Sunday, December 28, 2014

Watership Down

by Richard Adams

A few months ago my daughter started reading Watership Down and since it had been forever ago that I read it, and since I was kinda in a limbo about what to read next, I picked it up for a refresher, and after all these years I still liked it. At first I wondered if my preteen opinion would hold up after 35 years, but this is a classic that spans the ages.

Most people, whether they've read it or not, know it's a book about rabbits and their minds go to Peter Rabbit and they think Watership Down is just another cute little rabbit tale. But WD is not a little tale, it's a huge adventure! In short, the book is about some rabbits seeking new territory to relocate their warren after one of them predicts their current home's impending destruction. Along the journey, Bigwig, Hazel, Fiver and friends have to battle farmers, dogs and other rabbits in order to finally reach their Eden. Interspersed throughout, Adams includes rabbit customs, characteristics and folklore that connects readers with the rabbits and makes them real.

The first thing I'll say is don't try to read too much into it, just read the story for fun. The next thing is to stick with it... the book has a lot of made up language, which makes it a bit slow to begin, but once you get going you understand these words without trouble. I wouldn't say this is a fast read, but the story is strong and keeps you turning pages.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ordinary Grace

by William Kent Krueger

Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, Ordinary Grace is one of my top reads of the year.  Frank Drum, now in his forties, looks back at the summer that shaped the rest of his life, in 1961, when in his small Minnesota town, five people were murdered. The summer began as any ordinary one until Frank and his younger brother stumbled upon the dead body of a schoolmate, and ended with a death that hits close to home. Local police are sure the transient Indian is responsible, but Frank uncovers information that points elsewhere.

Krueger does a good job of bringing the '60's, these characters and boyhood struggles to life. He also addresses the hard issues of racism, justice, depression and forgiveness. The theme quote,

"Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God" - Aeschylus

comes to life as Frank matures through some painful situations and recognizes that God's grace is often the result of great suffering.

Reminiscent of the movie "Stand By Me," (SK's "The Body") and some of my other favorite transitional novels: A Prayer for Owen Meany and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Between Shades of Gray

by Ruta Sepetys

No, this is NOT one of those shady Shades of Grey books! Between Shades of Gray tells the horrors of the Stalin's regime. This account is told from the perspective of Lina, a 16-year old Lithuanian girl who, along with her mother and younger brother are separated from their father, arrested, taken from their home, and transported to a Siberian labor camp. Being an artist, Lina's job in the camp is to paint pictures for Russian diplomats, however Lina also secretly makes pictures of the harsh life she and her companions are living. These paintings Lina and fellow artists in the camp, carefully hide in the hopes that someday the truth of their experiences will come to light. Additionally, Lina is constantly trying to locate her father by sending out secret messages.

Many books have been written regarding Hitler and the Nazi's, not so much concerning Stalin and his secret police, which happened in a near parallel timeframe. I'm not sure if that is just my lack of reading or if this ugly slice of history has just been kept better hidden. Anyway, if you've read lots of the WWII stories of concentration camps, this Great Purge of Stalin will sound all too familiar.

Reminiscent of The Diary of Anne Frank or Night. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book of Ember Series

by Jeanne DuPrau

The Books of Ember are a series of four 'tween books that I started reading because of my little pew buddy at church. She was so excited about this series and her eyes lit up when she was telling me about Lina and her friend Doon who were living in an underground city, having been spared from nuclear fallout a few hundred years prior. Always the sucker for a good book, I began reading.

The first, The City of Ember, introduces all of the characters, describes their city and the struggles they are beginning to face as resources are becoming scarce and their electric spotty. DuPrau does a good job in making likable and engaging characters and in creating a sense of their urgency in trying to find solutions to their struggles. The two main characters, 12-year olds Lina and Doon, discover a secret message, which after deciphering it, shows them an escape. Try as they might to convince the townspeople to leave, they are unable to, and so the two set out on their own.





After that comes The People of Sparks. Upon coming above ground for the first time, Lina and Doon see what a huge and amazing place they have discovered and know they must convince other Emberites to follow. Although some people remain behind, many do come out, and this small group starts an exploration of Earth above ground. Soon they encounter the small city of Sparks, who they then try to join. In it we meet Tick, who is a little bit of a troublemaker and not very friendly to the new residents. This story presents ideas about prejudice and cultural understandings in a straightforward and easy to understand manner. It also teaches the lesson about returning good for evil without being preachy.  A very good sequel!



And this is where it all falls apart; in The Prophet of Yonwood.  DuPrau had such a good thing going in the first two stories, and then decided to provide a back story. Yonwood totally removes the reader from the intimacy created with the previous characters and takes you back 300 years, before the Great Disaster that required the building of Ember in the first place. This strategy might have worked if:
a) it were written for an older audience
b) it retained a similar style and voice as the previous books
and c) there had been a more clear connection between it and Ember

The prophet in this story is a lady who seems to have had some traumatic illness or injury, after which she sees a vision of a great war and then is left almost non-communicative. Wanting more information, the town leaders listen to and try to interpret some of her additional mumblings, which they use to issue decrees on their citizens. This story explores some very deep themes of religion and asks some hard questions about faith, following God and perspectives on evil, which also may have been more appropriate for older readers. But they are concepts that believers wrestle with and have to sort out.

The thing is, this book may have been fine as a stand alone novel, but the Ember story didn't need a back story, and this attempt just served to distract from rather than enhance the flow of the series.

And so, I never got to The Diamond of Darkhold. I've kind of lost that sense of urgency to see what becomes of Lina and Doon in the new world. And apparently I'm not the only one,  I've read some reviews that lead me to believe Ms. DuPrau lost it too, which is unfortunate.

