March 16, 2015

Three Books

One of my Goals for 2015 is to choose and read one book each calendar month. 
Last year I set out to read fifty books, roughly one a week, reading anything I could get my hands on. (see my Year in Books here)  So one book a month is a practice in restraint.  My aim is a "less is more approach" ..keeping my reading time in balance with time for the other things I love.  This goal has been great for keeping me in check in that respect, and has had me giving more consideration to my selections, prioritizing my reading list. 

My first three books of 2015 took me all around the world and back home again. 


And The Mountains Echoed, Kahled Hosseini

I was eager to read And the Mountains Echoed after being swept away by A Thousand Splendid Suns and also reading The Kite Runner last year.
*Tough Love Alert*  This was my least favorite of the three.  I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns.  It takes a special kind of book for me to keep on my shelf, or to pass on to friends.. I have two copies, both of them loaned out.  It's worth noting that the bar was set high for comparing work by the same author. 
And the Mountains Echoed is written in a different structure than Hosseini's prior two books, each chapter told from the viewpoint of a new character.  Starting in a small Afghan village, I found the initial story compelling, but it was soon placed on the back burner to accommodate added characters and story lines.  It took me some effort in keeping track of how they were all connected, in part because they span multiple generations and jump multiple continents, but some of them seemed altogether unnecessary and too far removed.  I just wanted to get back to that first story already. 
The ripple (or echo) effect of a single event is the main theme.  I get it, but it didn't resonate harmoniously for me.  I love Hosseini's writing, but not this book.
And The Mountains Echoed falls short of my Pass on to a Friend caliber.


Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand

After hearing numerous mentions of this book, I went seeking it at our local library and found that it was checked out all across our regional library system, I was #17 in queue.
When my copy arrived, I jumped into it.  But not before Mitch grabbed it and read it first.  
Unbroken is a non-fiction / biography of World War II hero Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic track star who survived a plane crash in the Pacific theater, spent 47 days drifting on a raft, and then survived more than two and a half years as a prisoner of war in three brutal Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.
Brutal is the word that sticks.  This is an intensely brutal, but incredible account.. as the subtitle suggests, Zamperini survives his ordeals, and with resilience.
From this book I learned more about the Pacific / Japanese side of WWII (where my mom's dad served), about the B-24 bomber, and unfortunately, about several U.S. military inadequacies at that time.  I felt the author did a tremendous job with her research.
While Louie's story is unforgettable, my favorite character is Phil (Lt. Russell Allen Phillips), for his moral steadfastness through it all.  Phil is my kind of hero.
“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)  Unbroken stretched my mind.


The Shoemaker's Wife, Adriana Trigiani

I read several Trigiani books last year, and was told that The Shoemakers Wife is her best yet.  Historical fiction, rich in culture and setting, it was right up my alley.
I felt it was a well-told, whole picture of the early 1900's European-American immigrant.  Their roots, their journey, making their way in a new and strange place, the sense of gratitude and debt these immigrants felt to their new country, and the longing for the home and people they left behind. 
In some ways, the story paralleled that of my great grandfather from Finland.  He came to the U.S. on a ship alone at 15 years old, as Ciro does in the pages of this book, and at nearly the same year.  They both made a life in America by way of work ethic and willingness to learn.  Not long after his arrival, my great grandpa was shipped back to Europe to fight in France in WWI, also as Ciro and so many immigrants did. 
The most common criticism this book seems to receive is that it's bogged down with too much description.  Yes, it's descriptive, and the hardcover I read is 475 pages long.  Part of Trigiani's style is in her description of foods and fabrics.  But mostly, she describes settings beautifully.  She makes me feel the places in her stories.  I was surprised to find that this one, originating in the Italian Alps, then New York City, ends up right here in Northern Minnesota, my own native land.  And Trigiani got it right, the Minnesota stuff. 
My only complaints:  There were (what I thought were) some typos and age discrepancies late in the book.  They weren't pertinent to the story, I'm just a stickler for editing detail.
I enjoyed reading The Shoemaker's Wife.  

There are a handful of books in the running for my April choice, but so far I'm undecided.
What are you reading?  Maybe I'll read along!

PS: Today is St. Urho's Day. 
Wishing you many reasons to smile.


