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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Book Talk – The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom called Book Talk, home to quick previews of books that catch my eye.

You never know when you’re going to hear about a good book to read. Today I traded texts with a friend of mine and she told me about a great book she’s reading right now.

The Last Days of Night is an historical fiction novel about the fight between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison over who invented the light bulb. You may remember that Westinghouse and Edison were fierce rivals back in the 1880s. This rivalry led to what was named The War of Currents, an intense debate between Westinghouse and Edison over which type of electrical current (alternating or direct) should supply New York’s power grid.

The Last Days of Night is about a young lawyer named Paul Cravath, who is hired by Westinghouse. Westinghouse is being sued by Edison over the light bulb debate.

Here is part of the book blurb from Amazon:

The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?

In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.

The Last Days of Night was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

…and a little about the author, from his website:

Graham Moore is a New York Times bestselling novelist and Academy Award-winning screenwriter. His screenplay for THE IMITATION GAME won the Academy Award and WGA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2015 and was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe.

I’m going to have to make time for this one! What great books are waiting for you?

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Who’s That Indie Author? Jennifer S. Alderson

Author name:  Jennifer S. Alderson

Genres:  Mystery / Thriller / Historical Fiction / Travel

Books:  Marked for Revenge, Rituals of the Dead, The Lover’s Portrait, Down and Out in Kathmandu, Holiday Gone Wrong, and Notes of a Naive Traveler

What’s your story and how did you become a writer?  Thanks for inviting me to your blog, Book Club Mom!

I am an American currently residing in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. My passion for travel, history, and art inspires my novels. I have been writing for as long as I can remember, but until my late twenties, it was all non-fiction for newspapers and magazines. After an incredible trip to Nepal, I wrote a fictionalized version of my adventures but didn’t know what to do with it. The sudden death of a close relative was the catalyst to get it published.

How do you balance your work with other demands?  Balancing my roles as writer, business owner, wife, and mother is an enormous challenge! My focus shifts weekly, depending on the current needs of my family and business. However, my writing time is well-guarded!

Name one of the happiest moments in your life:  Aside from meeting my husband or the birth of my child, I think it was receiving my Dutch passport. It has been a long and sometimes difficult transition into expat life, but I am so glad to be in the Netherlands. It feels like I’ve come home.

What’s your approach to writing? Are you a “pantser” or a planner?  Planner all the way. Without a concise outline, I am completely lost! However, once I start writing, I allow myself to listen to the story and follow the path it takes me on, even if that means deviating from the outline.

Could you write in a café with people around?  I love writing in busy cafes! Silence reminds me too much of my former corporate life. I write faster and better when surrounded by fairly loud music that turns surrounding conversations into white noise. Otherwise, I would be eavesdropping instead of writing. J

Have you ever written dialogue in a second language? If so, how did you do it?  I have included Dutch, German, and Italian phrases in my novels. Honestly, I am quite nervous about getting it wrong every time I do. One great advantage of living in such an international city is that I know native speakers who I could double check my translations with.

What’s your favorite book and what are you reading now?  There are so many great books to choose from! I am a huge fan of Donna Leon and just finished rereading By Its Cover. I admire her ability to bring Venice to life in each and every novel.

What’s your favorite way to read a book: hardcover, paperback, eReader?  I used to read exclusively paperbacks but in the last few years I have transitioned to eBooks. I read so many, it makes it a whole lot cheaper to stock up and take them with me!

Do you think print books will always be around?  I hope so. There is nothing more wonderful than holding a paperback in your hand. I do still buy paperbacks of my favorite reads, as well as give them as gifts.

Would you ever read a book on your phone?  I have not. I am not a fan of smart phones and try to use mine as little as possible.

What’s your go-to device? iPhone, android or something else?  I do read eBooks on my iPad and have reading apps installed for iBooks, Kindle, Bol, Kobo, and my local library.

How long could you go without checking your phone?  Days, possibly weeks! I am not good about checking messages or calling people back straight away. Since becoming an author, I check my email and social media much more often than I used to, but it is still a challenge to stay on top of all of the messages I receive!

Do you listen to audiobooks? If you do, what do you do while you’re listening?  I have recently discovered audiobooks and enjoy listening to them when working on marketing and social media.

