The World That We Knew: Book Review

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The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

“If you do not believe in evil, you are doomed to live in a world you will never understand.”

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman is another World War II historical novel, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hoffman’s novel follows an ensemble of characters, Lea and her golem keeper, Ava, the tragic Ettie, Julien, and Marianne through their escape from the Nazi regime.

I knew that France played a large role in World War II but I was ignorant of the French government’s role in helping deport Jews to concentration camps. The book discusses in part the role of rural French towns and people who helped Jewish children escape to Switzerland. 

Anyway, the book is filled with lyrical language and mysticism. Hoffman’s writing blurs the line between reality and the magical, reminiscent of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. She uses Jewish mythology to craft the story and the mythology really enriches the narrative.

The story of this WWII era group of children turned adults too soon is important. Especially in this day and age, where the lessons we learned from the Jewish genocide seem to be rapidly slipping away.

The World That We Knew is not preachy or moralizing, but it is insightful. The characters are interesting and three-dimensional, Ava being the most dynamic for multiple reasons I won’t delve in to here to prevent spoilers.

I recommend this book for those interested in historical fiction, even if you might be a little over WWII fiction novels. This one has a different spin and is well worth your time. I also recommend this book for readers who love poetic writing and mysticism/mythology.

4/5 Stars

The Dutch House: Book Review

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

“There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you’d been standing on falls away behind you, and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you’re suspended knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself.”

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett is a tale of growing up, nostalgia, and truth. It is a story ultimately about redemption.

The story is framed around a house, an old mansion built in the Dutch architectural style previously owned by a rich couple who made their wealth in tobacco but whose family ultimately fizzled our with no surviving heirs. Mr. Conroy, Danny and Maeve’s father bought the house after their demise, filled with their possessions as a surprise for his wife, an ex-nun accustomed to their simple life on a Navy base.

She is unsettled by the acquisition of the large home and never quite makes peace with her wealth and the general misery of the world’s poor. She leaves the dutch house, and her family, to go to India after reading about Mother Theresa’s charitable work.

Her departure nearly kills Maeve, who is diagnosed with juvenile diabetes after losing her mother. The story picks up with their father’s remarriage to a young woman named Andrea.

The book is about family, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Ultimately it’s the fact that we never can quite remember things as they truly are. And that our capacity for forgiveness supersedes everything else.

The book is beautifully written, with tight prose and vivid imagery. I was nearly disappointed in the ending, believing it would fall back in the old evil stepmother trope. Lucky for us all, it does not do that and the twist at the end makes this book worth reading.

4/5 Stars

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: Book Review

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

“To be wilded. Have a wilded heart in this black-treed land full of wilded creatures. There were notches in these hills were a stranger wouldn’t tread, would not venture-the needle-eyed coves and skinny blinds behind rocks, the strangling parts of the blackened-green hills-but Angeline and hillfolk here were wilded and not afraid. And I longed to lift bare feet onto ancient paths and be wilded once again.”

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is set in Troublesome, Kentucky, an Appalachian Community, in the 1930s. The story follows Packhorse Librarian Cussy Mary (aka Bluet), coal miner’s daughter and one of the legendary blue people of Kentucky. Cussy Mary struggles for acceptance in her conservative and superstitious hometown. Though a Troublesome native, she is viewed through the same suspicious lens as any minority of the region.

Cussy Mary’s father works long hours on night shift in the mines, returning covered in black dust and already suffering from what appears to be black lung, a result of inhaling the coal dust underground and an affliction that coal miner’s still battle today.

Cussy Mary and her father are unique to the setting for their blue skin color, caused by a congenital blood condition. This is based on the blue Fugates of Kentucky, a well known legend to the region.

Back to the story itself, I wasn’t sure I would like this book. Being from the region I am always wary of stories that try to portray the truth of life here. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek deals with some difficult subject matter, the treatment of minorities in the region, subjugation of women, socioeconomic conditions, and cultural shortcomings. The author handles all of this with a great deal of honesty but also respect to the people who remain here.

Cussy Mary, a blue, is treated as a “colored” meaning she is held to the laws of segregation and miscegenation of the time. She is cautious, afraid to touch others and often chided for assuming she is equal to the whites around her. She is humble but eager to be accepted even by those that treat her terribly. Her greatest joy is bringing literacy to her people (an astounding act of rebellion considering them her people even though over half think of her as their inferior). The book reckons with the hypocrisy of a proud, but starving and close-knit but ostracizing community.

