Sunday, December 10, 2017

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Anna Kerrigan is a young woman who is doing her part in the war effort by working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  But she longs for more.  Her father disappeared several years ago without a trace.  Her mother struggles to care for Lydia, Anna's sickly and disabled sister while Anna is the glue trying to hold their lives together.

And Anna wants more from life.  She applies to be a diver at the Navy Yard and the men want nothing better to see her fail. But she turns out to be the strongest diver on the team. Anna is strong and tough when it comes to her personal life as well. She takes us deep into the world of nightclubs run by gangsters.

I haven't read Ms. Egan's other novel that was a Pulitzer Prize winner, but I wouldn't call Manhattan Beach a prize winning novel. It is meticulously researched. The diving scenes make the reader feel as if they are also underwater in a clumsy suit weighing 200 pounds.  As the gangster Dexter Styles faces his almost certain execution, I could see the beads of sweat forming on his brow.  And when Eddie's merchant marine ship sank in the middle of a fierce storm, my heartbeat rose along with their desperation to survive. The pages in-between the griping scenes were not nearly as exciting.

Manhattan Beach is a well written novel, with sharp and engaging characters and an interesting plot.  The lives of the characters are expertly interwoven together. For me the historical backdrop of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and World War II added to my reading pleasure.  This was an enjoyable read but not the page turner I was hoping to find.  

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Girls of August by Anne Rivers Siddons

The Girls of August by Anne Rivers Siddons

I was looking for something lighter to read and found this on the shelf of the library.  I haven't read anything by Anne Rivers Siddons in quite some time, not since one that contained a litter of Boykin Spaniels within its storyline.  My beloved Ginger was a Boykin Spaniel and Miss Siddons captured their personalities perfectly.  I can't remember the title but I'll never forget those precious dogs.

But I digress. The Girls of August gathered for a week at the beach every summer for fifteen years until tragedy struck taking one of the members away.  No husbands are allowed at this annual event, wives only. When a new, cute and much younger wife replaces Melinda who was killed in a car accident, Baby, struggles to fit in. Yes, that is the new wife's name, Baby. The original members of the group, Maddy, Rachel and Barbara, resent Baby right off the bat and make little effort to welcome her into the fold.

As a reader can expect, all of these women will experience some kind of epiphany during their time at the beach. And they want to dislike Baby and even though Baby acts like a baby, in the end they can't help but reinvent the girls of August. In typical Siddons fashion, her characters are distinct and rich but their actions and anchors are predictable. If you are looking for a story that's light and easy, where you don't have to think too much, The Girls of August will fill the void.  

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Before We were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours is a compelling story told through the eyes of present day, Avery Stafford, and also from the perspective of Rill, a child in the 1930's.  Rill and her siblings were the victims of Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children's Home Society who stole children from poor families and sold them for profit.

When modern Avery comes home to help her ailing father keep his political career afloat, she discovers that her grandmother is keeping a secret.  Grandma Judy is now dealing with dementia so uncovering the demons she's been hiding all her life is not going to be easy.  Avery's well to do and well connected family has no interest in bearing their souls to the rest of the world therefore are no help to Avery's search.

This story is one of those pieces of history that we find utterly disgusting in every way.  The author didn't sugar coat any of the situations Rill found herself in. The child abuse and even murder of helpless children made me angry.  Rill fought to keep her family together until she couldn't fight any more.  And that made me sad.  I always love books that evoke multiple kinds of emotions.

The thing that I didn't enjoy was how the story was told from Avery's viewpoint. That she deciphered a typewriter ribbon which led her to the Tennessee Children's Home Society seemed out of place.  I grew up using a typewriter and I doubt reading the ribbon would be that easy.  I tend to tune out when  things I don't find plausible are part of the story.  I thoroughly enjoyed the historical part of this book but I didn't need the present day sleuth, Avery, to make the story complete.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Jack and Mabel felt unwelcome back east in Pennsylvania.  Childless, they didn't fit in so they headed to Alaska to homestead and start a new life.  The cold and unforgiving territory tested everything they knew and handed then far more than they ever expected.

What they never lost however, was their love for each other.  One night as they frolicked in the snow, building a snow child, complete with a scarf and mittens, they laughed and kissed and forgot their worries in that moment.  And that is when the girl appeared.

At first Jack and Mabel thought she was an illusion, popping up for a minute or only an instant, out of the corner of an eye.  Little by little she shared meals at their table, stole a quick hug or brought an animal pelt.  But when the snow disappeared so did Faina, only to return again in winter after the first snow.

