February and March booklist

I know, I’m behind…I had every intention of posting a book list every month, but alas, alack, life got in the way.

Nevertheless, I have still found some time to read in the past two months, albeit at a slower pace. After you find it in your heart to forgive my tortoise tendencies, I hope you can find some literary gems in this list. 

MI6 Spy Skills for Civilians: A former British agent reveals how to live like a spy – smarter, sneakier and ready for anything by Red Riley

Do you wake up every morning wishing you knew how to drop-kick a double agent, escape a desolate prison or arrange a secret helicopter rescue? Probably not, but this manual written by a former British agent under a fake name is genuinely interesting and entertaining. I have a newfound respect for the men and women who work in intelligence. They are often put in life-threatening situations, completely isolated and alone, and expected to successfully complete their missions without compromising their identities or dying in the process. Plus, they never really get the public recognition they deserve for obvious reasons. It does not seem like a glamorous lifestyle in the slightest, but it sure is fun to read about not-so-James-Bond spies.

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick

Historical nonfiction can be a tough undertaking. Rarely do the significant historical events we learn about briefly in school translate into a riveting narrative when fleshed out in detail. But I have to say, I loved this book! After the first few chapters, I was hooked. Nathaniel Philbrick successfully presents his meticulous research of the first Pilgrim settlements in America in an eloquent, fair and compelling way, proving history textbooks have oversimplified this pinnacle part of American history for centuries. From the landing of the Mayflower to the end of King Philip’s war, we learn just how complicated and fragile alliances were between some Native American tribes and the settlers; I think this review from the Los Angeles Times sums it up perfectly:

“Philbrick triumphs in Mayflower because he combines [hindsight] with empathy to challenge twin myths about America’s beginnings. The original Pilgrims were neither religious patriots nor bloody conquerors. And the Native Americans they befriended, then betrayed, were more sophisticated and less peaceful than commonly believed.” 

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

This novel takes place on the fictional island of San Piedro, but it’s based on a real place – Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, the place author David Guterson calls home. The story centers around a murder trial on the quite island, known for its strawberry farms. After a respected fisherman is found dead, the circumstances surrounding his death are deemed suspicious and Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese American, is accused of his murder. 

Through flashbacks, we learn that when Kabuo lived on the island as a child, times were simple, enjoyable even, until World War II forced him off his homeland and into internment camps along with the rest of the Japanese American population. His complicated kingship with the island adds color to this legal drama, but at the heart of this book is a parallel story of a Japanese girl and a white boy whose youthful love affair is soured by cultural allegiances.

Guterson returns to the motif of snow falling on cedars often, sometimes too much; however, the delicate dialogue exchanged between characters and retelling of memories through fraught exposition are exemplary. 

Abandoned: The most beautiful forgotten places from around the world

On Christmas Eve, my family follows the Icelandic tradition of exchanging books. I got this photo book of abandoned buildings from my brother, who always gives the coolest gifts. Dilapidated architecture fascinates me, partly because I have this pipe dream of renovating a rundown historical building someday. But there is also a haunting beauty that an old forgotten building carries. You can feel its pain, its sadness and its determination to clasp onto the stories written in invisible ink on its walls. 

This is not a traditional read as there are no words, but I urge you to take your time with this one. The photos inspire a lot of raw emotion and it’s fun to imagine how these buildings functioned in the past and what their fates will be in the future. 

Happy reading!

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