Friday, November 30, 2018

November 2018 in Books

Hey everyone!  Lots of books on the list this month, but eight of those are actually kids books.  I've been falling behind on keeping up with Ellie, so I set aside some time with no pressure from regular library books to get through the large stack of books she had for me to read.  There are some really good ones in the group if you're looking for things that tween girls would enjoy.  Besides those, Dear Mrs. Bird and Then She Was Gone are probably my favorites for the month, but I've got the full run-down for you below:

Siberian Exile: Blood, War, and a Granddaughter's Reckoning- Julija Sukys - biography - five stars - Sukys is writing the story of her grandparents.  She knew that her grandmother had been imprisoned in Siberia and that her grandfather and the kids had been able to escape Lithuania to the west, but didn't have the full story behind it.  When she started to research it, the things she found were not what she expected and troubling.  Her grandfather had been an anti-Semite, implicated in at least knowing if not actively assisting in the arrest, and deportation of Jews as well as in a mass murder.  While her grandmother was basically arrested by accident and managed to both survive and thrive in Siberia.  This isn't a long book, the pertinent facts and details are there, but it's written in a very readable style.  I feel like often historical books have a great story, but the writer wants to show how much research they've done and put in details that detract from what is happening.  That wasn't the case here.  There were some really interesting and fascinating twists to the her grandparents story, and I really enjoyed it. 

Dear Mrs. Bird - A. J. Pearce - historical fiction - five stars - I loved this one, and I had high expectations for it as several people had recommended it.  It had a bit of a slow start for me, but was so good.  Emmy Lake dreams of being a journalist, so when she sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, she applies.  She doesn't quite pay enough attention in the interview, and it turns out she has actually signed on as a typist/assistant for Mrs. Bird, a very old school editress for the Chronicle's sister publication, a ladies weekly called Women's Friend.  Much of her job involves selecting 'appropriate' letters for the advice column.  There are lengthy guidelines as to what is appropriate (basically not much at all), and Emmy is torn between wanting to help the folks who write in and overstepping her job.  As one might expects, she oversteps a bit.  Meanwhile, things are a bit dicey on the personal front with her best friend and a new beau.  It was such a fun, funny, and charming book.  Loved it.

The Shortest Way Home - Miriam Parker - fiction - three stars - About a girl named Hannah who going with her boyfriend to Sonoma and is so taken with the place and a winery she visits, that she decides to stay, despite the fact she has an amazing job and place (with her boyfriend) lined up in NYC.  It's kind of a finding yourself story, but overall I just didn't like her that much.  I thought she was pretty wishy washy.  I liked the background of the winery and plans to improve it and make it profitable, but I really thought she was just messing with people - the boyfriend, the winery owner's son, etc. trying to figure out what it was she wanted.  Just meh.

The Secret Keepers - Trenton Lee Stewart - juvenile fiction - five stars - I've been excited to read this one for a while, this is by the guy who wrote the Mysterious Benedict Society books which we love.  It's about a boy named Reuben who discovers a very special watch with a very special quality that someone in his town has been searching for for a very long time.  He embarks on a journey to find out the story of the watch and in doing so saves his town.  This one took me a bit of time to get into, but I think that was the same way with the Benedict Society books, you need a few chapters to get into it, but are well rewarded.  I love his characters and how the story is woven together.  I can only hope that Stewart continues to write...and

Jefferson's Sons - Kimberly Brubaker Bradley - historical fiction - five stars - Ellie recently declared historical fiction her favorite genre, so this book is right up her.  It's about the illegitimate children of Jefferson and Sally Hemings, and I thought was quite fascinating.  The book talked about the difficulty in knowing the master was your father, and not being able to be treated as a true child.  Certainly they were afforded many more privileges than the other slaves, but the kids saw how Jefferson's grandchildren were treated in comparison.  I thought the author did a great job exploring the range of emotions and how one reacted by varying how each of the kids viewed Jefferson and responded to him.  It was also fascinating the planning for how the two eldest kids left home - the children were each emancipated when they turned 18 and left.  Two left before Jefferson died, the other three were under 18 at his death.  The older two had to blend into white society seamlessly and they're lost to history since they never told their spouses about their background, so their kids didn't know.  They siblings knew where they were and that they were fine, but never let on, so they are truly a lost branch of the family.  Also interesting were the politics behind the emancipation of the rest of the family.  There had been whispers of Jefferson's relationship, so in his will the kids were not specifically named - just the apprentice woodworker, etc. so that there wouldn't be talk.  This was a great read and highly recommended.  

The Penderwicks at Last (The Penderwicks, #5) - Jeanne Birdsall - juvenile fiction - five stars - Ah, the Penderwicks, how I love this family!  I'm so sad that this is the last book in the series!  I wanted to go back to the beginning and read the series all the way through, but Ellie wasn't having any of it.  In this book, Lydia is the focal point, and the family goes back to Arundel for the summer as there is to be a wedding there.  Old friends/foes are re-introduced, and much fun is had by all.  These books are just so light and happy and funny.  I really do need to go back and read all the way through.  If you've never read the books, you must.  And I think they are one of the best series out there for between readers. I think I gave Ellie the first book in 4th grade, but it might have been 3rd, and she has loved each book.

