Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Review: The Huntress

The Huntress The Huntress by Kate Quinn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have been reading over the book description just to make sure my review doesn't give spoilers. This is a comprehensive book that covers a lot of historical events that are not well known. The main premise of the book is one I'm familiar with - many Nazi perpretrators were never punished for their crimes. The big fish were tried in Nuremburg shortly after the war. Most were men. What I did not know but the author thoroughly researched, is that there were many who did not flee to Argentina (like Eichman) but somehow finagled a way to enter the United States and begin a new life. Or maybe Canada or England.

The Huntress is based on a real person who brought 6 children into her warm home, fed them a warm meal, treated them kindly, then took them outside and shot them in cold blood. She enjoyed the sport of hunting in the forests around her home. She wasn't hunting animals.

One character in the book is also a new one for me. A female pilot from a Russian regiment of all female pilots. They were treated as inferior by the government and by male pilots so they had to prove what they could do. They were issued old and slow airplanes while their male counterparts had the faster and more nimble machines. Their success and determination was a large reason the Germans retreated west. Adding to this story is the communist political situation which Nina eventually must face.

The other characters are interesting but the book really revolves around these two women plus an American woman who wants to be a professional photographer but has concerns closer to home. She worries about her dad, his store, and her little sister. She has mixed feelings about her stepmother. The development of these three characters is particularly well done. The events highlighted in this book are very well researched.

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Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea

A Very Large Expanse of Sea A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A surprising fresh read. Okay, I didn’t enjoy the awkward, angry moments of denial, but I found myself truly engrossed in a book I didn’t expect to find much interest in reading. My preface is that I have read two books in the past year by Muslim women; one was from Sudan and the other from Saudi Arabia. One broke from Islam while the other broke from tradition but remained committed to Islam. Both received death threats that were very serious.

In this book, a 16 year old American girl of Persian descent chooses to wear a hijab because she loves the way it makes her feel, gives her a modicum of control - she gets to choose who sees more than her face and hands and who gets to see her hair. She is Muslim. She is American. People say stupid stuff to her but nobody really sees her. Until someone finally does. He’s authentic, handsome and prepared to face criticism for loving a Muslim girl. A girl who has lived with bigotry and racism and even violence. The real beauty of the novel (a sort of autobiography of the author) comes at the end as she truly recognizes how fickle high school really is. Also how she is also guilty of categorizing people without getting to know them. It is a sweet and tender high school love story wrought with challenges I hadn’t considered. But it made me think.

I belong to a Christian church that is prominent in Utah. It was not difficult to live my life with the standards I chose and wear my conservative clothes. Correction: Conservative but still mostly socially acceptable. On the other hand, what people caught the attention of the nation? Those on the more extreme end of off shoots of my church. We are not the same church yet we began with the same foundation. What if I was judged against the standard of the families on Sister Wives? Or the gingham dress wearing woman with the intricately braided long hair now famous for tax evasion, misusing food stamps, and child brides? There are many individuals in both sects that are very good people yet they are saddled with some extremists.

I am part of the mainstream church but, outside my community my ways would seem weird. I don’t wear a hijab but I do wear other clothing items that provide a cushion for me. I have attended a cousin’s alcoholic infused pool party in another country, garnering the attention of the most beautiful guy I had met that summer. Our story did not end harmoniously. He got drunker, I stayed 100% sober and assumed that he would surmise my adherence to my standards that I wouldn’t slip with my big one. At the end of the evening, the people at the party paired up and prepared to move the party to a quieter venue. I only realized then that he had been grooming me and was looking forward to activities I did not do as an unmarried woman. It was excruciating to spell out, in detail, that I was, in fact, a virgin by choice and that would not change just because he had wasted all those hours under another assumption.

Hijab or not, stupid assumptions have been made and voiced. You don’t dance then? Uh, yes, I do. I’m not a breakdancer but I’m pretty good dancer.

Regardless of my own experiences, I simply had never imagined a hijab wearing Muslim directly after the 9/11 attacks. This story gives a taste of bigotry, ignorance, fear, and the general lack of simply getting to know another human being despite perceived differences. Truth be known, we would find much more in our commonalities than our differences.

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Review: The Mother-in-Law

The Mother-in-Law The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What I really enjoyed about this book was the way the author provided a plausible different POV. Lucy is a daughter-in-law who finds her mother-in-law to be cold and difficult. Diana is the other half of this relationship and, with experience and wisdom, provides a different perspective that is equally compelling. Both narratives make perfect sense and the reader (at least I did) understood both of them perfectly. This, I think was the real objective of the novel. Through the turmoils of life, Diana and Lucy, very different in backgrounds and personalities, find they are not so different in essential ways.

The unraveling of the possible homicide or suicide is interesting and provides a perfect backdrop for a well written novel. The reason the book held my interest was, at times, to find out why or if a crime had been committed, but in reality I was smitten by the evolution of the main narrators. Also fascinated by the stubborn stasis of other characters. Very well written book.

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Review: The Winter Sister

The Winter Sister The Winter Sister by Megan Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sylvie lives with her regrets that holds her hostage in her own life. She lives a life devoid of color and happiness and punishes herself daily for the part she played in the night her sister, Persephone, didn't come home. Sixteen years pass before her aunt calls her home to care for her mother who is undergoing cancer treatment.

As Sylvie lives with her mother once again, takes her to her appointments, and finds unusual allies, more details fall into place. There were many secrets during her childhood that slowly come to light. The story is well paced and the characters are complex. The heart of this book is figuring out who killed Persephone but, in order to reveal the killer, the motive also has to be established which unfolds throughout the story.

I liked the book a lot. It was a shocking conclusion but it also left me a little unsatisfied without full closure. My preference would have been to have the story continue a year or two after the big reveal. I grew to care about the characters and wanted to know what they did next.

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