Lifetime Reading List Review, Part 1 – 2020

When I started the Amazon/Goodreads 100 Must-Read Books in a Lifetime list in January of this year, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Skimming the titles, I recognized several, either because I’d already read them or they were the commonly-used books in films about high school or college—you know, the “coincidental” book the protagonist is reading in their literature class that just so happens to teach them something about the primary conflict in their story?

Originally, I set out to read 25 titles this year—I wanted the whole 100 books to be read within four years, finishing in December of 2024. But this is 2020, and in addition to the global exhaustion we all experienced this year as a result of COVID-19 and, in the U.S., the nightmare of our current politics, the justified protests begging The Man to understand that Black lives do, in fact, matter, and many ups and downs in my personal life, I made my last post here regarding the list on The Pensive Bookworm in September. Partially, I stepped away for the last quarter of the year due to the presidential election (by the way, Biden won), but also because I was just plain exhausted. Even reading for pleasure wasn’t giving me a reprieve—how could I write and analyze what I was reading, too? Nonetheless, I’ll be back to my trek through the list come January.

For now, though, I’ve compiled a quick summary of the 16 books I did manage to read from that list this year. (In the header of each section, I’ve hyperlinked my analysis of the book, whereas the review for each is linked on the “Quick Review” portion.)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Quick Review: 5/5 stars

Would I read it again? Yes

Favorite line: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Reason it belongs: Reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a reminder that magic does exist—that’s the power of love and friendship.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban J.K. Rowling

Quick Review: 4/5 stars

Would I read it again? Of course—it’s Harry Potter!

Favorite line: “You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble?”

Reason it belongs: This is a book about survival by perhaps unconventional methods, and it’s a story that shows readers of all ages that, regardless of your story, you can survive what you may have once considered insurmountable.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Quick Review: 5/5 stars

Would I read it again? Yes

Favorite line: It’s a close tie between two lines.

  1. “I wasn’t actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity.”
  2. “Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.”

Reason it belongs: The Great Gatsby is a beautiful, bittersweet reminder for us to pursue the things in life we truly want, rather than the things we’ve been taught by society that we first “need” to acquire before we concern ourselves with happiness or love.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Quick Review: 5/5 stars

Would I read it again? Yes.

Favorite line: “If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn.”

Reason it belongs: It’s a cautionary tale, exploring the dangers of ignorance—especially when ignorance is the result of determined effort in denial, rather than exploration.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Quick Review: 5/5 stars

Would I read it again? Yes! I can’t wait to read this with my kids when they’re a little older.

Favorite line: “‘You have been my friend,’” replied Charlotte. “‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’”

Reason it belongs: The friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur is innocent, pure, and sacrificial; this book contains a tale of unconditional love.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Quick Review: 3/5 stars

Would I read it again? Yes! As I was compiling this list, I actually wondered when I’d find the time to read it again soon!

Favorite line: “People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”

Reason it belongs: Atticus Finch is like a literary fortune cookie—full of wisdom, but contained in something trifling that is fleetingly enjoyable. (I might have a different opinion of this book if I’d had a more innocent and carefree childhood; alas, this is who I am.)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Quick Review: 3/5 stars

Would I read it again? Maybe in several years, when my kids are old enough to read it.

Favorite line: “You don’t forget the face of the person who was your last hope.”

Reason it belongs: The Hunger Games reminds us how easily a society may be desensitized to violence if allowing it to occur ensures their survival.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Quick Review: 5/5 stars

Would I read it again? Definitely. This is my favorite installment of the Hunger Games trilogy.

Favorite line: “At some point, you have to stop running and turn around and face whoever wants you dead. The hard thing is finding the courage to do it.”

Reason it belongs: This book is an incredible “f— you” to President Snow and the Capitol, and because of that, it’s an inspirational tale and a reminder that if one person has the courage to say “I’ve had enough,” many others may follow—sometimes we just need that first voice to give us “permission” to speak.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Quick Review: 4/5 stars

Would I read it again? Yes, but only because if I read Catching Fire again, I’d feel weird if I didn’t read the whole trilogy.

Favorite line: “They’ll either want to kill you, kiss you, or be you.”

Reason it belongs: Mockingjay explores the different ways people respond to war and tragedy, pain and suffering, loss and love—the characters are vivid and realistic and encourage the reader to identify with one or another, giving the reader insight into how they might respond if the world as they know it implodes.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Quick Review: 4/5 stars

Would I read it again? Yeah, I feel like I missed some of the story because I was so shocked by the concepts and the world in which I read it (hey there, 2020!). I think I need to read it again, especially if I ever watch the series (which, from what I understand, is quite different from the book).

