Amy Clark

Great Reads for Moms: April ’11 Edition

April brought in another round of fabulous reading and I got to tackle some great books by some new-to-me authors as well as a book that I have had in my book stack for years waiting for just the right moment to read it. I have added a little blurb at the end of each book review that will let you know if there are books similar to it that I have enjoyed. I love to find a new book to read, but I really love it when I find something and then someone lets me know something that I might like that has the same feel to it. Each link should take you to the review for the similar books, to help when making your book selections.  I hope it helps you when creating your library lists!

I am not the only Clark doing some reading this year. If you are looking for some fun reading material for your husband, my hubby has been happily plugging away at the new, “River Monsters: True Stories of the Ones That Didn’t Get Away,” by Jeremy Wade and he absolutely loved, “The Disappearing Spoon,” by Sam Klean. Each time I go to the library, I try to pick up a reading gem for my husband and those have been two of his favorites.

If you are looking for a little inspiration this new year, be sure to check our MomAdvice fan page for a weekly check-in on what everyone is reading each week on our Facebook Fan Page. I hope you will swing by on Fridays and share about the books you are working on or request recommendations with one another. So far it is a huge success and I have gotten a few new ideas for my own stack!

Just as a reminder, 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 continues to grow with all of my new friends on there! In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

Happy reading, everyone!

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

In anticipation of the movie release, I decided to finally dig into Water for Elephants this month.  I actually have no idea why I waited this long to read it, but I think I really just wanted to savor this book and read it right before the movie was released so I would be able to remember all of the characters.  This book did not disappoint and was one of the best books that I have read this year!

The book opens with Jacob Janowski who is ninety (or ninety-three, a fact he can’t remember) and now living in a nursing home.  His days are now spent being shuffled from his room to the dining area, suffering from the everyday minutiae of life in a nursing home. Of course, his life wasn’t always like this, in fact, Jacob’s life was spent with a traveling circus after the untimely death of his parents. Circus life was a hard life for Jacob and one that he jumped to unknowingly when he boarded a train to escape after his parent’s death.

Gruen’s writing is as vivid as a movie screen as the reader is swept away into the hard and difficult life of being a part of the traveling circus during the Great Depression. When Jacob is appointed to veterinarian, he has a difficult role under August, a paranoid schizophrenic, who acts as the animal trainer of the circus. The reader is swept into the sad life of the animals and the repeated abuse that August inflicts on the animals.

The only sparkle of light in Jacob’s life is Marlena, a beautiful performer in the circus, who Jacob cannot stop thinking about. Sadly, it is August’s wife that he has fallen in love with, and the reader will sit on the edge of their seat as Jacob risks it all to free Marlena from the abusive life that she has been leading with August.

More than a love story, it is an unbelievably well-researched look into the life of the circus at this time, and a love story of how Jacob & Marlena fall in love with an elephant named Rosie who makes a reader’s heart melt in her beauty. Equally impressive is how Gruen is able to capture the life of the elderly as Jacob reminisces and longs for his youth. The ending is perhaps a little too neatly woven, but is a satisfying conclusion to it all as a reader!

Vivid, descriptive, cinematic, raw, chilling… I felt as though I was on a roller coaster just reading this one! Definitely give this one a read before hitting the movie theater! Let’s hope the movie is half as good as this book!

(MomAdvice Rating- 5 Stars out of 5 Stars)

If you liked this book you might like: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Let the Great World Spin, or Those Who Save Us.

Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen

High-school sweethearts Julie & Michael have left behind their small town and are in pursuit of living a life better than their modest upbringings and achieving the American dream. When Michael decides to start a sports drink company, neither of them could ever expect how quickly his business would takeoff or what it would be like to be millionaires. As money is introduced into their life, their marriage begins to crumble as Michael is increasingly unavailable due to the success of his company and the separation that exists as a couple begins to grow apart.

The book opens as Michael has a near-death experience and Julie, a successful party planner, is called to the hospital to be with her husband.  Michael begins acting strangely and tells Julia that he has made the decision to give all of his money and company away.  Julie is stunned, as she has begun the process of filing for a divorce from her husband, and will lose half of the estate and money if he gives everything away. Michael pleads for Julie to give him just one chance.

This book then delves into the complex relationship that they share and how their marriage began to fail as they began to rediscover one another again once their fortune is taken out of the equation.

I went into it expecting a simple piece of chick lit, and it developed into one beautiful story! Perhaps it is not life-altering, but sometimes a girl just needs a good love story that renews her feelings about love and what is important in life.  It offered everything I love in a book:  great characters, a beautiful love story, a fabulous friendship between two women, and great humor interjected throughout the story. It really was so much more than I could have hoped for!

