Tag Archive | reading

Book Review: The German Girl

The German Girl is the debut novel of Armando Lucas Correa, a Cuban author.  It was published in 2016 in both Spanish and English.

The German Girl

The story is that of two girls, brought together over time.  Hannah Rosenthal, a German Jewish refugee fleeing to Cuba via ocean liner in 1939.  And Anna, a 14 year old girl living in New York City.

The perspective shifts back and forth between the two of them as the story unfolds, piece by piece.  Hannah’s flight from Germany, trying to escape the reach of the Nazis.  Anna’s trying to learn why her father left her, and understand why her mother just doesn’t have the energy to get out of bed.  I don’t want to reveal much, as the suspense and hold of the story would be diminished if you knew what was waiting around the next corner.

This novel was incredible.  Sweet, and heartbreaking, it pulls you in page after page, not wanting to put it down.  What will happen to these girls as their lives unfold?

5 stars.

 

Book Review: Emma

Emma, by Jane Austen

By all accounts, Jane Austen led a sheltered life.  So perhaps it is somewhat surprising that she had an uncanny ability to see deeply into the emotional lives of people.  Her six novels describe the nuances of people, and she had a gift for writing about the complex personalities of her characters and their daily lives, in a way that brought them to life.  All this despite the fact that Austen lived her entire life in only a few places, without much money or prospects. She never married, and died after a long illness at the age of 41.

Emma

Emma is no exception to Austen’s talent for character development.  She is a bright, vivacious young woman who lives with her sickly father in the small village of Highbury, sixteen miles outside of London.  She has decided that she will never marry. 

Emma spends her days socializing, taking care of her father, matchmaking for her friends, and forming opinions about all her neighbors and acquaintances.  Sometimes her meddling goes awry, as when she convinces her friend Harriet that a Mr. Elton is interested in courting her, and encourages to discard another suitor whom Emma deems not good enough.  When Mr. Elton returns from Bath with a wife, well, OOPS…  Emma continues along this way, a wealthy society girl with nothing better to occupy her time than judging everybody she comes into contact with. 

The most action in the novel are a foray to a nearby home to pick strawberries, a minor run-in with a band of gypsies, and planning a ball that almost ended up not happening.  Many describe Emma as Austen’s worst novel due to this lack of action, but it still contains the rich character development.  You still see Emma’s strengths and flaws, and find yourself relating to her cringe-worthy moments.  I mean, we’ve all been there.  You become invested in the characters.  I found myself truly wanting them to succeed or fail. 

That said, it is probably still my least favorite of the Austen novels, but I’m still glad I finally read it. 

3 stars. 

Book Review: Keep Moving

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity and Change, by Maggie Smith

“Accept that you do not get to choose who loves you, who keeps their promises, who forgives.  But you can choose to love, to keep your promises, to forgive.  Choose well.  Have — and live — your own say.  Keep Moving.” 

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change

Maggie Smith experienced the crushing loss of divorce, after 20 years of marriage.  To begin healing and moving on, she told herself that everyday, she must write.  It might be nothing but a few sentences, but she wrote.  This book is a collection of the things she wrote, the things she told herself to keep moving.

Each quotation expresses the profound sorrow of loss, but also the idea of hope.  In reading them, her readers can choose which resonate the most; which quotations help them to keep moving.

“Tell yourself kinder truths.  You are not failing at life; you are reeling, sure, but you are succeeding at surviving.  Keep Moving.”

5 stars.

 

Book Review: The Sanatorium

The Sanatorium, by Sarah Pearse

Le Sommet is a luxury hotel located deep in the mountains of the Swiss Alps.  It is also a converted tuberculosis sanatorium.  Elin Warner is a British police detective who is on a leave of absence from her job after an attempt to apprehend a murderer goes horribly wrong.

The Sanatorium

The hotel has recently opened after an extensive revisioning, fraught with conflict, protests, and the disappearance of the principal architect. 

Elin’s brother is getting married, and she would like to repair their estranged relationship, as he is the only family she has left.  Elin and her boyfriend head up for a week at Le Sommet, where her brother’s fiance works.  While they are there, the road up is wiped out due to an avalanche, and the funicular is stopped due to high winds.  And then, the murders begin. 

The police can’t get there, because all access is blocked.  But Elin can help, by beginning the investigation.  Does she have the nerve?

