Tuesday, February 6, 2018

January Book Report

Several of the ten books I read in January had similar themes! I didn't actually plan it that way, it was just one of those FUN surprises that comes with reading lots of great books.


The first book I completed this year was filled with advice for achieving your childhood dreams. Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon computer science professor, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer when he was asked to give a lecture. He knew it would be his last as he only had a few months left to live. He talked about achieving (or maybe not achieving but still benefiting from) your childhood dreams. His book, The Last Lectureresulted from that talk, which can be seen HERE.

I honestly enjoyed his thoughts and advice; however, I found it hard to like or relate to the author. He was using this platform to leave a legacy for his kids (which is understandable and admirable), yet he was arrogant in many ways and some of his jokes seemed quite irreverent. Despite this, I would highly recommend this book for the lessons we can learn about going after our childhood dreams.

Speaking of childhood dreams, Auggie Pullman, the 10-year-old main character in Wonder by R. J. Palacio, wishes for nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid. However, Auggie's "facial differences" keep this dream from coming true (at first) when he enters school for the first time in 5th grade. I originally read this book in 2014 (see my review HERE) and enjoyed it just as much this time around.

The recent movie adaptation of this book is excellent! There were a few minor changes, however, the movie preserves the wonderful characters and all the main events from the book. It is very well cast and the young actor that plays Auggie does a wonderful job of portraying Auggie's intelligence and his sense of humor about his own deformities. This is one of the best feel-good movies we've seen in a long time. I highly recommend the book and the movie!


I actually checked out The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson mistakenly as I was looking for a book with the same title that was recommended by someone from Robbie's office. I was well into the book before I realized my mistake; luckily, this was an easy, good read with a satisfying conclusion. The main character, Katharyn Andersson (aka Kitty Miller), keeps having a dream where she's in a different world. As Kitty, she's single and owns a failing bookstore with her best friend Frieda. As Katharyn, she's married and has a wonderful husband and triplets, one of who is autistic. When she goes to sleep in her (Kitty's) bedroom, a sunny yellow bedroom in a small apartment, she wakes up (dreams) in the other bedroom, a sage green room in a suburban home. A really interesting read!

Speaking of bookstore owners, John Grisham's Camino Island questions whether Bruce Cable, the local bookstore owner on Camino Island, has illegally acquired five original F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts that were stolen from the Princeton University library. This is a well-written book (it's John Grisham after all) with some twists and an unexpected ending.

The book contains several story lines, beginning with the actual theft of the manuscripts. Then there's Mercer Mann's story. Mercer is a young author with lots of student loan debts who is approached and offered a job to spy on the bookseller on Camino Island. As a child, she spent summers on the island with her grandmother (who passed away 11 years ago), so the fact that she returns to the island to write a book is a believable cover story. Mercer gets to know Bruce Cable and his "wife" Noelle Bonnet, a dealer in French furniture. She also meets lots of interesting authors who are also living on the island or doing book signings at the bookstore. A good read that's a departure from Grisham's typical legal thriller. (Robbie read somewhere that his wife suggested he needed to write a "beach read," so he did!)


One of Mercer's favorite memories in Camino Island  is spending time with her grandmother on the beach watching sea turtles nest and hatch. In fact, her grandmother worked with Turtle Watch, a conservation and environmental group that helped mark and protect the nests of sea turtles.

Speaking of sea turtles nesting on the beach in Florida, Dr. Ben Payne's wife was also an advocate for the sea turtles. The backstory of Dr. Payne's wife is told through his talking into a voice recorder as we follow his story in The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin. This book is much (much!) better than the movie (which I reviewed HERE).

Ben is the one who actually charters the small plane that crashes in the mountains. He invited Ashley Knox to go along because she was trying to get home in time for her wedding. The storyline is more believable as Ben is the one who gets them off the mountain and Ashley is much more dependent on him than is portrayed in the movie (where she starts hobbling away from the plane crash on her own). She has a great sense of humor and does encourage him to go on without her, however, she is totally dependent on him (not walking away on her own like in the movie). And they don't have intimate relations in the cabin - he is much more respectful, which  probably isn't considered good movie material. This book is very well-written and has a satisfying conclusion. I recommend skipping the movie and reading the book instead!


