Thursday, February 27, 2020

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - Historical Fiction

I clearly have a thing for historical fiction - a lot of the books I read in any year are, in some way, historical fiction. That probably explains why I have so many link related to historical fiction saved on Facebook. Time to get them sorted!

Off The Shelf offers this list of 9 Historical Novels That Offer New Perspectives of Our World. Included on the list is Jamie Ford's Love and Other Consolation Prizes; Ford's Hotel On The Corner of Bitter and Sweet is currently being adapted into a movie, which I'm really looking forward to seeing.

This one made me cry
If your book club likes to read historical fiction, Book Bub has this list of 18 Fantastic New Historical Fiction Books for Book Clubs. A lot of book clubs seem to get mired down in World War II stories; this list only includes one book from that period and spans time and the globe.

28 Historical Fiction Novels That Will Make You Cry (hmm, maybe this should have gone into last week's post). As with some of the books in last week's post, I can attest to the sadness of quite a lot of these books.
lso from Book Bub is a list of

Yet another list from Book Bub gives us 26 Ridiculously Good Historical Fiction Books. It includes some of the same books on the previous lists but there are also some books on this list I've never seen before that look interesting.

Bustle has put together a list of 11 Historical Romances To Pick Up Instead of Re-Reading Pride and Prejudice (although I see nothing wrong with doing that either!). How beautiful is that cover on Chanel Cleeton's Next Year In Havana?

What are some of your favorite historical fiction books? Any that made you cry?

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon
Published March 2020 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Told in interweaving timelines organized around the four code names Nancy used during the war, Code Name Hélène is a spellbinding and moving story of enduring love, remarkable sacrifice and unfaltering resolve that chronicles the true exploits of a woman who deserves to be a household name.

It is 1936 and Nancy Wake is an intrepid Australian expat living in Paris who has bluffed her way into a reporting job for Hearst newspaper when she meets the wealthy French industrialist Henri Fiocca. No sooner does Henri sweep Nancy off her feet and convince her to become Mrs. Fiocca than the Germans invade France and she takes yet another name: a code name.

As LUCIENNE CARLIER Nancy smuggles people and documents across the border and earns a new nickname from the Gestapo for her remarkable ability to evade capture: THE WHITE MOUSE. With a five million franc bounty on her head, Nancy is forced to escape France and leave Henri behind. When she enters training with the Special Operations Executives in Britain, she is told to use the name HÉLÈNE with her comrades. And finally, with mission in hand, Nancy is airdropped back into France as the deadly MADAM ANDRÉE, where she claims her place as one of the most powerful leaders in the French Resistance, known for her ferocious wit, her signature red lipstick, and her ability to summon weapons straight from the Allied Forces. But no one can protect Nancy if the enemy finds out these four women are one and the same, and the closer to liberation France gets, the more exposed she—and the people she loves—will become.

My Thoughts:
At the conclusion of this book, Lawhon's Author's Note alerts readers to the fact that Nancy Wake was a real person, that a great deal of this book is based on the facts of her life. But she opens that Note with this: "Readers, beware...If you begin this journey here, your reading experience here, your reading experience will be altered. It will be a bit like watching a magic act after you've learned how the rabbit is smuggled into the hat." I'd offer the same caution. DO NOT look up Nancy Wake before you finish this book. You do not want to know ahead of time what will happen, particularly given that Lawhon has hewed so closely to reality and you don't want to spend any part of the book trying to figure out where the facts have been altered. As Lawhon advises: "...start at the beginning and let the show proceed as planned."

And what a show it is.

Again and again I find myself picking up books about World War II. I keep saying that I'm over World War II books. What more could there be to say that I haven't read yet? And then I find a book about a part of that war that I haven't read about before. Well, I knew about the French Resistance, of course. But I didn't know about an Australian woman who was integral to a part of the Resistance, working with the British.

The book opens with Nancy (as Helene) parachuting into France and from there Lawhon blends Nancy's story as a resistance fighter in 1944 with the history of the events that brought her to that point from 1936. It's a dual narrative that works exceedingly well, as Nancy's past works its way to that night when she parachuted her way back into France. Lawhon does a marvelous job of building the tensions in both narratives, of creating characters that the reader cares about, and of engaging all of the reader's senses.

Nancy Wake is an amazing characters; it's even more amazing to realize that she was a real woman. Lawhon's incredible research has allowed her to bring the real Nancy's story come to life in all of its glamour, ugliness, terror, and passion. I was wrapped up in it almost from the beginning. The only fault that I found in the book was that the ending dragged a bit for me but that was a small complaint in a book that I very much enjoyed otherwise.My favorite part? That's a tie. I adored Nancy's and Henri's love story. But then I also loved Nancy putting on her lipstick and being the boss lady.

 I highly recommend it, although I would forewarn readers that there are some very graphic scenes, as you might expect in a book about war.