(MomAdvice Rating- 5 Stars out of 5 Stars)

If you liked this book you might like: Something Borrowed, Time of My Life, or Last Night at Chateau Marmont.

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew

How lucky am I that I have a friend that works at Barnes & Noble who can help recommend books to me? My girlfriend, Tara, recommended this book to me because she knew that it would be a book right up my alley and she is so great to let me know when she reads something I would love.

On a hot day in August in 1954, Jubie leaves her town of Charlotte, North Carolina to head to Florida on a vacation with her mother, three siblings, and their African American maid named Mary.  For all of Jubie’s life, Mary has been essential to their family and their household. Mary has been there when her alcoholic father and neglectful mother have not been and Jubie knows that Mary will always be around to love and care for her.

As the family heads further south on their trip to Florida, they see many signs of intolerance and signs of anti-integration along the way. Jubie’s  mother finds it difficult to even find a place for Mary to go to the restroom, or eat, or sleep for the night, while Jubie wonders if Mary is sensing the hatred and shift towards intolerance as all signs begin to point towards racism. In a twist that no one could have anticipated a tragic string of events turn their lives upside down and Jubie is forced to fully realize the shortcomings of her parents, their marriage, and the essential role that Mary played in her life.

This is a surprisingly moving and beautifully narrated story as a debut novel from by Mayhew, but was is even more surprising is that this first novel came at the age of seventy-one. I can only hope that there will be many more novels in the future from her as this book is a truly amazing first piece of work that, Mayhew says,  was eighteen years in the making.

(MomAdvice Rating- 4 Stars out of 5 Stars)

If you liked this book you might like: The Help, The Kitchen House,  & Mudbound (see review below)

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Mudbound is storytelling at its very best and offers a beautifully rendered portrayal of race and politics in the South during the forties. This book is told from alternating points of view and shares the story of a Memphis-bred Laura McAllan who is struggling to adjust to being a farmer’s wife and living the idyllic dream that her husband Henry has for them to live off their own land. When Henry makes an error by trusting a handshake rather than a contract on the home they are renting, they find themselves living in less than ideal conditions in a shack that Henry had hoped to turn into his dream house. Laura not only must deal with the difficulties of living in this shack, but she has to do it with her racist father-in-law constantly judging and spewing hate at her.

As Laura struggles with this, the real story unfolds when Henry’s brother Jamie returns home from the war. Always the favored one, Jamie comes home as a raging alcoholic, struggling with nightmares and post-traumatic stress from the war he left. Ronsel, a son of the sharecroppers who have been hired to work on Henry & Laura’s land, also struggles with leaving the war after being a hero in fighting for his country, he is now seen as just a black boy and treated with only racism and hatred.

When a horrible crime is comitted,  the four lives of these main characters are woven into one and the reader is taken along on the journey every harrowing step of the way. Twist after twist creates a plot that illustrates racism in a very unique way.

This book is a fast-paced read, that will shock and grip you until the final pages. Not for the faint of heart- a great debut novel from Hillary Jordan worthy of the 2006 Bellwether Prize that she won for this. I look forward to reading more from this author!

(MomAdvice Rating- 4 Stars out of 5 Stars)

If you liked this book you might like: The HelpThe Kitchen House, & The Dry Grass of August (see review above).

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

If you have a sister, are a book lover, or have a love for Shakespeare, you will find, “The Weird Sisters,” is a fun and enjoyable read. Sisters Rose (Rosalind; As You Like It), Bean (Bianca; The Taming of the Shrew), and Cordy (Cordelia; King Lear) are the product of a Shakespearean professor who speaks primarily in…you guessed it, Shakespearean verse.

Rose has been caring for their mother as she undergoes treatment for cancer and often plays the martyr since she has been burdened with the responsibility of her care. Under the guise of aiding their mother, both Cordy & Bean make their way home at the same time burdened with their own secrets, and the sisters find themselves together once again. As the children all return home, the sisters find they each are slipping into their old childhood antics and roles, while each trying to figure who they are as adults. Dealing with issues of pregnancy, embezzlement, cancer, and finding love, the book takes you on a journey as each sister strives  to solve their own dilemma, ultimately, finding that they really aren’t so different from one another.

While certainly quirky and charming, the book fell a little short for me because the sisters do seem to behave rather selfishly while their mother is ill. The Shakespearean quotes also worked at times, while others it seemed forced rather than a natural entry into the plot. Regardless, it was a quick and enjoyable reading about returning home and the bonds of sisterhood.

(MomAdvice Rating- 3 Stars out of 5 Stars)

If you liked this book you might like: The Good Daughters, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, & The Wednesday Sisters.

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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 April 26, 2011 by:

Amy Clark

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

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