My 2020 Bookshelf - vol. ii

Saturday, March 13, 2021



Happy March, and welcome to yet another edition of Grace Anne Needs To Catch Up On Life.

At the end of 2019, I did a giant roundup of my favorite reads of the year. And because 2019 was one of my best reading years to date, quantity-wise (how? I have no idea.), it was one heck of a lengthy post. When I hit twenty books read back in July, I decided to split the year into two posts, and volume i went out the first of August. Now seven months later, here we are, back with volume ii. A bit belated in some ways, but book recommendations are always relevant, I think. :-)

I didn't hit my goal of 40 books last year, which, in some ways, feels pathetic, seeing as we were essentially on house arrest for months at a time, but it was 2020 - we're going to just throw heaps of grace onto that year and move on, k?

So here we are - a few of my favorite finds from the final five months of the craziest year. What memories these books hold.


The Fountains of Silence -
Ruta Sepetys

|| "There is a tension that exists between history and memory, señor. Some of us are desperate to preserve and remember, while others are desperate to forget." ||

I had been hanging on to an ARC of this book for I don't even know how long - I want to say summer or early fall of 2019. Ruta Sepetys is one of my favorite authors, so I was over the moon to get an advanced copy of her book - and then, in typical Grace Anne fashion, I put it off so long because I wanted to keep looking forward to it that I didn't read it until long after it published, a literal year later.

Like I said. Typical.

Anyways, one of my best friends and I actually decided to read this one at the same time because we have similar taste in books, and in 2020, we were all getting a little creative when it came to staying connected. Ruta Sepetys's books are great to read with someone else because the chapters are extremely short - sometimes just a page or two - so it's not a huge commitment and you can pace it off of your schedules, and her work is also FILLED with cliffhangers, which makes for great discussion points. :-)

I have really mixed feelings on this one, which I hate, because I wanted to love it - and for the most part, I did. But the ENDING. Oh my gracious. Everything was going so well - the book was so well-written, the individual storylines were weaving together in that classic Ruta Sepetys way - and then it kind of just...fell apart. It was the strangest thing - my friend and I both agreed that it was almost as if something happened and someone else wrote the ending. It fell so flat - there were so many ways that I thought the ending could have gone, and it just...didn't. It was disappointing, and again, honestly just super strange.

I don't want to give the wrong impression - as a whole, the book is masterful. Ruta Sepetys is the queen of intrigue, characterization, and drawing you into a story more vividly than just about anyone. Her writing will forever be some of my favorite, and she peppers the chapters with quotes and excerpts from actual newspapers and letters written during the time of the story in the most poignant way. She sheds light on parts of history that I had no idea existed, and gave me a whole new insight into the history of Spain.

So while it was a bit disappointing, it was beautiful all the same.



Uninvited - Lysa Terkheurst

|| "My heart struggles to make peace between God’s ability to change hard things and His apparent decision not to change them for me." ||

I couldn't even tell you how long I've had this book on my TBR - years and years now. I tried to read it at one point earlier in the year, but I got a few chapters in and I wasn't connecting with it, so I put it aside.

Round two: it definitely, definitely clicked.

This book is just filled with so much truth. It was exactly what I needed to read in a season of so much hurt, and I would quite literally throw it into the hands of just about anyone. It's one to keep in your collection - I promise. Even if you don't need it right now, you will. Trust me.

|| "Rejection—It may be a delay. It may be a distraction. It may even be a devastation for a season but it is not your final destination." ||

The Book of Lost Names - Kristin Harmel

|| "But if we shrink from them, if we lose our goodness, we let them erase us. We cannot do that, Eva. We cannot." ||

I can't say that this book was what I expected, but I enjoyed it all the same. If you're looking for a World War II book but would prefer to avoid some of the violence or gore that many depict, this would probably be one of my top recommendations. It's sweet and hopeful, and who doesn't love to read about a female forger? While it did fall a bit flat for me in a way similar to The Paris Library, of the two, I far preferred The Book of Lost Names. The romance is sweet, and it's truly a tale of heroism amidst a world of horror. If it's possible to have a wholesome World War II book, this is it.

The Four Winds - Kristin Hannah

|| "Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when it felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going... A man’s got to fight out here to make a living, they’d say to each other. A man. It was always about the men. They seemed to think it meant nothing to cook and clean and bear children and tend gardens. But we women of the Great Plains worked from sunup to sundown, too, toiled on wheat farms until we were as dry and baked as the land we loved.

