Monday, December 31, 2018

December 2018 in Boks

The Tattooist of Auschwitz - Heather Morris - historical fiction - five stars - Based on a true story, this follows the life of Lale Sokolov who ends up becoming the tattooist at Auschwitz - where he numbers the inmates coming into the camp.  In this role he is accorded extra protections and freedoms. He ends up finding a way to trade goods with local villagers who work at Auschwitz for extra food that he distributes to friends.  It's also a love story - he meets his future wife in Auschwitz and is able to secure her a job in the administration building.  They survive although they are separated when Auschwitz is liquidated and find each other later.  Really enjoyed this one.

Transcription - Kate Atkinson - historical fiction - three stars - honestly, I was so disappointed by this one.  It sounded so much better than it was.  It's about a woman who worked for MI5 during WWII doing transcription work.  Ten years later, she becomes entangled in the work she was involved in again.  This was just so slow and boring...I kept waiting for it to get better, but it didn't.  Part of the problem was having to read a bunch of the transcriptions which were boring and confusing, and generally the people in the story not all that endearing.  It did get a bit more interesting about 3/4 into the book, but by then I was so annoyed by the book in general that it kind of killed it for me.

The Balcony - Jane Delury - fiction - four stars - This one was kind of a mixed back for me.  It's basically a series of short stories/sketches loosely revolving around a home in a small village near Paris.  There are some threads that connect the stories, some I found quite compelling, others not so much.  As I said, a mixed bag, so some of the stories/characters I really liked and other were just meh. I honestly did not get the last story either.  I read it more than once, but I couldn't quite figure out who the people were supposed to be - if they were tied to prior characters, it was just written in a weird way.  This is probably closer to 3 1/2 stars for me, but I rounded up.

Spy School Goes South (Spy School, #6) - Stuart Gibbs - juvenile fiction - five stars - We love the Spy School series and have been anxiously waiting for this latest book.  Murray Hill, who was taken into custody in the last book, is finally ready to talk, but only to Ben Ripley.  He says he will take him to SPYDER's lair, but of course he's lying.  The team ends up stranded in Mexico and must foil SPYDER's latest plan without the help of the CIA.  Just as entertaining as the rest of the books in the series. 

Smoking Kills - Antoine Laurain - fiction - three stars - This was a disappointment.  I loved his prior books, The Red Notebook and The President's Hat so much, but this doesn't measure up.  It's frankly just kind of weird and dark.  It's the story of a man whose wife wants him to quit smoking, and sends him to a hypnotist.  He briefly stops smoking, but gets stressed and lights up again, the only problem is that he gets zero enjoyment from it.  One evening he's attached in the subway, he fights off his attacker, accidentally pushing him in front of a train and killing him, he smokes a cigarette after to calm his nerves and once again gets that smoking high.  He realizes that murder results in a smoking high and ends up committing a series of additional murders.  Just weird. 

White Rose, Black Forest - Eoin Dempsey - historical fiction - five stars - The story begins when Franka, recently released from Gestapo custody, goes into the forest near her family's isolated cabin to commit suicide.  Her attempt is halted when she finds an unconscious Luftwaffe airman in the snow.  His legs are broken, and he cries out in English in his sleep so she questions his true identity.  Franka decides to rescue him.  Much of the story deals with their mistrust of one another as well as mistrust within German society at that time. 

When It's Over - Barbara Ridley - historical fiction - four stars - This is loosely based on a true story.  Lena Kulkova leaves Prague prior to WWII with her boyfriend Otto, following him to Paris where he works for the Spanish Republicans.  She is left stuck in Paris when he leaves for Britain as she is hoping to get her mother and sister out.  As the Germans close in on France, she is finally able to get to Britain where she waits out the war hoping for good news from home.  This one was definitely interesting, and while I liked it, I wasn't all that crazy about Lena and Otto, so only four stars for me.

The Map of Salt and Stars - Jennifer Zwynab Joukhadar - fiction - five stars - This book was wonderful.  It follows the story of Nour, who was born and raised in NYC, but her family returned to Syria after her father died.  They become caught in the conflict there, their home is hit by a bomb and they need to flee.  Interwoven with this story is the legend of Rawiya, apprentice to the mapmaker Rami who was commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world.  Rawiya's story is one Nour's father told her and uses it to almost as a talisman as she and her family try to find their way to safety.  This is another must read.

A Night Divided - Jennifer Nielson - juvenile historical fiction - four stars - The story of Gerta whose family is divided one night when the Berlin Wall goes up.  Her father and brother had gone to the West German side looking for work and a home while she, her mother and oldest brother remained in East Germany.  A few years later, as she is walking to school, she sees her brother and father on a platform on the west side of the wall dancing.  After seeing them multiple times, she realizes it's a message, with a way for them to get out of East Germany.  I enjoyed the story, I thought the writing was a little less developed than I would have liked, but this does make it a much easier read - I'd say easily fourth grade level.