Favorite line: “When we think of the past it’s the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.”

Reason it belongs: In the United States, I whole-heartedly believe The Handmaid’s Tale is a must read to remind us all exactly why a separate of church and state is essential, that even if you believe your religion is the “correct” religion, you shouldn’t force it on people who aren’t ready to accept it or in the same spiritual place you are.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Quick Review: 5/5 stars

Would I read it again? Absolutely. The characters were so bold!

Favorite line: “I’d cry, if only I had the time to do it.”

Reason it belongs: Through the stories of the maids and the ways in which their struggles open Skeeter’s eyes, this book shows that suffering and ignorance both come in many forms.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Quick Review: 2/5 stars

Would I read it again? No, but I would like to see it performed.

Favorite line: “…Who could refrain/That had a heart to love, and in that heart/Courage to make love known?”

Reason it doesn’t belong: It’s a play. Plays are meant to be performed.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Quick Review: 5/5 stars

Would I read it again? Probably not. I’d rather see it performed.

Favorite line: “Don’t waste your love on somebody/who doesn’t value it.”

Reason it doesn’t belong: It’s a play. Plays are meant to be performed.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Quick Review: 3/5

Would I read it again? Probably not. I might see it live…maybe.

Favorite line: “Listen to many, speak to a few.”

Reason it doesn’t belong: It’s a play. Plays are meant to be performed.

1984 by George Orwell

Quick Review: I couldn’t bring myself to finish it.

Would I read it again? Nope. (And I’m already dreading Animal Farm, which is also on this 100 Books in a Lifetime list.)

Favorite line: None. I couldn’t stand this book and kept wondering what nonsense I was reading. I think Orwell had an excellent point, but he failed to make it well.

Reason it doesn’t belong: The writing is difficult to follow. I think The Handmaid’s Tale is a better cautionary tale about a state having excessive power. Having survived Donald Trump’s time in the White House, I think that’s an experience that teaches us more about misinformation and state-controlled media in the twenty-first century.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Quick Review: I couldn’t bring myself to finish this one.

Would I read it again? Oh no. Nope. Zero chance.

Favorite line: None. Nothing about this book amused me.

Reason it doesn’t belong: This book is terrible.

Of the 16 books I read this year, at least 5 don’t belong (in my opinion). Three of those (Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth) are simply because they’re plays, not books, and the same way most people wouldn’t read a film script and expect equal entertainment value, these works should be enjoyed by performance, rather than in print. The other two—1984 and The Princess Bride—were books that I absolutely could not bring myself to finish. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that it’s exceptionally rare for me to not finish a book, but in the case of 1984 and The Princess Bride, I just couldn’t, and you can see my reasons for that in my analyses and reviews of each.

Looking ahead, whenever I do manage to finish all 100 books, I’ll make some suggestions of titles that could replace the books I don’t believe belong on a “must-read” list. As always, I welcome discussion about these books and civil debate in the comments below. 😊

In the meantime, here’s to a happy, healthier, healing new year.

Finding Annie by Katherine Turner

TW: mention of sexual assault/rape

Earlier this year, I read Finding Annie by Katherine Turner, who is a friend and client. I had the privilege of working on Finding Annie in 2019, and reading it again for pleasure was a much different experience than reading it for work.

I wrote the review below at the end of the summer, shortly after I finished reading the book. However, I held off on posting it—I wasn’t sure why. I’ve learned, though, that when I hesitate to do something, there’s a reason, and today, that reason is clear.

It’s Christmas Day, and it’s also the anniversary of when I was violently sexually assaulted. It wasn’t the first time I’d been assaulted—that occurred when I was 15 and I went to hug a male friend and he instead grabbed my crotch. The assault on Christmas Day, though, was different.

I won’t go into details here; that isn’t what this blog is intended to do. (That’s why I have Don’t Ask Liv, a blog for the tougher topics.) What I want to say here is I realized I was holding on to my review of Finding Annie because it was incomplete.

Here’s my original review:

I’ve been blogging here on The Pensive Bookworm for nearly a year, and to date, there remain only two books which I’ve struggled to review—Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and Finding Annie by Katherine Turner. Gone with the Wind is my all-time favorite book.

