Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The World That We Knew

As a regular reader would know, Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors.  Her new book, The World That We Knew, did not disappoint!  Lots of history mixed with some fantasy.  Beautiful novel.

The World That We Knew (B&N Exclusive Edition)

The story is about life, love and survival in Europe during WWII for the Jews.

In Berlin in 1941 Hanni must send her twelve year old daughter, Lea, to Paris to be taken care of by family because of the violence upon Jews occurring.  She goes to see a rabbi, and meets his daughter, Ettie, who secretly agrees to create a golem to protect Lea for the price of tickets for herself and her sister to also escape to Paris.  The golem's only mission is to keep Lea safe. The golem is made in the image of a woman and they call her Ava.

Lea and Ava left for Paris and found the family's relatives and were reluctantly taken in to live with them.  The family's maid, Marianne, had recently left so Ava took on that job.  Marianne had become close to the family's oldest son, Victor.  She had decided to return to her father's farm and left Victor a note:

"Always remember me, as I remember you."
Soon after, Victor left to fight for the Resistance.  Meanwhile, Lea had grown close to the other son, Julien.

Ettie also was hoping to join the Resistance and was finally able to find a contact.  She and Victor began working together.  Meanwhile, it became unsafe in Paris, so Ava moved Lea to a convent in the country.  Lea and Julien had grown close to each other. Her last words to Julien were "Stay alive".

It is amazing to me how Hoffman weaves so much detail, history and mysticism into this book.  I loved seeing how each of the characters evolved.

And more...

Yep, still trying to catch up here on blogging!  I have really been reading a lot lately!

1) The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott.  I really liked this book. 

The Ninth Hour

It began when Annie, pregnant with her first child, came home to her Brooklyn tenement apartment to find her husband dead by suicide. He had opened their gas tap, so a fire ensued.  Unexpectedly, Sister Savior from the Little Nursing Sister of the Sick Poor order showed up and began caring for Annie.  Soon, two other nuns came also.  The three of them spent the night with Annie in one of her friend's apartment.  The nuns got Annie's place cleaned up and linens washed so that she could return to her own place.  Annie began doing laundry at the convent, had her baby and raised the baby (Sally) with help from the sisters as Annie worked.

The book is eventually about Annie, Sally and Sally's children.  A great read.

2) Charming Billy by Alice McDermott.  I loved this book!  It is about an Irish-American charming alcoholic man.  I knew this man-it was my grandfather!  I thought of him throughout the book!

Charming Billy

The book began with the funeral of Billy Lynch.  Of course, all of his family were there, most importantly, his wife Mauve, and his cousin Dennis.

When he was young, Billy fell in love with a visiting Irish girl.  She returned to Ireland and he continued with his romantic ideas of a life with her, until his cousin Dennis told her that she had died. The story of Billy's life continued, although at times it was confusing for the reader.

This is a fascinating story, involving multiple characters-so much so, that I needed to write down a sort of family tree to keep it all straight.  It's also a very complex story, about love, loyalty, betrayal, and forgiveness.  And in the end, maybe it is a story about Dennis, told through Billy??  Alice McDermott at her best!

Still trying to catch up


I read Warlight by Michael Ondaatje for both of my book groups and really liked it.  The term warlight refers to the time during WWII in London when light were to be dimmed or blacked out.

Part One takes place in 1945. Fourteen year old Nathaniel and his sister Rachel were told that their parents were going to Singapore for a year for work. Nathaniel and Rachel had been enrolled in boarding schools for the coming school year and on holidays would be taken care of in their home by one of their parent's "colleagues".  They (the children) referred to him as "The Moth".  At the end of the summer, their father had already gone ahead to Singapore and their mother was getting ready to leave.  She packed a large steamer trunk and then left sooner than scheduled.  The children left for their schools.  They were each unhappy at their schools and after six weeks, the children slipped away from the schools and returned to their home.

Once home, they discovered their mother's steamer trunk hidden away in the basement.  She hadn't taken it with her. They were shattered to find that their mother had lied to them and left them with the stranger.  However, The Moth ended up being their safety.  He had some questionable friends, but even they were kind to the children.  At the end of Part One, the children were involved in some kind of an attack and their mother showed up.

In Part Two Nataniel revealed the events of the years after the attack after his mother had reappeared.  In those years, Nataniel sought to learn who his mother really was and where she had disappeared to all those years ago.

This book is fascinating! And the writing is superb.

"If a wound is great you cannot turn it into something that is spoken, it can barely be written."
White Houses by Amy Bloom is a historical novel based on Eleanor Roosevelt and her friend, Lorena Hickok,  know as "Hick". I am not sure why, but I did not enjoy this story as a historical novel.  Perhaps because the time of it was not terribly before my time.

White Houses

Hick was a reporter when she first met Eleanor in 1932 while covering FDR's campaign for president.  The women became fast friends and took trips together, etc. over the years.  The book is about how their relationship began and changed over the years.

