Second half of 2023 Books in Review

There is a tiny little baby reason why I am so delayed in my reviews for the second half of 2023.

I suppose I will just save some time by not grouping these into genres. Some cuts need to be made when your window of creative opportunity is quite small. Most of the books I read I got through in the middle of the night when I had pregnancy insomnia. I don’t recommend trying that approach to reading and nor do the experts counsel you to turn to screens if you have insomnia. Alas.

  • East Winds: A Global Quest to Reckon with Marriage by Rachel Rueckert
  • *Sisters in Arms: A Novel of the Daring Black Women Who Served During World War II by Kaia Alderson
  • *Sparks like Stars by Nadia Hashimi
  • Both Things are True by Kate Holbrook
  • *The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • The 5 Books of Jesus by James Goldberg
  • *The Slow March of Light by Heather B. Moore
  • *Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family by Miep Gies and Alison Leslie Gold
  • *The Lost Ticket by Freya Sampson
  • Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
  • Bumpin’: The Modern Guide to Pregnancy: Navigating the Wild, Weird, and Wonderful Journey from Conception through Birth and Beyond by Leslie Schrock
  • *The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer
  • Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster
  • *Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
  • The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale by Jon Klassen
  • *His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker
  • *Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • *Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown
  • *The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb
  • The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
  • *Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
  • Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
  • *Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce

*Audiobooks

Reviews

East Winds: A Global Quest to Reckon with Marriage by Rachel Rueckert

I mentioned this book in my 38 Lessons from my First Year of Marriage blog (numbers 21-23) and feel that encapsulates my thoughts. I read this because it seems I was having a hard time reckoning with marriage myself and wanted to feel seen. I’m grateful for some of the insights I gained reading this.

*Sisters in Arms: A Novel of the Daring Black Women Who Served During World War II by Kaia Alderson

I keep telling myself no more World War II novels because they are SO overdone, but this had a different angle and different group of people represented so I thought why not. I wanted to like this book but didn’t overly enjoy it. I enjoyed learning about the 6888th Postal Battalion this is based on, though, and appreciated the insights into what the experience was like for this group of Black female officers. However, there seemed to be way too much focus on the love stories and the book felt like it abruptly ended when the women got to Europe.

*Sparks like Stars by Nadia Hashimi

Sitara is a ten-year-old girl whose father is a government leader in late 1970s Afghanistan. When the communists stage a coup, she is smuggled safely out of the palace, but her entire family is assassinated. Through an American diplomat, she ends up in the U.S. and finds a new life. When her past literally appears in front of her, she needs more answers as to what happened on that night. I think it’s worth a read.

  • Both Things are True by Kate Holbrook

Such a loss of beauty and intelligence when this wonderful woman passed away. I have long admired her and had to read this last piece she had been working on. This book addresses some of the contrary aspects of Latter-day Saint theology and how we can embrace “by proving contraries, truth is made manifest” as Joseph Smith said.

  • *The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Set in India, this explores the lives of twins after a tragedy causes them to be separated at a young age. One never speaks again, the other is the protagonist who ends up at university in America but returns to India for part of this tale to rebuild, reconcile, and understand what happened in her life. It weaves a story of death, rejection, false accusations, beauty, and heartbreak.

  • The 5 Books of Jesus by James Goldberg

I have had this on my “to read” list for too long so I pulled it out as I was studying the New Testament last year. This sets the gospels in a narrative frame as if they were all pooled together and as if there were more…personality. Kind of like The Chosen. I liked the perspective and the opportunity to put stories in the right order.

  • *The Slow March of Light by Heather B. Moore

This is based on the true experiences of Bob Inama, a man from Idaho, who is drafted into the military during the Cold War. He ends up as a spy in East Germany and is eventually caught and tortured. I thought the experiences were incredible and it’s clear this was well-researched overall. Bob is a fascinating individual. The main thing I didn’t like, though, is a love interest who was fictional. She is a huge part of the story and I just wish that part were true (obviously can’t wish fiction into being) so I wish that it hadn’t been so integral.

  • *Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family by Miep Gies and Alison Leslie Gold

We started watching “A Small Light” last year sometime (just realized we never finished it), and I became very intrigued with the life of Miep and her interactions with Anne Frank. So I picked up this book from her perspective. Her story is inspiring and beautiful and worth a read.

  • *The Lost Ticket by Freya Sampson

Years ago, Frank met a woman who changed his life on bus number 88–and he lost her number. Now he meets another young woman, Libby, who is determined to help him find his lost love. This novel is quirky, but just fun enough to keep reading–or listening in my case. The setting in London helps because #accents.

  • Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

This book was recommended to me so many times so you’ve all probably read it. Marcellus is a giant octopus who lives at the Sowell Bay Aquarium and is, wait for it, a remarkably bright creature. He has an incredible friendship with Tova, who has the night shift at the aquarium. Tova never found out what really happened the night her son disappeared years before and Marcellus is determined to help her find out.

  • Bumpin’: The Modern Guide to Pregnancy: Navigating the Wild, Weird, and Wonderful Journey from Conception through Birth and Beyond by Leslie Schrock

Of course I read pregnancy books. Those listed here are just the ones I finished haha. This was a helpful read covering pregnancy through each trimester and helping understand all the symptoms, explore birth preferences, get advice for partners, and more. I found many parts of this very helpful.

  • *The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer

The whole premise of this is exceedingly impractical that a teacher’s aide wants to adopt one of the children who she works with and is desperately looking for any way to have the money to do so. She gets to enter a “game” of sorts that may allow her to do just that if she can figure out all the clues. I really don’t know why I kept listening but maybe it was just weird enough to keep going.

  • Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster

Another pregnancy book. I liked the approach this author took to cutting through tons of research about pregnancy and helping us really understand the statistics behind all the things you hear about what’s good and bad.

  • *Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

A very soft little diddy that really has no plot but is just a telling of a woman’s life as she looks back on it. Nothing really grand about this but it was a soft listen for a pregnant woman’s emotions.

  • The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale by Jon Klassen

This is a children’s chapter book, of which I have read more than just this one, but this one is worthy of noting because it is SO weird and its origin is just cool.

  • *His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

During the Napoleonic Wars, dragons are bred and used for fighting in battles. This is the tale of how Laurence becomes the handler for the majestic dragon, Temeraire, as he is trained to be a warring dragon. I love Temeraire and want him to be my dragon.

  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Pax the fox is a house fox who is returned to the wild. Pax doesn’t understand and wants to wait for his boy to return–not knowing the dangers around him. And his boy soon discovers he can’t live without his fox. The story is told from the changing perspective of Pax and his boy. Many parts are beautiful but some don’t make sense. It is fiction after all.

  • *Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

The beginning of this book is a tale of a child, a gypsy, and three princesses who are trapped in the woods and can only be freed by a harmonica. I immediately thought it was an intriguing fairy tale, but then it jumped through three different times and places as the harmonica makes its way through many different hands. It was an OK enough listen.

  • *Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

Everyone needs a little Brene every year (maybe every month). I chose this one for the parenting aspect but loved it for a lot of other things. I particularly need to work on the part where I can build an entire false narrative of what someone else is thinking or feeling based off a reaction or a non-reaction. I am trying to stop myself from doing that and check in with what’s really happening first.

  • *The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

Ray McMillan is a brilliant violinist. Rising through the racism he experiences as a Black classical artist, he is headed toward a major competition when his violin is stolen. The search for “whodunnit” and why the violin is so valuable is kind of fun. Could be fun to listen to if you want a musical mystery. It was just OK for me.

  • The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

Cussy is part of the Pack Horse Library Project–a service that delivers library material to rural people in the Appalachians. Cussy is also one of the “Blue People”–a group that appears to have blue skin because of a genetic disorder and who are considered “colored” in their community. This is an interesting look at what things may have been like for the “Blue People”.

  • *Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

This one was also recommended to me many times. This is the story of Elizabeth Zott–a chemist in the 1960s who is discriminated against because of her unusual choice of work. Part of the way in, I almost couldn’t continue because it is so frustrating and so sad and I was at a point in my pregnancy where I couldn’t handle anything sad or misogynistic. But I kept reading and enjoyed where the story ended up. As a note, I started watching the TV series and so much about it was different that I couldn’t get into it.

  • Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

This is a fantasy book. Morrigan Crow is a young girl with a curse who is supposed to die on Eventide. But of course she does not or the story would be too short. Instead she is rescued by Jupiter North and taken to Nevermoor where she is under trial to become part of the Wundrous Society. This book is quirky and quite weird (how are quirky and weird different? I know not). But a fun fanciful read.

  • *Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce

I think I’d recommend reading this one instead of listening to it because one of the characters is SO annoying and her voice actress portrays annoying SO well that you don’t want to listen anymore. Miss Benson is an older, single woman who has always wanted to go on an expedition. So she places an advertisement to find a traveling companion and of course ends up with a bumbling idiot who you immediately hate but also who you gain compassion for in a strange way. The story is wild, strange, silly, and unexpected.

And there you have it.

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