Tag Archives | Worth Reading

Review: Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

Today’s review by our own Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen


When Maxon met Sunny, he was seven years, four months, and eighteen-days old. Or, he was 2693 rotations of the earth old. Maxon was different. Sunny was different. They were different together.

Now, twenty years later, they are married, and Sunny wants, more than anything, to be “normal. ” She’s got the housewife thing down perfectly, but Maxon, a genius engineer, is on a NASA mission to the moon,  programming robots for a new colony.  Once they were  two outcasts who found unlikely love in each other: a wondrous, strange relationship formed from urgent desire for connection. But now they’re parents to an autistic son. And Sunny is pregnant again. And her mother is dying in the hospital.  Their marriage is  on the brink of imploding, and they’re at each other’s throats with blame and fear. What exactly has gone wrong?

Sunny wishes Maxon would turn the rocket around and come straight-the-hell home.

When  an accident in space puts the mission in peril, everything Sunny and Maxon have built hangs in the balance. Dark secrets, long-forgotten murders, and a blond wig all come tumbling to the light. And nothing will ever be the same.…

A debut of singular power and intelligence,  Shine Shine Shine  is a unique  love story, an adventure between worlds, and a stunning novel of love, death, and what it means to be human.

Marybeth’s review:

Shine, Shine, Shine is a quirky book. I’m not going to lie. The main character is bald. Her son is autistic. Her husband has Asperger’s, builds robots and is in space throughout the novel. I took one look at the premise and thought “That is SO not for me.” I don’t do quirky. I mean, I am normal so I prefer to read about normal people.

But am I really normal? Are any of us, really?

That’s kind of what this book is about– how even the quirkiest of us deal with normal human emotions and the most normal of us deal with some pretty freaky emotions and somehow– in this giant soup kettle of people and problems– we are all pretty similar. I read the first scene where Sunny, the main character who is wearing a wig and pretending to be just as normal as her two best friends, is in her kitchen going through her life. She’s fought hard for normalcy, even at the expense of her relationships with others. She’s worked hard to put the past behind her, to fit. And I realized that Sunny, though bald and married to an astronaut, is not that different from me, who has hair and is married to a salesman whose feet are firmly planted on the ground. I realized perhaps I could learn something from her.

If you like quirky– or even if you don’t– I would highly recommend reading this novel so that you too can meet Sunny and her family and neighbors and can read the rich writing that Lydia Netzer brings to this tale. I can guarantee you it won’t be like any other book you’ve ever read. But sometimes it’s good to depart from the normal.

Here’s what a few others are saying about this wholly original novel:

“Netzer’s debut is a delightfully unique love story and a resounding paean to individuality.”  

– People Magazine (People Pick)

“Over the moon with a metaphysical spin. Heart-tugging…Nicely unpredictable…Extraordinary.”  

– Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Lydia Netzer’s luminous debut novel concerns what lies beneath society’s pretty surfaces.”  

— The Boston Globe

Side note: we’ll be profiling Lydia Netzer in the near future and learning more about this remarkable book so stay tuned! It’s a post you don’t want to miss.

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Summer Reading Roundup – If You Loved THE HELP

Today’s post by She Reads co-founder, Marbeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

The Help is a novel that captured the hearts and imaginations of a nation, the likes of which doesn’t come along often. When the movie came out on video, my husband and I sat our entire family down in front of it and insisted we watch it together. Because we live in the south and we don’t want to raise children who don’t know from whence we came. But The Help isn’t your only option for reading well-written novels that deal with the subjects of racial equality, social justice, and where human emotions fit into it all. Below are some novels you might want to put on your reading radar this summer:

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew. (This one got on my radar because the author’s last name is my maiden name AND we hail from the same city. But we’re no relation, at least not that I know of.) I’ve heard good things about this one.