Personally, I would rather have read a non-fiction account of their time together.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Beach Reading 2019

I recently returned from three weeks at the beach and got a bit of reading in.  It's certainly my favorite place to read!

1) This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger.  Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace, which I loved (and highly recommend). This Tender Land is the story of four children who, in 1932, were all in the Lincoln School in Minnesota.  The school was one of the schools where children (mostly Native American) were placed after being taken (often by force) from their homes. Lincoln School was known for its cruelty and  abuse. Odie and Albert O'Banion were placed there after their parents had died-they were only among the few who were not Native American.

This Tender Land (Signed B&N Exclusive Book)

Odie is the narrator of the story, which took place four years after the boys had been at the school. Albert was about to age out of the place, but Odie was only twelve.  That summer Odie, Albert, their mute friend Mose, and a small girl named Emma fled the school in an old canoe and headed for the Mississippi River, hoping to eventually reach St. Louis.

The story is told in two time periods, with flashbacks and present time. On their journey, they met up with some people who sought to take advantage of them, but more importantly, met others who were also on a journey and seeking a home.  It is a book of courage and hope and reminds one a bit of Huck Finn!

2) Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys.  I picked this up at Barnes and Noble where it was featured at the cafe counter for $5.  I didn't realize until I began reading it that it was a Young Adult book.  But by then, I was interested in the story and wanted to keep going.

Salt to the Sea

This is a historical novel based on the sinking of Wilhelm Gustloff. This story  is about three young refugees, each from a different country, along with a young German soldier who was stationed on the ship. The story is set in East Prussia during the winter of 1945 as the three refugees travel through the bitter winter to reach the ship that was set to take people to safety. Each of the three young people have secrets they were carrying with them.

This was a good read and I learned a piece of history that I had never heard of before.  Ms. Sepetys is an excellent writer!

[from Wikipedia: MV Wilhelm Gustloff was a German military transport ship which was sunk on 30 January 1945 by Soviet submarine S-13 in the Baltic Sea while evacuating German civilians, German officials, refugees from Prussia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Estonia and Croatia[3] and military personnel from Gotenhafen (Gdynia) as the Red Army advanced. By one estimate,[4][5] 9,400 people died, which makes it the largest loss of life in a single ship sinking in history.]

3) The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti. Just to throw this out there, this book has been compared to The Twelve Labors of Hercules, which were said to take him (Hercules) around the world to perform impossible talks.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

In this book, Samuel Hawley has taken his daughter Loo back to Olympus, MA, where her deceased mother (Lily) was from and her maternal grandmother still lived.  Loo had been raised on the road as Samuel apparently ran from his own demons, but once she came into her teen years, he wanted a more stable life for her, so they moved to Olympus.  Loo became interested in her father's past and began to try to learn more.

Every other chapter is titled Bullet Number One, Bullet Number Two, etc., up to Bullet Number Twelve.  Over his live, Samuel had been shot twelve times and each time had a specific story about Samuel's life.  It was an interesting way to tell the story of the book.  I liked the book quite a bit. It was named one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR in 2018.

Thursday, October 10, 2019


Good and bad.  Bad-I am so behind in my postings. Good-I have done lots of reading.  So I will begin going back into my head to post all of what I have read.  Here are the first two:

1) The Historian by Elizabeth Kostov.   I loved The Swan Thieves by this author, but for some reason, kept putting off reading The Historian. I think because it was about Dracula, which didn't interest me.  However, for whatever reason, I decided to read it, and I ended up really liking it!

The Historian

It's the story of a young girl who found an unusual book in her father's library.  The book was all blank pages except for the middle, where there was a woodcut of a dragon.  As she learns more about the book and her father's adventures, her father disappeared and she was left with both trying to find her father and trying to figure out all of the mysteries involved with the book.  It is very much a historical thriller.

And the book is not really about Dracula, per se.  It is more about the daughter's quest, and learning the history what her father (and others) had been studying and searching for over the years.

Fascinating book.

2) The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt by Andrea Bobotis. This was a good read.

The story started with a 1929 obituary for 14 year old Quincy Kratt.  Quincy was the son of the owner of the Kratt Mercantile Company in Bound, South Carolina.  It was believed that a worker at the store, Charlie, had shot and killed Quincy. The Kratt family was considered an important family in town, and  consisted of the parents, their two daughters, Judith and Rosemarie, and their son Quincy.  Sixty years later, Judith was still living in the Kratt family home, with a housekeeper, Olva, when she received a postcard for her sister Rosemarie stating that she was coming to the home. Rosemarie had left home at age 13, right after Quincy was killed.

The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt

With Rosemarie returning home, Judith decided that it was time to inventory the old house and all of the belongings in the house. Her inventory taking led to the story playing out in the book.

This is rather like an old Southern story, full of secrets and love.  I quite liked it!