February Reading 2023 – Romances, Memoirs and Picture books: Reading Notes 58-61

Unlike the last three months, my reading has slowed down as I am back at work and prepping for the teaching semester. However, I still managed to read (nearly) 18 books, including two books which I DNF’d – I am going to argue that reading more than 25% of a super long book counts, especially as I had to tolerate reading a book that already is boring or annoying me. Notable books which I won’t go into detail include Lea Ypi’s Free: A Child and a Country at the End of the World on living through the Albanian shift from socialism to the “free market”, David Sedaris’s Happy-Go-Lucky with a fresh series of essays including the essays on his difficult father’s death, and only one reread – Lauren Layne’s Walk of Shame which continues to be delightful and flighty reading fun. So here are my favourite five starred books for this month:

Two book covers. Both are blue. Emily Henry's Book Lovers (including 2 characters sitting with their backs turned to each other, reading books but their arms reaching behind to the other person). The Invisible Kingdom cover is dominated by its title howeverr there is a faint illustration of a skeleton behind the title.

Reading Note 58: Emily Henry’s Book Lovers. I didn’t know what to expect from this book. I hadn’t read the blurb before I picked it up, and I usually avoid books with bookaholic characters (LOL – so much for readers wanting to see themselves represented in books). Nora Stephens is an urbanite. She loves her city, she loves her job, and she is not one to go on holidays. She has this small problem with (ex)boyfriends who all seem toleave her for women who live in small-towns and she is not a fan of small-town romances. However, her pregnant, younger sister Libby (named for the library app perhaps?) coerces her to spend a month in a small-town which is where her sister’s favourite book was set. Annoyed but loyal to a T, Nora agrees and joins her sister. The irony is that she keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, an editor she knows from New York City. The story unfolds beautifully. Nora is revealed as being still-waters-run-deep, and has so many levels of worries and anxieties. I love the way that she and Charlie found commonalities in their life aims but also stuck to their own convictions, until the end moment (no spoilers but I did like the ending).

This book does get a bit meta with its mentioning of popular culture and book trope, yet it is done comfortably and the mentions fit the narrative well. Far from being clever add ins, they moved the story forward, and gave it richness. I would definitely reread this book and I certainly recommend it.

Reading Note 59: Meghan O’Rourke’s Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness. Meghan O’Rourke explores the rise of chronic illnesses and auto-immune diseases from the lack of diagnoses, the length of time to come to a diagnosis, the difficulties of living with unrecognised conditions and the associated medical gaslighting that accompanies many sick people’s lives often eventuating with deep mental health suffering along with their physical health. This book is both a medical exploration and a memoir, and O’Rourke follows the impacts of her own chronic illnesses, examining the impacts on her relationships, on her employment, on her ability to have children, and on her own sense of self worth. I deeply loved this book. It filled me with sadness, often rendering me to tears – perhaps I saw too much of my own self in this book, I definitely felt the connection to some of the descriptions of dealing with doctors who dismiss your medical worries. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by O’Rourke herself and it was genuine and informative and I will probably take the time to reread it in print some time in the future.

Mary Wears What She Wants picture book. Block prints of groups of Victorian looking characters gasping in scandal at the young girl in pants.

Reading Note 60: Keith Negley’s Mary Wears What She Wants.

This is a picture book based on Mary Edwards Walker, a doctor who when she was young, insisted upon being allowed to wear trousers rather than dresses. The book opens with “Once upon a time (but not too long ago), girls only wore dresses. And only boys wore pants” and continues through illustration to tell Mary’s story. I enjoyed this story, I enjoyed the artwork, and I certainly enjoyed the story of how sometimes you need to push back against the gender norms of your society. I think this book serves as a shout out to so many girls who hated being forced to wear skirts and dresses at school especially in Australia where the majority of schools require adherence to a school uniform. A lot has to be said for all the girls who keep turning up to school in pants, and I am appalled that this is still an issue (not in the public schools but certainly in conservative private schools) despite this book being set in ye olde yesteryear.

Reading Note 61: Kate Clayborn’s Georgie All Along. There will probably be some spoilers in this description!

