Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

This weaves together the stories of three very different women loosely tied to each other, and takes readers back and forth between small town America and war-torn Europe in 1940. Single, 40-year-old postmistress Iris James and young newlywed Emma Trask are both new arrivals to Franklin, Mass., on Cape Cod. While Iris and Emma go about their daily lives, they follow American reporter Frankie Bard on the radio as she delivers powerful and personal accounts from the London Blitz and elsewhere in Europe. While Trask waits for the return of her husband—a volunteer doctor stationed in England—James comes across a letter with valuable information that she chooses to hide. Blake captures two different worlds—a naïve nation in denial and, across the ocean, a continent wracked with terror—with a deft sense of character and plot, and a perfect willingness to take on big, complex questions, such as the merits of truth and truth-telling in wartime.

I just could not get in to this book.  It felt very mediocre and contrived and I just didn't care about any of the characters.

Rating: 1 Do NOT Recommend

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

First and foremost do NOT read too much about this book - the less you know the better.  This book accomplishes the remarkable challenge of presenting the reader with reading between the lines and you know the author is revealing something -- that something larger and mysterious is going on but -- if you just go along for the ride, you will find yourself immersed in the enjoyable story of three special young people - Kathy H., Tommy D., and Ruth - all of whom meet as students at an idyllic private school called Hailsham. Kathy H. is the narrator, now 31 years old, telling her story in hindsight. She recalls her student days at Hailsham fondly, filling her tale with numerous minor anecdotes about the most mundane affairs that slowly reveal the nature of the school and its students' place in the world. I am enjoying getting to know this lovely group of children that will remind you of yourself with all of their many experiences.  Ishiguro creates a convincing vocabulary, milieu, and mythology for this setting and an eerie sense of the students having "been told and not told."

It is hard to say how I feel about this book.  I loved the character development and could relate to so many of their school stories.  It unfolds beautifully and the narration was so relaxing and easy to listen to.  The story line was not my cup of tea and were it not for the wonderful characters, I would have turned it off long ago.  I am glad I finished it but, it is only a borderline recommend due to the story line.

Rating: 4 Recommend

Sunday, April 11, 2010

My Enemy's Cradle by Sara Young

This beautifully told and heart-wrenching novel set in WWII Europe is the first adult debut by Sara Young. Cyrla, half-Jewish, is no longer safe hiding in the home of her Dutch relatives under the increasingly harsh Nazi occupation. When cousin Annika, whom Cyrla closely resembles, becomes pregnant by a German soldier, Annika's father enrolls her in a Lebensborn, a birthing center for Aryan children, where the slogan is Have one baby for the Führer.

In a tragic turn of events, Cyrla discovers her only chance of survival is to hide in plain sight: she must assume Annika's identity and live in the German Lebensborn until rescued. Within the Lebensborn's walls, mothers-to-be receive proper nutrition and medical care until their children are taken from them for adoption into Aryan families The horrors Cyrla witnesses are softened only by her resounding optimism and strength.  I enjoyed this book immensley and was so surprised to learn of the Lebensborns - a mainly unknown portion of WWII despite the vast numbers of people that they impacted.

Rating: 4.5 Recommend

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Blue Notebook by James Levine

I started reading this book on my Kindle and between the strange "fantasy" imagination of the girl and the Indian language, I just couldn't appreciate it.  I am glad that I gave it another chance on audio.  Levine, a doctor at the Mayo clinic, was inspired to write this heartbreaking and terrifying novel when he was interviewing homeless children in Mumbai as part of his medical research. In the "Street of Cages" where child prostitutes ply their trade, literally encaged by their neglectful and abusive overseers (who pocket all the profits), Levine was struck by the sight of a young girl sitting outside her cage writing in a notebook.  Thus was born The Blue Notebook.
The Blue Notebook: A Novel

Batuk is a 15 year old girl who was sold to Mamaki Briila by her father when she was 9. Forced to service up to ten men a day from her "nest," and subject to deplorable treatment by the men who pay for her services, she's even abused by the doctor who examines her; her friend Puneet, meanwhile, nearly dies after being sexually assaulted by two policemen and is castrated at the first signs of puberty. Batuk tells her story matter-of-factly, in a voice reminiscent of The Color Purple's. While painful to read, Batuk's story puts a face on the mistreatment and disregard for children worldwide, as well as a testament to the hopefulness and power of literacy.  The writing is wonderful and Batuk and her spirited soul comes to life as a real survivor.  This was not an easy story to hear knowing all of these atrocities are true and go on today but, it was definitely worthwhile.  As long as you are aware that there are many attrocities that will make you uncomfortable, this is a very well written and enjoyable book that will stay with me for quite a while.  FYI, the author donates all proceeds to helping exploited children.

Rating: 4.8 Recommend

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

I had so many friends recommend this book to me my only question is, why didn't I listen and read it sooner?! The book begins when a five-year-old boy is being sent off to boarding school. He's small for his age, white and of English descent. His name is Peekay and he lives in South Africa. Up to this point in his life he's known only his family and his beloved black Nanny. Now, he's forced to take care of himself and survive under the most brutal of circumstances. The time is World War II and Peekay spends years in a boarding school where he's the only English student among Afrikaners who are sympathetic to the Nazi cause. He's beaten, tortured and treated as a "prisoner of war" by the older boys. The Afrikaners are the descendents of the Dutch and there has been a great deal of conflict between them and the English settlers who came to South Africa at a later period of time.

When I first started reading this novel, I wasn't sure if I could handle the passages about the brutal treatment of this sweet little boy. However, I quickly learned that Peekay is a spirited survivor and would make it through that horrible period of his life. He battles through adversity and every challenge and refuses to let it dampen his will to accomplish his ultimate goal. First with the head and then with the heart...!!  On his vacations from school, he meets several people, both black and white who really influence him and teach him to work hard in order to fulfill his dreams.

After leaving boarding school, Peekay encounters a man who teaches him about some of the essentials of what he believed was the power of one, and from this man (a Boer) he discovers his love of boxing, which became his obsession, becoming Welterweight Champion of the World became his goal and his life. This is just the idea behind the power of one, and the introduction of the story. From there, the book tells about the many people Peekay encounters throughout his life and the influence they had upon him and what he believed was the power of one. But what struck me was really how beautifully written the novel is and the way it combines wit, humor, drama, and the everyday troubles of life, and still manages to get its message across and entertain the reader. You also can feel the tenderness that so many people feel for this boy.  Just an absolutely incredible novel that sets across a striking vision of South Africa before and during the terror that was Apartheid.  I found an uplifting joy in every success that Peekay experienced and couldn't wait to get back to this gem of a book.  Absoloodle.

Rating: 4.5 Recommend