I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
October 8, 2019
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. My opinions about these books are clearly my own.
It’s been a minute since I’ve posted a book review — My daughter returned this fall to the homeschool tutorial model she loved so much in middle school and between teaching her World Literature and Japanese (she has teachers for the remainder of her classes) and travel writing, I’ve got my hands full. I did read some GREAT books over the summer, though, so I wanted to take a moment to catch you up — Since the list has gotten pretty long over the last few months, I’ll have another batch of books to share with you a few weeks from now. In the meantime, check out these reads. There’s not a bad one in the bunch, and one of them is definitely in my top five for the year.
The Bronze Horseman, Paullina Simons (5/5 stars)
I’ve seen The Bronze Horseman appear on many ‘best books of all time’ lists and so I saved it for a time when I was in a reading slump. Well, this book brought me right out of my most recent book malaise — It’s definitely going to be in my top five for the year.
This is the story of Tatiana Metanov, a young Russian girl living in Leningrad during World War II. She falls in love with a soldier and he with her, but absolutely everything stands in their way. It seems impossible that they’ll ever end up being together — yet true love always finds a way, right?
Both Tatiana and Alexander, the soldier, are brought alive by the author. You love them, you root for them, you feel like you really know them and understand them — so as a romance, this book is very compelling.
But there’s so much more to The Bronze Horseman than romance. We learn all about how Russian soldiers and citizens were treated by their government during World War II. It’s surprising, to say the least. Even more shocking, we learn what it would have been like to live in Leningrad during the war. The city was held under siege by the Germans for 872 days, resulting in the deaths of 800,000 of its citizens. Paullina Simons clearly did exhaustive research on the siege and the details are amazing and horrifying and unforgettable — I have a feeling the siege is what I’ll remember most about this novel years from now.
This book is long, but it’s one of the few I’ve read at this length that really flew for me, although it did take me a hundred pages or so to really get into the story. I ended up being grateful for the length because it allowed me to really become invested in the characters and care about what happened to them. I’ll warn you too that there are some pretty graphic sex scenes in this book, but since they evolved naturally and over a long period of time, they seemed appropriate to the story rather than sensational and unnecessary.
Bottom line? This book is both fabulous romance and compelling historical fiction. I think you’ll love it, and I personally can’t wait to read the next two sequels.
Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer (4/5 stars)
This was a pick for my book club… at least it was until the picker started reading and realized she had zero desire to finish it. Then we switched to The Tattooist of Auschwitz. (You can read my review of that book here.) I’m telling you all this so that you know what to expect before you get too far into it — This is a massive tome about the history of the Mormon faith in America. It is dense and it is extensive.
It is also fascinating. I know and love me some Mormons — I will freely admit that as a group, they’ve been some of the nicest and best people I’ve ever met — but I’m guessing they haven’t read this book, and I’m thinking they probably should. Because the Mormon religion’s beginnings and history from the 1800s to the 1970s or so are both scandalous and shocking and I’m left wondering how anyone could know this information and still affiliate themselves with the Mormon faith. Sorry, Morms, but I’m just calling it like I see it.
I listened to the audiobook version of this story, which had major pros and cons. The pros were all the times I could zone out when it got a little too dense and still keep the thread of the story in mind when it got interesting again. The cons were the number of times I wanted to smack the narrator, who read the entire story in a voice dripping with sarcasm and condescension that often seemed completely inappropriate and was certainly not the tone the author meant to convey when he wrote the book.
If you love little-known American history as much as I do, you’ll definitely enjoy this book. If you want to know how Mormonism came to be, this is the book for you. Do be warned, though, that it centers around a modern-day murder of a mother and child that was described at one point in the book in unnecessarily graphic detail. I could have done without that part.
Inheritance, Dani Shapiro (3/5 stars)
Dani Shapiro’s story of how an Ancestry.com DNA test rocked her world and changed her life forever could have been a first-world-problem, navel-gazing affair. Fortunately, her talent for writing made Inheritance absorbing and thought provoking. I listened to Dani narrate the audiobook version of the story and appreciated her writing skill as much as the story itself.
Are there times when you as the reader want to urge Dani to just get over it already? Yes. Did this book have about 10 different moments toward the end when it could have (and probably should have) ended, but instead went on to yet another chapter? Yes. Overall, though, I enjoyed Dani’s tale and I’ve already added her other books to my to-read list.
The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult (5/5 stars)
I listened to the audiobook version of this story and it was phenomenal, but I think it would have been even better as an actual read. Jodi Picoult has written a novel about the Holocaust that’s lyrical and heartbreaking and filled with surprising twists and turns. If I’d been able to read the book, I would have really savored the writing in a way I wasn’t able to while simply listening to the story.
The book starts in the present with Sage Singer, an introverted baker wrestling with her past. She forms an unlikely friendship with an elderly German man, but when he reveals a secret to her and asks her for a monumental favor, her entire life is thrown into turmoil. We learn the man’s story as well as the story of Sage’s grandmother, a Holocaust survivor — Both narratives are woven throughout Sage’s journey. There are enough twists to keep the reader turning pages, wondering what will happen next, and the twist at the end is both unexpected and very well done by Picoult.
