Bucket List Book Club: My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book One

Ok, Bucket List Book Clubbers! Book 3 is My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante! It is the first in a trilogy and has been sitting on my unread shelf for several years since I bought it at Costco. (Because I buy everything at Costco…) I also just found out it’s going to be a series on HBO, so this is great timing to read before that comes out.

Description from the publisher

“Beginning in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Ferrante’s four-volume story spans almost sixty years, as its protagonists, the fiery and unforgettable Lila, and the bookish narrator, Elena, become women, wives, mothers, and leaders, all the while maintaining a complex and at times conflictual friendship. Book one in the series follows Lila and Elena from their first fateful meeting as ten-year-olds through their school years and adolescence.

Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists.”

I’m all in for a saga, and I love book series, so I can’t wait to finish this one! I’ve been told that the narrator for the audiobook for My Brilliant Friend is great as well!

If you want to join in, we’ll be reading it throughout the month of April, with a discussion in early May. (If you’re interested, our discussion of My Brilliant Friend will be Sunday, May 6, at 2PM CST on my Instagram page!)

You can also follow the hashtag #bucketlistbookclub on Instagram to see other people’s posts as we read My Brilliant Friend.

I’ll post my review here when I’m finished, and you can also use the comments section on that post, and this one, to discuss it.

Happy reading!

Review: Drama High

Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater

Theater gives them what a computer takes away, what no classroom teacher can teach. They learn to work with other people. They learn patience and tolerance and how to be deferential to each other. They learn to be good citizens. It’s unifying. It has an impact on kids that can’t be quantified. Educators don’t know how to measure it.

If you’ve seen the new TV show Rise, you’re probably familiar with the culture of some high school theatre programs. What you might not know (I didn’t until Kate at Kate Reads Books posted about it) is that the show is based on this book, Drama High by Michael Sokolove. It’s the story of a real theatre group that really struggled with support and budget (as most theatre programs do) that ended up becoming one of the most highly respected drama groups in the country.

Lou Volpe became the theatre director at Truman High School in Levittown in 1970. His first show, Antigone, had no set and the actors wore trash bags and aluminum foil. He had no history in theatre, except for loving it. But he was more than dedicated to the shows he produced and the students who starred in them. He worked just as hard as the students, and in return a deep, mutual respect evolved. Volpe’s students trusted him and his direction outright, and he trusted that they would put all of themselves into every performance. That kind of dedication is what lead Broadway producers to travel to Levittown to watch those high school performance and to test out edited versions of big Broadway shows (such as Les Miserable, Rent, and Spring Awakening) to see if they would work for other high schools. Volpe, who recently retired, left quite a legacy, and this book explores that journey.

So before I give you my thoughts, let me say that I was (and always will be, really) a theatre kid. I was in theatre, choir, and show choir in high school, in a small town, and those places were truly havens for me. I felt at home in the theatre. So when I read Drama High, I had a happy trip down memory lane. This is a really great book. Lou Volpe and his drama department are absolutely worthy subjects for a novel, not to mention Levittown itself. I really enjoyed reading about Volpe’s history, the history of the town, and the students Volpe taught. That being said, some of the town history sections became a bit heavy and repetitive and could have been cut down. (The author is clearly an amazing researcher, and it felt like he wanted every detail included.) In my opinion, cutting 25-50 pages out would have made the book a smoother read, but it’s not a reason to not pick up this book!

If you have any interest in the subject of theatre, if you love theatre, if you want to read about the true story behind Rise, or if, like me, you were a drama geek in high school, I definitely recommend Drama High. It’s a great non-fiction read, and you’ll learn a lot about the culture of high school theatre and what it takes to survive in a small town.



What My Kids Are Reading: 7th Birthday Edition!

In honor of my younger son’s 7th birthday, I’m posting his three favorite books (right now) today! He loves graphic novels right now, the sillier the better, and, of course, Harry Potter!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Because he’s my son, he loves Harry Potter, although not as much as my 9-year-old. I think it’s an age thing, and that he’ll be reading them on his own in a year or so. In the meantime, we’re reading the illustrated versions because . . . well, let’s be honest, don’t we all love illustrated books?? These versions are so beautiful, and make the series even more fun for young (and old) fans. He still isn’t super into long chapter books, so the illustrations help a lot. (Although I think the audiobooks might be his absolute favorite. Because Jim Dale is amazing.)

The 78-Story Treehouse

I know I’ve mentioned this series before, but I cannot recommend it enough! This is the 6th book in the series, and the 7th book (which is already out in Australia) will be out this summer. I used to not be a fan of graphic novels, but my kids have made me realize that they’re actually amazing for young readers. And a series about two boys living in a massive treehouse, with features such as man-eating sharks, a lemonade fountain, and a time machine? Yes, please! This is perfect for elementary-aged kids who need fast-paced books and engaging storylines in their books. This is the series that my 7-year-old (I cannot believe he’s 7!) can’t wait for the next book.

Galactic Hot Dogs 3: Revenge of the Space Pirates

Alright, y’all. This is one of those books that I raised my eyebrows at, starting shaking my head no, but my 7-year-old begged me for it so I said yes. It is . . . I’m not sure ridiculous is really descriptive enough, but I will say that fans of the Treehouse books, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Dog Man will absolutely love. This series is about a boy named Cosmoe who is the captain of a flying food truck called the Neon Wiener. (Nope, I am not kidding.) He meets all kinds of interesting alien beings on his travels and gets himself into plenty of sticky situations. In this one, he is captured by space pirates during a hot dog eating contest. My 7-year-old would only eat hot dogs if I let him, so this series is truly perfect for him. It’s silly, funny, well-illustrated, and keeps his attention for far longer than I want to read about galactic hot dogs. If you’re ok with some slapsticky, borderline potty humor, this book is perfect for young to middle-grade readers who like funny adventure stories.

