Breathe To Read

Breathe To Read

Friday, January 31, 2020

Read The World - El Salvador - Bitter Grounds

Book: Bitter Grounds
Author: Sandra Benitez
Pages: 464
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: YES
I have visited: NO

This is my 12th book for the year

I have chosen a lot of larger books to start off the year.  I think that might be a theme with a lot of the remaining books I have for this challenge - I seemed to have put off not only the ones the most difficult to obtain, but also the largest.

This book takes place from the years 1932 to 1977 in El Salvador.  It follows the Prieto Clan and the wealthy family they work for.  The story mostly revolves around the women and their daughters of these two families as they grow, change, and intertwine.  Each family - servant and master, rich and poor - have their tragedies that cannot be avoided due to El Salvador's civil war.

I thought this was a pretty good book.  I love stories that involve generations of families and the passage of time.  To watch the women at the beginning of the book become the grandmothers in the end, and their families growth inbetween held my attention.  It was a well told, well written book that captured many things I didn't know about the Civil War in El Salvador.  The story is filled with a lot of loss and heartache for these families, but also love.  A poor servant girl's daughter and a wealthy master's daughter grew up in the same house and became just like sisters until their adult lives took them in different directions.  A feud between two best friends lasted 30 years before it was almost too late for forgiveness.  A lost brother is found.

Good tale with good character development.  I am glad I found this one.

Stars: 4

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Extra Book - Buried Deep

Book: Buried Deep
Author: Margot Hunt
Pages: - unknown (audio only) - 2 hours and 38 minutes

This is my 11th book for the year.

Another audio book.  This one thanks, again, to the gift from my sister in law.

This is the story of Maggie.  After 20 years of marriage, Maggie and her husband James are getting ready to celebrate their birthday.  Their daughter has recently gone off to college and they are new empty nesters.  Maggie is feeling pretty satisfied with her life with her sweet, smart daugther and loving, caring husband.  That is until one day the police show up at her door looking for James.  The remains of an old girlfriend of his have been found and he is their prime suspect.  

Maggie, thinking she knows her husband better than anyone, knows her husband is innocent.  She starts to piece together the story of Hannah -the dead girl - and all the people that were with James when Hannah disappeared.  In despiration to clear her husband's name, Maggie starts to find out things about her husband's past she wished she never knew.

This was an okay book. It is super short.  I listened to it during one afternoon of errands.  If it wasn't a free book, I would have never chosen it.  You don't really have time to get invested in the characters, and it is really hard to build a mystery in such a short time period.  Especially one revolving around a murder.  It was too easily wrapped up in my case with not a very good ending.

It was entertaining enough to listen to, but unless you can get this one for free, I wouldn't bother.

Stars: 3

Monday, January 27, 2020

Extra Book: Giver Of Stars

Book: The Giver of Stars
Author: Jojo Moyes
Pages: 592

This is my 10th read for the year

I listened to this book.  My sister in law gave me an audible subscription for Christmas, and this was my first book. I was so glad because the waitlist for this book is severe at the library.

This is the story of Alice Wright - a British girl who marries an American and moves to a small town in Kentucky.  She quickly realizes that she doesn't quite fit in.  Her husband isn't the person she thought she was marrying, and she is treated like an outsider right from the beginning.  At a town meeting, a local woman says she wants to start a traveling library, and Alice thinks this might be just the thing she needs to start to gain the trust of her new town.  Soon a group of 5 women become the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky.

As the story develops, Alice's marriage starts to fall apart.  Her father in law constantly tries to get Alice in line and soon blames the head of the library - Margery - for being a bad influence.  Alice's father in law works his status in town to try to get Margery in trouble and the library dismantled.  The women of the library ban together to fight for what they believe is right and become a force to be reckoned with.

This was a great book.  I am a huge Jojo Moyes fan and this book did not disappoint.  I found myself looking for opportunities to run errands just so I could listen to the book.  I really liked Margery - she was firey and fierce.  And I saw that it is based on a true story, which made it even better.   The book explores love, friendship, relationships, hardship, and true grit.  And of course - above all - it is about the love of reading and how important it is the encourage books.

