Monday, November 23, 2015

November Reading 2.0

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
We have become well-educated in the facts of this world war: Nazi invasion of Poland, the aerial war over Britain, death camps, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, ultimate victory by Allies.  However...what if Germany won?  What if they invaded Britain in 1940 and denied us a staging platform for D-Day?  What if they set up Eastern Europe as their breeding farms for more Nazi babies and more killing centers?  What if Japan opened an Eastern front on the Soviets and ran the table through Eastern Asia?  Yikes...a different history, which is Ryan Graudin's premise in this book.  Her protagonist is young Yael, a child previously used for experimentation in a camp.  Due to the chemical recomposition of her body, Yael can shape-shift, meaning whoever's face she sees, Yael can become that woman.  With this kind of skill, she becomes an important tool for the resistance, embarking on the race of her life.  Disguised as the previous victor of the propaganda-filled motorcycle road race from Germania to Tokyo, Yael must endure the dirty tricks from her fellow competitors, the over-protectiveness of her twin brother, and the confusing relationship with another German victor.  This is a roller-coaster of a ride, not to be missed. And yes, it is listed as a YA book, but only because main character is eighteen. These authors are typically highly creative, articulate, and create complex characters and plots.  I find they are not so wordy about building the scenery, which is just fine by me:) Young Adult is a whole new wonderful world - come explore it with me.

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Yessiree...another YA book so, if you're shopping for any teenagers this holiday season, or you just want a really good book to read, keep reading this review:)  Wolitzer's (The Interestings)first foray into young adult has been a huge hit, particularly with high school girls.  She has created an intriguing premise around which her characters evolve.  The main character, Jam (short for Jamaica), narrates the tale of her life, beginning with the present as she begins her new high school life in a boarding school for 'fragile, damaged, traumatized' children.  When Jam receives her schedule, she has been placed, with four other students, into an English class titled "Special Topics."  Mrs. Q, in her last semester before she retires, has chosen to read only Sylvia Plath this year, hence the title of the book "Belzhar," ie. Plath's semi-autobiographical novel titled "Bell Jar."  As the story unfolds, we see the magic of the journals given to them by Mrs. Q, as each student relates the reason why they have come to this school.  We also see the way each teenager works their way through personal trauma, and finds their way back to life.  As a former English literature teacher, I love the connection with Sylvia Plath and the ways literature can change and shape one's life.  It is a gripping story that will keep anyone turning the pages until the very end.

Rosemary:  The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson
Unless you lived under a rock for the last eighty years, we have all read, heard, and watched the lives of the Kennedys.  However, as Rose and Joseph Kennedy showed off their children to the cameras and portrayed a 'perfect' family life, it was not what it seemed.  Their oldest daughter, Rosemary, as many of us know now, was mentally disabled.  She was slow to develop motor skills, struggled mightily in the academic skills needed to progress in school, and caused social 'scenes' that disturbed her parents, and at times her siblings.  To read about their treatment of Rosemary, knowing what we now do about delayed children, it is truly a heartbreaking read.  Many of us had heard over the last few decades of the lobotomy performed on Rosemary as a young woman, but the reasons that led her father to this life-destroying decision, are both baffling and infuriating.  The pictures in the book are beautiful and intriguing, as is the story that reveals the hidden life of the oldest Kennedy girl.

The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro
For anyone who read The Art Forger back in 2012, Shapiro is back with her second book and it is just as enticing as the first.  Perhaps it is my own personal desire to better understand the world of art in which my youngest daughter is engulfed, as she pursues a graduate degree in museum studies.  In Shapiro's latest novel, she continues to teach me about the American abstract art movement, involving big guns like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Lee Krasner.  Through a dual narrative, focusing on Alizee Benoit, a fictional young artist in 1939 New York, and her grand-niece, Dani, who is researching provenance of a painting in 2015, Shapiro plays out a mystery of passion for both art and humanity, danger, and a country on the brink of war. Alizee and her soon-to-be-famous artist friends are forging new ideas in art.  At the same time, Alizee has family trapped in France as Hitler invades, and we watch as Alizee fights the government to get visas and to allow more refugees into our country.  We see the rampant anti-semitism, reminiscent of what is happening today towards refugees of the current wars in the Middle East.  Yes, I am being political and showing my personal feelings...but Shapiro deftly displays the history of this ongoing issue and shows the desperation and emotions surrounding the plight of the pre-WWII refugees.  I could not stop reading this book, obsessed with seeing how this mysterious and fascinating story played out.

The Harvest Man by Alex Grecian
In case you think I've gone 'soft,' don't worry - I still read dark, creepy murder mysteries.  And in case you have forgotten our friend Alex Grecian whose first novel, The Yard, was a gothic, scary tale of Jack, as in 'the Ripper,' and the murder squad of Scotland yard, his latest effort is outstanding. His second book, The Dark Country, was in so-so.  His third book, The Devil's Workshop, was getting back to the brilliance of his first.  Now, The Harvest Man?  Grecian has hit a grand slam with his fourth book, easily the best of the bunch.  The intriguing characters continue to be fleshed out by Grecian: Detective Day, whose obsession with finding Jack is juxtaposed with his fears for his family's safety; Nevil Hammersmith, a now shield-less private eye whose dogged curiosity serves him well; Dr. Kingsley, the pathologist who is a pioneer in forensics; and of course, the Harvest Man, who keeps carving up innocent young couples in London.  Is he mentally deranged or is it a play for Jack's admiration? As the detectives of Scotland Yard hunt down this vicious killer, their past comes back to haunt them.  This is a gripping mystery, well-written and engrossing through the final chapter.  If you read Grecian's first, it is time to go back to the well - it is worth it. If you have not read any, pick one up on a dreary, rainy PNW afternoon, make yourself a nice cup of tea, and travel to Victorian England for some entertainment.

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