Time for some book reviews! Once again, I read some really good ones and some that were just ok. I read these books in January, February and March of 2017. Grab a cup of coffee and your notepad and lets get to it.
The first book I finished in 2017 was Swimming Lessons by Clair Fuller. The plot was intriguing, but the characters somewhat tiresome. The book is told through flashbacks and letters. It concerns the troubled marriage of a woman and her husband, who is a much older English professor/would be author. He is unfaithful to her for most of the time they have been together. She finally has enough of him, after she writes a successful book for him, for which he takes all the credit. She starts writing letters to him about how she feels about him philandering around the countryside while she stays home taking care of their children. She hides each of the letters she writes in an appropriately titled book in her husband's extensive library. Then she disappears, presumed drowned. At some point after her disappearance, the husband discovers one of the letters from her in a book on his shelves and goes batty trying to find them all. It was very well written, but I was impatient with her for putting up with such a cad for years, and annoyed with him for being such a scoundrel. They loved each other, but "it was complicated". This book has had some very high praise, and also some rather mixed reviews.
This was a beautifully written novel based on a true story. A young woman is accused of murder in 1823 Iceland. Yes Iceland. Things were a bit primitive at that time in that place, so while she awaits execution, she is sent to live with a farm family. Of course there are two sides to every story and the reader has a chance to decide for themselves if she deserves her fate. The author absolutely captures the bleak, stark, cold atmosphere of the time and place. It kept my attention completely as I waited with the main character to see what her fate would be.
This was my second book by Amor Towles (his first was Rules of Civility, a masterpiece). In a nutshell, a Russian count is convicted of simply being an aristocrat by the Bolsheviks in 1922. His sentence? He is confined to house arrest in a luxury hotel across from the Kremlin. He is not allowed to leave ever. The Count is well educated, sophisticated and used to a life of luxury. He is moved into much smaller quarters in the hotel (basically the attic), and in his reduced circumstances comes to meet many people he never would have become friends with (hotel staff, bartenders, waiters, and guests of all kinds). The book covers over 30 years of the Count being confined to the hotel. The book was gently humorous, full of extremely well crafted characters, and honestly, at the end of the book you are wishing you could continue to hang out with all these extraordinary people.
I had really high hopes for this book and perhaps because my expectations were so high I felt a bit let down. Don't get me wrong, it was an endearing, extremely well written book. It just seemed longer than it needed to be. This novel has won countless literary prizes in the past year, and doubtless deserves every one of them. I just wish the author had edited it down a smidge. It was 468 pages.
Charming. A coming of age novel with a 13 year boy growing up in 1950s Montana as the main protagonist. He lives with his Gram, who is the cook on a large ranch. She gets sick and needs to have an operation, so Donal is sent on a bus to Wisconsin to stay with his aunt and uncle. His adventures on the bus are hilarious. He has an autograph book, and endeavors to get everyone he meets to sign it, with various mishaps. When he arrives at his destination, he finds his aunt is a complete tyrant, married to Herman the German. Herman's claim to fame is that he can guess any brand of beer under the sun by tasting it. Donal and his aunt have a major falling out (having to do with her making him play bridge with her dreadful lady friends). Donal runs away, back to the Greyhound station to get back to his Gram in Monana. Only Herman the German has had enough of his awful wife as well, and joins Donal on the bus. Such funny scrapes the two of them get in. This book will have you smiling the whole way through.
Oooh, this was a book and a half. Set in 1943. A British spy plane is shot down over Nazi occupied France. The pilot and her passenger are best friends. Verity is picked up and imprisoned/interrogated by the Gestapo. The Nazi's give her the choice of revealing her mission and betraying her countrymen or face a grisly execution. The story is told by Verity weaving her confession and detailing how she and the pilot Maddie became best friends, and why she left Maddie to die in the fuselage of the wrecked plane. She writes her confession on various scraps of paper and drags it out for weeks in order to prolong her life. All I can say is Oh.My.Goodness. This was one of the best WWII books ever. You won't even see the ending coming.
Gosh, I really enjoyed this book as well. This one is set during and just after the Civil War. Placida is a lovely young woman of good background and character, who is married off to a Major in the Confederate army. He has been recently widowed, and is in a big fat hurry to get a new wife on the homestead to take care of his infant son and manage things on the 300 acre farm while he is off fighting in the war. She barely knew the man when she was married to him, but I guess that wasn't all that uncommon back then. Placida is just a girl herself and is completely unprepared to raise someone else's child, manage a farm and endure the hardships of war all on her own with no support. But she does. So, two years later, Major Hockaday comes home from the war and finds his wife Placida has been arrested. For supposedly bearing a child in his absence and killing it. What? And she refuses to tell what happened. Did she have an affair? Was she raped? How did the baby die? She isn't saying. This story was also supposedly based on a true story. I tell you, the suspense was incredible. Could not turn the pages fast enough. This was a fairly short book, and I tell you I think I finished it in a day because I could not put it down!
I listened to this as an audio book. It is actually two novels in one. Karen White is a well known author, and evidently these two manuscripts were early works of hers that she re-wrote and had published. The first story, The Shadow of the Moon involves time travel to Civil War Georgia. Totally far fetched and enormously fun to listen to. Perfect book to listen to while sewing! It is light and predictable. Mysterious new husband with secrets--you have read a hundred variations of this plot. Kind of a Rebecca theme with time travel set in 1863 Georgia. The second story, Whispers of Goodbye was more of the same. Entertaining and forgettable. Great while sewing, or taking 3 mile walks.
Oh gosh. I wanted this year to be the year where I read more" diverse" fiction. Books that make me think, books set in foreign countries, written by foreign authors, books that focus on minorities or individuals who are disadvantaged in some way. People who have a different experience than myself. I thought this book about the Underground Railroad fit the bill. I wanted my mind expanded. I wanted to be educated and learn the stuff they never teach you in school. This book is touted as being actually based on true slave narratives collected by the Federal Writer's Project in the 1930s. This book won the National Book Award for 2016. It is an important book. I have heard that everyone should read it. Only I couldn't. I did not finish this book. The horror, the graphic descriptions of the mistreatment of these human beings, the tragic human drama, the grit...You see where I am going with this. I do not know where truth ends and fiction begins, but I started to wonder. True or not, I had not the stomach for the graphic descriptions of mistreatment, mutilation, brutality and cruelty that were depicted in this book. Sorry. I just couldn't get through it. My first DNF (did not finish) for 2017.
I've got nine more book reviews for you, so check back in a day or so for Part Two! If any of you have read these books, please let us know what your thoughts were in the comments.