  1. Hosseini was an author enjoyed for his two previous novels. But they were so gripping that I was reluctant to tackle another of his. From your review I think I'll take a pass. I have read Unbroken too and it was an incredible story. I hadn't heard of the last one and if I come across it I may consider it.

    I too have slowed my reading down this year because that's all I'd end up doing. From last year I'd recommend to you Letters from Skye. From this year's completed reading list I'd recommend Anna Quindlen's Still Life with Bread Crumbs or for something light Goodnight June by Sarah Jio. The latter is one my book club is discussing on Friday night and we're to talk on Skype with the author.

  2. I, too liked reading Unbroken. The story was hard to stomach sometimes. I found it incredible someone could survive such brutalities and go on to live a normal life. Haven't read the other two books. I just finished reading a book about English war brides in WWII. Very interesting what they endured. Now I'm reading "Tales From Another Mother Runner."

  3. Only one book a month? That would be awfully hard for me! I've read the first two and agree with both of your assessments, although I did enjoy Hosseini's book more than you did. I also enjoyed Unbroken. Have you read 'The Boys in the Boat" (Brown)?? Now that was my favorite book of last year! :-)

    1. Yes, it's requiring some willpower from me, DJan!
      But when I pick up a book anytime I feel like it, my trouble is that I have a very hard time putting it back down until it's finished. So this is a nice pace for me in the way of helping with my time management.
      And, I'll confess... I also read (during odd moments of spare time in Feb) The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating as a bonus book. You had mentioned it quite some time ago and I had put in a request at the library, I only had a hold on it so long before they shipped it back where it came from. It was small and sweet. I'll never look at a common snail the same way again!
      And every night I read a chapter or two aloud (reading out loud takes so much longer than to myself) of the Harry Potter series with the kids. We're on the third book. I love them.
      Haven't read The Boys in the Boat. I keep a to-read list on Goodreads - I'm adding it!

  4. I am thinking of starting, "Doll Baby". Set in New Orleans with some family mystery/secrets. My husband really enjoyed, "Unbroken", but I haven't read it yet.

  5. Hi, Glad you love to read. Hope your kids do also... SO important.

    Adriana Trigiani is from my hometown although I never met her. I was gone before she moved there. However, her first book, Big Stone Gap, is about our hometown in Virginia. The movie, Big Stone Gap, comes out this spring... So excited for my little hometown..


  6. I read the first 2 books in 2014. I'll have to look at Trigiani's books on Amazon. I read nonstop, but my book review page is definitely not up-to-date!

  7. Amanda,
    I recently read Unbroken also. I had no idea about how the Japanese acted in the war and the extent of their brutality. I took a history class that covered WWII in college and I don't remember learning about the extent of the Japanese desire and attempt to over take the World. I was a little disappointed with the story after Louie came back from the war. I also understand the author has to tell the truth. I find it positive that Louie could work through his post war issues and rediscover his "true colors."

    I am currently half way though The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo. So far it's keeping my interest. The characters span from Anna (112 years old) all the way to Keller a new baby in the family. All the generations live together, except the babies grandmother. Each woman in the family has a dynamic all her own.

  8. Such a wonderful goal to have. It takes me forever to read a book. I do love to read but I always fall asleep when I'm reading.. I love these post when you let us know what your reading. Gives me some great ideas.. My SIL read Unbroken and told me I had to read it. Sounds like a great book.


  9. Wonderful book reviews, Amanda. Somehow I missed that you were such a wide ranging & dedicated reader. Way to go. I'd like to invite you to check out my "other" blog Troutbirder II dedicated also to book reviews....and yes I loved Unbroken

  10. What I am reading? Got to admit - nothing. I wish I could make time for it. But as it stands I am scrambling to make time for my photography and art as it is.
    Thanks for sharing.

  11. Thank you for these reviews, Amanda ...I like historical novels, and the upcoming Easter vacation calls for a novel - so I did just a reservation from the library for both the Shoemakers Daughter and Unbroken - I hope to receive them next week :)
    Have a lovely Sunday - hopefully outside in the sun :)

  12. I read some James Patterson while traveling, my first few. Sometime I need a non thinking read, I just read one of David Baldacci's latest books and it kept me awake at night.

    I took a huge bag of books to the library today to donate. Some books I keep fr my library . . . but not all. I like the donating because it is appreciated and I am sure others will also enjoy reading some of my books. The Goldfinch was one I donated.