Friday, April 24, 2015

Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz (YA novel) Truman Nominee 2015-2016 260 p.

This was a very moving book that should appeal to some reluctant readers.  Yanek is a happy 10- year-old Jewish boy living in Krakow when the Germans invade.  Life as he knew it comes to an end.  His parents are torn away from him.  He is sent to concentration camp after concentration camp after concentration camp.  He is beaten, starved, and worked nearly to death.  Death becomes a constant companion.  After 6 years of horror at the hands of the Nazis,  the allies invade and the prisoners are freed.  My favorite quote from the book comes when Yanek receives his prisoner tattoo: " B-3087.  That's what the Nazis carved into my skin.  B for Birkenau, 3087 for my prisoner number.  That was the mark they put on me, a mark I would have for as long as I lived.  B-3087.  That was how I was to them,  Not Yanek Gruener, son of Oskar and Mina.  Not Yanek Gruener of ....Karkow.  Not Yanek Gruener who loved books and science and American movies.  I was prisoner B-3087.  But I was alive." And Yanek did live.  He and his wife Ruth live in Brooklyn and travel the country to speak about the Holocaust and the importance of rememering,  For you see, this may be a novel, but Yanek is a real person.  He did survive the Holocaust and this book was written with his blessing.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Dinner by Herman Koch, 292 pages

"The Dinner" was written by Dutch novelist Herman Koch and translated into English by Sam Garrett.

The book is told from the perspective of Paul Lohman, who is meeting his brother, Serge, for dinner along with both their wives.  At first we only know that Paul is dreading the dinner, we don't know why but we later learn that there was an incident involving the sons of both couples and they are meeting to discuss how to handle the situation.

This book is a thriller with an unreliable narrator.  Look at the cover of the book, the scorched tablecloth does a nice job of portraying the feel of the book.  We will be discussing this at the Downtown Library's book club in April.  I can't wait for the discussion.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore, 336 pages

Christopher Moore writes howl out loud funny books. The "Serpent of Venice" features Pocket, who was the protagonist in "Fool." This book is a little bit of Shakespeare's "Othello" and "The Merchant of Venice," along with a dose of and Edgar Allan Poe's “The Cask of Amontillado.” There's some real history here too, but don't be too married to that.
If you enjoy humor, irony, are not easily offended and don't mind the f-bomb being dropped pretty frequently, then I'm pretty confident you will enjoy this tale. And if you are a fan of audiobooks, all the better, my friend. It is a HI-larious listen. One thing I particularly got a kick out of is that the "chorus" is a character in this book and the other characters get pretty ticked off with it by the end.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Night by Elie Wiesel, 115 pages

“Night” is an autobiographical account of a teenage Elie Wiesel growing up during Nazi Germany. It is a terrifying story, in which, he struggles to survive alongside his father in a Nazi death camp. His fight for survival and sanity is a singular story, and the reader can empathize with his struggles to give a voice to those who did not survive.
The story begins with Wiesel, not unlike many teenage boys, dreaming of a future he imagines will soon be his. Unfortunately, his parents and siblings are living in a false belief of security while the world around them is drowning in chaos. As he retells his story, we learn what happens to him and his family on this unthinkable journey, and how he has spent a lifetime trying to make sense of the Nazi’s atrocities.  He even questions the choices he had to make in order to survive.
This personal account is horrifying, unimaginable, and immensely sad. I read his story in one evening, and although I knew he had survived, there was so many of those he loved that did not.

“Night” is recommended by the Oprah Book Club as a must read. I recommend this book for anyone who loves to read the words of a truly remarkable author who bares his tortured soul with his readers.

Monday, April 6, 2015

I AM THE WEAPON by Allen Zadoff (YA novel) (Gateway Readers Nominee 2015-2016)

Wow!  This was a great thriller and I predict a crossover YA novel adults will enjoy as well.  Boy Nobody is a well-trained killer.  He receives his instructions, becomes the new kid in school, befriends another student, and within weeks, there is a tragic death in that student's life and their new best-friend had disappeared.  But this time things are different.  The target is New York's well-loved Mayor and Boy Nobody is sent to befriend his beautiful daughter.  This is a tough assignment.  "Sam" is not only beautiful, she is smart and Boy Nobody begins to have feelings, not just for Sam, but normal feelings. Like he is a normal teenage boy again.  Like maybe he wants to change his life.  But "The Program" has control over him...and they are watching.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Not My Father's Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming, 304 pages

"Not My Father's Son" is a memoir by actor Alan Cumming.  I listened to it, which was great because it was read by Alan Cumming.  What a voice.

