I’m trying to read more books that I choose for my own reading enjoyment. Not for review, but because I’ve been wanting to read them or they caught my attention. Most of them have been talked about ad nauseam or have been on my to-read list for a long time so they don’t really need a full review. But, I’d still like to give them some space here on the blog, so instead, I’m offering mini-reviews of the books that won’t get full-page space here.
It was such a joy to get back to reading over the Christmas break. I finished several books and am currently reading a few now. I also got a Kindle Paperwhite which I am loving more than reading on my phone or iPad. The books I’m currently reading include physical copies of THE ONLY PLANE IN THE SKY and THE VINEYARDS OF CHAMPAGNE (for review), and the eBook of WHY WE CAN’T SLEEP.
Now on to the books….
THE PEARL THAT BROKE ITS SHELL
By: Nadia Hashimi
Published: May 31, 2014
Publisher: William Morrow and Company
I really struggled with the first 150 or so pages of this book. There are so many names and familial connections including from the past and the present. When you are reading about a culture completely different from your own, there is so much to take in and try to understand along with getting interested in the storyline. I struggled to keep all the characters, native words, and traditions straight. The middle 150 pages pulled me along, encouraging me to continue reading. The final 150 pages were exciting and made me appreciate the story. I’m glad I read it as I learned a lot about the Afghan culture and history. I think it could have benefited from a bit more editing and fewer characters.
This was our book club choice for November but then had to push back to December due to conflicts. Our group felt pretty much the same about the book, but we did have a good discussion.
BRAIN ON FIRE
My Month of Madness
By: Susannah Cahalan
Published: August 6, 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
The amazing true story of a woman who contracted an autoimmune disease that attacked her brain. Since she is writing her own story, you know she makes it through to the other side of it, but let me tell you…I had major anxiety listening to the first half of this book. Susannah went through awful feelings of paranoia and mood swings in the blink of an eye and had no idea what was happening or had any control over her behaviors. Her family struggled to help her and find the appropriate treatment until they found the right doctor who performed the appropriate tests and offered treatment. Her story is a true miracle after being only the 217the patient to be diagnosed and now they are in the thousands.
I listened on audio and Heather Henderson read it very well…adding panic into her desperation as she read. Once I gave the book some time and started listening at different times of the day I was less anxious. Especially once she received her diagnosis, the book relaxed a bit for me. But, I think the panic and paranoia were too much for my usual listening morning listening time.
Her story is fascinating and I plan to also watch the Netflix movie based on the book as well.
LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS
A Novel of World War I
By: Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
Published: William Morrow Books
Publisher: October 3, 2017
I chose this as a Christmas read to close out 2019. But, it really wasn’t about Christmas and more about WWI. Two best friends are sent off to fight in WWI with one of their sisters left behind at home. They leave with the promise of meeting in Paris at Christmas. None of them would expect that the war would last 4 years and one of them would never make it to Paris.
The novel starts in Paris, during Christmas, as one of the characters is spending their final days reminiscing about times spent celebrating Christmas in Paris. Letters are pulled out and then the novel tells their stories through the letters sent to each other during the war. Their letters share the fear, hope, anger, and tragedies of the war both in the trenches and at home.
I was surprised that the letters went back and forth so quickly. Sometimes, there was just a couple days between each letter, so I wasn’t sure how factual that was, but overall, I really enjoyed this novel. It reminded me of how special it was to write a letter to someone and the excitement and anticipation of receiving one. Letters from home were vital to the soldiers in keeping up their spirits and having someone at home missing them and praying for them was critical.
If you love historical fiction, epistolary novels, or war stories, then I recommend this one.
THE CHECKLIST MANIFESTO
By: Atul Gawande
Published: December 15, 2009
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
This wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be about, but I still found it interesting. I loved Atul Gawande’s book BEING MORTAL, so I was curious about this book by him. The checklist he talks about in this book relates to those careers where missing a step can mean life or death. For example, pilots must perform a checklist before take-off. As a passenger on an airplane, I want them to do that. Even if the pilot has flown a thousand flights, I want him to perform that checklist every single time. Gawande found that checklists in the operating room could be beneficial as well. Shockingly, he received some kickback, but once a few hospitals were able to show declines in infections and deaths, word spread that checklists were necessary. I appreciated that he found nurses should be the ones performing the checklists and not the surgeon. Making everyone in the operating room feel part of the team and having a say in preparing and carrying out the surgery makes sense.
This was an interesting and quick listen at just six hours. If you are in the medical field or have a job where following the steps are critical, you may benefit from reading this book.
Great Lives Worth Reliving
By: Mo Rocca
Published: November 5, 2019
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
I’m a fan of Mo Rocca from the CBS Sunday Morning Show. I love his personal stories and interviews and was anxious to check out his book. I thought this would be a collection of interesting obituaries on real people, famous or not. But, instead, Mo Rocca took people and things and wrote about their lives. He wrote about people we most likely haven’t heard about like Kings and Queens in previous centuries and even countries that no longer exist, like Prussia. He shares about those forgotten forerunners…people who maybe ran for President, but didn’t win or people that came up with the idea for an invention but then didn’t get the credit. His stories were interesting and unique. I definitely learned while listening. Rocca reads his own book in the audio version, but I kept wishing I watching this on TV…so I could see photos of the people he was talking about.
I had no idea there was a podcast of the same name, Mobituaries, which is on its second season. So, you could always check out the podcast first and then get the book to learn more. My favorite section included the ones on the Presidents. I really enjoyed the little known stories, especially his section of President Herbert Hoover from Iowa. I should have known a lot of what he shared, but I didn’t. It has forced me to make going to his Presidental library a priority. I appreciated how Rocca pointed out that Hoover lived 90+ years, but most people only focus on those four presidential years of his life, when he did so much more in the 80+ other years that was inspiring and philanthropical.
Nonfiction readers and fans of history and personal stories will enjoy Rocca’s book.
THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK
By: Kim Michele Richardson
Published: May 7, 2019
Publisher: Sourcebook Landmarks
This is our most recent book club read, my choice and I loved it. This one is a must-read for book lovers and fans of historical fiction. We will be discussing it next week and I’m anxious to hear what my group thought of it. Cussy Mary is a blue person from the mountains of Kentucky. She is viewed as “colored” and prejudice is rampant in her community. Everyone assumes she has some contagious disease when really, it is just an oxygenated blood issue.
This book is set during the 1930s in the Appalachian Mountains and it is based on real events and real people. Cuzzy Mary is a book woman. She travels the mountains every day to deliver books to school children, the elderly, and families. Books are delivered to their library center and they are divided up and then handed out each week. Cussy Mary takes her job very seriously and travels with her trusty Donkey up into the mountains, even at the risk of danger to herself or others.
I have to say, I loved this book, but it isn’t a happy book. At one point, I wondered if there could be just one chapter where something bad didn’t happen. But, there were snippets of joy in the pages, mostly when there was a delivery of books. I cried over the simple happiness a book could bring a child or a young man. I was amazed at how they craved any bit of knowledge or information from the outside world, even if it was months or years old, just so they could read it.
This story offers several important messages about how we treat others, the judgment of those we see as less fortunate, and how a life purpose can push us to do amazing things. I breezed through this book and craved Cussy Mary’s next delivery to catch up on her patrons. Even with all the tragedy in this book, I found it so inspiring and hopeful. I gave this one 5 stars!
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