Thursday, November 5, 2015

November Reading

The Family:  Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century by David Laskin
I spent some time shelving history books at Village Books the other day and had made room for this one, but did not think anything else of it.  Yet, when a good friend told me she was engrossed in it, I took another look.  I am so glad I did.  Starting with Diary of Anne Frank as a young girl, I have read countless accounts of the Holocaust, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as teaching Elie Wiesel's Night and having a survivor speak to my students.  There is something about the human spirit during this terrible time in history that grips my soul and keeps me searching for answers to an unanswerable question of how this could have occurred.  David Laskin's story of his own family is a one of the best in my memory.  It covers the three strands of his Russian Jewish family, with one staying in Russia/Poland/Lithuania, while the two other strands strike out to America and Palestine.  A gripping tale of the beginning of Israel, as well as the trials of an Orthodox Jew in turn-of-the-century New York City, this book also delves deeply into the life of the Eastern European shtetls - their lives both before and during WWII.  I was fascinated with Laskin's aunt, Ida Rosenthal, the founder of Maidenform as well as the young cousins who built a farm in the deserts of Israel and watched a new nation raise its flag.  I also, however, cried many tears as people I had come to love were swallowed up in the tragedy of the conflagration in Eastern Europe.  This book added another piece to my ever-growing knowledge of Jewish history - I highly recommend it to anyone who likes history, who is interested in the Holocaust, and more importantly, who just wants to get smarter and broaden their knowledge of other cultures and time periods.  This book is a winner.

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
Poor Ted.  Or should I say poor rich Ted? His beautiful wife, Miranda, is screwing their contractor and he's not happy about it.  Enter Lily, beautiful young woman also stuck at the Boston airport and seemingly interested in poor Ted.  After hearing his tale of woe, Lily explains her life philosophy...some people just aren't worthy of life, and in fact, they are sometimes worth killing.  Hmmm...interesting seat mate on an airplane, but Ted buys it.  Thus, the story unfolds.  We see Ted and Miranda's marriage through Ted's eyes, and then Miranda's.  We hear of Lily's childhood with a wacky artist mother and a disinterested famous writer for a father.  We begin to understand the sociopathic tendencies of beautiful young Lily, as she deals with some unsavory men in her life in a rather 'permanent' manner.  This deadly black widow pulls numerous unsuspecting men into her web, and as a reader, I admittedly began to chuckle a bit at the mens' gullibility when it comes to a gorgeous woman smiling at them, or even drawing a finger across their hand, knowing what was in store for them next.  This is a solid psychological thriller, with some thoughtful twists and turns, especially in the end.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
If you like historical fiction, WWII pilots and Nazis, and some daring women spies, then this is the book for you.  While it is labeled YA, I'm not entirely sure why; the main characters are adults, the writing level is pretty high, and it's an average length book.  Perhaps it's the publishers way of getting teens to learn more about history? Regardless, Elizabeth Wein has written a page-turner of a story.  It begins with the main character behind bars in a Nazi prison, being interrogated and tortured for information on her assignment.  She then proceeds to write down her story, telling us how she became a spy.  There's a unique twist, however, in the telling of the story and if I tell you it...HUGE spoiler.  Let's just say this book will keep you reading until the last Nazi dies.

Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

When I read Chris Bohjalian's masterpiece on the Armenian holocaust (The Sandcastle Girls),  I was shocked and dismayed by how much I did not know about this time period.  Ohanesian's latest book adds even more depth to my knowledge and is a fascinating read.  The story begins with Orhan, a young Turkish man, who returns to his small village for his grandfather's funeral, and more importantly, for the reading of his will.  Pleased to inherit the business, but bewildered as to why the family home is left to an old woman in Arizona, Orhan sets off on his quest to find not only this woman, but his familial history.  We meet Seda, the old woman who was once young, in love, wealthy, and educated...and we see the way unbridled hatred turns her family life to dust.  As the pages turn back time, the Armenian holocaust unfolds in Anatolia, and it brings into focus Orhan's own inner turmoil.  This is a heart-wrenching tale, but has great heart and redemption in the end. I am forever horrified and perplexed as to how the world turned its face away from this terrible tragedy that killed over a million people. This was an absolute five-star book for me, well deserving of the critical praise and award nominations it has received.

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica
The second book by Mary Kubica (first was The Good Girls - also quite good) is another successful thriller and psychological drama.  The story is told through a compelling mix of characters' voices: Heidi, the bleeding heart social worker who wants to save every stray cat and starving child; Chris, Heidi's permanently stressed and over-worked financier husband, who has a heart the size of the Grinch, but also some common sense; and Willow, the young teenage runaway, with a screaming baby, blood on her shirt, and a secretive past.  Heidi, in all of her wisdom, sees Willow and the baby in the pouring rain of the train platform and decides..."hmmm, I can save her life - let's bring her home and let her live with my husband and my twelve-year-old daughter."  Yep - trouble ensues.  However, it is not as predictable as you might suspect.  While Willow has some skeletons in her closet, Heidi and Chris have got some bones rattling as well.  This is definitely a page-turner that will keep you entertained on these cold and rainy Pacific Northwest nights.

Cinder by Marissa Meyers
If you've got middle-school or high-schoolers and are looking for entertainment, keep reading.  All of you adults - go away.  This is the first book in The Lunar Chronicles and has been a HUGE hit with our young folks.  It is a creative take on the Cinderella story, taking place far in the future when the world has been through the fourth World War, yet life is not all that terrible, like in the normal post-apocalyptic genre.  For once, the nations of the world all get along for the most part; it's the Lunars, humans who populated the Moon long ago, who are the problem. Of course, the lovely little dose of an incurable plague in the world hasn't helped matters either.  However, Cinder, the cyborg (mostly human, with a few bionic parts - and yes, of course her foot is mechanical, and yes, of course she leaves it at the ball - cmon, you know the story) is the heroine with heart, a sense of family and honor, who has the capability of saving the world.  This is a great first story in the series that has no bad language, little to no violence, no sex (unless you count a fairly innocent kiss by the prince), and is well-written.

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