Monday, February 24, 2020

I'll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for The Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

I'll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
Published February 2018 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: ebook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called "the Golden State Killer." Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

My Thoughts: 
I've had this book on hold at the library for weeks and weeks. And when does it finally become available to me? While my husband is out for town. Yep, couldn't read a word of it while I was in the house alone and never at night. Of course, the subject matter alone is unnerving but it's also a credit to McNamara, and those who finished the book for her. It was so easy to visualize the scenes of the rapist/killer's attacks, to imagine what it must have been like for his victims.

For three decades this killer disappeared but he was never forgotten, not by law enforcement officers who worked tirelessly to try to catch during his crime spree, not by the officers who picked up the cold case, not by the criminologists who used DNA to tie all of the crimes to one man, and not by the legions of ordinary people, including McNamara, who became obsessed with solving these crimes. McNamara took it the next step, meeting with many of the officers involved in the original search and those who picked up the mantel and, literally, following in the killer's footsteps.

McNamara is a marvelous storyteller and if there's any flaw in the pieces where others filled in, it's that the storytelling piece is missing to some extent. Fortunately, McNamara left copious notes, rough drafts, and articles she had previously written on the subject. It's a shame she didn't live long enough to complete her vision but even more of a shame that she died before Joseph D'Angelo was arrested and charged with being the rapist and killer that McNamara dubbed the Golden State Killer. I wish she had been able to see him caught but I also would have loved to have gotten her take on D'Angelo and how he fit who she believed the killer to be.

This one is deserves all of the praise it has received and I highly recommend it. But only if you're not alone. Or reading at night.

On a personal note, this book completely vindicates all my years of paranoia. The Golden State Killer spent a considerable amount of time studying his victims before he attacked. He watched the houses, knew when they came and went, peered through blinds to track how they moved in the house. When I'm home alone I work hard to make things look both as normal as possible while at the same time changing things up enough that anyone watching my house wouldn't be able to track a routine, as best I can. My family thinks I'm nuts but I feel completely vindicated now!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Life: It Goes On - February 23

Happy Sunday! I'm still using the winter picture but it sure doesn't look like this outside (ok, it never looks like that outside my window because I don't live in the mountains along a creek). It was almost 60 degrees here yesterday and we have had a lot of sunshine lately so most of our snow is melted which is just fine with me.

Work continues on getting Miss H ready to move. And by "ready to move," I actually mean ready to not leave behind a lot of stuff she's never going to use again. We got through all of her accessories and her bathroom this week; three more bags of stuff out of my house including an entire IKEA bag full of scarves! Are you starting to see what I'm battling here?!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Kate Atkinson's Transcription which I finished on Friday. I do love her writing and this one has some marvelous twists. I just got started on Tea Obreht's Inland. No idea what it's about yet; I didn't even look at the synopsis when I checked it out - got it entirely based on the author.

Brooklyn 99
Watched: Miss H loves Brooklyn 99 so she's been making me watch episodes of that this week. It's stupid humor which is usually not my thing but I think the company I'm watching with makes me like it more than I might otherwise.

Read: I'm working my way through Simon Jimenez' The Vanished Birds which I'm enjoying but I haven't been in much of a reading mood this week. That, of course, didn't stop me from picking up a book when I took a library book bag back last week.

Made: We have been eating so simply around here this past week - I'm not sure the oven has even been turned on. One night we used a container of chili out of the freezer then used the remaining chili for chili cheese dogs. Another night we had taco salads. Two nights The Big Guy was gone and I tend to just graze when that happens. I had really thought Ruth Reichl's book was going to light a fire under me to start cooking again; but so far there's not even been a spark.

Enjoyed: Book club on Tuesday (as always!) and then last night we celebrated my sister-in-law's 70th birthday combined with her retirement. Almost all of her family was able to be there so it was fun to spend time with family.

This Week I’m: 

Part of my unread classics -
just goes to show that I need
to get busy on my classics reading!
Planning: On continuing to work with Miss H and starting 40 Bags in 40 Days on Wednesday. You all know how happy that's going to make me! BG has even agreed to participate this year. 

Thinking About: Reorganizing my books. I started on a small scale this week by rearranging my mystery/thrillers so that I had room to move my unread classics onto the shelves in my bedroom. It's nothing anyone else will ever notice but it sure made me happy.

Feeling: So much more energetic. For February, I made my goal for my word of the year, enough, to get enough sleep. I'm shooting for seven hours a night so I've set two alarms, one let's me know it's time to shut things down for the night and get ready for bed and the second is to let me know it's time for lights out. Those reminders, along with tracking my sleep in my bullet journal, is really helping me keep on track. I'm not always there yet but I'm doing much better.

Looking forward to: Spending some time with Mini-him. We haven't really gotten a chance to talk to him since he got back from Japan late last Tuesday. Hoping to lure him over today for a pork loin dinner.

