Saturday, 17 October 2015

Recent Good Reads, October

I was suprised how many good books I've read since the previous Quick Lit.

Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy - the monthly link-up for short reviews.

Caroline Moorehead: Village of Secrets. Defying the Nazis in Vichy France

Moorehead has written a thoroughly researched and apparently fairly balanced account of what happened on the plateau Vivarais-Lignon during World War II. It's a remarkable story - many outstanding individuals but also just many 'unnamed', quiet people in the background, all working more or less together to save and protect Jews.

This is an intensive read. Not just the subject matter - it's also hard to keep up with all the people and the parallel storylines in the book. Lessons on the power of faith and the power of a community acting together are on offer. And a lot to ponder: "What would I do if facing choices like this?" (Just the thought of having to send my 10-year-old away to be cared for by strangers, because that was the only way to save his life... shudder.)

Apparently, many people who only want to see a part of the story haven't liked the way Moorehead presents various, even conflicting viewpoints. Here's a piece by the author about it.

Chris Hadfield: An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

Col. Chris Hadfield was the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space and command the International Space Station. But those are just a couple of highlights, and most of his life has been on Earth. In this memoir, Hadfield is also trying to explain what it takes to become an astronaut (a lot) and how to think like an astronaut. 

I really enjoyed this and would recommend this without hesitation to anyone who has even the slightest interest in space exploration. Or to teens who are trying to sort out possible career choices (even if their dreams have nothing to do with space exploration), because most of the principles in Hadfield's "thinking like an astronaut" are very applicable to life on Earth, whatever you do. 

Hanspeter Nüesch: Ruth and Billy Graham: The Legacy of a Couple

This is not a biography as such - the book is organised around topics, not chronologically. There are plenty of anecdotes, photos and quotes; Nüesch has done a thorough job of interviewing people and going through books, newspaper and magazine articles, Billy's and Ruth's speeches and writings, etc.

If you want to know what Ruth and Billy Graham thought about various issues, how they came to think the way they did, and how their principles and convictions played out in practice, this is a good book to read. I enjoyed getting some insight into how the Grahams' marriage and family life worked.

I also felt that the book was not trying to put its subjects on a pedestal. Just the opposite: the emphasis was on God's grace and mercy, which the Grahams knew they themselves needed every day, all the time. And that made this book even more inspirational. Glory to God, not to the people.

Gretchen Rubin: Better Than Before - Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives

I wasn't quite as impressed with this book as I expected to be. Maybe it's just the timing - I'm not feeling particularly keen to analyse and improve my everyday habits, even though I realize there's room for improvement.

The positives: I like Rubin's style of writing, very readable, and it's nice that she keeps giving personal examples from her own life and the lives of people around her.

In the end, though, I'm left with the hard work of thinking how this all could be applied to my real life, and right now, it's easier to close the book, return it to the library and leave it at that. Maybe I'll put this down on the list of "books to read when I feel energetic enough to actually apply them"?

Diana Webster: Finland Forevermore. Helsinki 1953-1963.

This is a memoir of Diana Webster's first decade teaching at the English Department of Helsinki University. More than the university, though, it's about life in Finland at the time, as experienced by an expatriate Brit. She also tells how she started working on radio and television productions alongside her teaching career.

I found this both very interesting and also very funny. Oh how much life has changed in the decades after this period, both at the university and in the Finnish society overall.

Of course for me there's the personal angle of remembering Mrs Webster fondly from my university days (she was still teaching there in the early 1990's) but I'm sure that other readers will appreciate this memoir, too, even if they've never heard about her or met her. I can also recommend her memoir of her first year in Finland, Finland Forever, as well as the book she wrote with her daughter Victoria, called So Many Everests.

A collection of 13 short stories by 13 different authors. All stories are about strong girls or women and real historical events. The website says this was "intended for readers of 9+ years."

It was OK; I liked some stories much better than some others but mostly enjoyed them all.

A side note, if you're thinking of giving this to a young reader: In many stories, people die. Even sympathetic characters. That's real history, of course, but still, I don't know how well I would have handled that as a sensitive 9-year-old (for me, this would have been much better at 12+). Just be aware; you'll know your young reader best.


  1. The Moorehead book, and its background, look really interesting. So this is part of a trilogy -- have you read the first one?

    I enjoy Gretchen Rubin's writing so that one interests me too -- yet I kind of feel the same as you do, do I want to read this and feel challenged to make changes right now? Hmmm, resistance!

    Thanks for sharing your reading, Tuija -- oh, and thanks for the Canadian content! :-) Hadfield is very popular here as you can imagine!

    1. Thanks for commenting!
      I haven't read Moorehead's A Train in Winter. It's not available in our library system, and even though it interests me, I haven't been enthusiastic enough to buy it. Maybe I could make a purchase request, but it looks like the library has already ordered one copy - in French.

      And yes, I can imagine Hadfield is popular in Canada. His videos from space are really great - so funny and yet also informative. I wish I could give the book for my son to read, but he doesn't know enough English to read it yet and I'm not up to the challenge of reading it aloud and translating as I go...