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Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

A couple of months ago I saw a Netflix trailer for a movie called “Moxie.” It was set to be released on March 3, 2021. Looking further, I discovered that it was a book. Exciting news, so I placed it on hold, determined to read it before I watched the movie.

A bit of background before starting the review — the young adult novel “MOXIE” was published in 2017 by JENNIFER MATHIEU, and comedian Amy Poehler, who is also the director of the Netflix movie, is quoted on the cover of the book as saying, “Moxie” is sweet, funny, and fierce. Read this and then join the fight.”

Quiet, dependable, rule-following Vivian Carter has had enough of her small town high school’s tendency to support male football players over anyone else. The football players, especially principal’s son and quarterback Mitchell Wilson, get away with treating the girls at East Rockport High as second class citizens. Mitchell and his buddies continually harass Vivian’s classmates and friends, and despite complaints from the female students to the school’s administration, they are never disciplined, punished or even corrected.

The school administration’s lack of support for the females at the school shows through in the form of surprise dress code checks focused completely on the females, not doing anything about hallway and classroom harassment, and hosting expensive pep rallies for an average football team, while the winning girls’ soccer team wears dated uniforms and gets little recognition.

Inspired by her mom’s Riot Grrrl past and a box of paraphernalia labeled “My Misspent Youth” that she discovers in the attic, Vivian creates a zine that she is soon distributing, anonymously, from the restrooms at East Rockport High. Her first call to action is mild, with a request to decorate hands with stars and hearts, but after continued harassment, Vivian and Moxie supporters put an ambitious call forward that has the principal threatening suspensions for anyone participating.

Poehler’s book cover quote is accurate, Moxie is “sweet, funny, and fierce.” Vivian’s character is hard not to like, even when she’s acting like a stereotypical, hard-to-understand teenager. Her growth through the story is marked and interesting to follow. As is that of her friends, mom — all those around her. While she is the lead in the book, there are many strong supporting characters and Mathieu does a good job developing their personalities. It is a good introduction for teens to the topics of female empowerment, zine creation, and the Riot Grrrl movement of the ‘90s.

About the movie — I did watch it after I finished the book, but as is my usual experience with book-to-movie offerings, it was not my favorite. I liked the book so much better.

It must be hard to translate a book into film and keep all the fun things about it. I do not envy screenwriters and directors this challenge. They changed a lot of the original storyline — the calls to action, who was the top administrator, even how the zines were created — and I am not sure why. I do not feel like the changes made the film any more interesting, but I was probably too focused on the changes to really enjoy it.

I will say though, the movie props were great — I loved Vivian’s room decorations — and the diversity of the cast was refreshing.

Find in catalog.

Jeana Gockley: JPL director shares her favorite reads of 2020

Goodbye 2020, hello 2021.  

As the previous year is wrapped up and we move into the new one, it is the perfect time for me to reflect on what I read during 2020.  And just like during 2019, I kept track of all the books I read, for a grand total of 38.  That’s eight more than I read in 2019!

Of those thirty-eight titles, I would like to tell you about a few of my favorites.  Here are my top eight picks, in no particular order: 

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  3. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  4. The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
  5. The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
  6. Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
  7. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  8. Group by Christie Tate 

Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens – This uber popular title was released during the summer of 2018, and remains so popular today that I had to put myself on a waiting list to be able to check out a copy.  And wow, did it live up to the hype.  I LOVED it!  Owens does an exceptional job with character development and readers will be hard pressed not to fall under the spell of main character Kya Clark.  It is a mystery, nature, and coming of age story all rolled into one beautifully crafted page turner.  

Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee –  The novel, set in Korea, starts in 1910, and focuses on a family who runs a boarding house in a small village by the ocean.  This couple has only one son, Hoonie, who was born with a cleft palate and twisted leg, who manages to survive childhood and grow into a dependable son who his parents are proud of.  Hoonie eventually takes over the boarding house with the help of his wife, and the couple have a daughter named Sunja.  As a naive, sheltered teenager, Sunja meets and falls in love with a much older, Korean man.  Unbeknownst to her, he is already married and when Sunja becomes pregnant, he offers to take care of her as his mistress.  Sunja refuses, and thus, starts a family-centered saga that readers will be unable to put down. This captivating title was released in February 2017, and I am not sure how I missed it.  If you have not read it, I highly recommend it. 

