Wednesday, April 1, 2020

March 2020 in Books

Lots of books this month, and I suspect with the ongoing social distancing/stay at home orders this will be the way it is until I run out of books.  Thankfully I was able to run into the library before it shut down and borrowed a LARGE stack of books that I'm working my way through.  A lot of historical fiction and memoirs this month.  My favorites were The Fountains of Silence and A Star for Mrs. Blake.  Here's the full rundown:

The Making of a Miracle: The Untold Story of the Captain of the 1980 Gold Medal-Winning U.S. Olympic Hockey Team - Mike Eruzione - memoir - five stars - As a big hockey fan, I love the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team.  When I saw that Mike Eruzione had a memoir out, it went right on my to be read book.  This is a great story that really focuses on hard work, and the fact that it's not just about hard work, but there's a bit of luck that plays into success as well.  It was really interesting to hear about these incidents and how they led to his success.  I also liked how readable it was, and that it was appropriate for a younger audience.  I handed this one off to Ellie and she's finished it already as well.

Home: A Memoir of My Early Years - Julie Andrews Edwards - memoir - four stars - I have always loved Julie Andrews, so I enjoyed reading more about her.  This was a great look at how she got started - she was actually pulled into the business by her stepfather (whose last name she uses), and for many years, even as a child star, she was the main breadwinner for her family.  Although her writing reads a bit slower, I liked the her voice and how candid she is about her life.  This books takes you right up to where she heads to California for Mary Poppins.  Andrews has another memoir out that picks up where this one left off.  I'll definitely be picking that up once the library opens back up.

All for Nothing - Walter Kempowski - historical fiction - four stars - Translated from German, this is a story that tells about the last days of WWII.  The von Globigs, a well to do family with a manor house and estate, are waiting for the inevitable.  Refugees are fleeing from the occupied territories, and the von Globigs don't know whether to go or stay.  Eventually they also load up their most valuable possessions and flee.  The time span of this book is probably only a few weeks, but much happens, and you get a glimpse of the different personalities, what they are hiding, how they deal with the pressure, etc.  While it was a slow read, I found it a really interesting character study, and while the book doesn't have a happy ending, I appreciated how it tied up the stories of the characters.

House on Endless Waters - Emuna Elon - historical fiction - five stars - Famous Jewish author Yoel Blum long ago promised his mother that he would never return to Amsterdam, the city of his birth.  Long after his mother's death he's pressured to go there by his agent while promoting a book.  While there he is startled by seeing images of his family in the Jewish museum, and starts to unravel his family's story, which he is writing as a new book.  He becomes fully immersed in his surroundings and the story, almost as if he is living it and watching it occur around him.  I thought it was a really interesting literary device, as opposed to flashbacks, and I really enjoyed the story and how he became so enmeshed that he was floating between past and present. 

The Fountains of Silence - Ruth Sepetys - historical fiction - five stars - This was another of my favorites this month.  I love Septys books, and was excited to see another historical fiction work from her.  This one is focused on Spain, post WWII, when Franco was starting to open the country up.  I confess that I know very little of the history of Spain, and this book was an education for me about the Spanish civil war and Franco's dictatorship.  The story centers around the visit of Daniel Matheson, an aspiring photographer, to Spain, his mother's country of origin, in 1957.  His father is a Texas oil man and is trying to negotiate a deal with Franco for oil rights, he brings Daniel and his mother along for the trip.  While there, Daniel develops a relationship with Ana, the maid assigned to clean his family's hotel rooms.  She opens his eyes to the realities of life in Spain at the time.  This is a love story, but it also exposes one of the most egregious crimes of the dictatorship.  A must read.

Such a Fun Age Such a Fun Age - Kiley Reid - fiction - two stars - I was so disappointed by this book.  It was one of Reese Witherspoon's book club picks and I just didn't like it at all.  There was no one in the book that I actually liked.  All the characters were annoying or just so self absorbed and ridiculous.  It's about a girl Emira who babysits for a well to do family.  One evening, while at the local store, she's accused of kidnapping the family's daughter, which leads the mother to over compensate.  She becomes obsessed with being Emira's friend, to prove that she is not racist.  Meanwhile, another customer in the store befriends Emira and they become romantically involved.  Eventually everything comes to a head when her new boyfriend and employer meet and realize they have a history from years before.  Skip it.

