Books, Friends and Memories

An extension of my Kirkus blog post from October 19.


THE AWAKENING by Kate Chopin    a feminist classic.

The Awakening, originally titled A Solitary Soul, is a novel by Kate Chopin, first published in 1899. Set in New Orleans and on the Louisiana Gulf coast at the end of the 19th century, the plot centers on Edna Pontellier and her struggle to reconcile her increasingly unorthodox views on femininity and motherhood with the prevailing social attitudes of the turn-of-the-century American South. It is one of the earliest American novels that focuses on women’s issues without condescension. It is also widely seen as a landmark work of early feminism, generating a mixed reaction from contemporary readers and critics. The novel’s blend of realistic narrative, incisive social commentary, and psychological complexity makes The Awakening a precursor of American modernist literature; it prefigures the works of American novelists such as William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway and echoes the works of contemporaries such as Edith Wharton and Henry James. It can also be considered among the first Southern works in a tradition that would culminate with the modern masterpieces of Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, and Tennessee Williams.


SEVENEVES by Neal Stephenson

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Anathem, Reamde, and Cryptonomicon comes an exciting and thought-provoking science fiction epic—a grand story of annihilation and survival spanning five thousand years.

What would happen if the world were ending?

A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.

But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain . . .

Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown . . . to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.

A writer of dazzling genius and imaginative vision, Neal Stephenson combines science, philosophy, technology, psychology, and literature in a magnificent work of speculative fiction that offers a portrait of a future that is both extraordinary and eerily recognizable. As he did in Anathem, Cryptonomicon, the Baroque Cycle, and Reamde, Stephenson explores some of our biggest ideas and perplexing challenges in a breathtaking saga that is daring, engrossing, and altogether brilliant.



The timeless spiritual classic and international bestseller by Richard Bach—a fable featuring a seagull learning about life and flight and the notion of self-perfection.

This is a story for people who follow their hearts and make their own rules…people who get special pleasure out of doing something well, even if only for themselves…people who know there’s more to this living than meets the eye: they’ll be right there with Jonathan, flying higher and faster than ever they dreamed.

#BookADay 7 – Year of Yes

YEAR OF YES: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

Inspiring, empowering, fascinating and a great reminder that letting more YES into our lives opens us up to new experiences, new friendships and new opportunities—which could lead to unexpected transformations.

Yes, yes, yes! {love}

The mega-talented creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder chronicles how saying YES for one year changed her life―and how it can change yours, too.

With three hit shows on television and three children at home, the uber-talented Shonda Rhimes had lots of good reasons to say NO when an unexpected invitation arrived. Hollywood party? No. Speaking engagement? No. Media appearances? No.

And there was the side-benefit of saying No for an introvert like Shonda: nothing new to fear.

Then Shonda’s sister laid down a challenge: just for one year, try to say YES to the unexpected invitations that come your way. Shonda reluctantly agreed―and the result was nothing short of transformative. In Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes chronicles the powerful impact saying yes had on every aspect of her life―and how we can all change our lives with one little word. Yes.

#BookADay 6 – Safe Passage


Have you ever read this lovely book? 

It’s the true story of Ida and Louise Cook, who were huge opera fans and managed to leverage their love for opera and their reputation as major fans into an operation that saved dozens of Jews in the days before England and Nazi Germany formally declared war.

Ida Cook was a beloved Mills & Boon author who wrote under the name Mary Burchnell.

Now, in the book, there’s a LOT of talk about opera singers and opera, but while the star points of the story are how their courage, resourcefulness and ingenuity shepherded people and valuable objects out of Germany, other inspiring and fascinating aspects of the story are the ways and hows two young women set goals and managed to create miracles, like seeing opera shows and even sailing to America, on a very small income (to start). It’s a fascinating and inspiring peek into days gone by, lived by two special women who made them extraordinary.

A combination of faith and charisma, despite their modest means and demeanors, made them a powerful force, and there’s no question that their ability to start conversations with the people around them, and their effervescent love of the opera stars and the other fans —including a lovely interest and curiosity about the people around them, in a completely egalitarian way—helped them become popular and beloved in opera circles.

I would have loved to have seen a bit more about her writing (which mostly funded their escapades). According to the first few paragraphs of Wikipedia (read the full article here):

 Ida Cook (24 August 1904 – 22 December 1986) was a British campaigner for Jewish refugees and a romance novelist as Mary Burchell.

Ida Cook and her sister Mary Louise Cook (1901–1991) rescued Jews from the Nazis during the 1930s. The sisters helped 29 people escape, funded mainly by Ida’s writing. In 1965, the Cook sisters were honored as Righteous among the Nations by the Yad Vashem Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority in Israel.[1]

Between 1936 and 1985, Ida Cook wrote 112 romance novels as Mary Burchell for Mills & Boon (many of which were later republished by Harlequin). She helped to found, and from 1966 to 1986 was the second president of, the Romantic Novelists’ Association. In 1950 she wrote her autobiography, We Followed Our Stars, later re-edited and expanded as Safe Passage, which is currently in print.