We picked up a copy of H. C. Porter's Blues at Home last spring when we visited Vicksburg, Mississippi. This beautiful book showcases the photos, stories and H.C.'s artwork of 31 Blues legends who are from or have a connection to the state of Mississippi. This book is a companion to the traveling art exhibit of the same name. We saw many of the pieces of artwork when my cousin Daryl, a friend of H.C., took us to her gallery on Washington Street in Vicksburg.

H.C. Porter begins each piece of art with the black and white photos she snapped while visiting each of these Blues legends. The photo is then silkscreened onto paper, and she uses acrylic paints and prisma color pencils in a unique style that brings these photos to life. As she photographed each of the legends in this collection, her collaborator interviewed them. Their stories are shared in the book. I enjoyed reading about these legends from my birth state, but even more so I enjoyed the fantastic photography and completed artworks showcased in this coffee table size book.

Speaking of the Blues, one of the characters in Pam Munoz Ryan's Echo learns to play Blues music on a harmonica. This book is actually four stories in one and was recommended to me by my niece Laurie.

The book begins and ends with the legend of three sisters who are imprisoned in an old forbidden forest. When a young boy named Otto is lost in the woods, they encapsulate their beautiful voices and spirits into the harmonica he carries in his pocket.

That harmonica eventually finds its way to Friederich, a young teenage boy in Germany in 1933. Friederich has a huge birthmark on his face. His father removed him from school after the other boys brutally bullied him, and he continued his studies in the harmonica factory where his father and uncle worked. As Hitler was rising to power and spreading his pure race policy throughout Germany, Friederich finds himself in the midst of a family in turmoil  - his sister has joined the Hitler Youth, his father has been taken to Dachau, and his birthmark makes his a candidate for Hitler's sterilization program. His story ends (for now) as he embarks on a risky venture to save his father.

Then we met Mike, an orphan in Pennsylvania in 1935. He and his younger brother will soon be separated if they are not adopted. When they are taken to the home of a rich heiress for adoption, he believes their troubles are over. Mike picks up a harmonica in a store in Philadelphia, and the groundskeeper at his new home teaches him to play, adding in some Blues along the way. However, the adoption proceedings may be stopped, so Mike embarks on a plan to be sure that his younger brother is adopted, even if it means they are separated for a time.

The fourth story is set in California in 1942 and centers on Ivy, a young girl whose father has been hired to care for the home of a Japanese family that has been sent to a prison camp. When Ivy and her family arrive at their new home, a small house on the land owned by her father's new boss, she discovers that she must attend a segregated school for Mexican children.  Her brother is off at war and Ivy finds comfort in playing the harmonica she received as a gift from her teacher before her family moved.

Friederich, Mike, and Ivy's stories are all brought together in a beautiful conclusion set in New York City in 1951! This is a beautifully written book with great story lines and lots of historical elements that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend.

It was a FUN reading month around here and so interesting to discover these similar themes in my rather random choice of books! What great books did you read to start the year?


  1. Wow, a full and informative post! I've put The Bookseller on my list, thanks!

  2. Always appreciate book recommendations. I just finished Wonder. I was surprised as I thought it was based on a true story. I had read Camino Island last year. I'll see if I can get The Bookseller at the library & add to my Spring Reading List.

  3. I always enjoy your book reviews. I've read the Last Lecture and thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt like it had great life lessons that everyone can relate to. I have few of your others on my library list.

  4. I read Wonder on the plane to California for my work conference. Finished the whole book before I even made it to Phoenix for my first layover! It was a great read.

  5. I read Camino Island last year, and really enjoyed it. Wonder has been on my shelf for a long time, and everyone I know has loved it. I need to pull it off the shelf and read it!


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