Question of the week: Does that idea of doing something like 40 Bags In 40 Days make your heart sing, like it does mine? Or are you more like BG and tend to hold on to everything  because it's a) perfectly good, no need to get rid of it; or because b) it might come in handy someday? 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - It's All About Feelings!

I've been so busy reading and writing reviews lately that I haven't taken the time to catch up on some on the bookish news I've been saving to read. As usually, I thought I'd some some with you. I actually had over 100 bookish links saved on Facebook! I've cleaned some up, read some, and put together some topics I'll be sharing with you in the next couple of weeks. This week, it's all about the books that make us feel things.

If you're really feeling like you could use a good cry, Book Riot has put together a list of 100 Must-Read Sad Books That Make You Cry. 100. That is a lot of tears. Quite a few of the ones I've read have actually made me cry and I rarely cry when I'm reading. I am a little disappointed that Little Women isn't on the Children's part of the list.

And if that's not enough, Bustle has put together a list of 12 Devastating Fiction Books To Read if You're Looking For Something Truly Grim. There are certainly a couple here that broke me.

After all of that, you might be ready for some laughs. NPR put together this list of Funny Books in August 2019. I don't really think of myself as reading a lot of funny books but I have actually read 19 of these.

Now, if you want to both laugh and cry, Book Riot has also put together a list of 8 Tragicomic Memoirs To Make You Laugh and Cry.

That's it for this week. Next week, I'm going to hit you with a whole lot of historical fiction lists!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison

Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison
Published September 2019 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
With the virtuosic synthesis of memoir, criticism, and journalism for which Leslie Jamison has been so widely acclaimed, the fourteen essays in Make It Scream, Make It Burn explore the oceanic depths of longing and the reverberations of obsession.

Among Jamison's subjects are 52 Blue, deemed "the loneliest whale in the world"; the eerie past-life memories of children; the devoted citizens of an online world called Second Life; the haunted landscape of the Sri Lankan Civil War; and an entire museum dedicated to the relics of broken relationships. Jamison follows these examinations to more personal reckonings — with elusive men and ruptured romances, with marriage and maternity — in essays about eloping in Las Vegas, becoming a stepmother, and giving birth.

Often compared to Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, and widely considered one of the defining voices of her generation, Jamison interrogates her own life with the same nuance and rigor she brings to her subjects. The result is a provocative reminder of the joy and sustenance that can be found in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

My Thoughts:
I had recently finished Jamison's The Recovering when I saw that her latest collection of essays was available for review. Well, let's be honest, I didn't know it was a collection of essays (not that I'm opposed to a collection of essays); I just picked it up because of the author.

Like all collections of essays I've read, this one has essays that are stronger than others.  Some had me wondering if I might not be smart enough for Jamison's writing, especially when I looked at reviews where they raved about the very essays that least impressed me. Others were entirely unique in their approach, including 52 Blue and We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Live Again, an essay about children who have memories that can seemingly only be attributed to a prior life.

There are essays about journalists inserting themselves into the lives of their subjects without exploiting them. One, the title essay, confused me; it seemed to go on and on and Jamison seemed to berate author James Agee for exploiting the family he was living with and inserting himself too fully into the story. Another, Maximum Exposure, photographer Annie Appel becomes deeply involved in the family she photographs over 20 years and Jamison seems to have no problem with that. Frankly, I liked that essay much more. My favorite of this series of essays, though was one about the Mathew Brady's Civil War photography.

I'm sure the final group of essays won't be any of the professional reviewers favorites, but, as the most personal essays, I connected the best with them. It felt like I was back to reading Jamison's memoir. Looking for more of that may have been part of my problem with the earlier essays; had I gone in better prepared, I might have appreciated some of those more. But some of my favorite essayists rely heavily on their personal lives and it's a style I enjoy reading. Perhaps the reader in me is always looking to connect with books even as I am trying to learn from reading them.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Save Me The Plums by Ruth Reichl

Save Me The Plums by Ruth Reichl
Read by Ruth Reichl
Published April 2019 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
When Condé Nast offered Ruth Reichl the top position at America’s oldest epicurean magazine, she declined. She was a writer, not a manager, and had no inclination to be anyone’s boss. Yet Reichl had been reading Gourmet since she was eight; it had inspired her career. How could she say no?

This is the story of a former Berkeley hippie entering the corporate world and worrying about losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement changed, forever, the way we eat. Readers will meet legendary chefs like David Chang and Eric Ripert, idiosyncratic writers like David Foster Wallace, and a colorful group of editors and art directors who, under Reichl’s leadership, transformed stately Gourmet into a cutting-edge publication. This was the golden age of print media—the last spendthrift gasp before the Internet turned the magazine world upside down.

Complete with recipes, Save Me the Plums is a personal journey of a woman coming to terms with being in charge and making a mark, following a passion and holding on to her dreams—even when she ends up in a place she never expected to be.

My Thoughts:
I am, by no means, a “foodie.” Let’s be honest (you’ve seen my weekly confessions about the kind of food we eat), I’m certainly no gourmet. Heck, I’m not sure I’ve ever even touched a copy of Gourmet magazine. Still, I do like the idea of great food and I love a good memoir so I figure I’m qualified to weigh in on this one, right?

Guys, I’m now a huge fan of Reichl. The lady not only has a really interesting story to tell but she’s terrific at writing about it. I felt every bit of the stress she felt when she was thrown into the job of Editor-in-Chief at Gourmet with absolutely no background in working for a magazine and even more so the stress of being at the helm of that iconic publication as the internet, a global recession, and some questionable management decisions took it down.

Reichl picked up her first copy of Gourmet magazine when she was only eight years old and she opens and closes the book talking about a story she read in that issue that impacted her love of food and her desire to be a part of the food world. But Gourmet had, from the time she was growing up until the time she was offered the job, morphed into a stodgy grand dame of a magazine that no longer interested someone who loved to explore, literally, the whole world of food. In fact, once upon a time, they had even turned her down for a writing gig. So, even though it was a magazine she’d grown up loving and even though her son was desperate for her to stop being a restaurant critic so that she could be home with him in the evening, she turned down the offer when it was first presented to her. But Editorial Director James Truman was not taking “no” for an answer. He convinced Reichl to meet with Conde Nast’s chairman Si Newhouse. Obviously, Reichl was convinced, in no small part because she was given free rein to make any changes she saw fit with staff and the magazine. And boy, did she make changes. Gourmet must have been one of the all-time great places to work when Reichl was in charge and magazines were king.

I was particularly impressed with Reichl as a person. She is a woman who truly loves food, who was truly passionate about making a great magazine that championed great food. But she is also incredibly down-to-earth. It took her a long while to get used to the idea of having a clothing budget, use of a car service, and eating at only the best places and staying in only the best hotels. But a trip toward the end of the magazine’s life, meant to showcase reasonably-priced options in Paris for food and lodging, reminded Reichl that she had lived more modestly before and that she could do it again. Not only that, she was good with that.

Did I mention the writing? If you don’t want to, at the very least, go buy some great cheese and French pastries by the time you finish this book, I don’t think we can be friends any more. Reichl is superb at writing about food – the smell, the taste, the texture. I’m pretty sure that she might not be able to sum up the words to describe the delicious tater tot casserole I made recently, but I think she’d be proud of me for at least not using canned cream of mushroom soup in it!

Even though I knew how the story of Gourmet magazine was going to end, I’d become so enamored of it by the end of the book that it would be fair to say that I was truly sad. It reminded me that I was one of those people who used to subscribe to a number of magazines and don’t any longer; that I’ve contributed to the failure of magazines. I’m going to fix that. I can’t go subscribe to Gourmet but I can again subscribe to other magazines I love. Thanks for that kick in the butt, Ruth. And thanks for a great story. And now I have to go find a truly delicious recipe to cook. But not from the Epicurious website. Read the book and you’ll understand why.

Oh, and while I highly recommend the audiobook with Reichl reading her own story, there are recipes in the book so at the very least make time to copy those down as you listen. I ran out of time before the book had to go back to the library. There's a reasonably good chance I'll check this one out in print just to get my hands on those!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Life: It Goes On - February 16

Happy Sunday, friends! It's 51 degrees here at the moment and the sun is shining. Which is a damn sight better than the grey day we had a couple of days ago when the wind chill made it feel like it was -25 degrees. Luckily, we are getting more warmer days than cold days and it feels like we'll survive another winter.

I hope you all had a good Valentine's Day, however and with whomever you celebrated it. The Big Guy and I did what's come to be our usual - a nice candle lit dinner at home. We've gotten so in the habit of just sitting at the counter eating our meals; it was nice to sit in the dining room, use our china, light candles, and just relax.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Queenie (loved it) and I've started Kate Atkinson's Transcription. Her writing is just so good!

Watched: Yesterday I watched Frances McDormand and Amy Adams in Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, a movie I've been wanting to watch since it came out. I really enjoyed the book and felt like the movie was a very good adaptation of it. In looking for a picture from the movie, I came across an interesting article that talks about earlier thoughts of making the book into a movie:
"Although released in 2008, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was actually intended to be made as a movie in 1941. Originally, it was a novel by Winifred Watson released in 1937, and she later sold the film rights to Universal Studios in 1939. Universal held on to it for a little while and by 1941, had plans to turn it into a musical starring Billie Burke as Miss Pettigrew. Watson was very eager to see “Miss Pettigrew…” turned into a movie, but unfortunately, the project was shelved after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In 1954, Universal renewed the rights to the story, but again, nothing ever became of it. Watson died in 2002 believing her story would never make it to the silver screen."
I also found that the original book had illustrations!
Read: I raced through Ruth Ware's The Turn of the Key and hope to finish Liz Moore's latest, Long Bright River today. It's been an excellent week for reading. I've been reading such good books so far this year. I'm going to be terribly disappointed when I come across one that just doesn't do it for me.

Made: Chicken noodle soup which we ate for several days when it was bitter cold. I can't figure out how to make less than enough soup for a whole family so a pot lasts forever!

Enjoyed: Those of you who've been around a while won't find it at all odd than I enjoyed spending six hours on Wednesday helping Miss H sort through all of her clothes. Yes, six hours. Two dressers and two closets worth. That doesn't even touch accessories. She got rid of five bags of clothes and you know how happy getting things out of my house makes me!

This Week I’m: 

Playing around with
something new in the
dining room.
Planning: On continuing to help Miss H sort through her things here. She'll be moving in six weeks and while I don't expect her to take every thing she owns, I also don't want to store things she'll really never use again.

Thinking About: 40 Bags In 40 Days starts in 10 days and I already have a plan in place for how I'm going to work through my house. I. Cannot. Wait!

Feeling: Invigorated. I'm taking down some of the winter decor, I'm making a plan to get some quick projects done around here in the next few weeks, I'm arranging some things to give things a bit of a new look. In other words, the sun's been shining for a couple of days and your girl is feeling it!

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday and BG's sister's birthday/retirement party next weekend.

Question of the week: Has the spring cleaning bug hit you yet? Or are you still enjoying cozy winter vibes?

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Wolf by Herbert J. Stern and Alan A. Winter - Guest Review

Wolf by Herbert J. Stern and Alan A. Winter
Published February 2020 by Skyhorse
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Perhaps no man on Earth is more controversial, more hated, or more studied than Adolf Hitler. His exploits and every move are well-documented, from the time he first became chancellor and then dictator of Germany to starting World War II to the systematic killing of millions of Jews. But how did he achieve power, and what was the makeup of the mind of a man who would deliberately inflict unimaginable horrors on millions of people?

Meet Friedrich Richard, an amnesiac soldier who, in 1918, encounters Hitler in the mental ward at Pasewalk Hospital. Hitler, then a corporal, diagnosed as a psychopath and helpless, suffering from hysterical blindness, introduces himself as Wolf to Friedrich and becomes dependent upon Friedrich for assistance, forming an unbreakable bond between the two men.

Follow Friedich—our protagonist—who interacts with real people, places, and events, through the fifteen-year friendship that witnesses Hitler turn from a quiet painter into a megalomaniacal dictator. Using brand-new historical research to construct a realistic portrait of the evolving Hitler, Wolf will satisfy, by turns, history buffs and fiction fans alike. And as this complex story is masterfully presented, it answers the question of how a nondescript man became the world’s greatest monster.

My Thoughts:
When I was asked to review this book, I thought it sounded like something that might interest me. But I felt like it was even more likely to be something that would interest my husband. Here is his guest review:

I have always been drawn to Germany between the two wars and the reasons Germany and Hitler were able to pull off the massive infrastructure buildup along with the mass psychology Hitler used to motivate and gain the approval of the majority of the German people.  I also tend to enjoy historical fiction, such that from James Michener and the Flashman Chronicles.

This book is also timely as parallels could be made with the megalomanic in office currently who seems enamored and friendly with dictators while some groups seem intent to either empower or quietly watch and do nothing.

I did like the tone of the characters and enjoyed most of the characters including Friedrich.  Some could certainly fault him for being duped into thinking Hitler was a good thing for Germany and getting caught up in the Reich glam despite being warned by many friends or associates.  Of course, due to economic and political circumstances of the time and the fact that the majority of Germany felt the same way, it is believable and we might be forgiving.

I do believe the dual authors did a nice job of showing the development of Hitler and the party, but it did seem a bit too accurately architected by Hitler, where I would guess it was a bit more messy and he lucked out in many instances.

As I was reading, I was not sure how I was meant to feel about Hitler as the authors did not make him seem the monster we have grown to love thorough much of the book outside of his hatred of the Jews, but it could be easy to over do his evil and focus on it to the point of overpowering the book.

I believe this book can appeal to a fairly broad group where one would believe a book about Hitler and WWII might  be more of a guy thing.  Since there are a great deal of strong women involved with Friedrich and others, it weaves a nice pattern of relationships that come and go and circle back again.  This makes it more interesting and easy to read while getting the political, economic and psychological information across without being too dry and monotonous.

That being said as I am a bit attention deficit, I could lose 100 of the 539 pages and be good with it, but it slides along well for a story of this girth.  Definitely an interesting an worthwhile read in my view.