If I close my eyes sometimes, I swear I can still taste the dust..." ||


This was my second Kristin Hannah read (I've since read The Nightingale, which will be in a 2021 book wrap-up, but spoiler alert: it's my favorite), and I have to say that it's probably the one that I enjoyed the least. Not to say that it's a bad book - it isn't at all (I don't think Kristin Hannah is capable of writing a bad book, honestly). I stepped into it with pretty high expectations, though, after hearing rave reviews, and I have to admit to being a bit disappointed.

I'd never read anything like it - the story takes place in the Dust Bowl, an era that I really knew nothing about. It follows a mother and her two children, trying to survive in a time of immense poverty and hardship. And truly, it had so many things going for it. In classic Kristin Hannah fashion, it was a heartwrenching exploration of female strength and the complex nature of mother/daughter relationships. It's a story of strength and gutwrenching resilience, and Hannah's prose will never fail to knock me off my feet. 

But the ENDING.

If I'm being honest, this is my biggest beef with Kristin Hannah in general, but it particularly came to a head in The Four Winds. The nature of most of her work (at least what I've read of it) is that it centers around survival, and sometimes I think she can go a bit far with it. I know that times like this were filled with tragedy after tragedy and trauma after trauma, and maybe this year has lessened my capacity for reading of tragedy, but this book in particular was a lot. But even that I could have dealt with. What really drives me a little mad is that the Kristin Hannah formula always has to include a melodramatic shock loss at the veery end of the story, in what feels like just an attempt to decimate the heartstrings of the reader one final time. I can deal with that kind of thing when it feels natural to the plot - and in some of her work, it does - but in The Four Winds, it felt like it was just thrown in as a "Oh, I need to make them cry one last time". I am all for sad stories when there's a purpose, but it bugs me when authors throw something horribly sad in just...because it's sad, and that's what this felt like to me. 

A gorgeously-written work, no question, but not one that I would read again.


Blackmoore - Julianne Donaldson

|| "I think the most profound beauty is found in what our hearts love." ||

I finally checked this one off my TBR while we were at the beach after hearing my sister rave about it for I don't even know how many years, and I am so glad that I did. Intriguing, thoughtful, and romantic, I loved the story of Blackmoore. Desperate to get away from a life that feels completely caged and the boy who can never be hers, Kate is forced to secure - and reject - three marriage proposals to win her freedom. But is the price worth the reward? 

The characters were reminiscent of an Austen book, with a Jane-Eyre atmosphere and aesthetic, and a romance that's in a class of its own. It combined so many things that I love into one. I adored the concept, and even if I wanted to strangle the main character for her obliviousness for the majority of the book, I truly couldn't put it down. The one disappointment was the ending - after being incredibly strong the whole time, I felt that the last few chapters were really weak, which was a letdown - I wish that it had done justice to the rest of the book. Still, I love the book as a whole, so I just kind of pretend the ending was better than it was, y'know? :-)


A Thousand Perfect Notes - C.G. Drews

|| "You are worth more than a thousand perfect notes." ||

I've followed Cait's blog since my baby blogging days, so I was THRILLED when Hanne gave me a copy of her debut for my birthday! It broke my heart, but oh, it was good. It's definitely a heavy read - it's a story of abuse, and it's incredibly vivid - if you're a highly empathetic person, this book will completely break you. But it's so, so well done - it dives into trying to find who you are when you've grown up in trauma, and the many ways the drive for perfection can manifest, and the painful cycle that takes place when your abuse comes from the person you most want to love. It's startling realistic and yet decidedly hopeful. The characters are memorable and leave you just wanting to give them a hug. It's not an easy book, but it is a quick read, and a very good one.


Code Name Hélène - Ariel Lawhon

|| "War is too important to be left to the generals." ||

This was, without a doubt, my favorite book of the year. Ariel Lawhon was my best literary discovery of 2020 (in my volume i post, I talk about how much I loved the first book that I read of hers, I Was Anastasia), and I fell so utterly in love with Code Name Hélène. I already know that this review won't even come close to doing it justice, but I've got to try. :-)

First off - it's a true story. Don't Google her until you've read the book, because trust me - you want to enjoy this one for all it's worth - but Code Name Hélène tells the story of the very real Nancy Wake. I kid you not, the second that I shut this book, I was on my phone Googling Nancy. She was such a fascinating, spunky, intelligent woman, and the amount of detail that Lawhon was able to include and the truly vivacious life that she breathed into every page is exceptional.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the timeline in which it's told. If you've read any of Lawhon's books before, you know that she likes to use nonlinear timelines, which add this incredible level of nuance and depth and suspense to the story. For Code Name Hélène, she used four different perspectives - the four names and codenames that Nancy went by over the years. Each name is representative of a different point in time, and I loved the way that she wove everything together. 

