I always enjoy Book Review day, but this month I’m particularly excited about it. Not only did I enjoy all four books I read, but two of them have potential to top my list for favorite reads of 2022. Needless to say, it was a great month of reading and I’m very excited to discuss, so let’s get to it!
The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel
Yona has only the faintest memories of life outside the forest: memories of her parents and a warm nursery. Memories of a family, before she was stolen from her home by a woman named Jerusza. Jerusza whisked her away to the deepest parts of the forest where, year after year, she taught Yona everything she knew about surviving alone in the forest. Neither Jerusza nor Yona could ever imagine how these survival skills would be used one day, long after Jerusza has died, when Yona encounters Jews fleeing into the forest away from the Nazis. Yona is faced with a choice: continue to live alone or take the risk of helping those seeking refuge in the forest.
I have read a lot of WWII historical fiction over the years, but this story felt very unique to me. The vast majority of the plot took place in the forest, which is not the typical setting I’m used to. While there are references to the ghettos and concentration camps, the reader doesn’t spend any time in them and instead, we as readers are kind of hidden away in the forest with Yona, receiving scraps of information from those she encounters. Yona is such a strong character and I really enjoyed seeing her come into her own. It could have easily become monotonous with years of surviving in the forest, but there was enough variety to keep my interest the whole time. It’s hard for me to describe books based on WWII or the Holocaust as being enjoyable because the subject matter is so hard and heavy, but I will say I found this book to be incredibly compelling. It’s fascinating and heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful – I do recommend this for the historical fiction fan!
Just look at that subtitle! Sign me up please. I’ve had this book on my shelves for a couple years now and I finally made time to read it – I’m SO glad I did. I have always felt a pull towards simplicity (hence, this blog which I named nine years ago!) and this book aligns so well with my personal philosophy, but with the years of research to back it up. The author covers four aspects of life where he encourages simplicity: environment (stuff), rhythms, schedules, and filtering out the adult world. He talks about the benefits of simplifying in these areas and gives a lot of suggestions to achieve this. He covers things I’ve always been passionate about and brings up things I’ve never thought of before. I’ll admit, I’m not going to go to the extreme of fulfilling every suggestion, but I did gain a lot of insight into things I can do that feel good for our family.
The book gives so many reasons why simplifying is great for children (which spills over into being great for adults!) and I think it is an incredibly beneficial read for parents at any stage. It’s inspiring me to work to create a simpler, more restful life for our family to enjoy and savor. The end of each chapter gives a little “imagine life” look that encourages the reader to imagine their life without the chaos, clutter, distractions, etc. that bog us down and each one made me more and more excited about actually living this life I’m imagining. I know this book will have far-reaching impact in my family’s life and I’ll be referring to it for a long, long time. Highly recommend!
The Music of Bees by Eileen Garvin
Alice is a middle-aged widow struggling to cope with her intense grief over the loss of her husband. Jake is a teenaged boy learning to navigate life in the wake of an accident that left him as a paraplegic. Harry is a twenty-something man living with crippling social anxiety and unsure of how to find work to support himself. These three strangers with seemingly nothing in common are all drawn together around one unlikely source: Alice’s honeybee farm. When a new pesticide company threatens the health of their local ecosystem and honeybee population, the three new friends unite to work together to save the bees – and in the process, find hope for their individual futures as well.
This book was my book club’s pick this month and we found it to be a nice, uplifting read. I thought the character development was fantastic; to see each character wrestle with their individual trials and learn to forge new paths for themselves was really satisfying. Each character was someone you want to root for, though I particularly enjoyed Jake’s storyline and cheering for him. The chapters switch perspectives from the three characters and sometimes will overlap timelines but I didn’t find that too difficult to follow. Overall, I found this story to be heartwarming and satisfying and would recommend it.
The Measure by Nikki Erlick
On an unsuspecting morning in March, the entire world wakes up with one thing in common: regardless of where they live, every adult 22 years and older has a small wooden box waiting for them. Those who open the box all find a string inside, though the length of the string differs. It isn’t long before the realization is made that the length of the strings correlates to exactly how long the owner’s life is going to be. Everyone on earth is now faced with the decision on whether or not to open the box and find out their fate. As people wrestle with the choice of knowing or not, one politician makes a decision regarding his string that has immediate, and far-reaching, impact.
WOW. I absolutely devoured this book in under 24 hours. I just could not put it down! Chapters alternate from the perspectives of eight different characters – some with short strings, some with long strings, and some who have chosen not to open their box. I loved how intricately woven the storylines were; it was so easy for me to become deeply invested in each one. I laughed, I gasped, I cried, I felt all the feels. The premise was fascinating and I kept thinking about what I would do in this situation. Would I look at my string or would I choose to keep my box closed? I honestly still don’t know. I think this is an excellent choice for a book club – I had so many thoughts I wanted to talk through with someone both as I read and after I finished. I know it will stay with me for a long, long time. It’s intriguing, it’s poignant, it’s surprising, it’s hopeful. I highly recommend this one!
What have you been reading lately?