One Light Still Shines: My Life Beyond the Shadow of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting - Marie Monville, Marie - memoir - five stars - The story of the wife of the man who killed and injured multiple girls in the Amish school shooting in 2006.  Monville details her story, how she met her husband and their life together, and tries to make sense of what occurred and how it could occur.  This is very much about grace and forgiveness and how the Amish community forgave and blessed her family despite those horrible events.  The story details Monville's healing journey and how she found love again.  This is definitely a faith story and so inspiring.

A Star for Mrs. Blake  - April Smith - historical fiction - five stars - One of my favorites from this month.  In 1929, Congress passed legislation to fund travel for mothers and wives of soldiers killed in Europe in WWI to go there to visit their graves.  This book follows the story of one mother in particular, Cora Blake, and her party of mothers as they travel to Paris and then the Meuse-Argonne cemetery.  I love how as the story progressed, Smith peeled away more and more layers of Cora's story and personality.  This is another example of why I love reading historical fiction, you learn so much about things that you wouldn't know about otherwise.  This one is a must read.

I Should Have Honor: A Memoir of Hope and Pride in Pakistan - Khalida Brohi - memoir - four stars - The story of Brohi, a women's rights activist from Pakistan.  When she was young, a cousin was killed by an uncle as an honor killing, this spurred Brohi on to make a change in her society.  She was blessed with an extraordinary set of parents in that culture.  They valued education, even for daughters, and despite great hardship ensured that their daughters were afforded an education.  They also supported Brohi in her work to educate and provide skills to women in the hopes that as their value in society increased, traditions such as honor killings would cease. 

Cheese - Sarah Weeks - juvenile fiction - four stars - This is actually two books in one - Oggie Cooder and Oggie Cooder, Party Animal.  Carina and I have been reading this book, and I'll say that I love it mostly because she loves it.  She loves reading, but mostly loves graphic novels, so whenever there is a chapter book that captures her attention and that she wants to read daily, I'm all for it.  Oggie Cooder is a kid that marches to the beat of his own drum.  This means that most kids don't appreciate his quirky style and he's a bit of an outcast, until he becomes famous for his amazing ability to charve - carve cheese with his teeth.  This hidden talent could be his ticket to Hollywood and suddenly he is much more popular.  I love how Oggie stays true to himself and is a good friend to everyone, even when they are not kind to him.  Cute and quirky, we're planning to read more from Weeks.

Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier, Tracy - historical fiction - five stars - This was one I picked up in my mad dash through the library before it closed.  I remembered when this movie came out, but never actually saw the movie.  I really love the premise of the book - a story based on an iconic painting by Vermeer.  Chevalier imagines who the girl is and her connection to Vermeer.  Griet is the daughter of a tilemaker who has fallen on hard times, as a result she must become a maid for Vermeer.  It's a difficult situation in which she has to tread carefully, over time she becomes a trusted assistant to Vermeer and eventually finds herself the subject of one of his works.  I love how Chevalier wove this story together, highly recommend.

The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica - Laurie Gwen Shapiro - biography - three stars - Billy Gawronski dreamed of adventure and going to Antarctica with his hero William Byrd.  His determination paid off, and eventually he was able to join Byrd's expedition (after stowing away on one of his ships for the THIRD time).  Gawronski's enthusiasm and hardworking attitude made him friends on the crew and also made him a minor celebrity.  This book had such potential, but is was written in such a dry and boring manner.  It was hard to get through, but at the end of the day Gawronski was really a very remarkable man and I'm glad that I know about him. 

Next up for me is Cold Mountain, and after that, I'll just look at my big pile and see what I'm in the mood for.  I ended up picking out a lot of non-fiction from the library, so I've been trying to rotate between those and fiction/historical fiction.  I'm also planning to throw in some books that Ellie has been on my case to read, so there'll be more juvenile fiction in the coming months too.  Please share what you've been reading!

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