Picoult does an excellent job of giving each narrative in this book a very strong, clear voice — not an easy thing when you’re weaving several stories together. This helped too because I have to admit I wasn’t that interested in Sage’s story– but I was riveted by her grandmother’s experience, so that kept me glued to the… audiobook. I don’t love all of Jodi Picoult’s novels (I adored My Sister’s Keeper but thought Small Great Things was awful — Check out my review if you’re wondering why), but this is a solid, strong entry from her. Read this book if you’re looking for compelling historical fiction and an all-around great read.
Sourdough, Robin Sloan (3/5 stars)
I listened to the audiobook version of Sourdough and it started off so strong. I loved the story of plucky young Lois Clary (the narrator was pitch perfect), her move to San Francisco to work for a tech startup, her acquisition of a mysterious sourdough starter, and her integration of her love for tech with a newfound passion for baking bread.
But then things took a bizarre turn and I had trouble maintaining interest. Lois went to work for a woman at a new and very avant garde farmer’s market. She connected with gurus and DJs and microbiological scientists. She started doing weird things to her starter in order to make more bread. Microbial chaos ensued. Much like a rogue sourdough starter, the technological intricacies of the plot gloppily expanded and took over the whole story, and plucky young Lois got lost in the fray. Her personal journey and her relationship with the young restauranteur who originally gave her the starter became murky and rushed and that was disappointing because the bones of a great book were there and I really think that if the author had put microbiological food fusion aside and focused instead on the human elements of her story, Sourdough could have been amazing and totally optioned for a kick-ass Lifetime movie.
Three stars. It wasn’t horrible.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See (4/5 stars)
I absolutely loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and I also enjoyed Shanghai Girls. So I have to admit I was disappointed that I couldn’t get into The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane in the way I connected with Lisa See’s other novels.
This is the story of Li-yan, a young girl within an indigenous hill tribe in rural China. The tribe is mired in poverty and superstition and its members pick tea leaves and trade them at the market in order to barely scratch out a living. Despite the odds, Li-yan manages to leave the tribe and make a life for herself, eventually landing a successful job as an expert tea trader in the United States. But she can never forget her people — or the daughter she had to leave behind.
Lisa See exhaustively researched the Akha people and the traditions and history of Pu’er tea in China and we learn so much about both — This part of the story was really interesting. But I think the research and explanations ultimately lessened the book’s impact for me, because I never really connected with Li-yan in the way I wanted to. I think I would have if more time had been spent on her thoughts and feelings and less on describing hill tribe traditions and the perfect tea cake. This book was good- don’t get me wrong — but I’m disappointed because I believe it could have been great.
Gilgamesh, translated by Stephen Mitchell (4/5 stars)
I read this book because I assigned it to my daughter for World Literature — It’s the oldest work of literature known to man — and I have to say that I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. Stephen Mitchell’s translation of Gilgamesh is very accessible and it brings the ancient story to life. His preface, in which he retells the story in his own words and adds context, is essential to getting the most out of the book.
I was fascinated by the many ways we’ve changed as a society from the time this book was written. I was even more fascinated by the many ways we’ve stayed the same. Many of the themes of Gilgamesh are familiar — love, friendship, the need for our lives to matter, fear of dying, the meaning of life– It’s all there. I have to admit, I also appreciated that the book wasn’t too long — I could delve into some ancient history without spending weeks on it.
Read this book if you want to quickly and easily expand your literary horizons.
No Exit, Taylor Adams (4/5 stars)
I typically love the idea of reading a thriller more than I love thrillers themselves. Most of the ones I’ve read are formulaic and hard to believe. No Exit is a notable exception.
The premise: College student Darby Thorne is driving to visit her dying mother when she gets trapped at a Colorado rest station during a blizzard, along with a handful of other travelers. When she goes out to the parking lot, she sees a small hand in the window of a van. Inside the van is a little girl locked in a cage. Clearly, the van belongs to one of the travelers she’s just met inside the rest station. What will Darby do? What will the kidnapper do if and when they’re called out? You’ll have to read the book to find out, of course.
This book was a true page turner, and most of the decisions Darby made were actually realistic and true to life! That alone was enough for me to give it four stars. Read this book if you enjoy thrillers — It won’t disappoint.
Anne of Windy Poplars, L.M. Montgomery (5/5 stars)
I have to admit I didn’t love book 3 of the Anne series (Anne of the Island) as much as I had enjoyed the first two — Book 3 covered all four of Anne’s college years and I felt like it was sort of a highlights reel of her experiences. I was worried about Anne of Windy Poplars as well, since I know much of it is in the format of letters Anne writes to Gilbert Blythe. Happily, Anne of Windy Poplars did not disappoint in any way. I was immediately wrapped in the cozy blanket of Anne’s world and I was happy that Anne’s letters were interspersed throughout the narrative (and very entertaining at that) and did not comprise the entire novel.
This book is all about Anne’s experiences as the new young principal of a high school in the village of Summerside. Of course, Anne faces all kinds of challenges from parents, students, and villagers who would rather have seen a man in the position, and of course Anne wins everyone over with her charm and positive attitude. It’s impossible not to love Anne and love seeing the village and the people around her through her eyes. This is old fashioned feel-good reading at its finest and I can’t wait to pick up the next in the series.
Life Will Be the Death of Me, Chelsea Handler (4/5 stars)