The memoir alternates between "Then" which is Cumming's childhood and "Now" which was 2010, when he appeared on the BBC genealogy show "Who Do You Think You Are."  The show focused on the mystery of Cumming's maternal grandfather, Tom Darling, who was a decorated WWII veteran, who never returned to his family after the war.

At the same time the BBC show was in production, Alan was dealing with a more recent family secret regarding his abusive father.  This is a book of pain and more importantly recovery.  I highly recommend this book.

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen, 304 pages

Sarah Addison Allen stories are set in North Carolina and are always whimsical and magical.  I am not typically a "gentle fiction" reader, but most of her stories fall into that category.

My only regret with this book is that I am waiting for Spring thaw as I'm listening to "First Frost."  It would have probably been a little more magical to listen in the Fall.

"First Frost" is a sequel to "Garden Spells."  It picks up 10 years after "Garden Spells" returning us to Bascom, North Carolina and the Waverley sisters Claire and Sydney.  Ahh, it's good to catch up with them again.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Still Alice by Lisa Genova 293 pages

The author of this book, Lisa Genova is a Dr. of Neuroscience from Harvard University.  This is her first novel.  The story may be familiar to some of you because it was made into a movie that has won several awards.  In fact Julianne Moore won an Academy Award for best actress.  The story may also be familiar to you because you know someone suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's. 
 I do.  

Alice is a 51-year-old cognitive psychology professor at Harvard.  She is world renown for her knowledge in this field.  She is married and has 3 grown children.  She is a runner, She has everything going for her.  When she starts forgetting things, it is easy to attribute it to the fact that she is too stressed or too busy.  But one day, after a run, she is blocks from her home but cannot remember where she is or how to get home. She begins to search for words she should know.  They are on the tip of her tongue but she cannot remember them.   She cannot remember how to cook, and cannot hold a thought long enough to read, she wants to sleep all the time. But she is still Alice. And she knows all too well what is happening to her.  This novel is great for book clubs and has discussion questions in the back.  It also offers links to anyone wanting to know more about this disease with no cure.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, 503 pages

“A Casual Vacancy” is J.K. Rowling’s first adult fiction novel. The story is set in the small town of Pagford. It is a beautiful town where many of its residents feel it is their ordained birthright to control and preserve its heavenly beauty. Unfortunately, if you happen to be the less than blessed in this small town, beware, because it is the poor that has the local parish council in an uproar.
The story begins with Barry Fairbrother dying. Barry had held a seat on the parish council and was a champion for the less fortunate. With his death, there is a fear that the council will have the power to pass a vote to separate the town of Pagford from what is known as the Fields. The Fields would be similar to what we would call public assistance housing. Get rid of the responsibility of the residents of the Fields, and the town will be saved from the savages that many on the council believe live there. 
But the fighting in this small town doesn’t just revolve around the parish council, no, in this story you become a fly on the wall of all of the varied residents of Pagford. You will find a battle for power festering behind every door, be you rich or poor.

Although the story did start out slow, I was glad I stuck with it to the end. Rowling’s does a beautiful job with character and setting detail. The ending was not what I had expected, which I always enjoy. And Krystal, a teenager who lives in the Fields, will always be one of those characters I will never forget.  I felt Rowling’s challenges the reader to question their views on what makes a town beautiful. Is a town beautiful because of its buildings and natural splendor, or is the true beauty found among the diverse residences that live on both sides of the track? 

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Escape by David Baldacci, 480 pages

"The Escape" is book #3 in Baldacci's John Puller series.  John Puller is a military investigator in the Army.  His father is a retired general with dementia.  His older brother, Robert, was a military star in the Air Force a few years ago.  Now he is in military prison in Leavenworth, Kansas after being convicted of espionage.

Robert somehow escapes from the inescapable prison and John Puller is called in to help capture him.  But . . . was Robert actually guilty?

This is typical Baldacci.  Thrill a minute, men's men and tough women.  Oorah.