The Clockmaker's Daughter - Kate Morton - fiction - five stars - I love everything by Kate Morton, and this book is no exception.  As with all of Morton's books, the story moves back and forth between present day (Elodie Winslow an archivist who opens a box containing a satchel the contents of which set her on the trail of a mystery) and the past (the story of Edward Radcliffe and Birdie Bell.  Morton's books always have layers and layers of details and they keep you guessing.  I love all the details and how the stories were woven together.  Just wonderful.

Trapped! (Framed #3) - James Ponti - James Ponti - juvenile fiction - five stars - Ellie showed up at home with this one just before Christmas break.  We've read the previous two books, and loved them and this one was just as good.  In this episode, there are one (or more) moles in the government, and Florian and Margaret's handler Marcus is being framed for it.  Florian and Margaret need to solve the case and clear his name.  Fast paced and fun as they meet and try and exclude each of the different suspects.  This is really a great series for middle readers and works for both girls and boys.

The Portrait - Antoine Laurain - fiction - three stars - This was another misfire from Laurain for me.  Not as bad as Smoking Kills, but still not one I really enjoyed.  It's about a man who's main vice is that he collects expensive things (via auction) that his wife hates.  While on one of his shopping adventures he finds a portrait of a man who looks just like him.  He spends a fortune on it and becomes obsessed with the portrait and who it is/his relation to it.  There was definitely an interesting twist to this and Laurain's books have a definite taste of karma/fairness that is present here as well, but there's a cynicism and sharpness to this one that makes it less palatable than his other books.

Tending Roses - Lisa Wingate - fiction - three stars - I had high hopes for this one.  I loved Wingates book Before We Were Yours (my first book of 2018), and this one was just OK.  It was a sweet story, but wholly predictable.  Still it's not a bad book - would be a good beach/weekend read.  It's about Kate, Ben, and their new son who leave their busy and overly materialistic lives in Chicago to go stay with Kate's grandmother on the family farm.  She's just had a stroke, and the family has asked them to stay with her just before Christmas when they'll all convene to stage an intervention and get her to go to a nursing home.  Things don't go to plan, Grandma Rose causes Kate to slow down, rethink her life and re-evaluate priorities.

The Story of Arthur Truluv - Elizabeth Berg - fiction - five stars - Such a sweet story. If you're an Ove fan, you'll love this one.  Arthur Truluv goes each day to the cemetery to have lunch with his wife Nola who passed away.  While there he meets Maddy who is skipping school.  They start as acquaintances, but end up becoming more as he, his neighbor Lucille, and Maddy become a family of sorts.  This is a must read. 

Crossing the River Kabul: An Afghan Family Odyssey - Kevin McLean - biography - four stars - The story of Baryalai Popal, an Afghan from a well-to-do, educated, political family who had to flee the country in 1980 because the Russians were searching for him. This was an easy to read an infomative book.  The chapters are short and he interweaves his family's history with that of the country as a whole. There's a fair amount of description of his escape and time as a refugee trying to get into the US.  He wasn't able to get in for many years and had to first go to Germany.  He and his family eventually made their way to the U.S. and he's a citizen now.  I would have liked to know a little more about his life/transition to the U.S., but there's a pretty big gap until he returns to Afghanistan after 9/11. The books tells about how he reconnected with friends/family and tried to get his family homes/property returned.  I thought it was a really unique look at the before and after of a very turbulent time period in Afghanistan's history.

Silent Hearts - Gwen Florio - fiction - five stars - This was not an easy book to read, but it was a good follow-up book to previous one.  It's about two couples, one from America and one from Pakistan/Afghanistan whose lives become intertwined in Afghanistan following 9/11.  This sets the framework of the culture there - the history of war, factions, warlords, killing, etc., and shows the chaos of the days following 9/11, how westerners were viewed, and how difficult and almost impossible it is to change things.  There's not a great deal of hope here, it's dark, but one of those compelling reads you need to get to the end of even though you know that there isn't a happy ending.

My favorites this month were Map of Salt and Stars, The Story of Arthur Truluv, and The Clockmaker's Daughter.  I also started reading The Wedding Date, but couldn't finish it.  It was just kind of vacuous.  The writing and dialogue were just bad and it really just seemed like it was a lot of lame interlude for sex scenes.  Not really my style and I gave up.

This brings my total for 2018 to 130 books.  That's a lot of books and so many good ones!  I'm looking forward to another year of reading and just started The Bookshop of Yesterdays, next up are The Room on Rue Amelie, Deviation, and The Air You Breathe.  Ellie also has another big pile for me that I'm going to try and work in as possible.

As always, please share what you are reading and loving (or hating too).

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