Finding Annie by Katherine Turner, however, vies for that place in my heart. And in many ways, Finding Annie rivals the mastery of Gone with the Wind, and I love it for many similar reasons. The same way that Scarlett O’Hara has gumption, a determination to survive and overcome, Annie Turner of Finding Annie possesses these same qualities, and that’s what draws me to this book over and over again.

Last autumn, I was honored with the opportunity to assist the author by proofreading Finding Annie. As I started reading Turner’s debut novel, I kept thinking, “This book is special.” I recently re-read my beautiful, autographed hardback copy, and I can’t stop singing its praises.

The story of navigating romance after sexual trauma, Finding Annie follows estranged high school sweethearts, Annie and Rob. Annie has returned to her hometown to house-sit for her foster mother for a year; Rob has never left. Although the two haven’t spoken since graduation, their compatibility is palpable from the start. Of course, as is often the case with all fantastic love stories, Annie and Rob’s story is speckled with evidence that they have been crossed by the stars, and it’s only when the truth of Annie’s unexpected departure years ago is revealed that they can begin to navigate their romantic potential together once more.

The truth behind Annie’s departure brings much pain to Rob, knowing that someone he loved cost him a decade with the love of his life. And as Annie grapples with the pain of her past paired with watching the ways in which it impacts Rob (the exact thing she’d tried to prevent and avoid for so long) she begins a journey to find herself. This journey is something that will be incredibly familiar to survivors of trauma—sexual or otherwise—because it’s the journey of Annie discovering who she is now that she’s accepted what happened to her.

It’s that journey that keeps me coming back to Finding Annie every few months, either to read it again or share a passage with a friend. Like Annie, I’m a survivor of a sexual assault, and Katherine Turner flawlessly captured what it’s like to wrestle with the reality of what happened and the reality of where a person would like to be, despite the past.

There is one passage in Finding Annie that I find to be the most profound, and in this passage, the author reveals (through Rob’s thoughts) the exact thing I’ve been trying to explain to my loved ones for years.

A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I carried the board game over and started setting it up on the coffee table. The Annie I knew was still inside; she just needed a little coaxing. The road ahead would be far from smooth, but that didn’t make any difference to me.

That’s the thing normal people didn’t seem to understand about people who’d been through the fucked-up kinds of things we had—we were never really over it. We would always have setbacks. They seemed to think we could just flip a switch and be good from then on, but it didn’t work that way.

Finding Annie, page 197

As a survivor of trauma, I can say truthfully that sometimes, we might be broken, but never beyond repair. We’ll never be as “whole” as we would’ve if The Thing hadn’t happened, but when someone loves us anyway—when someone loves us, stands beside us, through the pain we still carry, even though The Thing is long past—we can begin to heal.

Rob’s thoughts continue, and there’s something else he says in this passage I want to bring to attention:

The journey with Annie had always reminded me more of one of the steep mountain roads that surrounded our secluded valley. You moved slowly back and forth along the switchbacks that might seem to be taking you back the way you came, and might seem to be endless, making no real progress toward the top of the mountain. But really, if you just back up far enough to see the whole road, you’d realize you were always advancing incrementally with each pass. And the winding road itself, if you just took a moment to notice, was at least as beautiful as the view from the top.

Finding Annie, page 197

We survivors…we’re like kintsugi—the Japanese art of using a precious powered metal to repair a broken piece of pottery.

If you look up kintsugi examples, it’s easy to see how they were broken, but it’s also stunning to see how they’ve been repaired. And that’s the treatment I beseech of the loved one of survivors. We may never be whole in the same way, but we can be whole again. If you’d just look past the pain—the brokenness—to see all of us, you’d see we can be beautiful this way, too.

That’s the gorgeous message of Finding Annie, too. As Annie finds herself again—practicing emotional kintsugi, so to speak—and as she and Rob begin to find themselves again, Katherine Turner remains flawless on each page. This book is to survivors what The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama was to the American people in 2006—a voice, rising above the din, to give us hope.

To give us strength.

To give us community in our needs, knowing that others on the same path need the same things, and that some of our fellow travelers have had those needs met, so we can, too.

Finding Annie is a five-star-and-then-some book. Finding Annie is the book I ask my friends to read to understand me better because Katherine Turner is so insightful and transparent with the shared plight of survivors, both recovering from trauma and finding a way to love and be loved again.

