Cori recommends: The Paris Library

First line: Numbers floated round my head like stars.

Summary: This book is a fictional story based on true events that happened at the American Library in Paris during World War II. Odile, a young Parisian woman gets a job at the library before war comes to France. Lily is Odile’s neighbor in Montana. The story jumps between Lily in the 1980’s and Odile from 1939-1944.

My thoughts: I had no idea there was an American library in Paris, let alone that it had managed to remain open through the Nazi occupation of the city. I’m a sucker for books about books or libraries or readers, so this one came to me naturally. However, once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down.

What incredible stories are written about the circumstances of those who experienced the hardships of the war firsthand. The author did an amazing job of slowly peeling back Odile’s story. And Lily was crucial to that telling. I love Lily and Odile so much.

FYI: Be sure to read the author’s notes to see which of the characters were actual staff members at the library.

Find The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles in the library catalog here.

Linda’s Favorite Books: We Hope For Better Things

We Hope For Better Things by Erin Bartels

Summary: When Detroit Free Press reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets James Rich, his strange request – that she look up a relative she didn’t know she had in order to deliver an old camera and a box of photos – seems like it isn’t worth her time. But when she loses her job after a botched investigation, she suddenly finds herself with nothing but time. 

At her great-aunt’s 150-year-old farmhouse, Elizabeth uncovers a series of mysterious items, locked doors, and hidden graves. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding. And as Elizabeth soon discovers, the past is never as past as we might like to think. (from www.amazon.com)

Thoughts: I enjoy historical fiction and mysteries.  Traveling between decades can sometimes be confusing but the author very smoothly accomplishes this in the book.  I also enjoy when old items come to life in stories which makes for an exciting read! 

What’s Ashley Reading?: Katharine Parr, the Sixth Wife

Katharine Parr, the Sixth Wife by Alison Weir

First line: Katharine was five when death cast its black shadow over her life.

Summary: Katharine Parr, the sixth and final wife of King Henry VIII of England, grew up as a simple country gentry but she made several advantageous marriages. However, each husband died early leaving her a widow and childless. Then when she meets the handsome brother to the late queen, Jane Seymour, she believes she has found the love of her life.

But fate has different plans. Katharine catches the eye of the King of England. With the hopes of swaying the king towards the new faith, Katharine accepts his proposal. With her marriage comes the enmity of the Catholic faction at court. Bishop Gardiner and his men are determined to bring down Henry’s new queen.

My Thoughts: I liked this book. I liked how we got a look into Katharine’s early life. Many of the books about her center around her time as queen and afterwards but very little on her first two marriages. I enjoyed learning a little more about her time before the throne and how she became a strong proponent of the new religion, Protestantism.

Katharine is one of my least favorite queens. Her story is not very exciting and centers around religion a lot. She did much for the reformists in the court and even became the first woman to publish a book under her own name in English. It is quite an achievement. Alison Weir did a great job giving all the queens in her series a new life and bringing more of their stories to readers. I will be anticipating her next collection of books.

FYI: This is book six in the Six Tudor Queens series.

Teen Volunteer Book Review: Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

Book Review by Aleah Jones

Aleah is fourteen years old and a summer 2021 teen volunteer

At my school library, the William Allen White award is a big deal. Each class gets a short summary of each nominee book, with the hope of getting students interested in reading them, and eventually, voting for their favorites. I enjoyed the opportunity to read several different nominee books and then vote. That’s how I stumbled upon Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster.

First Line: “There are all sorts of wonderful things a person might see very early in the morning.” 

This book is about a girl named Nan, who lost everyone and everything she ever knew. She is left with only two things to remember Sweep, her father figure. His hat, and a clump of soot that sometimes seems to have a mind of its own. Nan is hired to join a group of climbers, boys that climb chimneys to clean out the soot and grime, and she becomes a sisterly figure to them. When an “accident” happens on the job, and Nan is assumed dead, she escapes to an abandoned house. With new friends of the most unlikely kinds, including a magical golem, she continues to live in fear of her old boss, Wilkie Crudd. Her golem, whom she names Charlie, continues to protect her from harm. Nan starts to feel the pressure when she finds out that a golem doesn’t have a happy ending. She doesn’t want that to happen to Charlie because they are such great friends. Then, the time comes that she has to make a decision; continue to live in hiding or risk being found by Crudd as she protests unjust conditions of the climbers all over London? 

