Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On the Pretty Bookshelf, New Year's Ed.

I regularly update my book nerdly doings over here at Goodreads, but just in case that site isn't in your social media mixed cocktail - which I prefer slightly dirty & with at least 3 olives, naturally - here's an abridged recap of my & my wee CEO's recent favorites:

For the "Of Age" Set - I choose that language of cocktails instructively here, because you'll want a glass of wine or six to tackle the weighty subject matter:

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redepmption by Laura Hillenbrand

One of the most engaging books I've read in a long while. I often struggle to read what I call "straight-up history, yo!", but Hillenbrand masterfully weaves an element of humanity into this WW II tale of Louis Zamperini, an Olympian turned Air Force pilot whose plane crashes over the Pacific, and his resultant struggle to survive.

The subject matter is heavy, at times nearly unendurable - the inhumane treatment of prisoners in Japanese POW camps, for example - but the author manages to keep the reader engaged and invested in Zamperini's survival throughout. 

The book appears to be meticulously researched, so it satisfies from the academic standpoint as well, though it's the human element of Zamperini & the empathy the author creates for him that kept me reading. A must-read for any interested in the Pacific theater of WWII or human survival stories generally.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

I wish the words "haunting" and "beautiful" weren't so overused in book reviews, because this one is, um, both haunting and beautiful. No, really.

Though the book is a work of fiction, the WWII horrors described therein, like the Vel d'Hiv, sadly did occur. I don't want to spoil the story by putting too much detail here, but the book describes the plight of a little girl - merely described as "The Girl" for much of the book - whose Jewish family falls victim to the anti-Semitism of WWII France in the worst manner imaginable. A modern-day reporter, Julia Jarmond, stumbles upon the girl's horrific story during her research for a story about the Vel d'Hiv tragedy. The woman & the girl's lives become inexorably intertwined.

The back-and-forth narrative structure of the story - one chapter as told by the girl in 1942, the next by modern-day Julia - moves the plot along nicely and does a terrific job of keeping you engaged in both. In fact, by switching back and forth between the stories, the author makes the girl's story bearable to read, which it might not be if told all from her point of view. At times, getting through the girl's story - which includes unimaginable tragedies, like the treatment of children in internment camps - was an act of will. Without the somewhat lighter Julia interludes, it would have been a tough, if also rewarding, slog through the girl's devastating details.

For the Pre-Cocktails Crowd:

Both of our favorites here are by the acclaimed children's author & artist Eric Carle. I only knew him for "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" until recently, but Master P and I were equally happy to discover these two others thanks to the Toddler Book Swap:

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse

The rare toddler read that works on two levels; your wee one will enjoy Carle's imaginative, colorful animal art, while you'll appreciate both that and the overarching message encouraging children to explore their creative potential. This book was written as an homage to early 20th century painter Franz Marc, an artist banned in Nazi Germany where the author/artist was raised.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See (board book version, though you can get the Nook version as narrated by no less than HRH Gwyneth in her continued quest for world omnipresence here)

More vibrant animal art from Carle - a playful review of colors and books, with sliding panels for the tots to enjoy moving while you read.


Any recommendations for the Pretty bookshelf? I speak for both Master P and myself when I say we're going to lay off the harrowing World War II reading for a bit, so perhaps something a bit frillier?


Belle on Heels said...

Ha, I've got both Unbroken and Sarah's Key on deck in my Kindle. Waiting for me to finish my book about North Korea. Very uplifting stuff :)

Whitney said...

I've been going back and forth between purchasing Sarah's Key, and I believe you just sealed the deal for me with your thought provoking description. Thank you!

D @ Naptime in Suburbia said...

I loved Sarah's Key-and haunting is one of the best ways to describe it!

Lilly said...

Great to know more about Sarah's Key! I am reading The Paris Wife, about Ernest Hemmingway's first wife, and really enjoying it. Book clubbing about it in a new Dallas group this March! I saw the "...Blue Horses" at the Nasher gift shop this weekend and almost purchased it for myself. I'll have to go back for it!


Rhiannon said...

I really loved This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. And, Henry (Mama) really enjoys But Not The Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton.

eas said...

I've been hearing a lot about Unbroken. I plan on starting Wolf Hall next. The Brown Bear series was a huge one in our house (my daughter is three and onto Madeline now)! I am a new follower and enjoy your blog!

Lindsey said...

Love it! Just wait until "brown bear brown bear" is playing over and over in your head because it becomes a favorite in many households ;) I am definitely envious of your book collection for YOU- I am dying to just read ONE good book, but two little girls want to play dress up and go on adventures- oh mommy hood! Haha! Thanks for sharing!

The Shabby Princess said...

I've been sucked back into all things Daphne du Mauirer--again. Damn that Rebecca!! Cliched terms, yes, but, beautiful, haunting and brooding must be my favorite terms for books, and, thus, my favorite type of books. I know, earth shattering.

Amy @ Forever 29 said...

I purchased a copy of Polar Bear, Polar Bear What Do You Hear before LB's party with a CD read by Gweneth...currently running on a loop in the car.

I had heard many recommendations Sarah's Key. I love books that change narrators/viewpoints...a must for this slow reader!

Cowgirl in the City said...

I totally suggest the Help if you haven't read it. It is WAY better than the movie, and a book that I still think about.

Sarah @ Bend it Like Becker said...

Great stuff!!!! I also loved Unbroken, and Amazon has been very insistent that I would like Sarah's Key, though I hadn't taken the plunge yet. But now I'm thinking I should!!! : )

Cutting for Stone is the first I always jump to recommend... also loved Jonathan Franzen's last two!

She Looks Like a Mom said...

I'm trying to think of what my toddler's favorite books are at the moment, but the only thing coming to mind is her potty books. Haha, we're knee deep in potty training over here if you didn't guess. Otherwise, Baby Beluga is fun if you're the singing type. I can't stand Raffi's voice, so the book exposes my kid to the cute pictures and idea of the song, minus Raffi. Score! said...

Sarah's Key was amazing. I just finished it not too long ago. I tried so hard to get into Unbroken, but I've put it aside for now.

The Preppy Princess said...

Eeek - 'Unbroken' is up on the nightstand, and while I am somewhat of a student of the Pacific theater I am really not sure how I'll do with the POW portion. But I guess how I'll do is nothing compared to how they all survived it, the least I can do is learn more about it.

The others look fascinating, 'Brown Bear' appear to be something that could be a classic for generations to come? (Sort of like 'Harold and the Purple Crayon' for me?!)

Sending you a smile Miss Pretty,

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