Great read.  Check it out.

Stars: 4 1/2

Friday, January 24, 2020

Read The World - Monaco - Once Upon A Time: Behind The Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier

Book: Once Upon A Time: Behind the Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier
Author: Randy Taraborrelli
Pages: 498
Book takes place in the country: YES
Auhtor is from the country: NO
I have visited: NO

This is my 9th read for the year

This is the story of Grace Kelley's life and how she became the Princess of Monaco.  Grace came from a privileged backgound with parents who were not always kind.  She became a beloved Hollyood Actress, and while at an awards ceremony made an appearance at the Palace in Monaco as part of a publicity stunt.  What occured is that Prince Rainier became fond of Grace.  Their chance meeting eventually lead to a marriage, 3 children, and a life that Grace never expected (or really wanted).  Grace was forced to give up her career in Hollywood to become the Princess of Monaco.  This left her with a lot of regrets.  After her children were born, her life - according to her - became one full of lonliness and boredom and not what she had thought it would be.

Grace Kelley died in a car accident in 1982 right around the time she was starting to feel contented with the life she was dealt.  She left behind a distraut husband and children and a legacy that is known around the world.

This was a pretty good book.  It is simply written, but the story flowed well.  My take away from the book was that Grace was very unhappy as the princess of Monaco.  She really missed being a Hollywood star and felt that she gave away too much to be a princess.  Her children were not well adjusted - the youngest child having many problems.  Her husband not very warm or comforting.  Her parents - terrible people who only cared about their status in the world.  Overall- the whole lot of them seemed miserable.  What a way to live.

The story was interesting and entertaining and eye opening.  I knew very little about Grace Kelley and her time as the Princess of Monaco beyond the fact that she WAS the Princess of Monaco.  So I did learn quite a bit.  Glad I found this book.

Stars:  4

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Read The World - Gambia - Folk Tales and Fables From The Gambia

Book: Folk Tales and Fables From The Gambia
Author: Dembo Fanta Bjoang and Sukai Mbye Bojang
Pages: 136
Book takes place in the country: YES
Authors are from the country: YES
I have visited: NO

This is my 8th read for the year

This is a short collection of Gambia's folk tales.  Silly stories about moral lessons all told from the points of view of animals (hyenas, hares, lions, cats, etc).  It is a quick read that gives you a small insight into tales that were passed down through the ages.  It is a fine book.  Nothing that really captured my attention.  Not especially well written, but I have read folk tale books before and that is my general take.  Maybe that is the point.  They are simple, and silly, and random because that is the way they were passed.  Ever changing and growing as one generation told the next.  So maybe that makes it hard to put them down onto paper.

I will keep it as my Gambia book.  There is not much out there for this small, African country.

Stars: 3

Monday, January 20, 2020

Read The World - Greece - Eleni

Book: Eleni
Author: Nicolas Gage
Pages: 480
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: YES
I have visited: NO

This is my 7th read for the year

My husband has been to Greece for business since we moved to Switzerland, but I have not gotten there yet.  It remains on my short list of places to visit.

This is the author's own story of his mother, Eleni, and their family in the Greece civil war.  In 1948 Nicolas and his family were trying to escape the war.  Eleni defied her village and arranged for her and her children to escape to America, where her husband was waiting for her.  Eleni was able to get 4 or her 5 children out with a friend and neighbor before she was sent to work detail.  While there, she was able to help her 5th child to escape before Eleni was tortured, imprisononed and eventually killed.  

Eleni lived her whole life in this small village in Greece, met and married a man who had a business in America, and raised her children basically on her own in Greece.  She kept promising to join her husband in America, but then the Civil War happened, and she was cut off from him for 2 years.  He could not get to her or get them out, and by the time it was over, Eleni was dead.  Nicolas immigrated with his sisters to America when he was 9 years old, and grew up to be a New York Times Reporter.  He was determined to find out what happened to his mother and face the people who executed her, so he went back to Greece to find out the whole truth.

