Joyful Reads from January
Hello! I’m Joy, and I love to read. I consider it my greatest talent and favorite hobby. Another one of my preferred pastimes is recommending reads to anyone who is the least bit curious. Seriously. I am always volunteering book recs to people near me, whether they ask or not. I thought it would be fun to bring this passion to Baton Rouge Parents Magazine. I will share with you every book I read month by month and what I think about them. You can also follow me on Instagram at @joyfulreadswithjoy!
The Postmistress of Paris by Meg Waite Clayton
What a dynamic book to start off 2022! As a fan of historical fiction with strong female leads and historical fiction that features art, I knew I would enjoy this novel by Meg Waite Clayton. This novel surpassed my favorable expectations. First of all, I love a good Resistance storyline in WWII Europe, especially one that contains intrigue, personal stakes, and relationships. Second of all, Naneé, the protagonist, is based on the real Mary Jayne Gold, an American heiress who participated in helping refugees get out of France. Finally, this was masterfully told with deep character development and subtle nuance.
In the late 1930s, Naneé is close with the Surrealists in Paris. Quickly the tide changes as Nazis invade. Naneé and her friends flee to Southern France where she joins the American effort to smuggle refugee artists out of Nazi-controlled France. Along the way, she falls for a German Jewish photographer and goes to great lengths to help him and his daughter find freedom. This is a beautiful story full of suspense, love, and personal growth. Waite Clayton fully captures this intensely desperate time but also celebrates the joy of living in an artistic community.
What I loved: Strong and vulnerable heroine, the art, the photography, France, multiple POV, the minor characters who help the cause, Edouard and Naneé’s relationship, and the focus on family and community in the midst of such terror.
I want to read more @megwaiteclayton! For fans of Kate Quinn and Kristin Hannah—I think you will love this.
Warning: Sexual assault and violence.
The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis
What an enchanting getaway this novel was! I was in need of a historical escape this past week, and The Magnolia Palace really delivered. Fiona Davis vacillates between 1919 and 1966. I just love a good dual timeline, and New York City and the Frick Museum was a fabulous setting. The Magnolia Palace is a solid female-driven historical fiction novel that captured me and kept me turning the pages.
Summary: Lillian Carter, known as Angelica, is the artists’ muse of over a hundred statues in New York when her world stops. Unfairly swept up in a murder case, Lillian lands an unexpected job with the robber baron Frick family as a personal secretary to the only daughter. She becomes entwined in the family just when a mystery occurs. Almost 50 years later, British model Veronica Weber finds herself in the Frick Museum for a fashion shoot that goes awry. After a blizzard-induced lock-in, Veronica, along with an archivist intern, follows a series of clues to unravel a Frick mystery of a missing diamond from years ago. These two models a generation apart delve into the inner workings of one of the finest art collections in the country.
What I loved: intriguing and relatable characters, well-researched time periods, all the art, secret identities, class criticism, surprising relationships, treatment of women’s roles in 1919 and 1966, the surprisingly close proximity of those very different time periods, the two timelines, the intricacies of the Frick home, and an engaging plot.
This isn’t a novel I would RAVE over, but one I would recommend to many. Quality read. Really appreciated all of the research that brought these women to life. And now, I really want to go visit the Frick Museum.
Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez
I need some time to process all of my thoughts and feelings about this book, but I am so glad I read it. It wasn’t an easy read emotionally. Having grown up in the Southern Baptist church and belonging to an Evangelical mega church as an adult, this book answered so many questions I have had. I really appreciate the amount of historical research and critical eye that Kristin K. Du Mez brings to this discussion. This work elucidates so much of what I’ve grown up around and what is still all around me. I’ve been wanting to read this for so long. Personally, the most difficult part was uncovering that there was a motive behind some of what I was taught.
Summary: Du Mez chronicles the track of white American Evangelicalism from World War I to 2020, specifically the focus on patriarchal masculinity. I learned so much about the history and evolution of the white evangelical church. I wasn’t aware how early that focus on masculinity and Christian Nationalism started. Du Mez’s research on the background and trajectory of this aspect of the evangelical church illuminated so much for me and the cultural values that were embedded in the church as I grew. 2016 and the following years were not an anomaly, but a result of years of emphasis on masculinity and power. Du Mez looks critically at the recent revelations of sexual assault and abuse in so many churches and at the hands of so many leaders. Her assessment is that the cultural climate of masculinity and patriarchy created the environment in which those crimes abounded.
This book isn’t for everyone, but if you are interested in looking deeper or answering questions you have, then this is a great read. I have many more personal things to say, but I’ll keep them to texts with my friends.
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
Black Cake is a beautifully layered family saga that captivated me. I cannot believe it is Charmaine Wilkerson’s debut novel! The character development, lovely prose, nonlinear timeline, and multiple POV kept me turning the pages in awe. Black Cake highlights the Caribbean diaspora as well as personal and family trauma. I was blown away by the end. I became so immersed in these characters I genuinely thought about them frequently when I wasn’t reading.
Summary: Before Eleanor Bennett passes away, she records her life story for her two children, Byron and Benny. The siblings have been estranged for eight years, and Eleanor’s wishes are that they come together to listen to her recording and share her famous black cake when the time is right. As Byron and Benny listen to their mother’s tale, secret after secret is revealed. Each sibling, however, also has secrets of their own that have driven them apart. Wilkerson unfolds the secrets the further we dive into the text. The novel is so rich with story that I marveled at each new development.
The issues and themes in Black Cake make the story relevant and timely. Wilkerson addresses family breakdowns, immigration, sexual assault, racial tension, violence, racial profiling, sexuality, trust, and the power of food and culture. I learned so much about Jamaica, Chinese Jamaicans, swimming, Caribbean cuisine, British connections, and history of all of the above. One resounding thought while reading: why couldn’t the characters just talk to each other? The miscommunication and silence were heartbreaking!
This was a perfect novel to end January on and begin Black History Month. If you like multi-generational novels with rich characters, this is a perfect read for you.