Sunday, July 2, 2017

And for June...

Four books read in June.  That seems like a low number to me, but then, that is one book per week, so maybe it is a lot to have been read! Only one book of the four was disappointing to me, so that's not a bad average. Here's what I read:

1) Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly: I really wish that I had paid attention to what was written on the back of the book (softcover).  I'll tell you why-I didn't realize that the book was based on real people's lives.  That would have made the book even more interesting.

Lilac Girls: A Novel
This is the story of three women before, during and after World War II.  One of the women was a former actress and socialite Caroline Ferriday.  Before and during the war she worked as a liaison for the French consulate, trying to bring people to the US.  Meanwhile in Poland, teenager Kasia was working in the resistance as a courier.  And in Germany, Herta was a doctor.

The book is about the Rabbits-people who were part of Mengele's experiments in Ravensbruck, which is where Kasia and Herta met, Kasia as a prisoner and Herta as a doctor in the camp.  Kasia was one of the Rabbits.

It is a hard book to read, as is any book about the concentration camp experiences. It is very well-written and thought-provoking, revealing secrets long hidden about the camps.

 "...a lilac only blossoms after a harsh winter."

2) the light we lost by Jill Santopolo.  This book has been hailed as one of the best of 2017.  I was disappointed.  The premise sounded good, but fell flat for me.

The Light We Lost
Lucy and Gabe met on 9/11 while in college in New York City and while watching the towers fall and the subsequent news that day, they became aware of a strong attraction to each other.  But the attraction didn't go anywhere, and they both moved on, finishing college and pursuing careers.  A year after college, they ran into each other and the passion was burning. However, after six months, Gabe left to pursue a job in Iraq as a photographer.  Lucy was devastated, but eventually moved on with her friend Darren.  They married and built a life together.  But every once in awhile either Gabe or Lucy would call or text each other, so they never quite lost touch.  The contact was always just enough to stir up old feelings and for Lucy to wonder about how her life would have been if she and Gabe had stayed together. And after thirteen years of not being with Gabe, she is faced with a decision....

Exit West
Long lost love, right and wrong, etc.

3) Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.  This was a book group read and I really had no interest in reading it, but since it was for book group, I read it.  And that is why I love book group-the books chosen to read are often not what I would pick up and so I am forced to read out of my comfort zone, so to speak. And it is always a good thing for me to have to do. In this case, I read the book and loved it!

The book began in an un-named Middle Eastern country where Saeed and Nadia met.  They began seeing each other, and soon Saeed convinced Nadia to move in with him and his father after his mother died.  However, the city was under lots of violent conflict and the couple learned of a "door" that for the right price would take them to another country. They had to travel that way several times as violence would escalate through-out different cities.  Saeed's father refused to go with them when they left:

"...but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind."
The writing in this story is incredible. I highly recommend this book.

4) and the last book read in June was Mischling by Affinity Konar.  Oddly, it is also a book about the concentration camps, this time taking place in Auschwitz, and Dr. Mengele. The story is about his experiments with twins.  It is horrifying, and gripping.

MischlingPearl and Sasha were taken to Auschwitz with their mother and their grandfather.  Because they were twins, they were separated from their mother and grandfather and immediately taken to Dr. Mengele's "Zoo" where other twins were kept.

"And this is where I don't remember.  This is where I want to wander my mind back and under, past the smell, past the thump-bump of the boots and the suitcases, toward some semblance of a good-bye.  Because we should have seen our loves go missing, we should have been able to watch them leave us, should have known the precise moment of our loss." 

Horrible, horrible things were done at the Zoo as Mengele conducted his awful twin experiments.  He wanted to learn if it was possible to break the twin bond, the twin feeling for the other twin. The girls survived camp life with help from others until the winter when Pearl disappeared.  She is presumed to have been killed by Mengele, but Sasha would not believe she was gone.  After the camp was liberated, Sasha continued to search for Pearl.  The twin bond was never broken. Mengele failed.

This book is about so, resistance, resilience, survival, family.  Great book.  By the way, Mischling is a term that was "used by the Third Reich to denote a person of mixed blood."