I loved this magical, mystical story.  Jack and Mabel were such kind and lovable characters.  Esther and George were loud, and messy, the opposite of Jack and Mabel, who became the dearest of friends.  The Snow Child paints a wonderful picture of how hard life was in the 1920's for the inhabitants of Alaska along the Wolverine River.  Their life was simple, filled with hard work just to survive the long, dark winter, but it was also a place of love, where neighbors helped neighbors no matter what they needed.

The Snow Child will leave you guessing and wondering. And it will leave your heart filled with the warmth of loving what you can't always hold in your hand.


Friday, September 8, 2017

The Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott

The Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott

When things go terribly wrong at the local air show, Ava miraculously heals the mortal wounds of her best friend, Wash.  And then her life is never the same.  Everyone in the world it seems wants and expects the healing services of the young Ava.

The tiny town of Stone Temple becomes overrun with people wanting to catch a glimpse of Ava.  Her father, Macon, the town sheriff, does his best to protect her as does her best friend, Wash.  But using her gift of healing is killing her.  No one seems to know how to help her.

Ava and Wash are two of the cutest and most lovable characters I've run across in a long time.  They are young and sometimes naive, sweet and kind.  I loved them.  And I hated all the people who came to exploit them for their own personal gains.  I did a lot of yelling at this book because of their selfishness.  For me, if I feel emotional reading a book, it's a pretty good book.

The ending left me hanging and I wasn't crazy about that.  I wanted Ava and Wash to go back to their young lives of reading books, hiking through the North Carolina woods and just being kids exploring life.  I wanted all the heartache in their lives to be healed.  Because they deserved it.

The Wonder of All Things checked a lot of my boxes in reviewing a book.  Lovable characters, check.  Creating emotions, check.   Great prose, check.  A memorable story, check. An author I will read again, check.




Sunday, September 3, 2017

My Life With Bob by Pamela Paul

My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul

I really, really, really wanted to love this book.  Just based on the title, I should have been able to read one paragraph and be hooked on every word until the end.  Bob, is the author's Book of Books, a carefully guarded and respected listing of every book she's read since being a teenager.

I know plenty of people who keep this kind of a list.  I consider this blog my list of books and maybe I should start referring to it as my "Blob", a blog of books.  Since I took over leading my book club, I also have a rather long list of books the group should consider reading and I find myself adding to it regularly.  I've become obsessed with finding the perfect book for us to discuss.

Bob appears to be a very well rounded collection of books, about three quarters of which, I had never heard of.  And I read a lot.  Her choice of books were more obscure, and very few contemporary titles of which I am fond.  Book selection is highly personal.  But when she tried to relate her book choices to what was happening in her life, I got lost.  One minute she was living in Thailand and the next, she was married and had moved to London.  The books she read in the throws of divorce seemed to me like all the other books she read.  Suddenly she's reading The Hunger Games while breast feeding her third child.  When did she get married again and give birth to the first two children?  The story lacked consistency and cohesion.

When she absolutely had to read Les Miserables after the Paris terror attacks, I felt I'd had enough.  In trying to make connections of books to living real life, she was grasping at straws.  She did say however, that there is not another book list in the world exactly like hers, in the order she read them.  I can relate to that and I hope my Blob is conveying my feelings of my book choices in a manner that makes sense to me and entertains you.  If it isn't will you please let me know before I fall into a trap like My Life With Bob?

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Mary North lives a life a privilege in London as the Germans are approaching during WWII.  Being young and desperate not to repeat her mother's unfulfilled existence, she signs up to volunteer at the War Office.  She's sent to teach, but when the children are sent to the countryside and the other teachers dismiss Mary's unconventional style, she finds herself without a purpose once again.

She meets Tom Shaw, the school's superintendent and their love affair immediately begins.  Tom's roommate, Alistair Heath enlists and the war suddenly becomes all too real.  This is a story of war, raw and painful, emotionally as well as physically.  Chris Cleave leaves it all on the table.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a realistic tale of the pain and heartbreak of war.  Mary and Tom and Alistair are wonderful characters that a reader can't help but care for.  How each of them deals with the obstacles they are facing leaves us deeply entrenched in their bomb riddled world.  

Lately I've been fascinated with stories of World War II.  So if I've been reading too many of them for your taste, please forgive me.  I'm hooked.  Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a well written love story set in the confines of war.  But it's one you will never forget for it's portrayal of a perilous time and for it's rendering of love of all kinds.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan Anna Kerrigan is a young woman who is doing her part in the war effort by working at the Brooklyn Navy ...