Sarah Pearse thriller takes the reader on a fast paced murder mystery with a series of twists and turns.  Don’t assume you know who did it!  She weaves the story of the hotel’s prior life as a sanatorium into her novel, making its history an integral part of the story.  Even though this isn’t a genre I typically go for, I was intrigued the whole way through!

3 stars.

 

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society

The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner

In the years after World War II, the residents of the tiny English village of Chawton are coming to terms with their collective loss.  Husbands and brothers have been lost to the war, and the economy is struggling. 

The Jane Austen Society

However, 150 years previously, Chawton had a resident who, although unknown at the time, is rather famous now.  Jane Austen.  Her distant relatives still live in a deteriorating manor house, with an impressive library of books that Jane Austen would have read during her time here.

Several members of the community decided to try to save the small home where Austen lived while in Chawton.  They were an unlikely band, including a widower doctor, a farmer, a widow, a 16 year old girl, a descendant of Austen herself, an American actress, and a Sotheby’s memorabilia scout.  As they embarked on their charitable cause, they also revived old friendships and formed new ones. 

The Jane Austen Society has parallel stories; the surface story is the mission of the group to save Austen’s home and open it as a museum.  This story is interwoven with the stories and lives of the characters, which provide a rich depth to this novel.  Their stories often parallel the life of Austen, and her connection to family, and also her loneliness.  It is this connection that makes this a fantastic book. 

Natalie Jenner writes believably about literature, friendship, grief, and loneliness.  Her characters are believable, with real trials and victories.  I enjoyed it thoroughly. 

5 stars.

Note: Although there really was an effort to save Austen’s home in Chawton, Jenner explains that her novel’s characters are purely fictional. 

Book Review: Everything is F*cked

Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope, by Mark Manson

Mark Manson tells it like it is.  Without sugar coating, without appropriate language and without apology.

And yes.  Before you even ask, this post is equal parts book review and my opinion on the state of society these days…

Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope

Global statistics tell a story about the world’s residents, and especially Americans, being better off than we have been at any time in the past.  We are more affluent, and less likely to be killed by any number of diseases that used to run rampant, and exploitation through slavery and other forced labor, while it still exists, is at a historic low.  Yet our PERCEPTION is that we are worse off now…

Americans have adjusted our expectations to expect that the minimum standard of living is to own a cell phone with unlimited data plan, at least three streaming services, two cars per household at a minimum, and that any home less than 2,000 square feet is not worth having…  People have all the conveniences of modern life, including riding lawn mowers, chainsaws, power wheelchairs, electric bikes, RVs, and everything else under the sun, and yet people won’t walk a half a mile these days…  Have we created our own crisis of hope?

Manson details the story of Elliot, a successful financial broker who gets a brain tumor.  Elliot’s tumor is excised, but he is left as an apathetic man; in short, he has no ability to give a f*ck.  He is seen by a multitude of doctors, who all give him a clean bill of health.  He has the ability to think rationally, he has the ability to make decisions, he even has the ability to cognitively know what he should do, based on his memories from before surgery.  But he can’t bring himself to care about the outcome.  He loses his job, his wealth, his wife, and his relationship with his kids as a result of choices that do not reflect his best interests.  But why?  

He finally finds a doctor who determines that the surgery has damaged his “feeling brain.”  And we need that part of the brain, just as much as we need the “thinking brain.”  In short, we can’t make good decisions for ourselves without the feeling brain.  Manson hypothesizes that the feeling brain is what is really driving the bus, while the thinking brain is really just trying to keep the bus from careening off the cliff.  It’s a balance.

And, Manson goes on to explain, we have become so acclimated to having it easy that we have begun to associate a little inconvenience with real suffering.  The brain is hardwired to get used to what it is given.  You experience a tragic event, and over time, your brain simply begins to process it as the new normal.  You can stay on Cloud Nine forever, and on the flip side, you can’t stay in crisis mode forever.  The brain just adjusts.  The funny thing is though, that if there isn’t a real crisis, your brain creates one around an event that wouldn’t otherwise be a big deal.  We begin to see devastation and drama where there really isn’t any.  We rage about inconveniences, or about things that our ancestors would have told us were simply not an issue.  Because they had real shit to worry about, like whether or not half of their children might survive to adulthood.  Or whether that broken arm would kill them.