Should you (or your kids) read this series? Maybe if you skipped the Prophet book.
Should you read the Prophet book at all (or before the others)? Sure, just don't think of it as any part of the series as it doesn't make any contribution to it. It would make for great discussion.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Lost Wife

by Alyson Richman

This is a sweet story of Lenka and Josef, a newlywed Jewish couple living in Germany at the onset of the Hitler regime, who become separated while trying to leave the country. The Lost Wife was well written and had potential, but in my opinion fell short because of the format. To begin with, the little bit of mystery about what happened to each of the characters was spoiled within the first chapters. Having the big reveal at the beginning of the book eliminated any possibility of surprise, although given the nature of the story I'm not sure that would have happened anyway. Then there is the whole issue with Lenka, her reactions and responses to Josef and her family don't seem believable, making her a tough character to relate to. The author does a good job of relating the hardships of these characters throughout the book, maybe even going overboard on the trials, without much relief. And just when there is a glimmer of happiness, the story is over! The ending is abrupt, and while it is pretty obvious what will happen, the story as a whole would have benefitted from going there. I've read my fair share of WWI stories and for me this one was just ok.

If you're a fan of Nicholas Sparks, this is your kind of book.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

44 Scotland Street

by Alexander McCall Smith

Perhaps you recall a few months ago I reviewed the first book in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series written by this same author, and my not being as in love with it as many of my friends, but offering to try another of his series. Well, here it is 44 Scotland Street the first in a series of the same name. These books, there are 9 of them, came into being as a weekday story published in The Scotsman in 2004. This book is the collective of six months articles featuring the residents at 44 Scotland Street. The major players are Pat, a confused girl working at an art gallery during her "gap" year, Bruce, Pat's narcissistic roommate, Domenica, the adventurous 60-ish neighbor, and the Pollack family, mainly Bertie the six-year old wonder child and his mother Irene.

I liked this one! It is a fun, fast read. This isn't a collection of short stories, it is an assortment of snapshots into the daily lives of these residents. Chapters are very brief, but at the same time giving a new little tidbit of information on the latest saga of one or other character.

Fun to read, in fact I just started episode 2! I'm not sure if I'll read through all nine, I tend to lose interest after a few books, but we'll see. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Catherine the Great

by Robert K Massie

Robert Massie delivers a very thorough examination of the life and times of Catherine the Great from her childhood until her dying days. As a young German girl, Catherine's mother was obsessed with arranging a "big" marriage for her daughter and went to tremendous lengths to accomplish it. Much of her motivation came from her own desire to be important, but Catherine was just as ambitious and determined to make an impact. I think the whole process of those royal marriage arrangements was very messed up, which comes across loud and clear in this one. The Grand Duke Peter, chosen heir to the Russian throne, was a distant nephew of Elizabeth, didn't care at all for his aunt, hated Russia, and had no desire to marry Catherine! For her part, from the beginning Catherine was committed to becoming a great Russian empress. She changed religion, learned the language and the culture and ingratiated herself with the Russian people. Needless to say, Catherine and Peter did not have a happy union and both found lovers outside the marriage.

Catherine loved to learn, loved to read and loved art. In fact she amassed some of the most impressive libraries and art collections in the world. Catherine lived a very opulent lifestyle in addition to providing generous living allowances and positions of rank for her numerous lovers and several favored servants. Despite her personal extravagances, Catherine took her position as Empress very seriously, always trying to find ways to elevate the common man and modernize Russia.

To be expected in a novel this lengthy, there are sections that run overly long full of seemingly unnecessary detail, but as a whole this is an interesting overview of one of Russia's most loved rulers. If you like history, lives of royalty, etc., you'll enjoy this read.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Orphan Train

by Christina Baker Kline

Molly is a 17-year old on the verge of aging out of the foster care system. Throughout her time in DHS she has been shuffled from home to home and as a result has developed a bit of an attitude and a reputation for being difficult. In this, her last house, she gets into a bit of trouble and is required to perform community service. To fulfill this demand in her small town, she is assigned to clean out the attic of the town's wealthy old recluse. As Molly sorts through boxes, she digs up Vivian's past and the two hit it off when they discover how much they have in common. Vivian shares the story of her life as an Irish orphan during the depression in NYC and being shipped off on an Orphan Train to Minnesota.

There's a lot of interesting information in this book about how orphans were handled as our government started getting involved. There's also a hint of the life of children going through DHS and the foster care system today, but I wish this aspect had been further explored and developed. I have a particular interest in this subject as a board member for Lilyfield whose mission is to provide stable and loving families for children in need. The latest project has been to provide support for girls aging out of the system.

Anyway, regarding the story, it was pretty predictable, but a decent read on a cold day, sitting by the fire with your hot chocolate!



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

by Carol Rifka Brunt

I actually didn't finish reading Tell the Wolves I'm Home, so typically I would not write a review, but I read enough to get a very good idea of the story so I made an exception because I found this book too disgusting to leave it alone. I am intentionally not providing a link to it on Amazon because I would not want to encourage anyone to read it.  Moreover, I find it particularly unsettling how many recommendations this book has received and even been named one of the best books of the year on a number of lists. Especially that Oprah would recommend it given her past.

The story is about June, a pre-teen girl coming to terms with the death of her favorite Uncle Finn, who died of AIDS. June then befriends her uncle's boyfriend, Toby, who is also dying of AIDS so they can commiserate together. And that is why I think this book got these accolades, because of the gay relationship and the AIDS story.

So my big beef with this book is the absolutely inappropriate relationships portrayed throughout this story. Here is a 14-year old girl who idolized and had a crush on her gay uncle. This uncle not only seemed to enjoy the adoration, but encouraged and reciprocated it. Now that Uncle Finn is dead, the uncle's boyfriend is taking over in this relationship! This guy is at least 20 years older than June and is suddenly spending a lot of time with her, getting her to skip school, to drink and smoke and even pose for romantic pictures with him! It is repulsive!

I am dumbfounded that for the sake of supporting a gay story so many people would overlook the pedophilia.

Don't read it!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Firebird

by Susanna Kearsley

Too formulaic. The Firebird is another parallel story, past & present, which follows the script perfectly. A 20-something art dealer, Nicola receives an old carving that she needs to authenticate. Because she has a special ESP ability, she knows the item is the real thing, she just has to prove it. So, she picks back up with a past love interest, Rob, who happens to be even more psychically gifted, and they head to Russia to get their evidence.

The sections on 18th century Russia had potential, but were underdeveloped. It's like the author had read just enough history to provide some tidbits to make it relatively believable, but not enough to make it interesting. Bear in mind that I was simultaneously involved in the tome on Catherine the Great (review to come). Regardless, it was just too sparse. Then the present day part was just silly and unbelievable (and a bit too romance for my taste).

