Monday, October 1, 2018

September 2018 in Books

A pretty good month of reading, and a good mix of genres.  Just one real dud in the bunch, and a few must reads.  Here's the summary:

Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood - Lisa Damour - nonfiction - four stars - With a preteen daughter whose mood swings drastically from high to low, this was a great book to help me understand some of the physiological and emotional things she's experiencing now and will be soon, and ways to communicate with her during this time.  The seven 'strands' that Damour deals with are: Parting with Childhood, Joining a New Tribe, Harnessing Emotions, Contending with Adult Authority, Planning for the Future, Entering the Romantic World, and Caring for Herself.  While I found this book really helpful I only gave it four stars, because I wasn't crazy about some of her ideas for dealing with the last two strands.

The House Girl - Tara Conklin - historical fiction - four stars - This is really two stories one of a Josephine, a house slave who tries to run in 1852, and the modern day story of Lina Sparrow, an attorney in modern day NYC assigned to look into a class-action lawsuit seeking reparations for slavery.  The story of Josephine is tied into her research as looks for the 'perfect plaintiff' for the suit.  I thought it was a pretty good story, although I feel like the ending was a bit of a let down in terms of how things were tied together too quickly/easily at the end, as if the author ran out of steam and wanted to finish the book in 50 pages rather than 100.  Also, I was definitely more interested in Josephine's story vs. Lina's.

White Chrysanthemum - Mary Lynn Bracht - historical fiction - five stars - The story of two Korean sisters separated during the war.  One is basically stolen and sent to Manchuria as a comfort woman, the other remains behind, but her life is not much better. It was pretty fascinating to read what happened to some native South Koreans following the end of WWII and the division of Korea. The natives where the sisters lived were viewed as potential communist spies, many were murdered, and in order to 'claim' their land others - women and young girls - were forced into marriage to men escaping North Korea who were displaced with no land of their own.  The book traces the story of the two sisters, what became of them, and how they coped in their circumstances.

Breaking Free: How I Escaped My Father-Warren Jeffs-Polygamy, and the FLDS Cult - Rachel Jeffs - autobiography - five stars - The title is pretty self-explanatory.  A very revealing look into the FLDS and how it functioned from a human perspective.  Abused by her father from an early age, Rachel is then married to one of his bodyguards.  Their marriage, though plural, seems relatively decent, but what I found really interesting was how power was exercised once married.  Warren Jeffs used families as punishment - separating both Rachel and her husband from their kids for months at a time in order for them to repent.  Amazingly, Rachel was able to escape, but at the time her husband had been sent elsewhere, so he was left behind and her kids will likely never see their father again.

The Kremlin's Candidate (Red Sparrow Trilogy, #3) - Jason Matthews - fiction - five stars - I have thoroughly enjoyed this series, and this book was just as good, although hard because we don't get away unscathed.  Characters you've grown to know and love don't make it out, and as always there is incompetence that goes unpunished. This was a riveting series if you're into spy stuff, and I am hoping that Matthews will write more.

The Great Alone - Kristin Hannah - fiction - five stars - This is the second book I've read from Hannah, the first being The Nightingale, and while they are vastly different in subject, both are wonderful.  This is the story of Leni Allbright whose parents are anti-establishment, and whose father is a former Vietnam POW who came home with a vastly different personality and temperament.  They move to a remote area of Alaska in the hopes that the change of scenery will be good for her  father. This is a story of survival, both in terms environment as well as individually. There is great tragedy, but redemption, forgiveness, and hope. So good. I clearly need to check out some more of her books!

The Time of Mute Swans - Ece Temelkuran - historical fiction - two stars - So this one was a dud for me. It covers about a three month period in 1980 just before a coup in Turkey. This is translated into English, and for me it was kind of a mess and a really confusing read. For one thing, there are a ton of names just kind of bandied about and it's confusing to know who's being talked about and who is who. There's a lot of discussion about current events and Turkish pop culture figures, that doesn't have anything to do with the actual plot itself. The story is told from the perspective of two kids - one from a poor family involved in the resistance, one from a better off family whose affiliations are murky. This one was just so esoteric that if you don't have a good grasp of events before and after the coup it is somewhat incomprehensible. It also didn't help that I just couldn't connect with any of the characters.

Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult - fiction - five stars - Such a good book. This one really made me think. It's the story of a labor and delivery nurse who happens to be African American and a white supremacist couple who come into the hospital and refuse to allow her to care for their child. When the baby has a medical emergency and ends up passing away, she happens to be in the room and is part of the crash team. A trial ensues. The book does an amazing job of peeling back the onion a bit to show the different aspects of racism and how it affects the various people in the book.  Highly recommend and definitely need to reed some more from Picoult.

Memento Park - Mark Sarvas - fiction - three stars - The story of a man who finds himself on the receiving end of repatriation of a valuable work by a Jewish Hungarian artist who killed himself just as the Nazis were marching into Berlin.  In order to officially receive the painting he needs to jump through some legal hurdles.  He is also mystified by the fact that his father, who was contacted first, does not want the painting.  The process leads him to reflect on his relationship with his father, and learn about his culture and religion.  This was just OK.  I wasn't crazy about the guy in general.  It was interesting, but there were some random bits that I didn't think were really necessary for the story itself - mostly having to do with this fiance, her work and her causes.

I'm currently reading another novelette from Antoine Laurain and waiting in the wings is Britt-Marie Was Here (Backman), the most recent Mwa Ramotswe book, and a few others I pulled from the new books shelves at the library.  How about you guys, anything I've got to read?

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