I was on my blogging break in April and missed last month’s #WOYBS. Since I managed to sneak a few books while traveling (especially during my 13-hour flights to and from Hong Kong), I have a lot to catch up on. I have ordered these reads by my star rating. While all of the books listed have received much critical acclaim (or best-seller status), there were a small handful that I found less than likable. Let’s start with my favourites!
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. What is it about in one word? Transformation.
Why 5 stars?? Dickens dramatically captures the stark contrast between what makes us happy and what we come to believe will make us happy. This thought-provoking story repeatedly highlights the true value of life. Once again, Dickens has proven to be a master at evoking time and place. His vivid and exquisite writing is intoxicating. This story has stayed with me long after I finished reading.
movie bonus: I saw the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow, Ethan Hawke, Robert De Niro, and Anne Bancroft. Although generally not well reviewed by critics, I enjoyed it. as reviewer and DiNicola he declared, it has a “contemporary hipness” to it and is “more of a meditation on its source than filming”. I found it to be a creative and provocative adaptation of what this story would look like if it took place in modern times.
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
What is it about in one word? Resilience.
Why 5 stars? Through his masterful storytelling and rich character development, Steinbeck takes readers on a powerful journey with a working-class family during the Great Depression. The novel brilliantly highlights the resilience and perseverance of the human spirit in the face of extreme adversity. It shows the power of community and solidarity in times of crisis.
Sadly, the themes of social justice, poverty, and inequality are just as relevant today as they were when the book was first published in 1939. It’s absorbing and heartbreaking, with an ending that never leaves you.
movie bonus: Made in 1940 in black and white, this film remains brilliant, timely, and haunting. More information here.
Why Shoot Max Braithwaite’s Teacher
This autobiographical novel highlights the trials and tribulations of a young schoolteacher in rural Saskatchewan in 1933.
Why read it? It’s unflinchingly sincere and at the same time touching and laugh-out-loud fun.
movie bonus: This 1977 Canadian comedy-drama is free to watch on Youtube. It was shot on location in Hanna, Alberta. Won a 1978 Canadian Film Award as well as a Gold Reel Award (for achieving high box office grosses). The movie stayed true to the book (albeit a condensed version).
A room with a view of EM Forster.
This is a well-crafted novel that deftly explores complex themes of social class, cultural differences, and personal freedom. Although I enjoyed it, it wasn’t a 5-star read for me. The characters were well developed, but I found I didn’t fully invest in their outcomes, and the resolution of their conflicts felt disjointed.
movie bonus: This 1985 adaptation has a stellar cast, great music, and beautiful photography. It is indeed slow and thoughtful. Spoiler alert: the bathing scene in the pond is hysterical!
The Bells of Charles Dickens: As always, Dickens’s vivid writing is thought-provoking and emotional. His characterizations are masterful. Although most of this story is grim, intended to provoke apprehension and anger, the reader has a choice at the end. I wholeheartedly choose to side with the protagonist’s optimism:
“We must trust and hope, and not doubt ourselves, nor doubt the good of others.” What better message could there be?
movie bonus: Youtube offers this free 23 minute stop-motion clay animation (2020). It’s incredibly smart, witty, and remarkably true to the story (with the focus on a happy ending). There is also a 1914 British silent film that I have yet to see.
One Year of Living Kindly by Donna Cameron
I’ve had this book in my ‘Reading Stack’ for quite some time. Finally catching up on my book club reading, I had the luxury of reading this book slowly and mindfully. Although I don’t normally re-read books, this is a powerful read that I plan to revisit on an annual basis. His well-deserved awards and nominations are listed below.
2020 New York City Big Book Awards Winner in Motivational
2020 14th Annual National Freelance Excellence Award Winner in Self-Help/Motivation
2019 IPPY Gold Medal Self Help
Gold Winner at the 2019 Nautilus Book Awards in Personal Growth and Self-Help
2019 Next Generation Independent Book Gold Medal Winner in Motivational
2019 Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal Winner in Self-Help Nonfiction
Eric Hoffer Award Self Help 2019
2019 Independent Authors Network Book of the Year First Place in Self-Help
2019 Chanticleer I & I Book Awards for Instruction and Insight Finalist
International Book Finalist 2019, General
2019 Nancy Pearl Best Book Finalist in Memoirs
Finalist Eric Hoffer Montaigne 2019
2019 Foreword Indies Adult Nonfiction―Self Help
Kirkus reviews the best books of 2018
While each of these books has its own merit and its own following (especially Mrs. Dalloway), they just weren’t for me. In a word or two, I found Dicken’s The Haunted Man too dark and clumsy, Sex and Vanity too over the top, and Mrs. Dalloway too disjointed (especially when she was trying to read it on vacation). You can find my full reviews here, here and here.
So what’s been in your library lately? Please let me know in the comments below. If you have a book post to share, include it here.
Before retirement, I lived and worked in Beijing, China for fourteen years (high school principal/Deputy Principal of Beijing Western Academy). Leaving international life behind, my husband and I retired to Vancouver Island in June 2015. To document both this transition and our new adventures, ‘Retirement Reflections’ was born. I hope you enjoy reading these reflections and that you are willing to share your own.
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