Book Review – Winter Garden

The first time I read this Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah, was about ten years ago. I had to reread it for a bookclub.

This time I listened to it. The audio version inspired me to change my stars from four to five. It tells the story of Anya aka Vera and her escape from Leningrad during the siege in WW2. Of course, there is more, but the heart of the story is her escape. To hear it told, with a Russian accent is just about more than the heart can take. Rarely, do I find myself sobbing at the end of a book. This one did it to me.

We Americans do not realize how lucky we are. We have never had to struggle for survival during war the way those in Europe have had to countless times. What happened in Russia during the war is barely glossed over in our required high school European history. This book gives an excellent education on what was lost and the suffering that went on. So many innocent live lost. Put this one on your TBR list.


Book Review – The Invisible Bridge

I have read The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer three times. When asked which book I would take to a desert island, this is the one. My copy is well worn and has been passed around to countless people. When asked by patrons at the library which book I would recommend, this is the one.

In my opinion, The Invisible Bridge is the true gold standard of World War 2 fiction. It tells the story of Andras Levi and his wife Klara. It spans decades, countries, continents, fascism and communism. It is truly shocking to consider how much trauma Europe has gone through in just the past 80 years when you read a book like this one. One that truly touches on the historical impact of Hitler and Stalin. The story is rich, the characters have layers that you rarely see in a book and the descriptions make you feel like you are there. The story is truly heartbreaking, but ends with hope and a bit of a happy ending. I don’t want to give too much away, because I want everyone to read the book.

Julie Orringer did a masterful job of researching her topic and interviewing her subjects. Over the years I have read interviews with her. This story is very loosely based on her grandparents experiences in the war. However, she has stated that far more of it is fiction, not fact and that many of the characters in the book are a blending of people her family knew.


Book Review – Send For Me

Send for Me by Lauren Fox is another WW2 novel about a Jewish family living in Germany. This genre certainly seems to publish in ebbs and flows and 2021 appears to be a flow year. We are barely into the new year and I am seeing a lot of new WW2 novels hitting the library floor with a late 2020 or 2021 publish date. I chose this one for two reasons. One, Jenna Bush recommended it and I find that she always has a great recommendations. Two, the author is a local writer and I try to support our local writers when I can.

I really liked this book. It tells the story of a family who emigrated to Milwaukee, WI from Germany before the start of WW2. This book is inspired by letters the author found in her grandmother’s basement. The story is heartbreaking, but worth the read. It can be a bit hard to follow at times because of the way the timeline goes back and forth. But, once you grasp her style of writing, it is easier to follow. I live in suburban Milwaukee, so it was interesting to hear about the neighborhoods I am familiar with in the book. In fact the neighborhood where her family landed is the college neighborhood that my alma mater is in and where my children have gone to college. It’s always fun to picture the areas you know well when described in a novel.

I however, did not read it. I listened to it on audible. I DO NOT recommend that. The woman who read the book has, without a doubt, the single most annoying way of speaking I have ever heard. I am not alone in this, the reviews of the recording are scathing. I should have paid attention. This is not a reflection, at all, on the quality of the writing or the story told. Next time I will. Read the book don’t listen to it.


Book Review – The Book of Lost Names

There is an endless supply of books out there about WW2. I have read a lot of them, like so many of us. I took a break for awhile because my heart just couldn’t take it anymore. I also found that I didn’t like all of them and then felt guilty for giving them a negative rating because of the quality of the writing. There is one particular book that stands out from a couple years ago that everyone raved about and I thought the writing was terrible and that the conditions portrayed in the book were not accurate. I won’t say which one it is because I don’t want to appear heartless. I started reading this genre again late last year, as I work in a library and they are in constant circulation. This one passed through my hands countless times, so I thought it was time to give it my attention.

The Book of Lost Names is another book in a genre of WW2 fiction that you know will not have a happy ending, but tells an important story. Eva is a librarian in Florida who comes across a photograph in the New York Times of a book she is very familiar with from 65 years earlier, The Book of Lost Names. This book has a code in it that only she and one other person can decipher. Researchers have been unable to decode it, so Eva believes it is time to return to Europe and help reveal the mystery of The Book.

The Book of Lost names tells two stories. Her current life and adventure to Germany does not take up a lot of the storytelling, to say it is brief would be an understatement. The majority of the story is about the past. How Ava and her mother find themselves away from their home in Paris, in hiding. It is there, that Eva finds herself in the underground, helping forge documents for the Resistance. It’s a fascinating story and one that I imagine actually happened all over Europe. The ending is a little sappy, but very satisfying. Given the losses that Eva endured, a happy ending is well deserved.

I give the book more like 4.5 stars, not 4. I compare a lot of WW2 fiction to The Invisible Bridge, which for me is the gold standard for that genre. But, Kristin Harmel came close in this one with storytelling and writing. The difference was about 500 pages of meticulous research.


