As promised in last week’s post, I’m playing a catch up today on books I’ve read in the past three months. I’ve read several new releases, and they have some good points, but the older books are the ones I’m really eager to share. Somehow, the newly published ones I read in the last few months didn’t sit as well with me; they don’t feel like friends, and these older books do. That’s not true of all new releases, but it is with the ones in this batch. I’ll start with the new releases and move on to “vintage” fiction and then middle grade/children’s fiction. I hope you’ll find a friendly book here for yourself to keep you company in this strange, quarantine time!
Lovely War – A World War I novel centered on two young people’s love story, told by Greek gods. Imagine the movie Wonder Woman‘s idea of Ares being the cause of the war, but with more mythology and without super heroes. The historical research of this book framed by mythology was amazing. I learned a lot I didn’t know from both the novel and the afterword. The middle of the book was a bit slow, and romance novels always feel clunky to me – this one was no exception. There were some character descriptions that became redundant. Still, it was such a unique way to tell a story, I wanted to finish it if only for that reason. 3.5 Stars. [As most war stories go, there was some graphic content, and racial tensions are a central theme, but I would still consider this suitable for older teens.]
The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek – Set in rural Kentucky in the 1930s, this novel tells the story of Cussy Mary Carter, one of the last Kentucky blue people and one of the first female librarians in the region. If the idea of blue people sounds a bit like science fiction, it’s not. Author Kim Michele Richardson takes fascinating history and combines it with great storytelling to give us a book that effortlessly draws readers into the setting and main character’s life. It was easy to sink into these pages and simply absorb the story, with many truly likable and a few appropriately unlikable ones. The main character is a gem, and though the book reminded me of Catherine Marshall’s Christy in some ways, it was entirely unique and my favorite new release I’ve read in 2020. It is especially good on audio! 5 Stars.
Call Your Daughter Home – Oh, I did not like this book at all. There were ghosts and murders, domestic abuse, child abuse, alcohol abuse, family quarrels… I wish I could’ve liked it, because I think the author is pretty great at painting a vivid setting and drawing up characters. But it was not my kind of book. 1.5 stars.
The Red Notebook – This novella is clever and intriguing, pleasant and engaging. Much like the story itself about a Parisian bookseller who recovers a woman’s handbag and goes on a quest to return it to her that ends up drawing him in much more than expected, it’s a book that will absorb you in the best possible way. It’s perfect to curl up with in bed, although as with most French books, you’ll probably end up hungry and want to get up to eat something. 4 stars.
Funny story…I got this one from the library on accident, when I meant to pick up The Red Notebook. It was a happy mistake, however, because this Swedish book about an elderly woman that lives with her home care assistance to help her reliving her pain, and past through her red address book she has meticulously kept through her life was moving and well-told. It’s a bit like A Man Called Ove or The One-in-a-Million Boy (both of which are wonderful) combined with the ever popular historical fiction told in retrospect. If you’re a fan of either of those, this may be a book for you. 3.5 stars.
Code Name Helene – I’m in the middle of this one right now. It is somewhat fascinating and I plan to finish it, but I’m not crazy about it. The back-and-forth between present and past narratives (actually this one is back-and-forth before the war and during the war) is not my favorite. Even though relating a story this way can be very effective, I always find it a bit jarring. While I’m enjoying the intriguing tale of a female spy in World War II, my main complaint can be summed up in what one of “Helene’s” coworkers says to her when she pulls out some particularly vulgar language: “You don’t have to do that with me.” Dear authors, I will respect your characters and your writing without a constant string of strong language and graphic content, I promise. In this instance, I can see why some of it is necessary to convey the kind of main character spy Nancy Wake/Helene has to make herself into and how harsh her reality is. But it’s pretty brutal. I’m exactly half way through, so I’ll have to complete my review of it next time, but I can already tell you that I like the similar book Code Name Verity much, much better.
O, The Brave Music – I adored this book. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading a girl’s David Copperfield (and I love David Copperfield, or Great Expectations, or any number of first-person, autobiographical novels by Dickens). Set at the turn of the century in Northern England, Ruan’s coming of age story includes several tragedies but also a depth of character and wisdom, along with warmth and unfailing delight in the world around her. It’s the kind of book that feels like a friend to this old-fashioned soul. 5 stars. [Thank you to Simon from Stuck in a Book for a rave review of this book that got me looking for a used copy!] 5 stars.
