Tales of Woe and World War II

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not really into war movies. I don’t often like things that are violent anyway and I can’t help but cry hysterically every time I see one of those films. The honest-to-goodness truth is that they make me uncomfortable.

So when I was asked if I was going to do a post to commemorate Remembrance Day (which in Canada falls on November 11) I was a little bit hesitant. I couldn’t feel like I could talk about “war books” because I don’t read them that often. Like I said, I can barely watch a “war movie”.

I was discussing this with a friend of mine when he asked me what a “war book” was exactly, and I realized that I didn’t have an answer. When I really started thinking about it, I could come up with a long list of titles of books that take place during a war (specifically World War II) that have inspired me, moved me, and on occasion even made me laugh.

War, or even political conflict, isn’t just about fighting, or the soldiers, or the weapons. War is about culture, religion and social tradition. It’s about history, and political borders, and the men, women and children who find themselves within or without those confines. It’s about the things that we have in common as human beings, and the things that divide us; the things we stand for and the things we won’t tolerate. It’s about the rules we break, the choices we make, and most of all it comes down to whether or not we believe in something.

So in fact, I do like “war books”. I like them a lot. You won’t see me picking up any military study anytime soon, but I’m sure the following books won’t be the last ones about war to grace these bookshelves.

Atonement is probably my favorite of Ian Macewan’s books. It’s not just about the war- it’s a coming-of-age story really, and a look at how the choices we make can sometimes have far-reaching consequences that can last for a lifetime. (It’s a great movie, too!)

Before French author Irene Nemirosky was arrested by Nazis in 1942, she was working on the book now known as Suite Française– the first two novellas in an intended series of three that encapsulate the sweeping effects of war across the French countryside, touching rich and poor alike. The story behind the author’s mysterious disappearance and the investigation that ensued makes this book even more beautifully haunting. (It was also one of my favourite books of 2017.)

I had the honor of hearing Elie Wiesel speak while I was in university and it was one of the most haunting speeches I’ve heard in my life. The most remarkable thing about Elie Wiesel was his unwavering faith in the goodness of humanity despite all of the atrocities he faces. If you pick up any of the books on this list, I hope you pick up Night by Elie Wiesel.

Honorable Mentions

These woeful tales have been featured on my blog before but are still worth a second look.

  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of my favorite epistolary novels, and one of my favorite books about World War II, and as such is constantly missing from my shelves (described in this post here about books of mine that are frequently borrowed and never returned).
  • An ordinary man takes a peaceful, yet musical stand against the troops that continue to occupy and terrorize his city in Canadian author Steven Galloway’s book The Cellist of Sarajevo.
  • Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief has a unique narrator that gives this epic tale about a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany a surreal feeling, like you’re watching a movie as it’s happening in real time. (So much so that someone decided to adapt it into a movie, which I think is just as beautiful and haunting.)
  • Two boys form an unlikely friendship in John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which earned a place among the most devastating books I’ve read in this post here.
  • The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett may be short but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack an emotional punch. (Also featured on my list of books that will shock your system.)
  • A tragedy that occurs during the Holocaust becomes a modem day mystery in Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.
  • The Second World War almost becomes its own character in the strange world that is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, in which a perpetually reincarnating girl discovers she may have the power to alter the course of history. (Another favourite from 2017.)

I love to read and I love sharing my favorite books with you. (For more reading inspiration click here or here.) These lists are totally my own creation and I was not paid or perked to share my opinions with you by any author or publishing company. For more of what’s on my bookshelves, click here.

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Best Books of 2017

I started doing an annual round-up of the books I loved a couple of years back, but for one reason or another I didn’t end up sharing my picks for 2017. Seeing as it’s almost the end of 2018, I thought I’d share my thoughts on some of my favorite books from the titles I read last year…it’s about time, right?

Fiction

It’s a total coincidence, but I still love the fact that all of my favorite books that I read last year were written by women. Some are old, some are new, but all of them were really, really good:

Even though Bel Canto is about a diplomatic hostage situation, author Ann Patchett manages to take what would be normally be a horrifying, violent situation and transforms it into a moving story about the things that bring us together as humans, even when we’re divided by political or social borders.

King Lear is probably my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, and I love the fact that author Jane Smiley chose to reinterpret it through the eyes of one of Lear’s daughters in her novel, A Thousand Acres, which I read last fall. (And no, it’s not the one he likes.)

Suite Française by Irene Nemirovsky might be slow for some, but keep in mind this is an unfinished work- there may still be some kinks in the story, but you can still appreciate this collection of novellas for its beautiful prose.

