Sunday, December 24, 2017

We Were the Lucky Ones

by Georgia Hunter
Dec 10-24, 2017

Lucky, indeed. What a shocking thing to say about a family surviving the Holocaust. But the Kurc family's survival is just that – hauntingly lucky. I admit I've been on a tear with WWII books of late, but the more I read, the more I want to learn. This book changes the narrative from what one would expect of the true story of Polish Jews and their fight for survival. The "lucky" part is because out of this rather large family – two parents, five children and their spouses, and a few grandchildren – every one of them survived. They consider themselves lucky even though they faced truly unbelievable hardships, from gulags to ghettos to imprisonment. The number of survivors versus those who perished in their home city of Radom is staggering. These are Hunter's ancestors and she did a beautiful job bringing their story to life.

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Sound of Gravel

by Ruth Wariner
Nov 19-Dec 3, 2017

I try to be respectful of other religions, whether or not I agree or understand the point of view of different faiths. But I simply cannot wrap my mind around polygamy. I don't think that God would want children to suffer in poverty and malnutrition all in His name. And for men to have 20, 30, 40-plus children that he can't even begin to provide for ... I find it selfish, not holy.

Ruth Wariner is a brave woman for putting her horrific childhood on paper for us to read. There's no doubt that her mother loved her 10 children, but unfortunately she loved her disgusting predator of a husband more. Maybe that's simplifying the matter, but complicating it with religion somehow seems to condone his unholy actions.
“Mom couldn’t teach me that because she didn’t know herself. She couldn’t show me how to be happy, only how to barely survive.”
This book made me sad, angry and left me feeling helpless. The world already faces enough poverty and neglect; choosing a lifestyle where these things are a given is ludicrous. Unfortunately, stories like Ruth's will continue to be exposed and we'll still feel powerless.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Mothers

by Brit Bennett
Oct 29-Nov 13, 2017

Mothers in all aspects of the word. Desperately-want-to-be mothers, "seasoned" mothers, almost mothers. How one decision can haunt you for your whole life. Nadia, the main character, is yearning to be loved. And while the plot isn't exactly groundbreaking or original, the author did a great job at gaining sympathy for each character and illustrating the inner turmoil each one faced.
"...magic you wanted was a miracle, magic you didn't want was a haunting."
I tore through this one, grateful for a bit of easier reading after the last chore I finished. I'm not sure that it will stay with me, in fact, I finished the book six days ago and haven't really thought about it since. But I enjoyed the story, the character development and the different points of view.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow

by Amor Towles
Sept 16-Oct 28, 2017

I tend to be disappointed in myself when I breathe a sign of relief after finishing a book. Especially one like this that is insanely loved by so many like-minded readers. I just could never get past the "chore" of completing the book and not giving up. I rode a few waves of abandonment. The first was early on when I realized that I had little knowledge or interest in Russian history. While it isn't mandatory to have this comprehension in your repertoire, I definitely think it would have enhanced my experience. Instead I pushed on because I began to enjoy the story of the Count's friendship with Nina. But again, I wanted to give up as I was constantly getting lost in the political history and (gasp!) footnotes. By that point I was nearly halfway through and felt some sort of displaced loyalty to the book to find out how it ended.

At one point I even bookmarked a quote:
"I think if I were a garage door, I should rather miss the old days."
I'm sure at the time I was charmed by this sentence, but for the life of me, I can't remember why. I suppose that's what happens when it takes 42 days to get through less than 500 pages. There was no doubt a generous amount of charm and the characters were most definitely likable, I just kept thinking I would have liked it more if the story stayed focused on the personal rather than the political.

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Small Great Things

by Jodi Picoult
August 20-Sept 16, 2017

Just a quickie drive-by review since I finished this book three weeks ago and just haven't had time to write a review. I typically am not a fan of Picoult's work; I find her storytelling to be a bit scattered and overzealous. But there's no doubt that she is a wildly popular author, and after some pretty intense "encouragement" to read the latest, I added Small Great Things to my list.

This book is uncomfortable right from the start. It is not easy to read about white supremacy. And for me, it was not easy to read about a black nurse from the first person clearly written by a white woman. Is that offensive to anyone else? Either way, the topic is current and relevant, and for this, I applaud the author. But, with quotes from white characters like, "I don't see color," the book instantly becomes cliché. The plot development was decent until in typical Picoult fashion, it became soapy. That's when I remembered why I avoid her books.

