Book Review: The Family by Naomi Krupitsky

The Family
Naomi Krupitsky

You know when you pick a book by chance and it turns out to be a great read? That’s what happened to me with The Family. As I browsed books online, I was attracted to the cover and the storyline. I’m a big fan of The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, and because I grew up in northern New Jersey, I like reading about places that are familiar to me. But I hadn’t heard of The Family.

Although there’s always a storyline in these movies and shows about getting out of life in the mafia and the dangers that go with leaving, what’s unique about The Family is that all the main characters struggle with the choices they’ve made. They ask themselves two questions: “What would I have done if I hadn’t been pulled into the Family?” and “What control can I take over the life I do lead?” Some, desperate to escape, ask, “How can I get out of this alive?”

The story spans twenty years and begins in 1928 Brooklyn. Readers meet two girlhood friends and next-door neighbors, Sofia Colicchio and Antonia Russo. Sofia’s father, Joey, is ambitious. Antonia’s father, Carlo, however, is not cut out for the violence.

“By the time Carlo was keeping a shaky-handed, shallow-breathed watch outside of rooms where unspeakable acts of violence were doled out for minor infractions against the Fianzo Family, it was too late for him to extract himself.”

Lives and family dynamics change forever when Carlo disappears and Joey is put in charge of his own faction.

Written from a third-person omniscient point of view, readers enter into each character’s inner thoughts and reasonings. Tension develops in a multitude of ways. Lina Russo, Carlo’s wife is trapped. She hates that the Family takes care of her after Carlo’s disappearance and does all she can to withdraw. And though they don’t know the details of the Family business, Sofia and Antonia understand they are part of a family they can never truly leave. Their tendencies waver between making their own lives and accepting their lot. This is especially true when they marry and have children. One thing they do know is that neither wants to be like their mother.

I really liked the historical aspect of this book. The author shows how Italian immigrants played an important role in building New York at the turn of the century, but they resented the lack of respect they got. She describes how the Italian mafia developed and changed during Prohibition and the Depression and how they took advantage of new opportunities during World War 2. What’s interesting are the conflicting roles the Family plays during this time. For example, during the war, they got into the forgery business, selling new identities to Jews fleeing Europe. So, helping desperate people, but charging them to be safe.

The author also describes the Jewish mafia and introduces Saul Grossman, one of the most interesting characters in the book. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll stop there.

If you’re considering reading The Family, I’d describe it as more literary and introspective than sensational. The theme of choosing an alternate life reminded me of one of my all-time favorite books, Life after Life by Kate Atkinson.

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Celebrating 7 years of blogging!

This month is a big month for me because I reached my 7-year blogging anniversary and I’m also celebrating 1000 WordPress followers. So yay!

Today I’m sharing three of my most-viewed posts.

“House of Flowers” by Truman Capote

The Grapes of Wrath and the Great Depression

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Thanks to everyone who follows, reads, comments and shares. I’m ready for another 7 years!


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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A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins cover
A God in Ruins

Kate Atkinson


How do you reconcile the things you do during a war with how you live when it’s all over? Can you make up for what you did? This is the conflict that becomes Teddy Todd’s personal war in Kate Atkinson’s terrific book, A God in Ruins, a companion to her equally terrific book, Life After Life.

Life After Life is a “what if” story, showing the different paths and possible outcomes for Teddy’s sister, Ursula, during World War II. A God in Ruins is about Teddy and his role as an RAF pilot during its bombing campaign over Germany. You can read them independently, but I think it’s better to read Life After Life first.

Both books are ambitious reads and can’t be rushed. A God in Ruins, however, is a different kind of story, and examines Teddy’s life during and after the war. Atkinson also introduces Teddy’s wife, Nancy and their daughter, Viola and her children, Sunny and Bertie, taking the reader to the present day. As in Life After Life, this story includes a lot of time jumps and requires careful reading. But the central story revolves around one path in Teddy’s life and his role as a husband, father and grandfather.

