Review: Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Title: Those Who Save Us
Author: Jenna Blum
Date Read: 5 October 2017
Rating: 4 Stars

In the fifty years since the end of the war, Anna Schlemmer refused to talk about her life in Germany. When an American soldier liberated her and her three year old daughter and took them back to America with him, she convinced herself that the past was dead and not worth remembering. Fifty years later, her daughter Trudy teaches German history at the local university. The only thing she has of their past is a picture of a strange Nazi solider. When she begins a project interviewing people about their life in Germany during the war, Trudy uncovers the truth of her mother’s past that she never even imagined was possible.

I picked up Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum because it spoke to my interest of the whole World War II era. Little did I know that I would devour this book in four days. This book is unusual because it doesn’t focus directly on the Holocaust and the plight of its victims. Instead, it focuses on the daily life of one woman and the choices she makes in order to survive.

We also see the consequences of these choices with Anna’s daughter Trudy in her determination to understand why someone would accept evil choices. Through this we realize that our choices aren’t exactly black and white. Even in the face of something as defining as the Holocaust, people had to make certain choices in order to survive, even if they’re considered terrible by the general public. Good people can make good and bad choices, sometimes simultaneously and this is what Anna did.

I wish that Trudy realized who her father was. We, as the reader know who he was fairly early on, but it was never discussed after that. When Trudy asks if a certain person is her real father, Anna never corrects her and this kind of baffles me.

Overall I think this book is a good addition to any World War II canon and a necessary insight to how people lived on a daily basis.

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What Book Made You Want to Read?

There wasn’t a defining moment in my life that made me take that leap into devout readership. Ever since I can remember, reading has always been an implicit part of my daily experience. My parents read to me nightly from the time I was a baby and when I learned to read for myself, I was reading for hours during the day as well.

Animal stories, historical fiction, award winning books, contemporary school stories; you name it, I probably read it.

People like to ask what book made a person take a leap into the love of reading and to be honest, I don’t know. There was no defining moment. It just was. I can tell you that Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings were defining moments in making me interested in fantasy for a short period of time, but I can’t tell you the book that made me want to keep on reading.

I suppose if you weren’t always an avid reader at an early age, this is something memorable, but not for me.

Here are some books I loved reading growing up:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  2. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  3. Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  4. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  5. Lily’s Crossing
  6. Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt
  7. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Clearing Spaces.

Let’s be real for a minute here:

If you love to read books you probably are hoarding books.

Admit it. You are. Sometimes you even hoard library books.

I’ll confess: I was (and am) a book hoarder. But this year has been different.

Why, do you ask?

Because one day, earlier this year in 2017, while surrounded by my books, I realized that I was tired of being surrounded by my books. And I was literally surrounded by them. In my bedroom I have a built in book case and a free standing one. Both were stuffed to the gills and overflowing. In the computer room, the built in bookcase was not only overflowing, but so was the closet. Even the family room had some of my books lining the tabletops.

It was time for an intervention.

One day when I came home from work, I pulled out all my books from all four corners of the house and asked some serious questions:

  1. Was I seriously going to read it, or was I lying to myself?
  2. Was it a book I truly loved and wanted to read again?
  3. Was the book in good enough shape to keep?
  4. Do I have more than one copy of the same book? If so, which one is the best copy and get rid of the rest.

If the answer was no, then I put it in the for sale/get rid of pile. I wasn’t going to clog up space that I could be using for books I actually want to keep with books I no longer want to read and keep. It was a slow and arduous process, but I managed it. The first clean out was 58 books (more or less) and I was able to sell them at Half Price Books for 20 dollars. Since then, I’ve weeded about 10-15 more books.

I feel better for it. I feel like I’m not chained down by a whole bunch of books trying to vie for my attention. Now it’s just books I either want to read sometime soon or want to keep and re-read someday. They say you can never have enough books and that’s true until you find yourself clogged with so many books you can’t walk or pack anymore.

Hopefully I’ll weed it down to just two bookcases. That will be pretty neat.

 

Book Bullet Journals.

I’ve been off the grid as far as reading is concerned. I’m sad to report that I haven’t read a whole lot. I read a fluff novel a week or so ago but I haven’t written about it because I’ve talked about the series before here. There’s only so much I can say about it; same story, different scenario.

A couple weeks back, I read a post about bullet journals and ever since then, I’ve been obsessed in figuring out what a bullet journal actually is. I still can’t exactly figure this one out but its slowly coming together.

