Magnolia Wednesdays by Wendy Wax

November is one of my busiest times of year. Usually, my family travels to Kentucky to visit for a week or so, my workplace holds a large event at the beginning of the month and at the end of the month, and Thanksgiving falls right in the middle of it all. Suffice to say, reading has been an afterthought. However, when my family came to visit me, they brought me boxes of my childhood treasures and my book collection from home. I knew I had a few books I hadn’t read stashed away. Digging through the boxes, I pulled out a small stack and dubbed Magnolia Wednesdays as the first to read.

This 400-plus page paperback kept me hooked- I didn’t want to put it down, even though I knew I had to at times. It follows main character Vivien Armstrong Gray, a journalist who rebelled against her southern belle upbringing. Fleeing the life she made in NYC with a lot of skeletons in her suitcase, Vivi finds herself sheltered in her sister’s home in Atlanta suburbia. Melanie, Vivi’s sister, knows this sudden visit is suspicious- her sister was never the family type and only made the occasional holiday appearance. Even when Melanie was in need the most after the passing of her husband J.J., Vivi couldn’t seem to handle sticking around for very long.

As Vivi learns to navigate the life of suburbia, she can’t help but let her journalistic nature get the best of her. Emerging herself in Melanie’s daily life, Vivi seeks out stories for her column and tries to find the truth behind her brother-in-law’s sudden death. While taking belly-dancing classes at her sister’s dance studio, she learns that there’s more going on in suburbia than she expected, and more complicated issues than her alias suggests every week in the paper. When things come to a head by the end of the novel, you can’t stop turning the pages.

I give this one a good recommendation for all it’s interesting plot twists and entertaining banter between characters. Though I did have a few minor issues with point of view changing abruptly and paragraph breaks inconsistently defining the direction of the story, it wasn’t something that I got hung up on long enough to distract me from the action.

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

*Warning- this novel is definitely Rated R. There’s a lot going on here.*

I was at the library and didn’t know just what to read, and nothing was jumping off the shelves. Cue Pinterest.com for my “To Read” board. I wanted something thrilling, and this was recommended as one to read in the last 5 years. So, I hunted it down and checked it out.

It took me less than 48 hours to read this 350 page book because it sucked me in and I just couldn’t stop. I had to know what happened next, had to understand the chaos that is TifAni FaNelli’s life. There were many plot twists, many “Oh my Gods” and much internal debate on how I felt about the main character. Did I like her or not? I’m still not sure, but I know that by the end, I understood her so much better than in the beginning.

Ani (ahh-nee, as she explains many times) is working through her check list for the perfect life. The cosmopolitan job, the dreamboat man, the expensive flat in Manhattan, the designer clothes, the blue-blood life… Check, check, check. But of course, there’s more to Ani than what meets the eye. She’s hiding her true self behind it all, putting on a show so that TifAni FaNelli would forever be buried in the past. I expected this much at the beginning, that the main character was putting on a charade, but the plot thickened and I got a better understanding of why.

Flashback to her freshman year of high school, where fourteen year old TifAni is transferred to an elite prep school, Bradley. Determined to make a fresh start after being cast out of her last school, she starts to work her way into the popular crowd. Predictably, the popular crowd isn’t easy to get into and trouble ensues once TifAni joins them. Enter plot twist number one, where young TifAni has too much to drink and the popular boys take advantage of her and gang rape her. It’s a serious and terrible twist, but the author made it easy enough to guess that these boys weren’t trustworthy, and therefore were going to do something awful to TifAni. However, following the aftermath of this looms unpredictable plot twist number two, and there’s no way I’m going to spoil that shocker for you.

As present time Ani flashes from her current life to her past life, she reveals the difficulty she’s had moving on past her tragic youth. Knoll, the young author, did an excellent job creating this complex character, despite some stereotyping. My only other demerits are that there were some unclear jumps between past and present in between paragraphs, and the ending left me feeling deflated. It almost felt like Knoll put the ending out of order, that it should have gone before the climax of the plot. But it did leave the reader wondering, “Will Ani ever get her happy ending?”

I would definitely recommend “Luckiest Girl Alive” if you were looking for a gripping read, one where you can get lost in the story. I don’t think I would reread, but knowing that this is Knoll’s first novel, I’d be very interested in seeing what she comes up with next.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

I remember the first time I read this. I was in 4th or 5th grade at the time, and though I was a pretty mature-minded tween, the diary of Anne Frank was just another book that I couldn’t put down. I didn’t correlate the fact that the words in my hands, though edited, were the words of an actual human being. A human being who happened to be going through the worst imaginable circumstance. To my tween self, I was relating to the average diary-writing, family squabbling, worrying teen on the pages. More than 10 years later, I happened to be watching a BBC broadcast about the Annex that Anne Frank made so famous, and there was an interviewer asking people why they decided to take the tour. Most said it was for the history, but others has family stories similar to Anne’s, and came to, in a way, pay their respects to Anne for telling her story. This motivated me to seek out Anne Frank’s diary again.

While I’m sure there isn’t a single reader out there who hasn’t heard of Anne Frank and her life in hiding from Nazi Germany during World War II, I’ll refresh your memory on the details.

Anne, the youngest of the Frank family, went into hiding with her father (Otto), mother (Edith) and sister (Margot) on July 5th, 1942. Along with the Frank family, there were four others in hiding with them: The van Pels family (or as Anne calls them, the van Daan family) AugusteĀ  (aka Mrs. van Daan), Hermann (Mr. van Daan), and Peter (van Daan); and Fritz Pfeffer (aka Albert Dussel). The hidden Annex was the top two floors of the office building where Otto Frank worked. They stayed in hiding for over two years, aided by Mr Johannes Kleiman, Mr. Victor Kugler, Miep Gies, and Bep Voskuijl. Two years. Two year inside, never being allowed outside, always having to be quiet, living in fear of being found out and sent to their deaths. Two years of living off what you have and what others could supply you, being entirely dependent on the good will and bravery of those keeping you safe.

What impresses me more now is how much you see a change of maturity in Anne during her time in the Annex. In the beginning, she is so much a child, optimistic and unsure of what is happening around her, but thinking of it as an adventure (even though she understood the urgency of the situation). Her constant mentions of the household bickering and drama are silly in comparison to the reality of 1942. Towards the middle of her diary, you start to note the change, and to which I believe her focus in her diary changed from a personal confidant to more of a detailed account of her reality for an eventual audience. She explains what is happening, how they live in hiding, what keeps the family optimistic, what frightens her the most.Towards the end, (and such a sad, haunting end to think about), the reader and Anne have truly identified the complex human that she, and her grasp on the world in which she was shut away from is impressively informed and ruminated on.

Reading this as an adult versus a teen has changed my perspective on Anne, but not for the worse. It most certainly deepens my respect for her and her Annex family, with additional deep sympathy for Otto Frank, as the man who outlived his young family, lived through the horrors of concentration camps, and then returned to find his youngest child’s last accounts of her life. To be so brave and optimistic at a time when the world was at it’s darkest…

If you haven’t read it, you must, because it’s the least you can do in her memory.