The writing is lyrical. More poetry than prose sometimes. That may be off putting to some but if so then literary fiction isn’t really for you anyway. This book is a bittersweet tale of overcoming hardship and bearing witness to tragedy.

5/5 Stars

Pachinko: Book Review

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

“It was not Hansu that she missed, or even Isak. What she was seeing again in her dreams was her youth, her beginning, and her wishes–so this is how she became a woman.”

“Etsuko had failed in this important way—she had not taught her children to hope, to believe in the perhaps-absurd possibility that they might win. Pachinko was a foolish game, but life was not.”

“Noa had been a sensitive child who had believed that if he followed all the rules and was the best, then somehow, the hostile world would change its mind. His death may have been her fault for having allowed him to believe such cruel ideals.”

Pachinko is a big book of big, complex, sometimes conflicting ideas. This is why I think it is a more accurate view of life.

Sunja is born in Korea pre-WWII and Korean War times that split the nation into the North and South of today. she is born into a relatively poor but surviving family, the daughter of a man born with several congenital deformities, a cleft lip and club foot. But he is an honorable man who loves his daughter. His honor resonates years later with a young minister with tuberculosis who agrees to marry the pregnant and unmarried Sunja and take her to Japan.

The book follows Sunja’s life, the struggles of being Korean in Japan when prejudice was high, being an outsider with no true homeland thanks to the rapidly changing geopolitical landscape of Korea, and the timeless struggle of being a woman who must reckon with her choices and the choices of the men surrounding her.

Pachinko is a generational epic done right. The novel explores many themes as a generational story must, racism and prejudice, socioeconomic distinctions, gender roles, generational differences, guilt, redemption, love and lust. Sunja is a woman who makes mistakes, but as a woman her mistakes resonate throughout her lifetime, affecting not only herself but her loved ones.

This book is worth a read and a reread. My own generational novel is inspired by this book, her near flawless rendering of this family’s fall and rise, and fall and rise. I was not aware of the history that drives this novel, the consequences of WWII for Korea and displaced Koreans who could not return home. Historically the novel offers a lot of perspective and is a great example of the value of minority voices taking their rightful place in the global platform of such narratives.

5/5 Stars

NaNoWriMo ’19: Appalachian Dynasty

Genre: Literary/Historical Fiction

Synopsis

William “Bill” Strong is born to a poor family in Dorset during the English Civil Wars. After losing his parents, 11-year-old Bill is sold as an indentured servant to a wealthy tobacco merchant and sent to Virginia to work off his servitude. After working for 8 years, Bill settles in Virginia as a poor tenet to yet another wealthy landlord.

Appalachian Dynasty follows his descendants through their mountains and valleys of poverty and privilege tracking their journey from farmers in southern England to coal miners in Southeastern Kentucky. Epitomizing the stereotype of a poor white family, Bill Strong and his descendants struggle against systematic forces designed to pit poor whites against people of color to ensure their loyalty during the Civil War, suffrage, and the Civil Rights movement, all while being exploited for their labor, land, and integrity. They learn they can never escape the sovereignty of wealthy men.

Loosely based on my own exploration of my family’s genealogy and settlement in southeastern Kentucky.

A novel in four parts-323 years-9 generations

  • Part 1: Divine Right of Kings (~1645-1776)
  • Part 2: For God and Country (~1777-1865)
  • Part 3: Us v. Them (~1866-1920)
  • Part 4: Can You Hear the Canary’s Song? (~1921-1973)

Goal: 90,000 words

Deadline: November 30, 2019

The Vine Witch: Book Review

The Vine Witch (Vine Witch #1) by Luanne G. Smith

The Vine Witch is best served with a large glass of wine (your choice of vintage). The perfect Guilty pleasure for those cozy October nights.

The Vine Witch

Written by Luanne G. Smith

Published 2019 by 47North

Downloaded on Kindle through Amazon’s FirstReads Program

Fantasy/Paranormal Fiction

Elena is a vine witch, more than a connoisseur of good wine, she has the ability to cultivate, in every magical sense of the word, the grapes of a vineyard to grow, harvest, and ferment the best wines the Chanceaux Valley has ever seen. Unfortunately, the wine business in 19th century (albeit an alternate universe) France has many rivals and Elena finds herself the victim of a curse, living as a frog for seven years before finally reversing the curse and returning home to find her beloved vineyard on the brink of ruin AND bought out by a lawyer of all people named Jean-Paul Martel, a man who values science over magic.