The Tall Stranger – Okay, I read too much D.E. Stevenson, but hear me out – this stand alone novel is excellent. The cast of characters is real and friendly, the settings varied and vivid, and the whole thing is put together flawlessly. Do me a favor and do not read the publisher’s blurb about it– they never do Stevenson novels justice and make it out to be complete frippery, which it’s not, in my opinion. This book is free on Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Unlimited is offering a free two-month trial through the end of April. 5 stars.
Five Windows – Also D.E. Stevenson, but different because it’s a first-person, autobiographical narrative by a male character, and yes, it reminds me of O, The Brave Music but in a more modern time, with less tragedy. There are some character overlaps with The Tall Stranger which I find delightful. Really, this book comes first in chronology before The Tall Stranger, but they’re not in a true series, so it doesn’t matter which you read first. And it’s also free on Kindle Unlimited! 4.5 stars. I also read Still Glides the Stream by Stevenson on Kindle Unlimited and give that three stars, but still a very pleasant, enthralling read if you’re a Stevenson fan like I obviously am. I’m almost embarrassed of how much I enjoy her books!
Journey’s Eve – This book was pretty nutty, as Elizabeth Cadell’s more mysterious novels sometimes are. It was a fun story, and I liked it, but I get a little tired of the way Cadell’s heroes can be kind of pushy. 3 stars.
Middle Grade/Children’s Literature
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone – Well, the name of this book is extremely inconvenient, but the actual book is a lighthearted fantasy about a girl’s quest in an imagined land that seems a little bit like Australia. I liked it, but not quite enough to plunge right into the sequel yet. I let my ten-year-old and eight-year-old read this, but neither of them wanted to before it was due back to the library. 3.5 stars.
The Penderwicks Series – Ella (age ten) and I completed this series separately but together over the winter. We both agree that The Penderwicks in Spring (book 4) was our least favorite, the first through third books in the series were our favorites, and the last book in the series was a fairly satisfying ending. As a whole series of five books, we highly recommend it!
Adventures with Waffles – Though it is well liked by many readers I agree with on most books, I didn’t love this one. It was quite melancholy for a book with “adventures” in the title. The characters grappled with some hard themes without much satisfying resolution. The main character and narrator, Trille, a boy whose best friend is a headstrong, crazy girl named Lena (similar to Parr’s Astrid the Unstoppable and Pippi Longstockings), is a bit infuriating in his passivity. But so many people love this book, I’d say give it a shot for yourself if you’re a fan of middle grade novels!
Meet the Austins and the rest of The Austins series- The first book was a lovely family story, so well written as Madeleine L’Engle’s books always are. I liked The Austins series as a whole, but was unprepared for the science fiction turn the third book, The Young Unicorns, would take. Whew! It’s like That Hideous Strength for children. Older children, haha. Not quite as pleasant as the first or second book, but highly thoughtful. 4 stars for the series.
Anne of Green Gables – A re-read for about the twentieth time (barely an exaggeration), but this time I read it aloud to the kids and the funny parts were funnier, the sad parts sadder, the descriptive, flowery parts less important. Reading books aloud to kids changes your perspective on a book, even when you know it as well as you possibly can, and usually for the better. I choked up so much in the last few chapters, the kids wanted to laugh at me and cry at the same time. We started Anne of Avonlea immediately after, but lost Isaac’s interest (he honestly enjoyed Anne of Green Gables and laughed heartily at many parts), so now we’re reading aloud From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and all liking it. But I’m tempted to keep reading the whole Anne series again on my own for, well, maybe the tenth time? I’ve lost count. They are absolutely my favorite books…except for maybe The Chronicles of Narnia…ack, who can choose? And in case you’re wondering, we did watch the film adaptation by Sullivan Entertainment, though not either of the sequels, and had a fun time discussing the differences between the book and the movie. We all thought the actresses who played Anne and Dianna were too old, but played their parts well. Five million stars to the book and five stars to the movie.
That about wraps it up for this quick lit catch-up post! Modern Mrs. Darcy has lots of other book bloggers chiming in about recent reading on her blog today, so hop on over to see what other readers are saying about books this spring. And please let me know what books you’ve discovered lately in the comments!