book reviews · Reading

November 2020: Recent Reads

Photo by Ena Marinkovic on

I missed writing about my recent reads in October, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading! In fact, just a few days ago, I was able to reach my numerical goal of reading 100 books this year. I set that goal because I got to about 70 books last year, and a Facebook friend of mine reads 100 books every year and I wanted to see if I could do it. I wasn’t actually sure I could.

Just because I reached my numerical goal doesn’t mean I’m done with all of my goals for this year, and if you’re still wanting to reach some reading goals in the next month and a half, maybe these books will give you some book ideas to help you achieve those goals.


Rocket Men by Robert Kurson

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon

This book was recommended to me by my dad. We tend to have very different reading preferences; however, ours intersect in the areas of history and biography. This book is a combination of both. I honestly didn’t know much beforehand about the U.S. space program, and had no idea about the pressure and tension of trying to get men to the moon by the end of the ’60s. I didn’t really think that history books could be classified as “page-turners” or “gripping,” yet I found this book hard to put down.

Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age

I want to write an entire blog post devoted to this book, because I have been thinking about this book for weeks since finishing it. That is a sign of a great book! I wish this book was required reading for every person who owns a smart phone, because Ms. Turkle has wise insights into our use of smart phones and how they affect our ability to relate to one another and have meaningful conversation based on extensive research that she has conducted. For instance, according to a study, even the mere presence of a turned-off/silenced cell phone on the table keeps the conversation on the surface level. I appreciated how she looked at many types of relationships – friendship, family, romance, and education/society – and how we can choose to intentionally use technology but not let it rule our lives. Highly, highly recommend this one!

Historical Fiction Wonders

I read two books that will make my top 10 in fiction for this year, really close together in time. It was honestly disappointing to try to find other books to read after these two, because they were SO GOOD. Admittedly, historical fiction is one of my favorites, and World War II historical fiction is a favorite sub-genre within it. But these two books are so very well written and researched, and are actually both based on real people who lived. . . which makes these stories that much more astounding – and, at times, heart-wrenching. I think I shed some tears at least at one point during both of these books.

Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon

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Not gonna lie…reading the excerpt of this one, I thought for sure I was going to have to DNF (aka, not finish) it due to the protagonist’s ribald and shockingly bold character. To be honest, there was plenty in it that might make readers like me shy away: descriptive foreplay, plenty of innuendo made as jokes; lots of drinking; a gay character or two; violence; swearing – in multiple languages . . . if you’re sensitive to these, I don’t recommend this book to you. You can steer away with a clear conscience. However, so much of those things was simply . . . life at that point in time for these people. I wouldn’t read a book that has that stuff in it just to have it. For instance, I couldn’t get past 50% of Catcher in the Rye. All the cussing every other word did NOT add anything good to my mind or life.

But in this book, these aspects were depicting true life – probably toned down a bit – and was mixed with a strong dose of hope and redemption throughout. Plus, it was so refreshing to read a book where the main characters didn’t have sex before marriage! I didn’t realize until this book how often I steel myself in preparation for having to skim scenes that I wish weren’t there. I found that the beauty of such a passionate, convicted, strong woman working with equally committed, passionate, strong men on behalf of the Allies was compelling and worth the iffy stuff in the book. The swapping back and forth between “present day” and the sweet love story of the protagonist and her husband was poignant, to say the least. Use your own judgment; and if you do read it, I hope you are as mesmerized, drawn to laughter and tears, and as inspired by the life of Nancy Wake Fiocca as I was.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

This one is making the rounds in my family…my sister-in-law recommended it to my sister, who recommended it to me. I was {happily} stuck on the couch reading this book for hours and didn’t want to put it down. The things Pino Lella lived through in just a few years of WWII made my jaw drop. I wish I were that brave at age 17. He helped save literally hundreds, if not thousands, of lives with his resistance work. I really haven’t read much about the war in Italy, so I found the historical facts embedded in the story equally fascinating. What a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the sacrificial, selfless love in this world that empowers people to do what is right while putting themselves in great danger to rescue those who can’t rescue themselves…reminds me of my King, who did the same for me. Would that I would grow to be more like Him.

