Wednesday, July 3, 2019

June 2019 in Books

Popping in a little late to share my June reads.  There are a lot this month, but I was also on vacation the last week or so.  Some duds, but also some really good ones.  Here's the rundown:

The Winter Soldier - Daniel Mason - historical fiction - four stars - So I actually read this one in May, but forgot to put it on my list because sometimes (a lot of times) I forget to update Goodreads (which is how I track my reading).  Anyway, this one was interesting.  About a guy who is going to school to become a doctor when WWI breaks out and they are essentially 'deputizing' doctors early to send them to the front.  He goes and is confronted by the reality of the job and war.  He's guided through it by a nurse who helps him get his bearings and who he falls in love with.  Later they become separated and after the war he tries to find his way back to her.  It was OK.  I felt like it was a bit disjointed at the front and end of the story.  The middle part where they are working in the field hospital was the most interesting part.  Besides that it was a bit angsty.  Still, I feel like there is not a lot of great fiction or non-fiction about WWI, and this was a pretty good story.

The Department of Sensitive Crimes (Detective Varg #1) - Alexander McCall Smith - detective - five stars - I am a big fan of McCall Smith.  I've enjoyed both his fiction and detective books, so when I saw that he had a new series coming out, and that it was about a detective in Sweden (where we traveled last summer), I put it at the top of my list.  I wasn't disappointed.  Like the #1 Ladies' Detective Agency stories, this isn't a thriller that will have you on the end of your seat, but it is filled with extremely likable characters and some unique circumstances, and it makes for a very enjoyable read.  Detective Varg is kind and sweet, and you'll warm up to him right away.  I really enjoyed this one and will definitely read the rest of the books.

Daughter of Moloka'i (Moloka'i #1) - Alan Brennert - historical fiction - five stars - I read Moloka'i last year, the story of Rachel Kalama who was sent away at an early age to a leper colony to live at a very young age, last year and loved it.  This is a sequel of sorts.  It's the story of her daughter Ruth, who she had to give up right after birth and who was then adopted by a Japanese couple who later moved to the states.  They were there when WWII occurred and were interned.  It was a really wonderful story about how Ruth was welcomed into their family, raised as their own, of the immigrant experience in California, and of course internment and the aftermath.  I also loved how this book really delved into the reunion of Rachel and Ruth and their later years.  I loved this one just as much as the first book!

The Library of Lost and Found - Phaedra Patrick - fiction - four stars - This was a sweet book, a bit of a palatte cleanser.  Martha Storm works in a library, and one day receives a book that is dedicated to her, by her grandmother who died years ago.  As she unravels the story behind the book - filled with stories she wrote or that her grandmother told - she unravels family secrets as well.  This was a nice palette cleanser of a book and a quick read.

The Wooden King - Thomas McConnell - historical fiction - three stars - This was this month's dud of a book.  It sounded a lot more interesting than it really was.  It's about a Trn, a pacifist who lives in Czechoslovakia during WWII and how he copes with the changes and restrictions.  He's wholly devoted to his son, and somewhat estranged from his wife although they still live together.  He was mostly likable, but also kind of annoying, and in general this book seemed kind of pointless once I had finished it.  Moved very slowly, and just not that good.

Spy School British Invasion (Spy School #7) - Stuart Gibbs - juvenile fiction - four stars - So Ellie and I have been reading this series and I got on the waitlist as soon as we saw it was out.  Another good volume where Ben Ripley and friends head to the UK to work with MI6 to bring down the mysterious Mr. E., head of SPYDER.  Lots of different twists and turns, and just a fun all around read.  We thought this was the last one, but turns out we were wrong and now we're waiting for the next installment!

A Dog Called Jack - Ivy Pembroke - fiction - five stars - This might be my favorite book this month.  Just a sweet story in the same general genre as The Lido, A Man Called Ove, Arthur Truluv, etc.  It's about Sam and his son Teddy who move to London from America after the death of his wife. They move to a cute little street full of nice people who really don't interact.  Their arrival spurs the neighborhood to become neighborly spurred on by the neighborhood dog, Jack.  This was an unexpectedly delightful read.  I loved the characters and the dialogue had me giggling.  Highly recommend!

Mr. Lemoncello's All-Star Breakout Game (Mr. Lemoncello's Library #4) - Chris Grabenstein - juvenile fiction - five stars - Another series that Ellie and I have very much enjoyed.  In this one, Mr. Lemoncello has devised a new televised game (based on fiction) and Kyle Keeley and his friends are once again in the running to win.  I love that these books include the puzzles/clues that the contestants have to work such as rebuses, and that they introduce the readers to all kinds of other stories they might want to read.  From a parental standpoint, I also really like that Kyle is a good kid with a good heart who looks out for both his friends, but also those who aren't his friends.  Loved it just like the rest of the series.

