Reading for a Break from the World
By Guest Blogger: Megan Butler
A Quick introduction about Megan, from me, Hillary the Smart Lioness 🙂 So I don’t know if you have discovered Megan Butler’s blog, Green Gables State of Mind, BUT if you LOVE to read, or even remotely interested in giving reading another shot (It’s good for your cognitive health & ultimately is linked with the decreased likelihood of developing Alzheimers Disease.) Megan will be able to at least convince you to TRY, because she’s such a good writer and just really knows how to explain a book in the most perfect of ways!
But back to the point!! Megan and I grew up together in a small private school from 1st grade until around 9th grade (when I to moved to public school). Megan and I weren’t besties or anything but I do remember going over to her house once when we were in maybe middle school? I don’t know, but I remember having fun! Plus, I admired her a lot for her intelligence and just overall joyful attitude she always seems to have. When I came across her name on Instagram, I thought, “holy moly!” Its been FOREVER!! Which then lead me to find her blog, then lead me to binge read like, all of her posts because she is an amazing writer and I couldn’t stop! SO, naturally I reached out! (just kidding, not natural, it took some mustering of courage, no one likes rejection!) But I did it! And here we are!
So a little more about Megan..
Megan is a Dentist in Atlanta, Georgia now, but she and her husband have lived ALL over the country, which, I think, is SO cool! But let’s get on with the good stuff!! I asked Megan to do a guest blog for me on some good reading for an escape, since anxiety and stress seem to be at an all time high lately!! Reading is a great coping skill/mechanism that is both healthy and fun IF you find the perfect book for YOU! I asked and she did not disappoint!! ENJOY!!
Hi y’all, my name is Megan and I write a blog over at Green Gables State of Mind. I absolutely love to read and find book recommendations for friends and family, so when Hillary asked me to write a post I jumped at the chance!
Do you read for an escape? I know I do. Although I also enjoy reading books to learn new things or to motivate myself for self-improvement, sometimes I just need a break from the stress of work or bills and just enjoy a really good story. So when Hillary asked me to write a book post for y’all, I thought it might be helpful to post a synopsis of some of the books I’ve been reading lately! Most of these are newer releases that have been receiving a lot of buzz and should be available at your local bookstore!
I picked a few different genres to give a good bit of variety depending on your reading “mood.” Hope you find a book you love! Happy reading everyone.
For a novel of female friendship and a coming-of-age story, check out
Marlena by Julie Buntin
What’s it All About?
The title character in Marlena and her best friend, Cat, avoided the social drama of their own high school because they were entirely too busy with their own. Cat has recently moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with her mom and brother after her parent’s divorce. Cat is forced to leave her beloved private school friends into a not-so-savory area of her new town, in an unfriendly high school, while dealing with the fallout of her parent’s separation and her own mood swings. She has decided she will shed her former identity with her former home – no more of her studious, preppy persona. She deceives her mother (who is busy dealing with her own grief via boxed Franzia) and, instead of attending school for the first few weeks, ditches it to hang out with Marlena and her group of friends.
She tries alcohol for the first time, which shapes her adulthood in unexpected ways. She has her first major boy crush and wades into the waters of flirtation and dating. Her makeup-free face becomes rimmed with eyeliner and too much blush, her attitude becomes surly, and in general becomes a mostly-insufferable adolescent. Some of the passages in the book take me back to my own fashion disasters (BLUE EYESHADOW, y’all). I also would cringe while reading the scenes between Marlena and her mom, remembering all those times I snapped back or said hurtful things to my own mother. Most of all, the book takes me back to the time when everything felt so BIG and IMPORTANT, like what type of binder I used at school and whether or not so-and-so talked to me at the football game.
This book is about the memory of Marlena – because, as you’ll find out on the front book jacket (no spoilers I promise!), Marlena dies within the year by drowning…at least that’s what the police believes. We are hearing flashbacks from adult-Cat, an NYC career woman with a fiancé and a dependence on martinis, as she reflects on her fifteen-year-old view of Marlena versus the current, adult perception.
Initially, Cat was so entranced by the seeming exoticism of Marlena’s life that she overlooked the darker, grimier aspects of it. Cat and Marlena’s intense bond stemmed from their mutual (and differing) demons. Like Cat, Marlena’s family was disjointed and dysfuntional – though to a much greater degree. Marlena’s father was involved in drug dealing and often left his younger son in the care of his daughter. As their next door neighbor, Cat often witnessed the family’s comings and goings, and held a deep fascination with Marlena’s life – as a teenager, Cat found it exotic and adventurous and dangerous in an alluring way. As an adult, Cat realizes how truly horrific Marlena’s life actually was.
Cat, despite her facade of being street-wise, was actually incredibly naive. Despite spending virtually every day with Marlena, Cat didn’t fully understand the repercussions of Marlena’s strict pill schedule – an upper in the morning, a downer after lunch and dinner or whenever things were getting a little too tough – and her backpack version of a pharmacy. It’s only when looking back, seventeen years after her death, that Cat begins to understand the gravity of Marlena’s life, and blames herself for her passive role in her death.