Ultimately, the book is ok, but I think I've had enough of this concurrent story thing for a while. If you like a little romance and a little history, then you'd like this. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Reading but not writing

It's been more than a month since I've posted on my reading... there're all kinds of excuses, but in the end, I am really behind. I'm not sure I will actually be able to review all the books I've read this year before the year is over either, but I'll give it a try. It's just that as I look ahead to the next 6 weeks (yes, just 6 weeks left of 2014), I don't see a lot of spare time! 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Sleep Tight

by Rachel Abbott

This is a pretty good psychological mystery. To begin with, it takes a while to figure out who the good guy is, and even then you aren't 100% sure you've got it right. But then once you settle on someone and you think you've got it all figured out, you see that maybe you were missing something.

It's hard to tell much about this story without also giving a little away. Here's the best I can do: Olivia might be losing her mind. Robert, her husband, might be a control freak. So when they each kidnap their children, the kids might be safe with that parent or their lives may be on the line. The plot has many twists so even when you think you've got it figured out, you're sure to have missed something.

After reading Sleep Tight, I learned that it is actually the third book in a series featuring Detective Tom Douglas. For this book it didn't matter that I hadn't read the first two, it was great on its own.

Fans of Gillian Flynn will like this. I'm adding the others to my "to-read" shelf. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Shanghai Girls

By Lisa See

Pearl and May are sisters growing up in China right before the Japanese invasion in the late '30's. They live a very exclusive lifestyle with lots of freedom and not much responsibility, until their father sells them in marriage to pay off his gambling debts. To make matters worse, their new family is fleeing China for the safety of America. After a failed attempt to escape, the girls end up making their way to Los Angeles.

Shanghai Girls is filled with information about China during its tumultuous civil war and then portrays life in America as an illegal Chinese immigrant. Although I did find these facts interesting, I didn't love this book. I never did really like any of the characters, which left me not really caring about what happened to them. And I guess that ended up being a bonus for me, since the end of the story comes in a sequel! So I guess I'll never know the rest of the story.

If you like Amy Tan, you may also like Lisa See, however if you only read one, go for Tan. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

My Man Jeeves

by P.G. Wodehouse

Short story collections are not my favorite so I'm not sure I'm the best judge of My Man Jeeves. It is some short stories about a butler who seems to have all the answers to solve the problems in the life of his employer and friends. There are some humorous situations, prescriptions and resolutions in these stories and Jeeves is a charming character, unfortunately about 2/3 of the way through we lose him to some other characters that weren't as interesting to me.

Typical old British humor and easy to read. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Accident

by Chris Pavone

A publishing company receives a manuscript that could ruin the future of an up-and-coming politician, a very Chappaquiddick type story. The agent and her hopeful publisher quickly discover that this manuscript is dangerous and that someone wants to make sure it does not get published and will go to any length to see that it's not. This book contains so many characters I lost track of who was who. The storyline is very jumpy, there are many flashbacks and changes in action that have almost no transition. And one major issue for me was the idea of all these hard copies of this book. If The Accident had been set in the 80's it may have been believable, but it is current day, everyone is carrying a cell phone and laptop, so who has only hard copies of manuscripts?

If you like action-adventure type books you might like this one, but I'd recommend The Expats, his first book instead. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

I didn't grow up in Oklahoma so I wasn't required to read The Grapes of Wrath in high school, instead we read Of Mice and Men. But I've lived here longer now than anywhere else and figured it was about time I was schooled on the Okies.

Before I read it, I knew it was about some Oklahoman's heading to California during the dust bowl. I thought it would tell of the struggles faced by these people as they moved their way across the country. I was right, the Joad's do grudgingly leave their farm in OK, lured to CA by some ads promising work. And I was wrong, the struggles related in this story aren't from the land or the hardships of travel, the struggles faced by this family are from other people. Some of them are desperate for money and need work to feed their families just like the Joad's. Some are CA landowners taking advantage of these wanderers, and some are big businesses that want low-wage workers. In some areas, the migrants attempt to band together against the businesses, but in the end starving people take the work and their efforts are fruitless. Other ideas presented are prejudice, government subsidies, capitalism, fairness, selfishness, generosity, life and death.

Throughout the book themes are presented beginning with a broad, nation-wide perspective then gradually focusing to a state level position and finally offering the individual point of view.

It can be difficult to read the "accents" and there are some pretty hard and harsh treatments of people, but I think it would offer great classroom discussion in many subject areas. Glad I finally read it!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

All The Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

While the story is set in France and Germany during the early 1940's, and while many of the events in the story result from circumstances of the war, I wouldn't call All the Light We Cannot See a WWII novel.

Marie-Laure is a young blind girl living in Paris when the German invasion forces her to flee with her father, who has been asked to carry with him a package that may or may not contain a precious diamond housed within the museum where he worked. When her father is killed in a raid, Marie-Laure is left to find her uncle and protect the museum's treasure.

Werner is an orphan living in a small group home in Germany when he is recruited into a special Hitler science program to develop his unique talents working with radio. Ultimately he is placed in a military unit whose job is to track down a legendary diamond.

But one more thing this book is not, it's not a story about tracking down a gemstone.

All the Light is very character-driven. It is a story about two remarkable young people and the relationships they develop with some other distinctive people in their lives. It is about choices, it is about surviving, it is about caring, it is about darkness and light. It is a complex and beautifully written story. This will likely be made into a movie that I doubt will do justice to the novel.... so I'd suggest reading it first.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry

by Gabrielle Zevin

I have postponed writing about this book because I'm just not sure what to say about it. It was ok, but not what I'd expected or hoped. A lot of things start to happen in The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, but very few of them continue. We're introduced to AJ as a grouchy and lonely bookshop owner who has gotten into a habit of drinking until he passes out. But right after this tidbit, he is left in charge of a little girl, and suddenly he's a different person. Then we meet Amelia, a NYC book rep who has just acquired AJ's account. At first she is spunky and interesting and determined to convince AJ to branch out in his ordering selections. But after that first bit she just becomes dull. Finally, Zevin's failure to develop the mystery of the stolen copy of AJ's rare Edgar Allen Poe novel was a huge missed opportunity that could have turned this book from a mindless read into something really interesting.