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Lilac Girls

by Martha Hall Kelly
July 29-Aug 20, 2017

It's been two weeks since I finished Lilac Girls and I still can't get it out of my mind. While most of the WWII books I've read are simply historical fiction, this one includes real people and historical figures to authenticate the horrific tale. I didn't realize this at first. I assumed that the experiments performed at Ravensbrück were factual, and that this was the single, female-only concentration camp, but it wasn't until I started to research these experiments that I learned that Gerta Oberheuser was, in fact, real. A real monster who convinced herself she just needed the work.
“It only hurts you to hold on to the hate.”
There isn't much more to be said about the horrors of Ravensbrück; at least from a book synopsis standpoint. But what intrigued me about this story was that the war only encompassed the first third of the book, the rest was the aftermath and how the survivors struggled every day to move on. I was fascinated by this perspective and appreciated this difference from all the other WWII novels I've read. I will say again, especially when people wonder how one can read books about such heinous events in history, that we need to continue to speak and learn about the past, lest it repeat itself.

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

This is How It Always Is

by Laurie Frankel
June 25-July 29, 2017

I feel like I'm supposed to love this book. I might actually have a slight pang of guilt for not loving it. One reason it took so long to finish was because I was slogging through part three. I was bored. And I feel a little bad about that. The subject couldn't be any more current, more now, more relevant. But the delivery was lacking in more ways than one. Here's why.

While I would certainly hope that all parents of a trans child would so willingly except that child with no hesitation, it seemed a bit too par-for-the-course with Rosie and Penn. They immediately accepted Poppy/Claude and knew exactly what to say to her. Yes, Penn spent countless hours researching online, but they never seemed to struggle with what to say or how to react.

Second, while Rosie was a doctor and had the opportunity to go to Thailand for work, it's simply not realistic to pack up your 10-year old child and travel across the world. I get that the "enlightenment" came from these travels, but it was a very odd way to present it. I found myself drifting quite a bit here and wondering why there was so much focus on Rosie's dying, underprivileged patients.

Finally, the ending was a bit too tidy, especially for the seriousness of gender identity. I find it incredibly hard to believe that a 10-year old child who hated Poppy when he found out she was actually Claude would suddenly accept her AND ask her to dance. Again, wouldn't it be lovely if this were more the norm than not, but I can't imagine that it is. It's a shame really.

I found the writing to be a bit too disjointed and it was easy for me to wander off. I understand the connection to Penn's fairy tale, but too much time was spent on it and its blatant comparison to real life. The author speaks from experience; having a trans child of her own, but her execution here just wasn't successful in my eyes.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017


by Yaa Gyasi
May 29-June25, 2017

Quite an epic amount of history in a short 300 pages! I think this novel is bigger and better than its brevity. From the beginning of slavery in Ghana through present day, the author takes the reader on a journey through seven generations. Each chapter told from a different descendent's point of view, it's merely a taste of the lives they led. I understand the formula the author intended, but as each story is rather short, I always found myself wanting more. Some stories were more successful and interesting than others. Those were, of course, what I wanted more of. The story of "H" was my favorite.

Although the historic importance was so great, the prose was very easy to read. But, after a while, I was bored. Hence the month it took me to get through it. Gyasi's plan for the chapters was a good one, I just found it to be a little monotonous after a while. I did have to refer back to the family tree at the beginning a few times, which may speak to the complexity of the familial line.

In the penultimate chapter, Marjorie sums up her lineage perfectly and with poise in this poem:
Split the Castle
find me, find you.
We, two, felt sand,
wind, air.
One felt whip.
once shipped.
We, two, black.
Me, you.
One grew from
cocoa's soil, birthed
from nut,
skin uncut, still
We, two, wade.
The waters seem
but are same.
Our same. Sister
Who knew? Not me.
Not you.
Really, an excellent synopsis of this family's 250 years.

* * * * *

Sunday, June 4, 2017


by Jung Yun
May 14-23, 2017

No doubt did I tear through Shelter at a crazy pace, so kudos to Yun on his first novel. I'm not sure if my lack of knowledge on Korean culture can be blamed for some of my disconnect to the characters, but without a doubt, the main character was indeed a whiny, spineless loser. Truly pitiful. There was absolutely nothing redeeming about him – a brave move for a first-time author. I didn't even want to like him and never found myself rooting for him. Yet the story sweeps you in immediately and held my interest until the end.  I did enjoy it, but mostly in a watching-a-train-wreck kind of way. The book jacket boasts a "startling conclusion" but I think it was expected. Not in a bad way necessarily, but in an "of course" way. The ending started to become a bit tidy, but also fairly abrupt too. Even though you knew that Kyung is f-ed overall, we don't really find out to what extent.

