Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Guest Book

The Guest Book
By Sarah Blake
Viking, 2019, 486 pg., Historical Fiction

"'Wars, plagues, names upon tombs tell us only what happened. But history lies in the cracks between. In the inexplicable, invisible turns - when someone puts a had down, pushes open one particular gate, and steps through. A man saying no instead of yes, two hands grasped on a dark street. A twenty-year-old nun in her cell, eyes closed, praying, touching the word God in a book we recover, over and over and over, so that what we have left is the trace of her devotion. In the erasing of that word' - she paused - ' is a person. That is history.'" (pg. 43-44    )

For me, this quote defines why I love this book, and what I think is part of it's message. The actual plot of this book center's on an island off the coast of Maine and the three generations of the family who owns it. The story moves back and forth between present and past, and is told from multiple characters perspectives. It can be a little confusing. But at its heart Blake seeks to show the human side of many difficult moments in history. I love how this book addresses some of the most difficult points in American history; Jews, the Holocaust, Segregation, and Feminism, but focuses on the humanity of peoples choices. Blake does not spend time criticizing her characters choices (nor does she praise them), but instead she illuminates the struggles they go through in making them - and living with the consequences. She also does not tie up all the loose ends, which I think is appropriate, because in history there are some choices we will never really know. As she points out early on, history, people, may sometimes be found in the act of erasing - in what is not there.

This would be a great book for those who enjoy complex plots and characters. Historical fiction fans may enjoy it as well. Readers should be aware that there is some swearing, death, and sexual content.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Mistletoe Promise
The Mistletoe Promise
By Richard Paul Evans
Simon and Schuster, 2014. Fiction, 251 p.
Elise has been just going through the motions since her divorce five years earlier.  Every day she eats the same thing from the same restaurant all alone in the food court in her building. Then one day in November a handsome lawyer approaches her with a surprising proposition.  He wants to make an agreement with her to spend the holiday season together.  He writes up a contract that they will attend each other's office parties, go out to dinner, and basically keep each other from feeling lonely until Christmas day.  Elise is reluctant, but also very lonely, so she finally agrees.  That begins the most wonderful holiday season she can ever remember.  As she spends times with her mysterious benefactor, she finds that this "pretend" romance might not be pretend at all.  Yet she knows that if he knew about her dark past, he would have never want to see her again.

If you are in the mood for a super clean holiday romance, this is the book for you.  The love interest is pretty much perfect; tall, handsome, rich and kind. Elise is wounded by tragedy and abuse, but is healed by his persistent emotional affirmation. The whole book is one long, delicious, Cinderella story, like Godiva chocolate in print. If you are traveling this holiday, you can check it out on OverDrive or as a book on CD.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Hired Girl
The Hired Girl
by Laura Amy Schlitz
Candlewick, 2015, Young Adult Fiction, 400 p.
14-year-old Joan lives on a farm in 1911 with a cruel father and several brothers.  Her mother has died, and Joan is expected to do all the cooking and cleaning for the men.  Her only solace is a few books that a beloved teacher gave her before her father forced her to leave school.  When, one day, her father burns her books and tells her she is worthless and never likely to marry, Joan plots her escape.  Being large and strong for her age, she is able to pass as an 18-year-old and is hired by a wealthy Jewish family , the Rosenbachs, as a "hired girl"--a cook and maid. They are good to her and for the first time she has a little spending money to buy books and small luxuries. Things get complicated when she finds herself falling in love with the youngest son of her employer. Could things every work out between a poor Catholic girl and a rich Jewish boy who, against his father's will, would love to be an artist?

This title got a lot of positive reviews and won several awards when it came out in 2015 and it deserves every one.  Joan is funny, intelligent, and very much an authentic 14-year-old. All the members of the Rosenbach family are well drawn and interestingly complex.  Schlitz weaves both rye humor and serious issues into a delightful and meaningful tapestry.  This book is found the the Young Adult section, but adults who like historical fiction will enjoy it, too. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Lovely War

Lovely War
By Julie Berry
Viking, 2019, 468 pg., Historical Young Adult Fiction

1942 : Hephaestus set the perfect trap. He would catch his wife, Aphrodite, and his brother, Ares, in their affair and place them on trial. But he is surprised when Aphrodite decides to defend herself by telling the stories of two of her greatest masterpieces. So begins the stories of Hazel, a quite piano player from London, James a brand new British soldier off to fight in the Great War, Colette a heartbroken orphan from Belgium, and Aubrey a African American Ragtime playing soldier. Aphrodite describes how she helps each of these young people to find and build their love stories. Through it all she seeks to make her husband see her for who she really is. She strives to show that what makes human love so great is their ability to love beyond and because of their scars.

