Sunday, April 24, 2016

Spring 3.0

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
The latest book by the author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, I have been waiting anxiously to get my hands on this one.  On the PNW bestseller list since hitting the stores, it was well worth the wait. If you combined Pride and Prejudice with the PBS hit show Downton Abbey  you would understand the beauty of this book.  Simonson's main character is Beatrice Nash, a young independent woman who, after the death of her professorial father who she had helped in his research and writing, now has to strike out on her own and earn a living.  Beatrice finds herself in a small, picturesque English town in Sussex, redolent with all the very classic English characters you can imagine:  the busybody untitled but well-to-do Agatha, with no children of her own but a hand in every charity in town; Agatha's nephew Hugh, the stolid, practical soon-to-be-surgeon who has certain expectations of his life; Agatha's other nephew, a romantic would-be poet; a beautiful Belgium refugee who invades Beatrice's life; the titled family of the town with all the power, but a daughter married to a German; and most importantly, the war.  Because yes, the onset of WWI changes the lives of this small town like a whirlwind, upsetting the social order and rearranging the characters' life goals.  While at times I felt it was a touch too long, Simonson is a beautiful writer.  She also puts in a few plot twists that are unexpected, some deliciously English romance, and heartbreaking tragedy that will tug at your sense of right and wrong.  This was a delightful book.

This Was Not the Plan by Cristina Alger
Alger's debut novel, The Darlings, was a favorite of mine last year and I thoroughly enjoyed this second novel.  Set in the world of New York City big law, it was a heartwarming story at times, but also riotously funny as we see a single dad come to grips with what is truly important in life.  At the onset, we meet big-time attorney Charlie Goldwyn, a young widower who spends most of his nights sleeping on his office couch while trying to do his partner's bidding while his five year old son is raised by his kooky twin sister, Zady.  At a summer office function, Charlie gets a tad inebriated and tells the entire firm what he really thinks about the law, and some of his demanding clients.  It is hilarious and spot-on, but obviously causes huge employment issues with Charlie.  As the story unfolds, we see back into Charlie's past with his wife, his dysfunctional family, his struggles with parenthood, and we watch him try to piece together a life of his own choosing.  After some creepy murder mysteries, my heart loved this one - it spoke to what I believe about life and why we live it.

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
I do love listening to a good, dense non-fiction; it makes me feel like I've taken a good history course at college again, and let's be real - no one does it better than David McCullough.  His latest (and some say possibly his last) foray into American history covers the famous Wright brothers and the beginning of the aeronautical age.  Admittedly, all I ever knew about these boys was the name of Kitty Hawk; McCullough made their story come alive in so many ways.  We learn about the family, the support of their father and especially their sister, the years and years of trials and errors, the building of an empire, their relationship with France and the American government, and most importantly, the inner workings of both the brothers, Wilbur and Orville.  I was fascinated with the story, and a bit heartbroken at the end.  If you or someone you know is interested in flight, this book is a treasure trove of factual information, as well as just a darn good story.

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Admittedly, I first picked up this YA books because it takes place in Amsterdam, a city I have visited three times now as my daughter is a resident there.  However, I also love a good Holocaust story with a different twist, and this one is it.  The main character, Hanneke, is a Dutch girl whose sole purpose in life is to work the black-market system to keep her parents alive.  Hanneke has no intention on getting drawn into the horror of what is happening to her Jewish friends, nor the resistance movement of the young college crowd.  However, a missing Jewish girl from her hiding spot changes Hanneke's mind, and we see the various characters that played a role in saving the Dutch Jews. Hesse does a fine job of telling what could have been a 'typical' story but turning it into something unexpected.  This book has already hit the PNW bestseller list - it's a good story.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
This book will keep you awake at night, with goose bumps crawling up the back of your neck.  After escaping the rumors of the scientific community in Victorian England, the Reverend Sunderly and his family move to a small island off the coast, where a dig for fossils has begun.  As Faith battles her father for recognition of her genius, he takes her into his confidence by sharing his latest specimen. This special plant, kept in a dark cave, grows exponentially when fed lie after lie, producing fruit that helps the liar to see the ‘truth’ of his or her life.  When Faith’s father mysteriously dies, throwing the family into the chaos of a suicide inquiry and an unburied body, Faith must seek out her own truth to find the murderer.  The host of supporting characters is at times sexist, cruel, demeaning, and mysterious, giving us a list of many suspects.  If you like dark, twisted, gothic tales, this one is definitely for you.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Okay, this is a "kid's" book but so many of my adult friends have read it and raved over it, I had to dive in.  A Newberry Honor book, it was well worth the one day it took me to read.  Another WWII book, this one is about Ada, a nine year old girl of the London slums, whose mother is a nightmare.  Ada has an untreated clubfoot, and has never been allowed out of her apartment.  However, when the children are shipped off to the countryside when the London Blitz begins, Ada finds new freedom and a new home.  This is a wonderfully heartwarming story, that also has scenes of great tragedy and heartbreak; excellent story for anyone ages ten through eighty.