Refugee by Alan Gratz

Refugee
by
Alan Gratz

Rating:

I don’t know where to begin in gushing about this Young Adult historical novel about three refugee children, caught in different periods of conflict, who flee their countries in search of safety and a better life.

Josef is twelve years old in 1938, living in Berlin, Germany. Hitler is driving Jewish families like his out of the country. To escape, he and his family leave their home and board the St. Louis for Cuba, where they hope to find safety.

Isabel is eleven in Havana, Cuba when her family climbs into a makeshift boat and heads for Miami, Florida. Extreme poverty and dangerous riots have left them no choice. The year is 1994 and Fidel Castro has just announced that anyone who wants to leave is free to go. But will they be welcomed in Miami?

Mahmoud is twelve, living in Aleppo, Syria. It is 2015 and his home has just been destroyed, the result of an ongoing vicious civil war. He and his family take what they can and depart for Turkey, the first of many stops, hoping to make their way to safety in Germany.

In alternating stories, Josef, Isabel and Mahmoud face unpredictable danger and catastrophe as they desperately try to keep their families together. They learn hard lessons on how to choose between being visible and invisible. Each discovers that, by being invisible, they escape many dangers, but miss chances for others to help them. Not knowing when to hide and when to speak out, Mahmoud realizes, “good and bad things happened either way.”

All three children are forced to act as leaders, when family members are hurt or weakened. Gratz describes these heartbreaking transformations in which each understands that they must choose, often quickly, and act on their new-adult instincts in order to save their loved ones.

Although the children are from different times, Gratz has connected their stories through the shared experiences and emotions of leaving their homelands and traveling by boat and foot. Surprise connections make this story even more meaningful.

Refugee was published in 2017 and has gained momentum to be included in many middle and high school curriculums. It is a New York Times Notable Book, an Amazon Best Book of the Year, and both Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year. Although it is a Young Adult book, I highly recommend it for all readers because it shows, for all of us, the importance of understanding the desperate plights that refugees have suffered.

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We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White

We Are All Good People Here
by
Susan Rebecca White

Rating:

What’s the best way to make things right? From within the system or something more drastic? This story about friendship and social change begins in 1962 when Daniella Gold and Eve Whalen become roommates at Belmont College in Roanoke, Virginia. Eve, a future debutante, is from a wealthy family in Atlanta and at home with the established southern ways. Daniella is half-Jewish and from a middle class family in Washington, D.C. Despite their differences, they become fast friends.

The girls begin their journey down widening paths when they learn about their dormitory maid’s hours and living conditions. Eve, despite having a black maid at home, is appalled and feels she must act immediately. Daniella, a careful thinker, thinks there are better ways to help. This is the first of many moments with surprise results that cause friction in the young women’s friendship.

We Are All Good People Here spans thirty years of ups and downs. Set in Virginia, New York and Atlanta, during a period of protests about racial inequality and the Vietnam War, Eve and Daniella both believe they can make a difference. While Daniella prefers to work through the system, Eve hooks up with groups that are ready to take action, and as time passes, becomes more radical in her beliefs as she aligns with violent revolutionaries.

Chasms widen and are then bridged as Eve and Daniella become mothers. Good times are peppered with tragedy and loss, with new pressures on their friendship. Throughout, White’s characters suffer, rebound and emerge in different ways.

While I enjoyed reading this historical novel, I felt the characters were flat and stereotyped, playing second fiddle to the author’s attempt at including as many historical references as she could. That said, I learned a few new things about this time period. I just felt it could have been better balanced.

I also thought the cover was misleading. I enjoyed the optical illusion and was attracted to the book right away, but I did not see how the image, which seems very modern, related to the story.

We Are All Good People is a fast read and highlights an important period of American history and social change.

Want more reviews? Here’s one reader who loved it and one who felt the same as I did. Check them out!

