I’ve been reading a lot lately. Mostly audiobooks when I’m out walking, plus I’ve been spending more time alone, so I seem to be going through books twice as quickly lately! Rather than remain hopelessly behind on reviewing, I’ll just do a couple big reviews of my last few months of books! If this doesn’t give some idea of the varied tastes I have in books, I don’t know what would… Without further ado, in alphabetical order…
The Book of Aron – Jim Shepard
This is the story of a young Jewish boy growing up and losing his family in the Jewish ghetto of a city in Poland during World War II. Aron eventually ends up in the orphanage of Janusz Korczak, who was a real man in Polish history. Korczak was a pediatrician who advocated for the rights of children, and took care of thousands of children over the years. He even had a radio program that popularized the rights of children. Through Aron’s eyes, Janusz Korczak’s orphanage comes alive, showing the reader the brutality of trying to survive in the ghetto, starving and with few supplies.
The book comes to the expected, heartbreaking end, but unfortunately it fell short for me in creating the attachment to the characters in the novel. The development was lacking, so much that each tragedy did not stir the emotion that should be present under the circumstances. 3 stars.
Chastened: The Unexpected Story of My Year Without Sex – Hephzibah Anderson
After a break up leaves her reeling, the author decides she is going to embark on a one year journey of celibacy. Only intercourse is off limits, but its absence seems like the gigantic elephant in the room as she navigates dates, weddings, re-unions with old friends, and conference socials. She is witty and funny, and her tale serves to remind the reader that perhaps something important has been lost in our “hook up and hang out” culture. Is there more to love and relationships than sex? She learns that there is. 4 stars.
Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral – Mary Doria Russell
This book is much different than the other I have read by Mary Doria Russell, which have been sci-fi. This one is about Doc Holliday, of The Shootout at the OK Corral fame. Doria Russell uses historical information and a bit of lore to create a historical novel about the last few years of Holliday’s young life, before he died alone of tuberculosis in Colorado. The writing keeps the reader intrigued as she weaves the tale of Holliday, the Earps and the McLaurys, and how their paths came together that fateful day in a vacant lot on the main street of Tombstone. 5 stars.
In the Garden of Beasts – Erik Larson
I wanted to like this book – I have enjoyed several other of Larson’s books. Perhaps the subject matter just wasn’t as intriguing, and I struggled through it. This book tells the story of the life of William Dodd, most particularly during the four years (1933 to 1937) that he was the American Ambassador to Germany in Berlin. During that time, the Nazi Party was coming to power, anti-Semitism was taking off, and Germany more and more seemed on the brink of starting a war, both within its borders and outside. Dodd was out of his element, a history professor with no diplomatic experience, chosen only after several others turned down the job.
The book is well researched and well written, but there’s too much emphasis on the mundane details of the life of a diplomat, as well as the probable sexual dalliances of Dodd’s daughter Martha. It just didn’t measure up for me… 2 stars
Last Chance Saloon – Marian Keyes
A light-hearted chick lit novel about three friends from Ireland who are living in London. Trying to find love and happily ever after, amid the typical heartaches that befall us all. A quick read, without any deep revelations, but it does have a few twists and turns to keep things interesting. 3 stars.
Mink River – Brian Doyle
A rambling novel of life among characters in an imaginary small town in Oregon, bounded on four sides by water. An old doctor who helps people who can’t afford it, a Public Works employee who is able to feel people’s pain, a Native American woman who marries an Irish immigrant, and a policeman who doesn’t think he can do the job anymore; they are just some of the stories that the narrator weaves effortlessly together. Flying above all of them is a talking crow named Moses. Their lives come together in unexpected ways and make you realize that none of us have it easy, and you don’t necessarily understand what is happening in anybody else’s world. 4 stars.
The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey – Rinker Buck
What makes a man decide that he should purchase a covered wagon and 3 mules, and set off on an adventure to retrace the path of the Oregon Trail, from Missouri to Oregon? Who knows, but Rinker Buck did, and the result is a fascinating book about his experience. From figuring out how much weight to carry, to getting swindled by the Amish craftsmen who outfit his journey, to runaway mules, to the kindness of hundreds of ordinary people that he meets along the way, his tale weaves its way into your heart as he makes his way across the country. Along the way, he comes to terms with his relationship with his late father, along with his caring but eccentric brother who joins him on his journey. 5 stars.
Stella Bain- Anita Shreve
Anita Shreve is known for her descriptive novels of the lives of women – usually women who are experiencing times of turmoil. This book is no different. Stella Bain is the story of its namesake, a female nurse and ambulance driver working on the French front lines during World War I. She is found with only injuries to her feet, but suffering from amnesia. Her quest to discover her true identity leads her to London, where a doctor and his wife take her in and help her. The result is a love story with an unexpected twist, as Stella’s mind reveals who she is over the course of the novel. 4 stars.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
This was a re-read for me; it has been several years since the last time I picked it up. Simply put, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the greatest novels ever written. Harper Lee poignantly weaves the stories of two children growing up during the Great Depression in the Deep South where racism is still very much a part of life. The children, Scout and Gem, learn their morals and principles from a host of characters, including their neighbors, their domestic servant Calpurnia, and most of all, from their widower father, a lawyer who defends a black man who is facing the charge of murder of a white woman. Atticus Finch is a man we can all emulate. 5 stars.
The Wild Truth – Carine McCandless
24 years ago, in 1992, Chris McCandless died of starvation in the remote Alaskan wilderness. When his body was discovered in an old bus turned back-country shelter, people around the world speculated about why such a bright, young man with good prospects for his future would walk away from his life and all material comforts to die alone in Alaska. His parents portrayed themselves as a close-knit, loving family, but his sister Carine McCandless decided she needed to set the record straight. Her book shows a family life rife with chaos and abuse, and explains what she believes were Chris’ reasons for wanting a complete break from his family and society. Her portrait of her childhood is stark, and probably not too far off from what many children experience. 3 stars.
So that’s most of my reading of late. I have a few more books to catch up on, but that will keep until another post!