Anni’s Book Pick: The War That Saved My Life

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Summary: Born with a clubfoot nine-year-old Ada Smith suffers not only the frustration and pain to the physical condition but the sting of her mother’s abuse and shame as well.

This book is about a young girl and her brother who live with their mother. The mother is abusive and ashamed of her daughter due to a club foot. The book starts before the war where we get a glimpse at the horrible life that Ada and Jamie are living. Ada being born with a clubfoot has received her mother’s shame for her whole life sitting at a window to see the world and not allowed to leave the apartment, which is where they live.

As the story goes on Ada and her brother, Jamie, see other young children their age going to the country where they will be safe from bombs. Ada and her brother sneak out one night and go to live in the country. Life in the country was good, almost perfect until their mother arrived.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed this book not only because it was historically accurate, but because it brought the story to real life. When reading this book I felt that I knew Ada and Jamie personally, I think the author did an excellent job relating to the characters in the story. I think this book would be a good book for the whole family because it is friendly and there is no profanity or gruesome scenes.

This story really brought the life of children during the war to life. The story shows the struggles of children and the struggles of parents during these hard times. Ada had to leave her home and even though she really wanted to go out and see the world once she was in the country she really missed being home. Overall this story is a great story for all ages, and it can really help children and parents understand life during World War II.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Code Name Helene

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon

First line: I have gone by many names.

Summary: World War II has arrived in France. A spy named Helene has dropped into France. She has money and the means of getting arms to the struggling resistance. Told through interweaving code names and timelines we get the story of Nancy Wake, an Australian woman who uses her wits to help undermine the Nazis.

My Thoughts: This was a fairly average WWII novel. It reminded me of The Alice Network in many ways. I liked Nancy and her husband Henri. I loved their interactions. The suspense and writing were well done. The history of this woman is written very well. I think people that love anything during this time period will really enjoy it. I used to read WWII books exclusively but it has slowly become one of the topics I rarely read about anymore.

FYI: Lawhon is an excellent author. I loved her book I Was Anastasia. It was told in such a unique way and on a subject I love to read.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Mistress of the Ritz

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin

First line: Blanche is dead.

Summary: Blanche Auzello, the wife of the Ritz hotel director, is living a beautiful life in Paris until June 1940 when the Nazis invade. They take over the grand hotel and life changes drastically. Life under the occupation becomes strained especially for Blanche who is hiding a secret that could potentially harm her and those she loves. However, she and her husband are determined to do what they can for France and the staff of the Ritz, even if it means their lives are forfeit.

My Thoughts: I am a big fan of Melanie Benjamin. Her novels are always very interesting and filled with fascinating women. I had never heard of Blanche or her husband before picking up this novel. It sounds like life in Paris was very tense during the occupation but not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. It seems as if people continued to live life as normal as possible during those years.

Melanie Benjamin at Watermark books on May 28, 2019.

One of the issues I had with the story was that it seemed to almost center on her husband, Claude, rather than her. He references her often and thinks about her during his chapters but he almost takes over the narrative. And strangely I enjoyed his storyline more than hers. He could be a jerk but his story was more interesting except for when Blanche was with her friend, Lily.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Kate Quinn’s book, The Alice Network.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Huntress

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

First line: She was not used to being hunted.

Summary: Nina dreamed of becoming a pilot. When the German army attacks her native Russia, she enlists to help her country fight its invaders. As one of the all-female bomber regiment called the Night Witches, she gets her wish. Until one day when she goes down behind enemy lines and encounters the evil villainous known as the Huntress.

Ian Graham spent the war years as a war correspondent. He everything from the invasion of Omaha Beach to the Nuremburg Trials but he is determined to find and bring to justice one person, the Huntress. With a personal vendetta against the war criminal he joins an organization tasked with finding members of the Nazi party that escaped punishment.

Jordan McBride is a young girl and aspiring photographer in 1946. Her father recently married a mysterious Austrian widow but her story makes Jordan suspicious. The more she learns the less she trusts her. She is determined to find out who this woman is in order to protect her father.

Told in three narratives we piece together the story of the Huntress.

My Thoughts: From the very first chapter I was hooked. I have been a longtime fan of Kate Quinn and her newest novel does not disappoint. I think I can even say with confidence that it is her best book to date. I loved the different timelines and how each intertwine. This would be perfect for fans of historical fiction and mysteries.