“An extraordinary book that spans generations, explores momentous times in American history, and gives readers a in-depth look into complex family relationships.” We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White @SimonSchusterCA #HistoricalFiction #Review #BookBlogger

We Are All Good People Here By Susan Rebecca White Demonstrates Her Spectacular Historical Research… But What Happened To The Story? ARC Review- Released 8/6

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The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

The Escape Room
by
Megan Goldin

Rating:

When Vincent deVries of Stanhope & Sons summons his Wall Street investment banker team to a compulsory meeting, the last thing they expect is an escape room activity in an elevator. They grudgingly put their plans on hold. Sam has missed his flight to Antigua and his wife is livid. Sylvie might still make her flight to Paris to meet her boyfriend, but she hasn’t packed. And Jules has downed a couple whiskeys on his way over. The group has intense, cutthroat relationships with each other and there are rumors of looming layoffs. Each knows they can’t afford to miss the meeting, which by the way is in an unfinished office building. Even Vincent, their boss, is unsure who really called them together.

In a locked and stalled elevator, the group goes to work on the cryptic clues, encouraged as they advance to the next levels. But soon they suspect they are trapped and begin to turn on each other. As time passes, dynamics between Vincent’s team deteriorate, leading to shocking power plays. What kind of life or death exercise is this?

In alternating chapters, we meet Sara Hall, a former Stanhope banker, who tells of joining Vincent’s team and enduring the grueling hours and impossible deadlines that are part of the ultra-competitive banking scene. Sara’s story advances as the elevator exercise deteriorates, and the reader must wait for the big reveal.

I enjoyed this modern and original setting that uses a tried and true dynamic – forcing people who hate each other into dangerous and confined situations and seeing what happens. I’ve always been a reader who likes to simply go along for the ride, instead of working out the angles, and I like how the conflicts between Sylvie, Jules, Sam and Vincent develop. I think the author does a great job showing how Vincent continues to try to lead the group, despite the hatred between its members.

Although the finish was a little far-fetched, I was otherwise satisfied with how the author tied up the loose ends and I liked reading about the double-edged flash and glamour of the investment banking world. I recommend The Escape Room to readers who like mysteries and thrillers in which characters are pushed to the extreme.

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Library book strategies – managing (or not managing) holds on the new and popular books

Last week I scored big on a library book. My Facebook friends group is about to discuss Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes. The holds list is a mile long, but I was able to grab the one-week rental copy (no holds allowed) and read it quickly! It worked out great. (Read my review here.)

But now I’m in a bit of a library holds bind. Many of my other holds on new and popular books have come in at the same time. I have one eAudiobook on my phone and three eBooks on my Kindle and the clock is ticking!

It’s a little ambitious to think I’ll be able to read the three eBooks in the two-week period, but I’m going to try. I’m not so sure if I’ll have time for the eAudiobook, though. The good news about that one is that my eBook hold of the same title is coming up soon!

Here’s what’s on deck. (All book blurbs are from Amazon.)


The Warehouse by Rob Hart

I’ve seen a lot of blog reviews about this one and have already started the audio of this one.

 

Cloud isn’t just a place to work. It’s a place to live. And when you’re here, you’ll never want to leave.

“A thrilling story of corporate espionage at the highest level . . . and a powerful cautionary tale about technology, runaway capitalism, and the nightmare world we are making for ourselves.”—Blake Crouch, New York Times bestselling author of Dark Matter

Film rights sold to Imagine Entertainment for director Ron Howard!


The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

I didn’t think I’d get this one so fast. My mystery book club at work is going to read it…next June! I’ll probably read it twice.

 

“One of my favorite books of the year.” ―Lee Child

“Cancel all your plans and call in sick; once you start reading, you’ll be caught in your own escape room―the only key to freedom is turning the last page!” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“A sleek, well-crafted ride.” ―The New York Times

In Megan Goldin’s unforgettable debut, The Escape Room, four young Wall Street rising stars discover the price of ambition when an escape room challenge turns into a lethal game of revenge.


We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White

I saw this one reviewed by a few bloggers and it sounded interesting to me.

 

From the author of A Place at the Table and A Soft Place to Land, an “intense, complex, and wholly immersive” (Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author) multigenerational novel that explores the complex relationship between two very different women and the secrets they bequeath to their daughters.


Refugee by Alan Gratz

Saw this reviewed and wanted to read it!

 

 

A New York Times bestseller!

JOSEF is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world . . .

ISABEL is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America . . .

