This year started with the conclusion of a bunch of HUGE assignments at work. On January 13th, J and I flew to San Diego and I was able to start decompressing from several months of complete overwhelm at work and some family things (you may remember that my great grandma was put into hospice in October. Thankfully, she is still with us, but it was scary and uncertain news.).
As part of my steps of self care, and with the added free time aboard plans, I began reading. Last year, my goal was to read 1 physical book and listen to 1 audio book per month. On a monthly basis, I barely and sometimes didn’t even come close to meeting that goal. Somehow, though, I read 5 books in the first month and a half of 2017! I’m currently reading two more, one non-fiction and one fiction, but you’ll have to wait to hear about those. I loved all five books I read. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find the one for you based on the summaries below!
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America’s First Daughter by: Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
Did you know that Thomas Jefferson and Marie Antoinette were alive and making history at the same time? I didn’t!
I picked out America’s First Daughter on a whim at the store when I was in the mood for a book but nothing in my (giant) stack of books at home stood out to me. America’s First Daughter is dual-written by a novelist and a historian. The two authors studied the letters of Jefferson (some 18,000!) and his family to research the book. This made me want to check out his letters and see how they compare. According to the authors, the story is pretty close to accurate, with blanks and personalities filled in as closely as they could get them based on what they knew from the letters and other historical documents.
America’s First Daughter tells the story of Patsy Jefferson. Patsy was the oldest daughter of Thomas Jefferson. When her mother passed away at a young age, Patsy stepped in and cared for her father. The book follows Patsy’s entire life, including Jefferson’s work in France (where Marie Antionette comes in).
One aspect of this book that I really appreciated was that it made this election season seem less scary. I read the book in December-January, and finished it before inauguration day. Even back then, politicians spread nasty rumors about each other and members of the opposite political party feared that democracy and America would be destroyed when the opposing party came into office. Sound familiar? The fact that this has been our nation’s experience since birth made me feel a lot less catastrophic about our current situation.
I learned a ton of history, as well! By writing from the perspective of a child, teenage girl, young woman, middle aged woman, and then elderly woman, the authors were able to make history lessons feel like every day life. It was incredibly insightful! Another thing the book went into was Jefferson’s slave mistress. I heard about this briefly in school, but the book brings it to life. The reaction of others was so fascinating to me, and the times there were tension between Patsy and the girl were so sad. I would use her name but I don’t want to give it away if you don’t know the history before you start reading. It’s easy to forget that our political figures are also real people who have to make choices about their life and family.
I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction. I am not at all a presidential history nerd and I loved it. Also, I’ve always watched to dress as Marie Antionette for Halloween, maybe this year I will!
See Me by Nicholas Sparks
A friend strongly suggested that I read this book, but I was skeptical. I was a total Nicholas Sparks junkie in the past, but I gave him up in about 2011 when I read half of a book before realizing I had read it already. His story lines are all so similar, with similar locations and similar relationships between the protagonist and antagonists that it can eventually be hard to tell them apart. I stopped reading any of his books after that.
My friend assured me that See Me was different and that I’d like it. Right off the bat, it was already way longer than most of his books. It also started out on a suspenseful vibe. As it turns out, she was totally right. The book was super good and a much different feel than his other work. It did have your typical love story weaved in, but that’s good for any book so I still enjoyed it.
I liked this book so much that I lost sleep reading it. It was an easy read, which is so nice before bed, but it also means that once I’m into the story line, I have a hard time putting it down! I finished it in a matter of days, and it reminded me why I should read more. I really do feel more refreshed after a good book than mindlessly watching tv and scrolling around social media.
If you’re looking for an easy read, with a bit of suspense that isn’t too scary, a look at family dynamics and a good love story, you’ll enjoy See Me.
Work Your Wealth by: Mary Beth Storjohann
I learned about Work Your Wealth from the Her Money Matters podcast that I told you guys about recently. This book is an easy to follow guide about different money habits and choices. Each chapter has a check list at the end to truly “work your wealth” in a manner that is personal and wise for your needs.