So, did you notice anything different in the blog?  Yes, I finally figured out how to put the images of the books on the blog!  It only took me 6 months and all of a sudden, I knew how to do it!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Two Other Books for May

I read two other books in May, one already reviewed, and the other a new one.

MemoryI re-read Memory (reviewed February 2016) for my book group.  It was my selection and we had a good discussion over it.  It's a very short, but powerful book, and I recommend anyone to read it!

I also read Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy. It was an interesting book.  It was written by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Sheryl lost her husband very suddenly and was left to navigate life with their two young children without him.  As she so beautifully wrote, she felt that she and her children would never feel joy again.  Her friend, Adam Grant, a psychologist, slowly helped her through her grief, telling her that she could rebound from this tragedy....that we are all built with resilience.  I loved how resilience is described as a muscle.

The book offers Sheryl's own struggles with her grief along with insight and wisdom.  Adam offers research studies.  Both were touching and fascinating.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy
Her life with her husband had been Option A.  After his death, she learned that she had to move on to Option B. There is much in this book for all of us, not just for those dealing with the death of someone.  We all need resilience for many life events over the years.

Books with sequels

I love finding a good book that continues on into other books. I read two sequels this past month and they did not disappoint.  I always recommend that readers read the original book first, then the sequel.  I know that a lot of sequels can stand alone, but I just think that too much could be missed by not reading the books sequentially.

I first read The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom in June 2011. (Review done in June 2011). I re-read the book for one of my book groups.  It was just as good as the first time.

Excitedly, I had already purchased the sequel to The Kitchen House, The Glory Over Everything, so once I finished reading The Kitchen House, I was ready to move on to the rest of the story!

Glory Over Everything
The Glory Over Everything picked up shortly after where The Kitchen House had left off. The first chapter began in Philadelphia in March of 1830 with the character Jamie, who was now thirty-three years old, living in Philadelphia. He had passed as a white man and had made a good life for himself. Only one man, Robert, knew his secret and he was loyal.  However, when Robert's son, Pan, was taken by slave-hunters, Robert asked Jamie to go down to the plantation where Robert had learned Pan was and bring him back to Philadelphia.  This meant that Jamie would have to return South where he was considered a run-away slave.  And this is how some of the other characters from The Kitchen House came into the story.

It was a good read and the author did a good job bringing both books together. And there is certainly plenty of fodder for another sequel!

The other sequel that I read last month was Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout.  I had read My Name Is Lucy Barton in June of 2016 (review done in June 2016), and Anything Is Possible is a sequel to that (in sorts). The book takes place in Amgash, Illinois which is where Lucy Barton was from.

Anything Is Possible
The book is a really a set of short stories about different characters (meant in both senses of the word) who lived in Amgash. Each story seemed to be part of another, and Lucy Barton and her family, tie into each story. And the book ended perfectly! Yes, anything is possible. Fans of Elizabeth Strout rejoice....another huge home run for her!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

April Reading

I got five books read in April.  Guess going to the beach helps me get more reading done!  I already feel the need to go back!  Here's what I read in April:

1) Burn What Will Burn by CB McKenzie.  This was a book that one of my book club members picked up in Africa (of all places!) and wanted to know how others felt about the book.  I bit and took it home to read.

Burn What Will Burn
It sounds like a good story and it was, in a way, but it is also quite different, bordering on odd.  It is the story of Bob Reynolds who was kind of hiding out in a very rural small town on Arkansas, living very isolated.  One day Bob was out walking and came across a dead body in the creek. After he told the Sheriff about seeing the body, he realized that the Sheriff had checked him (Bob) out and was suspicious of him. He was essentially told to forget that he had ever seen the body. So, of course, Bob went on to investigate on his own.

The story has a number of unusual characters who Bob interacted with.  The whole story ended up just being odd.

2) Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman.  Yes, I am a fan of Alice Hoffman and I had not read this book before.  When I read a recommendation for it, I got a used copy to read (it was published in 1995 and was her 11th novel).