MAHMOUD is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe . . .

All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers — from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, shocking connections will tie their stories together in the end.


We have a feature at our library that allows you to “freeze” specific holds and not lose your place in line. I haven’t tried that, but I’m thinking it would be a good idea.

I’m going to try to read all of them before they are due. Which would you read first? What’s your library book strategy?

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Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Evvie Drake Starts Over
by
Linda Holmes

Rating:

If you’re looking for a fun, feel-good romantic comedy, here’s an entertaining story about two people, adrift for very different reasons. Evvie Drake is newly widowed, living in the coastal lobster town of Calcasset, Maine. She and her husband had seemed the perfect home-town couple, but Evvie knows different.

Evvie’s best friend, Andy Buck, is ready to help her jump start her life. After all, she helped him get back on his feet after his wife left. And now, Andy just happens to have a friend who is moving up from New York and is looking for a place to stay, the perfect tenant for Evvie’s attached apartment.

The friend is not just a typical guy, though. He’s the famous, World Series-winning New York Yankee pitcher, Dean Tenney. Dean’s in a bit of a slump, having fallen victim to the dreaded “yips.” Fans are convinced that Dean has lost his stuff for good. Booed off the field, now Dean is taking a break from baseball.

So Dean moves in and he and Evvie strike a deal, declaring two subjects off limits: Evvie’s husband and baseball. It seems like a good basis for friendship, but romantic tension gets in the way. From here, readers are treated to an entertaining advance and retreat campaign, with just the right amount of tension.

At the core of this fun story are likeable characters, great dialogue, plenty of humor and solid themes of love, friendship and family. I didn’t mind that the book followed a familiar plot formula because the reward was the fun I had along the way.

I recommend Evvie Drake Starts Over to readers who are looking for the perfect book to curl up with on the weekend. Do you like romantic comedies? What are your favorites?

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Here comes fall – books to match the season!

It’s not quite fall, but I’m already thinking fall colors. Colorful sweaters and flowers are obvious, but have you seen these fall-colored books? What looks good to you?


Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson:

An unexpected teenage pregnancy pulls together two families from different social classes, and exposes the private hopes, disappointments, and longings that can bind or divide us from each other, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming. “Red at the Bone is fall’s hottest novel.”—Town & Country


Underland by Robert Macfarlane

From the best-selling, award-winning author of Landmarks and The Old Ways, a haunting voyage into the planet’s past and future.

Hailed as “the great nature writer of this generation” (Wall Street Journal), Robert Macfarlane is the celebrated author of books about the intersections of the human and the natural realms. In Underland, he delivers his masterpiece: an epic exploration of the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and the land itself.


The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett, the New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth and State of Wonder, returns with her most powerful novel to date: a richly moving story that explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go.


The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

The author of Other People’s Houses and The Garden of Small Beginnings delivers a quirky and charming novel chronicling the life of confirmed introvert Nina Hill as she does her best to fly under everyone’s radar. Meet Nina Hill: A young woman supremely confident in her own…shell.


A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldman

From the author of the national bestseller The Submission comes the journey of a young Afghan-American woman trapped between her ideals and the complicated truth in this “penetrating” (O, Oprah Magazine), “stealthily suspenseful,” (Booklist, starred review), “breathtaking and achingly nuanced” (Kirkus, starred review) novel for readers of Cutting for Stone and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.


I always get excited looking at book covers and these all look good to me, especially The Dutch House and Red at the Bone. What would you add to your list?

Note: all links and descriptions are from Amazon.

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Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Vanity Fair
by
William Makepeace Thackeray

Rating: 4.5

Lately I’ve been trying to balance my reading with some of the classics I haven’t read. (See my Classic TBR list here). I was between books a few weeks ago and decided to read Vanity Fair. It’s been waiting patiently on my Kindle for years, one of those free, public domain books that are so easy to download. Until I started, I didn’t realize how substantial the book was. It’s a whopping 834 pages! For me, the only way to get through a book this long was to put the rest of my blogging and social media to the side. Reading Vanity Fair was definitely work, but well worth the effort!