Smith does an excellent job inviting us into her new world of vine witches. I got serious Neil Gaiman vibes a la Stardust. The magical world is woven into the Industrial Revolution of Europe during the 19th century during the rise of modern science and technology’s popularity.

Besides creating a dynamic new world, Smith gives us a rollicking adventure, a delightful bit of mystery with a very satisfying twist, and a bit of romance to warm these chilly fall evenings.

I am very interested to see what subsequent books in this world will be like as it appears to be the first in a series. Fans of Stardust, Harry Potter, and alternate universe historical fiction like steampunk will enjoy this debut.

My Rating

4/5 Stars

City of Girls: Book Review

A Note from the Reviewer: I sincerely apologize for how I have been writing my book reviews thus far. I have been spoiling endings without remorse and not indicating when a spoiler was ahead. From this review forward I promise to do better about omitting spoilers (or warning about them if absolutely necessary to an honest review).

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

“In my experience, this is the hardest lesson of them all.

After a certain age, we are all walking around this world in bodies made of secrets and shame and sorrow and old, unhealed injuries. Our hearts grow sore and misshapen around all this pain—yet somehow, still, we carry on.” -Vivian Morris City of Girls

City of Girls

Written by Elizabeth Gilbert

Published 2019 by Riverhead

Borrowed via OverDrive

Historical Fiction

Vivian Morris is a 1940s era 19-year-old WASP experiencing the glamour of New York City after a less than stellar attempt at college. She goes to live with her Aunt Peg, a WWI nurse turned theatrical producer with a curious history of her own. While living at The Lily, Vivian is dazzled by the gorgeous showgirls, cigarettes, booze, and sex without consequences. The glitzy vision is shattered one reckless night and Vivian must decide what kind of girl she wants to be.

City of Girls is a book about female relationships, the complexity of those dynamics, how they are shaped by jealousies and the idea of male territory. Set against a decidedly conservative backdrop, Gilbert digs deep, showing how women can prop each other up but also how we can absolutely decimate each other.

Gilbert’s grasp of language is so natural, I can’t help but feel viciously jealous. The words poured through my brain. This was such an easy novel to get lost in, which is really saying something with two kids under the age of three.

This book is a fantastic pick for fans of classic Hollywood, WWII-era historical fiction, or those who enjoy stories with unexpected endings.

My Rating

5/5 Stars

Daisy Jones & The Six: Book Review

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones & The Six Book Cover

Daisy Jones & The Six: Not All About the Music

I should preface this review by saying that I am not a huge fan of 70’s rock. I don’t hate it or avoid it, I am just very lazy when it comes to finding music. While I can appreciate the classics, I am usually content listening to Top 40 hits on the radio. Daisy Jones & The Six (check out the Goodreads synopsis) does not require its readers to love 70’s rock or rock music in general.

This book is about more than rock and roll. (Rock n’ roll?) This is a story about faith, faith in others and faith in ourselves. It is a love triangle but not the obnoxious kind. There are no clear answers and regardless of your personal opinion on Billy Dunne’s choice at the end, nobody leaves totally satisfied. The heartbreak bleeds through to the end, happy ending or no.

Story Format

The book is written as an oral history. Instead of paragraphs or chapters in one POV, each character is speaking to a narrator who is interviewing them. The identity of the narrator revealed until the end was somewhat surprising. I did not see it coming. The author’s choice to write the story as oral history interviews makes sense once the narrator’s identity is revealed. It adds a layer to the story that a traditional past tense 3rd person POV or 1st person POV would not have provided.

The Dunnes

When I picked this book up I had no idea the story would include themes of family or parental sacrifices. When we meet Billy Dunne, he seems like the quintessential rocker, ambitious, dedicated to the sound, shaggy and into drugs. The author throws Camila into his life and she changes the story’s trajectory. Camila is Billy’s serious girlfriend pre-breakout and he marries her once he signs a record contract. Billy is not a family man, he is a man who marries a family woman.

Camila is not a hero. She is a fighter. She is a settler. Camila loves her children more than herself and more than her husband. When he cheats on her and reveals his drug addiction, she refuses to leave him or let him leave her. Again, this is not heroic, but I respected Camila’s tenacity and her continued faith in Billy. Far more women are right to leave their spouses who act in this way, especially when children are involved.

