I Read: Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen This book caught my eye immediately and I knew I had to read it, knew I would adore it. Of course, I’m already a huge fan of Anna Godbersen after devouring her Luxe series and I was eager to read the first installment in her newest series which takes place in the roaring twenties.

By the summer of 1929, when the weather was just getting warm enough that girls could exhibit exactly how high hemlines had risen, Prohibition had been in effect for so long it had ceased to bother anyone much. The city had a speakeasy per every fifty souls, or so the preachers liked to exclaim on Sundays, and sweet-faced girls from the hinterlands were no longer blinded by wood alcohol, for the real stuff had become plenty easy to get. The Eighteenth Amendment had converted us all to grateful outlaws.

-from the prologue of Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

There were so many things that I loved about this book. It deftly rotates between the stories of the three main characters – Cordelia, Letty and Astrid – and presents each character in an honest light that is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. You find yourself rooting for all three characters regardless of their flaws while daydreaming about olden times. Historic New York is described in such beautiful detail from the gorgeous gowns to the older architecture and way of life.

I also really liked the contrast of life in the 20’s compared to life at the turn of the century in the Luxe novels. Having read both it really allows you to see just how quickly life changed in just twenty short years – all of the new liberties that girls growing up in the 20’s had compared to their mothers and grandmothers. To then think about how much life has changed even since kind of blows my mind. I don’t think the girls from the Luxe series could have even imagined how much life would change in such a short time.

I love historical fiction and have been a fan of a lot of the new young adult novels coming out and this book combines both of those genres brilliantly. I wish I could learn all of world history through Anna Godbersen’s eyes as she is such a talented story teller and really makes these times come alive in her writing. And like her previous books, Bright Young Things boasts all of the same mystery, intrigue and suspense that you’ll come to expect in her books from the beginning to the cliff hanger of an ending. Can’t wait to read book two!

If you loved the Luxe series or are a fan of historical fiction, you won’t want to miss this new series! Bright Young Things was a fantastic, indulgent and addictive read from beginning to end!

I Read: Friendship Bread by Darien Gee

Friendship Bread by Darien Gee
Friendship Bread by Daren Gee available April 5, 2011


“One afternoon, Julia Evarts and her five-year-old daughter, Gracie, arrive home to find an unexpected gift on the front porch: a homemade loaf of Amish Friendship Bread and a simple note: I hope you enjoy it. Also included are a bag of starter, instructions on how to make the bread herself, and a request to share it with others.”

This seems like the beginning of a light hearted, delicious summer read, but don’t be fooled by the charming cover and seemingly easy going premise. This is a book that packs quite a punch and offers a lot more than laughs, though laughs are present and accounted for.

Julia Evarts is a deeply depressed mother, still trying to recover from the death of a child five years ago. But through the small, unexpected gift of this loaf of bread and starter kit, which she would have simply thrown away if her daughter had not begged her to bake it – Julia is able to finally begin to heal, as much as you can heal from a tragedy like that.

This is a story about more than just Julia Evarts though – you meet several other people, dozens in fact, though only a few are what you might call “main characters” – the small circle of women that become friends with Julia, and her family and theirs. You meet Hannah, the beautiful retired Cellist reeling from a sudden divorce, Madeline the widow who moves into town on a whim and buys an old bed and breakfast which she turns into a tea salon, Julia’s sister Livvy who has been cut from her sister’s life since the death of Julia’s son and Livvy’s friend and coworker Edie the brilliant reporter with a heart of gold but not much love for baking.

This is a book of healing and a book of friendship. It’s a book I almost didn’t think I had the strength to read. The premise of Josh’s death is so tragic and brought me to tears several times. I wasn’t sure my heart could handle reading a story like that, but I am so glad I finished it. I’m glad to find that I’m stronger than I thought and I’m grateful to have made it through to the happy ending. I normally shy away from books and movies that involve tragedies like that, but I’m glad that I pushed through with this one because it was so worth the tears.

I loved the way this book branched out, introducing more and more characters as the starter begins to get passed around the small town of Avalon, Illinois. This is a town where everyone knows your name and by the end of the book you feel like you know everyone’s name, too, and the town really begins to touch your heart as you see what all these characters are made of. You’ll want to pick up and move to a town just like Avalon or feel a sense of pride if you are already blessed to live in a similar place.

And even better – this book will make you want to bake, possibly to the detriment of your waist line and the protests of your friends. The book includes several recipes for bread, pancakes, brownies and more – dozens of variations on the original recipe and endless uses for the small bag of starter which seems to just keep on growing. By the end of the book over 7,000 loaves of bread are baked – all from one original bag of starter!

Have you ever had or made Amish Friendship Bread? I’d love to hear about your experiences with it! Want to start an AFB tradition? Check out this Facebook fan page for recipes, tips and more!

