What I Read in January

Jan 31, 2018

So, like I said in my previous post, my plan this year is to write monthly recap posts of the books I've finished rather than long, single reviews. I have to admit though, it's rather embarrassing to have it be so blatantly obvious that I only read three books this month. I can do better than that, but here they are nonetheless.

1. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
This was our first book club pick for 2018 (I mentioned in my last post that my book club votes between three books for each month, so in case you're wondering, the other recommendations for January were When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin and Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah).

I listened to this on our recent road trip to Arizona, and it was nice to be able to devote a chunk of time to it because I couldn't stop listening. The story is told by Frank Drum, and it's his recounting of what happened during the summer of 1961 forty years before when he was thirteen years old. He begins by saying that the summer brought with it many deaths (there was some debate at book club about how many he said and which ones counted in that tally), but one of the deaths is particularly personal and tragic, and the rest of the novel is crafted a bit like a mystery, trying to put the events leading up to it in chronological order and identify possible suspects.

But it's also just about Frankie himself because that summer changed him and made him grow up in a hurry. I mentioned at book club that my favorite relationship in the book was the one between Frankie and his younger brother, Jake. One of my friends said, "Oh, so you like mean older brothers?" And it's true that Frankie does and says a lot of stupid things to Jake, but I guess it felt realistic to me, and underneath it all, I could see that their friendship and love for one another ran deep.

I will caution that the content on this one is a bit dark (it involves a murder), and there is some language as well as immorality (although not explicit). But overall, I found the story to be redemptive, and it made for an easy and thought-provoking discussion at book club.

2. Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry
It gives me a strange kind of rush to find the perfect book for a trip or holiday or even just a time of life. So you can imagine how happy I was when my sister-in-law, upon hearing that we would be making a stop at the Grand Canyon on our way to see friends in Phoenix, said that we should read Brighty of the Grand Canyon before we went.

It couldn't have been more perfect. I had never been to the Grand Canyon, but as we read, I felt like I could see the warm colors of the canyon and sense the rocky trail beneath my feet and feel the cold wind whipping around the rim. And then, we were there, and it was exactly as I pictured it--so much so that I half expected to see a little gray burro making his way up the canyon wall (and then, by lucky chance, we actually did see a mule caravan crest the top of the rim and parade past us, which was pretty amazing). It was absolutely magical for me, and I think it was for my kids as well.

But even if we hadn't been able to go from the pages in a book to real life natural wonder, we would have still enjoyed this story immensely. It begins with a murder, which made me nervous (I was reading it to my kids, after all!), but it was not graphic, and it was very fulfilling to see the murderer get his due at the end.

Most impressive to me was the way Marguerite Henry cast Brighty as the main character and kept the story interesting while still maintaining Brighty's authenticity as a donkey (in other words, not giving him a lot of human characteristics to help keep up the pace). Everyone, even three-year-old Clark, fell in love with Brighty, and we were all sad for the book to come to an end.

3. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
I decided to listen to this one, rather than read it, because the audio version had garnered such high praise from listeners and critics alike (including an Odyssey Honor, which is given to outstanding audio productions).

The story is multi-layered, beginning with Otto Messenger, who accidentally stumbles into three sisters who are trapped in this world because of a curse. They claim that his harmonica is the key to freeing them to return home. The story (and the harmonica) then travel to Friedrich in Germany in 1933, Mike in Pennsylvania in 1935, and Ivy in California in 1942. Each time, it brings light and hope when things feel desperately dismal and scary. And eventually, it ends up in just the right place, at just the right time, and, click, a door is opened.

For the most part, this is a historical fiction novel, but it has just one teeny tiny magical element, and that made me feel a little off balance but in the most delightful way. Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy are talented and courageous and unique. I found myself feeling sad as each story ended only to be excited as I became immersed in the new story. And then the ending tied everything together in a really beautiful way.

Oh, and the audio was definitely the way to go on this one: different narrators for each story and lots of music throughout, which, for a book all about the magic of one harmonica, seemed absolutely perfect.

Did you read anything good this month? Tell me!

2 comments:

  1. Yay! I love monthly round-ups, although I totally get the embarrassment of having to actually admit how little one read (like that one month I only finished one book... it happens to the best of us, no shame!). Also, glad you finally got around to listening to Echo, such a good audio book!

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  2. It's cool to hear that Clark has joined the ranks of the book-lovers. And I was a huge fan of Henry when I was a kid -- not only all the ones about Misty of the unspellable place but also the stand-alones like Brighty. Maybe you didn't have a lot of quantity last month, but you are rocking the quality!

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