The World That We Knew: Book Review

worldthatweknew_hoffman
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

Read 2019: A Year in Books

For 2019 I set my Goodreads goal at 30 books and just barely hit it. Whew, it’s been a year. A high-risk pregnancy, car accident, new baby, and series of bad luck at work have me looking forward to 2020. I need a new start of sorts, a fresh take, and a new year is prime for that kind of perspective. I am not big on New Year’s resolutions but I will take the opportunity to turn the page and start fresh.

Here are the books I read for 2019 and some thoughts on my favorites, least favorites, and trends.

1. The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke by Andrew Lawler (4/5 Stars)

2. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (3/5 Stars)

3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (4/5 Stars)

4. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel (2/5 Stars)

5. The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory (3/5 Stars)

6. The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell (5/5 Stars)

7. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (4/5 Stars)

8. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (5/5 Stars) (Reread)

9. The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco (3/5 Stars)

10. Hunter by Mercedes Lackey (3/5 Stars)

11. Elite by Mercedes Lackey (3/5 Stars)

12. The Mueller Report by Robert S. Mueller III (5/5 Stars)

13. Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer (3/5 Stars)

14. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (3/5 Stars)

15. The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht (4/5 Stars)

16. Wrede on Writing: Tips, Hints, and Opinions on Writing by Patricia C. Wrede (4/5 Stars)

17. The Library Book by Susan Orlean (4/5 Stars)

18. Apex by Mercedes Lackey (3/5 Stars)

19. The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith (4/5 Stars)

20. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero (2/5 Stars)

21. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (5/5 Stars)

22. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (4/5 Stars)

23. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (5/5 Stars)

24. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (5/5 Stars)

25. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (3/5 Stars)

26. The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (4/5 Stars)

27. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake (3/5 Stars)

28. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson (5/5 Stars)

29. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (4/5 Stars)

30. Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules by Steven James (4/5 Stars)

Top Five Favorite Reads

1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

2. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

3. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

4. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

5. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Least Favorites

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

My 2019 Reading Trends

I learned a few things about myself from my reading habits this year.

First, as I get older I find myself increasingly drawn to literary fiction.

Second, I am very disillusioned by self-help books that refuse to acknowledge systemic inequalities and assume all readers have the same privileges. I get that they are (most likely) writing to an audience of upper middle class white women in suburban regions but to not address any unfairness seems completely blind and very not 2019.

Finally, I have not read a YA novel this year that made me feel much of anything. My selection of authors might very well be the cause here. I didn’t try any really exciting authors who offer a new voice. That is something I plan to remedy in 2020. YA is one of my favorite genres and I can’t imagine not reading it. I know it’s a viable genre, I just need to find the good in the tide of mediocre.

Overall, with the year I’ve had, I’m happy with my reading accomplishments. More good reads than bad ones including falling in love with a new author, Min Jin Lee, whose entire body of work will definitely be making its home on my book shelves soon.

Here’s to only 4 star and up books in 2020!

What were your favorite (or least favorite) books you read this year?

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

The Witches Are Coming: Book Review

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West

This collection of essays by New York Times columnist and Shrill author (also a Hulu original starring SNL star Aidy Bryant), Lindy West discusses several topics ranging from abortion to Adam Sandler (is he funny?).

At its heart, The Witches Are Coming is a heartfelt plea and reassurance that the world is not going to Hell, there is good in it and we have more power than we know.

The title plays off the political rhetoric of the 45th U.S. President’s Witch hunt tirades, which seemingly invoke the persecution of women by religious tyrants through history but specifically during the Salem Witch Trials. West leans into this paranoia and assures Trump, if you want a witch hunt, by God, you’ve got one.

West reclaims witch as a term of female empowerment and wields it as deftly as Dumbledore, or Hermoine perhaps. She calls out our societal hypocrisy, systemic racism and sexism, the cultural shift holding household names accountable to a new generation, one who hopefully doesn’t have to politely ignore sexual harassment because “it’s just the way things are.”

West does all this with wit and humor unrivaled in political commentary I have yet experienced.

I am not going to recommend this book to everybody, because it’s not for everybody, though the message has National, even global, implications. With all political commentary I am sure this book will piss off at least half the people who pick it up. But West is genuine in her beliefs, honest in her own biases, and graceful in understanding, yes, generations understand the world differently but we still must have progress even if it makes certain groups uncomfortable.

Filled with laugh out loud moments, The Witches Are Coming is the perfect way to end the cataclysm that was 2019 on a slightly more hopeful note.

4/5 Stars

Why You Should Be Using Your Public Library’s eBook/Audiobook Collections (And A Note On The Threat to eBook Lending)

EBooks. Love them or hate them they are here to stay.

