The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix

I just wanted to record some quick thoughts on this book... 

I've been meaning to read it for a while now! The Faithful Spy won the Cybils award in the high school non-fiction category in 2018, and got loads of good buzz before and after. 

I started to read the massive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas that came out a decade ago, but had to return it to the library and never finished. I figured The Faithful Spy would fill me in on what I had missed. 

I enjoyed reading The Faithful Spy, but I do wish I had time to read that huuuuuge biography that I had to return too soon. I liked the beginning of that one a lot -- it was full of quotes from primary sources. This one at least gave me a sketch of Bonhoeffer's life. It's very well done, with a lot of text, a lot of illustrations. It's not quite a graphic novel and not quite NOT a graphic novel. I like the way the Cybils team described the art as a mix of political cartoons and Mad Magazine. Their review is here.

Overall, The Faithful Spy left me feeling somber, and took me a little more than an evening to read. It gave me some interesting philosophy and religion concepts to think about. Recommended to those who are interested. 

The Beatryce Prophecy

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Well, when I hear that Kate DiCamillo has written a new book, I'm interested. She has been writing amazing books for a long time. Maybe her most famous is Because of Winn-Dixie? The first book of hers that I read was The Tale of Despereaux, for which she won a Newbery Medal. 

The Beatryce Prophecy is her newest book, and it was illustrated by Sophie Blackall, who recently won two Caldecott Medals. 

The Beatryce Prophecy is beautifully written and illustrated. Much like the other novels by DiCamillo that I have read, there's quite a bit of danger and suspense! However, I wouldn't call the book fast-paced. Like its protagonists, who walk through the woods, this story takes its time. Each one of our favorite characters has a tragic backstory. 

In the medieval countryside we meet Answelica, an ill-tempered goat, and Beatryce, a girl who can't remember much but can read, which is forbidden. We meet Brother Edik, a monk who doesn't quite fit in at the monastery, and Jack Dory who lost his parents to highwaymen. As their stories begin to intertwine and weave around one another's, they become happier. 

This is a realistic fiction book marketed to 8-12 year olds -- what is called a middle grade book. It seems to me that with its meaty plot and foreshadowing, combined with the simple writing style (which doesn't skimp on big vocabulary) and beautiful illustrations, it has a lot of the qualities that are loved by kids who love graphic novels. My kids read and enjoyed it, as did I. I received an advance reading copy of the book.

Fall (in-love) Reading

This fall I read two books about falling in love. Both had some good meat on the bones of the romance, which made them enjoyable not only as romances but as stories of their time. 

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion 

Our protagonist Don is a Australian genetics professor with a side project: find his ideal wife. He crafts an elaborate survey to help him, and the results are comical. He also volunteers to help Rosie with her own project: uncovering the identity of her biological father. Two projects soon become one and the same. I enjoyed reading this book, which was very popular a few years back. I had tried to read it at the height of its popularity, but put it down due to language and sexual themes. I picked it back up again and enjoyed the story. It is a well paced book with laugh-out-loud moments and quiet memorable moments, too. The characters grow in some inspiring ways, and I won't soon forget our main cast. I'm interested to watch the movie, which hasn't been made yet, but is in talks. 

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes 

I read this book about a horseback library program in Depression-era Kentucky for book club. Our main character, Alice, has married for love AND money, only to find that neither one is worth having to put up with her insufferable father-in-law. She escapes by volunteering to take books to country folk over the hills, and makes friends and finds true love along the way. This book was expertly plotted. I particularly liked how the prologue set the readers expectation for the book. In the flow of the larger narrative, coming back to the prologue rather than having that chapter set in the middle of the book is ingenious. The characters are memorable, well developed, and varied. The book wraps up in a satisfactory way, but one or two questions that the author leaves for readers to answer made for a lively book club discussion.

Just for fun, here's a photo of me and my true love. 

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson 

This book came out in 2013, so I think we owned a signed hardback copy for 8 years before I finally read it. Brandon Sanderson's YA Reckoners series is my favorite of his books, so when 13-year-old Benjamin was rolling his eyes at me for never having read The Rithmatist (also for the YA market), I decided to get my act together. I enjoyed it. It was entertaining, and eventually pretty suspenseful. 