Do you like using social media to promote yourself and your book? If so, what’s your favorite platform?  Connecting with readers is one of the most enjoyable things about this job! When you write a book, you have no idea if anyone will be able to relate to the characters, setting, or plot. Publishing a book really is a leap of faith. Chatting with readers who enjoy my work or share the same interests I do, really makes it fun. Facebook is my favorite platform, though I am also often on Twitter and Instagram.

Website and social media links:
Website:  jennifersalderson.com
Twitter: @JSAauthor
Facebook: @JenniferSAldersonauthor
Goodreads Author Page: Jennifer S. Alderson
Amazon Author Page: Jennifer S. Alderson

Awards/special recognition:  My novels have won several readers awards, including 5 star medals from Readers’ Favorite, Chill with a Book, and indieBRAG. They have also been included on several Recommended Reads lists on websites such as The Displaced Nation, TripFiction, and Women Writers, Women’s Books.

About the Author:  Jennifer S. Alderson was born in San Francisco, raised in Seattle, and currently lives in Amsterdam. After traveling extensively around Asia, Oceania, and Central America, she moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands. Jennifer’s love of travel, art, and culture inspires her award-winning, internationally oriented mystery series—the Zelda Richardson Mystery Series—and standalone stories. Her background in journalism, multimedia development, and art history enriches her novels. When not writing, she can be found in a museum, biking around Amsterdam, or enjoying a coffee along the canal while planning her next research trip.


Are you an indie author?  Do you want to build your indie author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email bvitelli2009@gmail.com for a bio template and other details.

Book Club Mom’s summer recommendations – grab a book and some fresh air!

Image: Pixabay

Summer reads have a certain feel about them and grabbing the right book can take you back to when you had long lazy days stretching out in front of you. Now, for many of us, it’s more a matter of creating the mood of an endless summer. So steal an hour, find a nice place in a park, in your yard or even at home with the windows open, and dig into a book that will grab you right away. Here are some recommendations to help you choose:


Dig Right In

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin – light, entertaining historical fiction during the late 1800s when billionaire American families match their daughters with cash-poor dukes and princes in need of American money.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer – set in Greenwich Village, NY, Greta discovers her 1985 self living in two other time periods, one in 1918 and one in 1941.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin – historical fiction and fascinating portrait of Truman Capote and his distinct sides, as both pet and confidante to the New York upper class, and serious writer.

Things We Set on Fire by Deborah Reed – great story about a mother who believes she is doing the right thing, but can’t see its impact until decades later.


Family Dramas

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler – a complicated family from Baltimore, full of secrets and an unacknowledged division between its members.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – great family saga that begins in the 1960s with six kids from two different families, thrown together because of an affair, a divorce and then a marriage.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub – light beach read about a dysfunctional family on a trip from Manhattan to Spain for some forced family vacation fun.

When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde – a man goes duck hunting and finds an abandoned baby boy in the woods, changing his life in unimaginable ways.


Historical Fiction

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín – classic tale about post-war immigration from Ireland to America.

The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor – set in NY in 1950 during the Red Scare, the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, arrested for spying for the Russians.

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor – biographical novel about Emily Dickinson and a fictional coming-of-age story about her young Irish maid.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – a look at Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Elizabeth Hadley Richardson and their six-year marriage, spent mostly in Paris.


Secrets and Suspense

The Dry by Jane Harper – atmospheric thriller set on the edge of the Australia’s bushland during a devastating drought.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey – an old woman on the edge of dementia falls into a confused world of memories and suspicions, certain that her friend Elizabeth is missing.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian – a flight attendant wakes up after a night of heavy drinking and discovers she is in bed with a man who has been brutally murdered.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – Young Adult story about mysterious events of one summer, forcing a family through painful changes.


I hope you find a good place to escape for a bit. What will you read?

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Remembering American author Herman Wouk, 1915 – 2019

American author Herman Wouk passed away on May 17, days before his 104th birthday.

Wouk (pronounced “woke”) was an award-winning American author of fiction, non-fiction and plays, and the author of my number one favorite book, Youngblood Hawke. He may be the most famous for The Caine Mutiny, which won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but many readers in my age group will also remember his popular historical novels, also about World War II, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. The first book was made into the very popular 1983 television miniseries starring Robert Mitchum, Ali McGraw, Jan-Michael Vincent, John Houseman and Polly Bergen. Its sequel was released in 1988, with the return of Mitchum and Bergen and added others including Jane Seymour and Sharon Stone. You can check out the sequel’s full cast and crew here.