“The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett –  Bennett uses her newest offering to explore the relationship between twin sisters and how skin color affects the life of each.  After twin sisters run away from their rural southern town as teenagers, each chooses their own path; with one marrying a dark skinned man, while the other decides to pass for white.  Bennett’s debut novel, “The Mothers” received a lot of attention after it’s release in 2017, but hold on to your hat, “The Vanishing Half” is even better! There is so much to think about in reading this novel.  It would make an excellent book club selection.

The Giver of Stars” by Jojo Moyes – Set during the Great Depression, in rural Kentucky, Alice Wright is definitely out of her element.  Having grown up in a wealthy English family, her marriage to an American and a move to the United States is anything but expected.  Despite the change of scenery, her new life in Kentucky soon begins to feel as strangling as her former life. To help lessen her isolation, Alice signs up to work for Eleanor Rooselvet’s new traveling library, despite her husband’s objections.  Little does she know, this group of librarians, later known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky, will change her life.  This one is so good and worth the time.  

The Bromance Book Club” by Lyssa Kay Adams – This title might look familiar from the romance reading ideas I shared in November, but it is so unexpected here is a refresher.  Major League baseball player Gavin Scott is the main character of this second chance romance.  He goes from being on top of the world after hitting a grand slam, to drinking his troubles away in a seedy hotel room after his wife asks him to move out.  Thankfully, his friend and teammate introduces him to an all male book club where they read and discuss romance novels to help with their love lives. I could not put this book down and loved every minute of it.  It made me laugh out loud several times, and had a positive, energetic feel to it; light, fluffy, and full of emotion.

Red, White and Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston – When first son Alex Claremont-Diaz meet’s Henry, Prince of Wales, things do not go well.  The political rivals manage to make a mess and soon the press are having a field day.  Presidential and royal staff devise a plan for fixing this national nightmare and a public trucemaking is arranged.  What transpires is a secret romance that soon has everyone scrambling to keep it covered up.  McQuiston’s debut is funny, engaging, and escapism at its finest!  I listened to it as a download from MOLib2go (Overdrive) and enjoyed the narration immensely.  I read a quote from a reviewer that said they were “jealous of anyone who gets to experience it for the first time,” and I totally agree.  Alex and Henry shine in this sexy coming out story!

Becoming” by Michelle Obama – I wrote a full review for this one in August, but could not pass up a chance to mention this book again.  This well-crafted, powerful memoir should not be missed. Obama’s writing is clear, accessible, and descriptive.  She does an excellent job of developing a timeline and explaining details.  The pacing is spot on and the imagery the author creates with her words will make the reader feel part of the story.  The warmth she feels for people radiates outward and her use of story and the power that it yields is phenomenal. 

Group” by Christie Tate – I found this book while browsing Reese Witherspoon’s book club picks late one night.  Reese is quoted as saying, “Have you ever read a book that made you want to hug the author?”  My interest was immediately piqued.  Christie Tate is honest, open, and narrates her messy memoir with a painfully real voice.  The book opens with Tate, a student at the top of her class at law school, describing a time when she wanted to die.  These thoughts were not unusual for her; she frequently feels alone and isolated.  Thankfully she meets Dr. Rosen, an unconventional therapist who recommends group therapy.  At first Christie is skeptical, but eventually her group will help her change her life.  While heartbreaking and raw at times, Tate’s journey is hard to turn away from.  Readers will be hard pressed to not finish this one in a single sitting. 

Thanks for taking the time to share in my reflection and reading about my favorites.  If you have set a new goal for yourself this year, I have a fun way to start you on it – sign up for our Winter Reading Challenge. 

It is easy – log four hours of reading by January 31, and you will earn a free drink from Bearded Lady Coffee and be entered to win a selection of prizes from Beanstack and Simon and Schuster!   Plus, by logging your time read you can help us reach 80,000 minutes of reading for our community goal.  I wish you a wonderful new year of reading!

Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams & Beach Read by Emily Henry

As of late, I have been on a romance reading kick. If you would have asked me several years ago if I liked romance, I’d have answered in the negative, but that opinion was not really based in fact. I had read few romance books at that point and thought they were all about the sex scenes. What I have discovered in reading more romance titles is that, while some do have pretty elaborately described sex scenes, most are focused on the relationship and connection that develops between two people, and the majority have a happy or uplifting ending.

