Friday, June 28, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Besides loving to read a good book, I love finding good books to read on book lists.  When I see a list in the newspaper or a magazine,  I tear it out.  Tucked in my file is a rag tag collection of book lists that will never be thrown away until I've read all the books from each that look interesting.  The Fault in Our Stars has appeared on many of the lists in my collection so I thought I should check it off.

I was so enamored by the title, I guess I never bothered to read the short synopsis.  I read the first page and realized this was a story about kids with cancer, I almost put it down and moved on.  Based on personal things going on in my life at the moment, I didn't want to read something that would make me sad.  Being that I have a habit of finishing a book regardless of how much I dislike it, I kept going.

I fell hook, line and sinker for Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters, two of the cutest teenagers you'd ever want to meet.  They were both smart, funny, intelligent and dealt with their illness with strength and dignity.  Watching two teenagers fall in love on the page, filled my heart with joy.  What they found together was so special. 

While Hazel and Gus were the centerpiece of the story, they were surrounded by a cast of characters equally as engaging.  Their friend, Isaac loved his friend's love story even though he didn't have his own luck with girls.  Hazel's doting parents circled around her in her illness but knew when to step back while their daughter lived her life.  And the obnoxious author, Peter Van Houten pulled them all together when they needed it most.

No spoiler here.  I love, love, love this book!!  The Fault in Our Stars earned its place of honor on every list on which it found a spot. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ten Green Bottles by Vivian Jeanette Kaplan

Ten Green Bottles by Vivian Jeanette Kaplan

I picked up this book several years ago at a Toronto book store while I was visiting Canada on business.  It seems to me I brought home a suitcase full of books written by Canadian authors, and Ten Green Bottles is one of my favorite books of all time. 

I read it before I started writing book reviews online, but it remained on my shelf because I loved it so much.  Recently I had some email correspondence with the author's agent and I decided it was time to read the book again and post a review. 

Ten Green Bottles is the true story of an Austrian Jewish family who escaped from Nazi persecution in Vienna in 1939.  The only country that would take them in was China.  After a long ocean voyage, they land in Shanghai with nothing.  Now they must learn to survive in a strange country also in the midst of a horrific war. The title Ten Green Bottles comes from a song sung by sailors in the bar Nini and Poldi run in order to support themselves.  One by one the bottles fall from the wall until none are left.  The song comes to represent Nini's personal struggles to adapt.  She wonders when her last bottle will fall sending her into the final abyss.

I love the history of China and until I read Ten Green Bottles I knew nothing of this chapter of it.  I was fascinated.  The Jews escaped one horror in Europe only to find another waiting for them.  The human will to survive is compelling.

Reading Ten Green Bottles again reinforced why it will stay on my list of favorites.  I love it from a historic perspective and Kaplan does a beautiful job of making the story come to life on the page.  With words she draws the reader into the carefree life of a child in Vienna, slowly changing the mood of the city as the Nazis take over.  The shock of first impressions in Shanghai as Nini and her family disembark the ship that has brought them to what they believe is safety, crackles with electricity.  I know Nini and Poldi.  I laugh and cry with them.  I walk alongside them through every joy and every hardship. 

Ten Green Bottles is one family's story of a piece of history we should never forget.  And this story is told in a way that will make sure we never do. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window... by Jonas Jonasson

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

I found this novel one day while I was browsing at the bookstore.  I like to look around the store, see what books look interesting and then download them to my Kindle.  The Kindle has me so hooked that I rarely purchase a real book anymore.  I've got enough reading material to keep me busy for a very long time all carefully stored on a device I can easily carry in one hand.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is an absolute hoot!  I'm gong to call it a cross between Forrest Gump and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  It's set in Sweden after all.  Allan is the 100 year old man who would rather have a drink of vodka than attend his birthday party at the Old Folk's Home.  So he climbs out the window and walks to the bus station. 

The bus station is where his adventure begins.  Or at least this part of his adventure.  The story is a wonderful blend of the past and the present.  What we come to know is that this 100 year old man has had a life well lived.  He has only attended three years of schooling, yet he has become a highly sought after explosives expert.  Throughout his life he has hob nobbed with world leaders and traveled the world.  Life in the Old Folk's Home paled in comparison even at 100 years of age.

I stopped counting how many times I laughed out loud while reading this book.  It's funny and charming with a historical twist.  Murder and intrigue are combined with outright silliness and the author told the story with a unique yet dry sense of humor.  I couldn't wait to turn the page to see what happened next.  There was an unexpected surprise around every corner.

I can only hope I live as long and have as many interesting stories to tell.  The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared will lighten up any day and bring a smile to your face.  Life is worth living no matter what it hands you. The 100 year old man can vouch for that.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

Anyone who knows me and my husband, knows of our fascination with and love of all things Chinese.  We've traveled around the world and one of our most memorable moments was standing on top of the Great Wall of China, soaking in the centuries of blood, sweat and tears of a civilization full of accomplishment and struggle. We were in awe of the history surrounding us and grateful for our freedom at home. 

Joy is a twenty year old of Chinese heritage, raised in California.  When she learns that her parents are not her biological parents, she rebels and sets off to China to find her real father.  It is 1957 and Mao Zedong is in control.  Finding her father, Z.G., is relatively easy since he is a famous artist in China. Foreigners are not able to move easily through the country so Z.G. takes her under his wing when he is forced to teach art to the peasants.  Being young and idealistic, Joy joins the revolution in her homeland.  Her assimilation into Chinese life, culture and politics proves to be much more than she bargained for.

Her mother, Pearl, follows to bring her back home.  Their 3 year journey during the Great Leap Forward, takes them from the big city of Shanghai to a commune in the countryside.  The basic necessities of living are controlled.  At first Joy wants to return to her Chinese roots.  As her freedom becomes increasingly restricted, she sees the danger she is in. The family pays a huge price in order to repair their past mistakes.

Dreams of Joy is the sequel to Shanghai Girls which is the story of Pearl and her sister May's journey from a China to America.  Dreams of Joy brings the sisters full circle in their lives.  I absolutely love to read about China and its culture.  And Lisa See is my favorite.  I'm not a serial reader but I have to admit I've read most of what Lisa See has written.  She's a terrific writer and I love the subjects.  I'm not as crazy about Dreams of Joy as I am about some of her other work.  But in true Lisa See fashion I felt the love, hurt, joy and danger on every single page.  And she kept me engaged right up to the very end. 

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...