Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy by Anne Sebba, 2021, Nonfiction
I found this book from a non-fiction book list on a book reader’s blog I follow. I read the book to find out why it was an American tragedy and what would cause a woman and mother to put her family at such risk. An award-winning journalist, Anne deftly tells the Rosenberg story that took place in the height of Cold War paranoia. She carefully documents the sad truth that Ethel’s execution was based on her brother-in-law’s perjury and represented a miscarriage of justice. The story reveals one of America’s worst moments and reminds us how fear can become more important than truth.
I, Judas by Taylor Caldwell and Jeff Stern, Biblical Fiction, first published in 1977
I knew Taylor Caldwell from Great Lion of God (Paul) and Dear and Glorious Physician (Luke) which I devoured as a young adult. I. Judas surprised me on one of my email book lists, and I picked it as a good read in preparation for Lent. The language is somewhat dated but the intricate web of possible connections between Judas and Pilate, the Sanhedrin, Jesus, and the disciples is very plausible. Told first person from Judas’ perspective, rooted in it is an interesting and timely read considering flawed factions and misguided zeal today.
The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers, Nonfiction, 2019
What an interesting book I would never have read without its placement on my Book Club’s list! While I vaguely remember that coffee was discovered when goats returned to their giddy newborn antics after eating certain bean, I didn’t remember this happened in Yemen. At the beginning, the book feels like it is an immigrant story, then morphed into a page-turning survival story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali trying to get the first Yemen coffee beans to America in the middle of civil war. Put this book of perseverance, initiative, high-drama and unbelievable success on your Must Read list!
The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray 2021, Historical Fiction
Dray takes Lafayette’s French chateau as the connection of three women in three different historical periods. Adrienne is the political savvy and unfailing wife of American Revolutionary hero and subsequent leader in the French Revolution we simply know as Lafayette. Beatrice Chandler is an American socialite who becomes the driving force to transform the deserted chateau into a home for orphaned or displaced children of French WWI’s military families. Marthe Simone is a French teacher and hopeful artist who is drawn into Nazi resistance in an unexpected intrigue. As the threads of these three women’s pursuits are woven together, we learn more than most of us knew about the great love story and the personal cost of the Marquis de Lafayette and his contribution to American and French demoncracy. A fascinating and often gripping read.
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, 2020
Katherine May widens our understanding of “wintering” to mean a season of isolation, intense growth, or life change. She urges us to embrace rather than resist the winter season in life. Illustrations from extreme winter Nordic communities share interesting insights. However, be aware that this author leans toward an existentialist, secular, new age mind set. Still, I picked up some interesting ways to “winter” for growth and self-care.
Don’t Overthink It by Anne Bogel, Nonfiction, 2020
This book as bee on my TBR list since I heard the author on a podcast. With simple principles, personal illustrations, and all too familiar examples of daily overthinking, Anne leads the reader to better decision making without second-guessing everything. She’s pointed, practical, and principled. She talks less about productivity and more about removing stress and adding more joy to everyday life. Side note: She’s also the author of the very popular book selection email The Modern Mrs. Darcy and a podcast interviewing authors from a variety of genres. Check out her website https://modernmrsdarcy.com/
The Last Year of the War by Susan Meisner, 2019, Historical Fiction
Young German-American teenager Elise Sontag believes the war is far away until her father is placed in an internment camp miles away from the family. When the family joins him in a Texas camp, Elise meets Japanese-American Mariko. But when her family is scheduled for repatriation to Germany it is her worst nightmare. Separation from Mariko is a defining loss. A surprising arrangement takes her back to the U.S. after the war where she continues to look for the missing piece of her identity. It is a story of family, loss, and displacement that finally blooms with self-discovery.
The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama, Fiction, 1992
As Japan invades China in 1930, 20-year-old Stephen, from Hong Kong, travels to his grandfather’s farm on the coast of Japan to recover from tuberculosis. While there Stephen meets three people who share life lessons he will never forget. Matsu , his deceased grandfather’s housekeeper and master gardener taught Stephen about honor and loyalty. Sachi, an exiled leper, lived in peace with her solation. First love Keiko forced him to face how prejudice overrides love. This understated story swells with gentle truth about living with change and the uncontrollable with the dignity and courage of a samurai and hope from a garden.
The Stolen Lady: A Novel of World War II and the Mona Lisa by Laura Morelli, 2021, Historical Fiction
What does Lisa Gheradini, her maid Bellini, Leonardo da Vinci, Louvre archivist Ann Guichard have in common? The Mona Lisa. Laura Morelli addresses their parallel stories between 1479 and 1945. Bellini, Lisa Gherardini’s maid becomes our eyes for the portrait sitting Lisa’s husband commissions but never pays for. Leonardo is another storyteller about the painting and the conflicts he faced in the medieval art world. Anne Guichard takes us with her as she assists the unbelievable transfer and hiding of the Louvre’s valuable art, including the Mona Lisa. Each thread of this story weaves one of history, mystery, and intrigue to tell the story of what happens when art and war meet.
In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick, Nonfiction, 2000
Most know the story of Moby Dick the giant sperm whale and the mad revenge of Ishmael against the mammal. Few know the true story of the sinking of the whaleship Essex by an attack by a whale who could have been Moby Dick’s relative. Nathaniel Philbrick writes a page-turning, hair-raising retelling of this story that is brilliant. He not only tells the story brilliantly, he laces it with historical and scientific fact so seamlessly, you never skim past it. Spoiler alert: the 20 men who left the sinking ship in 3 whale boats must make repulsive choices to stay alive for 90 days and only a few survive.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, 2021, Historical Fiction
Elsa Martinelli and her two children packed up a truck with everything they had, left Texas and joined the thousands of others looking for a better life in California. The Texas Dust Bowl had stripped their land, robbed their dreams, sucked out any hope they ever had. But what they found in California wasn’t any better. With exquisite storytelling that is gripping, maddening, inspiring, and convicting, Kristin Hannah makes you see and feel the ravages of terrible time in our nation. What are you willing to give to help your children survive? For Elsa, anything less than everything wasn’t enough.
Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks, Short Story Fiction, 2017
While we know Tom Hanks as an Oscar winning actor, he adds intelligent writer to his biography. Tom uses his love for typewriters (he collects them) as the common thread. But the typewriter is only a walk-on character because the stars of each story are the people. Tom takes simple people and builds a complex and layered story with unexpected beauty. There is a reporter on assignment, a young boy who gets an airplane ride, a divorcee in a new neighborhood, a time traveler, and much more. I listened to the audio version whichTom narrates.. But I also plan to read them one day because I want to appreciate the skill by which these were written.
The Light of Days by Judy Batalion, The Untold Story of Women Resistance, Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos, Historical Nonfiction, 2021
We tell the story of Jewish resistance in Germany. This is a story of a group of young women, some still in their upper teens, who joined undercover resistance work in Poland. They were messengers and explosive deliverers is a story of courage, perseverance, and paying the ultimate price for what you believe. Meticulously researched using primary interviews of family members as well as documents and diaries, this book will haunt you. It isn’t an easy read and not all the stories have happy endings. It highlights again that there are no easy ways to fight evil especially when it is politically organized. It reminds us that small acts of courage prepare you for more and nothing is small when it starts in the heart.