In My Library Tote: February Book Reviews and Recommendations

In January, I started out the year reading my favorite book of the month, which cast a bit of a shadow over everything else I read. (I wouldn't want to be the author to follow Jesmyn Ward, would you?) In February however, it was the last book of the month that did me in, which gave more of the sensation of building to a truly fantastic ending. So far I'm enjoying looking at my reading this way, summed up month by month. Here's what I read in February.

{what I read in february}

{The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Thwaites} This YA novel is based on the true story of Dita Kraus, a young girl who risked her life to become the "librarian" of the family camp at Auschwitz. Her library consisted of eight physical books and a handful of "living books": people who knew a particular story so well that they could recount it to a classroom of children. Of course this was no ordinary library and it served no ordinary classroom; if Dita were to be caught with a book of any kind, the Nazis wouldn't hesitate to kill her. Just as I expected from a novel set in a concentration camp, there were moments of tragedy and of horror. Yet it left me feeling hopeful. I loved seeing how books and reading brought joy in the bleakest of environments, and how learning was portrayed as an essential right worth protecting. More than just the hopeful theme though, I fell in love with Dita as a character. She went from a child with no control over her life, entering a place where everything was taken from her, to a young woman who showed bravery and a dedication to ideals in the midst of true danger and hardship. I read this as my "book in translation" for the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2018 Reading Challenge. My rating: 4/5 stars.

{Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr} In this memoir, which I listened to on audio, Doerr recounts the year he spent in Rome thanks to a writing award and stipend he received. A paid stay in Rome isn't something you say no to, even when you're a new father to twin boys. So Doerr, his wife, and his months-old twins leave the US and go to Rome for an unforgettable year-long adventure. I found this memoir to be the perfect mix of fascinating and relatable. I've always wanted to travel to Italy, so I eagerly listened to Doerr describe his trips to the local market, visits to piazzas and ruins, and the palpable emotion in the city as Pope John Paul II became deathly ill. At the same time, this was more than a travel memoir. I found myself laughing as he described their struggles with sleep-protesting, teething babies (been there) and I was fascinated by both the novelty and challenge of raising babies--challenging in its own right--in a foreign country. My rating 3.5/4 stars.

{The End We Start From by Megan Hunter} A new baby always means a new reality, but what if you were forced to leave everything you knew, just days after giving birth? In this short but powerful novel, a woman comes home from the hospital after having her baby, Z, and has to leave her London home due to extreme flooding. Every security she thought she had, her husband, their families, a roof over their heads, is no longer a guarantee as she travels across the country seeking shelter, sustenance, and connection. I was left with a similar feeling of hope that I had after reading The Librarian of Auschwitz, but the writing here was so much different: sparse, poetic, dream-like. I recommend this for something different if you need to shake-up your reading life. Recommended by Anne of In Residence, I read this as my "book recommended by someone with good taste" for the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2018 Reading Challenge. My rating: 3.5/5 stars. 

{The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama} I read this book for my two-person book club, and probably would have never picked it up if my friend Becky hadn't suggested it. It starts in Tokyo in 1939, where we meet Hiroshi and Kenji, two orphaned brothers being raised by their grandparents. Hiroshi lives and breathes Sumo wrestling, while quiet Kenji is captivated by the art of creating Noh theater masks. Both brothers do what they can to pursue their passions until war interrupts their plans. Spanning decades, every chapter is a year in their lives and the lives of their loved ones. As we see Japan overcome war and rebuild, Hiroshi and Kenji also grow up and overcome their own obstacles and grief, and rebuild their dreams. This book started slow for me, and Becky and I both agreed that the character development was a little redundant in the beginning, but the last half felt richer and I read it much more quickly. This was another heavy read, and while I did see a glimmer of hope in the sadness, I didn't walk away from it as hopeful as some of the others I've read recently. My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

{The Futilitarians: Our Year of Thinking, Drinking, Grieving, and Reading by Anne Gisleson} Anne and her husband Brad, both of whom have suffered profound loss in their young lives, decide to form a reading group with their close friends who have also had their share of hard times. Named the Existential Crisis Reading Group, or the "futilitarians", each month they chose a work to read and discuss, from Tolstoy to Epicurus. Through the readings and subsequent conversations with the group, Anne works through her grief of losing two sisters to suicide and the death of her father to cancer. I listened to this on audio and often got a little lost in the ECRG reading group selections, but I loved listening to her insights, and how each month's reading hit on an experience of hers. It felt very honest and raw, but not dark, if that makes any sense. My rating: 3.5/5 stars. 

{Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman} Luisa Brant is following in her father's footsteps as the newly appointed State's Attorney in suburban Maryland. Part of the district she represents is her own hometown, the planned community of Columbia. She's determined to win her first case, but in the course of her research she unearths some information related to a crime from her family's past. In her quest for the truth, she winds up learning more than she ever wanted to know about her own family's secrets. I don't read a lot of mysteries or crime novels, so this isn't something I'd normally pick up. I liked it fine, although there were a few things that I figured out before the end, which can be annoying. My rating: 3/5 stars. 

{Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair by Anne Lamott} In this short memoir, Anne Lamott talks about starting over after loss, finding meaning in life's messes, and more. I've heard of Anne Lamott and read many quotes by her, but this is the first work of hers I've read. I think she's a talented writer, but this particular memoir didn't really speak to me. There were quotes I found uplifting and inspiring, but overall it was just okay for me. My rating: 3/5 stars.

{The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman} Chapman, a counselor, proposes that there are 5 ways that people prefer to receive love, including physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, and acts of service. He suggests that if you discover your love language, as well as your significant other's, your relationship will grow because you are expressing your love in a way that speaks the other person's "language". I discussed this book a bit in my goals post, and I did find it interesting discovering my love language and Aaron's as well. However, I'm not sure I needed to read a whole book about it. I feel like I've been exposed to the concept enough that just taking the quiz would have been fine. My rating: 3/5 stars. 

Have you read anything good lately?

Linking with Show Us Your Books and Modern Mrs. Darcy

1 comment:

  1. Awesome book recommendations!! Thank you so much for sharing—there are quite a few in here that speak to me; the book about the librarian at Auschwitz in particular. Bummer about Ann Lamott book; I’ve only read her book on writing (something about birds??), and loved her writing style but maybe it had more to do with the topic.

    Hope you are enjoying the weekend!


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