I did like the book review notes AJ writes to his wife and daughter throughout the story but I couldn't detect a connection between the selected book review and the lives of the characters.

If you have time and just want a simple story then this is a good choice.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars

by John Green

I never planned to read this book, I knew what it was going to be and knew it wouldn't be for me.  I only went against my instinct after reading my friend's blog post (you weren't the last person on the planet to read it) who claimed, "it is worth neglecting your children, taking a sick day or faking a migraine" to read it. I am glad that she liked it so much.

Although it wasn't my favorite, it certainly got lots of people reading!  There are over 27,500 reviews on Amazon and over 80% of them are 5-star. I like seeing and knowing people are reading! I'm kind of a dork that way. Last Sunday, I got into a book discussion with a nine year old and I was so excited to talk books with someone! That is one thing I miss about book club, even after all these years.

The Fault in Our Stars is a teen version of Love Story. 
The End.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Hundred Flowers

by Gail Tsukiyama

"Let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend."
   - Mao Zedong, 1956.

In 1949, Mao Dezong changed the course of history for China creating a socialist republic under the rule of the Communist Party of China. His dictatorship was responsible for human rights abuses and forced labor camps leading to starvation and death for millions of Chinese citizens.

Midway through his control, it seemed Mao had an enlightenment and began the Hundred Flowers campaign, in which he encouraged people to express their opinions on the regime "to promote the flourishing of arts and the progress of science." In reality, the campaign was a ruse to entrap enemies of the state.  A Hundred Flowers tells the story of how one family was impacted by this campaign when the father submits his opinion of Mao's rule. After his arrest, the story unfolds from the perspectives of several characters, but mainly the grandfather Wei and the daughter-in-law Kai Ying. Kai Ying is trying to keep her family afloat through her herbal medicine business and Wei is struggling with a terrible secret. I'm not sure the author did a very good job of getting across the human struggle throughout this period in China, but she did tell an engaging little story.  

(yes, I did notice some historical inconsistencies, but I liked it any way).


Friday, July 4, 2014

Elizabeth is Missing

by Emma Healey

This story is told exclusively from the perspective of Maud, who is an eighty year old woman suffering from dementia. It seems that Maud lives in her childhood home with a daytime caregiver and a daughter who check in on her regularly. Unfortunately, their checking in isn't enough to keep Maud out of trouble. Maud makes frequent calls to the police or leaves her house in search of her friend, Elizabeth, who she believes is missing. Maud becomes very irritated that no one seems to be looking for Elizabeth but her. Part of Maud's frustration stems from the memory of her sister, who disappeared when they were young and the girl was never found. There are many flashbacks throughout the story telling events leading up to and after Sukey's disappearance.

Two problems with Elizabeth is Missing and you might have figured out the first based on the beginning of this post. Reading a novel from the perspective of a person who has lost their mind is repetitive and exhausting! Definitely makes you realize you don't want that disease though. The other is related to the first, the story gets bogged down in the redundancy and after a while you don't care, you just want to get out of that head.

If you are interested in the effects of dementia or Alzheimer's a better option would be Still Alice.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Blood and Beauty: The Borgia's

by Sarah Dunant

Aptly titled Blood and Beauty: The Borgia's is a bloody, often gory story about the beautiful Borgia family. The style reminded me very much of Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, some interesting but overly smutty historical information.

Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI in 1492, the father of four children (that he claimed), despite the fact that celibacy was a requirement of the position. And that is only the beginning of the corruption of his tenure. Throughout his time in office, Borgia manipulated beneficial marriages and divorces for his children, manufactured strategic posts for their charge, had a hand in some suspicious murders and continued his philandering. Yet he was considered a great diplomat and politician at a time when that was a necessary skill of office.

His children were none better. The two older sons, Giovanni and Cesare were in a constant battle for position and a jealous rivalry existed between them, in part perhaps because their father appointed them each to the wrong role. Giovanni was assigned Duke of Gandia, which placed him in charge of land battles, and Cesare was assigned a Cardinal, in hopes he'd become Pope. They each would have been better served having the others' place. His daughter Lucrezia was a pawn for arranged political marriages. The younger son was a disappointment.

In a nutshell. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

by Alexander McCall Smith

I have friends who have read every book in this series and the others written by this author. For years they have waited for a new book to come out and have encouraged me to read his books. I understand this enthusiasm for an author, I kinda get the same way about Stephen King.  So friends, I have finally read the  The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, and I am sorry, but I just don't get your obsession. I really wanted to like this book, so please tell me if they get better as they go or if this was actually not the one to read first.

I'll give credit that Precious Ramotswe is an engaging character. She's tough and sassy. And the descriptions and details about Botswana really bring life to that part of Africa. But I missed a good story, and while there are some books in which that works, it didn't for me in this one.

So many of my friends enjoy these books though that you may want to give them a try. Maybe it's just not my cuppa, or maybe it was timing. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Importance of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde

I listened to this play from audible.

If you have never read/heard/seen The Importance of Being Earnest, you should... now. It is hysterical. It is a sarcastic commentary on Victorian society, full of one-liners and contradictions. A funny satire that doesn't get tiring, likely because it's so short.

You would like it. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Killer of Little Shepherds

by Douglas Starr

A true crime story set in 1890's France, The Killer of Little Shepherds weaves together the story of a serial killer and the developing forensic sciences that eventually help catch him. When Joseph Vacher is rejected by his true love, he snaps and decides that if he can't have her no one will. That is the first in a long line of killings. Vacher is released from an asylum only a year after this first murder and begins wandering the countrysides of France, killing young teens along the way. On his trail is the head of legal medicine, Alexandre Lacassagne, whose breakthroughs in profiling bring about the capture of Vacher.
The last section of the book is Vacher's trial, which goes into great debate over the plea of criminal insanity, when a person should be held responsible for their actions and nature versus nurture.

