The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

Louisa May Alcott is a well known name in the literary world as it belongs to the author of the famous book, Little Women (which I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read… yet!). The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper tells the story of May Alcott, the younger sister of the famous author. Although May has been largely overshadowed, she was just as ambitious as her sister and her art is painting and drawing.

May has been passionate about art for her whole life, but while in her 20’s she questions whether she’s earned the title of “artist.” When does someone truly become what they want to be? Is it when they practice it? When they earn a living from it? When they’ve achieved fame? I thought this question was really interesting, especially as May travels around the world to master her skill and find confidence. She prioritized studying with fine teachers and copying the masterpieces that hung in museums.  

Both May and Louisa challenged the traditional female role in the 1800’s by forging their own independent paths. There’s an unmistakable rivalry between them, although it’s complicated due to their sisterhood. Their relationship is filled with conflict, love, and support all at once.

Besides May and Louisa, Hooper shares a glimpse at the lives of other female artists during the time period who were trying, against the odds, the make names for themselves and find success. Their perseverance is admirable and an inspiration.

The pace was slow and steady, but I was interested throughout and definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, powerful female characters and/or complex sibling relationships.

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A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Sometimes I avoid picking up a book, even if I really want to read it. I’ll carry it to a coffee shop or I’ll bring it on a trip, but when it comes to actually reading it – I can’t bring myself to do it. This is exactly what happened with A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This story is incredibly intense and emotional; I wasn’t sure I could handle it.

After years of avoiding it, I read A Little Life and it was more devastating than I could have believed.

Soon after Jude, Willem, JB and Malcom become roommates during their freshman year of college, they become best friends. They are inseparable for a time and move to New York as so many young people do. The book follows their lives and what has led them to New York. They are each extremely talented, even if not all of them believe it, as an artist, an architect, an actor and a lawyer. In some ways their lives are ordinary and in other ways, extraordinary.

When I told my mom about this book, she asked why I’m reading it. It’s a fair question. As heartbreaking as this story is, it’s also filled with hope, compassion and love. In a way, it’s a tribute to the perseverance of humankind in times of terribly tragedy.

A Little Life is one of the best books I’ve ever read and I highly recommend it, but know that it has an intensity (both positive and negative) like none other.

My 5 Favorite Books of 2017

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Everyone needs to read this book. It’s honest, uncomfortable, and eye-opening. Starr lives in a poor, dangerous neighborhood, but attends a wealthy and predominately white school and she feels like her two selves are at war when she witnesses her friend Khalil get fatally shot by a police officer. Seriously, read this book. 

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

Sometimes a book is so endearing and nostalgic to teenage years that you can’t help getting brought along for the ride. Billy is a fourteen-year-old who spends his time with friends, playing and creating video games, and thinking about girls while also avoiding them. We follow along as he navigates through high school.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This stunning, eye-opening novel very clearly shows how reading fosters empathy. In a heartwarming tone, it discusses a topic that a lot of people aren’t familiar with in a very eye-opening and relatable way.

Dead Letters by Claire Dolan-Leach

Caite Dolan-Leach writes beautifully, casting an eccentric line of characters in a beautiful (albeit unsuccessful) vineyard in a small town. Enchanting with a punchy voice, quick pace, and unexpected twists!

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

This father-daughter story stars the gun-toting Samuel Hawley and his daughter, steel-toe boot-wearing Loo. Despite their rough exteriors, the duo charmed me as Loo tries to reconcile with her father’s dark past.

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land, a psychological thriller, is SO eerie! The story is told by the daughter of a serial killer, Milly, and begins when she turns her mother into the police. That’s right, this particular serial killer is a female. Surprising huh? At first they didn’t believe Milly, what are the odds of a murderous mother? But the police are quickly convinced when Milly shares her terrible trauma.

 

While Milly prepares to testify against her mother in court, she stays with a foster family. Mike, Saskia and Phoebe, a fellow teenager, take her in and saying that Phoebe and Milly don’t get along is putting it mildly. As Milly settles into her new life, we see glimpses into the horrors that Milly’s mom put her through. Land was able to convey these awful experiences without being too graphic or gruesome, which I found to be impressive.

It’s very clear that Milly is battling against herself, her good self and bad self. Between who she feels she is and who she wants to be. She struggles to be normal, but is constantly reminded of the lessons her mother taught her and consistently speaks to her mother throughout the story, addressing the audience as “you.” The true question Milly longs to answer is whether she’s her mother’s daughter after all…

This debut novel from Ali Land is well written and chilling. If thrillers are your thing, I definitely recommend it!

Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets

Imagine that you’re alone in the woods with no way to contact help and it’s starting to get dark. This is where Amy Raye, an experienced hunter, finds herself during Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets.

When Amy Raye sets out alone to track a bull elk during the last weekend of the hunting season, the weather takes a turn for the worse. Before long, she’s lost and it’s getting dark. Amy Raye’s two fellow hunters report her missing, which launches a search and recovery mission to find her. Throughout the story, the perspective shifts from Amy Raye to Pru Hathaway (a member of the search team) and we learn about the perseverance of each of these women as the conditions go from bad to worse.

Breaking Wild is filled with vivid descriptions of the Colorado wilderness as well as detailed hunting explanations. While I don’t have any experience hunting (or any interest in it really), it was a unique perspective to read from and Amy Raye’s survival skills are beyond impressive. It’s inspiring to read about a character with such a strong will to survive.

Although the book wasn’t a thriller like I thought it might be; it was still a race to the finish.  I recommend this book as the weather turns colder and we find ourselves bundled up inside!

Lie To Me by J.T. Ellison

Every year, I save the mystery books on my to-be-read list for the cooler, crisp months. This year, I picked up Lie To Me by J.T. Ellison as the first mystery thriller of the season (cheers to fall!).

Sutton and Ethan Montclair are both successful authors and they’ve had a hard year. After losing a child, working through an affair, and both of their careers taking a bit hit – they’re feeling the pain. One day, Ethan finds a note in their kitchen from Sutton saying that she has left and doesn’t want to be followed. Unsure what to do, Ethan waits. And waits. And waits until the hours pass by and something feels off. It doesn’t feel like Sutton is taking a few days for herself, it feels like something more.

With Sutton missing and the police asking tough questions, Ethan starts to lose his sanity. What happens next is a chase to find Sutton before it’s too late.

At first, I thought that this book was trying too hard to be like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn with the whole wife-frames-the-husband situation. Turns out that it’s a different story entirely! Overall, I enjoyed this layered story (with unexpected twists) and it’s definitely gotten me in the mood for more thrillers.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

I read and review many wonderful books, but it’s not often that I want each and every one of you to read one book in particular. What’s this stunning, eye-opening novel that I think everyone should read? This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel!

Before I dive into why I think this book is so important, I’ll share an overview of the story. Rosie and Penn live in the Midwest with their five lively, adorably chaotic and curious boys. Meet Claude, the youngest son who loves to bake and listen to fairytales. When he grows up he wants to be a girl. Claude’s parents and siblings are supportive and want him to be happy. However they’re not sure how to support him in a world that doesn’t seem to understand. To protect their family, a secret unfolds and grows until it becomes so large that it threatens to suffocate them all.

One of the most important impacts of reading (besides enjoying the stories) is how it fosters empathy. This book makes that very clear. In a heartwarming tone, This Is How It Always Is discusses a topic that a lot of people aren’t familiar with in a very eye-opening and relatable way. I wholeheartedly recommend this book and would love to hear your thoughts if any of you have read it!