I strongly recommend Finding Annie to all survivors and loved ones of survivors. Katherine Turner doesn’t shy away from the realities of recovery, and these blunt truths are essential for the sake of community for survivors; for loved ones, they’re vital to begin some comprehension of what it’s like to be a survivor…and what we often need but don’t always know how to vocalize.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it many more times: Katherine Turner is the author our society, our culture, our world desperately needs. Finding Annie is the first book in Turner’s Life Imperfect series, and I cannot wait to read the next installment of Annie’s story. Everything Turner writes is noteworthy, whether it’s about recovery or striving to make the world a better place. You can follow her blog at kturnerwrites.com.

What was missing is something I only realized today:

Finding Annie is the book that broke open the years of repressed pain and gave me permission to call what happened to me what it was—sexual assault. It wasn’t “a guy getting carried away”—it was a crime. And crimes have victims, someone who was wronged, and we can use all the “survivor” terminology in the world, but first, I needed permission to say, “Dammit, I have been wronged!” Katherine Turner’s book gave me that permission.

Reading Finding Annie a little over a year ago set me on a journey that has changed my life in more ways than I can count. When I think back on last Christmas, I hardly recognize my life. The permission Finding Annie gave me to look back on the Christmas Day nearly a decade ago and say, “Hey, I didn’t want that to happen, I asked for it not to happen, then it did happen, and that was wrong” is freeing. As I read it again this summer, Finding Annie gave me the grace to ask tough questions and renew old connections so that I can begin to piece together my life after that assault… I’m grateful beyond words for that.

After I was assaulted, I didn’t recognize myself. I lived in a very numb state for almost two years. How I healed wasn’t what I expected to do—actually, I didn’t even realize what I did as healing at the time—and yet, looking back now, knowing what those experiences were, I see how I was putting myself back together. I was finding Olivia, to borrow Katherine’s terminology. What that person did broke something in me, and I had to piece it back together; I made myself into a kintsugi piece. I just didn’t recognize it for being that until I read Finding Annie and felt Annie’s heartache like it was my own. Then, I read it again, and I realized the heartache was my own.

It’s about four hours now before the exact “time anniversary” of what happened to me almost a decade ago. Back then, I had no idea what would happen to me Christmas Night, and that night, I had no idea where I’d be in a few years. All these versions of me seem so different, and yet, as I write this, I see how each version—the un-penetratively-assaulted, the un-broken, the un-healed—was a step to this version, the Olivia I am now. And, somehow, all those versions led me to connect with Katherine Turner and read her book, a book about a young woman finding herself as she deals with a long-hidden trauma…a book which lovingly forced me to do the same.

Finding Annie is the book we need because of the way Katherine describes and details the healing process, and Finding Annie is the book I needed to find myself.

Book Review: Photographing Kate by Elle Sweet

Note: I received a free copy of this book from Emma Welton of Damp Pebbles Blog Tours and am leaving this review voluntarily.

Photographing Kate by Elle Sweet is the perfect book to read with your Saturday morning cup of coffee, which is exactly what I did today. It’s rare that I read a book in one sitting, but this one is worth the delayed chores and responsibilities!

From the first page, I was instantly hooked into the drama of Kate Hamiliton’s life as her husband is convicted for white-collar crimes. By the fourth chapter, I was thrilled to see that while said drama continues to impact Kate’s life, it isn’t the driving force of the plot. Rather, when Kate takes an extended vacation to Moonshire Bay to visit a friend, the story truly takes off as she begins a journey of seeking her new life and identity as the ex-wife of a nationally-known criminal.

Upon arriving in Moonshire Bay, Kate bumps into Zach—whose profession as an attorney does little to instill her trust in him, his first strike being that he’s a man. However, even Kate’s emotional guard cannot resist Zach’s charm and benevolence…until she realizes their undefined relationship began with a lie.

From the charming descriptions of Moonshire Bay to the loyal and kind characters, Photographing Kate absolutely deserves all five of the stars I’m awarding it. Until Photographing Kate, I’d never read any of Elle Sweet’s books; however, they are all now on my To Be Read List. I adore the way the author embraces the protagonist’s insecurities and “little moments” of nervousness when entertaining the notion of courtship. Furthermore, the friendships in Photographing Kate are so true-to-life, from the carb-and-wine overloaded girl talk to the firmly-encouraging notes Kate’s best friend often leaves her. I love finding books that feel so realistic in every way, and Photographing Kate absolutely achieves that.

I highly-recommend this book to everyone who needs a quick dose of literary warm fuzzies.

Book Review: Brave(ish) by Margaret Davis Ghielmetti

Note: I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley and am leaving this review voluntarily.