Kids Fiction

You know me (or you’re starting to). Rarely a month goes by that I don’t read some middle grade books to add to my repertoire that I can recommend to my students and their parents. In fact, it’s hard to choose which to highlight here.

Tilly and the Bookwanderers, Pages & Co #1 by Anna James

Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co. #1)

I’m a sucker for books about bookshops and book lovers, and ones that allude to well-known books. This was one of those. Middle-grade fiction, quick and easy read. Tilly is raised by her grandparents because she’s never known her father and her mother mysteriously disappeared soon after Tilly was born. Soon after the book begins, however, Tilly starts hearing and seeing strange things – like her grandmother talking to a stranger named Lizzie and Alice from Alice in Wonderland showing up in the bookshop her grandparents own.

I was able to quite easily predict where her mother disappeared to, though the origin of the bad guy was a weird one for me. The ending leaves room for the conflict of the second book in the series, while tying up the conflict of this book in a neat and tidy package. I would recommend it to certain students, but it would help comprehension greatly if the kids are already familiar with Alice in Wonderland, A Little Princess, and Anne of Green Gables, since these are referenced frequently throughout the book.

Things That Surprise You by Jennifer Maschari

Things That Surprise You

This was a book that I read on my quest to find books that kids can relate to while going through difficult circumstances. From the perspective of a younger sister whose older sister is having treatment for an eating disorder and whose parents have recently divorced, this book does a great job at depicting the universal angst of middle school while also showing the added layer of family stress. Though the protagonist is about 12 years old/sixth grade age, I would choose carefully what student I recommend this to. In the hands of the right reader, at the right time, I think this could be a comforting “Oh, I’m not the only one” kind of read. I still don’t like divorce and wish it wasn’t commonplace. Eating disorders are horrible and difficult for the one struggling with it and the ones walking with her/him through it. But we all need some “oh, you too?” books in our lives. I hope this book can be that for some people – a sibling, a parent, a friend.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Merci Suárez Changes Gears

And now I come to the heavy hitter: 2019 Newbery Award winner Merci Suárez Changes Gears. Man, I wish I could write a book like this about my own experience with caring for a grandparent who has Alzheimer’s. Medina hits the nail on the head of so many things in this kind of situation. The feelings of a kid who is trying to understand how to interact with a grandparent who isn’t acting normal anymore and who needs watching just like the little kids in the family; the emotions of a child who is trying to navigate a new season in her own life but feeling the need to keep her problems to herself to not overburden her stressed out parents; the way that home is a different universe from school, yet they are both a part of your life that you have to fit together somehow; all of these, Medina skillfully weaves together.

One thing that I love about reading: the author enables you to step into the head and heart of someone in a different – or similar – experience as you. While a kid may not understand how well Medina paints the picture of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, they’ll get some of it. And the kids who do get it, will find that they’re not the only ones in a situation that can often feel so isolating, confusing, and stressful. I’m glad this won the Newbery award, and I hope you read it!

What are your recent reads?

I’m always looking for more book suggestions – especially now that I challenged my class to collectively read more books than me between now and Christmas break. Have any good, short recs? Help a girl out! 🙂

12 thoughts on “November 2020: Recent Reads

    1. Just looked it up on GoodReads …sounds right up my alley and in line with the productivity books I’ve been reading this year. Thanks for the suggestion!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Added to my lists from your list! Always so nice to read your blog. Congrats on making 100!

    Have you read Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library? I may have shared this title with you before. Can’t remember. But it’s a page turner about books that kids (and adults) would enjoy.


    1. Thanks!
      I don’t think I’ve read that one, but you may have suggested it to me before. Looked it up on Goodreads and just borrowed it on Libby. Thanks for the timely suggestion 🙂


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