Year of Historical Reading – April Update

April Update

As you may remember, I declared 2020 my Year of Historical Reading.  Check out this blog entry and my appearance on the Sarah’s Bookshelves Live podcast to learn more about this project.  Each month, I will post an update on how I am progressing!  As a reminder, I hope to make 85% of my reading historical fiction and nonfiction.  

April started off strong, with lots of historical fiction being read during quarantine.  I have found that I love reading books about strong women living through difficult times, especially World War II.  There is something reassuring about these books when you feel that you are living through hardships, like the COVID-19 pandemic.  Seeing how these women survived, and even thrived, gives you hope that we will all get through this pandemic as well.

By mid-April, though, my reading took a nose-dive as my mother’s health worsened.  I haven’t finished a book since she passed on April 27th but am slowly getting back to reading.  

Here are my books for April, and I have indicated if they were pulled from my unread shelves, purchased, or borrowed from the library.  

 

Historical Fiction

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The House Girl by Tara Conklin (own)

This book had sat on my unread shelf for years, and I am so glad that I decided to read it now.  This is a dual timeline historical fiction book, set in modern-day New York City and antebellum Virginia.  I loved the storyline, weaving art and its true authorship through the centuries.  I enjoyed reading the antebellum storyline more than the modern-day one, and I especially loved learning more about the Underground Railroad stop in rural Virginia.  The current storyline dealt with legal issues,including reparations, and was a bit difficult to follow.  Overall, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it for historical fiction fans.  I thought the author’s name looked familiar and realized that she had written The Last Romantics, which I read and thoroughly enjoyed last year.  I liked it more than The House Girl, even though it is not historical fiction.

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The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner (egalley)

This delightful book by a debut author is about an English village coming together in post-World War II to save its Jane Austen legacy.  If you have read and enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you will love this book as well.  It has the same whimsy with heft that made that book so beloved.  While dealing with hard things, the characters have a hopeful outlook and positive take on life that is refreshing.  I highly recommend it!  This author is participating in the Junior League of Richmond’s Book and Author (virtual) event tomorrow, and today is the last day to buy tickets!  I can’t wait to hear more about how she came to write this story.

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The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys (own)

I don’t usually read much YA but this book stood out to me since it takes place in Madrid during Franco’s rule.  We were supposed to go to Madrid over spring break, and I always like to read historical fiction about an upcoming travel destination.  While the trip was canceled due to the pandemic, I still enjoyed going to Madrid virtually through this moving book.  I learned so much about what it was like for locals and visiting Americans during the rule of Franco’s fascist regime, and I could just picture the sights and scenes that the author painted.  The sense of place is very strong in this book, and I cannot wait to go to Madrid to see the sites for myself.  I recommend it for historical fiction fans, including teens who also like an overarching romance as part of their historical fiction.  

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Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon (own)

This book is just amazing.  It is based on the true story of a woman who serves as both a spy and military leader of the French resistance during World War II.  You may think you have read spy books before but you haven’t read anything like this.  It is a masterfully written story that makes you care about the characters and their survival.  It is not an easy read (there are two scenes in particular that are hard for us highly sensitive people) but it is a must-read.  As more and more stories about these strong and resilient women who helped bring an end to the Nazi regime come out, the more I am excited to read them!  I cannot get enough!  

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The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams (own)

This book is set mostly in WWII-era Bahamas where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor are serving as the British Governor after giving up the throne of England.  I had no idea that they served in this capacity and found the storyline with them so interesting.  I thought the main character, Lulu, and her love story was good as well but I would have liked even more about her relationship with the Windsors.  There are many hints of nefarious dealings in the book but it is never truly explained so I would have enjoyed more of that.  This book also is a dual timeline book, with another storyline taking place in early 1900s Europe.  I found this storyline fascinating and would have liked more of it as well.  In fact, these two stories could have been separate books, with the Bahamas storyline serving as a sequel to the earlier time.  However, the author does a good job weaving the stories together and has some twists and turns that are shocking.  I believe that one of these characters is also in another of the author’s books so I look forward to reading more of her backlist.

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Annelies by David R. Gillham (own)

I love reading alternate histories and was excited to see this book at my local Costco last year.  I was so intrigued by its premise – what if Anne Frank had survived the concentration camp and had returned to Amsterdam?  I love thinking of the “what ifs” of history, and this was a fascinating topic to ponder.  It is not the happy, perfect life that you may think, however, as both Anne and her father have to reckon with the loss of their other family members and their dreams.  I thought the author did an amazing job at making Anne real – just like she was in her own diary! – and not the idealized version of her that we have now.  She was a real girl who had bad days, who disobeyed her parents, who said things that she didn’t mean, and this book continues that in many different ways.  My favorite, and the most poignant part, of the book is the ending, where an older Anne is writing letters to children who have written to her about her diary.  If only that had been the true story.

 

Historical Nonfiction:

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Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin (own)

This had been on my TBR list since it came out in 2005, and I finally got to it!  This was my slow but steady challenge read for March, and I got bogged down by the minutiae of the political dealings that make up the beginning chapters of this book.  Once I forged through them and made it to Lincoln’s election, the book really flew.  Reading about Lincoln and his extraordinary leadership during the most turbulent time in our country’s history was the perfect antidote to the current political environment surrounding the pandemic.  Lincoln was truly a great and noble leader, not concerned with his own political fate, but more concerned with doing what was right to keep the country together.  The book highlights countless tales of his selflessness and courage and the many times that he was the only one who was able to bring together disparate parties for the common good.  What a great man and leader, truly our nation’s greatest President.

 

I did read one personal growth nonfiction book this month, Becoming Us.  I am an enneagram fanatic (I am a type 2) so I always enjoy reading more about the 9 different types.  This book focuses on how the 9 types work in relationship to each other and is highly informative.

 

Stats for April:

87.5% historical fiction and nonfiction – right on target!

7 of 139 unread books (5 books were added to the unread shelves!) – lots of progress in reading from my unread shelves (see The Unread Shelf project for more info)

1 egalley (but the book is on pre-order so will be added to my shelves soon!)

 

If you enjoy following along on my Year of Historical Reading, be sure to friend The History Mom on Good Reads and to follow me on Instagram, where I post the books I am reading in real time.

 

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