It’s hard to explain how this story goes without spoilers, but I can tell you this: Atkinson has a beautiful writing style that creates a reading experience like no other. From the beginning, her description of the Todd family puts the reader right in the middle of their home at Fox Corner, and with the neighboring Shawcross sisters. When the war breaks out, Teddy announces he wants to fly planes, a wartime career of exceptional leadership that defines and haunts him his entire life.

The most important theme in A God in Ruins is the war and the things people must do during this time. Can you be at peace with dropping bombs? Can you make up for “the dreadful moral compromise that war imposed upon you?” Teddy deliberately chose how to live after the war – “he resolved that he would try always to be kind. It was the best he could do. It was all that he could do.” But these choices do not guarantee happiness.

As in Life After Life, flowers, trees and animals, especially foxes, hares, dogs and birds, play an important part in the characters’ lives and suggest a strong spiritual connection with nature, including the idea of reincarnation. These ideas tie into her characters’ doubts of faith during wartime. Ursula puts it just right when she says, “There’s a spark of the divine in the world – not God, we’re done with God, but something. Is it love? Not silly romantic love, but something more profound…?”

I loved every word of this book, but here’s what I loved best about A God in Ruins:

  • Teddy’s character – especially how he quietly takes care of the people in his life. His leadership of his flight crew shows how much he cares about the people around him. But his character has this great moral dilemma – he and his crew are killing innocent people, but the distance removes them from reality. Can you blame them? They’re fighting the enemy. After the war, Teddy’s love for his grandchildren comes before everything, but Atkinson throws a curveball at Teddy’s character, something that may change the reader’s opinion..
  • Sunny’s character – Atkinson reveals it bit by bit and the reader comes to understand him by the end of the story.
  • Viola’s transformation – reading about things from her perspective changes everything. Saving her point of view to the end forces the reader to completely reconsider her character.
  • The appearance of Ursula’s dog, “Lucky” from Life After Life. It’s great to see him in this story too!
  • I like how Atkinson also shows the important role that women played during the war. Many worked as pilots transporting planes, truck drivers, translators, mathematicians, decoders and nurses.
  • Atkinson shows small details about her side characters, hinting about stories and scenarios that the reader can imagine taking place in the background. This is especially true with her descriptions of Hugh and Sylvie and their marriage.
  • She makes a small jab about the Eat, Pray, Love craze – enjoyed that very much!
  • Her description of the moment of death – its effect on family members who are far apart, how they can sense it, on nature, on the world, and on what’s next.

A God in Ruins ends in a surprising twist. It has left me wondering, but I’m thinking that’s just what the author wanted! Have you read A God in Ruins? What did you think? Did you like the ending?

If you liked this review, click here to read my review of Life After Life.

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What’s up next? A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins cover

I have been on the waitlist to borrow A God in Ruins from the library for months and yesterday, my name came up! I can’t wait to get started!

A God in Ruins is a companion book to Life After Life, a great story in which Atkinson explores the “what if” possibilities of her characters’ lives.

Here’s what I had to say about Life After Life in my December 2, 2013 review:

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read.  It is a complicated story that begins with both the birth and death of Ursula Todd and moves in different directions as Ursula’s life is saved or rewritten, leaving the reader to wonder whether we are seeing how fate could have taken different turns or if Ursula herself is somehow able to rewind tragedies and try to get them right the next time.

Set in England and beginning in 1910, this story spans both World Wars, but focuses on the period during World War II and the heavy toll it took on Europe. Ursula’s different life paths place her at the center of the German bombings in London for much of the book.  In a separate turn of life, she spends time in Germany and twice almost manages to rewrite Adolf Hitler’s fate.

To say I loved Life After Life can never fully express how I feel about that book. You can read my full review of it here.

Here is Amazon’s description of A God in Ruins:

A God in Ruins tells the dramatic story of the 20th Century through Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy–would-be poet, heroic pilot, husband, father, and grandfather-as he navigates the perils and progress of a rapidly changing world. After all that Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge is living in a future he never expected to have.

