Food. World Wars. Ethnic or racial conflicts. Baseball. Literature. A hint of magic realism. Any abstract idea that is made concrete, especially through narrative nonfiction.
Those ingredients make the perfect book for me. Maybe not all of them in the same book, but toss a few between the covers and I’m good to go. If I’m browsing my library’s website or have the rare chance to actually peruse the stacks at a brick-and-mortar bookstore, I’m like a moth to the flame when I see those themes appear on a book jacket or shelf label. It’s usually a home run (back to the baseball references…see what I did there?).
So imagine my excitement when I came across this book:
It hit all the right notes. I was sure it would be a winner.
Then, 106 pages into it, I quit.
I had forgotten one key factor in my reading life – I have a huge trigger for stories about children who are suffering. With three kids of my own, it’s too easy for me to project the situation I’m reading onto the lives of my kids. I start to picture them with the sickness, or them in the prison camps, or them as orphans. The book is no longer about an unknown character. It’s about my own flesh and blood. I walked away from The One in A Million Boy a few months ago for the same reason, even though I had endured a looooong library hold list to finally get it in my hands. The boy in the story became my boy. I couldn’t read past what I was seeing in my mind and decided to send it back to the shelves.
That’s what happened as I turned page after page of Mischling. Affinity Konar is a skilled writer and her tone and prose makes the book almost seem like you’re reading a dream. It’s wistful but tragic. Haunting and hopeful. Yet I found myself flinching as I turned each page, dreading the horrors that I feared were in store for the main characters. It came to the point where I put it down and walked away. Of course I’m still wondering what happens and how the story resolves, but I’ll have to wait for now.
Yes. I quit reading a book I should have loved. However, there were plenty of books I kept reading and enjoyed as the calendar said goodbye to January and welcomed February. Click the cover image to learn more about each book.
Angelina’s Bachelors: A Novel with Food A quick read with lots of recipes, but with some deeper themes of love and loss. I read it in about 24 hours. The perfect palate-cleansing book, in more than one way.
Walking I chose this book as an homage to my grandfather, who passed away at the beginning of 2016. He was so moved by Thoreau’s writings and philosophies during his life that he built a small cabin in his backyard that he he named “Walden.” It was sparsely furnished, tucked away in a swath of ivy and between two large hemlock firs. He would go out there to sit in nature and just be. We would sneak out to the cabin and loved playing in it. While this book didn’t do anything for me, I enjoyed listening to it and reflecting on my grandfather’s life and legacy.
A Fall Of Marigolds This book alternates time periods and narrators each chapter, a feature I have come to really enjoy in novels. I wished there were more chapters dedicated to the present-day side of the story as it seemed a bit weak in tying the entire narrative together, but I still enjoyed the story. Also, the fact that sewing and fabric were a central player in the story made it unique, too. I enjoy sewing and the author’s descriptions of the textures and colors really brought them to life.
A Sound Among the Trees Out of the three Meissner books I’ve read, this one is my second favorite (Secrets of a Charmed Life still holds the number one spot in my mind). While the majority of this book is told through letters, I didn’t mind reading those chapters even though I usually am put off by that style of writing. I like books that are set during the Civil War and this one approached a familiar story from an unsuspecting angle which made it fun to read. Plus, I brought this book on our surprise weekend away which meant I read it pretty much non-stop for two straight days.
I Let You Go I was hesitant to start this book since I knew one of the main plot lines was about the death of a child, and as I said already – that’s a huge trigger for me. Even though that scene happens at the beginning of the book and sets the entire story in motion, Mackintosh doesn’t dwell on the situation as much as uses it as a catalyst to reveal the complexities of the other players in the story. Be forewarned – unreliable narrators come into play here (I found myself flipping back and forth between chapters to try to figure out what was happening) and the ending? Oh, the ending. It’s infuriating and stunning and perfect. Definitely a page turner.
Underground Airlines I have been recommending this book non-stop since I finished it. Wow. Wow. Wow. This is a book were they blurb on the jacket flap actually does make you want to read it, so start there and be ready to be sucked right in.
A Holy Ambition John Piper is one of those authors who writes in a way that is slightly offensive, but then after you’ve pondered what he’s actually saying, you realize that’s he’s most likely right. And then you walk away convicted, challenged, and encouraged. This book is a collection of sermons about missions and “going where we are not.” I picked it up from a box of donated books and read a portion each morning as part of my daily devotions.
The Bookshop Book Now I want to go to all the places, see all the shops, and read all the things. The photo spreads are breathtaking. The descriptions of the bookshops made me want to jump into the text and never leave. If you’re wanting a bookish theme to a trip you’re taking, this book would be a great place to start.
War Brides While this book lands directly in my sweet spot of World War 2 fiction, it left me unsatisfied. Portions of the books seemed to drag, while other jumped over key points in the character’s lives that could have added depth to the plot. The author missed the mark on character development and at times it felt like I was reading a long list of descriptions about each of them, instead of truly entering their motivations, thoughts, or emotions. The ending is highly unbelievable. I finished it but would hesitate to recommend it. There are too many other books in the genre that would get my endorsement before this one.
Coal River I have not read any books about this time period or geographical setting, so I learned quite a lot about the history and tragedy of the coal mining industry in the United State while finishing this book. I must say, I figured out the “twist” pretty early on so when the author had her big reveal at the end of the story, the surprise was lost on me but I still enjoyed reading it.
The Other Wes Moore I picked up this book while we were at my parent’s house and I needed a break from Mischling. The author chose a clever way to tell yet another story of injustice, poverty, and the will to survive. It would definitely be a read-alike for this book.