Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Book Review: The Dollmaker of Krakow

The Dollmaker of KrakowThe Dollmaker of Krakow by R.M. Romero

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

First, this is most assuredly not "in the vein of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Number the Stars." It's more in the vein of the Magic Tree House book but with less "real" information and much worse dialogue. I like books about dolls coming to life—The Christmas Doll, The Dolls' House, Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, for example. I can appreciate fairy tales as a way to present the Holocaust-- Jane Yolen's Briar Rose is superb. But I left this novel thinking, "Huh?" I don't really like to leave bad reviews, especially for debut authors; however, I think this novel sugarcoats (readers of the novel will get that pun) the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust. I'd hate to think about a generation of middle readers growing up reading this instead of The Dairy of a Young Girl, Number the Stars, The Endless Steppe, or Snow Treasure, for example. Not recommended at all.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Books Read in January 2019

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney: My review here.

A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena: Another riveting psychological thriller. These are the books that I love and hate. I love to be dragged into the midst of a totally implausible drama. It's pure thrill with a hefty dose of "Wow, this is really bad writing and this plot is absurd." Cheap thrill book, entirely forgettable but fun while it lasted.

Walking to Listen by Andrew Forsthoefel: Now this, this is a beautifully written book. Oh my goodness. Forsthoefel can make an image blossom. His words are pure poetry. I underlined his rich phrases and vivid descriptions because this is just WOW. Forsthoefel spoke at my daughter's college last year, and her enthusiasm prompted me to put this on my reading list. We also chose it as our January book club read. This is the author's journey across America at age 23. He walked to listen to people' stories and, by doing so, to find himself and his place in the world. He's a collector of people's stories, ones he loved and ones that greatly disturbed him. He listened without judgment, or at least without expressing judgment. He wrestled with hearing prejudice and hatred and wondering what to do with it; he basked in love stories. I loved this memoir. My book club was divided. Some members were irritated with "white male privilege" and "whiny millenials" but they only read one chapter of the book. If they had read more, I think they would have appreciated the author's viewpoint and experiences much more. Highly recommended.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: Ahhhh, what a novel! This is so beautifully written, so heartbreaking, enraging, and ultimately hopeful. Celestial and Roy Jr. have a beautiful life together. They are young newlyweds, moving upwards in their careers, and just getting started in life. One night Celestial has a bad feeling—a premonition—that they should stay home; instead, they go on a trip that ends in Roy, an African-American man, getting arrested for a crime he did not commit. He ends up being sent to prison for a 12-year sentence, and, after a few agonizing years, Celestial moves on. The story is told through the voices of Celestial, Roy Jr., and Andre, Celesitial's childhood friend and, eventually, her lover. Each one has a strong, rich voice and a poignant story to tell. Each makes decisions that affect the others—flawed decisions, perhaps, but everything is done in kindness and with an eye to a hopeful future. This is just such a wonderful, realistic book. Highly recommended.

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater. Subtitled "True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives," this is a compassionate account of a case that came to national attention. Two teens from different parts of Oakland cross paths on the 57 bus one day. Sasha is white teen who identifies as agender, and Richard is a black teen who is trying extremely hard to raise his grades and not end up back in juvenile detention. But Richard, egged on by his friends, sets the tip of Sasha's skirt on fire. He thinks it will just smolder and quickly burn out, but instead the flame ignites the whole skirt, and Sasha is badly burned. Richard is charged with a hate crime. The book alternates between Sasha's story and Richard's story. Both are told with such insight and compassion as Slater investigates the complexities of their lives and the aftermath of their encounter. Highly recommended.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty: Nine people head to a mind and body health resort for a week of intense therapy. They have no idea what to expect, but they believe the promise that they will be different people when they emerge. Each person has a story, which Moriarty tells in vivid detail. Broken hearts, loneliness, lost dreams—they are all here to be healed in some way. The director of the resort has her own story and her own aspirations, and she has nine perfect candidates. I laughed. I smirked.  I marveled at Moriarty's ability to zoom in on her characters' inner thoughts and motivations. I laughed more and couldn't put down the book. Well, until the last third or so, and then I was pretty over the book. It got really, really silly and just totally fell apart for me. I'm a huge fan of Moriarty, so I can forgive the last part of the book, I guess. But this is definitely not my favorite.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Book Review: Sometimes I Lie

Sometimes I LieSometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a terrific psychological thriller except that 1) too many things happened; 2) I have no idea what happened; and 3) the whole Edward thing.

NO SPOILERS HERE. This is the story of Amber and Claire, who are engaged in a seriously dysfunctional love/hate relationship. And sorta Paul, and then also this total creep, Edward, that randomly appears and adds little to the story.

Should you read this book? I couldn't put it down. I thought about it when I wasn't reading it. And then I got to the end and said, "Huh?" So the question is: is the thrill of a totally engrossing, completely implausible novel worth that moment at the end when you want to throw a book across the room and yell, "What. the. heck?" with a snarl of contempt?

You decide. You've been there before, no doubt.

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