Book Review – Nothing to See Here

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson is a book that I picked up and put back several times. The description did not intrigue me at all. But, I finally decided that it was time to give it a chance. The reviews warranted a chance. I am so glad that I did.

Lilly is asked to take care of the step children of her former best friend. Bessie and Roland spontaneously combust. That’s right, they catch on fire. Being an unapologetic realist who will not read fantasy. Who also stayed away from cartoons with talking animals as a child, because animals don’t talk, this was not for me. As crazy as it sounds, the combustion is not the main focus of the story.

It turns out that this is a story about second chances, children who find love in unexpected places and forgiveness. 


Book Review – A Promised Land

When you start A Promised Land, you are making a commitment. At nearly 700 pages, once you start, you will need to keep going in order to not lose your momentum. Did I mention this book only covers Obama’s life up to the end of his first term in the White House? Part two will be coming in the next few years.

Now that I have covered the monumental challenge of getting through the book, I give it 5 stars without hesitation. While full of facts, Obama has a way of writing that keeps the reader engaged. A lot of the things that were talked about in the book were also mentioned in Michelle Obama’s book Becoming. That made it a bit easier to get through all of it because I already knew what was coming, so to speak.

It is no secret that his presidency was at odds with the Republican leadership in the House and Senate. But, I had no idea how much resistance he actually encountered. It’s remarkable that anything got done and no surprise that executive actions needed to be taken in order to get much of his agenda done. It will be interesting to read the next book and to see how bad things really were.

Full disclosure, I am an Obama fan. I think that he has a genuine kindness in him that is rare in politicians, of either political party. He is a great public speaker and speaks from the heart. So, it would be fair to say that my review might be biased.


Book Review – The Four Winds

Kristin Hannah’s writing has gotten better with each book. The Four Winds seems to be a culmination of decades of writing just to get to this point. Her research is impeccable and writing is rich.

The Four Winds is a masterpiece. One of those once every couple years books that we call the Great American Novel. This one gets to the heart of what is wrong with America. Set during the Great Depression, Elsa and her children are force to migrate to California from the dust storms of their home in Texas. Promised a better life in the land of milk and honey, they leave Texas in the hopes of being able to live the American dream.

However, when they get there, they find that the prejudices that still plague America are in full force. Blamed for all that is wrong, the Okies take jobs and bring crime and disease to California. Sound familiar? Paid slave wages to pick cotton for hours, and forced into a lifetime of debt, Elsa and her children barely survive. It is beyond heartbreaking and a true lesson in the fact that America really has not progressed from those prejudices from nearly a century ago.

I won’t lie, there is not happy ending with this one. This is not a beach read and you won’t walk away with a smile. But, historically this one is so important. And, if you want to truly understand and acknowledge the prejudices that still exist in our own country in regards to immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America, I highly recommend this one. 


Book Review – The Truth About Melody Browne

Can we all just agree that Lisa Jewell is the best author out there right now? I know that she has been well known in the UK for quite sometime now and in the last couple years has picked up popularity in the US. She is a gem and every single one of her books tells a story I care about.

The Truth About Melody Browne tells the story of a woman who remembers her long forgotten childhood after being hypnotized as a 33 year old mother. It turns out that what she thought was a sad and lonely childhood was actually filled with people who loved her very much. I absolutely loved this story and was so sad for it to end.

Please put this one on your TBR list, definitely 5 stars.


Book Review – The Pull of the Stars

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue might be the most appropriate book for 2020-21. Set in Dublin, during, wait for it, the Spanish flu. A book that mirrors the life we are living now. More than once the characters were told”wear your mask” or “stay home”. The same rules apply today.

This book focuses on three women working in the maternity ward of a hospital in Dublin Ireland. The patients are both in labor and have the flu. In three short days, those working in the ward lose patients and save patients. No happy ending to be found here. But so good and so relevant to the world we are living in.

My favorite part though, was the prescription of whiskey for all the women. Honestly, if I would have been given a shot while in labor, it might have been easier to get through. I highly suggest putting this one on your TBR list.


Book Review – Untamed

One of the first books that I read in 2021 was Untamed by Glennon Doyle. This book felt like the perfect to companion to the resolutions we should be making. Being true to ourselves, investing in our marriages and family, doing what we love for a living and accepting our flaws. It is a must read for any woman who has questioned their decisions, faith, marriage, sexuality, family, career and all other things pertaining to life.

This book has a quote in it that has stuck with me since I read it. “Maybe Eve was never meant to be our warning. Maybe she was meant to be our model. Own your wanting.” Is that not the perfect quote for every single woman who questions their own needs and wants?

Glennon Doyle is a flawed woman who came into her own in her 40’s. A decade when we women believe that those in their 20’s and 30’s have so much more to offer. What a wonderful surprise to start the new year.