An ingenious and moving exploration of one ordinary man’s path through extraordinary times, A GOD IN RUINS proves once again that Kate Atkinson is one of the finest novelists of our age.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Have you read Life After Life? What about A God in Ruins? Leave a comment and tell me what you think!

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Kate Atkinson has a new book – A God in Ruins

A God in Ruins cover

Book Preview – A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson

If you are a fan of Kate Atkinson and you enjoyed reading Life After Life as much as I did, you will be glad to know that she has a new book coming out next week, A God in Ruins. It’s not a sequel, but a companion book to Life After Life. A God in Ruins focuses on Ursula’s younger brother, Teddy as he faces many changes during the twentieth century. Much of the time in A God in Ruins coincides with the timeline in Life After Life. Doubleday, Atkinson’s publisher notes that “For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge will be to face living in a future he never expected to have.”

You can find out more about A God in Ruins by visiting Kate Atkinson’s website, Amazon, and Goodreads. I also found an interesting article in The Guardian.which explains the book’s premise and its connection to Life After Life.

And be sure to check out Book Club Mom’s review of Life After Life!

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Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

life after life picLife After Life
Kate Atkinson


This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It is a complicated story that begins with both the birth and death of Ursula Todd and moves in different directions as Ursula’s life is saved or rewritten, leaving the reader to wonder whether we are seeing how fate could have taken different turns or if Ursula herself is somehow able to rewind tragedies and try to get them right the next time.

Set in England and beginning in 1910, this story spans both World Wars, but focuses on the period during World War II and the heavy toll it took on Europe. Ursula’s different life paths place her at the center of the German bombings in London for much of the book. In a separate turn of life, she spends time in Germany and twice almost manages to rewrite Adolf Hitler’s fate.

I spent some time reading reviews of Life After Life and, instead of finding all four- and five-star reviews, I found a considerable number of reviews that complained about how complicated and hard to follow this story is. I think there is some truth in these comments and the only way to thoroughly enjoy Life After Life is to study it and take notes – it is worth this effort! I read Life After Life on my Kindle and, although I like paging back and forth with a real book, the “Search” feature made it easy to check on the many details. As I did all this, I started to see Ursula’s lives as a kind of river, with tributaries taking it in different directions.

Here is the diagram I drew to help me!

River of Life After Life

There are many things I like about Atkinson’s writing style in Life After Life. She makes many references to animals, particularly foxes, rabbits, dogs and cats, and ties both their influence and fates into the characters. For example, a seemingly unimportant dog, later named Lucky, changes Ursula’s fate and has a strong positive influence on both Ursula and her brother Teddy. I like the wholeness of this idea, humans sharing the world with nature and other creatures.

I also like the way Atkinson repeats and ties together phrases and presents them in different scenarios. The phrase, “Practice makes perfect” is particularly meaningful as Ursula’s lives rewind and play back with different twists. Sylvie’s frequent comment, “Needs must” is repeated by her daughters at important times and is an example of their mother’s influence, despite their emotional distance from her.  In addition, I think the author’s use of dialogue is great, especially when she ends chapters with a short comment.  What else is there for Izzie to say, for example, when Ursula shows up at her door twice with bad news? “You’d better come in then.” That says it all.

Atkinson uses small details that change as this story moves forward and backwards. These details appear most notably in the scenes with Teddy, Bridget and the Spanish flu. Ursula’s strong desire to save them leads to a variety of outcomes as do her efforts to save Nancy from an awful fate. Many iterations of these scenes lead to different outcomes, some ironic, some heartbreaking and I think Atkinson touches on the “What if?” way of thinking that we all experience in our lives.

I think the repetition of Ursula’s apartment being bombed is the strongest part of the story and Atkinson is able to describe these experiences in a way that shows what it must have been like for people living in London during the Blitz. She tells the story through an omniscient point of view and her use of grim humor shows how Ursula is able to distance herself from this destruction and death.