When I began Brave(ish) by Margaret Davis Ghielmetti, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. My favorite genre has long been biographies/memoirs, but a book about traveling the world? That was a new one for me. Thankfully, Brave(ish) did not disappoint, and Ghielmetti’s book is far more than I ever could’ve hoped to read.

As Margaret follows her husband, Patrick, around the world for his job as a hotel General Manager, she played the role of Hostess perfectly—in many ways, reminding me of Bree Van de Kamp from ABC’s Desperate Housewives. Margaret felt obligated to fulfill these hosting duties and more in order to be the “perfect” spouse, but it was evident early on in the book that the duties weren’t fulfilling her in return. When Patrick is transferred from Paris to Egypt then Thailand, Margaret’s adoption of various values and customs from these cultures ultimately contributed to her realization that she striving for perfection isn’t the key to joy; rather, it’s authenticity.

On her journey to personal and spiritual enlightenment, Margaret combats not only her perfectionistic tendencies, but also her alcoholism. She realizes that filling herself with wine could never fill the void the perfectionism had left within her, and for the first time, she begins making true, lasting friendship (with plenty of disappointment along the way). While she explores the wonders of the world, she also explores herself and a potential new way of life, with her supportive, loving husband by her side.

In many ways, I felt like Margaret was telling me the story personally, as if it were one of her many “Trip Reports” sent via email to her loved ones around the world as she and her husband relocated. Brave(ish) is candid, with many relatable quips throughout. The author’s inclusion of detail—both of the world and her experiences with infertility, the loss of her parents, and loneliness alike—set this book apart from many memoirs I’ve read. Brave(ish) doesn’t shy away from Tough Topics; instead, Ghielmetti embraces them fully.

I’m awarding Brave(ish) five stars for Ghielmetti’s ability to immerse the reader in her perfectionism from the very first page, bringing the reader alongside her in the reflections and realizations on her journey. I’ve read dozens of memoirs and autobiographical works, but none like Brave(ish). I highly-recommend Brave(ish) for all readers, but especially women who struggle with “Type A Tendencies” or accepting that there is no such thing as the “perfect homemaker.”

And Margaret, if you ever see this review…congratulations on finally finishing your book. 😊 Your passion for the written word is evident. Keep writing.

Book Review: So Much Better Your Way: Signed Jack by Theresa A. Laws

For years, I have believed that the right book will find you exactly when you need it. When it comes to Theresa A. Laws, this always holds true for me.

In November of last year, I read Diary of a Divine Relationship and was instantly curious about the life of protagonist Jack Riley and his beloved Kelly. Kelly’s faith was unshakable, even as the world’s cruelty tried to destroy her. In my opinion, Kelly is the ideal version of a Wife of Noble Character—flawed, yet faithful always.

Following Kelly’s death, So Much Better Your Way: Signed Jack begins with Jack working to carry on with his grief and young son. When Jack is involved in a violent accident in which others died, he finds himself admitted to the hospital for several weeks in the care of Cynthia, a spunky-yet-shy nurse.

As nurse and patient get to know one another, it’s evident that God is using all things—even a car crash—for His good.

Throughout the entire book, Laws included wondrous nuggets of faith and wisdom. Some of my favorites include:

All decisions are a choice, and sometimes our minds are not in the position to make the best ones due to many factors.

So Much Better Your Way: Signed Jack by Theresa A. Laws

This quote stood out to me because, recently, I’ve been working on my C-PTSD recovery, and that has had my head in a not-so-great place. As a result, I’ve been leaning on friends and friends-that-are-like-family for support to help keep my mind accountable to what is right, even when my trauma draws me in the wrong direction.

life can be like burnt toast, but you scrape it off and keep going.

So Much Better Your Way: Signed Jack by Theresa A. Laws

I liked this comedic line because I am a big believer in the phrase “improvise, adapt, overcome.” Sometimes, plans fail, and it can be hard to see the God Angle at all times. As I tell my husband, “You can either sink or swim, but sometimes treading water is all you can do, and that’s enough.” What’s happening may not be what you want to happen, but it doesn’t have to ruin your day. Make the best of it, then carry on.

The lessons within So Much Better Your Way: Signed Jack make this book a must-read for women of faith as well as those struggling because Laws does not shy away from the messy side of life. For that matter, the way the characters are quick to forgive and find a way to work together to further the Kingdom is inspirational, and I find myself resolved to be a better friend after finishing this book.

For the story, I’m awarding So Much Better Your Way: Signed Jack four well-deserved stars. I cannot wait to see what Theresa A. Laws does next!