The book is a satire about 19th century British society and takes place during and after the Napoleonic Wars. It follows the lives of about a dozen characters from various stations in society. The main story is about the naïve and sheltered Amelia Sedley, raised in riches and betrothed to George Osborne, spoiled son of the wealthy Mr. Osborne. Rebecca Sharp is Amelia’s orphan friend, a manipulator and social climber. And then there’s George’s awkward friend, William Dobbin, an honorable captain in the British army. Dobbin is secretly in love with Amelia and vows to protect her, even if he can’t win her heart. The second story is about Sir Pitt Crawley, his lineage and all the players who are positioning themselves to inherit a great sum from the Baronet’s half-sister. Captain Rawdon Crawley is the favorite nephew, and when Aunt Matilda’s health begins to fail, the dirty business of money begins.

Thackeray’s seemingly upper class characters, in an effort to match the truly wealthy and titled, live extravagant lives, traveling, gambling, and hosting lavish parties, but paying no bills. They skillfully avert their creditors by playing one off the other and sometimes leaving the country. Some of his characters change for the better during the period’s booms and the busts, but others do not. Of course, there’s also the war, which changes some lives, but doesn’t stop the posturing. Among all classes, there is no guarantee of happiness.

Thackeray also shows the timeless appeal of a story about two people who are meant to be together, but miss their chance and make other decisions that force their separation. Who doesn’t want to see how that works out?

Something should be said about the often forgotten appeal of a very long book. When you read a story in which characters come together and then are apart for many pages, you have time to think about them while other things happen. You can’t get that in a shorter book. Vanity Fair and other long books are big picture stories, showing how all the pieces eventually come together, over lots of pages. I like that.

I enjoyed Vanity Fair very much, but it was hard work to read. Thackeray’s sentences are long and convoluted and there are many, many characters to keep track of. For me, it was impossible to whip through and hard to read more than 50 – 75 pages a day without feeling wiped out.

Vanity Fair was first published as a 19-volume monthly serial from 1847 – 1848 and was originally titled, Pen and Pencil Sketches of English Society and included Thackeray’s original illustrations. The title comes from the 1678 Christian allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyon, and refers to the pilgrim’s stop at a town called Vanity where there is a never-ending fair.

Have you read this classic? Have you seen the 2004 movie starring Reese Witherspoon? I’m going to watch that soon!

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Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon
by
Daniel Keyes

Rating:

Do scientists and doctors have the right to tamper with a person’s brain power?

In a return to the classics, here’s an excellent science fiction novel that looks at this important ethical question. The story is about Charlie Gordon, a thirty-two-year-old man with a low IQ. Committed to a state home as a teenager, now he is out. He’s living in a rooming house and working at a bakery in New York, all through the help of a family friend. He is happy, has friends at work and friends at his school, where he has worked hard to learn how to read and write.

Because of Charlie’s impressive motivation, Professor Nemur and Dr. Strauss from Beekman University determine he is an excellent candidate for an experimental procedure to increase intelligence, one that has only been performed on mice. Algernon is their superstar mouse that has learned how to navigate through complicated mazes. Now Nemur and Strauss want to take it to the next level.

Charlie is willing. “After the operashun Im gonna try to be smart. Im gonna try awful hard,” he writes.

The surgery is a seeming success and Charlie’s intelligence increases, at first slowly, but later at a fantastic rate. Soon he is reading voraciously and learning ancient languages, complex theories, sciences, history, economics and classic literature and eventually surpassing Nemur and Strauss. But Charlie’s emotional intelligence is woefully behind and he doesn’t know what to do with the many new strong and complex feelings he experiences.

Through memory recall, Charlie begins to understand that the people in his life had been cruel to him, with their hurtful jokes and abuse, and that he had played a part in their jokes. “That hurts most of all,” he writes.

In addition, memories of his mother’s shame and embarrassment and her ultimate rejection make Charlie’s new knowledge painful. Even Nemur and Strauss treat him as an experiment and not as a human, forgetting that he was already a person with feelings before the surgery.

At his intellectual peak, Charlie detects a flaw in the theory and foresees his decline. How will it end as Algernon runs through his maze and Charlie navigates his own complicated path? With limited time, Charlie will try to figure it out. He writes, “I see now that the path I choose through that maze makes me what I am.”

