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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

SISTERLAND by Curtis Sittenfeld



SISTERLAND  by Curtis Sittenfeld

4 stars
Twins, Kate (Daisy) and Violet, are psychic. One of them becomes a wife and mother and denies her ability. The other embraces it and actually earns a living by using her “senses” as a medium. When Violet, and later, Kate become convinced that a tragic earthquake will strike the city of St. Louis, a long simmering estrangement comes to a head. 
Sittenfeld has written an engrossing tale that occasionally bogs down in minutia, but ultimately achieves its goal. The ending is unexpected and wrenching.  Those who want a “quick read” should find another book. This one will take a while but will appeal to those who are looking for a love story, a coming of age novel or a family story. Does it end happily ever after – you will just have to read it for yourself.
Book groups will find many topics to discuss – distant (and controlling) moms, ESP, fidelity, relationships between sisters, male-female friendship, abortion, premarital and extramarital sex, mothering styles, divorce, Black-White relationships and class distinctions among others.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

COUNTRY OF ASH by DR. Edward Riecher



COUNTRY OF ASH   by Dr. Edward Reicher
Dr. Reicher’s memoir tells of his experiences as a Jew in Poland during World War II.  He relates the most horrific details in a matter of fact voice.  He, his wife and their small daughter all survive the destruction of the Jewish ghetto and the uprising in the city of Warsaw.
For anyone seeking information about Hitler’s edicts and their effect on Jews and Aryans in Poland, this account will be riveting in its details.  Because this is a translation from the original French and Polish, readers will notice some awkward phraseology and construction.
Book groups might want to also read Anne Frank’s diary, another account of a German occupied country or even Leon Uris’ Mila 18 or watch the movie THE PIANIST in conjunction with this book.   

Thursday, May 23, 2013

THE YONAHLOSSEE RIDING CAMP FOR GIRLS by Anton DiSclafani



The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls  by Anton DiSclafani

4 of 5 stars

This big, rich novel covers only a year but manages to convey an entire lifetime.  Thea, the main character, is a twin, a lover of horses and a girl who wants.  Unfortunately what she wants is not necessarily good for her or her family or those she loves. Sent away from her home because of her actions, she spends a year at a “camp” that is actually a cross between a finishing school for wealthy girls and a riding academy.  The background of Thea’s infraction is explored in many backflashes as the book progresses. DiSclafani gives us a whole world set in depression era southern Appalachia.  Her characters are well drawn and appealing.  Her descriptions provide a moody backdrop to a story filled with angst, teen girls and horses.  While the characters are teens, this is not a young adult book, but a sizzling sex tale set in a Victorian horse show.
Book groups will find a plethora of topics ranging from teen sex to family roles to education of women to the importance of money among many others.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

THE DAUGHTERS OF MARS by Thomas Keneally



THE DAUGHTERS OF MARS  by Thomas Keneally

I had a hard time getting used to the lack of commas and quotation marks in this tale of two sisters who nurse for Australia during World War I.  Although slow and quite lengthy, the book held my interest with details of nursing under primitive conditions during war conditions.   The most interesting parts for me were the descriptions of life aboard ship on the journey to Egypt from Australia and then in the war zone of Gallipoli.  The horror of war was clearly indicated in the details of battle injuries and the care available both in the Dardanelles and later in France.   The tragedy of the influenza epidemic of 1919 makes up the later part of the book.

The sisters, their nurse companions and the soldiers they work with and fall in love with comprise the characters in the novel.  

Book groups will find many topics to discuss including class distinctions, city versus farm life, Quakers and war, biologic weaponry, courage under great duress, disfiguration and disability, and the roles of women.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

PALISADES PARK by Alan Brennert



PALISADES PARK  by Alan Brennert

Brennert writes generation spanning novels that are well researched and well written with engaging characters, vivid place descriptions and enticing plots.  In Palisades Park he does not disappoint.  Although Palisades Amusement Park itself is the main character, Eddie Stopka the main human character, his children and his friends are by no means shorted in either characterization or plotting. 

Brennert’s people react the way ordinary folks would in similar circumstances. His plot twists are reasonable but not mundane, exciting but not overwhelming. These are people you know and care about.  Their story is arresting and satisfying and you are sorry when the book ends.  

One of the things Brennert excels in is incorporating “real” people, places and events into his story line. Even if you are knowledgeable about the actual historical events they are so seamlessly incorporated you find yourself wondering only why you “didn’t remember” the fictional parts. Perhaps because I am from Chicago, I especially appreciated the inclusion of crime and mob influences. He handles racism with sensitivity and realistic drama. World War II and the Korean War are touched on in ways that will resonate with those affected by today’s military incursions. Divorce, women’s roles, faith, bullying, dysfunctional families, immigration and business practices are all timely and timeless topics well covered.

And, if you haven’t yet read MOLOKAII and HONOLULU his two previous best sellers – well, you should!