I think I have needed these “everyone lives happily ever after” endings to balance out the other stressful things happening in my life over the past few months. So if you are looking for some lighter fare during this time, here are some options:

In the “BROMANCE BOOK CLUB” by LYSSA KAY ADAMS, Major League Baseball player Gavin Scott went from being on top of the world — thanks to hitting a grand slam in one of the biggest games of his life — to having one of the worst nights of his life, discovering his wife had been faking it. He throws a giant fit, moves to the guest room and refuses to talk to his wife, Thea, about their issues. So she asks him to move out.

Holed up in a seedy hotel room, drinking his emotions away, Gavin is introduced to a secret male book club where his friend and teammate, Del Hicks, and other high-powered movers and shakers in Nashville get together, read and discuss romance novels, using them as “manuals” to better understand their wives and girlfriends.

Gavin thinks it’s a crazy idea, but after Thea asks for a divorce, he is willing to try anything. He starts to read a Regency romance novel called “Courting the Countess” and is soon putting his newfound knowledge to use trying to win Thea back.

I could not put this second chance romance down. I read it over the course of a weekend and loved every minute of it. It made me laugh out loud several times, and while the character development was quick, I felt like I got a good sense of most of the characters. The subject matter was serious, but the book had a positive, energetic feel to it — light, fluffy and full of emotions that were easy to identify with.

In “BEACH READ” by EMILY HENRY, lead character January Andrews is struggling. Along with the loss of her father, she seems to have lost her picture perfect life too. First, she discovers her father was unfaithful to her mother. And then, her boyfriend breaks up with her. As if that was not enough, she develops a serious case of writer’s block.

With her bank account about to become overdrawn, she has little choice but to pack up and leave the city for the one option she has — a beach house her father left her. Unfortunately, it’s the place he shared with his mistress, but January is desperate, so she resigns herself to staying there until she is finally able to complete the novel she has been promising her agent for months.

Little does she know she is about to run into a former classmate and fellow writer Augustus Everett. Gus lives in the neighboring beach house and is also working on a novel. The two get off to a rocky start — her yelling at him to turn the music down and him making cutting comments about her — but they soon call a truce.

And more importantly, they make a bet about writing. He will write something happy, and she will write a more realistic-type Great American Novel. The loser will have to write a blurb for the winner’s book. As part of their deal, their weekends are spent on research together. Gus is in charge of Friday nights, and January is in charge of Saturdays. What ensues are a lot of datelike outings, and eventually, January is on the brink of breaking one of the rules Gus set at the beginning — not to fall in love with him.

The plot is somewhat predictable, but it does not detract from the book’s readability or the chemistry between the characters. It is a lovely, compelling title. Both characters have had their hearts broken, though in different ways, and they use their time together to heal, build a relationship and develop new writing skills.

And if you are looking for additional romance titles, here are a few more:

• “The Overdue Life of Amy Byler” by Kelly Harms

• “Evvie Drake Starts Over” by Linda Holms

• “Meet Cute” by Helena Hunting

• “The Kiss Quotient” by Helen Hoang

• “The Bride Test” by Helen Hoang

• “When Dimple Met Rishi” by Sandhya Menon

• “The Sun is Also a Star” by Nicola Yoon

Find in Catalog – Bromance Book Club & Beach Read

Untamed by Glennon Doyle & Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I have been on a nonfiction reading kick of late, with autobiographies and memoirs filling much of the space on my nightstand. Two recent titles I made my way through include “UNTAMED” by GLENNON DOYLE and “BORN A CRIME” by TREVOR NOAH. While vastly different in their subject matter, they each contain a powerful narrative voice.

In Doyle’s “Untamed,” imagine going on your book tour to promote your newest work of inspirational Christian literature and telling your fans that you’ve met the true love of your life. Oh, and guess what? It’s a woman. But that is exactly what Doyle did while touring for her “Love Warrior” book. As she puts it, she shared “her truth,” and while it may have upset some people, what she learned through the process is she has to be honest with herself and not live in a “cage” of fear or denial.

The analogy of being put into a cage is used throughout the narrative. She details her memories of when she “lost her wild.” She was 10 years old when the realization of society’s expectations started to weigh on her. This is when she remembers losing her happiness and turning to unhealthy ways of dealing — first bulimia, then later, alcohol.