Another favorite, Marjorie Morningstar, was published in 1955. It’s the story of a nineteen-year-old Jewish girl from New York who dreams of becoming an actress. Warner Brothers made it into a movie in 1958, starring Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly.

Wouk had a long career. When he celebrated his 100th birthday in May 2015, he announced the January 2016 release of his autobiographical memoir, Sailor and Fiddler – Reflections of a 100-year-Old Author. He said it would be his last book, but his agent reported that he had been working on a new one at the time of his death.

Have you read any books by Herman Wouk? Click here for a full list. Do you have a favorite?

Want more Wouk? Check out these earlier posts on Book Club Mom:

Who’s That Author? Herman Wouk
Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk

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(Click here to read Herman Wouk’s obituary from the May 17 issue of the New York Times.)

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Transcription
by
Kate Atkinson

Rating:

Juliet Armstrong is eighteen years old when signs up with the MI5, a department of Britain’s Security Service, to help fight the infiltration of German and Fascist sympathizers. It’s 1940 and her job is to transcribe the secretly recorded conversations of informants who think they are meeting with a German Nazi. Agents have rented two London apartments and installed recording devices in a shared wall. In one apartment, Godfrey Toby poses as the German. In the other apartment are Juliet, Toby’s handler and a technician, recording, transcribing and writing reports.

Soon, in addition to transcribing, Juliet takes on an alias and heads out to the Russian Tea House to befriend an English matron whose husband is in prison for being a Nazi sympathizer. Juliet must get information about the Right Club, a group of powerful sympathizers and get her hands on the club’s Red Book of members.

That’s the set-up of Transcription, a sort of light historical spy novel, in which Juliet moves among agents and counteragents, never completely sure who’s on what side and leaving the reader to guess.

The story jumps between 1940 and 1950, where Juliet works at Schools Broadcasting, part of the British Broadcasting House. Something happened in 1940 that has caused Juliet’s group of spies to scatter and her secret past begins to haunt her when she sees the enigmatic Toby walking down the street. She will soon confront others from her spy days and try to make sense of her involvement during the war.

I was looking forward to reading this book because of how much I loved Life After Life and A God in Ruins, but I did not like the story as much. There were too many characters to keep track of and the complicated plot did not hold my attention, despite the story’s sometimes light and farcical tone. I kept waiting for something more to happen. I liked reading about the Security Service, however, and imagining the life of secret agents. I also enjoyed the author’s writing style, which is full of meaningful phrases that tie the story and characters together. That is also the author’s style in Life After Life and A God in Ruins.

I especially liked when Atkinson used one of my favorite lines from Life After Life, “You’d better come in,” spoken several times in that story when trouble arrives at the door. At two different times in Transcription, Juliet says the same thing. I love that kind of dialogue. I only hope I could be so calm! But I just didn’t care much about what happened in Transcription. Maybe it’s because Juliet’s character is hard to know and the mystery that surrounds her a little silly, leaving me to wonder if that’s what the author intended. I couldn’t decide, so I’m calling this one just an okay read.

If you haven’t read Life After Life or A God in Ruins, read those before you try this one. They are excellent. Then you can decide.

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This weekend’s read: Transcription by Kate Atkinson

I started a new Kate Atkinson book this week: Transcription. Atkinson is an award-winning and bestselling author of ten books, including my all-time favorite, Life After Life and the equally great companion novel, A God in Ruins.

Transcription is the story of a young woman who works for Britain’s secret service during World War II. At eighteen, her job is to transcribe secretly recorded conversations of British Fascist sympathizers. Ten years later, she meets players from her past and faces new dangers.

Atkinson’s books demand careful reading, but the reward of sinking into stories with complex characters and ideas is great. And with Transcription, I’m enjoying learning about a part of World War II history that I didn’t know. I’m looking forward to digging more into this story over the weekend and I get to do it with this beautiful hard cover copy, signed by Atkinson (thanks for the loan, F!).

I highly recommend Life After Life and A God in Ruins. Click below to check out my reviews.

Life After Life
A God in Ruins

What are you reading this weekend?

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Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach
by
Jennifer Egan

Rating:

How exciting to choose a book you know nothing about and immediately love it! I had seen Manhattan Beach on display at the library where I work, and the other library book club had already read it, but I never asked my work friend what it was about. And I blindly selected it for my own book club. Talk about being a pantser!