The main character in Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics is brainy, verbose, and maybe just a little bit obnoxious, but I ended up falling in love with her (and the book’s cast of quirky characters) anyway. (It’s another one I read last fall.)

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is like a perfect fairytale, but for adults. Even if you’re not into fantasy, I still insist you read this. I’m not even kidding when I say I couldn’t put it down. (It first appeared on my bookshelf here.)

Although English author Kate Atkinson is quite prolific, I’ve never gotten around to reading one of her books until I picked up Life After Life (another recommendation from the waiting room). I wasn’t disappointed- this tale of a perpetually reincarnating girl kind of blew my mind. (What was disappointing? Its follow-up, A God in Ruins, which I read this year. In my opinion, it didn’t even come close to the awesomeness that is this book.)

Non-Fiction

I’ll read just about anything, and I would say about one-third of what I read is non-fiction. No topic is off-limits; I like to keep an open mind. You can get me interested in just about anything, as evidenced below.

When he’s not exploring the mysteries of Germany’s Black Forest, author and forester Peter Wohlleben is writing about them. It may seem like the most boring topic in the world, but don’t be fooled: The Hidden Life of Trees is actually full of fascinating discoveries. (For example, did you know trees can communicate with each other? Yeah, my brain exploded too.)

Everyone knows that reading and writing go hand-in-hand, but Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose gave me a whole new perspective on the way that I write, as well as the way I read. It’s a must if you’re a self-confessed bookworm like me.

I wrote about the mini-controversy presented by the hygge trend a while back, but despite its ties to commercialism I still really enjoyed The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. I’d even say that it’s useful- it’s basically a manual on how to slow things down for someone who has trouble slowing down.

What are some of the books you enjoyed last year? Did you read any of the titles I talked about here? Email me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com with your top picks, or leave your recommendations in the comments below.

Psst- wanna see which other books have previously graced my bookshelves? Click here. Want even more fun reading recommendations? I’ve got some for you here. Don’t forget to find me on Goodreads so we can snoop each other’s bookshelves and dish about our favourites.

 

My Dirty Little YA Secret

KBB-YA-books

A couple of years back I gushed a little bit about how much I enjoyed many of the books that were on my high school’s required reading list. I have to confess, though, that there’s a little more to that story than I originally let on.

See, the thing you have to understand about me is that I read pretty much everything if it a) sparks my interest or b) someone else tells me it it’s good. When I was younger, that sometimes meant diving into books that were maybe a little age inappropriate. Now that I’m a little (ahem) older, my reading choices still don’t always match my age.

Ok, so maybe young adult fiction isn’t your thing. Authors like Jaclyn Moriarty (Feeling Sorry for Celia, The Year of Secret Assignments) and Jerry Spinelli (Star Girl), though, might change your mind- both are sharp, witty, and write books with characters who seem mature beyond their years. (Can we talk about Jaclyn Moriarty for a second, though? For me, she brought the epistolary novel into the current century. Feeling Sorry for Celia, for example, is told through notes that Celia’s friend and her mother leave for each other on the refrigerator door.)

Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle and the His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) by Philip Pullman also feature characters (and subject matters) that stretch far beyond the teenage years, despite the fact that they’re more commonly marketed to adolescents. (Please watch the film version of I Capture the Castle with a super-young Henry Cavill and Rose Byrne. Also, did I mention Henry Cavill?)

KBB-YA-Series

YA fiction is also the only place where fantasy, action and the contemporary world combine seamlessly- series like Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay) and the Lorien Legacy series (which starts with I Am Number Four and spans five more titles) feature way more action and suspense than a lot of fiction I’ve read that’s intended for older audiences. The fact that they’re willing to get creative with fantastical and science fiction elements doesn’t hurt, either. The Divergent series (Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant) by Veronica Roth is actually one of the more intelligent science fiction series you’ll come across, and I had to include Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series (which totals six books including the first, City of Bones) because it’s such a flipping good romance. (Shout-out to all the others who got their hearts broken when they found out Shadowhunters was cancelled on Netflix.)

What are some of the YA titles you’ve read and loved but were kind of afraid to confess to reading up until now? I’m thirty-something and I spilled; I’d love to hear your suggestions too! Comment below or drop me a line at keepingbusyb@gmail.com. We can keep your dirty YA secret just between you and I.

Psst- wanna see which books have previously graced my bookshelves? Click here. Want even more fun reading recommendations? I’ve got some for you here. Don’t forget to find me on Goodreads so we can snoop each other’s bookshelves and dish about our favourites.