I realized today that I’ve kind of been doing a bullet journal with books. I have a journal where I’m listing the number of books that I’ve read throughout the year. When I finish reading the book, I write down the title, author, and the date I finished reading it. This is essentially what a bullet journal is. Who da thunk it? I saw some other ideas on book bullet journals and I thought those were pretty nifty, as well. One that stood out to me was one where you list all the books that you want to read and mark a little X by the ones that you finished reading. I’d like to try that out sometime.

I hope to get back into the grove of writing about books again. If you got any ideas to jump start it again, I hope to hear from you!

Harry Potter and the Marathon Slump.

Since the end of August, I’ve been working my way through the Harry Potter series. I finished reading the fifth book (the Order of the Phoenix) yesterday afternoon. I was so optimistic at the beginning of the series, as they are my most beloved books in my collection. They still are, don’t get me wrong, but now halfway through the series, I’m more than a little worn out by the whole universe.

It has nothing to do with J.K. Rowling or Harry Potter and everything to do with me. I’m one of those people who gets tired of reading the same type of book over and over again. If I read several books in the same series one after each other, then I start to feel bored with the characters. If I read several books in the same genre (but not necessarily by the same author), then I start to see the pattern of how the genre’s written. Not everybody’s this way, of course as I know people who’ll only read one genre, but I like to have a little diversity in my reading, even if one different book is slipped in between two similar books.

The problem that I’m having right now is that I’m feeling as if I’m running a marathon. The length of the books get longer the further you delve into the series and sometimes I feel a little slump when the narrative gets slow. Plus you want to scream at the characters for making silly decisions, especially if you’ve read the books more than once and can see another alternative to the decisions the characters are currently making.

I think I’m pressuring myself so much right now because it is the 20 year anniversary since Harry Potter’s publication and I want to finish the books before the end of the year. I feel like I have to keep reading so I don’t fall behind even though I’ve got three more months to finish it. But then I feel pressure to read Cold Mountain since it’s the 20 year anniversary of its publication and add on top of all the regular run of the mill books I want to read and I feel paralyzed in wanting to read anything.

I’m probably just being silly. I usually am. But this is usually how it goes with books. I get so involved in what I think should be done instead of just enjoying the process that I get worked up by the whole idea of reading in general. I just need to go back to the basics where reading is a pleasure and not a task.

The Year I Broke My Goals.

I told myself I wasn’t going to re-read books this year. This year was going to be the year where the majority of the books I read would be first time reads including books that I owned already.

That didn’t last long.

I ended up reading some books I read as a kid. Then about a month ago, I realized that this was the twentieth anniversary of the first Harry Potter book being published, so now I’m working through the series just so I can say I read the books during the twentieth anniversary. Cold Mountain is also celebrating it’s 20th anniversary of being published, so I know I want to attempt to read that this year as well.

It doesn’t really matter, to be honest. I can celebrate the twentieth anniversary without reading the books, but it matters to me. I want to be able to do that for myself, even if nobody else knows, remembers, or cares.

I also reached the fifty books read mark for this year.

When I started my reading goal this year, I put in forty-five books. It’s a struggle for me to read a lot of books these days and to put a high amount of books read in a year paralyzes me in the pressure to reach it. So I set a low standard this year.

I reached forty-five in August. Then I read a couple more.

I thought to myself: What the heck, let’s just put it up to 50. It’s not going to hurt anything.

And I reached fifty this morning.

This is probably due to the fact that I’m reading books over again. I already know that I like the book and I already know what’s going to happen, so there’s no sense of trepidation as far as that’s concerned.

But I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t read more new books. It’s not too late to start, but I’ll still know that I read a lot of old books.

There’s always next year, I suppose.

Do You Judge a Book By Its Cover?

I read a guest post by Katie McCoach on A Writer’s Path called The Reality of Judging a Book By It’s Cover. She discusses how the book’s cover is a reader’s first impression of what’s to come in the story and if it fails to impress them, then the book will most likely be left on the shelf rather than be be bought.

I, too, often thought about the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s a phrase that’s often repeated and for a good reason: whether we want to admit to it or not, we really do judge a book by the cover.

When I’m at the book store or in the library, the first thing that catches my attention is the cover. If I think it’s pretty or interesting, more than likely I’ll grab the book and read the back to see if it’s something I’d like to read.

Obviously, there have been times when I’ve read books with bad covers, but only because I’ve heard about the book and read the summary before seeing the cover. With these exceptions, however, I’ve always judged the book by the cover.