Sunday, April 30, 2017

Swimming Lessons

Flora and Nan have returned to their quaint seaside town in England to care for their father, Gil, after he took a bad fall - turns out he is much more ill than they had imagined. Gil, a literary icon has never truly recovered from his wife’s disappearance twelve years earlier. Ingrid had been a loving mother and adoring wife but her inner demons and long held secrets emerge in a series of letters Gil finds hidden in his massive book collection. The story alternates the present day with letters describing the past and the real story of Ingrid and Gil. Young beautiful student enamored by older successful professor – becomes pregnant – enters shaky marriage and sacrifices her future. Ingrid has no support, no family. She craves love and attention. Their bohemian lifestyle and her dependence on him is suffocating his creative genius. When 12 years later he imagines seeing her through the bookstore window, the daughters, though skeptical, want to believe their mother loved them enough to return. I recommend this book purely for the captivating writing and style in which it is presented. I loved the manner in which the letters told the story. I was slightly bored at times through the repetitive swimming/ocean/beach descriptions. It is slow paced and little actually happens but the characters were interesting and it easily held me until the end. I guess I’m on the fence with this one but I would most certainly read this author again.

The Lost History of Stars

In October 1899, the Dutch Afrikaner settlers in South Africa are brutally removed from their homes, their farms are burned to the ground and the women and children are placed in concentration camps. The men have gone off to fight the British whose interest in the lucrative gold mines and control of the region have driven thousands of soldiers to war. What is known as the Boer War lasted for three long harsh years. Through the eyes of 14 yr old Lettie, The Lost History of Stars narrates their unimaginable quarantine living in sparse tents with little food, water or medicine. Lettie forms an unlikely friendship with a young British soldier guarding the camp. He gives her a book by Dickens. Lettie’s love of reading and dreams of writing fill her with the strength she needs to help her mother and siblings through the daily battle of living.  It is through the hopeful eyes of this young girl on the cusp of womanhood we learn the brutality of mankind against mankind. Her innocence and disbelief is so raw and honest that the pain is palpable. More than 100 years later, this history I knew little or nothing about is brought to life by this beautifully written work of historical fiction. As I read each chapter I fell deeper into the heart of Lettie’s sorrow, and her determination to remain hopeful. We are all looking up at the sky, the same stars - but cannot manage to peacefully share the same planet. It was happening then and it is happening now. Highly recommend this impassioned novel, you will learn from and love these characters long after the end.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Fall of Lisa Bellow

Meredith Oliver is a very average middle school girl. She and her two best friends keep to to themselves and try not to be embarrassingly singled out in the cafeteria by the popular crowd. Especially Lisa Bellow. Although when they were much younger they had their friendship moments, Lisa is now at the tippy top of the totem pole. Pretty and already experienced with the older boys, she has a way of making everyone outside her inner circle uncomfortable. One day Meredith is waiting behind Lisa at the deli on her way home from school. What feels like a typical boring day turns upside down when the door opens and in walks a masked man. After lying on the floor terrified, the man asks Lisa to get up. And then she is gone. And so begins Meredith’s second life, the one after the fall of Lisa Bellow. Suddenly Meredith is getting an incredible amount of attention, wanted or not, this is her new reality. How Meredith deals with the aftermath only adds to the dynamics of her own presently tumultuous family. I thought this was an interesting take on a unfathomable situation. The writer’s interpretation of these young girls was so accurate, it was spooky. More a thinking story than action - so not necessarily suspenseful. Highly recommend this unique, well written and thought provoking novel. Looking forward to more from author Susan Perabo.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Woman in the Photo

On Memorial Day 1889, the South Fork Dam broke and the great Johnstown Flood occurred. Over 2200 people died. The entire town was destroyed and countless homes and families never recovered. This is the story of Elizabeth Haberlin whose wealthy Pittsburgh family had spent all their summers at an exclusive resort along the Little Conemaugh River, directly above Johnstown. Elizabeth is a young precocious woman who is on the brink of making her debutante entrance to society. Her physician father and high society mother obsess with making a match while Elizabeth questions her lavish lifestyle and the many restrictions placed on women of her time. The coming of this event changes her world forever. Fast forward to present day Lee Parker’s life in sunny California. At 18, when she expected her life to be taking off, it is stalled by her father’s disappearance, mothers financial struggle and her personal search for information regarding her birth mother. Each chapter presents the world from the perspective of these dynamic women who have more in common than one would imagine. Highly recommend this fabulous work of historical fiction by author Mary Hogan. A little bit long drawn at the end but overall a great book club selection with an interesting discussion and bit of American history learned.