Book Review: The Scandal of Christendom by Gemma Lawrence

Let it be known far and wide that the version of Anne Boleyn created by Gemma Lawrence remains breath-taking throughout The Scandal of Christendom (Above All Others – The Lady Anne, Book #4).

Beginning in Autumn 1530, The Scandal of Christendom follows Anne Boleyn through the aftermath of the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey and the events surrounding the unofficial banishment of Queen Katherine/The Princess Dowager of Wales, and Princess (now bastard) Mary, daughter of Katherine and Henry VIII. As Henry’s first wife and surviving child are removed from the English Court, the throne is vacant for Anne’s taking as her family scrambles and strives for the King’s affection and grace…meanwhile Anne moves ever-closer to Henry’s bedchamber to conceive the male heir England so desperately needs. After their marriage and the birth of Anne and Henry’s first child, Elizabeth, Anne quickly conceives again, just as she learns her crown is only as secure as the prince in her womb, and that her beloved’s affections may be dashing toward his alleged mistresses.

Throughout all of this, Lawrence’s insight into Anne’s incredibly-human, wholly-relatable, and—I believe—realistic emotions and reactions remain stunning. While Anne’s rage against the Cardinal is boundless and she fails to lament her cruelty toward the man, her encouraged treatment of her former mistress, Katherine, and daughter Mary give her pause. As much as Anne realizes she’s nudging Henry’s hand in their treatment for her own benefit, she realizes the ways in which the men of her family are doing the same with her. Furthermore, as Henry’s body strays from her bed during her first pregnancy, Anne begins to accept how imperfect Henry truly is as a husband, prompting another series of reflections as she ponders the similarities between her present situation and the one she brought upon Katherine only a few years prior.

This observed irony is my favorite aspect of The Scandal of Christendom. I’ve often wondered if the real Anne Boleyn ever wondered or realized the things she shared with Katherine, if only by circumstance. After reading Lawrence’s book, I can only think, “How could Anne not have realized it? Anne was a brilliant woman. The irony wouldn’t have been lost on her.”

Additionally, after Anne gives birth to her first child, a girl, Henry’s limited enthusiasm humbled Anne. Perhaps for the first time, Anne understood that Henry loved her potential as a woman who could potentially bear him a son far more than he truly loved her. After all, during their courtship, he treated her as an equal; now, as she remains in her child-bed, he treats her as the weaker sex (as if childbirth doesn’t require strength!).

When Anne conceives their second child quickly following Elizabeth’s birth and her subsequent churching, Henry’s body strays yet again into the bed of a mistress. This information distresses Anne and humbles her further; she now knows Henry does not adore her as his pretty words had promised. While Anne felt trapped throughout the duration of Henry’s Great Matter, she now expresses moments of feeling chained, struggling to come to grips with the epiphany that the sons she may bear will be her only salvation, akin to the manner in which her child-bearing potential and stark contrast to Henry’s former wife brought her to his attention so many years ago.

As Anne’s second pregnancy progresses, the book ends with an Epilogue in the Tower once more, while Anne awaits the dawn of her execution day. Reading Lawrence’s version of Anne’s thoughts, I can feel Anne’s anguish—her desire to be a mother, her love for her children she sacrificed to England’s ruler, her pain of so many lost lives of her loved ones. Imperfect she many have been, Anne was an exceptional woman (in reality and fiction alike), and the sympathy she evokes is astounding. Even though I know how history will play out five hundred years ago and what the next book holds, I am enraged that I cannot rescue Anne, a woman who could have been so much more and who deserved so much more than being queen. This, of course, is due in large part to Gemma Lawrence’s incredible skill with the written word, and for that, I am grateful.

The Scandal of Christendom was a little slow for me to start, but that is because of my personal preferences, not the book itself (I simply am not fascinated by Cardinal Wolsey, so this portion of the book wasn’t as thrilling for me to read). Nonetheless, this book absolutely deserves all five of the stars I’m awarding it, and more.

You can see my reviews of La Petite Boulain, The Lady Anne, and Above All Others also on The Pensive Bookworm.

Book Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Many of you know that I am a work-from-home, stay-at-home mother of toddlers. As such, it isn’t often that I’m able to read a book quickly, but rather in short twenty-minutes-here, an-hour-there bursts. However, for The Help by Kathryn Stockett, the Fates aligned perfectly. My kids were happy to play with Legos, and I devoured every page of it in just over twenty-four hours.