On a scorching day in August 1954, thirteen-year-old Jubie Watts leaves Charlotte, North Carolina, with her family for a Florida vacation. Crammed into the Packard along with Jubie are her three siblings, her mother, and the family’s black maid, Mary Luther. For as long as Jubie can remember, Mary has been there – cooking, cleaning, compensating for her father’s rages and her mother’s benign neglect, and loving Jubie unconditionally. Bright and curious, Jubie takes note of the anti-integration signs they pass, and of the racial tension that builds as they journey further south. But she could never have predicted the shocking turn their trip will take. Now, in the wake of tragedy, Jubie must confront her parents’ failings and limitations, decide where her own convictions lie, and make the tumultuous leap to independence…Infused with the intensity of a changing time, here is a story of hope, heartbreak, and the love and courage that can transform us – from child to adult, from wounded to indomitable.

Catfish Alley by Lynne Bryant. A bookseller I respect told me that if this one had come out before The Help, this was the book we’d have all been talking about. I’ll be reading this one soon.

A moving debut novel about female friendship, endurance, and hope in the South.

Roxanne Reeves defines her life by the committees she heads and the social status she cultivates. But she is keeping secrets that make her an outsider in her own town, always in search of acceptance. And when she is given a job none of the other white women want-researching the town’s African-American history for a tour of local sites-she feels she can’t say no.

Elderly Grace Clark, a retired black schoolteacher, reluctantly agrees to become Roxanne’s guide. Grace takes Roxanne to Catfish Alley, whose undistinguished structures are nonetheless sacred places to the black community because of what happened there. As Roxanne listens to Grace’s stories, and meets her friends, she begins to see differently. She is transported back to the past, especially to 1931, when a racist’s hatred for Grace’s brother leads to events that continue to change lives decades later. And as Roxanne gains an appreciation of the dreams, courage, and endurance of those she had so easily dismissed, her own life opens up in new and unexpected ways.

Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman. An author told me that Beth Hoffman is truly one of the nicest people you’d ever meet. That right there made me buy her book. I’m not kidding. That and I’ve heard that it’s wonderful.

Twelve-year-old CeeCee is in trouble. For years she’s been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille— the crown-wearing, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town. Though it’s 1967 and they live in Ohio, Camille believes it’s 1951 and she’s just been crowned the Vidalia Onion Queen of Georgia.

The day CeeCee discovers Camille in the front yard wearing a tattered prom dress and tiara as she blows kisses to passing motorists, she knows her mother has completely flipped. When tragedy strikes, Tootie Caldwell, a previously unknown great-aunt comes to CeeCee’s rescue and whisks her away to Savannah. Within hours of her arrival, CeeCee is catapulted into a perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricities—a world that appears to be run entirely by women.

While Tootie is busy saving Savannah’s endangered historic homes from the wrecking ball, CeeCee encounters a cast of unforgettable, eccentric characters. From the mysterious Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in an outdoor tub under the watchful eyes of a voyeuristic peacock, to Oletta Jones, the all-knowing household cook, to Violene Hobbs, the loud-mouthed widow who entertains a local police officer in her yellow see-through peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.

But CeeCee’s view of the world is challenged in ways she could have never imagined: there are secrets to keep, injustices to face, and loyalties to uphold. Just as she begins to find her ballast and experiences a sense of belonging, her newfound joy collides with the long-held fear that her mother’s legacy has left her destined for destruction.

Laugh-out-loud funny, at times heartbreaking, and written in a pitch-perfect voice, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is a spirited Southern tale that explores the intricate frailties and strengths of female relationships while illuminating the journey of a young girl who loses her mother but finds many others.

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore. I heard Susan speak about this book, which she said was inspired by a random introduction at a dinner party. The woman explained that her name was Bezellia, and then went on to explain the history of her name. And Susan knew she had the beginnings of a novel on her hands.

Nobody in Nashville has a bigger name to live up to than Bezellia Grove. As a Grove, she belongs to one of city’s most prominent families and is expected to embrace her position in high society. That means speaking fluent French, dancing at cotillions with boys from other important families, and mastering the art of the perfect smile.

Also looming large is her given name Bezellia, which has been passed down for generations to the first daughter born to the eldest Grove. The others in the long line of Bezellias shortened the ancestral name to Bee, Zee or Zell. But Bezellia refuses all nicknames and dreams that one day she, too, will be remembered for her original namesake’s courage and passion.