Nina was by far my favorite character. She is strong woman but also has a deep seeded fear. I enjoyed seeing her change and grow throughout the story. She starts as a poor girl from eastern Russia who dreams of becoming a pilot. As the war progresses she discovers more about herself and the country she serves. I learned so much while reading her chapters. I had never heard of female bomber teams during World War II. Even though Russia has a history of being behind the times, this is a very progressive stance. And for them to be highly decorated after the war for their courage.

Read the author’s notes at the end for more background on the story. You can tell that Quinn did a lot of research to build her narrative.

FYI: This reminded me a lot of the new release movie, Operation Finale, starring Oscar Isaac. It follows the search and capture of Adolph Eichmann, the mastermind behind the Holocaust.

Hmmm, are Christmas novels a . . . novelty?

So as Ashley was preparing for her book displays for December, and she mentioned that she was creating a display for seasonal titles, I started wondering about how many Christmas novels she’d find. Just regular adult fiction titles — not children’s books or other types of books.

Season's Reading holiday book display at the library for December
Ashley found lots of titles to include on her holiday book display this month!

I’ve never been a big reader of fictional stories that happen around Christmas, just as I’ve never been a big watcher of Christmas Hallmark movies. There’s certainly nothing wrong with either of those things, I just have never really had an interest in them.

But there I was, skimming through bargain Kindle titles on Amazon (I’m always up for a good book that costs a dollar or two) and up pops a title from an author I know and love, Kristin Hannah. Christmas novel. $2. Surely, I can give this a try, right? So I hit that little buy now button and onto my Kindle it goes.

Then I started noticing. Christmas novels are everywhere! Anne Perry, author of the wonderful Victorian mystery series featuring Charlotte and Thomas Pitt, and Inspector William Monk, has been writing a Christmas book every year for the past 16 years. Other titles are available from Debbie Macomber, Susan Mallery and Janet Evanovich and many, many more authors. There are comedies, romances, mysteries.

When I look at the books waiting on the carts to be shelved, I see Christmas novels. When I check in books, it feels like there’s bound to be one in the stack. Obviously, people love reading these stories, so maybe I ought to give it a try.

I just finished a book, and I was looking for something to read. I opened my Kindle, started leafing through my library, and here’s that Christmas book I just bought. I figured I’d give it a shot, because after all, it’s nearly Christmas. I started it on my lunch hour and I was hooked! In fact, don’t let the boss know, but I got so caught up in the story, that I was a few minutes late getting back to work!

So, tell me, do you love a good Christmas novel? And do I need to try watching Hallmark Christmas movies?

Best book lists rule this time of year, so here’s our list of lists!

Man, Thanksgiving hit, and all my book-related newsletters and websites have been filled with “Best of 2018” and other types of end-of-year book lists. My first response was “Can you not wait until the end of the year? What if the best book of the year gets released in December?!”

But alas, the lists have not slowed down and there are so many of them I don’t know where to start or how to decide which ones I should choose books from! In other words, all these lists have me a little paralyzed. Kind of. I mean, now that I’ve looked at so many lists of what are supposed to be the best books of the year, I have no idea how to manage my to-read list, because now I want to read everything.Image result for choose a book

So, to help you build a TBR (to be read) pile for 2019, here is a Top 10 of the lists we’ve found, from the traditional, to the not-so-traditional.

    1. Image result for new york times book reviewFrom The New York Times Book Review, here’s a list of the 10 best fiction and nonfiction titles chosen by the paper’s book editors.
  1. Here’s a list from Literary Hub billed as the “Ultimate Best Books of 2018 List.” The titles were culled from 52 best-of lists and the titles that appeared most often on those lists show up here.
  2. Here’s a list from Digg that used a similar tactic to review lots of lists  and come up with the Top 10 for 2018.
  3. This Washington Post Book World Top 10 list includes not just the 10 books that caught the editors’ attention, but lots more lists, including the 10 best graphic novels and the best children’s books.
  4. Is any Top 10 list complete without a list from a publishing publication? We think not, so here’s a list of Publisher Weekly‘s Top 10 from 2018.
  5. GQ chose its list of 9 favorites, then each of those authors also chose a favorite, for a list of 17 recommended books for 2018.Goodreads Choice Awards
  6. Goodreads (you are on Goodreads now, aren’t you?!) has its users vote for their favorite books in an end-of-year poll, for a crowd-sourced list.
  7. Another best-of list from Literary Hub is its list of the best-reviewed books from its companion site Book Marks.
  8. Book Riot has a list that is a little different take, and is guaranteed to have some titles that aren’t included on the lists above. It’s a list of 50 must-read books that you likely missed this past year.
  9. And the final list I want to share with you is one of my favorites, and it’s not technically a traditional list. NPR’s Book Concierge is a fun way to find new books that appeal to you, as you can sort using filters (and can combine filters). In addition, NPR makes its Book Concierges from 2008-2017 available as well!

