4.18.2017

a post about books that's so long it could be its own book

Minding the Manor: The Memoir of a 1930s English Kitchen Maid by Mollie Moran--5 stars: Imagine, if you will, that Daisy from Downton Abbey wrote a memoir about her life as a kitchen maid. But instead of being cranky Daisy, imagine that she had the personality and moxie of Sybil. That would give you Mollie Moran. She is a real life person, and I knew as soon as I read on the back cover that she loves to host Scrabble tournaments, she and I would be kindred spirits. During the 1930s, Mollie worked as a scullery maid in an aristocratic house in London and a country estate in Norfolk. She talks a lot about what it was like to live in London during that time period, what it was like to work on staff of a grand house (there was a footman eerily similar to Thomas Barrow), and even how being a maid in real life compared with Downton Abbey. She secretly dated other members of the staff, explored London on her breaks, and eventually worked her way up to cook--she even shares some of her favorite recipes from that time period. I ADORED every single part of this book. I was so sad when it ended, and I wish I could go back in time and see the things she saw. She was cheeky and silly, but she worked grueling hours. I can't even wrap my head around the amount of cleaning she had to do every single day, and yet she took so much pride her in job. I found it all so fascinating that it goes down as one of my favorite books ever.

For fans of: Downton Abbey, WWII, true stories about maids sneaking out of windows to go meet soldiers at a town dance


The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking--4 stars: This book has been making the rounds on the internet, and hygge has become the trendiest winter buzzword. Normally that would make me run the opposite direction, but I felt compelled to read this since I come from a danish family. I'm well-versed in traditional danish foods and a few words in the language, but I know very little about the culture as a whole. The first thing that threw me off was the pronunciation of hygge. I always read it as "hi-gee,'' but apparently the correct pronunciation is "hoo-ga." Anyway, the whole concept of hygge is basically a transcendental amount of coziness. The entire culture of Denmark is allegedly based around making life as cozy as possible, from the food they eat down to the wool socks they wear. Since Denmark spends the majority of the year in a cold, dark, winter, they have to learn to adapt. I love that they are all about enjoying winter instead of complaining about it. I think my fellow Americans could learn a few things (me included this past winter, ugh). The writer is a bit pretentious and apparently lives under the assumption that we all have a family cabin to escape to in the summer or a group of friends to ski the Alps with in the winter, but overall the book just made me happy. It's full of suggestions for how to make your life more cozy. I found myself nodding and agreeing with a lot of what he said, his politics aside. I called my dad (my danish parent) to tell him about it when I finished, and we couldn't get over how his descriptions of Danes fit us perfectly. We may not live in Denmark, but we certainly have danish blood in our veins. My favorite line was something about how Danes love dark, moody rooms, and if you want to torture a Dane, put him in a room with bright lights.

For fans of: winter, Denmark, wool socks, candles, pretentious ramblings about drinking mulled wine in cozy cabins on a ski weekend with 16 of your closest friends

The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson (and obviously LIW, duh)--5 stars: I think we all know now that my love of LIW runs deep. After I finished the Little House series, I scooped this book up. At first, I had to slog through this book a bit. Some of the letters did not need to be included. She was on the board of a Farmers Credit Bureau or something of the sort, and letters pertaining to that made my eyes glaze over. There were also a collection of letters of a road trip she took with her daughter from Missouri to San Francisco around 1915 that were fairly interesting from a historical point of view. What redeemed the book for me were the letters to her daughter Rose. Rose helped her write the Little House books, and I LOVED hearing Laura's reasoning on why she wrote things the way she did. I knew they were based on her life, but I had no idea how true they really were. She refused to make changes Rose suggested that would portray an event differently than how it really happened, with only a few exceptions. A lot of fan mail was included, and she responded to every piece of mail she received, which is so sweet. She took the time to write detailed responses and elaborated on stories in the books, what she was planning to write in the next book, and what her life with Almanzo was like at that point. The letters even chronicle the death of her husband and how she coped with her sudden fame. Some of the letters are a bit dry and unneccessary, but there are more than enough gems to make up for the boring ones. She was such a sweet, special woman, and it seriously pains me that I can never meet her. I have big plans to visit all her homesteads and more or less do my best to turn into her. If I ever stop blogging, search the prairies. You'll be sure to find me living in a claim shanty with my chickens and cows.