This was an amazing book.  It is very small print and a very long book, but it is so captivating, you won't want to put it down.  It traces Eleni's life and the Civil war - taking place almost exclusively in Greece.  Nicolas starts the book with how he decided to take on his mission for the truth, and then ends it with his return to Greece and facing the people who were responsible for his mother's death.  Nicolas is an amazing writer, and the story flowed one chapter after the other seemlessly.  The ending of the book is nicely wrapped up with details about his sisters lives, and the lives of those from the war - gives great closure to a story you are going to be very invested in.

Highly recommended book.  I am so glad I found this one.  

Stars: 5

Friday, January 17, 2020

Read The World - Central African Republic - Making Sense of the Central African Republic

Book: Making Sense of the Central African Republic
Author: Tatiana Carayannis
Pages: 343
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: NO
I have visited: NO

This is my 6th read for the year

This book is a collection of many people bringing together the nations history of rebellion and instability.  The author's collected information from just about everyone who has written about this country in the last 20 years and told the story of the country's successes and failures.

This book was dry.  It read like a manual, and I really had a hard time wanting to pick it up and keep going.  There is not much out there from this country, so I did read the entire thing.  And it was very factual and I learned quite a bit.  The way it is written though just didn't draw you in to wanting to keep learning more.  It is definitely a broad introduction to the Central African Republic.  I just wish it held my interest a little more.

Stars: 3

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Extra Book: Then She Was Gone

Book: Then She Was Gone
Author: Lisa Jewell
Pages: 384

This is my 5th book for the year

I listened to this one and I highly recommend that for this book.  Great audiobook

This is a story of a mother named Laura.  Laura's 15 year old daughter died mysteriously 10 years ago, and in the past decade, Laura has tried to rebuild her life without her child.  Divorced with two other children she is basically estranged from, Laura knows she needs to put her life back together.  A man has come into Laura's life and he changes everything.  He and his little girl - Poppy - are just what Laura thinks she was missing in her life.  Seeing Poppy, who reminds her so much of her deceased daughter, Ellie, it opens things up again for Laura to try and figure out what happened to Ellie.  Did she really run away?  Or did something terrible happen to her?  As Laura starts to dig for answers, the mystery of Ellie's death come to light.  Laura feels that soon she will receive the closure her family desparately needs.

This was a great book.  I liked it so much more than I thought I would.  It is well written and the story flowed well.    I found myself searching for time to listen to it so I could see how it would end.  It is a disturbing book and the details about Ellie's disappearance and death are hard to read/listen to.  Just as a warning.  You will probably figure out how it is going to end by about 3/4 of the way into this book, but that didn't bother me.  Sometimes it does, but it truly didn't take away from me wanting to see how the story was going to wrap up.  There was good character development and I liked almost all of the characters in this book.  It is a good psychological thriller that makes me want to read other books by this author.  She is a gifted writer.  Highly recommend.

Stars: 4 1/2

Monday, January 13, 2020

Read The World - Maldives - Gatecrashing Paradise - Misadventures in the Real Maldives

Book: Gatecrashing Paradise- Misadventures in the Real Maldives
Author: Tom Chesshyre
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: NO
I have visited: NO

This is my 4th book of the year.

Visiting the Maldives is on my short list.  I have friends who have been there recently and it sounds like heaven - to a visitor.

This is the story of the author's time traveling around the Maldives many islands.  He is a travel writer, so he wanted to get an inside look of life in the Maldives beyond the beautiful oceans and resorts that tourist see.  He sailed around almost 600 miles of islands on his trip to the Maldives discussing jobs, cuisine, politics, religion, and general life with the locals.  

