How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

An intriguing time travel like premise + the author of A Boy Called Christmas? Sign me up!

Our character (Tom? that’s his name for now, but he changes it often) is literally hundreds of years old. He has a rare condition that makes him age so slowly that by the time he is 400 years old he only looks about 40. Turns out he’s not the only one, and these people have joined together into a sort of secret society to protect themselves from being found out. Although this is the main plot point of the story, it is the part I liked the least. Why did Hendrich (the mastermind) have to be so evil/threatening? Why was he so sure they’d be found out? (Tom, and others, would move and take new identities so that people didn’t catch on to the fact that they looked exactly the same.) And so manipulative to the people he’s found? A lot of that made no sense to me. However, I loved everything else about the book.
Tom has rubbed elbows with Shakespeare and Captain Cook, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He’s lived through not just WWII and WWI, but also the American Revolution and the Elizabethan age. I loved his stories of those times and the back and forth between the present and those time periods. Tom has truly been a witness to history and what I thought was unique was that he was a witness to such a looooooong time of history that he saw the changes in humanity as a whole, and the ebb and flow of civilization.
This was great!

*although this isn’t really time travel, it has the elements of time travel that I enjoy in it, and it is a time manipulation novel, so I’m grouping it with the others.

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The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

I’d had this book on my bedside table for close to a year before I finally decided to actually read it. All I knew was my friend said it was great and it was WWII historical fiction. I’m so glad I hadn’t even bothered to read the blurb because that meant there were plenty of surprises for me. Namely, that most of the story is about what happens once the war is over, and that it takes place in Germany. I’m always saying that every WWII book I read fills in a little more knowledge for me about that war and the world at that time. This book sure did that-I don’t think I’ve read anything before that was taking place in Germany, from the point of view of Germans, and showing what it was like in that immediate aftermath. (Terrible, it was terrible.)

This was not a fast read. There was a lot to think about, and many sad moments. But I loved how the points of view changed between characters and we got to see what happened to each of those people during the war, before they all came together at the castle.

I think one of the things that amazed me most was seeing the horrors they went through in the war, and then years later, basically if you weren’t dead you were living another life, one where you went to school, or work, just sort of ordinary things. It was also really, really interesting to see the point of view of someone who was part of the Nazi party and wholeheartedly believing in Hitler’s promises to make the country an agrarian triumph and to work hard and be wholesome and happy, without thinking about genocide (until it was too late.)

This book really stayed with me after I finished it, and I know already it will be a top 10 book for me this year.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

choirAdd this to the list of my favorite WWII, set in England, historical fiction novels. This was marvelous. I felt like it started off with me thinking it was going to be a sweet story about women coming together in their village during the war, combined with gossipy town stories. And while it was that, I felt it really grew into something more.

The story is told through journal entries, occasional notices, and letters. The characters include a widow whose son is off fighting, the manor house family with snotty rich older daughter who toys with men, the younger sister who wants to be more grown up, the lovely new choirmistress and some other standard fare village characters. But throw in the completely unethical blackmailing midwife and suddenly everything got more complicated-bribes, spies, secret identities, etc. I really enjoyed how this story had plenty of that “plucky women get stuff done during the war” that I like so much, but what I especially liked was that none of the women saw that ability in themselves and it was a pleasure to see them come to recognize their strengths.
While it seemed, at first, that this would be mostly light, there was plenty of realistic sorrow. I also thought all the parts about the women singing were woven in very beautifully.

I loved this and could so easily visualize everything. Absolutely charming, winning, historical fiction.

The After-Room by Maile Meloy

afterroomI wasn’t expecting a follow up to The Apothecary and The Apprentices, so it was a real delight to see that there was this. Although I didn’t remember too much about Janie and Benjamin’s adventures in the last book, I remembered the important stuff-the avian elixir that allows them to become birds and that they are trying to stop the use of nuclear warfare. In this conclusion Janie and Benjamin meet someone new who also has unusual powers and wind up in Rome. Benjamin, who is grieving for his father, discovers that due to the powder they had drunk before he died are able to connect in an “after-room”-a sort of waiting area for the dead. Of course this has issues of its own, and added to that they are trying to assist Jin Lo, who is in China searching for a nuclear warhead.  I thought the focus on the afterlife and those who have died and our communications with them was a wonderful part of this story.  And, as I felt with the other two books, I really liked this whole concept and time period, which I think is a bit unusual in kids’ stories. A great conclusion to a unique story.

All the Stars in Heaven by Adriana Trigiani

starsThis was such an interesting story. I really wasn’t sure which elements were 100% true, and what was completely made up. The author’s note tells us to read it as straight up fiction about some real people, but I had a hard time not just believing it all as 100% real.
The story is about Loretta Young and Clark Gable and their love affair. It’s also about the movie industry in the 1930s and Loretta’s acting career. Such a neat inside look at what movie productions were like then. My favorite part of the whole thing was when Clark and Loretta were filling together in snowy, remote Washington state. All the actors and crew together, eating and living together in a lodge, Clark pitching in chopping wood. It was hard to imagine movie stars of today ever acting like that.
I really enjoyed this as a love story, historical fiction, and nice long saga over time.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

nightingaleThis was one of my top ten favorite books of 2015. This was a heartbreaking, sad, emotional, and intense read. I knew all that going in because I knew it was about a woman in France in WWII whose husband goes off to the war and the Nazis come to her village. Nazis, French Resistance, concentration camps–I just knew characters were going to die, there would be horrible actions, and it would make me question humanity. Because that’s what any WWII book does to me. But I keep reading them and with every one there is something new I learn, some new viewpoint or facet to the war that I hadn’t thought/learned about. In this case it was the French village and what it was like when it became occupied.

I thought this was a wonderful story. Yes, very sad, but warm moments of hope too. In fact, the structure of the book-beginning with a contemporary situation-lets you know that clearly not everyone is going to die. I actually didn’t think this structure added much and was slightly distracting to me.
So much to think about and talk about, it’s no wonder this was so popular last year and a popular book discussion book.

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

25163300I loved this so much. At first, the cover alone was so beautiful, so go right ahead and judge this book by the cover. Janet is bright but does not have a bright future. She lives with a father and brothers who are cruel and treat her terribly.  Any hope of furthering her education is shot down quickly by her father. She longs for something better and somehow finds the courage to set out and make it to Baltimore.  The wages she’s seen advertised for a hired girl seem outrageously high and she knows she is a good harder worker, so that’s what she sets her sights on.  Janet is fortunate to encounter quite a lot of good luck, but she’s also super plucky.  I loved  the fascinating historical stuff and details about being a hired girl. Janet is a devout Catholic and she land with a Jewish family. Each is practically unknown to the other and this was a wonderful aspect of the story.  As I read along I realized that this book reminded me so much of Anne of Green Gables. Not the same story, no, but Janet is so much like Anne. She’s smart and thirsts for knowledge, she forgets herself when she is excited and passionate and talks out of turn and forgets her station, she has exasperating adventures, she warms the hearts of a cranky old person, and she is crazy for romantic tales and feelings. Like Anne, Janet writes in a flowery way, and I can see that while I thought this book was fantastic it may have a specific audience rather than just flat out widespread YA appeal.