I've read several books with similar themes and find it fascinating how doctors and psychologists (alienists) seemed to recognize that each person is unique and to understand there must be a way to identify and single out a person. This revelation appears to have occurred nearly simultaneously in the USA, England, France and other developed nations, and their discovery process was very similar. I am intrigued by the emerging information in medicine and forensics that have led us to where we are today. Makes me wonder where we'll be in another hundred years!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Golem and the Jinni

by Helene Wecker

While it's a bit hard to categorize this novel, I liked it and think many of my reading friends would enjoy it as well. The Golem and the Jinni is fantasy, historical fiction, fairy tale and fiction combined. It is a story made by the characters and from events in their current and past lives. This is not an action packed page turning book, but a journey through the melting pot of turn of the century New York City taken with a Golem (clay person from Jewish folklore) and a Jinni (mystical spirit of flame or air from Arabic mythology).

Both Chava (golem) and Ahmed (jinni) are bound to masters who are MIA. However, their being missing does not free either jinni or golem from their obligations, which leaves both with extreme limitations. Chava goes to great lengths to fit into her neighborhood, taking on a job with a baker and befriending coworkers. Ahmed on the other hand, while he does work, becomes increasingly dissatisfied with his situation and defies norms whenever possible. As you read about their respective struggles in NYC, you also discover their back stories and how they came to be where they are. And eventually golem and jinni meet, become friends and then devise a plan for freedom.

I have recommended this book to several of my friends already, but in case I missed recommending it to you, consider it done.


Friday, June 20, 2014

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

by Jonas Jonasson

In order to escape celebrating his 100th birthday at the retirement home, Allan Karlsson climbs out of his bedroom window with only a few dollars in his pocket and the slippers on his feet. Once he reaches the bus depot, he buys a one-way ticket to as far as his money will take him. While waiting for his bus, he is asked to guard a suitcase for a stranger, but while the man is using the restroom, Allan decides to confiscate the luggage, hops on the bus and thus begins another adventure in the inconceivable life of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared.

The story follows Allan Karlsson on his antics with the suitcase, the unlikely people who help him as he eludes the owner, including a lady with a pet elephant, and the mishaps of his pursuers. It also includes flashbacks of Allan's life, from birth until he lands up in the retirement home. In the way Forrest Gump met up with many a famous character, Allan also encounters some very famous people throughout his lifetime, however unlike Gump, Karlsson becomes involved in ways that shape history. Here are just a few of the people Allan meets: Franco, Stalin, Churchill, Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, de Gaulle, Mao, and US Presidents Truman, Johnson and Nixon.
Here are a few of the situations in which he makes a contribution: a trek through the Himalayas in which he saves the wife of Chairman Mao, undercover CIA agent, involvement in the Manhattan Project, USA/USSR disarmament and Star Wars.

Pretty funny read. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Pale Blue Eye

by Louis Bayard

An 1830's murder mystery set at West Point Academy, a cadet is found hanging in the woods with his heart removed. A retired detective, Gus Landor is sent to investigate the crime. To assist his sleuthing, he recruits a young Edgar Allan Poe, who spies on his fellows and secretly reports back to Landor. Before the crime is solved there are more murders and trouble with Academy officers.

Bayard presents a pretty convincing Poe, as well as other characters. The writing is reflective of Poe's works (if not quite up to the quality). The mystery is perplexing and includes a few twists. And while I didn't care for the momentary corny turn of events upon discovering the murderer, the plot quickly righted itself with a final unexpected turn.

Having recently read through some selected works of Poe, this book may have been offered as a theoretical launching pad for some of Poe's more famous works; The Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven, Murders in the Rue Morgue. But even if you aren't familiar with these stories, you can enjoy The Pale Blue Eye for the history, mystery, characters and writing style. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Husband's Secret

by Laine Moriarty

The basis of The Husband's Secret is a cold case homicide that happened in a small town 30 years ago. And for all those years one man has been suspected of committing the crime, but there is no proof to convict him. It isn't until Cecilia discovers a letter her husband stashed away to be read in the event of his death that the evidence is revealed.

This book has a number of different story lines to follow that all come together in the end. There was Tess, whose husband admitted cheating on her, so she leaves home with their son to stay with her mother, who happens to live in the small town where the old murder occurred. There was Rachel, the widowed mother of the girl who was murdered so many years ago and has never stopped trying to get the man arrested who killed her daughter. And there is Cecelia, the perfect wife and mother of three perfect girls, who finally finds the key to unlocking the mystery.

This is a good beach read.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Catch-22

by Joseph Heller

A while back, my younger brother suggested we read Catch-22 and discuss it together and naturally I agreed. Unfortunately, it took me two years to get to it..... and even at that I didn't actually read the book but listened to it from my audible account. So last month I went to StL a little embarrassed but ready to hash it out with B only to discover that he too had put the book on the back burner! So instead of having a discussion, I kinda gave him a recap, which I think reignited his interest in reading it, so maybe we'll be ready by Thanksgiving (hint to any other family members who'd like to join the conversation).

Here are my thoughts on Catch-22:
First, I'm not sure I would have had the patience to stick with it to the end if I were actually reading the book. It is very redundant. But kudos to Tootsie for getting through it in print!

Next, I was amazed at how skillfully Heller stuck with the paradoxes- to a fault. It was almost confusing, but also quite funny. The entire book is like an eternal "Who's on First" skit. Here are a few of my favorites:
     - Major Major's father was a farmer who made a good living not growing alfalfa. The more he didn't        grow, the greater his subsidies, so he worked very hard at expanding the area in which he did not          grow alfalfa.
     - Receiving pennants as prizes is absurd. Like Olympic medals and tennis trophies, they only signify        that the person had done something of no benefit to anyone more capably than everyone else.
    - There is no need to repay the government, because in a democracy the government is the people,           and we are the people, so you may as well keep the money and eliminate the middle man.

And of course, the catch-22 itself, the initial understanding relating to a person's sanity. In a nutshell, catch-22 specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Bombers were crazy to keep flying missions and could therefore be relieved of further duty if they asked. But, if they asked they were considered rational since they recognized the danger, and therefore they had to continue flying missions because they were sane, but they'd have to be crazy to keep flying missions.

I can see why it creates such controversy. Heller is pretty strong in his anti-war perspective on one hand identifying the atrocities and on the other hand laughing at them. He pokes fun of American bureaucracy, bringing into light its incompetence and corruption. I think people could find it offensive that he is making fun of the horrors of war and of America, but I did see the humor.