She not only shares her struggles with addiction and bulimia but discusses her husband’s infidelity and how she finally dealt with these issues by giving herself a pass to stop “being good” and “start being brave.” She often says, “The braver we are, the luckier we get.” And in Doyle’s case, this seems to be true. This memoir is more than her story, it’s a wake up call to women.

No topic is off limits for Doyle. She discusses family, racism, religion, parenting, anxiety and so much more. She is adamant that martyring oneself does not make one a good mother. She advocates that women set boundaries, stop trying to please society and start pleasing themselves. She admits to not having all the answers but writes that she has started to trust her “Knowing” and that her life has only gotten better.

While this title is not my typical fare — I picked it up because a friend recommended it — I enjoyed it tremendously. I found myself laughing and crying many times during the reading. While not all of what Doyle preaches aligns with my personal philosophy, I appreciate her feminist approach and her recognition that how she was living was not working for her. This is a powerful addition to today’s inspirational titles and stands out because of Doyle’s passionate voice and delivery.

In “Born a Crime,” comedian and “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah uses tales from his childhood in South Africa to create a moving autobiography. His stories tell of apartheid and how the institutionalized system of racial segregation and discrimination shaped his upbringing and affected his family, but he also tells of his powerful, no-nonsense mother. His mother’s uniqueness is the star of much of the book.

Each story is proceeded by a section that explains parts of apartheid or South African culture. This is a clever and helpful addition because without it readers may not grasp the importance of the story or the significance to his life. Noah is funny, accessible and honest.

I could not put this book down. I was fascinated by Noah’s writing style and his descriptions of events. He does an excellent job of foreshadowing to keep the reader interested.

Noah’s respect for his mother is obvious. This book was written as a tribute to her and to give her credit for surviving a not-so-idyllic life, as much as it was for Noah to have an outlet. He dedicated the book to his mother: “My first fan. Thank you for making me a man.”

Noah’s matter-of-fact and humorous way of telling stories keeps the narrative moving and will make readers laugh, cry and want more.

Jeana Gockley is the director for the Joplin Public Library.

Find in catalog – Untamed & Born a Crime.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Before reading “BECOMING,” I knew little about MICHELLE OBAMA.

I knew she was married to President Barack Obama, that she had two daughters and that she always presented a professional, polished image. Embarrassingly, that was the extent.

I did not realize her parents were happily married until her father died from multiple sclerosis at the age of 55, she holds an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a law degree from Harvard, and shockingly for me, her first introduction to her husband was as his mentor at the law firm in Chicago where she was first employed after law school.

Thank goodness I checked out this memoir. In reading it, I learned so much about Michelle Obama’s life and how she became who she is today.

Obama’s writing is clear, accessible and descriptive. She does an excellent job of developing a timeline and explaining details. It was a treat to get to read about the campaigns and elections from her viewpoint. Her love and support of her husband shines through in the book but not in the typical ways most wives support their politician husbands. Committing to being married to a politician was not an easy decision for her and one she struggled with many times during his career — and still struggles with today.

Her parents raised a strong, independent person, and her ability to have her own goals and passions were vital to her happiness. She found her own path, and while sometimes it was not easy, she persevered and not only had a fulfilling career but parented two beautiful, smart and passionate daughters and supported her husband.

Her love for children is often mentioned, and she was able to incorporate that into her platform as first lady, focusing on nutrition, physical activity and healthy eating. Building a garden on the White House lawn as a way to involve youth groups and show how to make healthy food choices was no easy feat, but it turned out as a beautiful addition and provided thousands of pounds of fresh produce for the White House. Her messages about hope and “you matter,” focused primarily toward young women, are powerful statements about her beliefs and dreams.

Hearing about the Secret Service was interesting and insightful. Obama has a deep respect for the men and women who protect her family, and she also talks about the other White House staff members and how they became more than staff to her family. Her description of how sad she felt leaving the White House on the final day of her husband’s presidency showcases the connections the Obama family made with their caretakers.

Her story comes together by letting the people be the focus. She is good at seeing people and reading them. She demonstrates grace throughout the narrative, and this combined with her inner beauty make it easy to see why so many people adore her.

Also, I loved the insight that I got about Barack from this memoir. It was a beautiful thing to see our 44th president through the eyes of his wife and partner. She shares special things that many people would not know about him — he used to smoke, he works best shut away in a messy “hole” of an office and he seems to grow calmer as the chaos rises. So many great stories are included in the narrative.

