Thursday, October 31, 2019

October 2019 in Books

A lot of books to share this month, but three of these are kids books.  Still, some really good books this month and a good mix of genres.  Here's the rundown:

Small Fry - by Lisa Brennan-Jobs - autobiography - four stars - The story of Steve Jobs' first child, who he claimed was not his for the early years of her life.  This was pretty fascinating to me because she grew up so differently than I did.  Her mom was basically a hippie who raised her in an unconventional way, moving around a lot, until she grew a bit older and Jobs acknowledged her existence and began supporting them. It was definitely a tricky situation to grow up in.  I imagine it is always hard to balance life when your parents are not together, but when one is a brilliant, but volatile and often socially awkward billionaire and the other can barely make ends meet it becomes a study in contrasts.  Really interesting read.

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden (The Vanderbeekers #2) - by Karina Yan Glaser - juvenile fiction - four stars - This is the second book in the Vanderbeekers, the first of which I read last month.  I'm once again trying to keep up with Ellie which is a losing battle!  In this book, the Vanderbeekers are on a secret mission to restore a garden located by the neighborhood church.  This is a labor of love that they hope will bring healing to Mr. Jeet, their upstairs neighbor who has just suffered a stroke.  They are up against some land developers and a tight timeline.  It's another sweet and funny story, and a quick read.  

Where I End: A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope - Katherine Elizabeth Clark - memoir - five stars - I loved this book.  It met me right where I am, and was hugely encouraging and inspiring.  I'm not quite sure how to classify it as it is a memoir, but also an inspirational/encouraging book.  It is written for a Christian audience, but I think her story would resonate with so many who are going through a difficult time.  This has been a challenging year for me on a number of fronts, and when you're in it, you kind of just have to power through, especially when you have a husband and kids and five thousand activities.  This book helped me to think through some of those things I've been struggling with and pondering, but just haven't had a chance to (or wanted to dwell on).  Clark was the victim of a freak accident - while volunteering at her child's school, she broke her neck (and the fall of a small child) on the playground.  This left her a quadriplegic, although she does have some range of motion and ability.  She talks about her recovery, miraculous in many ways, both physically, mentally, and spiritually.  This is one that I loved so much, I have purchased several of so that I have one for myself, but also to give as gifts.  Highly recommended.

Indian Horse - Richard Wagamese - historical fiction - five stars - This book has been on my TBR list for a while, I think I actually found it doing a search for hockey books (our family as a whole might be totally hockey obsessed), and it sounded interesting.  I really wasn't sure what to expect, but wow.  What an amazing book.  The writer was one of Canada's most famous Native authors, and you can definitely see why.  This book is fascinating and heartbreaking.  It's about a young Ojibwa boy who is taken to be raised in a residential school run by the church.  The goal seemed to eradicate the native culture and provide basic skills so that the children could find work as laborers.  The stories of the children he encounters are heartbreaking, many die under suspicious circumstances, commit suicide, and molested.  He is able to survive and leave the school because of his hockey skills.  He goes to live with a family and play on a team in a native community.  As he grows he continues to struggle with racism, anger, and later substance abuse.  It's an amazing story that is so full of bad, but has good in it too.  What shocked me most about the story is that you would think this is something that happened in the 1800's, but it actually occurred in the 1960's.  Highly recommend, and I'm looking forward to reading more from this author.

Between Earth and Sky - by Amanda Skenandore - historical fiction - five stars - It's always a little weird how/when your library holds show up, so it was interesting that right on the heels of Indian Horse, this book came in for me.  In some ways it's very similar to Indian Horse, about children taken from their families (although this time the families agreed to send them) to be schooled during the year (they went home in the summers).  This takes place in the late 1800's in the US.  Years later, the daughter of the school headmaster (who went to school with the Indian children), reads that her best friend from school (who was also the best student and had gone on to study at Brown University), is on trial for murder.  She knows he could not have done this, and convinces her husband, who is a lawyer to defend him.  They journey back to the school, and to the reservation, and she has to deal with the past and the friendships she had then.  