Manhattan Beach has a 3.8 star average rating on Amazon, with over half of the reviewers giving it a 4 or 5, but the rest of the reviews are 1-3 stars. This book is a winner with most and not so much with others. Well, it’s a winner with me! It’s full of complex characters, twisting plot lines and overlaid with the conflict between doing the right thing and doing what you have to do, with heavy consequences on both sides.

Set in New York during the Depression and World War II, the story begins in 1937 with Anna Kerrigan as a young girl. In these early years, Anna has a strong bond with her father, Eddie and she shadows him on mysterious work errands. At home, her mother cares full-time for Anna’s crippled younger sister, Lydia, a source of guilt, shame, resentment and love in different measures for each of them. On one errand, Anna meets the powerful Dexter Styles and without knowing why, senses an important connection between the men.

Eight years later, Eddie is missing and Anna has a job measuring parts at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, the hub of wartime repairs and preparations. And then she meets Styles again at one of his nightclubs. Determined to understand his relationship to her father, Anna sets off on a dangerous course in both her personal life and at work, where she has become the first female civilian diver. In this section, Egan includes interesting descriptions of how divers trained and worked, a dangerous activity and much different from resort dives of today!

What I liked best about Manhattan Beach is the way the author allows the reader inside the heads of her characters. I understood them much better, knowing how they made their decisions and I sometimes liked the ones with questionable morals more, because I could see their predicaments. Several of them grapple with the ethics of their work, and a few will do whatever it takes to protect their family. I particularly liked the slow reveal of Eddie’s character, who travels with many of the wrong people, but has a lifelong desire to do what’s right.

I also enjoyed the way Egan describes New York during this time period. It’s loaded with regular people, gangsters, bankers, and laborers, trying to get by in any way they can and, even when they are at cross purposes, there’s a sense of unity to win the war. Who gets by and who has the upper hand can quickly change, and that’s what kept me happily reading to the finish.

I highly recommend Manhattan Beach to readers who like historical fiction and big stories with strong female characters.

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What’s That Book? Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

 

TitleFrog Music

Author:  Emma Donoghue

Genre: Mystery/Historical Fiction

Rating:  4 stars

What’s it about?  The fictionalized account of the 1876 murder of Jenny Bonnet, an enigmatic free spirit in San Francisco, who dressed like a man and earned a living catching frogs for restaurants.

The story begins with Jenny’s murder, which takes place in a rented room at a railroad saloon. An unknown assailant shoots through the window, kills Jenny, but misses her companion, Blanche Beunon. Blanche, a burlesque dancer at the House of Mirrors, is certain she knows who is responsible, but will the authorities believe her? The author cleverly frames this original story with music and lyrics of the times.

The majority of Donoghue’s characters come from historical record and comprise San Francisco’s gritty underbelly during a smallpox epidemic and record heatwave. Blanche’s efforts to both save herself and point to those responsible for Jenny’s murder reveal many complicated and unlikable characters who are trying to scrape by in a rough environment and willingly take advantage of each other. Blanche’s lover and his companion are former trapeze artists from a circus in Paris, where Blanche performed on horseback. A back injury has forced him to quit performing and now Blanche is the breadwinner for the trio, earning money from her “leg shows” and private rendezvous.

Blanche thinks nothing of this until she meets Jenny, who has a knack for asking unsettling questions, and forces Blanche to see her life as it is.

How did you hear about it?  It is this month’s mystery book club choice.

Closing comments:  The author presents a vivid picture of the seedy side of San Francisco during this time period, including its widespread abuse and racial intolerance. Her characters’ attitudes towards other races, including the French, Irish, Chinese, Italians and Prussians, show how prejudice was deep seated during these times. While the story is based on actual events, Donoghue includes themes of love, friendship and motherhood, yet most of her characters don’t come close to holding onto these things. While Blanche’s character is the most developed, Jenny is the most interesting one. She was well-known throughout the city and I was very interested in her back story.

Frog Music is not for the faint of heart, due to many graphic and weirdly violent sex scenes. Many readers will question whether they are necessary to the story. I’m not sure. I think on one hand, they help define the characters and the times, but I also think there were too many “defining moments.”

The mystery is solved in the final pages and an Afterward provides much detail about the author’s research and the musical references. I thought this was one of the best parts of the book.

Contributor:  Ginette 😉


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Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

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