A bright yellow cover for Kate Clayborn's Georgie, All Along. A woman reading a pink book sitting in flowers and grassess

I rarely read a book in its first month of release. I tend to like to wait for the fanfare to abate, and for the book to age into itself. However, the powers that be over at the library ebook provider Libby, sent me my reservation which I had added several months ago when it came up in the “Coming Soon” promo. Having been delighted by Clayborn’s previous novels Love Lettering and Love at First, this was an auto-reservation for me. Though this book has not been on my TBR long (perhaps 2 months), I am claiming it for SuperWendy’s February challenge with the theme of Getaway. I initially wanted to post about this book at the time of the challenge a few weeks ago but I let the time getaway from me (hehe – see what I did there).

So the main character Georgie Mulcahy is a personal assistant to the stars in LA, but when her employer decides to retire and take care of her own life. Georgie makes a snap decision and finds herself travelling back to her childhood home so she can *ahem* getaway and regroup, trying to make decisions about her next step in life. Her return is also in order to help out her pregnant best-friend Bel settle back into her life in their town having just left the city (Washington) to live the suburban life expected of families. Georgie finds Bel’s home too neat and sterile so chooses instead to stay at her parent’s home which is quite far out of town, even though her parents are on a roadtrip thinking ““I’d be more comfortable there than I would here. Sure, there’s the junk room, but the otherwise pristine sorted-ness of this house continues to mock me”.

Georgie also discovers her childhood diaries and makes a decision to re-enact the goals that she had set herself as a teenager so as to find her new aim in life. Once in her childhood home, Georgie discovers the local bad boy turned hermit Levi Fanning taking care of her parent’s home while they have been away. The two are forced into a proximity relationship, sharing the warm loving home that Georgie grew up in, while finding out about Levi’s estranged life from his own family. As is wont in a romance novel, this forced proximity sees sparks fly, love and attraction come together for both Levi and Georgie.

Levi Fanning is a grumpy hero, one who keeps to himself, who has aged to become a man with deep integrity, with an interest in sustainability and community building. However, he is not one to takes risks and lives his life making reparations for his wild teen years. These reparations also include keeping away from his parents and his siblings, in order to save them from himself. Like Book Lovers Nora Stephens, still-waters-run-deep with Levi too, as he keeps his emotions deeply within himself, only slowly opening up to Georgie who is as warm and inviting and expansive as her own parents. This changes in the second half of the book, with Levi’s brother determined to forge a relationship with Levi.

There is a beautiful scene where Georgie talks about Levi openly with her parents. These are her dad’s words: “He’s tough because he’s never had a soft place to land”. Georgie wants to be “Levi’s soft place” as Georgie is all about the emotional labour. She puts herself out there into the world as a way for people to rely on her for all the soft places. This can come across as a female thing but then you realise she is like this because her mother though especially her father are both like this – they are expansive and reflexive and open their door to all the people who need the door open. They are the soft place and I love these parents.

Clayborn has this beautiful way of revealing her characters’ various layers through the rich settings in her books. Georgie’s parents home is full of love, character, half-finished projects, and acceptance of people who more conservative residents turn their back on. I loved this home, and I loved Georgie’s parents, especially in their kindness towards Levi. They reminded me of two of my friends whose lives were dedicated to opening doors for the lost and lonely people in this world. All this said, this book is Levi’s story. Georgie serves as his “soft place to land” because his hero’s journey is difficult, one which requires a lot of reflection and self-forgiveness. However, this hero’s journey is impossible without Georgie’s open and expansive approach to the world. An absolutely gorgeous novel.

6 thoughts on “February Reading 2023 – Romances, Memoirs and Picture books: Reading Notes 58-61

  1. The O’Rourke…oh god.

    I’m so happy you had an overall good reading this month; may the trend long continue.

    (Also sending you all the good thoughts for the semester)

  2. Your five-star reads, Henry, O’Rourke, and the picture book, were also five-star reads for me. I couldn’t read the O’Rourke straight through. It is gutting and reflects my reality so well, that I have to take it in sips.

    You make such a convincing case for Clayborn’s book, making me doubt my reading of it. I know you love her writing since you have loved her past two books as well. For me, Love Lettering was the pinnacle of her writing skills, and then the next two have been a bit disappointing. I mean, a bit disappointing for Clayborn is still very good writing, just not excellent.

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