I'm glad I can now say I've read this classic, even though I didn't actually read it. 

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

by Anthony Marra

This book covers a ten year period of wars in Chechnya between 1994-2004. A young girl, Havaa is left orphaned after her father is taken away by Russian militants, who are now hunting for the girl. A neighbor, Akhmed takes her into the city where he leaves her in the care of the resident doctor, Sonja, who is the only doctor in a nearly demolished hospital.

I had a hard time sticking with A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. The characters seemed so similar and their relationships were so intertwined that I had to keep looking back to refresh which one I was reading about, which if you use an e-reader you know is not an easy task. The story is told using flashback with a timeline heading each chapter, but the transitions were poor, making it confusing. There was just too much going on and no clear focus. Sonja was looking for her lost sister, who ran away in an attempt to escape her drug addiction. Akhmed was a doctor who wanted to be an artist and had a son who turned traitor after his horrible experience during the first war and then betrayed his neighbors during the second attack. Havaa's father opened his house to refugees after war 1 then was recaptured in war 2, but not before hiding his daughter. There were some war story details, but not a lot to distinguish it as exclusive to Chechnya over any other war torn place.

This could have been a great book with some editing because Marra clearly has a talent for writing, just lacks  direction. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Brilliance

by Marcus Sakey

Part Sci-Fi but more thriller, Brilliance begins with a unique idea that ends up in an all-to-familiar plot. In the 1980's the government recognizes a significant growth in the number of people born having unusual mental abilities that give them advantages over others. Immediately the government classifies this group (brilliants/abnorms) and determines to control and contain them by sending them to special schools where they are "reprogrammed." In comes Nick Cooper, himself a "brilliant" who works for the government catching the bad brilliants. Until he meets one of the enemy up close and personal (little romance), and discovers that his own daughter is also a brilliant about to be sent off to the government schools. Now Nick has to clear the name of his girlfriend and save his daughter from from impending doom.

When I started reading this book I kept telling my SF loving husband he should read it, but midway through the plot became so obvious and the book lost its SF quality and turned into an action thriller bound for Hollywood. If you like those Bourne Identity or XMen kind of stories this is right up your alley. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

An Instance of the Fingerpost

by Iain Pears

In the end this was a pretty good historical mystery, but it was a challenge to get there. An Instance of the Fingerpost  is a recounting of a murder told from four different perspectives. In Oxford, 1663, Dr. Grove is found dead from what looks like poisoning, but did the person convicted really commit the crime? To get to the bottom of this crime, readers are presented with four different character testimonies, each of which has a unique perspective on the events preceding the murder. This aspect of the book is intriguing, showing how people who participate in or witness the same event can end up with such contrasting impressions.
Pears does a great job distinguishing the contradictory points of view and providing distinctive voices for each of the testimonies. And each of them brings in a specific aspect of the time period and culture in keeping with their own prejudices and stations in life. While this is interesting, it also provides some challenges in reading, which part way through became confusing and tedious.
I thought the first and last character statements were far better and easier to read than the middle two.  Those guys went off on political and religious tangents that distracted from the story. I even thought it may have helped me to take some notes along the way just to keep track of all the people and their relationships to the characters (there are a LOT of them). For me it kinda got overwhelming.  However, if you are an Anglophile you'd probably love those sections. Either way this book is not a fast read.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Julius Ceasar

by William Shakespeare

For a while now I've pondered reading some Shakespeare, but whenever I'd have a look, I'd pass because it really was Greek to me. And my only previous experience with him was the nightmare of Hamlet in high school. I've mentioned before that I like to listen to audiobooks when I'm exercising. I have an audible.com account and receive their daily deals email and a few weeks ago Julius Caesar was listed for $2.95 so I decided to give it a try. The version that I heard was narrated by several people, each taking a role in the play, which for me was the way to go! Despite the antiquated language, I really did understand them and the story, and I liked it.

Julius Caesar is a pretty short play and a good way to wet your toe without diving all in. Another benefit is that the story and the characters are familiar. Caesar triumphs over a Roman enemy, he is offered the crown, he is betrayed and killed by his friends Brutus and Cassius, Marc Antony gives his famous speech, Octavius comes to take the throne and seek vengeance for his father's murder.

Here are some of the famous lines from this play:
Et tu, Brute?
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears
It was Greek to me
Beware the ides of March

I now see more Shakespeare in my future.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Horns

by Joe Hill

When I first read the plot summary of this novel I passed over it, but my sister in law kept talking it up, so I finally succumbed. Shoulda stuck to my gut. I will give credit to Hill, Horns is a well written and engaging book, I just did not like it. I didn't like the idea, I didn't like what happened in the story and I didn't like any of the characters, even though the idea is unique, the story is solid and the characters are believable. But for me there was too much focus on evil and too much trash.

Here's a quick run down. Ig Perrish wakes up one morning with a hangover and with horns growing from his head. The horns allow him to hear the inner most evil thoughts and actions of the people he is talking to. He has been accused of killing his girlfriend and been under the suspicion of the whole town for more than a year, and he is resentful. He did not kill her and needs to find out who did, but to do so he has to get ugly. And the uglier he gets, the better the horns work.

Not my cup of tea.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Frankenstein

by Mary Shelley

Even though I had never read Frankenstein, I thought I knew the story. After all, I had seen Young Frankenstein. Boy was I mistaken! My first misconception was that the green monster with the bolts in his neck was called Frankenstein, when actually the monster in the book has no name, its creator however is a young man named Victor Frankenstein. Then I thought the story was about this crazed monster who goes through towns trying to kill people, which also doesn't happen, instead the monster is actually trying to find friends, he is lonely and alone. My biggest misunderstanding was thinking it was a horror story, but it is actually more of a tragedy, and I loved it!

It's amazing how much substance Mary Shelley crams into this short novel. Here are a few of the themes: creation, relationships, love, loneliness, hate, guilt, remorse, regret, beauty, enemies, revenge. Some thoughts to ponder: what is the responsibility of a creator to its creation, is beauty really skin deep, can revenge satisfy the offense, should man be alone?