This post was written for Family Review Network & Mia King who provided the complimentary book for review in exchange for my honest opinions. Friendship Bread by Darien Gee will be released in hardcover on April 5, 2011, but you can pre-order it at Amazon.com now!

I Read: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire They say there are two sides to every story and Gregory Maguire has made a literary career out of sharing some of those other sides to stories we know well. Turning classic fairy tales and children’s stories on their head, revealing a gritty underbelly to the romantic, optimistic versions of the tales we grew up with.

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister tells the story of Iris and Ruth, stepsisters to the beautiful, spoiled but generally good hearted Clara, aka Cinderella. While I can’t say that Ruth and Iris are heroines in this book, as honestly there is no true heroine to be found here – all of the characters have their good and bad sides, their own usually selfish motives and crosses to bear – they are presented in this story in full detail. They are fleshed out, real characters who existed before and after the brief tale of Cinderella.

And not just the three stepsisters, but the stepmother, Clara’s parents, friends, acquaintances, even the Prince is given more of a realistic back story. Maguire creates a scenario in which the basic events of Cinderella might unfold realistically and how that fairy tale version could be construed from a story that is much sadder and with no clear heroines and no one enemy (though the Stepmother definitely gives the job of Evil-Doer a fair shake!) to despise.

While there is no definitive magic happening in this story, the subject of magic flits through the book from beginning to end, but in a much darker, grittier way. The characters in this story are each haunted in one way or another, by their past, their talents, their looks whether good or bad. As young girls, Clara, Iris and Ruth seem convinced that imps, witches and other nefarious dark creatures walk among them, hide in rafters and change the course of their lives at a whim. As they get older, they begin to see that these imps are imagined manifestations for the bad things that have happened to them.

I liked all of these things about this retelling of Cinderella. I like that Maguire acknowledges the fact that Clara and her not-so-evil stepsisters each suffer and that Clara was not the sweet, innocent girl of perfection that Disney makes her out to be; each have afflictions of their own and each try to be good and kind in spite of their misfortunes in life. They don’t always succeed and they often do bad things, but usually for relatively understandable reasons.

In spite of being fascinated with the story of this book and the character development which is absolutely superb, this was not a perfect book. That gritty, descriptive language that Maguire is so well known for also comes across as a bit… tiresome. This is not a light, fluffy read (not that I really wanted it to be) and I occasionally found myself skimming through paragraphs when he went a little Nathaniel Hawthorne on me with descriptions of things which seemed wholly uninteresting and unimportant.

But at the same time, he’s painting you a picture of a story, of all the angles – all the details which you might miss if you only glance. It’s kind of the whole point. The theme of looking and seeing and knowing and understanding are crucial to this story, so I can forgive it these faults because on the whole – I think Maguire told this story exactly as he intended to with far more talent than I could give him credit for as a somewhat lazy reader.

So while I would not call myself a raving fan of all things Maguire, I was glad to have read this story which made me think, captured my imagination and even managed to pass as a good example of a coming of age story. Self confidence, overcoming great losses, motherhood, love and learning to really look at each side of a story are all themes which are excellently ruminated on in this story. Plus that creepy cat, Lusifer, is blessedly nowhere to be found in this book!

I Read: Deep Down True by Juliette Fay

Deep Down True by Juliette FayIf you are looking for a funny, heart warming book with characters that are easy to relate to and a healthy mix of heavy and light subject material, I definitely recommend checking out Deep Down True by Juliette Fay.

At it’s root, this book is a fairly standard “chick lit” novel (though I cringe to say so as so many chick lit novels have given this genre a bad name), or rather the new breed of Mom Lit which is becoming so popular, luckily for me as it’s one of my preferred genres lately.

But I think you’ll find a little of everything in this story which is such a true to life representation of the hodge podge that is motherhood.

Here’s a quick description from GoodReads.com as I feel like they sum it up better than I can:

Newly divorced Dana Stellgarten has always been unfailingly nice- even to telemarketers-but now her temper is wearing thin. Money is tight, her kids are reeling from their dad’s departure, and her Goth teenage niece has just landed on her doorstep. As she enters the slipstream of post-divorce romance and is befriended by the town queen bee, Dana finds that the tension between being true to yourself and being liked doesn’t end in middle school… and that sometimes it takes a real friend to help you embrace adulthood in all its flawed complexity.

There were a several elements to this story that I can’t really relate to, but the characters are so well fleshed out and so realistic that I found I could relate to them anyway and really enjoyed getting to know Dana and her friends and family. I appreciated the fact that there was such a liberal mix of heavy and light subject material – not too dark, but not too sunny.

And I frequently found myself giggling or nodding in a knowing sort of agreement with little observations the main character makes throughout the book. The author does a terrific job of pulling you into the story and getting you to root for Dana – to groan when she makes silly mistakes, get upset when people are unfair and applaud with delight when things finally start to go her way again.