Though she leads a life of privilege, being a Grove is far from easy. Her mother hides her drinking but her alcoholism is hardly a secret. Her father, who spends long hours at work, is distant and inaccessible. For as long as she can remember, she’s been raised by Maizelle, the nanny, and Nathaniel, the handyman. To Bezellia, Maizelle and Nathaniel are cherished family members. To her parents, they will never be more than servants.

Relationships are complicated in 1960s Nashville, where society remains neatly ordered by class, status and skin color. Black servants aren’t supposed to eat at the same table as their white employers. Black boys aren’t supposed to make conversation with white girls. And they certainly aren’t supposed to fall in love. When Bezellia has a clandestine affair with Nathaniel’s son, Samuel, their romance is met with anger and fear from both families. In a time and place where rebelling against the rules carries a steep price, Bezellia Grove must decide which of her names will be the one that defines her.

Beyond Molasses Creek by Nicole Seitz. Nicole is a gentle soul, a gifted artist, and a writer who weaves wisdom into her words. This latest offering by her is evidence of all three.

Three lives are bound by a single book . . . and the cleansing waters of Molasses Creek.

Having traveled to the ends of the earth as a flight attendant, Ally Green has finally returned to the Lowcountry to bury her father as well as the past. But Vesey Washington is still living across the creek, and theirs is a complicated relationship-he was once her best friend . . . and also part of the reason she’s stayed away so long. When Ally discovers a message her father left behind asking her to quit running, it seems her past isn’t through with her yet.

As Ally’s wandering spirit wrestles with a deep longing to flee again, a young woman on the other side of the world escapes her life of slavery in the rock quarries of Nepal. A mysterious sketchbook leads Sunila Kunari to believe there’s more to her story than she’s ever been told, and she’s determined to follow the truth wherever it leads her.

A deep current intertwines the lives of these three souls, and a destiny of freedom, faith, and friendship awaits them all on the banks of Molasses Creek.

Question for you: what Southern novel have you read and enjoyed recently?

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Love in the Time of War

I first became aware of the potential for love stories within World War II as a teenager watching the show “thirtysomething.” The season premiere for the second season revolved around one of the characters finding an old trunk full of letters and photos dating back to the war. The character got sucked into the love story between a young woman and the man she loved, who was fighting overseas. The main character felt a kinship with the woman who wrote the letters and the struggles she was facing, in spite of the  fact that they were separated by decades. After that show, I was hooked by the music, the drama, and the romance of that time period in our country’s history.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone. At She Reads we’ve read several titles that deal with this time period– each with their own unique take on the war. Think World War II has been done? Not like these novels!

The Discovery by Dan Walsh

Gerard Warner was not only a literary giant whose suspense novels sold in the millions, he was also a man devoted to his family, especially his wife of nearly 60 years. When he dies he leaves his Charleston estate to his grandson, Michael, an aspiring writer himself. Michael settles in to write his own first novel and discovers an unpublished manuscript his grandfather had written, something he’d kept hidden from everyone but clearly intended Michael to find. Michael begins to read an exciting tale about Nazi spies and sabotage, but something about this story is different from all of Gerard Warner’s other books. It’s actually a love story.

As Michael delves deeper into the story he discovers something that has the power to change not only his future but his past as well. Laced with suspense and intrigue, The Discovery is a richly woven novel that explores the incredible sacrifices that must be made to forge the love of a lifetime. Author Dan Walsh delivers yet another unique and heartfelt story that will stick with readers long after they turn the last page.

WHAT WE LIKED: As novelists we love the idea of a writer leaving a manuscript for his grandson meant to tell a story he couldn’t tell while he was alive– a story that’s unlike anything he’s ever told.

The Bungalow by Sarah Jio

In the summer of 1942, newly engaged Anne Calloway sets off to serve in the Army Nurse Corps on the Pacific island of Bora-Bora. More exhilarated by the adventure of a lifetime than she ever was by her predictable fiancé, she is drawn to a mysterious soldier named Westry, and their friendship soon blossoms into hues as deep as the hibiscus flowers native to the island. Under the thatched roof of an abandoned beach bungalow, the two share a private world-until they witness a gruesome crime, Westry is suddenly redeployed, and the idyll vanishes into the winds of war.