From the first chapter (told from Aibileen’s point of view), I was hooked. As the story progressed to Minny and Skeeter’s points of view, I was amazed at the fine lines Stockett drew between characters, making each one memorable in her own way.

When Skeeter Phelan returns to Jackson, Mississippi after college graduation, she is determined to be a serious writer. Following a publisher’s advice to write about what bothers her, Skeeter decides to write an anonymous tell-all of what its like for the African-American maids to work for white families in Jackson. Enlisting the help of kindhearted Aibileen and spirited Minny, among others, Skeeter begins to tell a tale that will change the course of several lives in Jackson.

The Help candidly provides the reader with insight into the things maids wish they could say to their sometimes cruel, sometimes clueless “white lady” bosses. Furthermore, the risk these women take by telling their stories is inspirational. I’d bet many of us haven’t risked our homes, livelihoods, families, and lives to tell the truth of what we’ve faced, the true horror of a way of life society has deemed “normal.” The Help reminded me that there are much bigger, pressing issues that many of my fellow humans face every day that I will never know – that, in comparison, many of my problems pale.

The characters are bold in unique ways, and the challenges they face are tremendous. Even if I couldn’t relate to their situations, I could relate to their emotions, which is just one of many factors that drew me so wholly into this book.

I wish I could give The Help more than five stars. I haven’t loved a book this much in a very long time.

Lifetime Reading List: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

With the consideration of the current state of affairs in the United States of America as it pertains to the Black Lives Matter Movement as well as the tensions as we approach the November election, I bumped The Help by Kathryn Stockett higher on my Lifetime Reading List. Originally, I put these books in an order based on my interest in each, but after seeing an article titled Don’t Watch The Help…Or These Other White-Savior Movies , my interest piqued. I’d only seen snippets of the film, and I started to wonder what my own conclusions would be. Furthermore, I wondered if the current climate in my country would influence my opinion regarding the placement of The Help on this Lifetime Reading List.

I was certainly charmed by the characters from the very first page, especially Aibileen. Her affection for the children she raised mirrored my affection for my son and daughter, and I found myself relating to her the most throughout the book. Additionally, a few stories I know about certain members of my husband’s family of origin reminded me a great deal of Miss Hilly, which gave me a sort of foundation of understanding for the unjustified hatred that feeds the tension of this novel. However, if I didn’t know certain ones of my in-laws, I would be amazed that women—such as the realistically-fictional Miss Hilly—are capable of such outright evil, simply because another woman looks different than she does.

Contrary to the Miss Hilly-types, though, I found myself relating to Aibileen’s heart. What could a person want more when seeking connection with others?

I can boldly state, though, that I didn’t view Skeeter, the author of the fictional book Help, which includes stories from black maids who’ve worked in white households in Jackson during the 1960s, as a savior at all. In fact, I thought Skeeter learned so much more from Aibileen, Minny, and the other maids than the maids learned from her. Actually, after following Skeeter’s familial, social, and romantic issues within the subplot of The Help, I would say that Aibileen and Minny saved Skeeter. By the time Skeeter’s book has been published and her work in Jackson is complete, it is a result of Aibileen and Minny’s urging that she leaves her hometown to pursue a career in New York City. While Skeeter’s book may have opened the eyes of various readers, it’s the bravery of Aibileen and her fellow maids that holds my attention. After all, Skeeter’s book never would’ve existed without their willingness to risk their lives for the sake of sharing their stories.

Frankly and unashamedly, I think that putting Skeeter’s character on a pedestal and claiming she is a savior in any way is what’s toxic to our culture. Skeeter doesn’t save anybody. She endangers black maids in an inferno of racial tension in order to write a book that will grab the attention of a woman who she hopes will offer her a job or contract. In simple terms, Skeeter uses these women to her own advantage; it’s the strength of Aibileen and her friends that creates the story! Yes, the maids are willing to share their stories…but if they hadn’t, where would Skeeter be? Still a member of Miss Hilly’s little club, making obtuse policies and belittling “the help” for their alleged ignorance and poor hygiene, based on no “proof” other than the color of their skin.

It’s Aibileen’s bravery that saves Skeeter, both professionally and interpersonally.

With that in mind, I believe The Help by Kathryn Stockett absolutely belongs on the Lifetime Reading List. And for that matter, if you read this book and think anyone but the maids to be the hero, I beseech you to check your privilege.

Book Review: Forever in Blue by Ann Brashares

The conclusion to the original four-book series, Forever in Blue by Ann Brashares bittersweetly sends Lena, Carmen, Bridget, and Tibby off into their adulthood.

