Whisper Hollow

Book cover: Whisper Hollow by Chris CanderVerra, West Virginia is a small town comprised mostly of first- and second-generation immigrants. Many of the town’s inhabitants work hard for meager wages, and a lot of sons follow in in their father’s footsteps and become coal miners. Spanning from 1916 to 1969, Whisper Hollow follows the lives of two women who have lived in the town all their lives and whose fates are intertwined.

At the beginning of the book, Myrthen Bergmann’s twin sister dies in an accident. Myrthen blames herself and spends the rest of her life in mourning. She devotes her life to Catholicism, and when she finds what nuns are, her sole goal in life is to enter the sisterhood as soon as she’s able to. Meanwhile, Alta Krol daydreams of becoming an artist and seeing the world. When her glamorous aunt and uncle come for a visit from New York City, Alta can’t stop thinking of what life must be like outside Verra. But since her mother died young, Alta is now the one in charge of taking care of her brothers and her father. Both women are pushed into marriage under very different circumstances, but while Alta reluctantly accepts her fate, Myrthen makes a number of decisions that wreak havoc on Alta’s life.

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Bon Appétempt: A Coming-of-Age Story (with Recipes!)

Book cover: Bon Appetempt by Amelia MorrisGrowing up, Amelia Morris was never a foodie, and it wasn’t until she was in her twenties that she decided to test her cooking skills. Despite never having made a cake from scratch — or having much of any kitchen experience whatsoever — she was dazzled by a beautiful chocolate-peppermint cake in Bon Appétit magazine and decided to try the recipe for a Christmas brunch that she was hosting.

Instead of creating a magazine cover-worthy cake to dazzle her friends with, the end result was a confection that had to be scooped out of a serving bowl, “unequivocal proof that if you work hard and follow the rules to a tee, your cake may still fall over and need to be scraped into a bowl on Christmas Day.” She took lots of pictures, was at peace with her epic failure, and ended up creating Bon Appétempt, a blog that’s charted her culinary journey over the past five years.

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Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on Their Decision Not to Have Kids

Book cover: Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed ed. by Meghan DaumA few years ago, before I hit the big 3-0, one of my older students asked if I had kids. I told her no, and she immediately started scolding me, saying that time was running out and that I needed to start trying to get pregnant so that I wouldn’t be too old to enjoy my hypothetical children or run into problems down the line. When I politely told her I didn’t want kids, she doubled down on trying to convince me of the error of my ways.

I am now at that age — my early 30s — when my friends are being told by their OB/GYNs to start wrapping things up in the baby department. Their eggs, apparently, are dying, and they’re reaching the end of their reproductive lives. Or something. (That sounds really extreme for early-to-mid thirtysomethings, no?). If they wait any longer, it could be too late. So my friends are doing it (no pun intended): they’re working on that second or third baby to complete their family.

Me? I’m daydreaming of my next big travel adventure. I’ve been blatantly called selfish for my childfree by choice stance (maybe I like spending entire days on my couch, living off popcorn and beer while reading multiple books). Shallow? Whatever. Self-absorbed? Yeah, sometimes. But what’s it to you?

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The Walls Around Us

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren SumaThere’s been a lot of excitement leading up to the release of Nova Ren Suma’s latest young adult book, The Walls Around Us. It’s been out for almost a full week now, and I’ve been seeing more and more blurbs claiming that the book is this year’s “Orange is the New Black Swan.”

Well…yes and no.

The book is about three teenage girls and is told from two of those girls’ perspectives (one of whom is now speaking from beyond the grave): Amber, who is imprisoned at Amber Hills juvenile detention center for murdering her stepfather; Violet, a well-off eighteen-year-old ballerina about to start her bright future at Julliard; and Orianna — Ori — Violet’s former best friend and and fellow ballerina, a girl from the wrong side of town whose mother left her when she was seven and who only really has ballet going for her. Ori was sent to Aurora Hills three years ago for the murder of two of their ballet classmates.

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Night at the Fiestas

Night at the Fiestas: Stories by Kirsten Valdez QuadeMostly set in New Mexico, the ten short stories in Kirsten Valdez Quade’s new book capture mesmerizing glimpses at the lives of outsiders. From deadbeat dads trying to make amends, to girls coming of age, to many a character trying to navigate race/class lines, the stories in this collection are heavily infused with Catholic, Mexican American, and New Mexican culture.

In the first story, “Nemecia,” a young girl’s life is completely turned upside down when her orphaned, emotionally manipulative cousin comes to live with them. The girl is moving in under violent circumstances: she was present when her mother and grandfather were both murdered. The girl is sweet and vulnerable around adults but can be cruel to her little cousin when no one is looking, going so far as to claim she was the murderer. It becomes clearer and clearer to the young girl which child is the more important one in their family.

In “The Five Wounds,” Amadeo Padilla is proud to be Jesus in that year’s recreation of the Passion. It’s a bloody event where he’ll have to carry a heavy cross and suffer as Jesus did, but Amadeo is eager to prove his machismo. The unannounced arrival of his pregnant teen daughter — whom he doesn’t have much of a relationship with — throws him off guard, and over the next couple of days, things happen that will become a much heavier symbolic cross for him to bear. This story was one of my favorites in the collection.

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