Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Keeper of Lost Things and Dark Matter

The Keeper of Lost Things: A NovelThe Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan was one of my book groups read for July.  We decided that it was a good "beach read".  Not heavy, just a kind of fun story.

The story is initially about Anthony Peardew, a writer, who was the keeper of people's lost things.  As he found items (a button, a glove, a piece of jigsaw puzzle, etc.), he would take them home and catalog them. They were kept in his locked study.  As he got older, he hired an assistant to help with his writing. Laura was a middle-aged divorced woman who was anxious to move away from her old life and so she applied for the job and was hired.

The book begins with a biscuit tin full of human ashes found on a train!  That was intriguing.

The book was a bit confusing, as it would go off into different stories, and it was rather hard to keep up with at first. Eventually, the stories all tied together and then it made sense.

Upon Anthony's death, Laura learned that he had left her the house and everything in it.  She was to return all of the lost items that Anthony had kept.
She started a website hoping to find the owners of the items.

There are a lot of characters in the book and, as I said, they do all end up tied together.  It was a fun, light read.

And the fifth book I read in July was Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.  Here's the funny story about this book.  I was perusing books at Barnes and Noble one day and a clerk came over to see if I needed help.  We began talking about books briefly, then he left.  A few minutes later, he returned with Dark Matter and told me that it was the best book he had read all year, said he had read it in two days non-stop, and then proceeded to describe it.  Needless to say, he was quite enthusiastic, and even though he said it was a bit science-fiction, I took a chance and bought it.  A couple of days later, our fifteen year old grandson came to visit for the week.  I told him about the book (I hadn't read it then), so he decided to read it, and finished it in less than 24 hours, and loved it.

Dark MatterA few days later I began reading it.  To a non-science-fiction-fan it was clearly science fiction, but I stuck with it.  Kind of an interesting premise about parallel universes.  A college physics professor living in Chicago with his wife, Jason decided to meet an old friend for a drink one evening and didn't return home.  He woke up elsewhere and eventually realized that there were alternate versions of himself living out different lives.  Vaguely reminiscent of It's a Wonderful Life, what would Jason's life had been like if....whatever.  So then Jason was frantic to return to his "regular" life. Etc., etc.

Just not my kind of book!  But if you are a sci-fi enthusiast, you may like it!!

Just Mercy

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I'll begin this by sharing what John Grisham wrote about this book:

“Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God’s work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope. Just Mercy is his inspiring and powerful story.”—John Grisham

Bryan Stephenson went to Georgia while doing an internship while attending Harvard Law School. During that internship, he found his calling. He began working with death row prisoners who needed his representation. The book tells the story of Walter McMillan, a black man who was accused and convicted of killing a white woman in southern Alabama. Mr. McMillan had been at a barbecue with his family and friends at the time the murder took place, yet he was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder. As the legal team investigated the case, it became clear that Mr. McMillan was innocent and after many, many long hours of work, they were able to prove his case and he was set free-after spending six years on death row.

Over the years Mr. Stephenson's team has worked with children, domestic violence victims, the mentally ill, and others who seem to just be forgotten and lost in the judicial system.

This was a very interesting book.  I felt like it got bogged down at times, getting away from the main issue, but that may have been because I tend to focus on the people's stories, not background issues.  It was a good read.

Two of the Five Books I Read in July

I read five books in July.  Here are two of them (more to follow).

Redemption Road: A Novel

1) Redemption Road by John Hart.  Yes, I read this last December, but I re-read it for July since one of my book groups chose it for our July read.  I enjoyed it just as much the second time reading it as I did the first!  It is a mystery about the disappearances of several women over many years in a small town.  Several of the women were not even listed as missing.  A former police officer had been arrested and found guilty of the murder of one of the missing women and he had been sent to prison.  Years later, upon his release, it began again.  But did he do it?  There are lots of characters in the book and the reader is kept guessing through-out, wondering who is guilty.

2) Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.  I have had this book for a couple of years  but had not read it. I presented it to one of my book groups for our August read.  It's a big book, but read fast.  It, too, is a mystery and is written in kind of a different way.  Right away, you know that someone died, but you don't learn who died under what circumstances until almost the very end of the book.  I was put off by the writing at first, but stuck with it, and ended up enjoying the story.

Big Little LiesThe story takes place in a small coastal town in California and is about several women, their lives, their relationships, their children and their secrets.  It begins six months before the parent's fundraiser night for the local elementary school. The book follows the escapades/stories of several of the kindergarten moms. There are definite groups, actually more like high school cliques, among the moms, and they have their differences between themselves. The story actually seems like a dark comedy, with  numerous funny episodes.  It was a fun, light read.

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 much...love, 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.