The Rithmatist is the story of our protagonist, Joel, who lives in a steampunk world where the USA is a collection of islands and some people can make chalk pictures come to life.  Joel is spending all his time wishing he had been chosen as one of these special people -- he wants to be a Rithmatist. Pretty soon, however, young Rithmatists start disappearing, apparently attacked by one of their own, a mysterious Rithmatist. Joel inserts himself into the investigation and his summer that looked boring at the outset gets very busy indeed. 

Sanderson did a nice job with this book -- solid characters with various motivations and complex backgrounds, a plot with increasing complexity and pacing that starts slow and speeds up by degrees until you're up late because you can't put it down. I really liked how Joel and Melody's friendship developed, and found it realistic and just a lot of fun to see them go from nothing to having inside jokes. There is some violence in the book: it's a mystery about the disappearance (kidnapping? murder?) of high schoolers. I felt like Sanderson kept it solidly PG-13. Ben McSweeney's illustrations definitely added to the book and made it work. All the chalk pictures and the occasional spot art were anchors for me when otherwise I would have been lost, thinking about this magic system.

Jacob warned me when I was starting it that "Brandon says he regrets setting it up for a sequel" because other books and projects have since filled his time. So I knew going in that it would have some unresolved threads at the end of the book. Knowing that was enough for me, and I'm satisfied with the ending. 

I did sometimes feel the book was a little repetitive. Sanderson really wanted to make sure you knew what was going on. Occasionally I felt the writing condescended a little bit, for the sake of clarity. Like, the bad guy reveals himself and then Joel thinks, in a separate sentence, 'he has to be stopped.' That sort of thing.  That said, I didn't really mind because I was reading it for the entertainment and the enjoyment of the story and the story was, indeed, always clear. 

I'm glad I read this one, and only sorry I waited so long to read it! Recommended.

Alysa's Summer Reading

Hello! I did do some good reading this summer that I want to share with you. 

Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst 

My book club read this fantasy novel and it was enjoyed by all. A couple of us thought we were reading a YA fantasy book, but it turns out this one is marketed to adults. The main premise is that in Bekar, people live good lives hoping for rebirth as a human or auger. The worst thing to be reborn as is a kehok - a monster. The kehoks are dangerous, but that doesn't stop people from racing them! We follow a trainer, a rider, and the political turmoil in the country. 

Our group agreed that the worldbuilding and characters were excellent. It was so refreshing not to have a love triangle! And the abundance of strong female characters was awesome. There was a fair bit of violence in the book, but prrrrobably definitely less than The Hunger Games or something. No bedroom scenes. I was so into the book that I ended up telling my kids all the plot of it, just because my mind was so thoroughly engrossed. I definitely filtered out some of the violence in my retelling though, ha! Recommended. 

The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse

This was my pick for book club this summer. It met with mixed reviews in the club, partly because it came on the heels of Race the Sands, and Bertie Wooster is very down on Angela Basset throughout! Those who liked it really liked it, and those who didn't, didn't. I find that's pretty typical of humor books. 

The Code of the Woosters is a middle book in the Jeeves and Wooster series. It was the most accessible title at the local libraries, which is why I chose it over Right Ho, Jeeves, which is probably my favorite (Right Ho, Jeeves is especially good on audio). Anyway, the series follows young bachelor Bertie Wooster in London in the 1930's, who is constantly getting into tight spots and requiring the ingenious brain of his valet, Jeeves, to get him out of trouble. This installment details Bertie's misadventures with a collectible silver cow creamer, blackmail, rifts between lovers that could have dire consequences for him, and more. I noticed it was on a list of recommended classics for eighth graders, and I could get behind that. If you want to dip your toes into the Jeeves and Bertie world, you can always look up some of the old episodes of the BBC TV adaptation on YouTube for a taste. 

How Not to Die by Michael Greger, M.D., FACLM

This thick volume details the research on nutrition in health for a number of scenarios. There are two main sections in the book: the first section has chapters organized by disease, the second section has chapters organized by types of foods. Chapters in section one include How Not to Die from Suicidal Depression, How Not to Die from Breast Cancer, How Not to Die from Diabetes and many more. Chapters in section two include Spices, Cruciferous Vegetables, Berries and many more. 

I became interested in reading this book because I did an internet search for "how to lower your estrogen" and the search results I found referenced the book multiple times. Obviously, I thought, it would be a better source of complete information. And I was right, there really is so much info in the book. The author has made a living of studying medical research findings and publishing them in layman's terms. He runs the website nutritionfacts.org. His grandmother's life was saved when she changed her diet in her old age, and he shares that amazing story in the beginning of the book. 

