A Book List for Grace

My niece Grace is a third year student at the University of Waterloo with her sights set on a possible masters degree in Social Work.  Just before she left for Waterloo for the start of classes we had dinner together. Grace asked me for some reading suggestions. She says during the school year she likes to read fiction that is easy and entertaining, since it provides a diversion from the more difficult and intense kind of material she needs to read for her classes. 

Grace is pursuing a minor in Womens Studies and so the first two books I’m going to recommend have very strong female characters, who aren’t afraid to stick up for themselves and speak their mind. The Witch of Blackbird Pond has been a favorite book of mine since I was about thirteen. I read it at least once every year. It tells the story of a young girl named Kit, who grows up in a wealthy home in Barbados and is sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Puritan England, where she is accused of being a witch. This book may be aimed at the teen crowd but my enjoyment of its story has never wavered and I’m nearly sixty years old. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is easy to read, has an absorbing plot line, a little romance, some adventure and several strong independent women in main roles. 

I think I have read all twelve books in this series by Alexander Mc Call Smith, but it is best to start with The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.  You won’t find a stronger, more determined, more independent, more self-assured heroine than Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s first female private investigator. In each book she solves the mysterious cases of a number of her clients, but the reader also receives a good dose of Precious’ valuable advice about life. 


Grace told me she took a course last year called The Holocaust and Film and she is taking a history course about the Holocaust this year as well. A recent book I read about World War II and the impact of the Nazi regime is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It tells the story about a group of people who survive the Nazi occupation of the British Isle of Guernsey. What I really liked about this book is that the story was told in a series of letters. In a time when good letter writing is being replaced by quick e-mails, this book shows how powerful and engaging letters can be and what great stories they can tell. 

Suite Francaise is really two novels written by  a well-known French writer Irene Nemirovsky whom the Nazis captured. She died in Auschwitz. Her daughter found the novel manuscripts in an old journal of her mother’s and had them published in 2004.  The novels take place in France just before and during the German occupation. The book also contains Irene’s story so you can make connections between the characters in the novels and the author’s own experience. 

Grace worked as a volunteer for a crisis hotline last year, so my last two book picks for her are about women who are in a crisis situation and help those around them to deal with it. In One Amazing Thing, a group of people are trapped in an Indian embassy after an earthquake and in order to keep their minds off their perilous situation as they wait for rescue or death, a young woman named Uma suggests they each tell a story about one amazing thing that has happened to them in their life. Uma’s idea provides the diversion they need and consequently readers receive the gift of each of their amazing stories. 

I was introduced to Cage of Stars Grace when your uncle Dave and I rented the audio CD from the local library to listen to on a road trip. We both became involved in the story immediately. For the last two years I have used it as a novel with my sophomore literature class. It tells the story of Veronica Swan, a teenager whose two little sisters are murdered while she is babysitting them.  Veronica is forced to grow up very quickly as she tries to help her parents deal with this terrible tragedy. Her mother is pregnant at the time of the murders and Veronica not only looks after her Mom and Dad but her new little brother as well. The family in the book is Mormon and you learn a great deal about the Mormon faith as you read, but are also drawn to Veronica who is an appealing, albeit fallible character. 

So there you go Grace. Six book recommendations just for you!

Whenever I went to visit my Aunt Mary at her house in Kansas she would have put a selection of books on the night stand beside my bed that she had chosen especially for me, books she thought I would enjoy. I’m glad I get to carry on that tradition via my blog with my own niece. 

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