Flowers for Algernon began as a short story in 1959. In 1960, it won the Hugo Award for best short story. The novel was published in 1966 and was the joint winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel. No surprise that both forms won awards. Despite being an older story, Flowers for Algernon raises important points about human feelings and the ethics of scientific experimentation.

Charly is the 1968 film adaptation – I’ll be watching that soon as part of my library’s summer reading challenge to watch a movie based on a book!

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Books with unlikable characters – can you add to the list?

I don’t know about you, but I love reading books with unlikable characters. Here’s list of some of my favorites:

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage – Psychological thriller that will make you very uncomfortable. What are Suzette and Alex to do when life with their demonic 7-year-old daughter gets dangerous? What’s their breaking point?

The Dinner by Herman Koch – What would you do if your child committed a horrendous crime? Is it more important to save your child’s future than do the right thing?

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – Psychological thriller in which a stranger may know more about a crime than the people involved. When a woman goes missing, the girl on the train is sure she can help, if she can only dig through her alcohol-clouded memories.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Creepy story about a completely dysfunctional marriage and the extreme lengths to which the wife goes to get the upper hand over her husband. He proves to be an equal match, however, and as the details emerge and opinions form, it’s hard to know whom or what to believe.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout – Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of thirteen integrated short stories about the people of Crosby, Maine, a seemingly simple town on the New England coast and the town’s most complicated character, Olive.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – A nine-year-old girl has been murdered and now a ten-year-old girl is missing. When the second girl’s body is discovered, details of the murder suggest a serial killer. Is the killer a stranger to the town or, more disturbingly, one of them?

Those People by Louise Candlish – On the problem of despicable neighbors, here’s a new book about a couple that moves into an idyllic and award-winning neighborhood in South London and drives the families to desperation.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – Something bad happens during Cadence Eastman’s fifteenth summer on the family’s private island off Martha’s Vineyard. Cady, her cousins and their friend risk everything to break free from oppressive, greedy and narrow minded family pressures.

There are many more – can you add to the list?

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Those People by Louise Candlish

Those People
by
Louise Candlish

Rating:

On the problem of despicable neighbors, here’s a new book about a couple that moves into an idyllic and award-winning neighborhood in South London and drives the families to desperation. Straight away, Darren and Jodie annoy the neighbors with dramatic home renovations in a style that doesn’t fit their picture-perfect street. Darren hacks away at walls and uses loud power tools and construction equipment, but that’s only the beginning. The couple also runs a used car business out of their driveway, and the unsightly vehicles soon take up spaces on the street. Tension grows when Darren refuses to move the cars for the street’s weekly Play Out Sunday, when neighbors clear the street of cars and traffic in order to let their children play safely. At night, even louder music and partying keeps the neighborhood awake, especially their direct neighbors, Ant and Em Kendall and their brand new baby.

This is a street of upwardly mobile families, who are used to getting what they want. They quickly organize a multi-pronged effort to either stop the new neighbors’ low class and unacceptable behavior or drive them out. Surveillance cameras, tough talk and complaints soon spiral out of control. Of added interest is a look at the families on the street, their marriages and relationships to each other. Each is nursing a private beef with a spouse, partner or neighbor and these inner conflicts cause them to make wildly irrational decisions, leading to a shocking fatal accident.

As inspectors investigate the accident, readers begin to wonder whether the author’s title refers more to the new neighbors or the rest of the group. I enjoyed reading their statements and interviews with the police and seeing how they dig themselves deeper into the pit of suspicion. These reckless behaviors lead to a second tragedy, muddled by the neighbors’ escalating dread of being implicated.

This is also a story chock full of unlikable characters, and not just Darren and Jodie. Candlish tells the story from different points of view and I liked trying to understand the neighbors’ thoughts. Some readers may not find that relatable, but I would much rather experience these people in the pages than on my street!

There are many red herrings and an abrupt open-ended finish, leaving the reader to imagine what may happen. I like this kind of ending and think it would be a great book club book. I recommend Those People to those who are looking for a quick read and enjoy vicarious conflicts!

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