Ecstasy - by Mary Sharratt - historical fiction - three stars - A couple months ago I read The Flight Portfolio which introduced me to Alma Schindler.  She was married at the time to Franz Werfel and they had to flee Austria by foot over the Pyrenees.  What really struck me about her was that she had previously been married to Gustav Mahler the composer and Walter Gropius the architect.  I thought it was interesting that someone was so connected to different artists of varying genres, so I wanted to find out more about her.  This book was not quite what I was hoping for.  It focuses mostly on her relationship and marriage to Mahler, although Gropius figures into it towards the end, and I found that It didn't make me care about her that much.  There was a lot of inner conflict and she seemed very beholden to Mahler.  She wasn't the strong character that I read about in The Flight Portfolio.  I'd like to read an actual biography about her to get a better sense of her, I wasn't crazy about her as a person after this book.

Room - by Emma Donoghue - fiction - five stars - This was a recommendation from my friend Chrissy, and it was a really good, if somewhat disturbing, read.  I didn't realize until I borrowed it that it had been made into a movie a while back because I apparently live under a rock.  Anyway, it's the story of a woman who has been abducted and held in a garden shed for seven years.  During this time, she gives birth to Jack, who is now five.  The story is told from his perspective, of 'room' which is his whole world.  He describes in detail all the different parts of room, their routines and activities.  I found myself being so impressed by his mother who was able to make the monotony of living in one room fun for Jack, and for teaching him so much in that room.  His mother knows that they can't stay there forever, so she enlists Jack's help in escaping, and then they need to adjust to the world.  For Jack who has lived in such a small, confined space for so long it is overwhelming.  His perspective of what the world is like, all the new things, his fears, were fascinating.  A really good book, and highly recommended.

Zorgamazoo - Robert Paul Weston - juvenile fiction - fives tars - Carina and I read this together, and we LOVED it!  I'm always looking for non-graphic novels to read with Carina, and this one was so good.  Often when we read together she's willing to listen to a chapter and then she's on to do other things, but this book she wanted to keep reading...'just one more chapter!'  It's like a big kids version of Dr. Seuss and it's written in rhyme, and there are fantastical creatures with silly names, but it's a great story.  About a girl named Katrina Katrell and Morty the Zorgle who team up for a grand adventure.  Weston has written a number of other books too, so I am thinking we're going to have to get those out from the library also!

Next Year in Havana - by Chanel Cleeton - historical fiction - three stars - So this was a disappointment for me.  I actually wanted to read When We Left Cuba by the same author, but found out that it was a prequel to this book and figured I should read this one first.  I still want to read it, but I'm less excited about it.  I actually liked the plot of the story a lot, but the writing was not my favorite.  It was a little too romancey for me, and also there was so much inner monologue from the main character I often had to do a double take to see if she was actually saying something or thinking it.  I really liked learning more about Cuban history, and the biases that those who left and those who stayed have.  I just wish I liked the writing more.

The Yellow Envelope: One Gift, Three Rules, and a Life-Changing Journey Around the World - by Kim Dinan - memoir - three stars - Kim and her husband sell their homes, and quit their jobs to travel the world.  Before they go, friends gift them $1000 to share/spread/distribute while on their travels.  This book chronicles their journey as well as who they share the funds with.  The premise was really good, but I was highly annoyed for most of this book.  Dinan basically badgers her husband into this huge life change, and then can't decide for the majority of the trip if she actually wants to be married to him.  For a long stretch they actually separate so she can try and think things through.  It turns out OK, she decides she wants to be married, they stay together, have a child, etc.  But I was so non-plussed by her, that I didn't enjoy the book as much as I could have.

The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue (The Vanderbeekers #3) - by Karina Yan Glaser - juvenile fiction - four stars - This third book in the Vanderbeekers series was just released and I surprised Ellie with it as she's enjoyed the series so much.  In this book, the kids are out to save their mother's baking business after a disastrous visit from the inspector.  It's another really cute story with all sorts of pitfalls and pratfalls.  

My favorites this month were This is Where I End, and Indian Horse.  Right now I'm finishing up The Russian Five.  On tap I have several kids books (including a new book in the Mysterious Benedict Society Series!) and The Lager Queen of Minnesota.  Would love to hear what you've been reading!


  1. once again, thanks for the reviews. i look for them every month. I'm reading All We Ever Wanted by Emily Griffin. It was an impulse purchase at an airport. I'm half way through and it is a good read, but not a classic by any means. She tells the story, from 3 perspectives, of an incident at a party involving teenagers, social media, sex, and racism. I want to see how it ends, so that's a good thing. Hope the rest of the year is better for you.

  2. Your reviews are fantastic! I look forward to them every month. I've bookmarked several of these titles.