I always have favorite characters and this time it’s Hugh. He loves Ursula, makes his point with Sylvie and makes you wish to know someone like him.  Evil characters such as Maurice are easy to hate and there are plenty of in-between characters with complicated traits that make you feel conflicted.

There’s a lot more to Life After Life, most notably Hitler’s treatment of Jews and the ultimate “What if?” question: Could the Holocaust have been prevented if Hitler had been killed before he became evil?

Ursula asks Ralph, “Don’t you wonder sometimes, if just one small thing had been changed, in the past, I mean. If Hitler had died at birth, or if someone had kidnapped him as a baby and brought him up in – I don’t know, say, a Quaker household – surely things would be different.”

And Ralph’s answer – “But nobody knows what’s going to happen.  And anyway he might have turned out just the same, Quakers or no Quakers. You might have to kill him instead of kidnapping him. Could you do that?  Could you kill a baby?” So in the end, there is still this dissatisfying answer about fate and stopping evil.

An open ending leaves many questions to this book. But friendship and love and happiness find a way to develop in even the most terrible scenarios of this story and I think this is the author’s message of hope.

Atkinson’s companion book to Life After Life is A God in Ruins. Read my review here.

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I’m reading Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

life after life pic

I received a lot of comments after my Five Books I Want to Read post and the overwhelming message was to read Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson!  It was good advice.  I am already loving it!

Here’s some info about the author which I copied from Kate Atkinson’s official website:

Kate Atkinson was born in York and now lives in Edinburgh. Her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and has been a critically acclaimed international bestselling author ever since.

She is the author of a collection of short stories, Not the End of the World, and of the critically acclaimed novels Human Croquet, Emotionally Weird, Case Histories, and One Good Turn.

Case Histories introduced her readers to Jackson Brodie, former police inspector turned private investigator, and won the Saltire Book of the Year Award and the Prix Westminster.

When Will There Be Good News? was voted Richard & Judy Book Best Read of the Year. After Case Histories and One Good Turn, it was her third novel to feature the former private detective Jackson Brodie, who also made a welcome return in Started Early, Took My Dog.

Kate was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s 2011 Birthday Honours, for services to literature.

Here’s a list of Kate Atkinson Novels (Thank you Wikipedia!):

Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995) – winner of the 1995 Whitbread Prize

Human Croquet (1997)

Emotionally Weird (2000)

Case Histories (2004)

One Good Turn (2006)

When Will There Be Good News? (2008)

Started Early, Took My Dog (2010)

Life After Life (2013)

Five books I want to read

empty mansions pic

Empty Mansions:  The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune – Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

Update: this is a fascinating story of a wealthy heiress who spent the last twenty years of her life in a hospital – by choice. A contentious lawsuit followed her death. Highly recommend – see my review here!


dogfight pic

Dogfight:  How Apple and Google Went to War
and Started a Revolution –
Fred Vogelstein

Update: Still want to read this one. Here’s a description from Amazon:

“The rise of smartphones and tablets has altered the industry of making computers. At the center of this change are Apple and Google, two companies whose philosophies, leaders, and commercial acumen have steamrolled the competition. In the age of Android and the iPad, these corporations are locked in a feud that will play out not just in the mobile marketplace but in the courts and on screens around the world.”


the interestings pic

The Interestings:  A Novel – Meg Wolitzer

Update: I loved this book about teenagers who meet at a summer camp in the 1970s. Highly recommend! Check out my review here.


life after life pic

Life After Life:  A Novel – Kate Atkinson

Update: One of the best books I’ve ever read. I can’t gush about this one enough. Set in England and beginning in 1910, this story spans both World Wars, but focuses on the period during World War II and the heavy toll it took on Europe. Atkinson explores the “what if” question for characters and world events. Read my review here.


sea creatures pic

Sea Creatures – Susanna Daniel

Update: with great skill, Daniel connects themes of love, marriage, family, death, art, weather and the sea and the disabling effects of sleep disorders and selective mutism. Much of the story takes place in Stiltsville, a community in Florida of about a dozen stilt homes, built on sand flats about a mile offshore. Read my review here.

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