If you liked Dracula and haven't read Frankenstein I recommend it, you're in for a pleasant surprise. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

HHhH

by Laurent Binet

The book jacket description says this is the story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (The Hangman of Prague) and the two men who succeeded in that mission. I'm not convinced the person who wrote the description actually read the book. HHhH is more accurately described as a bit of a history of Heydrich, some speculation on the guys who executed him, mixed together with many musings of the author who wants to be writing history but doesn't really have enough facts to do so. It's not for lack of trying, it's just that so little is actually known about those two men and their commission that he doesn't have much to draw from.

The good: this book is full of interesting information on the life of Reinhard Heydrich, from early childhood through his succession to Hitler's "protector" of Prague. For Hitler, Heydrich represented the perfect Aryan, the blonde hair, blue eyes, slender nose and build. And Heydrich also had a mind toward evil, which apparently instigated much that went on within the concentration camps. The title of the book, HHhH, which in German stands for "Himmler's Hirn heisst Heydrich" translates to "Himmler's brain is Heydrich" and supports the idea of Heydrich's evilness.

The bad: very little of the book actually dealt with Operation Anthropoid and too much of the book dealt with the author/narrator, who vacillated from whining to bragging to fantasizing. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants

by Malcolm Gladwell

A few years ago I read Gladwell's book Outliers, which seems to attribute success to exceptionality and practicing 10,000 hours. In this novel he is back to examining successful people, but this time it is those who beat the odds. David and Goliath examines people who have the deck stacked against them, but come out on top. His claim is that their success is not in spite of their challenges, as tradition dictates, but because of those trials in their lives.

Gladwell begins this book by taking a fresh look at the Biblical story of David and Goliath. Rather than accepting convention, that David's size and lack of battle skill was a tremendous handicap, Gladwell suggests that his experience with the sling allowed him to confront the giant in an unconventional manner thus providing his victory. While his theory has some validity, he does a great deal to discredit Goliath by making him out to be somewhat incapacitated. The stories that follow look at individuals and groups of people who seem weak physically or emotionally, yet they use those handicaps to adapt, which in turn leads to their triumph. There is a fun story of a championship basketball team that consisted of a bunch of nerdy preteen girls, numerous CEO's who struggled with dyslexia and people in war zones.

Don't expect you'll learn any secrets to success in this book. While it is chock full of underdogs it is lacking in explanation. The conclusion is that you simply can't determine who will adapt to overcome their giant and who will be swallowed up. If you liked Gladwell's other books you'd like this one too. It is a fast, fun and uplifting read.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The People of the Book

by Geraldine Brooks

In all my years involved in book club, The People of the Book was the only selection I failed to read. My lame excuse is that I was too cheap to purchase it and my library reserve did not come up before our meeting. When it was finally my turn to check it out, I was on to other things and passed, always intending to read it. I think my book club disbanded in 2010.

The "book" is the Sarajevo Haggadah, which is an illustrated manuscript of the Jewish Passover ceremony containing significant pictures from creation through the death of Moses. Brooks takes us on a reverse journey of the tome as Hannah Heath, a chemist and fine arts conservator goes through the restoration process. In this version, the book is discovered in a library in Sarajevo, having arrived there from Venice, Vienna, Tarragona and Seville. In each location the book is protected from destruction by sometimes surprising individuals whose stories are told alongside the book's.

The story alternates between the life and research of Dr. Heath with the stories of the book's journey and rescuers. Personally, I didn't care at all for the Heath character and wished for a lot less of her, but I did enjoy the imagined expedition of the Haggadah.

I've been informed by a follower that I seem to be stuck on the historical fiction & mystery genre's lately. I'll take that into consideration for my next choices. But, I'm still behind on posting!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The All-Girl Filling Stations's Last Reunion

by Fannie Flagg

Although I haven't read a lot of Fannie Flagg, this story is very similar to the others I have, light and easy reading focusing on accomplishments of women. The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion switches between the life of Sookie today and the history of Fritzi in early 1940.

Sookie has a loving husband and four grown children, a beautiful home and several close friends in her small Alabama hometown. It seems like she's living the life of Riley, and she would be, if only her perfect mother didn't live two doors down and wasn't the talk of the town! Sookie believes she has never lived up to her mother's expectations and has spent her entire life trying to dance to her mother's tune.

Fritzi is a strong-willed daredevil who wants to be in the limelight. She can fix a car and fly a plane and is always on the lookout for a challenge or an adventure. When WWII breaks out, Fritzi wants to enlist, but instead has to settle for running the family gas station in Wisconsin. Eventually, the US military accepts a small group of women to aid in transporting aircraft to vital locations. Fritzi immediately joins the WASP's.

These two lives merge when Sookie receives a letter from Texas with some unbelievable news that causes her to rethink her life and herself.

Personally, I wore a little thin hearing Sookie's constant pity party and had a hard time believing her response to the surprising news, but I enjoyed the history of the WASP sections. If you liked Fried Green Tomatoes you'd probably like this book too.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

by Maria Semple

Fast, quirky and mostly fun.

Bernadette Fox is a depressed architect who flees California after a series of mishaps and ends up with her family in Seattle, living in a house that is coming apart at the seams. Since she can't seem to avoid disaster, Bernadette takes off again, only this time leaving her family behind. Her 15-year old daughter then goes on a mission to find out where her mom disappeared to. There are some pretty funny happenings in the beginning.

The first half of Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a humorous beach read, but somewhere around the time Bernadette disappears so does most of the fun. Each of the characters makes drastic personality changes and the style of writing changes, to the detriment of the story in my opinion. However, if you want a quick mindless read and if you like Sophie Kinsella and Jane Green, you'll like this book, unless you're from Seattle, in which case you may not be thrilled with Semple's satirical look at the city (and Microsoft). 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Haunting of Hill House

by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House is a ghost story first published in 1959, but in our day we'd probably label it a psychological thriller. Some strange things are happening at Hill House and Dr. Montague is determined to uncover the source. He brings together a couple of people known to have had previous paranormal experiences to spend the summer in the house and find the ghost. However, one of his guests, Eleanor is already pretty unstable and her time in the house wreaks havoc on her mind.

