Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What's on Your Nightstand May 2014

With there apparently being a new law limiting novels to approximately 300 pages, I'm getting a lot read! I tend to fall upon books in twos and threes: Two books set in Seattle in the same years, now three books on France in World War II, two books with ballet as a major part of the story and three books on life under Communism. Weird, but it just keeps happening that way!

The Best of May:

No question this will be one of the best books of the year!! And, it has all the makings of a fabulous movie!  Let's be clear, this book is NOT about the sport of rowing. Nope. It's about a boy overcoming the most heartless neglect and abandonment. But wait! It's not one of those books where we read about a kid being sexually molested, mercifully that does not happen. Joe's story of overcoming the extreme neglect, dysfunction and abuse of his childhood should be required reading for social workers today. The power of will at work. Amazing story. Today his folks would deservedly be in prison, but WOW what a strong young man he became and I'm not talking about the muscles he developed rowing One of the most compelling nonfiction books I've ever read. The Boys in the Boat ...by Daniel James Brown.

Think one person, or two people together, can't make a difference. Think again. This book tells the amazing true story of two Americans, a well-to-do Jewish couple from Philidelphia who did the unthinkable: The went to Nazi Germany just before the start of the War and rescued 50 children. Lawyers often get a very bad rap, but this one used his knowledge of the law to come up with a brilliant solution to the problem of waiting years for Visas. I was humbled and moved by the blatant audacity of Gilbert and Eleanor Krause and the victory they achieved. This is a story of true courage and is not to be missed. 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple.... by Steven Pressman.

I usually run away from so-called Young Adult fiction, but this one didn't feature the word "dystopian" and several friends were reading it in advance of the movie. I'm so glad I did.  Ultimate book hangover book!  I had tears rolling down my face one morning on the drive in to work as I listened to this one. Rest in Peace, Augustus. [Funeral made worse by having attended several in the mortuary the family would have used if they were real.] WOW! What a powerful book!! Hazel and Gus with their discussions and single-book obsessions, their wish, etc., so reminded me of a teenage relationship of my own. I suppose because my kids are this age, this book resonated with me for so many reasons. Now I also feel for the parents in the story. Hard to believe this is fiction. But, being me, I had to find one tiny fault: You go DOWN to Bloomington from Indianapolis! Had to find something to make me stop crying! The movie? Not sure--medical stories are so hard to film because you just can't fake some of it. We'll see--probably watch it on dvd like everything else. This one is not to be missed! The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

I am still aching over Hadley's story! I admit it! My second book "hangover" book this month Even knowing the outcome from the beginning I still cried.  I understand why so many women and book clubs love this book.   The Paris Wife by Paula McClain.

Ashton Lee's wonderful Cherry Cola Book Club series has found its stride and then some with the second installment. This is a really fun series populated with people you wish you knew in a town you'd like to live in. I highly recommend this one! Perfect book for the beach or pool to start your summer! The Reading Circle by Ashton Lee.


When a book featuring lots of math holds my attention so vividly that I read it almost cover-to-cover in one sitting, you can be sure the story is compelling! What is memory? How do we care for are loved ones when memory is gone? Such a sweet, sweet book. Highly recommended. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Themes: The Communism books

As a Russian & East European Studies major in the early 80s I would have loved to have lived Susan's life! Had I been able to master the languages I'd have tried to do this instead of doing Peace Corps--which back then did not yet go into former Soviet countries. Very poignant that I read of the Orange Revolution at the time Ukraine has again come under Russia control and at the time when my two Ukrainian-American children are reaching adulthood. Picnic at the Iron Curtain by Susan Viets

This is a middle-elementary an up story of life for one young woman during Moa's Cultural Revolution. She is hounded by having an evil "landlord" for a grandfather and fights and joins in the campaigns against the "Four Olds." Fascinating look at how totalitarian societies appear to children and the damage they do.Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-Li Jiang.

Fathers can be heros to little boys in any culture. Sasha's father is a Hero like Stalin, until he isn't. This story, aimed at children, tells of life under Stalin, when even being in the KGB was no protection. The poignant hero worship of his father and Stalin by young Sasha is heartbreaking. I highly recommend this little book. Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin.

Themes: Ballet

I rarely disagree with Kirkus Reviews, but this time I do. I'm not always a fan of non-linear storytelling, but this time it was a fabulous way to tell the story. The best was kept for last.If you followed Russian ballet stars in the 60s and 70s and 80s you will recognize most of the "cast" here, but that doesn't detract from the story telling (though the suburbia storyline DID get a bit long).  I listened to the audio version. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead.

Interesting story, well told. The author's note was helpful, too, in that it explained what elements of the story were fictional. I love Degas so was automatically drawn to this book and was not disappointed. It seems like the life story of so many young people in poverty today--maybe not with ballet, but academics, sports, music, a dream to be a doctor or something, yet by the time they are old enough life for success to start, the desire to succeed has beaten them down--or their family dysfunction has sucked the life out of them. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan.

Others books this month:

Masturbation seems to be the "shock" topic of the day right now in novels. Yawn. School teacher is sucked into the glamor of an expatriate couple, their delightful little boy and the wife's career as an artist. SPOILER ALERT: She is used by them big time. If it were up to me she'd get revenge by embracing it all and scoring an art installation of her own!! But, its not up to me. Still, this WAS a compelling read and the "ick" factor isn't a huge part of the book and she has a very keen take on what it is to be single, middle aged and in an under-valued profession. Book Clubs should flock to this one.  The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud.

You know it's an Oprah book when babies die and women are deceived and done wrong and we haven't even gotten to page 40 yet. This is not so much a novel as a series of stories of the same family. Some stories resonated with me more than others. What makes this story compelling is both the true-to-life  sociological study of the fictional  family provides and the well-drawn characters and believable dialogue that tells their tale. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

I have been working my way thru Tracy Chevalier's books the last two years. I'm glad I listened to this one, but it left me disappointed. I didn't find "enough" in the story to enjoy. It just seemed to be missing a "spark" to make it all come alive. Vermeer is one of my favorites, too, so I hoped the story would be wonderful. It was simply "ok." Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.

Need suggestions on what to read next? Head over to 5 Minutes for Books to see all of this month's Nightstand posts.


Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Your first two nonfiction picks sound fabulous!

Lisa notes... said...

Isn't it weird when our books start coinciding with each other? Since I've been reading The Brothers Karamazov, I keep finding it quoted in other books I'm also reading. Love when that happens.

You've sold me on The Boys in the Boat. Just added the free sample to my Kindle.

I agree with you: "ultimate book hangover book" with The Fault in Our Stars. Can't wait for the movie!

I read Red Scarf Girl when I was homeschooling my girls; it left an impression on me.

Great list!