The book was originally released in the 50s under the title Following Our Stars (which actually is a better title given the arc).

I read it probably 10 years ago or so, and highly recommend. It’s unlike anything you’ve likely read before – but it’s a thoroughly delightful and will leave you charmed and entertained.

You can also find Mary Burchell in digital form @Amazon here.

It looks like A SONG BEGINS is only $.99.

The sound of success…

Anthea Benton is shocked when her voice teacher, Miss Sharon, tells her that she has progressed beyond what she can teach her.

In order to progress as a singer, Anthea needs to leave her small town and find a professional tutor. 

But with a sick father, money is tight in the Benton household.

Then, Anthea sees an advertisement for a singing contest with a £500 first prize – this could be the answer to her prayers.

At the contest, Anthea knows she is better than any of the other contestants.

She would have won…if not for Oscar Warrender, one of the most celebrated opera conductors in the world, who made sure she didn’t win the contest.

So when a letter arrives informing Anthea that Warrender wants her to come to London and be his prize, and only, pupil, Anthea is shocked to say the least.

But this could be her big chance and she just cannot turn it down.

She will need every ounce of strength and intelligence she possesses to withstand the training and hard work to become a successful opera singer.

But will Anthea and Oscar’s turbulent relationship ruin her chances for success?

And what else will she discover about herself along the way?

A Song Begins is the first book in the charming Warrender Saga.

#BookADay 5 – Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

Day 5 of my #BookADay project and the recommendation comes from my sister, a huge Lois McMaster Bujold fan.

(We’re sitting in McDonald’s in Olathe, Kansas, my mom’s hometown, here for a small family reunion.)

Captain Ivan Vorpatril is happy with his relatively uneventful bachelor’s life of a staff officer to a Barrayaran admiral. Ivan, cousin to Imperial troubleshooter Miles Vorkosigan, is not far down the hereditary list for the emperorship. Thankfully, new heirs have directed that headache elsewhere, leaving Ivan to enjoy his life on Komarr, far from the Byzantine court politics of his home system. But when an old friend in Barrayaran intelligence asks Ivan to protect an attractive young woman who may be on the hit list of a criminal syndicate, Ivan’s chivalrous nature takes over. It seems danger and adventures have once more found Captain Vorpatril.

Tej Arqua and her half-sister and servant Rish are fleeing the violent overthrow of their clan on free-for-all planet Jackson’s Whole. Now it seems Tej may possess a hidden secret of which even she may not be aware. It’s a secret that could corrupt the heart of a highly regarded Barayarran family and provide the final advantage for the thugs who seek to overthrow Tej’s homeworld.

But none of Tej’s formidable adversaries have counted on Ivan Vorpatril. For behind Ivan’s façade of wry and self effacing humor lies a true and cunning protector who will never leave a distressed lady in the lurch—up to and including making the ultimate sacrifice to keep her from harm: the treasured and hardwon freedom from his own fate as a scion of Barrayar.

My sister recommended this series to me for years before I finally picked up this title. I will definitely be reading more ofMcMaster Bujold in the future, because this book was brilliant – very funny, but also touching, with characters who continually say things they don’t mean, but somehow get their true feelings across anyway.

At first at odds with each other, they form an uneasy alliance, but soon realize they’re perfect for each other, even in the face of resistance from family and friends on both sides.

It’s been a long time since I laughed out loud quite as hard as I did when the building collapsed. (Read the book. It’s hysterical. You’ll be glad you did.)

#BookADay 4 – Moonraker’s Bride

And other titles by Madeleine Brent….

Have you ever read Madeleine Brent? (Who was *really* Peter O’Donnell (read his Wikipedia page here.)

Gothic, fish-out-of-water storylines, usually with a heroine who was raised somewhere else who winds up in England.

And you know how flexible and forgiving those Victorian English people were, right? ;o)
I read most of these in high school, and have never forgotten them.  One of my best friends, Robyn, who lived two doors down from me, lent me her copy and I was enthralled.

They were all a bit similar to each other, but I’ve never read anything else quite like them.

A few years ago I heard a rumor that they would be coming out in digital editions, but so far no luck.

However, if you ever see one in a library or second store, don’t hesitate to pick them up!

Of course, having said that, it occurs to me that it’s my 16 year-old self recommending them, but I still think they’ll hold up. They have pretty good reviews on Amazon, so I don’t think I’m completely off the mark…If you ever read one, please loop back to me and let me know!) xoxo

Madeline Brent  @Amazon  (though these will all be second hand.)