Janie get to a place of healing and acceptance for what has happened.

The novel is moving in a way that I can’t describe. It made me laugh out loud because of Janie’s brutal honesty, it made me cry when Janie faced her times of loneliness and the way that the children react to their father’s absence, and it made me wish to see the character to find happiness again, even if it means she must move on from her husband, the love of her life.

The book immediately sucked me in, but it was a little longer than probably necessary as some of the character development that didn’t necessarily need to be there, had been developed by the author. Other than a little bit of dragging at the end, it was a flawlessly beautiful novel that will make me hug my husband a little tighter and created an awareness of how fragile our relationships can be. I can’t recommend this one enough!

(MomAdvice Rating- 4 Stars)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

This book was one of the most unbelievably beautiful, heart-wrenching, unexpectedly laugh-out-loud funny in portions, make me weep in others, and heartwarming books that I have read in my life. I had never read or heard of the book before, but am trying to tackle some literary classics this year and this book was the most beautiful coming-of-age story that I have ever read. I can’t believe that I am 32 years old and just now reading it and discovering what a beautiful book this is.

The book is about Mary Frances Nolan (also known as Francie) and shares the story of her life from the tender age of eleven until she turns sixteen. Growing up as a poor girl in Brooklyn, it shares the story of the survival that they must go through to keep food on the table and the difficulties of family life when ends just don’t meet. With a mother who is doing the best she can to keep their family afloat and an unreliable, but loving father who works as a singing waiter and takes to drinking at night to cope with the realities of his life, the family lives in a tiny flat in Brooklyn where they try to make the most on the very least.

Francie is forced to be older than she is from the very beginning of her life. Often saddled with the task of bartering at the grocery store, figuring out a way to get into a better school so she can get her education, and made to get jobs to help with the family finances or assist her mother on jobs, you can’t help but admire Francie’s resourcefulness throughout the book.

The Christmas scenes, the things that the children treasured the most,
the tin can filling with pennies of earnings that would later feed them, the diary entries carefully edited because of her mother who didn’t want Francie writing about her father’s alcoholism, the impractical gifts that the children gave to each other (and their mother let them) only to discover their mother was right, those feelings of first love- all beautifully captured in prose that held me and wouldn’t let me go.

While I can’t say that there is a definite plot to the story, the book is told almost in short story format sharing the daily trials and tribulations of growing up in a poor family, it really did not need a focused plot because the writing was so beautiful.

I would say that it mainly focused on the self-discovery that Francie makes about herself and about her parents as she becomes more aware of what is happening around her and as the responsibilities later shift to Francie’s shoulders when she struggles with wanting to be an adult and support the family, but also desires to get an education.

No words can describe what a treasure this book is to read. Despite being written so long ago, the themes are still so current- the need to keep up with one’s reputation, the importance of hard work and honesty in life, the discovery that money isn’t everything, but that it does make it easier when you don’t have to focus on it, and the importance of loyalty to your family.

If you haven’t read this one, add it to your pile today!

(MomAdvice Rating- 5 Stars)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

You know when you read a book and you have a strong desire to tell everyone that they must read it? Well, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is that book for me. The book is an endearing story about Henry Lee, a Chinese American living in Seattle, who has just lost his wife to cancer. After he hears that the belongings of Japanese immigrants were found in the basement of the Panama Hotel, the book begins a journey through his life currently and flashing back to his childhood where an unlikely friendship began with a Japanese girl named Keiko that has carried with him through his adulthood.

Henry Lee’s father desires for him to have the “American dream,” and he receives a scholarship to attend an all-white private school where he can get the education he needs to succeed in America. The other students taunt him mercilessly and his only reprieve from the taunting is when he is serving food in the cafeteria. While serving the food, he finds the only other student of minority, a beautiful girl named Keiko, and they develop a fast friendship. Unfortunately, Henry’s father wants nothing to do with the Japanese and his growing love for Keiko has to be kept a secret.

When Keiko is shuffled over to a camp, to protect the Japanese from the anti-Japanese sentiments during WWII, Henry knows that he must find a way to go to her and to be with her. Through the help of the lady on staff in the cafeteria, he scores a position working on Saturdays where he can see and be with Keiko. Their friendship and love grow through their letters and Saturdays together and Henry is forced to choose between his family or the girl that he loves.

There is so much color in this novel and the twists are beautifully written. I found myself cheering for Henry as he stands up to the bullies in his life and to his parents, and also feeling misty-eyed as this unexpected relationship takes place.

