A Mother’s Journey Through Books and the Top 7 Book Group Literary Escapes

by Kate Fineske on December 10, 2013 · 3 comments

The following list was compiled by members of the Mothers’ Center of Central New Jersey Book Group. A special thanks to Eileen Marriott for coordinating the book group’s efforts to gather article content. Additional thanks to MCCNJ member Anna George who’s essay (originally written for their group’s newsletter) was edited to become the post’s introduction.

MCCNJ Book Club Books

There was a brief time after college, where I didn’t even want to look at a book—never mind crack it open and read what was inside. I was so burnt from school that curling up with a book, no matter how good, was just not a priority. Then, a friend gave me a copy of Frank McCourt’s memoir Angela’s Ashes. In one weekend I finished the book and my hunger and love of reading returned.  

It’s been over 15 years since that incident, and now reading is one of my favorite pastimes.

“Books especially helped me 9 years ago,
as I transitioned from working girl to stay at home mom.” 

In March 2004, I peed on a white stick, watched two lines appear and celebrated my first pregnancy. In the months that followed it was a book that…

  • Prepared me (or at least gave me a sense of preparedness) for what was coming
  • Kept me company when the overnight insomnia (due to peeing every 2 hours) kicked in
  • Entertained me while recovering from a delivery (that was nothing like what was described in the pregnancy book I had read months prior)
  • Helped me pass time when nursing and also when my son refused to sleep
  • Gave me tips on getting my baby to sleep through the night (or at least gave me hope that one day he would sleep through the night) 

Books have helped me pass time at doctors’ offices, parks and during my children’s extracurricular activity practices. And books have often been my connection to the adult in me who is capable of higher thinking (not just the Sesame Street or the Nick Jr. variety of thinking).

Being part of The Mother’s Center of Central New Jersey Book Group has allowed me opportunities to discuss with other adults who—like me—may also have spent the entire day at the mercy of one or more small tyrants; who may have not eaten anything but stale goldfish crackers and left-over chicken nuggets; and who are also longing for a conversation without having to use their Elmo voice.  

Our 20+ member book group meets monthly and (since we are all busy moms with countless obligations), never judges any member who’s unable to finish (or even begin) reading the month’s book.

“Even though the reason for the meeting is a book,
what we get out of our gathering is so much more.”

Our meetings are a time to come together, share our love of reading, eat a little, drink a little and remember what else we are and can be beyond or daily caregiving obligations.  

Below are 7 books our Mothers’ Center of Central New Jersey Book Group recommends reading with your own book group. Maybe you too can be inspired by their story and the discussion these books sparked in our members?

Who knows, they may even encourage a few conversations outside of Nick Jr. and Sesame Street?


The Top 7 Book Club Literary Escapes

(As Compiled by the Mothers’ Center of Central New Jersey)

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

by Rachel Joyce

Storyline: This is the story of a six hundred mile walk to keep a friend alive and a walking meditation on buried memories, profound thoughts and feelings of a father, husband and friend.
Why we recommend this book: As mothers this book reminded us of the deep impact that parenthood has on our choices, outlook and relationships. It was a pleasure to meet the diverse characters along Harold’s journey and to reflect on the hope of new beginnings.

The HelpThe Help

by Kathryn Stockett

Storyline: A novel about black maids working in white southern households in the early 1960s.
Why we recommend this book: Some praised the endearing, colorful voices of the maids while others felt they were thick, dated and written by someone who couldn’t write the voices well. We included this book in our top 7 list for its engaging story and portrayal of the complex relationships between the predominately women characters at a transition point in society.

In the WoodsIn the Woods

by Tana French

Storyline: A beautifully written story recounting the murder of a young girl in the woods where the lead detective’s friends went missing when he was a child.
Why we recommend this book: The unraveling effect of the investigation on the detectives kept the discussion flowing. Our group has since read two more books in the series: The Likeness and Faithful Place.

Eat Pray Love - Elizabeth GilbertEat, Pray, Love

by Elizabeth Gilbert

Storyline: A memoir of the author’s search to find food, faith, love and ultimately her self across the globe
Why we recommend this book: This book was a debated book among our group of moms. While some appreciated the journey underlined and were entertained by her insights and honest self-assessments, the memoir made others want to scream. It sparked great conversation! 

Gone GirlGone Girl

by Gillian Flynn

Storyline: A mystery full of many twists that held our group’s full attention.
Why we recommend this book: Some members had trouble feeling for the characters as neither seemed to have very many redeeming qualities, yet unraveling the story from the perspectives of the two main characters was captivating.

The Girl With The Dragon TattooThe Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

by Stieg Larsson

Storyline: A crime novel, full of mystery, intrigue and action.
Why we recommend this book: The main character (Lisbeth Salandar) played by her own rules and was a strong female without being an in-your-face character. As unlikely a couple as they might have seemed, Lisbeth and Mikael Blomkvist had us rooting for their relationship and friendship. Our book group has since read the other books in this series: The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest.

The Immortal Life Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot

Storyline: A non-fiction book about Henrietta Lacks and the immortal cell line, known as HeLa, that came from her cervical cancer cells in 1951.
Why we recommend this book: We found it fascinating that this woman unknowingly has saved millions of lives through her cancer cells being used for medical research and enjoyed how the author personalized the story by telling more about Henrietta and her family. The book generated a great discussion on medical ethics.

Still want more books to add to your reading list?

Here are the Mothers’ Center of Central New Jersey Book Group’s Runner Ups
(in no particular order, most links below and above are directed to GoodReads.com for synopsis and reviews)

Leave a Comment: Have you read any of these books? If so, which are your favorites? What books would you add to your own listing of “literary escapes” to read via a book group?

I am a staff member of the National Association of Mothers' Centers and a longtime member of the Mothers' Center of Greater Toledo in Ohio. My husband and I are busy raising 3 children ages 4-11. I have a professional background as a graphic designer in the creative and education industry. Since 2005, I have been using my professional skills by actively volunteering with the Mothers' Center of Greater Toledo in various leadership positions.
Kate Fineske
View all posts by Kate Fineske
Kate's website
Pin It

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate Fineske December 10, 2013 at 7:01 am

Eileen, Anna and the other members of the MCCNJ Book Group—THANK YOU so much for compiling this amazing resource for others! Even if you were unable to directly contribute, I really appreciate the effort and willingness of the group to take on this project. I absolutely loved Anna’s reflections on how boosk (and the MCCNJ book group) have impacted her as a mother and woman. And I specifically loved the line Anna wrote saying, “our group never judges any member who’s unable to finish (or even begin) reading the month’s book.” This was me (and sometimes still is). Just knowing that one can join in (prepared or unprepared) creates such a welcoming environment.

THANK YOU! I can’t wait to expand my reading repertoire through this list!


Lisa December 10, 2013 at 12:04 pm

I love that the group has filled so many needs – and I can completely relate. We started a Mother/Daughter Book Group at my Mothers’ Center when the girls were in 4th grade – and it was one of the best things that happened to all of us! It was amazing what the girls were willing to give up to be at our meetings – we all got so much on so many different levels. Now, years later, we moms continue to meet and read- and just like your group – no judgement when someone doesn’t manage to read the book. We really take pleasure in each others’ company, whether we discuss the book or not! There is something about a book group that is so unique- especially when you mix it with the Mothers’ Center spirit. thanks so much for sharing!


Kate L. December 11, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Adding these to my list, thanks! I LOVE reading. Another good list is EW’s top books of 2013 (#1 was my fave read this year): http://www.ew.com/ew/gallery/0,,20760444_20760452,00.html#30058621


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: