Wednesday, October 24, 2018

THE WAR OUTSIDE by Monica Hesse

THE WAR OUTSIDE by Monica Hesse Texas was the site of Crystal City – an internment camp for “Enemy Aliens” during World War II. Crystal City was for those people of German, Japanese or Italian ancestry that the government believed might be spies. Haruku and Margot both accompanied fathers who were suspects. They lived on opposite sides of the camp but became friends – sort of. This story gives a glimpse into the reality of their lives and that of the others interned at Crystal City. They were American teenagers, but because someone in their family was suspect, they had been uprooted and sent to a hot, dusty, ill equipped prison. They were enemies to each other and to their country. Hesse writes clearly of young people confused and conflicted and does it extremely well. Margot and Haruku live and breathe. They become friends - and enemies. They trust each other - and break that trust. We learn of their families – their love, their politics, their fears, their coping – and their NOT coping. Engrossing, terrifying, moving, sweet and bittersweet – all these and more. Ultimately a story of betrayal and forgiveness, THE WAR OUTSIDE is thought provoking and well worth reading. 5 of 5 stars

Friday, October 19, 2018


THE LINES WE LEAVE BEHIND by Eliza Graham Maud/Amber is a young woman in a secure mental facility charged with a crime. As she speaks with her psychiatrist we learn what led her to the hospital as she “remembers” the past. She was a special agent for the Allies in the Balkans during WWII ….. or was she? Told in flashbacks, this very interesting tale winds itself out in drips and drabs. The infighting between the Partisans, the Chetniks, the Home Guard and the Germans for control of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia is clear as Maud/Amber carries out her assignments. Modern day ethnic strife is foreshadowed as the various parties and their doctrines become clear. The land and peoples of the Balkans are well developed and made clear. The personalities of the various players clash believably. Well researched and well written, this tale is enjoyable and engrossing as the reader tries to determine what is true and what is result of trauma. Family ties, partisanship, politics, spying, secrets, women in war, and mental health treatments are all topics for discussion by book groups. 4 of 5 stars

Friday, October 12, 2018

A WELL BEHAVED WOMAN by Therese Anne Fowler

A WELL BEHAVED WOMAN  by Therese Anne Fowler

Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont was anything but a well- behaved woman. Left near penniless as she approached marriageable age in the 1870’s, she set her aim for a wealthy man.  William Vanderbilt, a younger son in the ultra-wealthy but socially ignored family, caught her eye, as she caught his.  This fictionalized account of her life as a philanthropist, sufferage activist, society hostess and intelligent, opinionated woman is a bit too long, but is vastly entertaining.

Alva, her sisters, her children, her husbands, the Vanderbilts, the Astors and others of upper crust New York society are clearly, and unsparingly, drawn. The day to day life of Gilded Age society is the backdrop and conformingly repressive constraint her friends and “frenemies” endured. Told with clear eyed sympathy, the novel follows Alva from age 17 to her death in 1933.
Book groups will enjoy discussing the differences between women today and the women who found themselves painted, pampered, polished, packaged and utterly controlled by their fathers and husbands.

4 ½ of 5 stars

Thursday, October 4, 2018

EVERLASTING NORA by Marie Miranda Cruz

EVERLASTING NORA  by Marie Miranda Cruz

Nora, 12, lives in her father’s grave house in a Philippine cemetery.  Written for middle graders, this novel will be eye opening to adults as well.

Nora and her mother have descended into crushing poverty and survive because Nora makes and sells flower garlands to visitors to other graves.  Her friend JoJo, 13, and his grandmother assist as well as they can when Nora’s mother becomes quite ill.

Nora is well defined as a normal child who wants normal things. American preteens will easily identify with her and also with JoJo, a child who has never attended school and is his grandmother’s support.  The “bad guys” (who are truly bad) are somewhat glossed over. 

Friendship, initiative, caring, hope, forgiveness, determination are all traits exhibited by those Nora learns to trust. A heartwarming story that is ideal for a parent/child book club.

5 of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah

THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah
Which would you rather do? Die by freezing, starving or being mauled to death by “Alaska” or die at the hands of your abusive, PTSD addled father?

 Hannah has written a tense, terrifying love story. But is it a story of love for the beautiful wildness of Alaska or the wildly beautiful love of a father for his wife and daughter?

 Leni’s father has decided the family will move to Alaska where he will finally be happy. They are woefully unprepared for the rigors of homesteading in America’s last wilderness. Taken under the wings of Large Marge, a successful homesteader and formerly successful big city prosecutor, the family quickly learns to be relatively self-sufficient. Leni learns to love Alaska and the “wild” life style her father has decreed for the family. Unfortunately, Leni’s father is friend and compatriot with Mad Earl, a rabid anti-government survivalist. Matthew, a classmate of Leni’s, becomes her only friend.

 The wildness of nature and the difficulties of surviving in Alaska during the 1970’s and 80’s is made excruciating clear. The terror of living with an out of control abuser suffering from PTSD after surviving as a POW in Viet Nam is also clear. The relationships between mother and daughter, mother and father, Leni and Matthew, father and Mad Earl, among others, are clear and determine the vector and velocity of the plot.

 5 of 5 stars