Amy Clark

Great Reads for Moms: January ’11 Edition

It is a new year and with that comes new books and a new commitment to read!  This year, you can make a commitment for the year to challenge yourself to reach a reading goal on GoodReads which can really help you reach those reading goals. My hope this year is to squeeze in eighty books. I know it is a lofty goal, but I never have claimed to be an underachiever! Just ask my mother about my commitments to read a hundred books over the summer and only reading eighty during those summer reading programs at the library….Oh, the tears that were shed those cold, cold summers.  In all seriousness,  it is so fun to make a goal and see your progress towards something… especially when that something is leisurely evenings of reading!

If you are looking for a little inspiration this new year, be sure to check our MomAdvice fan page for a weekly check-in on what everyone is reading each week on our Facebook Fan Page. I hope you will swing by on Fridays and share about the books you are working on or request recommendations with one another. So far it is a huge success and I have gotten a few new ideas for my own stack!

Just as a reminder, I read many more  books than are just featured here, but try to feature the ones that are my absolute best picks of the month here. If you want to read more, please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! My username is momadvice and I am always happy to connect with people there too! There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there! In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads. Don’t forget to make your own commitment towards a reading challenge this year!

Here are a few book ideas this month to add to your reading pile and I look forward to hearing what you are working on too!

Those That Save Us by Jenna Blum

This book is so haunting, gripping, gritty, and heartbreaking that I have been thinking about it for days since reading it. It is the type of book that you beg your friends to read just so you have someone to talk to about it, and is a tribute to the beautiful storytelling and Jenna Blum, whose writing I have quickly and wholeheartedly fallen in love with.

The author took a great risk by sharing the story of the difficulties that many German people suffered during the Holocaust. As most books take a heartbreaking look at what the Jewish people suffered, this book focused on the survival tactics that many Germans had to employ to survive and stay alive.

The book opens with the funeral of Anna’s husband and the father to Trudy. Following the burial, the ladies rush back to their home to prepare the food for the guests to come and pay their respects, as it is their tradition in their small town. As nightfall comes, they realize that no one is coming to visit them and Trudy’s mother heads to bed without a word. Trudy reflects that the town no longer has to be nice to them and so begins the journey for the reader to discover why they would be shunned by their own community.

The book follows Anna as a youth who is under the thumb of her demanding and unkind father. Anna’s father is a Nazi lawyer who can’t seem to keep anyone on hand to help with the day-to-day maintenance of the home and makes Anna do all of the chores and care for him & his home. When Anna believes her dog to be dying, she heads to a Jewish doctor for help and an unlikely friendship and love blossoms between the two. When the Jewish doctor must go into hiding, Anna keeps him in a hidden place in their home for as long as she is able.

When the doctor is captured, Anna must runaway as she has discovered that she is pregnant. Unfortunately following the birth of her daughter, Anna finds she must go into survival mode and ends up catching the eye of an SS officer who takes advantage of his position and visits her weekly for sexual trysts. When the officer comes, he brings with him gifts for Anna that can help keep herself and her child alive. Anna knows that if she does not give up her body to this officer that she could compromise the safety of both herself and her daughter. She also knows that they would also lose the gifts of food that sustain them. The reader witnesses the spirit of Anna being broken and the effects that this relationship has on her daughter later in her life.

The book alternates between the present and the difficulties that Trudy has with her own identity, believing that she is the love child of Anna & the SS officer and being a professor of German History. Trudy can’t seem to sustain a relationship and has a difficult relationship with her mother. In efforts to reconcile the conflict she feels about her mother, Trudy takes on a video project to document the German perspective on the Holocaust and what happened. You see Trudy becoming sucked into their stories, searching for the evidence she needs to be at peace with her mother’s relationship with the officer.

I can’t say more- it truly is a book worth picking up. This book is a true page turner filled with great twists and bends, with characters that you will truly become attached to. The ending may not satisfy everyone, but it seemed a realistic resolution to a difficult story and followed what one would expect from these characters.

Editor’s Note: This is extremely sexually graphic and violent. As with all books that share about the Holocaust, it is not an easy read, but a memorable angle for discovering the story of survival from the German perspective.

(MomAdvice Rating- 5 Stars out of 5 Stars)

The Dirty Life: On Farming Food and Love by Kristin Kimball

If ever there is a book that truly makes me appreciate the food that is on my dinner table, then it is this book on an unlikely relationship between a farmer and a city girl who take on the daring task of building their own organic cooperative farm together.

This book documents the true life story of Kristin Kimball, a typical city girl who loves her shoes, fashion, and a good bubble bath, as she goes out to interview a man for a piece about farming. A city girl through and through, she becomes captivated not only with the farm life, but with the farmer that she interviews. Although she knows nothing about growing vegetables or how to care for farm animals, she decides to move to 500 acres of land and start a cooperative farm with her farmer, whom she quickly falls in love with.

The story shares the transformation of Kristin as she finds herself transformed by the land, the animals, the fresh air, and a love like she has never known. She shares the daily quips and struggles of farm life with humor, but in gritty (at times a little too gritty for my taste) details about the circle of life and how the food must arrive to one’s table on the farm. There is a true honesty and warmth in Kristin’s stories whether it be about her family’s struggle with her leaving it all for a dirty life on a farm, the story as they pull together a wedding in the middle of a busy farming season, the animals as they try to escape , and even the difficulties with just keeping up with the menial tasks that are such a part of the grueling farm life.