In fact, after reading the chapter about retirement accounts, I was even more convicted about the fact that I don’t have my 401k set up at work. I have a pension that I pay into, and I have a separate IRA that I put a very small amount of money into each month, but I wasn’t taking advantage of the benefits a 401k provides both for matching purposes and for taxes. The next day, I received an annual wage increase at work, and figured that now was the best time to start contributing to make the lower take-home pay feel less painful. Thanks to the encouragement of some good friends, and then how easy Mary Beth made retirement accounts sound, I was able to go in and make a good choice for my future. This week I received my first post-401k decision paycheck. While it was less than I received before the increase, it wasn’t terrible. It feels funny to save when I have debt to pay, but I know that I can start reaping the benefits of compound interest like my student loan company did for several years at my expense!
Other chapters include information about budgeting, debt payoff, buying a house, life and disability insurance, and saving. I know that everyone recommends Total Money Makeover from Dave Ramsey, but I’ve never been able to get it from the library and I can’t bring myself to spend $20 on the book when I already implement so many of his suggestions. Plus, that book is HUGE! If you’re looking for a super easy to understand book that talks about more than just getting out of debt, I would strongly recommend Work Your Wealth. In fact, I’m thinking about including it in a blog giveway in the future, and sending it as a gift to a few people who, like me, are also learning more about their finances for the first time.
The Choice by Nicholas Sparks
Now THIS is a classic Nicholas Sparks story, but with a bit of twist. The same friend who let me borrow See Me, also let me borrow The Choice. There’s a neighbor, a conflict, a back story that complicates things and then a crisis. It’s a great story but the end is an internal battle and there’s no hint on how the book will end. I really enjoyed it! It was also a quick read and I think I finished it in about a week. The end kept me up until 1:30 in the morning because I just had to finish it. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you’re looking for a good book on a cloudy spring day, definitely check out The Choice. (By the way, the hardcover version is only 25 cents on Amazon!)
The Choice was also made into a movie. I haven’t watched it all yet, but I did download it for free on Amazon Prime for either my flight to or my flight from DC. Some of the Nicholas Sparks movies are a bit cheesy, but they’re all still really good. So it was a good distraction on the plane after I ran out of One Tree Hill episodes and we were about 40 minutes from landing! I hope to finish it soon.
Those Who Save Us by: Jenna Blum
Those Who Save Us was a book club selection. It takes place in both 1990’s USA and Nazi Germany. The main characters are a mother and daughter, who were rescued in Germany and taken to the USA. The daughter is in her 40s or so, and curious about the childhood that her mother refuses to talk about.
One of the book club questions was if it was a mother-daughter story, a war story or a love story. We all agreed that it was a mother-daughter story. I came really close to finishing the book before book club, but still had about 100 pages left (it’s another long one, and kind of heavy at times). I read as much as I could that night, and then finished it the next night. The story was incredible. It really makes you think about what you would do in those circumstances.
I don’t know if publishing WWII fiction is more popular right now or if it’s just that my friends are reading more of it. I do know, however, that a lot of the books on the subject have been so insightful into what it must have been like to live in that time. I don’t know about you guys, but when I was in school we didn’t delve into the real lives of people in other countries. I learned about the supply shortages in America and the fact that women entered the factory work force because most of the men who could do those jobs were gone. But what about the life of the people in Germany who weren’t a part of the war? This book shed some light onto that.
Like I said, it can be heavy, so Those Who Save Us isn’t a book you’ll likely be able to start and finish in two days lounging on the couch. But it was so, so good. The characters are real and true to themselves, even as the book jumps back in time and then forward to current day. I am not sure if this author has written any other books, but if she has, I plan to check those out as well.
I have read way more books than normal this year, and it’s been really nice! I hope I will continue to remember to make it a priority to read instead of watching reruns of HGTV shows on Netflix. What books have you read this year? Is there one you’d recommend to all of your friends? How about one you absolutely would not recommend?