She also highlights key moments during the eight years they were in the White House — finding and killing Osama Bin Laden, the massacre in Newtown and the legalization of gay marriage — and uses these stories to showcase there was always a crisis to contend with, and while it was apparent things like this would continue, the response she and Barack gave were important. People were looking to them to lead, and they did their best to do a good job.

This well-crafted, powerful read should not be missed. The pacing is spot on, and the imagery the author is able to create with her words will make the reader feel part of the story. The warmth she feels for people radiates outward, and her use of story and the power that it yields is phenomenal. She uses her story to provide hope, inspiration and spotlight a message of love.

Jeana Gockley is the director of the Joplin Public Library.

Find in catalog.

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

Meet Dannie Kohan. Numbers are important to her.

Here are a few:

Thirty-six — the number of minutes it takes Dannie to get ready each morning.

Eighteen — the number of minutes it takes her to walk to work.

Twenty-four — the number of months you should date someone before you move in together.

Twenty-eight — the appropriate age to get engaged.

Thirty — the opportune age to get married.

As you can tell, Dannie has her life measured and mapped out — all at the age of 28. She lives with her boyfriend David and is on the fast-track to being a partner in a large law firm that she has wanted to work at since she was 10 years old.

She is nothing like her best friend, Bella, who is happy-go-lucky and embraces the adventures in life to their fullest. They have known each other since they were 7 years old, when they met at a park, and have been inseparable ever since.

Both live in New York, but Bella is a frequent traveler and Dannie’s work rarely allows her to make it home in time for dinner.

Dannie and David agree on the importance of a plan. Their plan is to get engaged, continue on their current career paths, get married, move to Gramercy Park and have a couple of kids. It may not be happily ever after in the truest sense of the phrase, but it works for them.

Bella, an artist, owns a gallery and falls in love at the drop of a hat. Dannie lives vicariously through Bella’s many adventures and loves.

Things seem to be aligning perfectly in Dannie’s life, until one night, after David proposes, she drifts off and wakes up five years later. Surprisingly, her future looks nothing like her life of today, and during the brief time she is transported, she sees where she lives, and more surprisingly, who she is with. She does not stay in the future for long and when she wakes, back in her real life, she is not sure what to think. Was it a dream? Premonition? Is she losing her mind?

Flash forward 41/2 years, and Dannie is still engaged to David but not yet married; she is working for her dream law firm, and she is getting ready to meet Bella’s new boyfriend. This is where it gets interesting, and Dannie realizes that her premonition may have not been a dream.

REBECCA SERLE has created a captivating read in her novel, “IN FIVE YEARS.” She does an excellent job setting the scene and allowing the reader to be drawn into the story. Her descriptions of New York — the fashion, the art and the food — seem spot on. I felt like I was there.

The tale Serle has crafted is heart-wrenching and beautifully crafted. It is an unexpected love story that is hard to put down. Many readers will be inspired to question their daily lives, their choices and if they appreciate what they have and where they are in life.

Jeana Gockley is the director of the Joplin Public Library.

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Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

When I saw this title come out a year ago, I was hyped. JENNIFER WEINER is a New York Times bestselling author, and I typically find her books engaging and hard to put down. And her newest title, “MRS. EVERYTHING,” does not disappoint. This multigenerational novel that spans six decades is about two sisters and how their lives are altered by the events around them.

Bethie and Jo Kaufman are young girls growing up in Detroit during the 1950s. Younger, beautiful, self-assured Bethie is more easily understood by their mother, as she is drawn to clothes, boys and knows she is destined to be a star; whereas, smart, tomboyish Jo — who much prefers dungarees over a dress and itchy tights — better relates to their father.

It is easy to see that Bethie will grow up, marry her high school sweetheart and mother equally adorable children, while Jo will struggle to find a place where she fits in the world and may eventually — if she is lucky — carve out a path that works for her.

However, these cliched roles do not hold true. Key events transpire that send each girl down much different paths. Jo’s differences give her the need to conform, and she is compelled to live a life untrue to herself for much of her life, while Bethie eventually feels the need to rebel and not walk the path that everyone has laid out for her.

To share more would give away too much of this novel. Throughout, Weiner explores each character’s choices. The novel covers various topics that include the loss of a parent, sexual experimentation and rebellion.

While the novel is predictable at times, it is also compelling. Weiner’s use of alternating chapters, told by each sister, moves the story along and draws in the audience. This double perspective balances the story and creates a richer viewpoint. Readers will want to see what happens in this brilliant tale focused on emotionally tough subjects such as family, hardship, love and loss.

