Saturday, January 20, 2018

2017: The Year in Books

I set a goal of reading 50 books in 2017—and squeaked by at the end with exactly 50. I was terrible about doing book reviews this year, but I have been more active on Goodreads and have been publishing quick reviews there and linking them to my blog.

The Best
Here are my favorites of the year (not including rereads):
  1. 84 Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff)
  2. Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper (Phaedra Patrick)
  3. Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)
  4. My Family and Other Animals (Gerald Durrell)
  5. One-in-a-Million Boy (Monica Wood)
  6. Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Gabrielle Zevin)
  7. Winter Sea (Susanna Kearsley)
  8. Women of the Castle (Jessica Shattuck)

 Out of those, I would probably choose One-in-a-Million Boy as my absolute favorite—but these were all truly fabulous.

Book Club
Our book club choices this year were:
Where the Heart Is (Billie Letts
Shakespeare's Landlord (Charlaine Harris)
Same Kind of Different As Me (Ron Hall)
My Family and Other Animals (Gerald Durrell)
Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper (Phaedra Patrick)
Mink River (Brian Doyle)
War That Saved My Life (Kimberly Bradley) (I read this one last year and loved it)

My favorites out of this list were My Family and Other Animals and the Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper; however, at least a few book club members put down My Family after only a couple of chapters. I think the best discussion came from The War That Saved My Life. Everyone loved that one!


Here is the whole list. My star-ranking system is as follows: 5 stars--absolutely must read; 4 stars--highly recommended; 3 stars--enjoyable; 2 stars--ick; 1 star--no, no, no.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Book Review: An American Plague

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 (Newbery Honor Book)An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


As the subtitle indicates, this is, indeed the story of the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 (and subsequent years) in Philadelphia. The author draws on primary sources (letters, diaries, newspaper articles) to create an overall horrifying picture of how yellow fever ravaged this then largest city in America. I was especially intrigued by how the medical community reacted to the fever—the various "cures" doctors tried—as well as by the heroics of ordinary citizens as they cared for the sick.

This is a children's book (5th grade and up), and I have to say my own kids would probably have been disappointed at the promise of a "terrifying" story. It was gruesome in parts (all that black bile—ew) but perhaps not "terrifying." Nonetheless, it is a quick and easy read, and, honestly, I didn't know much about this particular yellow fever outbreak and how it affected our newly formed country. It wasn't a riveting read, but I'm glad to have spent the afternoon delving into this bit of history.



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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Book Review: Lilac Girls

Lilac GirlsLilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The story: This Holocaust novel is told from three perspectives: Kasia, a Polish prisoner at Ravensbrück; Caroline Ferriday, a former actress who works at the French embassy; and Herta Oberheuser, a doctor at Ravensbrück who proudly performs experiments on the prisoners. The story itself is a true one. Oberheuser was convicted of Nazi war crimes, and Ferriday was an incredible social activist. The character of Kasia is based on a group of Polish women prisoners nicknamed "The Rabbits," on whom Oberheuser performed horrible experiments.

My reaction: The real story itself is amazing. I would love to read more about Caroline Ferriday and these incredible women known as The Rabbits after reading this novel. It's a story that needs to be told and keep being told so that it never happens again. But… honestly, the whole novel was choppy and disconnected. I should have cried as I read this novel; instead, I felt as emotionally detached and perplexed at the flatness of these characters that yearned to be richly developed. Caroline was the most developed character, yet the bulk of her chapters had to do with a romance that seemed extraneous to the actual story. Oberheuser was utterly flat. And Kasia—ah, what a missed character opportunity. I suspect there was more to the novel originally—more scenes that would further character development—and the author was advised to shorten it.

I admire the research that Kelly put into the novel. According to her afterword, she spent years studying the letters of Ferriday and documents pertaining to the atrocities at Ravensbrück. She traveled to the town in Poland where many of these women came from, retraced their train ride to the camp, investigated the camp itself.

In spite of my overall feeling of disconnect, I would recommend the novel because the story itself is one that should be told and remembered, hopefully encouraging us to use our outrage to help others in whatever way we can.



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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Book Review: The Couple Next Door

The Couple Next DoorThe Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Honestly, this is one of those guilty pleasure books. It's full of plot twists, plastic characters, and things that would never happen in real life, but lately my brain seems to crave absolute, unequivocally dramatic fiction. There's a kidnapped baby, a mom with postpartum depression, multimillionaire grandparents, and a husband from the other side of the tracks. Also: a neighbor named Cynthia, sharp knives, and hidden cell phones.

I gave it 4 stars because it was exactly the book I needed at the moment, not because it's a work of literary genius. This is what I think of as an "in-between" book—a cushion between more thought-provoking books. Fun, fast, and somehow quite satisfying.



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