I can’t wait to see what books he loves next year!


Review: The Wedding Date

The Wedding Date

I do, however, think this is just more evidence that I’ve been cursed when it comes to this wedding.

Sometimes I want to read a big book that makes me think. Sometimes I want to read a fast-paced adventure that makes my heart race. Sometimes I want to read something happy that just makes me smile. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory is one of those books. I don’t read a lot of romance novels, but this one had some things in it that are different from the usual, so I decided to give it a try. It wasn’t my favorite book, but I think there are some good reasons to read it.

Alexa Monroe is on the way to see her sister in her hotel room when the elevator gets stuck. With a very cute boy in it with her. Drew Nichols is getting ready to go a wedding. The wedding of his ex-girlfriend and best friend. Oh, and he’s a groomsman. When he laments that he doesn’t have a date to this disaster of a situation, Alexa agrees to go with him. From then on, they are inseparable. They hit it off, to say the least. After the wedding, Drew flies back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa goes back to Berkley and her job as the mayor’s chief of staff. They can’t stop thinking about each other, and each one has to confront their own feelings to figure out if they’re in lust or true love.

This is a really cute book, and I think it would make a good movie. It is obviously predictable, but I don’t think this is the kind of book anyone goes into for a surprise ending. It’s well written, the pace is fast, and the characters are likable. It is also very different from most romance novels in a few important ways. The plot itself falls in line with most romances, but the details are significant. Drew is a white, good-looking doctor who is incredibly thoughtful. But Alexa. Oh, Alexa. She is African American, short, curvy, and loves to eat. I LOVE HER. Guillory manages to write about the important topics of powerful working women, body positivity, and interracial relationships in a light manner. None of it gets too heavy, but she makes her point very clearly. Drew loves Alexa’s body, and while she is uncomfortable around tall, skinny girls sometimes, she doesn’t let that stop her from eating, and she never speaks about her body negatively. That is so important, and I really appreciate the author writing a book like this.

That being said, while I did like the main characters, I really wanted more from them. To be frank, all they did was have sex for most of the book, and when they finally started getting to know in each other in the small, less sexy moments of life, it was only briefly mentioned in a few throwaway lines. I would have loved to see more character development in those moments.

The Wedding Date is a nice palate-cleansing novel after having read a few heavier books, and a good choice if you want to try romance but don’t usually like this genre. I wanted it to be better, but it’s different enough that I’m glad I read it.



Review: Castle of Water

Castle of Water: A Novel

I usually start my reviews with a quote from the book. I couldn’t this time, for two reasons. One, I read the book so voraciously that I hardly took any notes because I didn’t want to stop reading. Two, I would really like to quote the entire book. It is that good.

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge was our March selection for the Bucket List Book Club, and I’m so glad it was. This has been sitting on my nightstand since last year when Madeleine at Top Shelf Text implored everyone to read it. I wish I had listened sooner. This is one of the best, funniest, and most heartbreaking novels I’ve ever read, and you’d better believe I will be first on the pre-order list for whatever his next book is.

Barry, a New Yorker who has just quite his job in finance, and Sophie, a French architect on her honeymoon, are both on the same tiny plane to visit the small island of Hiva-Oa in the Marquesas, for very different reasons. When the plane crashes and everyone, including Sophie’s new husband, except Sophie and Barry perishes, the two survivors must find a way to live together on a small deserted island. They have to not only survive the island, but each other. Stranded on an island with very little hope of rescue, Barry and Sophie must learn to trust each other in order to persevere and survive the island, and everything it throws at them.

Huckelbridge has an almost journalistic style of storytelling, and I had to keep reminding myself that I was reading fiction. He manages to put two characters into an almost unbelievable situation and make all of it very believable. I really knew Barry and Sophie, and understood why they made certain choices. (Even if I didn’t always agree with them.) Watching them get to know each other, and to see who they really are at the core, was an amazing experience. The level of detail included in the story was absolutely wonderful. I won’t give it all away, but one detail that Huckelbridge included throughout was Barry’s contacts, one of the few things to survive the crash. Here he is, on an island, with nothing, but he still has his routine of putting his contacts in in the morning and taking them out at night. It was so interesting to see what normal routines were included in the story, and how they would play out in this situation. The author is also just plain funny, and I laughed out loud several times throughout the novel. (Except for the last ten pages, which I won’t talk about, but you’ll understand once you read it.)

I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I will say that romance is definitely not at the heart of this novel, and I really appreciated that. It would have been so easy to have them be romantically involved early on, but the author portrayed them accurately-they really aren’t huge fans of each other at the beginning, and they have to work around that. It made the book more interesting, more honest, and more heartfelt in the end. (In which my heart was ripped out.) This is no Gilligan’s Island with a bar, tikki huts, and romance around every palm tree. This is about real people, and how they would really act.

Dane Huckelbridge has said that his intention for this book was to write “literary fiction that’s actually enjoyable to read.” Castle of Water more than accomplishes this. This is definitely literary fiction, but it’s not highbrow, or fancy, or unrelatable to certain groups of people. It’s an extremely well-written book with characters you root for and care about, and I cannot recommend it enough to everyone who loves a good story.