Thursday, January 31, 2019

January 2019 in Books

Hey everyone.  Sorry that it has been so quiet around here lately.  January has really thrown me for a loop.  I've had some big unexpected changes at work, and at the end of the day just haven't felt like crafting....reading hasn't been a problem though.  Books are such a great way to escape and take your mind off of other problems aren't they?  Overall it was a really good month for reading.  There were a couple of duds in the bunch, but I also found several new authors that I will definitely be reading more from.  Here are all the recaps:

The Bookshop of Yesterdays - Amy Meyerson - fiction - four stars - This was a cute book, although I thought it was pretty obvious from early on and you were just kind of waiting for the main character to figure it out for herself.  It's about Miranda Brooks, whose eccentric Uncle Billy passes away, leaving her his bookstore in Los Angeles.  They used to be very close, but he disappeared from her life after her twelfth birthday.  She inherits the bookstore along with a series of clues that explain why Uncle Billy stopped coming around.  I enjoyed the story and the characters, but as I mentioned it was pretty predictable.

The Room on Rue Amélie - Kristin Harmel - historical fiction - four stars - A WWII story of an American woman married to a Frenchman who is in Paris during the war.  She finds herself widowed in the course of the war and become involved in the resistance, part of an escape line for downed pilots.  It hadn't read about the escape line before, so I thought that piece of it was really interesting, and the storyline was good, but I thought that it lacked some of the richness and depth of some of the other books in this genre.

Deviation - Luce D'Eramo - memoir - three stars - So I thought this would be way better than it was.  It's a memoir of a fascist Italian girl who volunteers to go to work in Nazi Germany during the war. She starts off working in a factory, at some point ends up in a detention camp, escapes from there, and later just after the war is over is paralyzed in a freak accident.  The timeline is confusing and somewhat mixed together because she writes the memoir in pieces at different times, some decades apart.  She also refers back to previous passages to correct or clarify, which tends to confuse even more.  The story itself is quite fascinating in terms of her path/experiences, but there is so much mixed in about her reasoning, beliefs, philosophical arguments etc that it was a very slow slog.  I would skip it if I had the choice to read it again.

The Weekenders - Mary Kay Andrews - fiction - four stars - So January was a tough month here for a number of reasons and I really needed a diversion/light read.  Mary Kay Andrews is always good for that.  Her characters always make me laugh and I love her stories.  This one is about Riley Griggs who is on her way to her summer island place when she's served with process papers, her home is being repossessed.  Then her husband, who ran the family business which is apparently floundering, and who she was planning to divorce turns up dead.  What is going on with the business, who killed her husband, and a series of other mysteries are expertly woven into the story.  Entertaining and enjoyable and just what I was hoping for when I picked it up.

The War Below - Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch - juvenile historical fiction - five stars - I promised Ellie that I would do better keeping up with her assigned reading this year, so I'm trying to work more of her books into my routine.  This is another WWII story about a Ukranian boy named Luka who was taken from his home to a German work camp.  He escapes from the camp, and much of this story details his flight from the camp.  His goal is to return home and in doing so he needs to avoid both German and Soviet troops.  He ends up being taken in by the Ukranian underground who fight both the Soviets and Nazis.  I had really not heard much about the Ukrranian People's Army, and found that really fascinating.

The Air You Breathe - Frances de Pontes Peebles - historical fiction - five stars - I loved this book. Such a rich sweeping story.  The main characters are the daughter of a sugar baron Graca, and the orphaned servant who kept her company, Dores.  Graca and Dores grow up together and the run away together to Rio De Janiero where they pursue their musical dreams.  The characters are rich and deep, you both love them and hate them.  The book touchs on themes of love, friendship, loyalty, ambition, co-dependency, etc.  So good, and I'm looking forward to reading more from Peebles.

Half a World Away - Cynthia Kadohata - juvenile fiction - four stars - This was one of Ellie's Christmas books.  She really likes Kadohata, and has been wanting to read more from her.  It's about a boy named Jaden who was adopted.  He's now eleven and his parents want to adopt another child.  Jaden feels like it's because he is messed up and not enough.  The family travels to Kazakhstan to pick up their child, but the one they were expecting to adopt has been given away to another family.  They're given a choice of a number of different babies, but Jaden is drawn to a toddler named Dimash.  He also develops a relationship with their driver Sam.  I liked how the book sorted through Jaden's feelings/concerns and also helped him to mature.  I thought that the story wrapped up a little too quickly/neatly, but other than that a good read.