Overall, entertaining dysfunction.

* * * * *

Sunday, May 14, 2017


by Affinity Konar
April 9-May 6, 2017

What to say about a Holocaust story that involves the children tortured by Mengele? How can one say a book like this is "good?" How can it be classified as entertaining? Informative, yes, but not an inkling of leisure. A monumental, heart-breaking chore.

Admittedly, I knew very little about Mengele's "zoo" and his horrific experiments on children. And I do believe it's important to keep history in the forefront because events like this should never be forgotten nor repeated. But to make a novel "artsy" in describing the events and circumstances around Auschwitz just doesn't sit right with me. At times the descriptions of torture were so graphic I found it nearly unbearable. Sickening even.

I honestly think subjects like this are best left to history books. Historical fiction told poetically is not the type of reading anyone can or should enjoy.

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Underground Railroad

by Colson Whitehead
Mar 19-Apr 9, 2017

Oprah and her magical ability to gain followers to anything and everything she likes or touches (Midas?!). It's been a while since I've read an Oprah-acclaimed book, but this one had been receiving plenty of praise on its own. This may be a terrible thing to say, but I think I am burned out on books about slavery. Granted, this one focused more on the escape than the day-to-day life on a plantation, but it was still difficult reading nonetheless. Cruelty followed slaves everywhere. I'm astonished by the endurance and will to live that these people unfailingly kept up. To read about Cora's burst of luck only to have it stripped away more brutally each time made me truly wonder how she even wanted to live any longer. Terrible thoughts. And thus the burnout on the subject matter. It's exhausting.
“Freedom was a community laboring for something lovely and rare.”
Overall an interesting direction taken by Whitehead – and actual underground railroad. But the storyline was a bit jerky and presented in ways that weren't as successful as they could have been.

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Sunday, March 5, 2017


by Natashia Deón
Feb 15-Mar 4, 2017

I seem to be drawn to books about slavery. But then again, it also seems to be a popular subject among contemporary authors. It must be my love of historical fiction though, because there is no "easy reading" when it comes to the life of a slave and what they had to endure. Literally fearing for their lives every single minute of every single day, plus those of their loved ones. Not to mention rape, beatings, torture; the list goes on. I don't remember how Grace came to be on my radar – maybe it was the 4.1 stars rating on Goodreads – but this beautifully written novel was well worth every minute.

Grace was told from two perspectives: Naomi's life before her daughter's birth and Josey's life after her mother's death. This is no secret ... the first chapter reveals Naomi's murder. The two stories are told in parallel with more and more secrets revealed as the chapters flow from Naomi's "flashes" (the times before her death) to Josey's mental and physical struggles through the Civil War and the emancipation. The unique perspective of Naomi's spirit watching over her daughter was skillfully told and in no way portrayed as a cheesy ghost story (although some reviews I read disagree).
“It’s been said that justice is getting what you deserve. And mercy is not getting the bad you deserve. Grace is getting a good thing, even when you don’t deserve it.”
The conclusion was by no means neat and tidy, but in the end Naomi found a bit of peace.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Girl Through Glass

by Sari Wilson
Jan 28-Feb 14, 2017

The world of ballet is beautiful to outsiders. But for those inside, it is competitive, grueling, manipulative and plagued by body dysmorphia. And I love books about ballet! Everyone has a dream job, something they always secretly wished for but knew there was no way to achieve it. Mine was, and will always be, a dancer. I clung to that hope all the way through college even though I knew it would never, ever happen. But I've loved dance in all forms since long before I can even remember.

So when I jump into a ballet novel, I'm immediately in the world I want to be in. This one started a wee bit abstract for me, but then I quickly figured out its pattern and got cozy. While I thought maybe the present Mira/Bella/Kate was a little disjointed in its telling, I totally related to the late 70s portion of the story. Mostly because of my nostalgia for that time in my childhood – right about when I discovered dance. But I also loved reading about Mira's dance classes, priding myself in remembering all the French dance terms and knowing the famous ballerinas referenced. Present day Kate was a bit all over the place with the super short-lived "affair" seeming not to add the proper depth to her character and be more of an annoying distraction.