A timeless story of enduring passion, The Bungalow chronicles Anne’s determination to discover the truth about the twin losses–of life, and of love–that have haunted her for seventy years.

WHAT WE LIKED: We loved Sarah Jio’s debut novel The Violets of March, and she’s back with a story of love and loss set in the Pacific. Romance on a tropical island in a bungalow hideaway? Yes, please!

Bridge Of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris

Los Angeles, 1941. Violinist Maddie Kern’s life seemed destined to unfold with the predictable elegance of a Bach concerto. Then she fell in love with Lane Moritomo. Her brother’s best friend, Lane is the handsome, ambitious son of Japanese immigrants. Maddie was prepared for disapproval from their families, but when Pearl Harbor is bombed the day after she and Lane elope, the full force of their decision becomes apparent. In the eyes of a fearful nation, Lane is no longer just an outsider, but an enemy.

When her husband is interned at a war relocation camp, Maddie follows, sacrificing her Juilliard ambitions. Behind barbed wire, tension simmers and the line between patriot and traitor blurs. As Maddie strives for the hard-won acceptance of her new family, Lane risks everything to prove his allegiance to America, at tremendous cost.

Skillfully capturing one of the most controversial episodes in recent American history, Kristina McMorris draws readers into a novel filled with triumphs and heartbreaking loss–an authentic, moving testament to love, forgiveness, and the enduring music of the human spirit.

WHAT WE LIKED: This novel focuses on the lives affected by the Japanese interment during the tumultuous time after Pearl Harbor from the viewpoint of those who lived it. McMorris tells a side of the story that we rarely hear about.

The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy

In 1945, Elsie Schmidt is a naive teenager, as eager for her first sip of champagne as she is for her first kiss. She and her family have been protected from the worst of the terror and desperation overtaking her country by a high-ranking Nazi who wishes to marry her. So when an escaped Jewish boy arrives on Elsie’s doorstep in the dead of night on Christmas Eve, Elsie understands that opening the door would put all she loves in danger.

Sixty years later, in El Paso, Texas, Reba Adams is trying to file a feel-good Christmas piece for the local magazine. Reba is perpetually on the run from memories of a turbulent childhood, but she’s been in El Paso long enough to get a full-time job and a fiancé, Riki Chavez. Riki, an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, finds comfort in strict rules and regulations, whereas Reba feels that lines are often blurred.

Reba’s latest assignment has brought her to the shop of an elderly baker across town. The interview should take a few hours at most, but the owner of Elsie’s German Bakery is no easy subject. Reba finds herself returning to the bakery again and again, anxious to find the heart of the story. For Elsie, Reba’s questions are a stinging reminder of darker times: her life in Germany during that last bleak year of WWII. And as Elsie, Reba, and Riki’s lives become more intertwined, all are forced to confront the uncomfortable truths of the past and seek out the courage to forgive.

WHAT WE LIKED: This novel tells the story of a German woman forced to be part of Hitler’s plan to create a master race, giving us  a harrowing look at what life was like as the Nazis grew in power while tying this woman’s story to a contemporary woman facing challenges of her own.

Next To Loveby Ellen Feldman

Set in a small town in Massachusetts, Next to Love follows three childhood friends, Babe, Millie, and Grace, whose lives are unmoored when their men are called to duty. And yet the changes that are thrust upon them move them in directions they never dreamed possible—while their husbands and boyfriends are enduring their own transformations. In the decades that follow, the three friends lose their innocence, struggle to raise their children, and find meaning and love in unexpected places. And as they change, so does America—from a country in which people know their place in the social hierarchy to a world in which feminism, the Civil Rights movement, and technological innovations present new possibilities—and uncertainties. And yet Babe, Millie, and Grace remain bonded by their past, even as their children grow up and away and a new society rises from the ashes of the war.

Beautifully crafted and unforgettable, Next to Love depicts the enduring power of love and friendship, and illuminates a transformational moment in American history.

WHAT WE LIKED: This author gives us an original take on the war by giving us a glimpse at how the war shaped the perspective  of three women, their family members, and a nation.

If you’re fascinated with this time period, consider picking up one or all of these novels and immersing yourself in the romance, the drama, the history that is WWII.

Have you read any novels set during WWII that captured your heart?

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