So where did we go wrong?  The world today is simply so focused on rationality.  So focused on getting ahead.  So focused on having “things”, that we can’t see our true fortune.  Focused on denying our emotional needs, and the degree to which they control our choices.  We replace our emotional needs with stuff.  We are so focused on suppressing those pesky feelings, that we have created a world in which we have trouble making good decisions.  We perceive our affluence as misery…

We have it good people.  We have it really good.  So why have we become programmed to think that we don’t?  If we can’t shift this focus, we truly are f*cked.

4 stars.

 

Book Review: The Civil War: Strange and Fascinating Facts

The Civil War: Strange and Fascinating Facts by Burke Davis, has been out for a while, first published in 1960.  But of course, the Civil War has been done for a while too.

The Civil War: Strange & Fascinating Facts

It is a compilation of unique and interesting facts about the war, collected into chapters of similar information.  Want to know about the spies of the war?  You got it.  New technologies, like submarines, machine guns, mines, grenades and hot air balloons?  Yep.  Want to know about the money that was minted by the Confederacy?  Families that were split on both sides of the conflict – there’s a chapter on that too.  There is much, much more among the pages as well.

Some of the stories I had heard before, but many were brand new to me.  They were interesting and well researched.  They add in a touch of humor along with the sadness that goes along with war.

3 stars.

Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George

Monsieur Perdu is a bookseller in Paris.  Years ago he purchased an old river barge and converted it to a bookshop that is docked in the Seine River.  This isn’t just any old bookshop, and Perdu isn’t just any old bookseller.  You see, he can read people.  He reads his customers and selects for them the perfect book to heal them.  He calls himself a literary apothecary.  

The Little Paris Bookshop

His uncanny gift has helped scores of people along the way, those trying to understand the meaning of life, refocus their goals, deal with change, or heal a broken heart.  Unfortunately, his own broken heart is the one that he cannot fix.  It has been 20 years since she left, and he still has been unable to move on…

Perdu finally is confronted with his loss when he gives a neighbor an old table he isn’t using, and she finds in the drawer a letter that he never opened.  It sets him on a path to finally address his broken heart.

The book shows how the most unlikely people can become friends, and how total strangers can help us on our path to healing.  This novel is absurd, funny, and heart-wrenching in turn.  Nina George weaves her tale in a way that is relatable and whimsical, and leaves the reader wishing to join Perdu on his journey.

5 stars. 

Book Review: Dragonfly in Amber

Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon

Claire Randall has a secret.  She’s kept it for over 20 years, but finally it is time to return to Scotland and confront her past.  Dragonfly in Amber is the second in the Outlander series, but my friend assured me that you can read them out of order.

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander, #2)

The story begins with Claire searching for historical records that will confirm her difficult to believe story.  20 years before, she went missing for months as a young, married woman, before arriving back at home malnourished and pregnant, as mysteriously as she vanished.  But where was she?

Now 20 years later, Claire’s husband has died and it is time to reveal to her daughter the truth about her father.

The book is a long saga weaving in the 1960s with the 1740s, in Claire’s attempt to stop the slaughter at Culloden during the Scottish Jacobite rebellion.  It weaves history into the novel’s story and is extremely detailed and painstakingly researched.  You will learn about the family connections of the clans in Scotland, the political motives of the various players, and some pretty gruesome medical treatments of the time.

I don’t want to give away the story, but highly recommend the book. The only challenge was that it took so long to get through (I admit I had to put it down to read other things in between), it was hard to remember the beginning once I got to the end.

5 stars

 

Book Review: The Idiot

The Idiot, by Elif Batuman, was another book club pick…

In 1995, back when email was a new thing, Harvard freshman Selin, a young Turkish-American woman, sets about to discover herself.  She navigates dorm life, takes classes in subjects she never imagined herself studying, and begins meeting new friends.

It all sounds like the beginning of a fabulous adventure, because who wouldn’t expect a novel about college life to be filled with fun and frivolity.  Except this one isn’t.

The Idiot is basically a story about what happens when people are so smart that they can’t actually relate to the real world.  Her conversations with others barely touch on subjects that normal 18 year olds would discuss, instead opting for the nonsensical ramblings of a genius with no real-life experience.

Selin bumbles along, disliking her roommate without ever having a conversation, falling in love and getting her heart broken via email without seeming to display any emotion, and never really finding any joy or sorrow in her surroundings.  The best way to describe her life is academic.

I kept waiting for this book to get better, because a friend said her mother told her it was funny.  I wonder now if she meant funny in the ironic sense.  At any rate, this book, for me, did not contain any funny.  It also didn’t contain any emotion at all…

1 star.