For fans of: Little House on the Prairie, pioneer life, being nosy and reading other people's conversations

On the Way Home: The Diary of a Trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri in 1894 by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane--5 stars: Have you ever wondered how the corn crops were doing in Nebraska in the summer of 1894? How about the temperature or the price of acreage in Kansas? WELL HAVE I GOT THE BOOK FOR YOU! All jokes aside, this was really interesting. It's a collection of dairy entries Laura wrote when she, Almanzo, and Rose decided to move to Missouri and start their own homestead. She talked about the state of the agriculture, the fellow covered-wagon travelers they met, the food they ate, and even the temperature every day. I promise it's more interesting than it sounds, and it was a quick read. I love anything that helps me better understand what it was like to live in a bygone era. If you've read all the other LIW books, you might as well read this one too.

For fans of: see above--I have nothing new to say 




Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Mike Massimino--5 stars: OH MY HEAVENS(<--pun intended), this was a good book. It starts off with a detailed, vivid description of what it feels like to sit in a rocket during take off and then enter space. I was quite literally on the edge of my seat with my heart racing, feeling sympathy motion sickness. Mike grew up in Long Island, where most people don't grow up to be things like astronauts. He manages to defeat every single odd, some of which should have disqualified him from being an astronaut forever, and yet he was eventually accepted into the astronaut program, flew on the Space Shuttle, and did intensive repairs on the Hubble Telescope in space. I was SHOCKED at how difficult it was to become an astronaut. I honestly had no idea. I have absolutely zero desire to be an astronaut, but I am in awe of the people who do it. Mike gives an incredibly detailed account of what it's like to train to be an astronaut and then live and work in space. I've been obsessively following the goings-on at NASA ever since, and this morning I even live-streamed a rocket launch that was headed to the ISS. I watched on the edge of my seat, and it was so cool to actually watch it take off, enter orbit, watch the rocket boosters fall off, and see Mission Control clapping, cheering, and congratulating each other on a succesful launch. I was like, I AM A PART OF THIS AND IT'S AMAZING. I have an entirely new respect and appreciation for everything it takes to get a rocket, not to mention a HUMAN, to space.

For fans of: NASA, Hidden Figures, The Astronaut Wive's Club, feeling motion sick from reading, looking up to the sky and realizing PEOPLE ARE UP THERE OMG


The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton--4.25 stars: This was the rollercoaster of the century for my emotions. MY GOODNESS. Even though Kate manages to shatter my heart, glue it back together, smash it again, piece it back together, and then repeat the processes 7 more times in each of her novels, I can't get enough of them. She is a master. Laurel Nicolson was a teenager in the 60s when she sat in her treehouse and watched her mom kill someone. As most Kate Morton stories do, the plot weaves through different time periods and points of view. It follows Laurel as an adult at her dying mother's side, trying to figure who she killed and why, and Laurel's mother during the London Blitz as she worked and dated in London during the war and dodged bombs. The pieces slowly come together, along with a plot twist that I had guessed but deemed entirely impossible. I almost screamed. JUST SO GOOD. A little tragic, a bit sad, but satisfying. Read it and weep, literally.

For fans of: WWII in England, the Blitz, murder mysteries, Secrets of a Charmed Life, emotional turmoil






All But My Life by Gerda Weissman Klein--5 stars: I have read a truly astonishing amount of
memoirs and literature about WWII and the Holocaust, and aside from The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, this is by far my favorite. I will never forget this story. Gerda was 15 when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. Life very quickly changed for her Jewish family. After they're sequestered in the ghetto, the entire family is split up and sent to concentration camps. Gerda is sent to a mill where she learns to weave linens for the Nazis. By the end of the war, she's sent on a horrendous 300 mile death march. Out of thousands, she's one of the very few survivors of the march found by American troops at the end of the war. Every single on of Gerda's friends and family members is gone; she's the only one alive and has to figure out how to put her life back together with the help of the American solider who found her on the brink of death. This book was so beautifully written and important. I can't say enough good things about it, and her attitude despite her situation is incredible. She still happens to be alive and wrote several other books following up on life after the war that I'm currently reading. I want nothing more than to meet her and talk to her. Reading her words was an honor.