I really liked this book.  There aren't a lot of books about the Maldives that aren't travel books for tourist, so I was happy to find this one.   Over the last year I have read quite a few books like this where journalist talk to locals and get a different perspective on a country.  It is quickly becoming a favorite way for me to learn about a country.  Chesshyre spent a long time with the locals around many of the islands that make up the Maldives.  I learned a lot about the history and culture of this country thanks to his book.  I am glad I found it.

Stars: 4

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Off Challenge - The Women At Hitler's Table

Book: The Women At Hitler's Table
Author: Rosella Postorino
Pages: 352

This is my 3rd book of the year

I know - I am off my challenge already!  So early in the year.  But this book had popped up on Instagram and I was drawn to the title and the beautiful cover, so I had to read it as soon as it arrived.

This is a historical fiction novel based on the real life of Margo Wolk who was a food taster for Hitler during the war.  The book tells the story of 10 women in East Prussia who were pulled from their homes during World War II and forced to taste Hitler's food before it was served to him.  For more than a year, three meals a day, the women sat under armed guard in a room and were forced to eat food they didn't know was poisoned or not.  The main chracter - Rosa - has lost her parents, and her husband is presumed dead on the front.  She lives with her in-laws whose lives would also be in danger if Rosa refused to be a food taster.

During Rosa's time as a taster, she befriends the other women.  All have their own terrible stories and fears which brings them closer together.  None of them know how or when this will end and their only instinct is to survive and return to their families.

This was a good book.  I stayed up late into the night reading chapter after chapter, wanting to see how it would end.  I did enjoy the book overall and it was beautifully written.   The ending was a little unraveled, as most endings are, but not bad.  I am glad I found this one, and I recommend giving it a read.

Stars: 4

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Read The World - Indonesia - The Earth Of Mankind

Book: The Earth of Mankind
Author: Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Pages: 368
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: YES
I have visited: NO

This is my 2nd book of the year

This is the story of Minke.  He is a young, Native Javanese student living in 19th century Indonesia.  While studying at a European school in Indonesia, he meets and falls in love with a girl named Annalise.  We follow Minke who comes from a ancient Javanese aristocracy family.  His parents decided to send him to be educated at the European school, but all it does is alienate him from his family.  

This book got a lot of 5 star ratings on Amazon, but I cannot quite figure that out.  I did not love it.  I found it a challenging read.  It could be a translation problem that I need to overlook.  I found it confusing and the writing not a style I can appreciate.  There are not a lot of books about Indonesia in English, so this will stay my choice for this country for now.  But I may search for something else in the future.

Maybe I didn't give it enough credit.  It is a very involved book and requires a lot of attention, so maybe I need to sit with it again in the future and see how I feel then.

Stars: 3

Monday, January 6, 2020

Read The World - Guatemala - The Guatemala Reader

Book: The Guatemala Reader
Author: Greg Grandon
Pages: 688
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: NO
I have visited: NO

This is my first book for 2020!

I decided to start with a monster size book since when I started it, we were still on vacation.  I started this one at the end of December, but it took quite awhile to finish it.

This book gives a broad review of Guatemala as a country.  Politics, culture, history, livelihood - it is all in this book.  It gives a wide perpsective on the country's long history of violence.  It includes short stories, historical facts, poems, letters, pictures, artwork....the list is long.  

This book was good.  It was better than I expected.  When it arrived I looked at the size of it, and thought it would read more like an encelopedia, but it did not.  The is really well written and full of great information.  You get a complete picture of Guatemala from so many different aspects of this country.  With so many sources contributing to this book, you get a wide variety of chapters that will keep you wanting to learn more.  Glad I found this one.

Stars: 4

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

My Personal Top Books of 2019

Happy New Year everyone!  2020 - hard to believe.  Looking forward to another great year full of laughter, fun, travel, family time and - of course - reading!

As you saw in my last post, I had a great reading year.  Biggest one to date.  So I have decided because my list was so big - and I enjoyed so many of those books I read - that I would do my top books of 2019 instead of just top 10.  Too many I wanted to include on this list to make it so small.