This is a great romance. Told from multiple perspectives the characters endure the struggles of the Great War (WWI). I loved how I was able to get pulled into the stories and had to keep reading to find out what the characters were going to do next. A book that can pull you in like that is special. I also liked that this was such a clean romance, no sex scenes. This would be a great read for anyone who is a fan historical fiction or romance, fans of books like Blackmoore or Edenbrooke, older fans of The War That Saved My Life, or even fans of stories involving Greek Gods (Percy Jackson anyone?).

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Island of Sea Women

By Lisa See
Scribner, 2019, 365 pg., Historical Fiction

"No one picks a friend for us; we come together by choice, We are not tied together through ceremony or the responsibility to create a son.; we tie ourselves together through moments. The spark when we first meet. Laughter and tears shared. Secrets packed away to treasured, hoarded, and protected. The wonder that someone can be so different from you and yet still understand your heart in a way no one else ever will." (pg. 36)

See's story of  Young-sook and Mi-ja is a masterpiece. It follows the lives to two girls as they grow up and become women. They are tied together by their love of the sea, but are torn apart by war. They face unbelievable choices and heart-ache, but ultimately their friendship survives through their shared memories, their love, and the sea.

I have been a fan of Lisa See's book for sometime. She invests so much research into each of her books, and then crafts emotional stories of women's lives, love, friendship, and tragedy. Typically her stories revolve around Chinese history, but this new book takes place on a small Korean island called Jeju and the fading historical tradition of the haenyeo. The characters are so life like readers will find themselves growing attached to them. Fans of Lisa See's other books such as The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane or Snow Flower and the Secret Fan will enjoy this new book, as will fans of Kristen Hannah's The Nightingale

Readers should be advised that this book contains violence, swearing, and adult sexual content.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Olsen
J.P. Putnam's Sons, 2018, Fiction, 379 p.
Kya is the youngest of a large family in the marsh lands of North Carolina.  Even though she has a loving mother and siblings, her father is abusive.  In the face of his violence the members of her family leave, one by one, until only Kya and her father are left.  Then he leaves and Kya, age 10, is left to fend for herself.  She learns to survive on her own, leery of establishing relationships because of fear of further abandonment.  Then Tate enters her life, teaches her to read, and opens for her the world of science and love.  Years later the body of a local hotshot is found on the ground below a fire watch tower.  Kya becomes the prime suspect in the murder investigation.  Can Tate, and the others who have come to know Kya, overcome the town's prejudice against the "Marsh Girl?"

Here is another book that has been on the top of the reading charts for months. It is an atmospheric murder mystery/romance with a lot of lush detail and a twisting plot.  Most of all it is a"coming of age" novel that tells how Kya learns to stop being a victim and take control of her own destiny. 

(Readers should be aware that this book contains images of physical and sexual abuse that might be offensive to some.)

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book
By Neil Gaiman
Harper Collins, 2008, 312 pg., Young Adult Fiction

"Sleep my little babby-oh
Sleep until you waken
When you wake you'll see the world
If I'm not mistaken...

Kiss a lover 
Dance a measure,
Find your name
And buried treasure...

Face you life
Its pain,its pleasure
Leave no path untaken"

Nobody Owens began his life as a totally normal boy. But soon his life changed. When his family is murdered in their beds Nobody is adopted by a ghost couple in the local grave yard. He is given the freedom of the grave yard and is protected by those who "live" there. A boy who lives in the graveyard has many great adventures, from encountering ancient spirits, to dancing the Macabre, befriending witches, and falling through Ghoul Gates. But someday Nobody will have to meet the  man Jack who killed Nobody's family ... and who still wants to kill Nobody Owens.

There is a reason why this book won the Newbery Award in 2009. Neil Gaiman has crafted a story that is both spooky and heartwarming. This book was inspired by Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. One thing that I really enjoyed in this book was how much research Gaiman did about death rituals and beliefs throughout history in England. I also enjoyed that this book was spooky and creepy without being grisly horror novel. In fact the only truly bloody part is at the beginning. The Graveyard Book also has some fascinating lessons about life and what gives it meaning. This would be a great book for adults, teens, and some older children who enjoy a good ghost story.