Friendship, struggle and intergalactic romance: March reading list exceeds expectations

This month's reads include "Looking for Alaska," "Scarlet Feather," "'Tis" and "Siren's Cove," which is the debut novel from Sauk Rapids author Sara Judson Brown.

Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Included in this month’s authors are old favorites revisited and new finds I can’t wait to explore more of. Each of these four books was completely different in genre but a delightful read in its own way.

‘Looking for Alaska’ by John Green

Many readers may have heard of John Green in relation to his bestselling novel turned into a 2014 movie, “The Fault in Our Stars.”

That was the first of his books I read, and I fell in love with him as a writer from that point on — after I was done bawling my eyes out, that is. I’ve read three more since and loved them all. The last one I picked up was “Looking for Alaska,” and I think I read it in two sittings. It was fast-paced and hard to put down.

“Looking For Alaska” is told from the point of view of 16-year-old Miles “Pudge” Halter, who embarks on a new journey to an Alabama boarding school to find his “Great Perhaps.” Miles has a fascination with famous people’s last words and takes French Renaissance man Francois Rabelais’s dying words to heart. “I go to seek the Great Perhaps.”

While at his new school, Miles meets and becomes enamored with the free-spirited Alaska Young, who turns his life upside down in more ways than one in just a matter of months.


But was switching schools and moving away from his overbearing parents ultimately a good move for Miles, or is it a decision he’ll soon come to regret? And more importantly, does he ever find his Great Perhaps?

What I like about John Green books is, while they’re classified as young adult novels and narrated by teenagers, they always pose thought-provoking questions about life and its purpose that I think most everyone can relate to in some way.

In 2019, “Looking for Alaska” was turned into a Hulu miniseries of the same name, starring Charlie Plummer and Kristine Froseth in the main roles.

‘Scarlet Feather’ by Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy might be my new favorite author. I’ve only read one of her books so far, but I loved absolutely everything about it and can’t wait to read more of her writing.

I think “charming” is the best word I can come up with to describe “Scarlet Feather,” which follows Dubliners Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather, business partners who start their own catering company together. The book spans a year, with a chapter spent on each month, and tells of the duo’s trials and tribulations as new business owners while weaving in personal stories of their family and friends.

I was a little worried at the beginning, as so many characters were introduced right away, but Binchy did a wonderful job of painting a unique picture of each one, and I quickly lost myself in the story. Among the colorful cast is Cathy’s husband Neil, a hotshot lawyer who spends most of his time working; Neil’s hoity-toity mother who never approved of her son’s marriage; Tom’s beautiful girlfriend Marcella Malone, who wants nothing more than to be a model; Cathy’s hardworking mother and well-meaning father who can’t kick his gambling habit; and, two of my favorites, Simon and Maud, Neil’s strange 9-year-old twin cousins with absent parents and a greedy, sticky-fingered older brother.

Cathy and Tom have no shortage of obstacles to overcome to keep their business afloat and their personal lives intact, but the one constant they have is each other. Working together since catering school, the two have an unbreakable bond that, together with Cathy’s determination and Tom’s unwavering optimism, just might get them through their tumultuous year.

‘Tis: a Memoir’ by Frank McCourt

“‘Tis” is the follow up to Frank McCourt’s 1996 Pulitzer Prize winning memoir “Angela’s Ashes.” In his first memoir, McCourt documents his childhood growing up dirt poor in Ireland in the 1930s and 1940s with an alcoholic father who keeps drinking away the family’s money. As the oldest child in a big family, McCourt leaves school early to help earn money. “‘Tis” picks up right where “Angela’s Ashes” leaves off, with 19-year-old McCourt sailing into New York after years of saving up money for the trip. But now he’s in a brand new country with no money, no job, no high school diploma and not a single familiar face. He has to find his own way in New York City, working odd jobs to make ends meet and eventually joining the U.S. Army during the Korean War. After the war he navigates romantic relationships and dreams of going to college like the American kids he sees on the subway every day but knows his lack of formal education is a hindrance.


McCourt’s ability to evoke a wide range of emotions is impeccable. “Angela’s Ashes” is considered a tragicomedy, a heart-wrenching story peppered with the humorous moments that are inevitable when told from the point of view of a young child. ‘“Tis” could be considered a little more upbeat, for lack of a better term, but I highly recommend both and promise there will be no shortage of emotions felt.

McCourt also wrote “Teacher Man” as a third memoir before his 2009 death, and his brothers Malachy and Alphie are authors as well.

‘Siren’s Cove’ by Sara Judson Brown

“Siren’s Cove” is Sauk Rapids author Sara Judson Brown’s debut novel and the first installment of her Perigalacticon series.

I don’t normally read science fiction, but my goal is to branch out a little this year, and I’m hoping to include at least one Minnesota author in each of my monthly book reviews, so I landed on Judson Brown’s “Siren’s Cove,” and I’m really glad I did.

Finding a new book you enjoy is exciting, but finding a new series is even better. Judson Brown starts off her series with a unique story, set in a world outside Earth. When a faulty time coil causes Lt. Anaya Chapman’s ship to crash, she ends up in a strange place with no recollection of what happened or who she is. By chance, she meets Capt. John Galeas, a brooding tavern owner with a tragic and mysterious past. Together, the two navigate the uncertainty of both their futures, wondering if Anaya’s memory will ever come back and if John’s past escapades will eventually catch up with him.

After reading this book, I’ve come to realize how limitless the possibilities are in a genre like science fiction. Anything is possible — time travel, ion pistols, otherworldly pirates. All that and more is packed into Siren’s Cove, a completely original, action-packed story with something new around every turn. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the series has in store.

If you’ve got a recommendation for a must-read Minnesota author, send it my way!

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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