Tuesday, June 7, 2016

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

One True LovesOne True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This author simply has a way of describing concepts in a way I hadn't considered. First of all, let's start with the story. Emma marries her high school sweetheart then becomes a widow on her anniversary. Well written grieving, although abbreviated, I liked it. She starts moving forward and finds an old friend. There's an attraction and then love. Different love from Jesse, but steady and sure. They are engaged when Jesse is rescued. He wants to resume the old life but too much has changed.

It's a little like Castaway but from Helen Hunt's character's perspective. Except she wasn't married to Tom Hanks. Emma was married to Jesse. She loves Jesse. She loves Sam. Both love her. She can't have both. It would have been easy to write one of the men as a jerk. Fortunately, the author does not do this. I felt like there was a clear favorite and the other didn't get the attention he deserved. On the other hand, I think the real point of the book was the truism that Emma's sister says. Love is not about the other person. It is about the person you are when you are with the one you love. Although it's worded much more nicely.

The ending is beautiful although I'd like to have known a few more details regarding both men. But that really wasn't the point. The point was who the protagonist feels more authentic when in that relationship. I think that is a good concept to come away with. There is no "One." There is a choice of which lens to view ourselves, our partner, and our relationship.

I really enjoyed the book.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

The NestThe Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The central story of the nest is fairly solid; a trust fund matures when the youngest child turns 40. Four grown children, living separate lives, are counting on the large payout. However, complications arise when the oldest, the golden boy (not golden for being good but golden like Midas) makes a series of choices that wreak havoc and threaten the nest. Nestled in their dysfunctional roles, some of the siblings have already spent the expected windfall. So what if it doesn't come?

What I enjoyed was reading about each sibling and the way they viewed themselves within the family dynamic and each other. I enjoyed the shifting opinions as the characters grew.

What I didn't enjoy were the side stories that dangled on the side of tangential and indulgent. I liked the story surrounding the inheritance and did not need the justification of sexuality, infidelity, or non conventional family. By the end I felt like I was reading the highlights of a college course in women's studies along with the sociological history of New York City. Okay, the sociological history of NYC was interesting. The other? Not so much. More self indulgence and justification that distracted from the storyline, IMO.

The writing is solid. The general story and conclusion is interesting. The Twins' story was irrelevant. Stephanie and her decisions were largely irrelevant. Tommy's story seemed irrelevant, as did his character. These were more like public service announcements. Beyond the one in the car, the sex details were extraneous. I was mildly disappointed with the author's choices for page space.

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

Lost Among the LivingLost Among the Living by Simone St. James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nearly 4 star book for me. I enjoyed the paranormal element and the overall almost gothic, historical theme. The story was intriguing as it includes a little Great War and the difficult economy after yet before the Depression. There was a mystery regarding the death of a 15 year old girl. Jo is certain it was a murder yet she struggles with the idea that either she is being haunted or she is mad like her mother. There were some good plot twists that I guessed might come. That didn't make it any less enjoyable. My only complaint is that I wish one of the characters was better developed and had a more ending in the story. I really wished to know the mad 15 year old cousin better.

It's still an enjoyable book, though.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the FallBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a unique story that examines the way media has changed from reporting news to spinning and providing commentary to sway the public. The real story is about the protagonist and how his childhood shaped him to face the challenge of surviving the plane crash while hanging onto a 4 year old boy and how he handles the aftermath. Told from multiple points of view, the reader doesn't really know how the plane crashed until near the end. The clues must be dug up from the ocean floor and from an occasionally flash of memory.

I really liked the book. I enjoyed the writing style and the story. It was unique and had me at hello.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie Was HereBritt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a HUGE fan of Fredrik Backman and his first novel, A Man Called Ove. I also read his second novel, My Grandmother Told Me to Say She's Sorry and I am still a fan. The author is Swedish and published the book in Swedish. I don't know how the translation worked but it is absolutely charming and still hilarious. The details make the book much more enjoyable.

Britt-Marie is a character from "My Grandmother..." Last we saw of her, she was driving off in a car. This is her story, continued. Britt-Marie has a story. Britt-Marie loves order. She loves cleanliness and rules. She hasn't done anything on her own in a very long time. She loves the solidity of having a husband to take care of her. But she left him.

Now Britt-Marie is in a different village. Not a town. Town is 12 miles that way. She is out of her element but seeking the rules to make sense of this new setting. So she goes to the store to buy window cleaner. A certain brand. She needs to clean her new surroundings. But there are problems with everything she does. Mostly in the form of children. Many of these children are so hungry for adult attention, Britt-Marie finds herself in the odd situation of Being in Charge of a Sports Team.

Over the course of the book, Britt-Marie maintains her personality but softens a bit towards those who don't always practice excellent social skills or hygiene. She finds an unlikely friend in an unsavory teenager who has an order to him that she admires. She finds another friend in a woman who seems to run the village. She likes to drink a lot and she's wheelchair bound. She is referred to as "Someone."

The story of Britt-Marie is a good one. We discover why Britt-Marie is the way she is and what happens in the village. But, once again, the enjoyment of Britt-Marie is the way the story is told. Fredrik Backman is a genius.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Fever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos

Fever at DawnFever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rather than a book about the horrors of being Jewish in Europe during WWII, this is a story of the author's parents after the war, both having just barely survived different concentration camps. The story is told through letters the author's mother gave him after his father died, supplemented, I assume, by guessing.

Easy read. Mostly uplifting.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm

Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for WomenRavensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book took me a really long time to read. I had to put it down for a few months. It is incredibly well researched and the author pulls no punches. The book is historical but told in categories and chronology. Ravensbruck was a concentration camp in eastern Germany built to "re-educate" women. In the beginning, the prisoners were mostly political and asocials. A large majority were Polish.

Of particular interest, Himmler allowed medical experiments to be performed on 76 young, healthy women, beginning with introduction of foreign objects in their legs to copy shrapnel. Additionally, bacteria, tetanus, typhus, staff were also administered to the women. Eventually, the doctors did experiments that removed bones, muscles, ligaments, to see if they would grow back, maiming the women permanently. Those who lived, lived under the protection of other prisoners. At all costs, the "rabbits" were to survive and show the world what had been done to them. Their physical maiming was an archetype of the abuse the women suffered every day.

So then I put it down for a few months.

In the interim, I picked up a historical fiction called Lilac Girls and recognized names from Ravensbruck. I used Ravensbruck as a reference and found myself reading it again. Ravensbruck is also the camp where Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy, were held.

The difference between this and other books about Ravensbruck is that this book is not one single experience but a broad overview of the camp as told by hundreds of sources. The author writes about the historical holes that previously existed about Ravensbruck because it was liberated by the Russians (by liberated, I mean that the Russians arrived and raped and pillaged the camp and town) then fell under communist rule. The Polish rabbits that returned to Poland, returned to a country run by Stalin and the Stasi. The Russian prisoners were advised to never speak of it. Many first hand accounts were destroyed or died in the Gulags.

It is the best and most comprehensive book I have read about Ravensbruck. For an uplifting perspective on forgiveness, read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. For a well researched book including hundreds of perspectives, read this one.