There's not much in this book that is overtly frightening, rather it is the subtle phenomenon and slow deterioration of Eleanor's mental facilities that cause anxiety. It's like the puzzled reaction of my kids after they first watched Psycho and wondered, "what's the big deal?" And Hill House is a classic in the same way, which is why many authors have clearly been inspired by it. If you've read other haunted house stories and liked them you will enjoy reading this predecessor. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Snow Child

by Eowyn Ivey

Yes, I am really far behind on posting! Every once in a while I have a book to write about but get stuck on how exactly to review the book, this is one of those books. I have come back to it several times and just can't seem to get it out, so even though the reviews are piling up, I can't quite get over the hump.

In a nutshell, I liked this book a lot. It is a sweet story of a couple, Jack and Mabel who are trying to make a life for themselves on the Alaskan frontier. The Snow Child is a combination Russian folk tale and Cather-esque style homesteading saga. Ivey does a great job detailing the hardships faced by these pioneers, in addition to relating the personal suffering of this particular childless couple. She weaves these elements throughout the book as she is simultaneously unfolding the tale of the snow child, Faina. It's fun at the beginning that Ivey makes the child somewhat of a mystery, leaving everyone wondering if Jack and Mabel are losing their sanity. She also does a great job giving Faina just the right mix of vulnerability and durability. While I wished for a different ending, ultimately it was in keeping with the nature of the characters. And even though most of the story consists of numerous trials and adversity, the beautiful writing doesn't leave you feeling gloomy.

This is a great book to sit down with over a long, cold weekend.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Silent Wife

by A.S.A. Harrison

This novel has been compared to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, but I believe that is only because they are both psychological thrillers told from alternating husband/wife perspectives and not a reflection of their style. Without spending this whole review comparing the two novels, I'll just say that The Silent Wife lacks the creepiness factor and the page turning quality of Gone Girl.

The crux of the story deals with the psychological effects of a couple in the process of separating after being together about 20 years. Jodi never thought marriage was important until her live-in boyfriend Todd decides to leave her for a younger woman and she discovers that she has no claim on any assets since they never married. Todd is a philanderer whose womanizing ways come to a screeching halt when he gets caught up with a college girl. The story is laid out in a very straight forward manner, which doesn't lend to surprises in plot twists. Even though you could see it coming, the end is interesting and unique, but it does leave a lot of unanswered questions.

If you are interested in psychology you would definitely like this book, as it goes into great detail analyzing the thoughts and motives of each character and giving lots of information on perspectives of particular psychologists like Adler and Freud and Jung. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

by Michelle Hodkin

Last Fall my husband forwarded a blog post titled "9 Books Scarier Than Any Horror Movie" and this was one on the list. A few of those listed I had already read, and honestly they wouldn't have made my scariest book list. The same goes for The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. While I did not find it scary, I will recognize that the premise does have potential to be, a teenage girl discovers that her fear combined with her anger are dangerous and deadly weapons and she is racking up quite a hit list! The Unbecoming is book one of a trilogy and regarding premise, this book details Mara's coming to recognize and understand her unusual gift. I'll also give credit to the cliff-hanger at the end of the book, which was a little twist to lead in to the next story.

Unfortunately, this book is 10% plot and 90% teenage drama/romance. I debated whether I wanted to finish this one, but went ahead and breezed through, which was easy to do as it is also very dialogue driven. I think if you were a fan of the Twilight books you might also like this series, just not for me. And if you're looking for scary: It, The Omen, Silence of the Lambs I could go on....

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Prisoner of Heaven

by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

After the first two books in this series, The Prisoner of Heaven was a little bit of a let down. It wasn't really a story in its own right, but rather a connection for the previous two books and a lead-in to the next one. While you could read either The Shadow of the Wind or The Angel's Game first, you would need to have read both of them for this story to make sense.

No new characters appear in The Prisoner of Heaven, which carries on the story of Daniel Sempere and David Martin and the connection each has to Fermin Romero de Torres. The bulk of this short novel concerns Torres and Martin and their time in prison, which ultimately is The Count of Monte Cristo revisited.

If you've enjoyed the previous books, this one does have the same tone and is a very quick read. Besides, it will be necessary for the final.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The White Queen

by Philippa Gregory

This book killed two birds with one stone, it met one of the reading challenge requirements and it has been sitting on my bookshelf for about two years. If you've read any other of Gregory's novels, The White Queen is exactly what you expect, interesting history presented from a woman's perspective of that era. And while she's not the most gifted writer, she has quite an imagination in bringing the characters to life.

This book is the first in a series called the Cousins Wars (aka The Wars of the Roses) as told from the perspective of Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward IV. Many believed the marriage between these two, a Plantagenet and a York, would bring peace back to England, and maybe so, but it was short-lived. This book covers the time from Edward IV's coronation and his private marriage to Elizabeth beyond his death to the disappearance of his two heirs in the Tower and ending just before the battle between Richard III (Edward's brother and successor) and Henry Tudor.

The book gets long-winded and a bit confusing since so many of these people insisted on having the same names! All the Edward's and Richard's and Henry's and Thomas' are hard to keep straight. If you liked The Other Boleyn Girl, you'll like this book.

I heard this series had been turned into a BBC tv show, but haven't seen it. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Life After Life

by Kate Atkinson

The idea of this book is pretty intriguing. A baby girl is born, she dies, she is reborn and learns from her previous life how to stay alive the next time, only to encounter a new death and be reborn again, and so goes Life After Life. I give kudos to this concept and therefore cut some slack in my review, because I like a well written book that piques my interest.

As you can imagine, the beginning of the story is rather repetitive and after a while borders on mundane. But then about midway through Ursula becomes an adult at the outset of WWII and her retreaded lives become quite interesting as she tries not only to keep herself alive, but perhaps alter history. Atkinson provides a lot of details of life in London during the war and situates her character in some unique circumstances.

Overall I liked the book, but I did wonder to what end was all this living and dying? In each life Ursula remembered some things from her previous life, which she then used to alter her next life, but she was never able to put it all together and get it just right. Then again, maybe that's the point?

At times re-reading the life story got old and the end was a little confusing then suddenly it was finished, but I'd say it's worth the read.