For other opinions about this book, check out the full tour here. Thanks to the folks at TLC Book Tours for including us on this tour!

About Herbert J. Stein

Herbert J. Stern, formerly US attorney for the District of New Jersey, who prosecuted the mayors of Newark, Jersey City and Atlantic City, and served as judge of the US District Court for the District of New Jersey, is a trial lawyer. He also served as judge of the United States Court for Berlin. There he presided over a hijacking trial in the occupied American Sector of West Berlin. His book about the case, Judgment in Berlin, won the 1974 Freedom Foundation Award and became a film starring Martin Sheen and Sean Penn. He also wrote Diary of a DA: The True Story of the Prosecutor Who Took on the Mob, Fought Corruption, and Won, as well as the multi-volume legal work Trying Cases to Win.

About Alan A. Winters

Alan A. Winter is the author of four novels, including Island Bluffs, Snowflakes in the Sahara, Someone Else’s Son, and Savior’s Day, which Kirkus selected as a Best Book of 2013. Winter graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in history and has professional degrees from both New York University and Columbia, where he was an associate professor for many years. He edited an award-winning journal and has published more than twenty professional articles. Alan studied creative writing at Columbia’s Graduate School of General Studies. His screenplay, Polly, received honorable mention in the Austin Film Festival, and became the basis for Island Bluffs.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Africaville by Jeffrey Colvin

Africaville by Jeffrey Colvin
Read by Robin Miles
Published December 2019 by HarperCollins US
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Structured as a triptych, Africaville chronicles the lives of three generations of the Sebolt family—Kath Ella, her son Omar/Etienne, and her grandson Warner—whose lives unfold against the tumultuous events of the twentieth century from the Great Depression of the 1930s, through the social protests of the 1960s to the economic upheavals in the 1980s.

A century earlier, Kath Ella’s ancestors established a new home in Nova Scotia. Like her ancestors, Kath Ella’s life is shaped by hardship—she struggles to conceive and to provide for her family during the long, bitter Canadian winters. She must also contend with the locals’ lingering suspicions about the dark-skinned “outsiders” who live in their midst.

Kath Ella’s fierce love for her son, Omar, cannot help her overcome the racial prejudices that linger in this remote, tight-knit place. As he grows up, the rebellious Omar refutes the past and decides to break from the family, threatening to upend all that Kath Ella and her people have tried to build. Over the decades, each successive generation drifts further from Africaville, yet they take a piece of this indelible place with them as they make their way to Montreal, Vermont, and beyond, to the deep South of America.

As it explores notions of identity, passing, cross-racial relationships, the importance of place, and the meaning of home, Africaville tells the larger story of the black experience in parts of Canada and the United States.

My Thoughts:
Africaville is one of those books from which I wanted both more and less. More depths to the characters, fewer side trips that only served to distract. More focus on the story in Canada, less time spent on a story line that seemed improbable.

I'm not opposed to sweeping family sagas (c'mon, one of my first favorite books was Collen McCullough's The Thorn Birds) but they have to have a focal point and there has to be a natural progression from one generation to the next. In Africaville, it felt more like Colville had things he wanted to say, research that he wanted to work into his novel and it rushed his story and overtook his characters. The story of the freed Caribbean slaves who settled in Nova Scotia is an interesting, little-known bit of history and I wish Colvin would have stepped further back to that time to start his story instead of trying to work it in here and there. Instead he also wants to work in the New Confederates of the American South, which has him, throughout the book, referring to a character who will come into play much later in the book.

There's a lot to recommend Colvin as a writer. He certainly hits on some interesting parts of history that I've not read about before and I appreciated that he wanted to explore that idea of interracial relationships and what happens to the children of those relationships as they try to find their place. If he had kept his focus more on the family and delved deeper into the characters that made up the family (we never do learn why Omar/Etienne is so rebellious; we are left to guess). It's an ambitious debut and I hope Colvin will continue to look for the new stories to tell.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Life: It Goes On

Happy Sunday! Raise your hand if you, like me, were excited to have the Puxatawny Phil predict an early spring last week! I shouldn't really complain too much - it hasn't been that cold here lately and we've gotten very little snow in the past week (of course we haven't, The Big Guy is home to scoop it!). Still and all, I'm already thinking about gardens and evenings on the patio and long evenings of sunshine.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Dani Shapiro's Inheritance and started Queen by Candice Carty-Williams. Guys, my audiobooks so far this year are killing it!

Watched: BG and I watched The Irishman. I must admit, while we would both agree that it's a great story and there are some excellent performances, it is one slow movie. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it nearly as much in a theater where I was unable to stop it and walk away for a bit. Last night I watched Marriage Story in preparation for the Oscars tonight. I've watched my usual very few of the nominated movies so I can't compare this one or these performances to many others but, damn, Adam Driver earned another fan with his performance.