After several tormented years of trying to banish the love she lost from her mind, Lena spends her summer painting, trying to see if she can truly move on from Kostos. As she paints, she begins to form a new picture in her mind: What could life look like without him? As she finally begins to move on, Kostos returns. Although Lena doesn’t exactly welcome him back with open arms, she does consider the possibility of someday…maybe…in the indeterminate future… reuniting with her first love.

Carmen, of course, spends the summer brooding, but for new reasons. Under the influence of Julia, a confident-as-a-cover-for-insecure actress, Carmen joins a stage crew for a summertime production of The Winter’s Tale. When Carmen wins the leading role, Julia’s jealousy almost sabotages Carmen’s debut as Perdita. However, as always, Carmen finds her confidence at the last second and rises to the occasion, finally getting a happy ending without damaging any of her important relationships in the process.

Bridget’s storyline is perhaps the most complex. On an archaeological dig in Turkey, Bridget realizes she is scared of her feelings for her long-time sweetheart, Eric. She thinks their lives are marching in two separate directions, and instead of communicating with Eric, finds herself in a messy emotional situation with a married man, who is a fellow member of the dig team. As she works through her romantic problems, she also realizes how brief life truly is and decides to live it to the fullest.

Four years of friendship, friend zone, and budding romance later, Tibby calls it quits with Brian, having decided she’s too afraid of the potential consequences of their love. However, Brian doesn’t want to wait around for Tibby to realize (again) that too much of a good thing isn’t bad and begins dating Effie, Lena’s younger sister. Seething, Tibby spends the summer lamenting Brian’s seeming ability to move on; after all, she only broke up with him, she didn’t give him permission to date other girls, right?

The foursome reunites for one last adventure in Greece. As revenge for being excluded from the group and being dumped by Brian, Effie steals the Traveling Pants, only to lose them in Santorini. Lena, Carmen, Bridget, and Tibby fly to Greece to find them, but to no avail. On their last night together, they go swimming in the Caldera, and Bridget shares in the Epilogue how the magic of the Pants may not have been in the actual Pants, but in what they represent. The girls know now that their lives are changing and they will always be drifting apart as they begin adulthood on their own, but they must remember to make time for one another. That even apart, they can still be close at heart.

Forever in Blue is a solid conclusion to the original four-part series, wonderfully completing each girl’s storyline from unsure fifteen-year-old in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to a less-unsure new adult. While Girls in Pants will always remain my favorite portion of the story, Forever in Blue comes in a close second. The growth of each girl is believable, but hearkens to The Second Summer of the Sisterhood in the sense that it’s clear Lena, Carmen, Bridget, and Tibby still each have much to learn. While the book is rampant with self-doubt, I can’t say it’s unrealistic for a new adult, and each of their situations are plausible. I give this installment four stars.

The fifth part of the story, Sisterhood Everlasting, takes place ten years later. While I haven’t bought the book yet, I look forward to reading this final installment (again) soon.

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Of all the books I’ve seen on Twitter get ripped from one cover to the next, I’ve not quite seen a book cause as much disagreement and dissension as The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. As you can see from my analysis (here) of The Handmaid’s Tale, I find this book to be very thought-provoking when you focus on the themes and overall story of Offred, the protagonist.

However, the technical pieces of reading this book were a bit less enthralling.

Anytime I pick up a new book, I have a fifty-page rule – I will read up to the end of the chapter after page fifty. If I am still not enjoying the book, I will generally re-shelve it and pick it back up at a later date.

The Handmaid’s Tale barely made the cut for me to continue reading, but I’m glad I did.

For the first fifty or so pages, I had a hard time understanding what was happening in Offred’s world. The world-establishing portions of The Handmaid’s Tale weren’t as clear as I would’ve preferred, and the lack of quotation marks in some conversations made it hard for me discern between a real conversation and an imagined one (I’m still not entirely sure about a few). Furthermore, the start-and-stop portions of the story made for a choppy reading experience, which muddied my understanding of the protagonist’s place in her society.

In short, I thoroughly enjoyed the story of The Handmaid’s Tale, but I wasn’t a fan of the way it was written. Creatively, I understand it, but as far as my reading experience was concerned, I’m not sure this is a book I’ll pick up again until my daughter is in high school and we read it together.

For the story itself, I give The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood four stars. I liked the way it made me think critically about my beliefs as well as how I think society should empower women. However, due to the writing style, I can’t bring myself to give it a fifth star.