I didn't read the book cover-to-cover, but I did read large swaths of it, and found it fascinating and motivating. I shared enough passages of it with Benjamin that he took it up himself and started sharing passages back with me. We've both been eating healthier since. I recommend it, if you're interested! 

Oh, I also checked out the How Not to Die Cookbook from my library. It was alright. I've learned how to make vegetable broth now. I took down a few of recipes before I returned it: the one for Veggie broth, one for a dish of beans, rice and broccoli, and the last for a dairy-free "macaroni and cheese" dish.  My favorite healthy eating cookbook is still The Smoothie Project by Catherine McCord.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

This was the August pick for book club, and I had read it for another book club in another state some years ago. I remembered liking it, and I remembered all of the worst and most violent parts. So, I'm happy to say that I really enjoyed the reread!

This is the first in a series of detective novels set in Botswana. The author helps us get to know our lady detective, Mma Ramotswe, explores her country and family history, and takes us on several of her cases. 

Some of the cases are lighthearted and some are heavier, and the book strikes a good balance. I definitely categorize it as "for grownups," but then again as a teen I read a lot of Agatha Christie. Anyway, since I had read the book before and many of the cases outcomes came back to mind as I was reading, I was able to really enjoy the superb writing in this book and appreciate some of the humor and foreshadowing that I couldn't enjoy last time, because I was on the edge of my seat, metaphorically. I might read more in the series . . .There are apparently 21 books in the series now, wow. 

This is another series (like Jeeves and Wooster, above) that has been made into a television show. After reading the book I did look up the first episode of the show on YouTube, just to satisfy myself that I was pronouncing Mma correctly (and to pass the time as I folded laundry). Unfortunately I can't recommend the series, because it makes the main characters into buffoons. I was offended, on behalf of Mma Ramotswe. (Incidentally, Bertie Wooster is also a buffoon, but he is meant to be a buffoon.)

When Stars Are Scattered

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
National Book Award Finalist, Winner of Cybils Award (Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels)

Omar and his brother Hassan live in a refugee camp and they have ever since they can remember. This graphic novel shows their life in the camp, Omar's schooling, Hassan's struggles because of his disability, and their relationships and ups and downs of life. 

Coming from award winning graphic novelist, Victoria Jamieson (known for the Newbery-winning Roller Girl and All's Faire in Middle School), I expected the book to be well written and drawn, and it was. It's also an amazing story, and we have Omar Mohamed to thank for that. There were definitely moments when my eyes got misty.

This book is well suited to the upper elementary and middle school markets. I recently read Walk Toward the Rising Sun, a memoir written for middle and high school students, and I found that one richer in details but it also had some swearing and violence that When Stars Are Scattered doesn't have. Each was well suited to its audience.     

Benjamin (age 12) also read When Stars Are Scattered, and says that it's good. He recommends it for fans of Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate, which his class read in 6th grade. 

A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

The book opens with the transcript of a trial, and answers this question: What will become of a gentleman in Moscow? Specifically, what will the new communist Russian government do with the Count, His Excellency Alexander Ilyich Rostov, son of the Grand Duke, now that the Tsar has been deposed?  Before the beginning of Chapter 1, we learn that the Count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel.  

I really loved this book, and it reminded me of many of my favorite books. I loved the characters -- they felt as real to me as the March sisters in Little Women. I loved the setting and learning a little bit more about Russian history, because my brother Ransom speaks Russian and has spent time in Ukraine. I loved Count Rostov's noblesse oblige attitude (a la The Scarlet Pimpernel). And maybe you should imagine Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic, A Little Princess, but with a grown man?

I don't want to say much about the plot. I myself loved knowing nothing about where it was going as I went along. I would recommend this book for adults, but if my teen wanted to read it I wouldn't mind. 

This is the sort of book that makes me wish I spoke five languages, had read lots of classic Russian literature, and watched all of Humphrey Bogart's films. 

One of my favorite scenes in the book is the description of the twice-tolling clock and the purpose for which it was commissioned. And, of course, the hide-and-seek game in the Count's study. Ah, now that I'm thinking of favorite scenes, there are too many! 

I gave Ransom this book for his birthday. I don't know if anything else I can say could recommend the book more highly. 

Have you read it? Please tell me your favorite parts. I read it for a zoom book club, but then I missed the discussion, so I'm itching to discuss. 

I didn't take this photo in Moscow, but I did take it in the snow!

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