Friday, July 6, 2018

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff

It's World War II in Leningrad, Russia.  17 year old Lev elected to stay behind in the city when his mother and sister flee to the country.  When an already dead German paratrooper lands in the street after curfew, Lev and his friends rush out to see what can be looted from the body.  This is a crime punishable by execution and Lev is caught while helping the others escape.  

His prison cell is a dark and lonely until the arrival of his cell mate, a soldier accused of desertion.  Kolya vehemently denies any such thing.  He's a man capable of talking himself out of a paper bag.  So when the Colonel says he will spare them both in return for 10 eggs by Thursday to bake his daughter a wedding cake, Koyla agrees to the challenge. 

The unlikely pair end up on a grueling journey through the countryside in search of the rare and elusive eggs.  Koyla says what he thinks at all times in all situations.  The naive and shy Lev learns many life lessons from him while trekking through the snow.  Their banter is often funny and quite entertaining.  There are many laugh out loud moments even though the backdrop is the death and destruction of war.  

I liked this story alot. The writing is wonderful, characters engaging and lovable, the scenes authentic.  City of Thieves will hold your interest whether you're laughing, crying or feel like throwing up while you're immersed in a very real tale of war and despair. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Li-Yan is a girl child born into an Akha family, one of China's ethnic minorities.  They live on a remote, rural mountain and their lives are guided by strong traditions and superstitions.  In the late 20th century, they know nothing of electricity or television or gas powered automobiles. Their lives are simple, uncomplicated.

The families make a meager living by harvesting tea leaves.  When a stranger arrives one day in his car and enters through the spirit gate, the village is changed forever.  He teaches them the value of different types of tea which brings wealth and prosperity to their lives.  He also opens Li-Yan's eyes to the outside world.  On the recommendation of her teacher, who convinces the tribe elders the Li-yan has promise, even though she is a girl, to go to the city to further her education.

Li-Yan, however has fallen in love with Sanpa, a boy whose stars do not align with hers.  The marriage is forbidden but their love overrides whatever the horoscopes have predicted.  That choice sends her life down a path that even the wisest sage of the village couldn't have predicted.

I am a huge Lisa See fan, having read almost all of her novels.  I loved, loved, loved The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. In my opinion, this is her best novel yet.  Included in a great story of Chinese tradition meets the whirlwind, you will learn all you never knew about tea.  Trust me, you'll want to sit down with a nice hot cup and have a good conversation to go with it.  I couldn't put this one down.  

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Joe, a 13 year old boy and his family are members of the Chippewa Nation, living on the reservation. His father is a judge in the tribal judicial system.  When his mother, Gerlaldine becomes a victim of a violent crime, a search for justice on all levels of society begins.

Geraldine withdraws to her darkened bedroom.  Joe is left with out a mother for reasons he doesn't understand.  His father is left without a wife and companion, replaced by a crime he is desperate to solve. Joe seeks comfort in his friends and family on the reservation, teenagers and adults, young and old, all who help him to understand a small piece of his anger.  He is left however, to put the pieces of the puzzle together on his own.

Sometimes I found the story difficult to follow.  The story begins in 1988, with Joe as the narrator. Throughout the book, we are thrust into the future to see Joe as an adult, married man with children and then we are whipped quickly back into past again. He is older and wiser but to me he seemed like a different person than the Joe at 13, I adored. We are all different than in our teenage years but I wasn't quite sure if I liked the grown up Joe.

The Round House is intense. The window into tribal life is interesting and engaging.  The insight the story gives into racism and hate crimes in this country is enlightening.  Don't pick up this title thinking it will be a light, summer read, it's not. Read with an open mind and be ready to learn about other cultures, racial division, love of family and relish in the utter craziness of boys experiencing puberty. You won't be sorry you took the time to lose yourself in The Round House.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Still Life by Louise Penny

Still Life by Louise Penny

I have a tendency to do things backwards and every which way but forward.  I read an Inspector Gamache book, number ten in the series first.  And I loved it.  Louise Penny is a fantastic writer, her words are smooth like butter and a pleasure to read even though they are usually about crime and murder.  Since I have some mystery lovers in book club, I chose Still Life, the first book featuring Inspector Gamache, to hopefully give every one something to love.

I have to admit Still Life started out slowly for me. This book is the introduction to the town of Three Pines and its cast of oddball and eccentric residents. I guess I wanted more from them forgetting that this was their debut to the world.  I needed to be patient.

I'm not going to tell you anything about the plot.  That would ruin everything.  I can tell you there is a murder and Inspector Gamache and his crew from Montreal make friends quickly in the small town in order to gather clues to the crime.  And I will tell you that by the end of the novel, all that I thought  was happening, really didn't and the perpetrators were never who I expected them to be.  All the trappings of an excellent mystery.

Still Life is an absolute pleasure.  It kept me on the edge of my seat and made me want to move to Three Pines to hang out with all the quirky and wonderful people there.  And I can't wait to hear what all my faithful book clubbers have to say about it. I'm checking out the number two book in the Inspector Gamache series from the library next week.

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.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff It's World War II in Leningrad, Russia.  17 year old Lev elected to stay behind in the city when h...