And let's face it. Maurice was creepy AF. But, as he's described in his time with Mira, he's a super old, wrinkly, crippled man. Then the reader finds out he's about 48! Ha! But I guess we all thought people in their 40s were ancient when we were preteens. Without giving too much away, I think the author did a very tasteful job of describing the events that ended Mira's relationship with that weirdo.

Overall, I delicious indulgence into a world that remains very much unchanged for centuries.

* * * * *

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Nest

by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
Jan 8-28, 2017

Selfish siblings. Not unlikeable necessarily, but completely selfish. Four siblings riding on an inheritance set up by their late father and each one spending the unexpectedly large sum before it was even bequeathed to them. That in itself is a gamble that probably most people would take, but these four went above and beyond.

I needed this lighter, quick read after the few duds that I read before this. A little bit soapy, a little gossipy, a little scandalous. Just a fun, quick read that was well told. The characters were well thought out and developed with excellent detail. The author managed to make each sibling likable even though they all were pretty much assholes. I really enjoyed the ending too, which was a little unexpected but a great pay-off.
“Everyone’s always on the hunt for a mirror. It’s basic psychology. You want to see yourself reflected in others.” 
Not much else to say except The Nest was a welcome way to start off the New Year!

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Miller's Valley

by Anna Quindlen
Dec 26, 2016-Jan 8, 2017

I never read the book jacket before I start a new novel. I like to form my own opinions and wait until I'm finished with the book. After finishing Miller's Valley this morning and reading the synopsis only one word comes to mind: gratuitous. Wow, does that description make this book sound way better than it is. Reviews have called it "quiet" but in my opinion quiet translates to "boring."

I mean, how is eminent domain an interesting topic? Especially when it's mentioned throughout but never really explored thoroughly. It takes 20 years for it to come to fruition, but by that time, it just didn't matter. I am just now finding out that "drowned towns" are actually a thing, but a little back story at the beginning would have been helpful in adding interest. Otherwise, I kept wondering, who cares?

My main takeaway is that these shallowly-drawn characters deserved better. Quindlen is better than that. It was like looking through a dirty window into their lives only to get a little bit, but not quite enough. Why wasn't the idea of Ruth being a shut-in explored more? Oh wait, the big reveal comes in the last five percent of the book when it's really too little, too late. Mimi's friends are all total jerks yet she doesn't see it. Again, quiet = boring. The subjects introduced throughout deserved so much more time and attention than they were given.

It's astonishing how many four- and five-star reader reviews are out there. I am clearly in the minority. I just think this book dabbled in too many subjects, trying to tackle all the major coming-of-age ones, when it would have been better off focusing on a few of the more interesting topics. I loved Quindlen's earlier novels, but I've really been disappointed of late.

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Monday, January 2, 2017

I'll Take You There

by Wally Lamb
Dec. 15-25, 2016

Waiting for a new Wally Lamb novel is like waiting for Christmas. So exciting and always curious as to what subject he will tackle next. But for the first time, I admit I was a bit disappointed. He's a master storyteller, no doubt, but this was not what I expect from him. He writes women better than most female authors, but this time he lacked depth, seriousness and even length. The reason I wait patiently for his next release is because they are usually quite heavy – in subject matter as well as page-count. Greatness takes time.

So when I found out that we were revisiting the life of Felix from Wishin' and Hopin', I wasn't overly excited. I just read that short (for Lamb) story and mentioned that I felt it was a bit gratuitous. Of all the characters in all the novels he's written, why choose this one? As an adult, Felix looks back on his childhood through the help of ghosts in a theatre. Really?! I have trouble suspending reality with no real explanation if the book isn't advertised as a "ghost story" in the first place. This made zero sense to me. Even famous people returned from the dead to speak to Felix. The whole thing felt too gimmicky and honestly unnecessary. The story would have been much better told if Felix was simply reminiscing about his childhood and his relationship with his sisters. And I never thought I'd even utter a word like this when describing a Wally Lamb book, but the dialogue was corny. It pains me to say this.

Because of my devotion to Lamb, I'm going to give him a pass on this one. I've said many times in this blog that I've read She's Come Undone at least five times, so that in itself is reason enough to let this one go. I'll just have to eagerly await the next great book. Like Christmas.

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