NPR logo

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel

October is here!  The fall weather is arriving and Halloween is approaching.  That means bring on all the scary movies and books.  We have a great selection of horror movies and Halloween classics.  I recently watched the previous season of American Horror Story and really enjoyed it.  I always watch Hocus Pocus several times during the month of October and pick up several spooky books to get me into the holiday spirit!

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel by Alyssa Palombo

First line: Washington Irving got it wrong.

Summary: When schoolteacher, Ichabod Crane, comes to the village of Sleepy Hollow he meets the daughter of a wealthy farmer. Their friendship and shared loved of books and music lead to a love affair that will sweep them both off their feet. Katrina’s admirer, Brom Van Brunt, is determined to win her and scare off the newcomer. Then on All Hallow’s Eve Ichabod disappears without a trace. Katrina enlists the help of her friend and rumored witch, Charlotte Jansen, to assist in finding Ichabod using any means necessary.

Highlights: I really enjoyed this book. It was fun twist on the original classic. I have seen the movies and loved the TV series. However, this was just different enough from them that it made it fresh and new. The book is a mix between historical fiction, romance and ghost story. There were lots of interesting details about the time and culture of the Dutch settlement in Sleepy Hollow. The romance was a main theme but it was not a bodice ripper by any means. I loved the dark undertones of the Headless Horseman haunting her dreams and roaming the village on All Hallow’s Eve. This is a great read for October!

Lowlights: The story seemed to drag on a little bit in the middle. In addition, I think that title is a little misleading. I expected more witchcraft and magic. Katrina and her friend, Charlotte, do seem to have some sort of second sight but it was not what I had expected.

FYI: If you like this then try the author’s other book, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Time’s Convert

The last several months have been filled with the project of weeding and shelf reading the juvenile non-fiction books.  This is quite a daunting task since there are TONS of books!  I was ready to take on the challenge though.  As I have been working my way through the Dewey decimal system I have found some very interesting books.  Even though they are titles geared towards children there is so much good information to be found here.  And the fact that kids LOVE to check these out is wonderful!  If you have not browsed our children’s non-fiction titles you definitely should.

I am someone who likes to learn a little bit while I read.  Before I started working at the library I read mainly historical fiction.  I love learning about the history of people and places.  Deborah Harkness’s newest book, Time’s Convert, is my latest historical fiction but with a fantasy twist.

*May contain spoilers if you have not read the All Souls Trilogy!*

Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

First line: On her last night as a warmblood, Phoebe Taylor had been a good daughter.

 Summary: In continuation of her best-selling series, Deborah Harkness takes us on an adventure spanning from the American Revolution to modern day as we follow the early days of vampires, Phoebe Taylor and Marcus MacNeil.  Marcus grew up in time of great change.  He saw the birth of a new country but when he meets Matthew de Claremont on the fields of battle his life was changed forever.  Phoebe, an art dealer and Marcus’s fiancé, has made the decision to become a vampire.  In the early days after her rebirth, she learns that her journey to immortality is not any easier than it was for Marcus.

 Highlights: I love Harkness and her writing.  It is immediately engaging.  I read the All Souls Trilogy several years ago which made the details of the story a little fuzzy.  However, as I started this newest installment she gave tidbits that helped me remember more of the previous novels storyline.  I was worried that in this new book I would not get to revisit characters like Matthew and Diana because the story focused on Marcus and Phoebe but Harkness must have known I would always want more of them.  She alternates her chapters between the characters and plot lines.  We jump from eighteenth century to the twenty-first and back again.