I could tell you a thousand things about this book that I loved, but my true favorite part was simply Nancy herself. She was fierce and funny, and held her own in a world dominated by men. So often in WWII fiction, I think that women can almost become a caricature, but Nancy was dimensional and layered and so incredibly real. She was full of grit and could battle plan with the best of them, but never lost her compassion - never ceasing to become physically sick with the grief of what she would witness. She wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty, and knew that lipstick was both a comfort and a tool. She cursed like a sailor while loving the men fighting by her side with everything she had. I love the endless layers that Lawhon gave her, a clear testament to her research. I love that she was stubborn and kind and intelligent and sexual and tactical and decisive, all at once. Nancy Wake - a beautiful fighter who makes me proud to be a woman.

This book is definitely a heavy one - it's without a doubt one of the most graphic WWII books that I've read. There are a couple of descriptive torture scenes, so I do want to give you that heads up going in. (If you don't handle that kind of thing well but still want to read the book, shoot me a message and I can give you the page numbers!) I'd be lying to say that it's not breathtakingly sad, and I may or may not have been on the verge of throwing the book across the beach at one particular point (Trust me, when you get there...you'll know.) But it's a truly brilliant work about a truly brilliant woman, and I can't recommend it enough.

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I'm six books into 2021, and according to my Goodreads, I need to pick up the pace, because I'm apparently two books behind. :-) I just finished Seeing Voices by Olivia Smit yesterday, and am currently in the middle of reading The Ministry of Ordinary Places with Hanne. Next up on my TBR, I'm hoping to tackle The Night Road, Out of the Easy (a reread), and hopefully will finally get back to The Great Gatsby!

What about you? What are you reading these days? What's on your TBR? I'm always down for suggestions (as if I really need them - my TBR is probably going to fall on top of me any day now.) Have you read any of my recent picks? Let's have allllll the bookish chats in the comments below! 

8 comments:

  1. Loved how you put this post together!! The photos are beautiful, and I love reading book reviews even if I've never read or heard of the book in question... Nerdiness xD Thank you for sharing❤I know exactly where to come when I need recommendations!!! ;)
    P.S. What were your thoughts on Seeing Voices? It's not a genre I normally venture into but I ended up really enjoying it.

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    1. I'm so glad that you enjoyed it! :-) And I loved Seeing Voices! Olivia did an incredible job with it.

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  2. I really want to read Dearest Josephine because I've heard so many good things about it & When Twilight Breaks by Sarah Sundin. just recently finished reading the Joy Luck Club & rereading the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. ugh such a dreamy read <3 currently reading The Woman's Hour for academic team and I want to dive into another classic soon! probably Great Expectations.

    thank you for the recs!!

    L

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    1. Ooh, the only one of those that I've read is Guernsey, so I will have to be sure to add them to my TBR! Thank you SO much for the recs!!

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  3. More suggestions for my sky high TBR! YAY. I’ve been eyeing A Thousand Perfect Notes for gosh, a while now. Need to get on that.

    I’m excited to hear what you think of The Night Road. Chances are you’ll get to it before me, haha.

    xxx.
    k.

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    1. You will be the first to know when I read it! :-)

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  4. Funny story (not sure if I’ve told you this before?), I bought a beautiful copy of The Fountains of Silence last June for you for your birthday… and then saw on Instagram just a few weeks later that you were reading it. I kept thinking I would find somebody else to gift it to, but eventually I just decided to have a beautiful copy of The Fountains of Silence for myself ;)

    Strangely, I had a similar experience with Uninvited. When I first read it my reaction was “oh that’s nice,” but then I read it again and one concept a few chapters in blew my mind and was so timely and helpful in changing the entire way I thought about God.

    I’m excited to look into the books on this list I haven’t read (which is most of them!). I’ve really been in a reading rut lately; I don’t know, I’m just struggling lol. But I’m currently reading What Doesn’t Kill You by Tessa Miller (chronic illness memoir). I’m super excited for Stacey Lee’s new book.

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    1. Oh my goodness, no way!! That is too funny. :-) You know me so well!!! And I'm so glad that you have a copy of your own, haha!

      I love that you felt the same way about Uninvited! I think it really is one of those books that you have to be in a specific mindset to really resonate with, but once you're there...wow. It's so incredibly helpful. I took so many notes while I was reading - I need to go back through them again sometime soon!

      I'm always impressed with the amount of books that you read - it's no wonder you've ended up in a slump. :-) I've never read any of Stacey Lee's work - I'll have to be sure to check her out!

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