Book Reviews January 29-February 3, 2020

It is time for book reviews again! Wow – this was a fantastic week of books for me. Three winners, and one book that landed a spot on my super-duper very best books shelf. It has been years since I added a novel to this shelf. So let’s get right to the reviews.

Historical fiction at its best, set in El Salvador

Book Reviews January 29-February 3, 2020Bitter Grounds by Sandra Benitez
Published by Macmillan on August 15, 1998
Genres: Fiction, Sagas, Historical, General, Literary
Pages: 445
Buy on Amazon

Bitter Grounds will appeal to a reader that enjoys historical fiction and family sagas. The story starts in the early 20th century and follows three generations of women as they live through tumultuous times in El Salvador. Personally, I retain history better when I hear or read it in a story format. I knew a little about El Salvador, but now I feel Salvadorians. The characters’ lives intertwine in complicated ways, contrasting the affluent landowners with the struggling peasant class and indigenous people.

Most of the historical fiction I have read in my life is European – and a majority is probably WWII focused. This is what is advertised, pushed and forefront at most bookstores. I am enjoying the challenge I put on myself to read a wider range of the world. Human struggles are remarkably constant no matter the backdrop. I am enjoying traveling to all regions of the globe, even virtually, by diversifying my reading list.

A new (for me) crime series with strong characters and historical references

Book Reviews January 29-February 3, 2020The Unquiet Dead (Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak, #1) by Ausma Zehanat Khan
Published by Minotaur Books on January 13, 2015
Genres: Fiction, Mystery & Detective, Police Procedural, International Mystery & Crime
Pages: 352
Buy on Amazon

I have no memory of how I came to add The Unquiet Dead to my reading list. It was in my Audible queue and I felt like a police procedural mystery and so I loaded it up and listened. This was a very interesting book. The characters were complex and likable (the ones we were supposed to like). There are additional books in the series and I am ready to read them and get to know the characters better – this is a hallmark of a mystery series for me. I want more than just a crime solved. I want to develop a long term relationship with the key characters.

This book is set in Canada, but the underlying theme of the specific crime is the war that took place in Bosnia and Herzogavania between 1992-1995. I was a new mother at the time and I knew the war happened but was far from an expert. This novel took me there and exposed me to the conflict and the war crimes committed. At the root of the mystery is a missing war crimes perpetrator.

The book describes the atrocities and genocide with stark detail, so be aware. But it also, as with Bitter Grounds, filled in some missing world history for me, in a memorable manner. This is a strong recommendation.

Best book I’ve read this year and maybe all the year to come

Book Reviews January 29-February 3, 2020The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
Published by Penguin on 2019
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Women, Family Life, General
Pages: 368
Buy on Amazon

I thought I would like this book. I was not expecting it to leave me with my heart pierced all the way through. It could be that I recognized the stoic, humble, strong personalities. They embody and honor my grandmother, aunts, and my mother. This story is unlike any I have read. The story is compelling, but the characters make the book. I love all of them in all of their complexity. In addition, there were numerous phrases, sentences, and paragraphs I had to stop, read again and reflect on. Quotes upon quotes that just popped for me.

Who is this author? I know he is from Minnesota. His writing is like an ode to his heritage. A love poem. No one could have written this book without a long history in the Midwest.

I LOVE this book, have I said that yet? It may be that it just touched a chord with this Iowa girl, but I think you may have to have no heart at all to NOT like this book. Maybe you should read it and let me know.

That is it for book reviews this week, but I am already working on next week’s books. A couple for some bookclubs coming up, The Testaments by Margeret Atwood (oh, Aunt Lydia you surprised me!) and Stephen King’s 11.22.63 – a 30+ hour audible book! Good thing I am on a mini road trip.

Be sure to check out more of sssnoo reads book reviews

I am sure you are also reading some great books and I would love to hear about the good books you must be reading – drop a note in the comments so I can add more books to my to-read list!

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