I love reading. I always have. And I think reading is so important to expand our horizons, our vocabulary and, in 2018, get us away from a screen for a while (though I love a Kindle Paperwhite). It’s a great way to wind down, to have some “me time” and to disconnect from real life. This year, I’m looking to expand my reading horizons even more and read 24 books before December 31.
Especially on vacation, though, I love a story that’s easy to enjoy and to pick up and put down as needed. But I don’t always want a typical “beach read,” (especially when I’m not on the beach) so here are a few novels I read through over the recent holiday season.
Last Christmas in Paris
Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
I’m generally not one for wartime books, but Last Christmas in Paris really surprised me! It’s an epistolary novel – a series of letters starting in August of 1914 between Evie Elliott, her brother and her friends that continue through World War I. I loved feeling like I was looking in on firsthand communication between the characters, most notably between Evie and Thomas Harding, her brother’s best friend. It would be easy to think that reading people’s letters would get boring, but the twists and turns of the plot happened just when I would be thinking about putting the book down for the day. On the last night of reading this one, I probably read a third of the book because I needed to get to the sweet ending.
To be honest, I have always had trouble reading historical stories (and nonfiction. #personalproblems). I love listening to them! But I have trouble keeping timelines in order and remembering that everything doesn’t happen back to back like it feels in a book. So at first, it was a little hard for me to keep the dates of the letters and telegrams straight – I had to flip back a lot and look at when the correspondence was sent and how much time was between them to understand the bigger picture. But otherwise I thought the writing was so well done. The co-authors actually wrote this book mostly via email – one would write a letter and the other would respond from another character, and so on. After more editing and making sure the plot points lined up with enough background and detail to create a vivid and layered story, the two created an amazing collection of letters that was a fun read with a lot of personality.
Paris For One and Other Stories
I picked up Paris for One and Other Stories at the same time as Last Christmas in Paris (subconsciously wishing, maybe?) and honestly completely looked over the “and Other Stories” bit, which turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
Over the holiday while I was in Ireland, we had a couple quiet evenings and mornings and I ended up finishing this entire book in 2-3 days. Obviously, the main story, “Paris for One,” is set in Paris and begins with a naive unfortunate event. But what starts out as a cringe-worthy, head-in-your-hands “OMG why?” moment turns into an empowering story of exploring the world and getting out of your comfort zone coupled with a mysterious, dreamy male character that takes Nell on a (realistically simple) adventure that many young girls dream of while in new territory.
I really loved reading the stories that followed, as well. Most were about ten or so pages and were such thoughtful pieces that broke down so many seemingly insignificant but very real moments that happen behind the scenes of everyday life. Those kinds of stories are some of my favorite to read. I think we’re all so caught up in highlights and progress and climbing to our peaks that to explore and empathize with simple, raw moments from different perspectives really stops me in my tracks and makes me appreciate what’s happening in my present.
I also left this book in Ireland to share the love and lighten the load, so it’s not pictured or on my shelf anymore.
I guess I now need to follow these two with The Paris Wife, which is also sitting unread on my shelf right now for a Parisian trifecta.
Porch Lights: A Novel
Dorothea Benton Frank
Dorothea Benton Frank is well known for her charming stories set in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. I picked up Porch Lights: A Novel for an easy, fun read during my trip to Las Vegas a few months ago and it was exactly that. When Jimmy McMullen is unexpectedly killed fighting a fire in New York, his wife and son retreat to Sullivans Island to be with family and seek the serenity of the coast to heal. It turns out, they need the island and family just as much as their family and the island need them.
The grandma in this story gave me quite a few chuckles, and the smooth, sweet read was just what I needed to unwind during an entire day of travel after a 3-day conference. I talked to almost no one and buried my nose in the book as I made my way back toward its setting.
Next on the list? As Bright as Heaven. To help me work toward my Goodreads goal I set in January, I joined Book of the Month after following along on Instagram for a while and staying really intrigued by the selection each month. Now, I’ll get to choose from a new selection of books – some of which aren’t even available yet, like this one – and, as long as I can keep up with reading them, I’ll hit that 24-book goal a lot faster.
Similar-ish to Last Christmas in Paris, As Bright as Heaven is a historical fiction novel. It tells the story of a family in Philadelphia during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. I haven’t started so I don’t know much more than there will be struggles to overcome, but I’ve been very into learning more about the ins and outs and charm of different periods of history. Stay tuned!