Despite the dark subject matter and age of the main characters, this book doesn’t delve into the schmaltzy or overwrought. The author is fully aware of the ease in which this book could dive into eye-roll inducing angst, but she cleverly avoids it with her chapters in the present day, when adult Cat reflects on the moodiness of her 15-year-old self:
“Great loneliness, profound isolation, a cataclysmic, overpowering sense of being misunderstood. When does that kind of deep feeling just stop? Where does it go? At fifteen, the world ended over and over and over again. To be so young is a kind of self-violence. No foresight, an inflated sense of wisdom, and yet you’re still responsible for your mistakes.”
So, if you’re looking for a gritty, intense teenage drama with adult themes, this book is an intriguing choice.
…For a feminist and funny tale, check out:
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
What’s It All About?
Young Jane Young is a slightly lighter turn from Marlena, though it still packs a punch. Young Jane Young stars Aviva Grossman, an ambitious and intelligent Congressional intern in Florida who has an affair with her well-regarded but very married boss and blogs about it in the similar vein to Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. When the affair is exposed, the Congressman doesn’t get the blame, but Aviva does, and her political career self-destructs before it truly begins. She becomes a laughingstock of the political world and a slut-shamed ex-employee. Forced to reinvent herself in Maine, Aviva changes her name to Jane Young and starts over. However, as her daughter grows up and Jane again considers public service, her past comes back to haunt her once again.
Though this story line sounds like it could potentially become over dramatic and cheesy, it doesn’t because Ms. Zevin is too talented of a writer to slip into those pitfalls. Instead, this book takes a heaping amount of humor and a perceptive outlook on the common human weaknesses we all have to write a feminist, realistic story of how we can never truly outlive our past. This novel also exposes the double standard and misogyny that politics (as well as a litany of other career paths) display toward its female employees. Lastly, the story makes us question our tendency to quickly judge people based on a headline or rumor, without examining or asking questions from the other side.
My favorite aspect of this novel was how the story was split amongst the different female characters of the story – Aviva, Aviva’s daughter Rachel, and the Congressman’s wife – and their different experiences as women in this story. Each woman is incredibly real, human, and flawed, which adds a dimension of realism to a story that could easily seem oversensational. The true message behind feminism, after all, is the appreciation of the different life experiences of all women, and this story brings that idea to the forefront.
…For a Mediteranean romance, try
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
What’s it All About?
Confession: I absolutely love books set in far away places, and I partially love this book just because it was set in the area of Italy where my husband and I went on our honeymoon. Cinque Terre is just as much of a dream in reality as it is in stories, friends! But there are other legitimate reasons to love this novel for an escape! The story begins in 1962 along the Italian coastline, where an American starlet checks into a cozy inn, seeking an escape during her final days.
The story also flashes forward to the present day, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot — searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.
This book has an extensive and eclectic cast of characters (including Richard Burton of all people!) and plays with themes of a fantasy world vs reality, of “what could have been” versus “what life actually is.” Although it is a romance story at its heart, it is also about relationships between friends and family. The main character, Pasquale, is well developed and intriguing, and the story is a quick read without feeling too light or superficial. Though there are definitely heavier and dramatic sections of this book, this novel really is a perfect weekend escape read.
…For a deep family drama that will make your life feel “normal” (or boring) by comparison, read:
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
What’s it All About?
Celeste Ng is a powerhouse author who had a blockbuster hit, Everything I Never Told You, a few years ago. She is known for her deep character studies of family life in suburban cities, and the hidden dramas all people have in the privacy of their two-story homes.
Her latest book, Little Fires Everywhere, was released on September 12 and seems to be another family drama smash hit. Set in the planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, this story opens with a house that has been burnt down, and then flashes back to the events leading up to the arson. It seems the main story centers around the children from two families – the Richardsons, who thrive on order and rules, and the Warrens, who rent their house from the Richardsons and throw rules out the window.
The four Richardson children are all fascinated with Mia Warren and her teenage daughter Pearl – of their bohemian lifestyle of constant moves and art projects, of Mia’s combination of odd jobs and creative endeavors, of Pearl’s thrift shop threads and Mia’s mysterious past. Conversely, Pearl is attracted to the privileged stability of the Richardson’s home – their morning rituals, their spring break ski trips, their clean houses and weekly schedules.
This unlikely friendship between two families is threatened when a third family (who are friends with the Richardsons) attempts to adopt a Chinese-American baby, and Mia and Mrs. Richardson take opposing sides in the custody battle. As a result, Elena Richardson begins to dig into Mia’s past – with dramatic consequences.
This book was a complete page turner for me, and kept me hooked from beginning to end. Moreover, it had a great balance of humor, social critique, and drama. I highly recommend!
Hope one of these books fits your reading personality. Don’t hesitate to let me and Hillary know what you think. Plus, now it’s your turn – what books do you recommend for a little escape from reality? Can’t wait to hear your suggestions!