Jeana Gockley is the director of the Joplin Public Library.

Find in Catalog.

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Around the holidays I kept seeing the same book for sale everywhere I looked — “SUPERNOVA.” I was drawn to the beautifully drawn cover and the mysterious figure of a girl in a red cape. And then I noticed the author’s name — MARRISA MEYER. One of my recent favorites!

If you’re not familiar with Meyer’s work, she wrote a popular series called “The Lunar Chronicles” several years ago, and I read every single one of them and loved them. How can you go wrong with a Cinderella story featuring a cyborg? Yes, I said cyborg. Seriously, it is so good!

I digress, but it’s hard to mention Meyer without taking about “Cinder” and the other books in her “Lunar Chronicles” series. But the real story here is Meyer’s newest series, “Renegades.” The interesting book I kept seeing was “Supernova,” the third and final book in the series.

In “Renegades,” Meyer has created a world where there are prodigies — people who have been born with or later acquire special skills. For years, prodigies were feared, marginalized and even killed. Then along came Ace Anarchy — a powerful prodigy who took down the establishment and caused Gatlon City to become a place of chaos. His group became known as the Anarchists, and during his time in power, there was not a formal government, allowing for the rise of gangs, violence and many deaths. From this time of anarchy rose a powerful group of prodigies who began fighting to help the greater good. These superheroes, soon known as Renegades, were eventually able to beat the Anarchists, take over, and set up a form of government run by the original group of Renegades, known as the Council.

After a brief prologue, the story starts 10 years after the Renegade Council took over and follows the main characters, Nova, the niece of Ace and Adrian, the adopted son of two of the Renegades.

Fifteen-year-old Nova Artino (aka Nightmare) was taken in by her uncle Alec (aka Ace Anarchy) after witnessing the murder of her parents and sister at a young age. She grew up with the Anarchists and, after the battle that destroyed her uncle, she vowed to get revenge and destroy the Renegades. A plan is developed by the remaining Anarchist, and soon, Nova is working to infiltrate the Renegades.

Adrian Everhart (aka Sketch) has a lot going for him. His parents are both Council members, as a Renegade he and his friends — Oscar, Danna and Ruby — fight crime daily, and he has one of the coolest superpowers, being able to give life to practically anything he draws.

Both Adrian and Nova have secrets they want to keep, but soon their paths cross and they will have to decide what is more important and how they will choose to live.

The heart of the book is good versus evil, but as with real life, there are grey areas, and Meyer does a good job exploring that in her three-book series. All three books are interesting, and after finishing the final one, I am mostly happy with how Meyer decided to tie up the loose ends and how the conclusion came about. Because I read all three books, I don’t want to give away too much. I will just say this — most readers will be surprised by the dramatic twist at the end of the first book.

Jeana Gockley is the director for the Joplin Public Library.

Find in catalog.

Counting your read books — how many will you read in 2020? by Jeana Gockley

The end of the year and the start of a new one is typically the time for readers to reflect on what they have read during the past year. And this year, I’m excited to get to be one of them, because I finally remembered to keep track of my year’s worth of reading. Huzzah!

I had not tracked my books read since first grade — that year, my total was 300, and I enjoyed a lot of “Book It” personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut. But last December, I noticed several of my friends had tracked their 2018 books, so I thought I would give it a try.

Fast forward 12 months and I’m happy to report that I finished 30 books. It is not quite on par with my 300 titles from first grade, but I will take it. Life feels a bit busier nowadays, and the books I currently read are a tad longer.

Of those 30 titles, here are my top six picks, in no particular order:

• “A MAN CALLED OVE” by FREDRIK BACKHAM. Even though Backman has been popular for several years, this was the first one I’ve read by him. I loved it! The characters in this book are exceptionally drawn and real. Ove might seem like a crotchety old man on the outside, but underneath he’s a warm and kindhearted old grump who is beyond lonely. His busybody neighbors help rectify this, and man, what a good read.

• “CIRCE” by MADELINE MILLER. I listened to this one using our Overdrive service, and it was a powerful experience. Most everyone has heard of the Greek character Circe, the sorceress who famously turned men into pigs. But in Miller’s retelling of this tale, you learn so much more. The storytelling elements of this book are spot on, and readers will be hard pressed to not peek ahead while reading.