Read: I finished Ariel Lawhon's Code Name Helene which I couldn't read fast enough. Then I started both Ruth Ware's The Turn of the Key and Liz Moore's Long Bright River, both of which I'm enjoying.

Made: Basic stuff - cheeseburger pie, omelets, pasta. I suppose I'll have to up my game this week since we always do Valentine's dinner at home.

Enjoyed: I did some thrifting this week; I went to three stores on Thursday and two yesterday and spent a whooping $12. Almost everything I picked up was practical except one vintage picture frame for our guest room.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: To do taxes. Already. Ugh. 

Thinking About: Miss H has decided she's moving in a couple of months. Three hours away from me. It's time for her to be out on her own and I know that most of you have had to deal with your baby moving away from home much younger than she is. But this mama is going to have a tough time of it. She's excited and she'll be very close to one of her cousins and one of BG's cousins so she'll at least have family nearby if she needs them so I'm trying to be ok with it.

Feeling: See above.

Looking forward to: Another quiet week. Let's hope I'm more productive with this one than I was with the last one.

Question of the week: Will you be watching the Oscars tonight?

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Published November 2019 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues—a bee, a key, and a sword—that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth. What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians—it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also of those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose—in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

My Thoughts:
I adored Morgenstern’s debut novel, The Night Circus. I fell so deeply into it when I read it that it often took several minutes for me to readjust to reality when it was time to set the book aside. To say that I was eager to get my hands on her latest work would be an understatement. A nice fat work of fantasy seemed like the perfect way to forget that it was winter outside. I had such high hopes for this book.

And now I have such complicated feelings about it.

It’s a book about stories. It’s a book chock full of stories woven throughout the novel. Even better, most of the stories within the novel read like fairy tales or myths and you know how much I love fairy tales. We’ve read several different chapters of stories before we ever come to Zachary; in fact, we read the story from Zachary’s childhood before he does, before we even know it’s Zachary.
Alright, I thought, these stories are all going to tie together in some way as we go along and I’m all in for that. And like any good mystery, surely we’ll eventually learn what all of those symbols mean – the bee, the key, and the sword (to say nothing of the feather, the owl, the crowns, the hearts and the cats).
“A boy at the beginning of a story has no way of knowing that the story has begun.”
Morgenstern’s writing is gorgeous and she can paint a scene in your head like nobody else can. The rooms and tunnels and beaches of the Starless Sea and its Harbors came alive for me and I loved the way Morgenstern played with using different materials, sizes, and times. She’s got a sea made of paper confetti , stories written on ribbons and body parts, an entire scene set inside a dollhouse, and sea of honey. Morgenstern’s imagination has run away with her and she has clearly relished in showing off all of the worlds she can create. Which is, unfortunately, one of the ways this book fell flat for me.

The New York Times reviewer said it better than I can:
"Morgenstern’s attempt to mingle a dozen or so narratives into an intertwined myth is strangely devoid of tension for a book in which a nameless woman’s tongue is cut out on Page 10. We flit from story to story like bees — bees, keys, swords, crowns and hearts dance a heady symbolic gavotte throughout — never knowing where we might land, or who will turn out to really be who, or if the pirate is a real pirate or a metaphor, or whether any of it has a point. As a story about stories, Morgenstern’s latest contains the seeds of its own destruction: It abandons people in favor of theme."

Things got so complicated I could hardly keep up with where we were. More importantly, in a book where there are very few characters, it was really important to make me care about the characters. But I never really got attached to any of them. Which was a disappointment, considering that in the beginning, I was really into Zachary and his friend Kat and their relationship. But then Kat disappeared and I was never drawn fully into the characters again.

And all of those things that I expected to come together as the book went on? They didn't, not entirely. That might work for some readers. It was frustrating for me. Especially since where Morgenstern did bring things together, it really wow'd me. I wanted more of that. And all of those symbols? Again, some of them become clear. Others you'll have to figure out for yourself. Maybe all of that was the point. Maybe Morgenstern wanted to make her readers think. But I was too busy trying to figure out what was going on to think too deeply about what meant what.

If this book were 100 pages shorter, 100 pages less convoluted, I think it would have worked better for me. If there had been more interaction between the characters that explained their feelings for each other better, it might have worked better for me. If there had been less world building and more plot, it might have worked better for me. As is, I admire Morgenstern's writing, her incredible imagination, and the world she created. But I came away feeling I didn't get what I expected from the person who gave me The Night Circus.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
Read by Adina Verson, Jennifer Lim, and Suehyla El-Attar
Published: April 2019 by Holt, Henry and Company Inc.
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing music, movement, Shakespeare, and, particularly, their acting classes. When within this striving “Brotherhood of the Arts,” two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed—or untoyed with—by anyone, especially not by their charismatic acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley.