“I think you have to have faith in people before they earn it. Otherwise it’s not faith, right?” Camila says of her commitment to Billy and that defines her place in this story.

Daisy Jones

This is not a book solely about the relationship between Billy and Camila or his addiction and struggle to remain clean.

Daisy Jones is a headstrong, overly talented, under ambitious teen when we meet her. Gorgeous and born into privilege, Daisy has never had to work hard for things she wanted, except her parents’ genuine attention and affection. She is invisible to them unless they need a prop to get ahead professionally. Daisy benefits from a series of opportunities that leads her to meet The Six, including lead singer Billy Dunne.

Daisy, addicted to drugs from a young age, shares the same addiction problems as Billy. This is one of the things they bond over, eventually.

Billy and Daisy’s relationship is complicated. There is attraction, chemistry, in the beginning. Billy’s resistance to their chemistry makes him angry. He keeps his distance as long as possible, knowing inevitably they would end up in a position where that sexual attraction would overpower their professional relationship.

It does and we get a heartbreakingly close yet so far kiss scene when Billy and Daisy finally come together to write the album for a collaboration arranged by their record label. The narrator touts the album as one that would change rock and roll forever.

The Six

The rest of The Six are not satellite characters. They are integral to the story, the band’s success, and the band’s ultimate downfall.

Graham Dunne is Billy’s devout younger brother and band co-founder. He falls head over heels for the band’s keyboardist.

Karen, the keyboardist, remains steadfastly independent throughout the story.

Eddie and Pete are brothers. Eddie is a guitarist, constantly feeling he is competing with Billy Dunne but never admitting there is no competition. Pete is the drummer with no real devotion to the band and a girlfriend back home he stays faithful too.

Warren is the band’s carefree comedic relief, there for the music and the drugs and never taking himself seriously.

The Rise

The Six sign to a record label and release an album prior to teaming up with Daisy Jones. They experience success, largely thanks to Billy’s on-stage charisma and devotion to songwriting.

Teddy, The Six’s manager and Billy’s mentor/father figure, hooks them up with Daisy Jones who released a smaller album of covers prior. Even he could not have foreseen the meteoric rise of The Six with Billy and Daisy’s chemistry.

Billy and Daisy record a single for The Six’s second album and tour with Daisy as their opening act. The tour is a particular struggle for Billy, freshly clean and Camila is pregnant with twins and with a toddler in tow.

Daisy staunchly continues on her path to destruction, drugged out and dating a shady agent who keeps her too doped up to realize she is unhappy with him. But Billy and Daisy on stage when they sing their single is magic.

Those moments where they are together singing cements Daisy’s involvement in the next album and the band’s new name, Daisy Jones & The Six.

The Fall

Despite fame, expanded tour dates, rocketing album sales, and merchandise, Billy and Daisy’s raw attraction causes discord off-stage. They come close to an affair while writing The Six’s third album but Billy pulls away. Daisy realizes she can’t have Billy and Billy realizes he wishes he could have Daisy.

He goes home to his wife and children and the love triangle collapses.

Throughout the relationship drama, the band members feel auxiliary to the band’s success. Billy blows Graham off when he approaches him with an emergency. Graham reevaluates his relationship with his brother and his commitment to the band. Pete confides in Eddie that he is leaving after the third album’s tour to marry his girlfriend and settle down.

Daisy’s drug addiction is the final nail in the coffin for Daisy Jones & The Six. Daisy must look at herself honestly after eloping with an Italian prince she barely knows.

Camila disillusions Daisy of any final hope she may have had of Billy returning her affections.

The album goes platinum and the band breaks up.

Final Thoughts

This was the first genuinely enjoyable book I have read in awhile. A book that is just fun AND good. It wasn’t life-changing. The insights weren’t original necessarily, and the characters won’t be enshrined somewhere for all time. Daisy Jones & The Six is a quick read and enjoyable. Sometimes, that’s all we need from fiction.

My Rating

4/5 Stars

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Camp NaNo Update: Day 2

Gospel of Eve (WIP): Quote of the Day

Adam looked back at me with raised eyebrows. “God placed it here,” he said. “But why?” I pressed. “Why would He place something in the Garden that could hurt us?” Adam did not respond. He seemed unable to, though his jaw moved as if he was considering what he might say. Too late, he shook his head.