Practical Magic
This book is the story of sisters and witches.  The Owens family had a long history of the women in the family being witches. Sisters Sally and Gillian Owens were orphaned and left to live with "the aunts" (whose names are never mentioned). The old, spinster aunts had been using their magic for years and years and Sally and Gillian started to notice that different things went on in the creepy old house.  And that the town people treated them differently.

Eventually, Sally married and had two daughters, but lost her husband early in the marriage.  Gillian left the area and went the opposite way of Sally, running off with men any chance she had, ending up divorced three times.  Years later, Gillian showed up at Sally's with a dead man's body in the car trunk. The sister's buried the body in the yard.  Meanwhile, Sally's daughters were growing up and going the same way as Sally and Gillian.

This is a book about magic, love, and sexuality.  It was a good read.

3) Born A Crime by Trevor Noah.  This book was a book club pick and a book that I probably would not have ever picked up to read on my own.  That's the joy of book groups...getting out of my comfort zone and reading things that I wouldn't have read otherwise.  I didn't expect to, but I really enjoyed this book!

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African ChildhoodTrevor Noah is the host of The Daily Show.  I have never seen his show, but did know who he was.  I didn't realize that he was from South Africa.  This book is autobiographical covering his childhood growing up in South Africa, the son of a black woman and a white Swedish man. Noah was raised by his mother and his story is told rather in essay form, which I found very easy to read.  Each chapter loosely covered a certain topic, including school friends, violence, relationships, racism, and being born different from the others.  His mother was determined to give him a better life and was a driving force for his success. It was an interesting story.

A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy
4) A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal. This is "A memoir of surviving Auschwitz as a young boy".  It came highly touted, but I had difficulty getting through it after awhile.  The story seemed to get bogged down and I had to make myself finish it. It is certainly an interesting story.  The author was a very young boy when taken to the death camps with his parents.  He was immediately separated from his mother, but remained with his father for some time, until they were also separated.  At the end of the war, he was placed in a Polish orphanage, where eventually (and miraculously) he was found and reunited with his mother in Germany.  It was also interesting to learn what became of the author as an adult and how he felt his experiences influenced his life.

The Women in the Castle
5) The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck.  This book was probably my favorite read of April.  It is the story of one woman, Marianne, who worked with her husband in the Resistance in WWII.  Her husband was killed and at the end of the war, Marianne sought out two other women and offered them housing in the family's old rundown castle. One of the women (Benita) had been her friend's wife.  Her friend had asked her to watch over his wife and child. The other woman was Ania, who had two sons.  The three women and three children lived in the castle with Marianna as the world they knew struggled with the aftermath of the war. Each of the three women made their way eventually to lives that vastly differed from each other.

This was a good read.  I loved how the author took it to the end and wrapped up the women's stories.  The book was inspired by the author's grandparents' memories and experiences from WWII.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

3 books for March

I found Soul Catcher by Michael White on the bargain table at the bookstore.  It caught my eye, and I'm glad it did.  It's a story about pre-Civil War times.
Soul Catcher: A Novel

Augustus Cain was a "soul catcher", a term I have never come across before.  I
t refers to those who were fugitive slave catchers.  And Augustus was one of the very best.  He was hired by a slave master to track down two of his slaves, Rosetta and Henry, who had run away and bring them back to him. Augustus set out with three other men on a journey that led them from Richmond to New York, then to Boston.  Augusta tracked the two runaways down, and as they began to return to Richmond, Augustus began healing of his own, as he got to know his captives. The story did not end predictably, but with a strong ending.  I liked it very much!

From the library, I borrowed The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker.  It is a book that I have been wanting to read for quite some time, so I was glad to come across it have the time to read it!  It is a good historical fiction book!

The Watery Part of the World

The story covers over 150 years and is loosely based on two real life events. 
 Aaron Burr's daughter, Theo Burr Alston, disappeared while she was on a ship headed to New York in 1813.  Theodosia Burr Alston was born in 1783, and had married Joseph Alston, Governor of South Carolina.  In The Watery Part of the World, Theo was not killed, but was found by "Old Whaley", a man who was a bit of an isolationist and somewhat feared/respected on the island where Theo washed up.  He nursed her back to health and over time, Old Whaley and Theo became a couple.