I don’t want to give away anymore of the plot than is necessary because this book is so worth reading and experiencing for yourself. While some may argue that it isn’t always historically accurate or that the switching back and forth between present and past is choppy, the story is so beautiful that it will have you overlooking those technicalities and rooting for Henry & Keiko the whole way through! Lisa See fans will love this one and I can’t wait to read another book by this author!

As an aside, we read this for my book club and when I tweeted that I was hosting a book club for this book, Jamie Ford tweeted back to me to give my book club his best. And that is when I became  just a regular fan to a super fan. How awesome is that? Hurray for tweeting authors that seek feedback and share through Twitter.

(MomAdvice Rating- 5 Stars)

The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell

You know when a book sweeps you in and envelopes your day and won’t let you go until it is over? This book did that for me and I could not be more impressed with the author’s beautiful prose, the pacing of the book, or what a gift Maggie O’Farrell has for character development and the art of intertwining two beautiful stories into one.

The book opens with the stunning Lexie Sinclair, a rebellious young woman, and a chance meeting for her and a very sophisticated man named Innes Kent. It is in the post-WWII era, a time when such spirited youthfulness is frowned upon, but Lexie is ready to start a new life in London and she begins her new life with Innes. What begins between them starts a very unlikely love story that is vividly captured with O’Farrell’s words. Innes quickly takes her under his wing and not only loves her, but guides her into a journalism career that Lexie had never thought to explore.

In the next chapter, you are introduced to Elina and her boyfriend Ted and it is fifty years later. They have just brought home their baby boy, never realizing how different both of their lives will be. Elina, who suffered from a difficult delivery, is learning what a challenging role motherhood can be, while Ted grows more and more distant from Elina and the baby. Ted is suddenly having snippets of memories that he can’t recall and the baby forces to light a shadowed past that he did not know he possessed.

It is a book that builds and builds upon these stories and the chapters suddenly twist together and you find out how these stories are interwoven. It took me by surprise how they would weave together and throughout most of the book, you are trying to discover just what it is that brings these two stories together. I hate to say more than that, for fear of giving away the experience of discovery for yourself!

The book’s prose is so visual and almost cinematic in the way the story is told. In some scenes, it feels as though you are reading a script as the characters, setting, and mood are described in vivid detail. It is because of the writing style that I look forward to reading more of O’Farrell’s. This book was a fantastic and fast-paced read- add it to your reading list today!

(MomAdvice Rating- 4 Stars)


Men and Dogs by Katie Crouch

Katie Crouch’s, “Men and Dogs,” is the first book that I have read by this author. The story centers around Hannah, who is in her thirties, struggling with a drinking problem, an unfaithful spouse (although she is unfaithful herself), and a marriage that is teetering on the edge of divorce. To resolve things once and for all, Hannah attempts to break into her own house, to confront her husband about his cheating ways, and falls three stories and suffers a head injury. Hannah ends up in the hospital and is forced into a journey home to her parents so they can help Hannah get back on track.

Hannah knows that the reason she is living like this is because of the mysterious disappearance of her father. At the tender age of eleven, Hannah’s father goes on a fishing trip and never returns again. In her heart, she truly believes that her father is not dead, but simply missing. She is set on discovering what really happened to her father on the night of his boating accident and to know once and for all if her husband is dead or alive.

Her gay brother Palmer, on the other hand, has his own demons to deal with and has always secretly believed that he is the cause of their father’s disappearance. He is finally in a great relationship, in a fantastic house that they have created together, and his career is going great. When his partner decides that he wants them to have a baby, Palmer knows that he can’t commit, mainly because of the deep-rooted feelings that he has surrounding their father’s disappearance.

While the book was fast paced, the story never really went anywhere for me. I could not relate to Hannah’s selfishness, even with the disappearance of her father, and how the other family members accommodated her behavior.

It was just an okay read for me and the story of her dad did not take a satisfying turn or add the resolution to the story that I hoped.

Editor’s Note-  There is graphic language and sexuality in this book.

(MomAdvice Rating- 3 Stars)

Not enough great reads for you? Check out our Books section of our site for monthly recommendations and ideas for making reading a priority again in your busy mom life!

Disclosure: All of the links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate the books quickly and easily. Feel free to order a book, but we encourage utilizing the library system and buying me a latte instead.  Then we both would be really happy and we could have our own little book club together! Wouldn’t that just be so much more lovely? Happy Reading!

What has been in your book stack this month? Feel free to share your book recommendations or feedback on any of the books that have been mentioned above! I love getting new suggestions for my book pile!

Published May 11, 2010 by:

Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark is the founder of MomAdvice.com. You can read all about her here.

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