Coming from a lineage of farmers on my mother’s side, I always knew that I would never be cut out for the farm life. This sealed the deal for me that I don’t think I would have the willpower and stamina to keep up with the daily chores of living on a farm, but made me admire the strength of farming families and all they endure to provide food for our tables. Refreshing and written with a splash of humor and a lot of grit, I would highly recommend this book as a fun diversion from your normal reading schedule!

(MomAdvice Rating- 4 Stars out of 5 Stars)

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Joyce Maynard is quickly becoming one of my new favorite authors and I found her book, “Labor Day,” to be a delight to read with great twists and character build that had me thinking about the book long after the pages were shut.

Henry is the narrator of this story and tells the story through his thirteen year-old eyes of a Labor Day weekend that changed his and his mother’s entire life. The strange story begins as he stands in a drugstore browsing the aisles, where he is approached by a man who asks if he can catch a ride home with him and his mother. The man appears to be injured, but seems harmless enough to catch a ride back with them. Henry doesn’t know it, but Frank is actually an escaped convict who is wanted for murder and is being searched for. His mother, Adele, is divorced and isolates herself from society, but offers to let Frank stay there for a few days as his injuries heal, in exchange for help around the house.

An unlikely relationship blossoms between the three characters and Frank quickly begins to fill the voids of a partner that Adele has always wanted in her life and the father that Henry wishes he had. Whether it is the simple act of dancing with Adele in the kitchen or throwing a ball with Henry, he fills those voids that they both have been missing. All of this would be perfect provided Frank wasn’t an escaped felon, but living in hiding is not a new thing for Adele, and both she & her son become quickly swept away with Frank.

The story telling in this is so vivid, despite the idea feeling a bit far-fetched, that I found myself rooting for a happy ending with the family that Adele & Henry have desired. As it seem is customary with Maynard’s books, a thoughtful twist is thrown in at the end that can lead to your own thoughtful reflection on what you would do in this situation.

Editor’s Note: Sexuality is in this book, as it is told through the eyes of an adolescent boy.

(MomAdvice Rating- 4 Stars out of 5 Stars)

The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum

It is rare to find a great story that contains a mystery, a great romance, and proof of the ties that bind family members, but Jenna Blum has created just that in this gripping novel. Told through the narration of Karena, the book begins with a phone call from a hospital as they tell her that her twin brother has requested that they notify her that he has been admitted. The shocker though is that Karena has not seen her brother in twenty years and Karena has been desperately searching for him ever since.

Unfortunately, when Karena makes it to the hospital, she is told that Charles has already checked out. In a last ditch attempt to chase her twin down and be reunited with him, she decides to join a storm chasing team that is set to tour because the one thing that brings Charles joy in his life is storm chasing. She knows where there is a great storm, she will find her brother there, documenting and charting the storm and its course. Karena hits the road with an unlikely tour group covering the story of storm chasing for an article for the paper she writes for.

So begins Karena’s journey on the road and the reader begins to learn about her brother’s obsession not only with storm chasing, but his downward spiral with mental illness. These two storms fuse together in the middle of the novel as the novel flashes back to their younger years and the incident that has estranged Charles from his family and haunted his life ever since.

Jenna Blum has the ability to seamlessly tie together the stormy mind of the mentally ill with the storms that rage on land. It is a truly beautiful book that I enjoyed thoroughly from beginning to end.

(MomAdvice Rating- 4 Stars out of 5 Stars)

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

How to Be an American Housewife is a fast-paced book told from two perspectives of a mother and a daughter and the ties that bind them.

In this beautifully rendered story, Shoko leaves her home in Japan by marrying a young American GI named Charlie, who has been serving in WWIII. Although Shoko is not madly in love with Charlie, she does find him endearing and also sees him as a way to escape Japan and start a fresh new life. What she doesn’t expect is just how difficult it will be to acclimate herself to the American culture and how hard it will actually be to leave her familiar world behind. Burdened with a secret that she carries with her when leaving Japan, she does her best to raise her daughter and adapt to the American lifestyle. Faced with the prejudice from others and the difficulties of mastering the American language, it proves to be a more difficult life than Shoko had envisioned for herself.

Decades later, Shoko decides that she would like to return to Japan and make right her relationship between herself & her brother, as the secret that she has been carrying prevents her from true happiness and peace. She is told by her doctor that her health is deteriorating and that she is no condition to travel.

To make things right between herself and her family, Shoko begs her daughter Sue (Suiko) to travel to Japan in her place and ask for forgiveness for her. The second half of the book chronicles Sue’s journey to Japan for her mother, the secrets that are discovered, and the deepening bonds between not only herself and her own mother, but the bond between herself and her own daughter.

How to Be an American Housewife is a surprisingly strong debut novel that focuses on the relationship and dynamics of mothers and daughters. Each chapter opens with an excerpt on an old book on how to be an American Housewife, written specifically for Japanese brides to understand what an American man would expect from his wife. The excerpts offer clever openings into what Shoko will be struggling with on her journey towards being the ideal housewife. This is a quick and wonderful read that is definitely worth picking up!

(MomAdvice Rating- 3 Stars out of 5 Stars)

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Not enough great reads for you? Check out our Books section of our site for monthly recommendations and ideas for making reading a priority again in your busy mom life!

Disclosure: All of the links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate the books quickly and easily. Feel free to order a book, but we encourage utilizing the library system and buying me a latte instead.  Then we both would be really happy and we could have our own little book club together! Wouldn’t that just be so much more lovely? Happy Reading!

What has been in your book stack this month? Feel free to share your book recommendations or feedback on any of the books that have been mentioned above! I love getting new suggestions for my book pile!

Published January 25, 2011 by:

Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark is the founder of MomAdvice.com. You can read all about her here.

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