Years later on the same island, live two descendants of Theo and Old Whaley.  They are two older sisters who have lived there all their lives and have seen the island became a popular vacation area, then become a rather abandoned area, with just the two sisters and Woodrow a sort of caretaker on the island.

The book was a very interesting read.  In real life, it was never determined for sure what happened to Theo, so I liked how the author developed the story based on a real person.

Mississippi Blood (Natchez Burning Series #3)

And lastly, the book I have been patiently waiting for, the third of the trilogy by 
Greg Iles: Mississippi Blood.  This was a really good series.  There were lots of themes going on and all three books were huge! The first book was Natchez Burning, the second was The Bone Tree, and now finally the finale.  Or was it?  The author tricked me before.  I thought that there was a hint in the first book about one of the characters who was murdered.  I kept waiting for it to come up in the third book and I was wrong and I was really disappointed about that. And now I feel like there was left an opening at the end of the third book for the story to continue.  I hope that I am right on this one!  I love his writing!

It's hard to sum up this trilogy.  It is about Penn Cage, who has been in the author's other books.  Penn's father was accused of murder of his old nurse, Viola, who had left Natchez, Mississippi some thirty years before, then returned there to die. Viola was a black woman who had lost her brother to the Double Eagles, a violent spin-off from the Ku Klux Klan. Viola had also been raped repeatedly by the members of the Double Eagles. And when she returned to Natchez, the group was still around, consisting of old men who still had their convictions.  Penn was the mayor of Natchez and as he tried and searched for evidence to prove his father innocent, his family became at risk.

I loved the series and Greg Ilse's writing.  Be prepared to not be able to put the books down!  Each one kept me up late at nights as I didn't want to stop reading them.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

February Reading

I can't believe that February had ended!  Although, I am not a winter girl, so there is no complaining here!  As a matter of fact, we spent 2 weeks at the beach in February, so that helped alot!  You would think that I would have gotten plenty of reading done, sitting by the pool, but, alas, I was just too busy! I am reading a long book right now, so it won't be included here until March. reading for February..

1) The Archivist by Martha Cooley.  This is a book that I have picked up several times to look at, but never went ahead and got it to read.  It came up on a list of books recently, so I decided to read it. I ended up liking it quite a bit.  It is the author's first novel and she will definitely be one that I will follow.

The Archivist: A Novel
The premise of the story is that letters written by T.S.Eliot to his friend (lover?) Emily Hale had been sent to a prestigious university and had been archived. Eliot's wife had been institutionalized and he had carried on a friendship and correspondence with Emily for years.

The two main characters of the book (or are they?) are Matthias Lane, a 65 year old archivist and Roberta Spire, a graduate student.  Roberta wants a look at the archived letters related to reasons that she had just learned that her parents had been Jews who escaped the Holocaust and converted to Christianity.  Because Eliot had converted to Catholicism, she was hoping to learn how her parents may have come to their conversion decision. She was not aware that the Holocaust played a role in Matt's wife's breakdown. Matt had also had to commit his wife to an asylum.

So there are many elements going on in the story, with lots of different comparisons and/or similarities.  Like Eliot, Matt was a rather isolated person, who tended to remain detached from others. His blossoming friendship with Roberta lead him to begin to realize his part in how his life had played out, in terms of his own decisions.

2) Alibi by Joseph Kanon. Alibi is a mystery that takes place in Venice post WWII. Adam Miller had just left the US Army where he had worked in Germany as an intelligence officer investigating war-crimes.  His mother, Grace, had just moved to Venice and had taken a house on the Grand Canal where Adam came to join her. Grace had become involved with a doctor, Gianni, whom she had known years earlier before marrying Adam's deceased father.  Grace took Adam to a party where he meet Claudia.  They quickly became involved and as Adam got to know her, he learned that she was an Italian Jew who had been placed in a camp during the war.  As Adam spent time with Gianni, he began to be suspicious of what Gianni had done during the war.  As he began to look into Gianni's past, things quickly escalated.  The story was a good one, but it seemed like the relationships that were developed  early in the story fell somewhat flat. I was glad to be done once I finished the book.  It had begun to drag for me.