• “THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE” by LISA SEE. I not only learned an amazing amount about tea from this book, I learned a lot about the Aka, a native tribe that live in the mountainous areas of China. See had to do a lot of research to pull this one off, and it shows in her descriptive and thorough writing. The characters, who are flawed, well-rounded and beautiful, combine with the unusual setting and compelling storyline to create a masterpiece of fiction.

• “THE STORY HOUR” by THRITY UMRIGAR. This is the story of Maggie, an American psychologist, and Lakshmi, a young Indian woman. The pair meet after Lakshmi tries to commit suicide, and Maggie is so affected by the woman and her silent grief that she agrees to counsel Lakshmi on a pro bono basis. Soon, they start to feel and act more like friends and less like doctor and patient. This makes for a complicated relationship and a fascinating story. You get to know Lakshmi’s backstory and the reason she felt like suicide was the only answer, and you get to learn about Maggie’s life at the same time. The story is engrossing and the ending has a nice surprise twist that will have readers guessing until the end.

• “EVVIE DRAKE STARTS OVER” by LINDA HOLMES. I wrote a full review for this one in October but could not pass up a chance to mention it again. Holmes’ writing style is quirky and captivating. Her tale of a guilt-ridden widow and a former Major League Baseball player will keep you interested until the final pages.

• “MRS. EVERYTHING” by JENNIFER WEINER. Jennifer Weiner is one of my favorite authors. If she writes it, I will read it. “Mrs. Everything” does not disappoint. Told through the alternative viewpoints of two sisters — Jo and Bethie Kaufman — from early childhood into their senior years, she weaves a story of love, loss and, ultimately, forgiveness.

I have enjoyed seeing my final reading list so much that I’m making one of my 2020 goals to do it again. I am not sure I will surpass 30, but we will see. Thanks for taking the time to share in my reflection and reading about my favorites. I wish you a wonderful new year of reading!

Jeana Gockley is the library director for the Joplin Public Library

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Librarian Seeks BookNeeded quick! Great book to read.  Looking for a well-written story that contains humor, light subject matter, and well-rounded, quirky characters.  Must be able to hold my attention and keep me from binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy and various home improvement shows.  Physical book preferred, but would consider downloading a digital copy if it is the right choice.

That is how I felt several weeks ago when I found myself looking for a book to read; like I needed to write my own personal ad to help me find a good book.    

I kept starting books, but not finishing them.  Probably not so much the books fault as my inability to stay focused.  But I was getting desperate, I needed something that I could finish reading and use for my book review.  Thankfully, I work with some of the most well-read people in Joplin, so I started asking library staff for recommendations.  And, lo and behold, I found a winner, “Evvie Drake Starts Over” by Linda Holmes. 

Evvie Drake is a widow.  Not your typically weepy, I miss my husband-type though.  Evvie has a secret – one she has not told anyone – on the day of her husband’s death she was packing her car, planning to leave him forever.  What are the odds on the day she decided to leave, he would die?  

So now a whole year later, she still has not shared this secret with anyone – not her best friend Andy, not her family, not a soul.  And then Dean comes into her life.

Dean has lost something as well – not a spouse, but something just as important to him – his ability to pitch.  This is devastating for him since he has made a career out of being a baseball pitcher. However, he is now a former major-league pitcher after getting a case of the “yips” and not being able to pitch with any sort of accuracy. 

Coincidentally, Evvie and Dean are both friends with Andy, and in an effort to help both of his floundering friends, he suggests that Dean, who recently left New York City to visit him in Maine, rent the apartment located in the back of Evvie’s large house.  This will help Evvie pay her bills, since she refuses to touch her husband life insurance money, and it will provide Dean with a safe space away from prying eyes.

After Dean moves in, the two quickly make a deal – Dean will not ask about Evvie’s late husband and Evvie will not ask about baseball.

Thanks to Dean’s companionship Evvie is able to start to move forward and Dean finds a new normal, too.  The two do not end up keeping their deal, and in the end that turns out to be the best thing for both of them.  

Linda Holmes has crafted a beautiful piece of fiction, that in it’s soft, subtle way, was just what I needed.  I stayed awake late reading this one to find out what would happen and see how Evvie and Dean ended up. I was not sure I was going to like how she tied up the loose ends, but I could not have been happier.  I am glad to have found my perfect match in Evvie Drake.