Thursday, August 1, 2019

July 2019 in Books

Hi all!  It was a bit of a mixed bag this month.  Some really good books, and also a few that were a disappointment.  Here's the rundown:

We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance - David Howarth - non-fiction - five stars - I have been wanting to read this book since last summer when we were in Norway and I heard about this incident while at a WWII museum there.  It's the story of Jan Baalsrud, member of an ill-fated Allied attempt to infiltrate Norway during the war.  Jan was the only one of his landing party to survive, and against all odds, he was able to find shelter and assistance.  He suffered from terrible frostbite/gangrene, and was evacuated to Sweden (over/through the mountains) with the help of Sami tribe members.  The bulk of the story is about the brave Norwegians who sheltered him and moved him from place to place to protect him while the Nazis searched for him.

The Light Over London - Julia Kelly - historical fiction - three stars - This was just OK.  I will say I read a lot of WWII historical fiction, and I'm (gasp) starting to get a little tired of it....a lot of it starts to sound the same and blue together for me, so I probably need to take a bit of a break.  This was one of those books where I feel like there wasn't a lot of 'new,' and I had read similar stories before.  Cara, an antiques dealer, finds the journal of Louise Keene who worked as a gunnery girl in an anti-aircraft division during WWII.  She starts to dig into her life, to find out who she really was, while also trying to discover a secret her grandmother has been keeping from her.  The story jumps back and forth between present day and WWII.  The story was just OK, but then got a little bizarre based on the surprise/turn in Louise's story.  In the end, it was just kind of meh for me.  There's much more compelling WWII work out there to read.

When All Is Said - Anne Griffin - fiction - five stars - I really loved this one.  It's about a man looking back at his life.  He drinks five toasts to the five most significant people in his life, and in so doing tells the story of his life, and how those individuals affected and changed him, made him who he is.  He looks at his accomplishments, regrets, hopes, and fears.  So well written and poignant.  I loved it.

Americanah - Ngozi Chimamanda - fiction - three stars - So I had heard a lot of good things about this story, and I was a little bit let down.  It's the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian who leaves for America to attend college and eventually goes back and reconnects with Obinze her first love (who studied in the UK and returned to Nigeria where he has a wife and child).  It started out OK.  I liked the story of Ifemelu growing up, what compelled her to leave Nigeria and how she began to get adjusted to the US, but at some point it got very rambly and disorganized for me.  Many of the conversations seemed pointless and unnecessary, and at the end of the day I just didn't like Ifemelu or Obinze all that much.  I feel like you could have edited out 1/3 - 1/2 of the book and it would have been better for it.

Four Soldiers - Hubert Mingarelli - historical fiction - three stars - I picked this one up randomly from the new shelf at the library because it sounded interesting, and because I tend to like short novellas translated from the French.  This one was a bit of a disappointment.  It's the story of four friends/soldiers in the military during the Russian civil war.  I kept waiting for something to happen, but nothing really did.  It's basically a description of the between time - between when they were fighting and they fight again.  The details were interesting, but there was really no storyline/arc.

Code Name: Lise. The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII's Most Highly Decorated Spy - Larry Loftis - biography - four stars - The story of Odette Sansom who was born in and grew up in France, and later moved to and married in Britain.  Because of her familiarity with the language/customs, she is recruited by the SOE and sent to France during WWII.  The majority of the book deals with preparation/training/getting to France and then her time in captivity after she was betrayed in France.  The fact that she managed to survive despite being sentenced to death and tortured is almost a miracle.  I wish the book had dealt more with her actual work in France before she was captured, but the story is compelling regardless.

Goodbye, Paris - Anstey Harris - fiction - four stars - This is the story of Grace, a talented cellist who dropped out of music school after a traumatic event and now has a business creating and repairing string instruments.  She is dating David, a married man, and they are waiting for his kids to get older before they become an official item.  I really hated the relationship part of this story, the scenario to begin with, and then obviously it was going to fall apart, but the way in which it does is somewhat ridiculous.  I loved the part of the story where it deals with her craft and music, and how she creates instruments and plays music as well as her backstory - what happened to her during music school.  I also loved the relationships she had with her friends who helped her after her breakup.  That was enough to give it four stars for me.  I thought the book could have done without the other piece and been even better.

The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt - Andrew Bobotis - fiction - five stars - I loved this book.  Judith Kratt, nearing the end of her life, begins writing an inventory of her family's belongings, and in doing so tells their story.  Their family was the wealthiest most influential in town due to the ruthlessness of her father's business dealings and her brother's ability to ferret out the secrets of those her father needed to bribe/extort.  Her brother is killed, and the family's fortunes change.  She looks back, tracing the family's rise and decline, and in doing so tells the secrets that have led to where they are today.  Really well done and highly recommended.

Nine Perfect Strangers - Liane Moriarty - fiction - four stars - I love Liane Moriarty's books.  This one was a little odd for me.  As usual, I love her characters, but the situation/scenario got a little ridiculous for me.  It's about nine individuals who go to a health resort for a 10-day cleanse.  They come for all different reasons, and they seem to be making pretty good progress, but then the wheels kind of come off.  I gave it a four because I wanted to know what happened, so I was into the story, even though it was absurd.  I guess that's what happens when you write really likable/interesting characters.  I kind of felt like this was one of those TV shows that starts out great and then jumps the shark.

The Horseman (The West Country Trilogy, #1) - Tim Pears - historical fiction - four stars - I've really been trying to read more about WWI, and in looking for books on the subject, found this series.  I really enjoyed it, but it took me a while to get into it.  I think it was just such a different pace from the Liane Moriarty book that I read just before it.  It's about a young boy, Leo Sercombe, whose father is a farmer and the carter (in charge of the horses) on a farm in Somerset.  Leo, like his father has a way with horses.  The story moves slowly and methodically, moving throughout the year, showing the cycle of planting/harvest.  It also details the growing relationship between Leo and the master's daughter.  I really enjoyed the book and I've already ordered the next one from the library.

I'm currently reading The Flight Profile by Julie Orringer, and on deck are Madame Fourcade's Secret War and We Hope for Better Things.  Please share what you've been reading and if there's something I need to add to my list!


  1. I love your lists! I totally get wanting to get away from historical fiction for awhile... I'm in the same boat where every story starts to feel too similar. It's interesting that both of your top choices involve looking back on a life almost run out - as we get older, that's definitely something that will resonate with us! I needed some books to read at the beach so thanks!

  2. love your monthly list! I have The Flight Profile, as I loved loved loved The Invisible Bridge. However, I had a hard time getting into it, and have set it aside. I may go back after hearing what you think of it! I am currently reading another WWII fiction -- The Things We Cannot Say by Rimmer. I've only read a few chapters but so far so good. Can't wait for your next post on what you've read!