This book is not only an exciting adventure, but it also has historical elements in it as well. When I read this book, I learned about the children who took on the role of climber to provide for themselves. It also teaches a lesson of friendship. Nan becomes friends with characters of all shapes and sizes, and also, characters of all species.

This book is really enjoyable to read because of all the plot twists woven in throughout the story. It is also a fun read because of the uniqueness of all the characters and their different personalities. 

For some, this book might be a little confusing because of all of the flashbacks that appear throughout the story. Thankfully, all of Nan’s flashbacks are in separate italicized chapters, so it should be easy to distinguish when the flashbacks occur.

Sweep is an amazing story. It is a fantasy, history, and adventure story all rolled into one. It is a really exciting read, and I would recommend it to anyone who is over the age of ten. Younger kids may find some events in the story a bit intense.

This is an amazing story, and I would highly recommend that you read it and some of the other William Allen White Nominees. You may find a new favorite!

FYI: A few of the scenes in this book are a little intense, and a couple “accidents” happen that are slightly gruesome, but are not described in great detail.

Here’s a library link to Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

Linda’s Favorite Books: Sold on a Monday

Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

2 CHILDREN FOR SALE

The sign is a last resort. It sits on a farmhouse porch in 1931, but could be found anywhere in an era of breadlines, bank runs and broken dreams. It could have been written by any mother facing impossible choices.

For struggling reporter Ellis Reed, the gut-wrenching scene evokes memories of his family’s dark past. He snaps a photograph of the children, not meant for publication. But when it leads to his big break, the consequences are more devastating than he ever imagined.

Inspired by an actual newspaper photograph that stunned the nation, SOLD ON A MONDAY is a powerful novel of love, redemption, and the unexpected paths that bring us home. (www.amazon.com)

This book was an emotional read with its ups and downs of what happened in the Great Depression especially to children. The historical events are sad but true and I have recommended this novel to several others to read.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Hour of the Witch

Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

First line: It was always possible that the Devil was present.

Summary: Mary Deerfield, a young married woman in 1662 Boston, has been hiding a secret from her friends and family. In the years that she has been married her husband has hit her numerous times while drunk for imagined slights against him. But then one day he takes his cruelty one step further. He drives a three-tined fork, the Devil’s tines, into her hand. With a strong conviction of finally divorcing her abusive husband she also faces suspicion from the Puritan community. She finds that she is suspected of things that could lead her to a death on the gallows.

My Thoughts: This book started very slowly for me. Much of it dealt with the time period, life and getting to know the characters and their history. I felt that story finally picked up after the divorce trial. The pace seemed to be faster and the story more intriguing. But once the story picked up I was completely enthralled but disgusted by everything.

It is hard sometimes to read historical books, especially if the author writes them accurately. I feel like the author brought to life the true sense of the ridiculousness of Puritan Boston. Their views on women, the Devil and anything that was different. I rolled my eyes so many times during the trials because of the hearsay, circumstantial evidence and belief system of the time. Reading these types of books we see how far society has come but we still have a long way to go as well.

I enjoyed Mary’s story. She was a strong woman in a very restrictive society. She endures a lot throughout the book and much of it at no fault of her own. I was definitely rooting for her the whole time. I wanted things to be better for her with every disappointment and injury. But her husband and many of the other characters were awful people that I could not wait to see the end of.

I do not know how I feel about the ending. It almost seemed like a cop-out. Too easy of an ending but at the same time I liked aspects of it. Rating this was difficult but I think that it was worth the read.

FYI: Wonderful historical fiction. Perfect if you are interested in colonial America and the Salem Witch Trials.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Hunger

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

First line: Everyone agreed it had been a bad winter, one of the worst in recollection.

Summary: A wagon train of settlers head out from Independence, Missouri, who would later be known as the Donner Party. They are bound for the bountiful lands of California. Among them is Tamsen Donner, who some believe to be a witch. And when strange things start to occur along the trail many look towards her for someone to blame. As they cover the long miles over prairie, desert and mountains, members of the party begin to change. Will the group be able to make it to the promised land of California or die trying to take the shortcut?

