WBTW’s Five Spring Book Picks

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Here are a handful of fun Spring Book Picks we came across recently . . . five to be exact. Have you read any of these gems? If so, what was your experience?

City of Girls

Those of you who have read Elizabeth Gilbert’s famous book, Eat, Pray, Love and may not have been introduced to her other books, will be in for a delight with City of Girls.

This treasured story—that mostly takes place in New York City—takes you back in time to the 1940’s. Here, we are brought into the dark and vibrant theater world. The main character is nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris when the story begins; however, the narration is from an old woman.

It’s funny. It’s raw. It’s painful at times. But most of all, it speaks of a time when women didn’t have much of a say into their future despite the industry, location or family class. In City of Girls, we hear about female sexual exploits which at times feels excessive and yet, you can’t help but laugh your way through the heroism of the woman who dared to go there and have fun along the way. While the promiscuity doesn’t always land well nor always feel good, it’s the boldness of it all that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Some in my book group complained about Gilbert’s casual style of writing, although I think it adds to the storyline and keeps things flowing. You fall in love with all of the characters, but most of all, Vivian’s Aunt Peg, who owns the Lily Playhouse, a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater. From her aunt, she encounters one unconventional and charismatic character after another, from actors and showgirls to writers, stage managers and seamstresses.

Then a scandal turns her life upside down. That old woman who narrates the story is actually Vivian at eighty-nine years old who can finally tell the truth in the rawest form and without apologies. Two thumbs up! You can find it on Amazon.

The Glass Castle

Not everyone in my book group loved The Glass Castle, largely because its raw storytelling can be just a bit too, well . . . raw at times. You also have to face parents who neglected their children and put their own exploits first, which is hard to read.

That said, it’s a story about resilience from the children who made it through that neglect. It’s the story of author Jeannette Walls life and told from her perspective.

 Despite the dysfunction, she speaks positively about her parents most of the time throughout the book, including her often drunk father who was charismatic and entertaining when he wasn’t absorbed by the bottle. Then, destructive behavior, deceit and lies were part of his existence.

While her mother led her children when and as she could, her free-spirited artistic ways often got in the way of motherhood, as well as her ability to teach, her one gift outside art. She couldn’t handle the structure that went along with teaching or the structure that went along with life period. That included domesticity and sadly responsibility of pretty much anything, including raising kids.

Jeannette and her siblings had to raise themselves and learn how to survive in the world, which meant finding food when there wasn’t any in the house. 

Along the way, there are endearing stories of childhood, things we all remember (dysfunctional family or not) that may bring you back to your own yesteryear. It’s the story of rites of passage, of survival, of endurance, of resilience and of passion — following your dreams. 

Despite the odds against them, the kids finally made it to New York City and succeeded in their lives despite the fact that their parents continued to live their days out among chaos and disarray. They remained homeless even when they didn’t need to and this too weighed heavily on Jeannette’s mind, so much so that she hid from the truth of it all . . . until that is she was brave enough to publish this book. Find it on Amazon.

The Henna Artist

We loved that it combined both traditional and modern aspects of life but it also tells a certain truth that can be harsh at times.

Like so many books that depict a woman’s life in a particular culture, The Henna Artist tells just a story. Lakshmi is forced to escape from an abusive marriage but in the 1950’s when it was even tougher to do so and in the vibrant city of Jaipur India. If you’ve been there, you know just how vibrant and incredibly exotic this place can be, but there are two sides to every city, two sides to every story.

As she begins to make her way in the world alone, she embarks upon an artistic gift as a henna artist. She’s not just any henna artist; however, as wealthy women begin to know her skills and there’s a demand for her work. 

She listens intently but doesn’t share her own deepest darkest secrets. Lakshmi thinks that she’s on her way and has escaped her tormented past until her husband ultimately tracks her down with yet another secret.

It’s a powerful read and any woman who has experienced a rough relationship regardless of culture and has had to not just endure but rise above the odds against her, will resonate with the book. You can find it on Amazon.

The Bohemians

I absolutely loved this book. As a photographer myself, I was pleasantly brought into the world of a famous American female photographer: Dorothea Lange. Remember that Lange prospered at a time when it was difficult to make yourself known as a photographer (or any profession for that matter), as a woman.

Lange was courageous enough to leave the East Coast and head out to the wild west, the crazy years of art, music and change in San Francisco.

We learn about the personality and the struggle of the photographer behind so many incredible photographs of the Great Depression.   

It is only 1918 when she arrives San Francisco in 1918 and soon, she meets Caroline Lee, a Chinese American with a haunting past that we don’t learn about right away. Through Caroline, who becomes her best friend and assistant in her business later on, she discovers what was known as Monkey Block, an artists’ colony where all the bohemian artists and musicians hung out.

She is suddenly thrown into a controversial world of art, music, politics and beyond. Along the way, she falls in love with the infamous artist Maynard Dixon who is complicated and sadly, drunk often. As they move into the Great Depression, her photography matures and as her success grows, Dixon relies on her as she struggles to raise a child.

Other real-life characters who make their way into this incredible book include Frida Kahlo, Ansel Adams, and D. H. Lawrence. For those new to this photographer or are too young to remember her work, it was her Migrant Mother photograph that shed new insights on America at a pivotal and heart-breaking time. It’s an amazing read and you can find it on Amazon.

Still Lives

I just finished Still Lives, which is the story of twelve shocking and outrageous paintings by an artist who goes missing. It is also the story of murder, deceit and passion. The novel is a mystery at its core but full of surprises that even the most avid mystery reader might miss the first time around.

Kim Lord is the artist and she’s known as an out there, feminist icon in Los Angeles. The story opens with hype around Kim Lord’s exhibition Still Lives, which is a series of self-portraits depicting herself as famous, murdered women―the Black Dahlia, Chandra Levy, Nicole Brown Simpson, and others. We learn fairly quickly that they’re disturbing but her work and mission is to unveil the truth about women who have been raped, murdered and tortured, raising awareness for violence against women.

The exhibition takes place at the Rocque Museum, where employee and editor Maggie Richter works and soon, the story becomes her story as much as it is Kim Lord’s story. When Kim Lord never shows up on opening night, the plot begins.

We are also introduced to Maggie’s ex-boyfriend Greg Shaw Ferguson, who is not only owns his own gallery but left Maggie and moved in with Kim. Like a spy novel, we are then brought into the exotic, eccentric and at times, scary world of deception,  jealousy, and power, but also fragility. Maggie becomes obsessed with learning the truth – where did Kim Lord go? Was she murdered? If so, by who? And was that “who” in her inner-closest circle? A fast read, you can find it on Amazon.



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