You will find that there are not a lot of popular reads on this list.  For one - I am doing a Read The World Challenge, so many of my books might be unknown.  Second - I did read quite a few popular books this year, and while I liked many of them, they didn't make the top of my list.  A lot of 4 star reads, though.  You can check out my list to the right to see what popular books I read this year and how I felt about them.

To Start - Here were all the books I read this year that I gave 5 stars.  (in no particular order) It takes a special read for me to feel that strongly about a book.  I am pleased to have so many excellent reads from this year.  If you click on the title, it will take you to my review of the book.

1) Dracula


I liked this book so much more than I thought I would.  I have been putting off reading it for years figuring it wouldn't be for me.  But then we visited where Bram Stoker actually lived and worked, and I decided to give it a go.  I am so glad I did.  It was one of the best books I have ever read - not just this year.  

2) Mornings In Jenin

This was a recent read for me- I just finished it up a few weeks ago.  I had been looking for a book for Palestine and the Read The World Instagram pages I follow came through for me.  This book is beautifully written and an incredible historical fiction story that you must add to your read list.

3) Daring To Drive

I have read quite a few non-fiction books this year, and Daring To Drive was one of those that made my 5 Star list.  The author tells her own story of what it was like as a woman in Saudi Arabia in the not so distance past. It is an eye opening read, espeically for us women who never had to deal with restrictions like Manal had to, just because she was female.

4) What Is The What

Another excellent non-fiction novel.  I listened to this book and it was a great audio book - the man who narrated it was perfect.  The story will draw you in as the main character tells the story between being an adult in the United States and a little boy (one of the Lost Boys) in Sudan.  It is a captivating, heart breaking, incredible story that I am so glad I read.

5) The Astonishing Color Of After

This is a beautifully written, incredible story that I found by accident while researching books to read for Taiwan.  Someone in Instagram posted it as a book they loved, and I decided to give it a try.  I listened to it, and I could not get enough.  I found myself drawn to the characters in this book, even though it is not my favorite type of writting (magical realism).  Amazing read.

6) Fire And Blood

Anyone who knows me knows that a Game of Thrones book would top my list for the year.  Unless George R. R. Martin all of the sudden lost his mind, I don't think I could not love his books.  One of the most talented writers that I have ever read, I am always looking to read his work.  When this one came out, I had to have it.  It is the pre-quel to the Game of Thrones books (and TV series) and it was incredible.  Filled in so many gaps for me.  And the artwork in this book - astounding.

7) The Only Plane In The Sky

When this book came out, I dropped everything else to read it. As all things I see or read about the 9/11 tragedy, I was tense the entire time I read this book.  But I was also intrigued.  We get to read first hand accounts of so many people that the author interviewed in the days, weeks, months after 9/11, and this is not something that has been done before.  It is well done and respectful.  You need to put this one high on your list.

8) Bad Blood

This book was recommended to me by a family friend.  He was blown away by the true story of Elizabeth Holmes and how she fooled so many people.  The way he talked about it, I knew I had to read it.  And I concur with his thoughts - it is incredible that this happened.  The book is well written and takes us through the entire story.  You have to read it to believe it.  I understand it is also being made into a movie.

9) When Life Gives You Pears

Jim Gaffigan is by far my favorite comedian.  I have watched all of his specials, and when I learned that his wife wrote a book after her brain tumor, I knew I would like to read it.  And I am so glad I did.  It is very well written with dry humor, but also fear that we would all have if we found that we had a pear size tumor in our head.  

10) Mindhunter

A friend of mine recommended this TV show.  I found out there was a book, so I wanted to read it first.  A non-fiction story that I cannot believe I liked as much as I would.  The stories are horrific - detailed murders of people during the authors time as an FBI profiler.  Even though the stories are hard to read, the book is very well written.  I listened to this and I highly recommend it as an audiobook.  

I have recently watched both seasons of the TV show, and didn't like it nearly as much as I liked the book.  It was fine, but so many side story lines that I didn't think were necessary.