My Thoughts: Practically everyone has heard of the ill-fated Donner Party. They spent a long winter in the mountains on their way to California. After several of the party are rescued there has been rumors and debate about if the survivors resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. The story is such a dark piece of history which I think is what makes it so fascinating to so many people.

This book was recommended to me and I used it as part of my Traveler’s Reading Challenge. I had really high hopes of a spooky story mixed with cannibals. But I felt that there was a lot of build up to an ending that wasn’t as good as I had hoped. I expected to spend a lot more time in the mountains and the cold months. But this only was a small portion at the very end. It was a fun read for someone interested in a twist on history.

FYI: The author’s next book is The Deep which gives a twist to the story of the Titanic.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Nature of Fragile Things

The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

First line: Interview with Mrs. Sophie Hocking conducted by Ambrose Logan, U.S. Marshal

Summary: When Sophie Whalen, a young Irish immigrant, answers a personal ad for a wife and mother to an man in San Francisco she sees this as an opportunity for a better life. She leaves her life in tenements of New York City for a man she has never met. Upon arrival she finds her new husband to be distant but she immediately falls in love with her step-daughter, Kat.

However, on a fateful evening a woman shows up on her doorstep with a story that throws her world into chaos. As these women decide what to do with their new information, tragedy strikes in the form of the largest natural disasters in California history. They must survive the earthquake, its aftermath and the secret that they now hold.

My Thoughts: Susan Meissner is a wonderful writer. She brings to life stories of remarkable women. I can always tell she does lots of research and builds intricate lives for her characters. I enjoyed the story, the history and the ending. It was a wonderful twisting plot with little surprises.

I was not too familiar with the events of the San Francisco earthquake. This was one of the main reasons I picked to read this book. It gave me a little bit more insight into what it must have been like. Having now experienced minor earthquakes here in Kansas, I cannot imagine having to live through one such as this.

And as always there is a little twist at the end which just makes the book that much better.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Kate Quinn and Marie Benedict.

Linda’s Favorite Books: News of Our Loved Ones

News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail Dewitt

First Line: Sirens. Was that what she’d heard? Yvonne dreamed about air raids when there weren’t any, slept soundly through the actual warnings.

Summary: The Delasalle family of Normandy, France have been under Nazi rule in their village for four years. They have watched as their Jewish neighbors have been arrested and disappeared. Now in June 1944 the sirens wail each day as the Allied invasion is approaching. After a bomb destroys their home, 16 year-old Yvonne survives, but other family members lose their lives.

Yvonne’s sister, Genevieve, is in Paris to audition for the National Conservatory. While playing her violin, she does not know that her family’s home has been destroyed. While Genevieve plays, her brother and aunt await news from their loved ones in Normandy.

Decades later, Genevieve is married to an American musician and lives in the United States. Each summer she returns to her homeland with her children so they may know of their French family.

Thoughts: This story moves back and forth in time, with various characters telling their points of view. This book shows how family histories are shared and shows how powerful storytelling helps us understand the past and who we are.

I like this story as it was different in its theme and content to what I usually read about family. At first it was hard to keep the characters straight but I soon learned who each member was and it became more interesting. I would recommend this story for its family theme and historical venue.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

First line: I could not have written a more perfect man.

Summary: Agatha Christie, one of the most famous mystery writers of the twentieth century has gone missing. A widespread manhunt ensues looking for the missing author. Meanwhile, her husband is hiding secrets of his own. As time progresses and Agatha is not found more suspicion is placed on Archie. Then suddenly after eleven days Agatha reappears with no recollection of what happened or where she had been. What happened during these days? It is a mystery that is still yet to be uncovered.

My Thoughts: Several years ago I remember hearing about the disappearance of the Agatha Christie. It sounds like one of her stories but was actually true. I was really excited when I saw that Marie Benedict was going to bring this piece of history to life. Benedict does a great job of giving voice to historical women who time has forgotten. Even though Christie is famous, this part of her life was not as well known.

I liked the alternating time periods and perspectives. We see the beginning of the romance between Agatha and Archie. We see the progression of their lives together. But then we see how Archie deals with Agatha’s disappearance. I kept having to stop myself from Googling the case in order to avoid how the author’s reappearance happens. I liked that it was a short novel that was quick to read and gives a little more insight into such a prolific writer. I now have to read more of Christie’s novels starting with The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Melanie Benjamin and Agatha Christie, of course.