March Monthly Recommendations: Top Standalones 

I am taking part in Monthly Recommendations, a group started by Kayla Rayne and Trina, both of whom I know of from their booktube channels.  Please find the links below:

Monthly Recommendations Goodreads Group

Kayla Rayne’s channel, “Kayla Rayne

Trina’s channel, “Between Chapters

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The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine 

I mentioned this book in my 2015 favorites, the not-published-in-2015 edition.  I saw it on the shelf at a bookstore, looked it up at the library, and sat, breath caught as I listened to the book.  This is a re-telling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, set in New York City in the 1920’s.  Twelve sisters are locked up by their wealthy father because he can’t bare the shame of how desperately he tried to get a son.  Josephine, the eldest, helps to manage her sisters, but their only release is sneaking out to go dancing at the speakeasies at night.  Their father starts to get suspicious, Josephine gets arrested in a police raid, the girls begin to make attachments to the outside world, and a bootlegger from Josephine’s past crops up.  Excitement, 20’s jazz, sisterly love (and fights), arranged marriages, and so many pairs of dance shoes.  Read it, it’s my favorite fairy tale retelling.  (And there’s no magic in it.)

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell 16068905

This book gets a lot of hype and a lot of attention, but it really really spoke to me.  It follows Cath as she sets off for her first year of college, dealing with her twin sister’s choice to spend time away from Cath, as well as Cath’s innerworld obsession with writing fanfiction.

I didn’t write fanfic, I don’t have a twin, but I was a young college freshman who wanted to stay in my room rather than go out to parties and I studied creative writing.  There were three big points that really made this book connect with me.

1. I have a bipolar dad.  This was one of the big points where I really connected with the story.  There are a lot of stories out there about people who are dealing with depression, or kids who help their single mom struggle with depression and look after siblings, but there aren’t a lot about having a fairly functioning household with a parent who is depressive.  And it was great to see something that had been a big part of my childhood reflected in a book.

2. I also loved that this book really showed that it was fine and normal to not be a party-hardy kind of person in college.  Some of us just aren’t like that, some introverts need to meet enough people to make parties less stressful.  And, while Cath does her own growing up and coming out of her shell, she also reaffirms that it’s also ok to stay-in on a Friday night while in college.

3. Levi.  I am all about having more nice boys in literature.  He wasn’t bland nice, and totally won me over so that as I got further into the story, I was cheering for him and Cath to support each other and bring out the best in each other.

I fully acknowledge that there’s a lot of hype around this book, and I don’t read much contemporary, but I think it is totally worth trying out.

(*Note: I read Carry On, a companion book about Cath’s fanfic, and I do not recommend it.)

3711White Teeth by Zadie Smith

I was in high school when this book came out, and I remembered hearing about  Zadie Smith on NPR when this book came out.  White Teeth is the story of two families connected by the wartime friendship of the two fathers, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal.  Archie’s wife is a black Jamaican immigrant, whereas Samad’s wife comes from Bangladesh.  The two couples have three children between them, Irie Jones and Millat and Magid Iqbal.  The book explores their lives in London, the way all seven of them grow and develop and interact with each other, taking on other themes like immigrants, race, personal identity, and family. Smith writes lovely sentences that just made me feel full and content.  I love this book.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks 1379961

In this book, Geraldine Brooks follows the stories surrounding a Jewish codex, a rare and ancient religious book.  The stories are linked together with a frame story of Hanna Heath, a rare books expert who finds little slips of the people who have handled the book before, like a wine stain, a hair, an insect wing.  These little fingerprints open up the story for that particular point in the book’s history.  We follow the book around Europe and the Middle East, as it is hidden away and prized.  The people who encounter the book are Christians, Jews, and Muslims, helping to show just how varied the demographics of Europe have been throughout history.

I didn’t love Hanna’s sections.  She seemed a little spoiled and boring, but I did love the historical segments.  I should probably add to that, I prefer historical to contemporary stories.  And, there are only two sections about the Holocaust, which is something that I don’t have a lot of stomach for in any context, and was a little worried might be graphic in a book that looks at the history of Jews in Europe.  But, Brooks writes scenes that are vivid, and while grounded in reality, they are generally not too graphic and violent.  I highly recommend this book!

2728527Guernsey and Literacy Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

My mom’s book club read this book and she passed it on to me.  I wasn’t quite sure about an epistolary book.  I love Sorcery and Cecelia, but I’m not sure that I’d describe the style as something I particularly love.  However, this book follows a writer in post-war Britain who is looking for her next story and heads off to Guernsey after receiving a letter from one of the residents who had been in the Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  This is the slapdash cover club they create while meeting to breaking curfew to discuss resistance.  The real magic of the story is when Juliet gets to Guernsey.  She sees the community re-building outside of the usual post-war Britain, which has been bombed to bits.  Guernsey needs to recover in a very different way, part of which has to do with their feelings of being abandoned by their country.

I had to look up where Guernsey even is, and have since found out that my husband’s grandparents honeymooned there in the 50’s!  I didn’t know anything about how long the rationing went on in post-war Britain, nor that the Germans had occupied British soil in the start of their land invasion.  Reading about World War II on bucolic Guernsey was a very different experience, and I loved getting to learn new-to-me history from a new perspective through an engaging story.

Also, seriously, Juliet’s first fellow.  Such a jerk about her library!  Ugh!

Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan 11164791

The Brides of Rollrock Island is a selkie story set on a little island in a fishing community, perhaps sometime in the early 20th century.  There is a witch, there are seals who are turned into beautiful captivating women, there are the fishermen who crave these beautiful wives, there are the human wives who get (understandably) fed up.  And, there are the seal coats.

I will start off with saying this book is not for everyone.  Booktuber Sam from Thoughts on Tomes could not get her wheels going with this one, and I totally understand why.  It took me 4+ months to read it.  This first part is hard to get through, the part of the story where everyone is horrible to the witch, planting the seeds of anger that cause her to treat them the way she does.  Once the selkies start in, once you’re through the first section about Misskaella, things start to lighten and move, even though the story is never light and happy.  It’s a pretty standard selkie story, as far as the elements in it, but Lanagan does a great job re-telling it.  If you’re prepped and ready for the wet, dark gloom that is Celtic folk stories where everyone is unhappy, then this book is the right fit for you!

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Benny and Shrimp by Katarina Mazzetti

Benny and Shrimp is a book I found while backpacking in Australia.  I needed some new reading material so scanned through the book exchange of a hostel in Perth.  When I later shared this with one of my college roommates, she summed it up as, “This is you in a book.”

It is a book translated from Swedish, about a woman called Shrimp, who is a librarian (which I am studying to become), and Benny, a farmer (I grew up on a farm) who has lost his mother and is facing a future alone, without any family around him.  They meet in the graveyard one day, him visiting his mother’s grave, her visiting her husband’s.  Their relationship develops, two lonely people who connect despite having very little in common as far as all the other things that people look for in partner (hobbies, career paths, home location, decor styles).  I love stories of love across the tracks/social norms, and I thought the writing was fun and sweet.  The Goodreads rating suggests it’s not for everyone, but I love this book and re-read it for a sweet story that gives me warm, happy feels.

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