These next books are the ones I gave a 4 1/2 star rating. (in no particular order)  Just as excellent and worthy of metioning as incredible reads for this year.  If you click on the title, it will take you to my review of that book.

1) The Rent Collector

This was one of the first books I read this year.  It is a beautifully written tale about living in the dumps in Cambodia.  Something I couldn't even begin to imagine.  It is heartbreaking and inspiring and should not be missed.

2) Lost On Planet China

The books by this author are hilarious, and I ended up reading three of his books this year.  All for my Read The World challenge, which was an added bonus.  He is an incredible writer, and his books highly entertaining.  I am so glad I found them.

3) Mythos

When searching for a book for Cyprus, I asked a friend of mine who lives there for a suggestion.  Greek mythology was her top recommendation, so I went for one I have not read before.  This was a great book - entertaining and enlightening all at once.

4) Sex Lives Of Cannibals

This was my first Troost read, and while you may wonder what the title is leading too - I promise you it is worth a read.  (and the Cannibals they are talking about are dogs).  This book sent me down the path of author Troost, and I knew I had to read more of his books.  They are hilarious.

5) The Hidden Light of Objects

This is a collection of short stories that you should add to your TBR list.  Normally I don't like books with short stories because they don't leave enough room for character development that I crave.  Not true with this book.  They are expertly and beautifully written.

6) The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

This well told, well written book quickly went to the top of my list this year.  It is a true story that is utterly fascinating.  The boy is brilliant and actually ends up at Dartmouth College in America.  It was turned into a Netflix movie which I also highly recommend watching.

7) Swiss Watching

What a fun book this was about the country of my current residence.  I have read quite a few books on Switzerland since we moved here, but this was by far my favorite.  It is written by an expat as he travels all over the country, and I found myself laughing out loud and also nodding along at the things he wrote about.  All very familiar!  It was a great read.

8) The Village Of Waiting

Another non-fiction that made the top of my 2019 list.  This one was about a teacher who worked in Togo as an English teacher.  It is real, and eye opening as George expresses his frustration about the time he lived there and you learn about Togo and its people.  Good read.

9) A Carpet Ride To Khiva

This was an incredible book.  Another non-fiction masterpiece that I highly recommend.  The author's stories and experiences will draw you in and you will not want to put this book down.  I learned an incredible amount about Uzbekistan in this highly enjoyable book.

10) Getting Stones By Savages

Yep - all three Troost books I read this year made my 2019 top reads list.  He truly is a gifted author, and I do love a good humor book.  I am anxious to read his 4th book in 2020.

11) Beyond Sky And Earth

So many of the books I read for my Read The World challenge were non-fiction.  Many times I chose that because it gave me good insight into the country itself.  Who knew so many of them would be excellent?  This is another well written and intriguing read about a teacher who moved to Bhutan to teach English.  Being an expat myself, I am always interested to read how other people view a country that isn't their own and compare that to my own experience.  This author did a great job mixing her experiences with the history of Bhutan and made this a great find.

12) This Voice In My Heart

This is the author's own story after he survives an attack as a student.  He is the only surviving member of his entire school, and the book delves into his life before and after the attack.  It is well written, and I could not put it down.  It will pull at your heart strings for sure.

13) Empty Mansions

This book was recommended to me by a family friend, and it was excellent.  It actually starts in my hometown of Connellsville, Pennsylvania - a quiet out of the way place which use to have the most millionaires in the country (once upon a time).  This is the story of one of them and how he made his fortune and the story continues and ends with his recluse daughter.  It is an incredible non-fiction you must read to believe.

14) Call The Midwife

Another amazing non-fiction book I read this year.  I love this TV show - I have watched all the seasons.  Based on the author's time as a midwife in the rough East End in London - her tales are astonishing.  The book pulled the TV show together for me, and I am so glad I discovered there was a book series.  It is a pack of 4, and I plan on reading them all.

What a year!!!  How was yours?