For fans of: WWII, Holocaust memoirs, Cinderella stories




Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard--4 stars: I read her first book, Picnic in Paris, a few months ago with mixed feelings. This one was so much better. Maybe because much of this book was about her life as a married woman and becoming a mom, I felt like I related to her so much more, though she's still a bit eye-roll worthy at times. She seemed a little more down to earth, plus I really like the way she has with words. She and her husband decide to buy an old house that hid a French Resistance worker during WWII (swoon). They leave their busy life in Paris and make a life in a tiny village in Provence and adjust to life as parents and business owners. She talks a lot about her neighbors and the local ingredients she learns to cook with, as well as how much she struggled the first few years of motherhood. It made me want to go live in a small village in France where I can have my own cheese monger too, as well as borrow some cherries from my neighbor's tree.

For fans of: food memoirs, France, snobby talk about how beneath you it is to buy meat at the supermarket instead of your neighborhood butcher


A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner--4 stars: This book reminded me a lot of a Kate Morton book. It took two separate disasters in two different eras and juxtaposed them. First was about a girl who witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in NYC in 1911 (a real fire! Google it--it's awful). She goes on to work as a nurse on Ellis Island to hide from aspects of the fire that traumatized her and treats immigrants with Scarlet Fever before they can go on the mainland. The book mostly focuses on that storyline, but it occasionally flashes forward to 9/11 and a woman who lost her husband in the North Tower. The link between the two women is a scarf with beautiful marigolds on it that played a big roll in each of their stories. Overall, I really enjoyed the book, and I loved reading about Ellis Island at the turn of the century. The main character was a bit annoying at times with the way she thought about things, and I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending and other aspects of the story. There was nothing bad about the ending, but it felt a little rushed. Overall, definitely worth reading, especially if you read and loved her book Secrets of a Charmed Life. This book made me think about how weird it is that someday people will write novels set around 9/11 the way they do WWII.

For fans of: disaster stories, mysteries, historical fiction, Kate Morton




I feel like I've hit the jackpot lately in terms of books. I'm so stingy with my 5 star reviews, but these books have been THAT good. Now tell me what to read next!

11 comments:

  1. I have heard nothing but good things about Spaceman...I need to get on that one! Currently reading The Indifferent Stars Above and haven't decided if I like it yet or not...

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  2. "snobby talk about how beneath you it is to buy meat at the supermarket instead of your neighborhood butcher"... Sold! Ha, I love a good snobby French protagonist.

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  3. I absolutely adore your book lists, and have to admit I get all my book recommendations from you! This list looks AMAZING!! I literally have the same interest in books as you (anything historical, LIW, WWII, memoirs, anything living in Europe, etc!). Thanks for this! I just sent it to my mom and we are going to hunt the books down!! xoxo

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  4. I've been intrigued by The Little Book of Hygge, but your review made me want to bump it to the top of my list :)

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  5. Wow wow wow! These books look awesome, and I just added The Secret Keeper and All But My Life to my reading list. I'm so excited to read these. Thanks for sharing your awesome book finds with us-I love how you pretty much always read and review the exact kind of books I'm into :)

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  6. Your first two books and The Secret Keeper sound fantastic!!

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  7. Darn. They all sound SO good. If only I could read all day, everyday. Heaven.

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    1. Confession: I've had near panic attacks when I think about all the books out there I want to read and how I may never have enough time to get to them all.

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  8. Wow you have had a good stretch of reading lately! That is awesome. I can't wait to read those Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Love her! And I love Kate Morton. The Secret Keeper was my second favorite of hers. So good.

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  9. Adding Spaceman to my list. Also I miss Laura Ingalls Wilder and so I should probably read all of her books again.

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  10. I'm saving this list for the 8-ish weeks I'm going to be on maternity leave. I think I will need all of these suggestions and more to make it through.

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