Daisy Jones & The Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid - historical fiction - five stars - I was a little concerned that this one wouldn't live up to the hype, but it definitely did.  Loved this!  It was such a great way to tell the story too, through interviews.  I feel like if it it had been done any other way it would have been bogged down and not as real.  The story of a band, how they came together, how they created an iconic hit album, and how they fell apart.  I loved the different points of view as well as the surprise at the end.  A must read.

The Song of the Jade Lily: A Novel - Kirsty Manning - historical fiction - five stars - I knew that Shanghai was a target for those fleeing the Nazis during WWII, but this was a really fascinating look at the journey of Romy, a Viennese Jew.  Her father is well off and connected, so they do well when they arrive in Shanghai, but friends are not as lucky, you get a good look at the refugee camps that were set up in Shanghai.  The novel also covers the Japanese takeover and how that affected the locals, particularly a family that befriends Romy's.  The story jumps back and forth between present time as Romy's grand daughter Alexandra is looking into her past, and the historical story.  Some really interesting twists and turns in this one.  Highly recommended.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After - Clemantine Wamariya - memoir - four stars - Clemantine was six when the Rwandan genocide occurred.  She and her sister had been sent to what was considered a safer place - her grandmother's closer to the border of Rwanda.  It did not end up being safe and they had to flee.  She spends the next seven years as a refugee moving from place to place, camp to camp until she and her sister are granted asylum in the U.S.  The book spends very little time on the genocide itself, but focuses more on their journey as refugees, and then how she adjusted to the U.S. Their family did survive the genocide, and they reconnected later on, but there are no details as to what happened/how they survived.  For me, that was a glaring hole in the story, but a really interesting look at surviving and acclimating to a whole new culture.

The Incendiaries - R.O. Kwon - fiction - two stars - Don't read this.  I kind of hated it.  It's super short, so I don't feel like I wasted that much time with it, but it was just kind of a hot mess.  I kept thinking the switch would flip and it would surprise me, but it never did.  It's about a guy who falls for a girl in college who gets caught up in a cult that ends up carrying out some bombings.  He is looking back over their relationship trying to figure out what happened.  Totally unlikable/unsympathetic characters.  Don't read it.

Lost Roses (Lilac Girls #2) - Martha Hall Kelly - historical fiction - fives stars - I loved Lilac Girls, so I was really excited to read this one.  It's tangentially related to Lilac girls - telling the story of Caroline Ferriday's mother Eliza and her best friend Sophya who is Russian nobility - related to the Tsar.  The story takes place in the period surrounding WWI and during the Russian revolution.  It's compelling, and so sad, but with much hope also.  I have often thought that while there are so many wonderful books about WWII, there is a huge lack of WWI writing.  I really loved this one and I'm very excited to hear that Kelly is working on another prequel of sorts....tracing the Ferriday women's legacy back even further.   

Digging to America - Anne Tyler - fiction - three stars - This one fell a bit flat for me.  It's the story of two very different families, one very American and one Iranian American, who adopt children from Korea at the same time.  They form a bond through this and become very close family friends.  It's a bit meandering.  I think the point is to show how immigrants function differently than Americans through how they raise children who are essentially immigrants themselves, but i's very meandering. There is a weird romance that forms between grandparents, I don't know.  It was a bit of a mess and never really hung together well for me. 

My Mother's Kitchen: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and the Meaning of Life - Peter Gethers - memoir - four stars - I really love 'foodie' books, and this was a really good one.  It's half autobiography/memoirs, half tribute to the author's mother.  His mother, Judy Gethers, was a force in the culinary world, friends with many notable chefs, particularly Wolfgang Puck.  She published numerous cookbooks, and taught.  Their stories are told through a series of recipes the author is putting together so that he can cook for his mom a dream meal.  I really loved the mix of tribute/memoir, and the humor of tackling difficult recipes.  I think it could use a bit of editing.  There were things that were repeated from the intro at the end, but overall a really interesting book.

They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan - Benson Deng - memoir - five stars - This is the amazing story of two brothers and their cousins who are some of the lost boys of Sudan.  I had heard of the term lost boys before, but didn't have a good understanding of the situation.  Deng and his family belonged to the Dinka tribe living in Sudan, they were displaced during the second Sudanese Civil War and lived a nomadic life roaming from place o place, country to country.  They would find some sort of stability, but then political forces would cause them to flee again.  Over the course of the journey (told from their different viewpoints/experiences), they find and lose each other numerous times.  They were lucky enough to be able to come to the US, but some of their cousins remain trapped in Africa, unable to emigrate before quotas/priorities changed.  

I'm currently reading Light Over London, and Americanah and When All is Said are on tap after that.  Please share what you've been reading - I get a lot of good suggestions from you guys!

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