I have been fascinated with the American Revolution since middle school.  I was pleased that Marcus’s story took us back to the American colonies and the fight for liberty.  I enjoyed reading as Marcus met famous people of the time including the Marquis de Lafayette.  After seeing Harkness at a Watermark event a few years back, I learned that her focus of study is on the history of science.  It really comes through during this time when Marcus, as well as the nation, is dealing with a small pox epidemic.  The history of inoculations for the disease was fascinating and fit perfectly into the story.  I am so glad that small pox is not something that we have to worry about now because it looks truly frightening!

Phoebe is a character that I vaguely remember from the trilogy but I cannot say that I felt too strongly about her.  In this book, she has a fascinating story.  I loved seeing her progress as she fought her urges and dealt with the new strengths.  Her first night out in the world interesting.  In addition, her preference for the blood of middle-aged white women definitely made me laugh aloud!

Matthew and Diana’s twins were probably my favorite part of the story.  Each of them have their own traits from both their mother and father.  Watching their parents try to figure out how to deal with a daughter who drinks blood and son who can weave spells was entertaining.  I do not want to give too much away but I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

 Lowlights: I wish I could get more Gallowglass!  He makes a few appearances but not enough for me.  Maybe the next book?!  Please Deborah!!

 FYI: Lots of blood, violence, magic and some sexual situations.

*I do not think it is a must but I would recommend reading her All Souls Trilogy, starting with A Discovery of Witches before picking this one up.*

Book Review: The Masterpiece

The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

First line: Clara Darden’s illustration class at the Grand Central School of Art, tucked under the copper eaves of the terminal, was unaffected by the trains that rumbled through ancient layers of Manhattan schist hundreds of feet below.

Summary: For Clara, a struggling artist and illustration teacher, Grand Central School of Art is a stepping stone in the hopes of greater things to come. She has dreams of working for Vogue as an illustrator. By moving to New York City, she left behind everything but so far, things have not turned out the way she had planned.

After her divorce, Virginia Clay has been trying to figure out how to support herself and her daughter after spending years as the wife of a powerful attorney. When she gets a job at Grand Central Terminal in the information booth, she does not realize how much it will change her life. She discovers a watercolor behind a cabinet in the old art school and it leads her on search for the artist and the history of the terminal.

Highlights: I really enjoyed the character of Levon. He was fiery and temperamental. He portrays the iconic angsty artist. He had a rich back-story and little quirks that made him stand out. I wish that he were a real person so I could see some of the work that Davis describes in her novel.

The descriptions of Grand Central were amazing. Google is my best friend when reading historical fiction. I am always pausing my reading to search for pictures or more information about places and characters. It is sad that the terminal was in such bad shape in the 70s and that at one point it was going to be torn down. I have never traveled to NYC but I have seen the station at Kansas City and if it is half as pretty as that, it would have been a shame to lose it.

I have enjoyed the time jumps in Davis’ work. I think the thing that makes her work so great. She is able to switch between characters and time while keeping the flow of the story. I have not read her second book, The Address, yet but I am on hold for it now.

Lowlights: The beginning was a little slow to start. Davis gave us some background on the characters plus some information about the time. Then the speed of the relationships went very fast. I was a little shocked by Virginia early on but she grew on me as I continued to read. One scene in particular stood out between Virginia and Dennis.

FYI: If you like this try the novels of Susan Meissner.

Book Review: Dark Tracks (Book 4 in the Order of Darkness series)

First line: There was an angry bellow from inside the woodcutter’s hovel; the woman, struggling up from the stream with a heavy bucket of icy water in each hand, raised her head and shouted back.

Summary: In the fourth installment of Philippa Gregory’s young adult series we follow Luca, Isolde and their companions on their journey. As they stumble into a small village, they find the townspeople besieged by a troupe of dancers. However, these are no ordinary dancers. These dancers seem to be possessed. What is causing this dance sickness and how can it be cured? These are just a few of the questions Luca wants to find out. But when Isolde is taken by the dancing fever the need to find a cure becomes even more important.

Highlights: I have really enjoyed Gregory’s young adult novels. She is my favorite author. Her historical fiction is amazing. She does a great job of describing the time. This is a great way to get younger readers interested in the past. Even as an adult, I learn new bits of information with each story. I also really like the covers. But if you have read my other reviews you know how much I love a good cover!

Lowlights: These are definitely for young adult. They are not as in-depth and detailed but still gets the story told in a fun and interesting way.

FYI: This is book 4 in the series. Check out her other books (Changeling, Stormbringers, and Fool’s Gold) before reading this one!