The outside world of family life and economic status, of academic pressure and of their future adult lives, fails to penetrate this school’s walls—until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that catapults the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down. What the reader believes to have happened to David and Sarah and their friends is not entirely true—though it’s not false, either. It takes until the book’s stunning coda for the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place—revealing truths that will resonate long after the final sentence.

My Thoughts:
Number one: There is nothing wrong with the people who read on this audiobook. They do a fine job. Still, I don’t recommend you listen to this one. If you want to read it, read it.

There are, as you’ll have noticed in the summary, some twists and turns to this book; and, unless you’re listening to it with your undivided attention (and you’re probably not because I’m guessing you’re also doing something else at the same time), there are things you will miss and some trickery in the second part of the book that will leave you confused and less than fully up on what’s going on. I'm projecting here, I suppose, because that's the way I felt when I finished the book. And the internet was no help when I tried to find someone who would explain what was "stunning" about that "coda."

Still, I actually did like this book, even if every section changed required me to appreciate it in a new way. Choi expertly captures the anguish that is the high school years.
"Remember the impossible eventfulness of time, transformation and emotion packed like gunpowder into the barrel. Remember the dilation and diffusion, the years within days. Theirs were endless; lives flowered and died between waking and noon."
There are all of the trials of friendships that fall apart, first loves that implode in a way that everyone around gets caught up in the fall out, battles with parents, and that one teacher who everyone idolizes.   And sex. In all of it's complicated, messy, and ugly forms. And some of it is very ugly.

Which makes the fact that I said I liked this book make me sound a little twisted. So I tried to go back and rephrase that but, for the life of me, I can't figure out the right word or words to use. Maybe it's best to go with that second part of that same sentence and say that I appreciated Choi's writing, the way she told her story, the way she turned things into a story within a story. Many reviewers said Choi is a writer's writer. That may be so; writers who reviewed this book seemed to be much more blown away by it than I was.

Is it for you? As you can tell, I'm conflicted and hard pressed to recommend it even though there was much I admired about this book. Choi has said she was angry the whole time she was writing the book, at the height of the #MeToo movement and in the midst of a divorce. It shows. So I suppose you have to ask yourself if you're in the mood for a book that might make you feel the same way.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Life: It Goes On - February 2

Happy Sunday! It is truly a beautiful day in the neighborhood today. It's in the mid-50's, the sun is shining, and my back door is thrown open to let some fresh air into the house. In fact, it was sunny yesterday, as well, the first sunshine we'd seen in a week. I don't know about you but I'm so much more productive when the sun is shining. I knocked out almost all of the cleaning I was planning on doing this weekend yesterday so today can be spent on doing the things that are more fun.

The ground hog is forecasting an early spring, the weather is great, it's a palindrome date (02-02-2020!), and the Super Bowl is today. What more could a girl want?!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Ruth Reichl's memoir, Save Me The Plums and started Dani Shapiro's memoir Inheritance. I was a little hesitant about jumping straight into another memoir but they are so different and, so far, I'm equally impressed with Shapiro's book so it's all good.

Watched: The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Squirrel Nut Zippers in concert on Thursday with The Big Guy and some friends. Both bands are very different but both put on a great show and had the crowd on their feet dancing and clapping.

Read: I finished I'll Be Gone In The Dark and Make It Scream, Make It Burn and started Code Name Hèlenè. I've read about 60 pages and am racking my brain trying to remember which book I feel like I just read much the same story in; Pam Jenoff's The Lost Girls of Paris, I think.

Made: Guys, I actually cooked this week! It was The Big Guy's 60th birthday on Tuesday so we had a special family dinner. I made marinated pork chops (the best marinade I think I've ever made), candied carrots, Hasselback potatoes, and a new-to-me chocolate layered cake with an absolutely delicious frosting.
Enjoyed: Book club on Tuesday (those ladies can always lift my spirits!) and watching BG and Mini-him work together to try to fix my vacuum. They spent two hours working on it and were both frustrated not to be able to get it fixed but I thoroughly enjoyed watching them work together.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: My calendar is completely blank as far as to-do things is concerned. You know how much I love weeks like that! If it's warm enough, I'll probably get back to work on the basement reorganization project. If not, there's plenty that needs to be done in my office...again.

Thinking About: Even though it's just the beginning of February, I'm sort of over my winter decor so I'm thinking about putting away the snowmen, pine cones, and greenery. Although putting away the snowmen early tends to be a jinx, so we'll see.

Feeling: Happy - see paragraph two!

Looking forward to: Traveling along vicariously as Mini-him leaves for two weeks in Japan on Tuesday. The mom in me is a little anxious about him traveling to Asia with the corona virus spreading, but I'm so excited for him so have so many new experiences. 

Question of the week: Show of hands - who's ready for winter to be over?