That's Not Hay in My Hair - Juliette Turner - juvenile fiction - three stars - OK, so I need to preface this review by saying that the author was a teenager when this was written.  That said, it's pretty fantastic that a teenager could pump out a book, on the other hand, it was written by a teenager, and I feel like some serious editing was in order.  It's about a girl named Juliette who moves from NYC to a ranch in the middle of Texas.  The problem is it's just very fragmented and it really seems to be a collection of occurrences/anecdotes with no real thread that ties them together.  The first part of the book they're in NYC getting ready to leave, and it discusses her friends/teachers there, but it almost doesn't belong and really doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the book.  Once she gets to Texas, there are a couple chapters about school, but then nothing else and it really doesn't tie in at all.  Most of the book is about things that happen on the ranch, issues with the animals etc., which are interesting, but again, I was missing the beginning/middle/end.  It all seemed like the middle to me.  Still, Ellie liked the book and she was very impressed that someone not too much older than her wrote it.  

The Good, the Bad & the Beagle - Catherine Lloyd Burns - juvenile fiction - four stars - Carina got this book for Ellie for her last birthday because it's a book and it has a lemon beagle in it (our beagle, Oshie, is a lemon beagle).  Turns out it's a pretty good book.  It's about a girl named Veronica who is starting out at a new school (in part because she needs some distance from former friends) where everyone else has basically been together since elementary school.  Early in the year she receives Cadbury, the lemon beagle.  Cadbury is not well though and she loses him, and in the wake of that really struggles emotionally and socially.  I thought the book did a good job of dealing with the loss of someone so special during the very complex tween years, about responsibility, and about friendship and popularity.

Hour of the Bees - Lindsay Eager - juvenile fiction - five stars - This was such a good book, another one that tackles some really difficult problems for kids.  Carol and her family are spending the summer at her grandfather's ranch in the middle of the New Mexico desert.  Her grandfather is suffering from dementia and they are prepping the ranch to be sold so that he can move into a home.  Carol of course doesn't want to be there and hardly knows her grandfather, but over the course of the summer they develop a bond, and he tells her the story of his life.  This is very much a coming of age story, finding your roots, what matters in life, and growing up.  I loved seeing the transformation in Carol and what matters to her.  Highly recommend.

Book Scavenger (Book Scavenger, #1) - Jennifer Chambliss Bertman - juvenile fiction - four stars - I feel like I always compare books like there to Mr. Lemoncello.  This one was really good, but didn't match up to that.  It's the story of Emily who has just moved to San Francisco, the home of Garrison Griswald, creator of her favorite game Book Scavenger which is a bit like geocaching with books.  She finds a book which is actually the start of Griswald's newest game, and with the help of her new best friend, the boy upstairs, sets about solving it.  There's a bit of danger involved as nefarious individuals are trying to win the game.  It's a good story, and the start of a series.  Ellie hasn't mentioned getting the other books, so I'm not sure she was that into it, but I definitely liked it.  Some great stuff in there about being a good friend/friendship in general too.  

Almost Home - Joan Bauer - Juvenile Fiction - five stars - The last of my assigned books from Ellie, this was another winner. It's the story of Sugar, whose mother is unable to keep their home in Missouri after her grandfather passes away. Homeless, they end up moving to Chicago for a fresh start, but it's no better there.  Sugar ends up in foster care.  Sugar is an excellent student/talented writer, throughout the book you see her poems, writing, and thank you notes as well.  I love that Ellie loved this book and wanted to share it with me.  Sugar shows tremendous grace and character in very difficult circumstances, and it's a great way to talk with kids about homelessness and foster care.

What We Were Promised - Lucy Tan - fiction - four stars - This is the story of the Zhen family - Wei, Lina, and Karen.  They recently returned from America where they attended school, raised a child, and worked for many years.  Now working for an American company in Shanghai, the return of Wei's brother threatens the status quo of the family.  In flashbacks we find out about their circumstances, paths not taken, etc. The book also weaves in the story of Sunny, their domestic worker.  For me this story was really about finding contentment in your circumstances, whether you were extremely wealthy like the Zhens, or not so much like Sunny.  I really enjoyed the back story, but found many of the characters in present day annoying and thought the ending was somewhat forced.  

The Deal of a Lifetime - Fredrik Backman - fiction - four stars - This is basically a short story.  It shows a successful man who is dying of cancer looking back on his life and deciding to make a tremendous sacrifice - to give up everything.  It's as much a decision based on his current circumstances as it is on his regrets in life.  I love Backman, so while I thought it was a good sketch if you will, I expected a bit more in terms of character, so it left me wanting a bit.

Then She Was Gone - Lisa Jewell - fiction - five stars - This was a great way to end the month, one of my favorite books this month.  The story revolves around Laurel, whose daughter Ellie disappeared ten years prior when she was fifteen. Her remains have been found, and she's able to finally get closure and move on with her life. She meets Floyd and his daughter Poppy who bears a striking resemblance to Ellie. The story progresses current day, but also employs flashbacks to unravel the mystery of Ellie's disappearance and death and how the characters are intertwined as well as to show how Laurel's relationships/life stalled after Ellie's disappearance. While there were a few things that bothered me about the book in terms of suspension of disbelief, overall I thought this one was really good and had me hooked.

Overall a great month of reading.  It was a lot of fun to read through Ellie's stack (she is now working on another list for me), I've missed reading kiddie lit the last few months.  Next on my list are another Antonie Laurain book (Smoking Kills), The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Map of Salt and Stars, and Transcription.  As always, please share what you have been reading!

1 comment:

  1. Miriam, your blog is such a joy to follow! I am a new subscriber and I am so thankful I came across your blog. I subscribed immediately once I saw your cards, they are absolutely beautiful, and then couldn't be more delighted to discover you post a monthly book list and review...what a jackpot of a blog! Thank you so much for your time and energy given to this blog, and I really appreciate your book reviews, all the more to love in addition to your inspirational cards! Thanks!