Educated - Tara Westover - memoir - five stars - This one has been on my list for a while now.  I'm always a little nervous when everyone raves over a book because it raises my expectations and a lot of times they aren't met, but this one definitely met the mark.  It's the story of a woman growing up in a fundamentalist family who leaves, in many ways to survive.  I thought it was quite even handed...she loves her family and much of how she great up, but she also suffered a great deal of abuse and details both.  It is both inspiring in terms of what she was able to achieve in the difficult and even heroic act of leaving, but sad in terms of what she lost and how she has now been ostrasized by most of her immediate family.  She remains in contact with a number of her siblings as well as extended family.  A really fascinating look at life off the grid as well as the strength of family bonds and how difficult it can be to sever them.

Sophia: Or the Beginning of All Tales - Rafik Schami - historical fiction - five stars - This was such a good book.  It spans a generation and bounces back and forth from past to present.  The chapters are on the shorter side, and while a lot of times this would make the plot convoluded/confusing, I felt like it was done masterfully here.  After fleeing Syria years ago as a revolutionary who was involved in the death of a policeman, Rafik returns to Syria to visit his family and friends.  While there he becomes the chief suspect in a homicide.  He's forced into hiding and must flee the country with the help of his relatives and a friend of his mother who she helped rescue many years before.  So good, I am planning to read the rest of his books.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis - Patti Callahan - historical fiction - three stars - I was really excited to read about this.  I'm a huge C.S. Lewis fan and thought this would be a great way to learn about him from a different angle as well as to read about his wife.  Note, I have not watched the Shadowlands movie, so I was going into this kind of cold knowing nothing really about their relationship.  Overall this fell flat for me.  I just didn't enjoy it, I wasn't a huge fan of Davidman.  I had a hard time with the fact that she was willing to just take off for England, leaving behind her kids with a husband who she knew was an alcoholic/abusive without plans for a return.  The author wanted you to really kind of crawl into her brain, used a lot of letters/correspondence, but it just wasn't that compelling for me.

Varina - Charles Frazier - historical fiction - five stars - I really loved this one.  It's about the life of Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, who I knew existed, but knew nothing of beyond that.  Varina is looking back at life, relating it to a boy (African American) that she rescued during the war and who lived with the Davis family who has come to reconnect with her.  The focus of the retelling revolves around her flight from Richmond at the end of the war, but it also covers her early years, marriage to Davis, and what happened following the war.  It was fascinating, and more than once during the reading, I stopped to look up the people she referenced in wikipedia.  To me that's the mark of a really great historical fiction book, where it's a wholly readable and enjoyable story, but it also sends you off on different paths to learn about other people/events.  I've got a list of several individuals that I would love to read more about now.  Highly recommend this.

The Paris Seamstress - Natasha Lester - historical fiction - five stars - Another WWII story and this one was so good I read it in two days.  Estella Bisette becomes accidentally involved in the French rescue line and is sent by her mother to America to ensure that she is not implicated.  She's able to go because she has American papers - she was born there, much to her surprise.  When she gets to the U.S. in addition to learning the culture and working in the fashion industry, she tries to unravel the mystery of her past.  I loved how Lester connected her to historical personalities.  The book moves back and forth between the WWII story and present day as Estella's granddaughter untangles the mystery of the past as well.  This is another author that I definitely plan to read more of.

What were my favorites this month?  There were a lot actually - Sophia, Varina, The Paris Seamstress, and The Air You Breathe were all so so good.  Right now I'm in the middle of and loving The Dinner List and on tap is another book from Peebles called The Seamstresses.  How about you guys?  Please share what you loved and what I should stay away from.


  1. So glad you posted in the Blooming facebook group so I can follow you on here! Great reads this month!

  2. I'm always amazed at how much reading you manage to get done each month! My mother-in-law recently lent me "The Lost Man", by Jane Harper. It's set in outback Queensland, on a cattle station, and you can just feel the heat and dust radiating from the book. It's her third book and according to my mother-in-law her best so far. I stayed up too late quite a few nights reading this so I thought it was good too.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to share your book lists and reviews, Miriam! I am currently on hold at the library for Educated and in the meantime I'm reading The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye (I really enjoy that series). Also have The Great Alone sitting on my nightstand :) That's up next.

  4. Such a great selection! TFS! I'm reading "The Library book" by Susan Orlean, it's about a fire in the Central Los Angeles Library, it's fascinating! I totally agree with your opinion of Educated. TFS

  5. Sorry to hear that January was a tough month, hopefully February is helping to redeem the start of 2019 in brighter ways! I am currently reading The Storied Life of A.K. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, a novel from a friend's list of 2018 favorite reads, a story of redemption & transformation. As always, I so look forward to your monthly book reviews, thank you so much for the time and energy to share your reads and reviews with us. You are so right, books are such a great escape, hope you feel better to craft soon!