Wednesday, November 1, 2017

What's Val Reading? (October 2017)

Welcome back for the next installment of "What's Val Reading?" Please take note of how timely we are with this post—it's November 1, and I'm posting it today, which is quite the improvement over last month 😃.

Keep reading for a look at the four books Val read last month! (I've linked each book's Amazon page in the title in case you want to check it out. These are affiliate links, so if you make a purchase, I'll get a small commission.)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows (Goodreads)

This book just catapulted to the top of my “best of the year” list.  I absolutely LOVED it!  It’s set on the island of Guernsey, one of the English Channel Islands, right after WWII.  Guernsey was actually occupied by the Germans during the war – I had no idea! This book is not your typical WWII novel in that it takes place after the war is over, and any scenes from the war occur in the characters’ recollections. The novel is told entirely through letters, telegrams, and notes. This sounds gimmicky, but here it’s so well-executed that the story is never overshadowed by the format. I actually think you grow to love the characters more because you can hear their voices so clearly. The writing was excellent, the plot was delightful, and the characters are beyond wonderful. Everyone, everywhere should read it. Plus, there are no content warnings. 5 stars.

The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord (Goodreads)

This is a cute and sweet YA novel, and even though it’s not Christian fiction, it’s pretty squeaky-clean – no swearing (that I recall), no sex, no teenage drinking, and any partying that happens is off-scene and is portrayed in a very negative light. The protagonist is Paige Hancock, a high school junior who is known as the girlfriend of the boy who drowned.  Paige’s first-ever boyfriend died in an accident a year ago, but now she’s ready to start really living again, so she makes a list of ways to Begin Again; one of the items on the list is to date the newly-single track star hunk Ryan Chase.

For me, the best part of this book was Paige’s friends.  They were such a sweet group of girls who rally around each other so beautifully. The novel was fun and enjoyable, but I didn’t love it or connect as strongly as I have with some other recent YA novels (What to Say Next, the Lara Jean Song series, Eleanor and Park). I felt like I understood Paige and the choices she made, but I didn’t really have an emotional connection with her. One caveat – the book “ends” on the last day of school, but my kindle copy included a section of correspondences between Paige and her love interest over the summer. I actually liked the book less after reading that section. I thought the format of the book itself worked very well, but the emails at the end were kind of cutesy and obnoxious. So my advice would be to read to the end of the book and quit there. Overall, a fun and quick read. 3.5 stars.

Becky here: I read The Start of Me and You last summer and loved it. ALL OF THE FEELS! I do agree with Val's assessment—skip the bonus content. The book is much better without it.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (Goodreads)

I didn’t intend to read two WWII novels in October, but that’s what happened when I found myself in need of an audiobook (I had Lasik done, so I needed something to listen to that afternoon/evening, since you can’t watch tv or read for the remainder of the day of your procedure), and this one happened to be available to check out from the library. The story is told from four different characters’ points of view, and the audiobook featured a different voice actor for each, which I thought worked very well. Although it is shelved under “YA Fiction” at my library, this book didn’t feel like a YA novel to me. The main characters are all between 15 and 21ish years of age, but neither the story nor the characters feel at all juvenile. The setting is East Prussia as the Nazi empire is crumbling at the end of World War II, and the story features the sinking of the German ocean liner the Wilhelm Gustloff, which was the greatest maritime tragedy in history – 1,503 people died as a result of the Titanic sinking, while 9,343 people were killed with the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, many of them refugees. (This begs the question of why the disaster is not more widely known, and the author addresses that question in her notes at the end of the novel, which I highly encourage you to read/listen to.)

I especially liked that the main characters had perspectives I hadn’t heard WWII stories told from before – Prussians, Lithuanians, Poles. Most of the WWII fiction I’d read previously had been about the French (The Nightingale, All the Light We Cannot See) or the British (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Everyone Brave is Forgiven), so this was an enlightening switch. I think if I’d been reading the book, I’d have certainly cried.  Somehow I don’t get as emotionally invested when listening, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t impacted. Having read this book, I want to learn more about the Eastern Europeans who fled their homes and, in many cases, never returned. 5 stars.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (Goodreads)

This book was just fantastic. Go read it. I could quit there, because really, that’s all you need to know.

The setting is the 1990’s in Shaker Heights, a meticulously maintained, affluent suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Two families are at the center of the story – Mia and Pearl, a nomadic mother/daughter pair, and the Richardsons, a wealthy family that (from the outside) epitomizes the values Shaker Heights espouses. The interactions between the Richardson children (beautiful Lexie, athletic Trip, thoughtful Moody, and volatile Izzy) and Pearl, and the reactions of their mothers, drive much of the story. There is some language sprinkled throughout (at least I think there was – again, this doesn’t bother me when I read, so I don’t remember it as well as others might), as well as some sexual content – nothing overly graphic, but you may want to just skip one paragraph in particular.  Overall, I found the book to be enthralling and compelling, and I think the story is one that will stick with me. 5 stars.

Becky again: Val was raving to me about Little Fires Everywhere last week, so I checked it out of my library. I don't know if I'll have time to read it before it's due, but I hope so! Also, I've checked out two books from Val's list last month: What to Say Next and Lie to Me. When I told Val, she said to read the first and skip the second, so we'll see! If I read them, I'll let you know.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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