This was not a perfect book. Occasionally the descriptions were almost too detailed sometimes and pulled me out of the story to nit pick over word choice. But overall I think it was very well told and wonderfully written.

I Read: Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of the Island by L.M. MontgomeryLast week I finished reading Anne of Avonlea and was just about to start watching the corresponding film when Jean, a good bloggy friend of mine, warned me that the film combines books two and three. So even though I had just begun to read another book, I quickly set said book aside and returned to my Kindle and the world of Avonlea in Montgomery’s third Anne novel, Anne of the Island, which chronicles Anne’s formative years in college at Redmond in Kingsport.

I really do feel like this series gets better and better with each installment. I adored this book and how timelessly Montgomery describes the college experience, from those first nervous days in a new place, to gradually forming a new group of friends and way of life, the trials and tribulations and exciting times.

Then comes the experience of returning home after having been away. Sometimes it’s a welcome relief and other times, just strange as you realize the things which have changed and the things which haven’t and you gradually come to realize how you never really can go home again to that idealized version of the home in your mind at least. The whole thing was just perfect, the new characters wonderful (even when they were terrible).

This is also the book where That Love Story finally comes to a head. Declarations are made, love stories unfold and it’s not an easy road for Anne, that’s for sure. It’s not easy growing up and seeing friendships change for better or for worse and it takes Anne awhile to decide what she wants in life truly and what ideals of hers are really just old fancies with no foothold in reality when all is said and done.

So now I have finished the book, loved the book, swooned and sighed and even cried a bit with this book – and now I can watch the film (finally!) in peace with no fear of spoilers. I also feel as though Book Three manages to leave the story at a point of contentment. The story is not finished but the waters are calm and I feel like I can move onto the many other books on my shelves to be read without feeling impatient to rush back to Prince Edward Island. I know I will go on to finish the series, but there is no longer an urgent rush to do so, rather I can save them for a treat later on in between reads.

I read this book in part for my participation in Carrie @ Reading To Know’s L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge this month and coincidentally it also happens to be regarded as a classic work of literature making it count in my 2011 Classics Challenge as well.

I Read: Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. MontgomeryI just spent a selfish bit of time sitting on the couch reading the last 5% of Anne of Avonlea on my kindle while my children made occasional sad faces and complained of boredom, but mostly entertained themselves with fun toys and sibling antics. I think you all understand and agree that those last few pages of a book are sometimes too much to resist, especially a book as good as this classic by L.M. Montgomery.

This book begins as “a tall, slim girl, “half-past sixteen,” with serious grey eyes and hair which her friends called auburn, had sat down on the broad red sandstone doorstep of a Prince Edward Island farmhouse one ripe afternoon in August, firmly  resolved to construe so many lines of Virgil.

Anyone not familiar with Anne Shirley might read that sentence and say, “so what?” perhaps mingled with thoughts like, “That sentence was awfully nicely written.” But any true Anne fan will immediately feel a little shiver of delight and anticipation and read little bits of detail in that first paragraph with a knowing air of understanding of all things Anne. At least I did.

I think we can all rest assured that I loved this second book in the well known series of Anne books by Montgomery which so perfectly portray the coming of age of any girl. But I think the books do far more than just relate to girls growing up. It tells a story of a town, it relates numerous love stories that will make you think of your own love story whether it has already happily happened or you are just anticipating what your own will be like someday. It touches on religion in way that is not over bearing or too preachy, but rather dreamy and speculative, which is probably my favorite way to think about religion.

A big theme in this book seems to be misconceptions or preconceptions, the idea that you might go into a life milestone or hobby or career with one idea of how things will be, but eventually discover something else altogether, and how often you find that new discovery to be even better than you could have imagined. Anne seems to learn this lesson a lot in several moments of her two years spent teaching at Avonlea and I felt reading the book that ultimately this would lead to her discovering her true feelings for Gilbert, although that might just be the hopeless romantic in me. If Anne of Green Gables, etc. are a love story, they are a very slow moving, prude and patient sort of story where you find yourself squealing with delight when one person puts their arm around another and nothing else happens at all, but you and he and she and anyone else privy to the moment all understand that it was everything.

So now I’ve finished the book and part of me wants to jump right into book three, Anne of the Island, but I have a few review books that I need to attend to first and depending on when I finish those, it may be time to read the next book for my bookclub and who knows what else will be calling to me, but I can assure you I’ll only have the willpower to wait so long, whether or not it manages to fall in line with my L.M. Montgomery reading challenge this month, I can’t say. I am planning to watch the miniseries adaptation of this book in the next week, so at least I’ll be able to linger in Avonlea a bit longer, even as I move onto other books.

What was your favorite of the Anne books?

I read this book for several reasons. The first being a new found adoration for all things Anne Shirley. The second being my participation in Carrie @ Reading To Know’s L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge this month and coincidentally it also happens to be regarded as a classic work of literature making it my first classic book read this year in my 2011 Classics Challenge.