3) The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas.  This was a book chosen for one of my book groups.  I had read it some years ago, so it was the second time for me.  It was a good, interesting story, but the ending was abrupt and unsatisfying. It made
our group wonder why she spent so much time writing the book and then ended it the way she did.

The Last Midwife: A Novel
The story took place in 1880 in a small mining town in Colorado.  Gracy Brookens was the town's only midwife and she had been accused of murdering a baby after she delivered it.  Gracy had delivered babies all her life, since she was around 10 years old.  She loved babies and working with the mothers. Of course, Gracy had not committed the murder, but clearing her name wasn't so easy. And Gracy was not too forthcoming in her defense. Gracy knew many, many secrets from all of her years delivering babies and she had a strict code...she would tell no one the secrets that she knew. And that included secrets about the baby (and the baby's family) she was accused of murdering.

Oh, did my review end abruptly?  So did the ending of the book.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

January Reading

As I said in my post yesterday on Freeman, I am changing things up a bit with this blog. I plan to wait until the end of the month and review all the books read for that month then.  There is an exception to that, however.  If I read a book that I cannot wait to share, I will post about that book at the time I have finished reading it.  We'll see how this goes.

My Father and Atticus Finch: A Lawyer's Fight for Justice in 1930s Alabama
1) My Father and Atticus Finch by Joseph Madison Beck.  I got this for Christmas (it was on my wish list) because, of course, anything Atticus-related is a must-have.  The sub-title for the book is "A Lawyer's Fight for Justice in 1930's Alabama".  The author's father was Foster Beck, an attorney in southern Alabama, who was chosen to defend a black man who had been accused of raping a white woman.  Sound familiar? The case was State of Alabama vs. Charles White, Alias.  It occurred around the time that Harper Lee was about twelve years old.

This was an interesting read and certainly there were similarities to To Kill A Mockingbird.  My problem with the book is that I felt like it could have been presented in a magazine article just as well and would have covered the facts. Admittedly, Mr. Beck's intent with the book may have been to tell the story of his father, not just about the one case, and if that is so, then the book did a fine job.  I was more interested in the actual case.  And the case was covered well.

Mere Christianity
2) Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  I began this book a while back, reading only one chapter per day for study.  The book was published in 1952 and was based on radio talks that C.S.Lewis gave between 1942 to 1944. I found it to be a rather difficult book to read.  It is what some might call "heady" and I just plowed through those parts.  My main objection to the book (which I have to add is considered a classic read) was his comments on black people and gay people. There is nothing Christian about those stances.

Spandau Phoenix
3) Spandau Phoenix by Greg Iles.  Greg Iles is one of my very favorite authors.  While perusing the very small library in our town, I happened across this book, which I had not heard of.  I checked it out of the library, and learned it was the first book that he had written.  It is about post World War 2 and Rudolph Hess, the last prisoner in Spandau Prison, died.  Or was it Rudolph Hess?  It was a good story and clearly well-researched, but I felt like it went on and on.  It's a very long book, as his books are, but usually I don't want his books to end.  This one I was praying for the end.  I was hooked enough to finish it and it was a good story, just seemed too long.

The Golden Age
4) The Golden Age by Joan London.  So now that I have complained about the books that I have read, here's one that I absolutely loved!  Both of my book groups read this book and it was highly praised by both! The story takes place primarily at The Golden Age, an old pub in Australia that had been made into a children's hospital for children with polio.  Frank Gold was the main character of the story.  He and his parents had escaped from Hungary during the war and ended up resettling in Australia.  Soon after, Frank was diagnosed with polio.  When he arrived at the Golden Age home, he was the oldest patient there. He soon met Sullivan, a young boy in the home who was in an iron lung.  Sullivan was a poet and introduced Frank to poetry and to writing poetry.  Frank's other friend in the home was Elsa, who Frank fell in love with and they developed a romance in the home.

There were a lot of wonderful characters in this book, including both of Frank's parents, Elsa's parents, and the head nurse at the Golden Age.  All of the character's had to deal with various issues, including displacement, love, hope, loss of hope, etc.  It's a beautiful book.