Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Nightingale

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I flipped back to find the last book I read by Kristin Hannah, and it was Winter Garden, and I see the similarities between that book and The Nightingale. Both are about two sisters who are as different as night and day. One stays home while the other chases her dreams.

The difference is that The Nightingale is historical fiction about the German invasion of France and the Holocaust. Two sisters who are always at odds with each other, while protecting their family. Vianne stays home in their small town while Isabelle joins the resistance against Germany, showing amazing daring and strength. Vianne plays it safe at first, but later discovers her own strength in protecting the children left behind in the war.

All the while I was reading this book, I kept thinking of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which also centers on the German invasion of France but from a different aspect.

Both books were often painful to read. I was thankful for the bit of parallel story in Nightingale, as it left me with an unexpected bittersweet ending.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Girl on the Train has been compared by many as being similar to Gone Girl. I read Gone Girl over two years ago, and I still remember it as being a tightly-crafted novel. The memory is probably fresher because I saw the movie. (I liked Ben Affleck more in Argo.)

But what makes the novels similar? They are both told by more than one voice, more than one Point of View. Usually we can trust the voice of the narrator, but in both of these we have an unreliable narrator or two or three. We have liars and alcoholics prone to blackout. In both we have some pathetic characters. (Can they get a life?)

I liked The Girl on the Train more because there was more positive character development at least in the case of Rachel, the girl on the train. I found the character development of Amy in Gone Girl to be creepy. Not someone I would want to be in the same room with.

I gave Gone Girl four stars because in spite of the well-crafted story, the ending was unsatisfying. I have to give Girl on the Train five stars for closure.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

The Life We Bury

The Life We BuryThe Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a selection for one of my book clubs. It was really slow starting, and I wondered if I would finish reading it in time for the discussion next week. But it improved as I got to know Joe, his autistic brother Jeremy, and Carl Iverson, the subject of Joe's biography assignment for his college English class. Carl is in a nursing home dying of pancreatic cancer, 30 years after he was convicted of murdering a teenaged girl. Carl has one friend, Virgil, from his time in Viet Nam, who is sure Carl is innocent. Joe's visits with Carl to get his story, bring out things in Joe's life that he wished he could forget, and help him to make a connection with Carl. As Joe gets deeper into Carl's history, he finds himself trying to solve the mystery, and determine if Carl was the monster portrayed at his trial.

With the help of his housemate and his autistic brother, they are able to solve parts of the puzzle which leads Joe further into a dangerous adventure. The last half of the book is a thriller, a real page-turner. I'm glad I didn't give up on it.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Passing through Perfect

Passing Through PerfectPassing Through Perfect by Bette Lee Crosby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book I have read by Bette Lee Crosby. I enjoyed The Twelfth Child, and the author contacted me to read her latest book Passing through Perfect. She provided an ebook download for me to read and provide a review. I told her I was stacked up reading two other books, but once I read the first two pages, I moved the other books down in my stack. I was hooked.

The author warned me that the story was told by a young black man in Alabama during the Jim-Crow era, and I supposed that she wanted to know if his voice rang true. I didn't tell her that I grew up in Virginia in the Jim-Crow era, a time when public accommodations were restricted to "Whites Only," and as a little girl riding my tricycle around the block, I was told I didn't belong on that street.

But on to the story of Benjamin Church and the love of his life, Delia. I guess I loved them both. For me to be hooked on a story there has to be at least one character I cared about. This novel gave me many. But there were antagonists on both sides of the racial divide. Delia's father was a preacher, graduate of Howard University, one of the foremost HBCU's in the USA. Rev. Finch could not accept Delia's relationship with Benjamin, a sharecropper. And when he learned that Delia was pregnant, he disowned her.

Benjamin and Delia made the best of their hard life on the farm, with Benjamin's Daddy, and their son Isaac. Life in Grinder's Corner wasn't so bad because they had friends on neighboring farms, and everybody was struggling poor. It was only when they went to the larger town that they had to deal with the signs that said, "No Colored," and Delia realized she wanted a better life for their son Isaac.

The story was a page-turner. The only thing that didn't ring true for me was the broken English spoken by Delia. I expected the dialect from Benjamin as he had been educated in a one-room school with sparse resources, and his parents had not graduated from high school. Delia on the other hand was the only child of well-educated parents, and she herself attended a private school. When I think of my own late parents who graduated from Morris Brown College in 1924, I remember their love of good diction, and love of books. I would expect the same for Delia.

But I really liked the book, and will be looking for more from this author.

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