As a librarian I have an innate love for print, print books, magazines, newspapers, journals. It makes me sad that a lot of that media is being forced towards a digital only platform. Books, however, seem to be enjoying a resurgence in the popularity of their print form. There is something in the kinesthetic experience of holding a print item, reading the words on a piece of paper and flipping through pages. I’m sure my love of print is also connected to my hoarder tendencies (imagine a dragon jealously guarding his hoard of gold, stroking the shiny jewels and coins and that is me with my back issues of Writer’s Digest and National Geographic, my books, and newspapers I think have “historic value”).

Ebooks and audiobooks were not created to replace print. There are many aspects of digital content that are innocent of the nefarious agenda of replacing print. Many people find ebooks and audiobooks an accessible alternative to print, those with visual disabilities in particular but there are others with physical limitations who find digital content more convenient.

As a breastfeeding mother I have discovered trying to balance a print item much more difficult than holding my phone for the hours a day I find myself trapped beneath a sleeping or nursing baby. As a millennial I also find I am much more likely to remember to grab my phone above anything else when taking the kids outside, to the park, to a play place, or doctors office.

Since downloading Overdrive and utilizing my public library’s subscription I have read/listened to 11 books this year. That is a lot considering I also had a baby this year AND had to deal with a lot of scary appointments involving my new baby.

I work full time and have a long commute so the audiobooks have been a godsend. The radio’s Top 40 gets old real quick and while I enjoy my Apple Music subscription I also find this time valuable for catching up on stories via the audiobooks. I listened to the entire Outlander series via audiobooks in the last two years (purchased through Audible). Audiobooks and ebooks are viable alternatives for when print books are genuinely inconvenient. For those working, commuting, and parenting they seem to be a particular boon and I am grateful for the access.

Ebook lending in particular for libraries has been threatened by a controversial policy change from Macmillan Publishing which expands the embargo period on new title releases. An embargo is jargon for a period of time in which there is limited or no access to a title, also common in academic journals available through college databases. Essentially the policy change means that libraries will only be able to purchase one (1) perpetual access ebook in the first eight weeks after a title’s release. One.

Let me say that again.

One.

For large library systems, super popular titles, low income and those with disabilities this is not good news. Ever used a library service to check out an ebook or audiobook and got put on a waitlist (#6 out of 14 holds on 3 copies, etc.)? This would make that waitlist a heck of a lot longer, all but guaranteeing you won’t get to read that new release for several months unless you get frustrated enough to buy it (which is the goal).

This is misguided for a few reasons. One: library acquisitions count for a healthy number of book sales. Alienate libraries and your authors may find themselves choosing over publishing houses. Two: library lending has been known to increase books sales by satisfied patrons on subsequent titles from authors they have enjoyed via check outs. Library lending of ebooks allows patrons to discover new authors which will lead to purchasing future books by favored authors.

This shift in policy is not exactly a lone duck attack on Libraries’ ebook lending. Penguin Random House and Hachette have also changed policy on library licensing of new ebooks, eliminating perpetual access, limiting acquisition licensing to two years (expanding from one year to two years access in Penguin’s case but still eliminating perpetual access licensing which is a collections nightmare). What these publishers fail to realize is that many users of libraries do not have the disposable income to invest in new books if they are unfamiliar with the author. They most likely will just go without. Low income individuals, heck in the current economy even middle income individuals are not going to willy nilly spend money on books they aren’t invested in. Libraries provide the platform for readers to invest in authors, in series, in publishers.

In a statement from the American Library Association’s President, Wanda Brown explains, “Macmillan Publishers’ new model for library ebook lending will make it difficult for libraries to fulfill our central mission: ensuring access to information for all…Limiting access to new titles for libraries means limiting access for patrons most dependent on libraries.”

The ALA encourages library patrons to contact Macmillan Publishing with their concerns.

Echo North: Book Review

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer.

A Good Faith Effort for Echo North

Echo North looked like an appealing retelling of the Norse tale and one of my favorite fairy tales, East of the Sun, West of the Moon. I quickly added it to my Amazon cart, anticipating a quick, enjoyable read during my maternity leave. The book did not disappoint on being a quick read.

The retelling was done fairly well, just enough originality threaded in to keep it from feeling like every other retelling. It is no East by Edith Pattou but the author made a good effort as an homage. There were some great elements to this story, but the author fell short of fully realizing her story’s potential. Some characters were memorable, but the important ones often felt flat and gray.

[Spoilers Below]

Fairy Tale Retelling

Echo North reimagines the fairy tale, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, with influences from Beauty and the Beast and Tam Lin. I love a good fairy tale retelling, I’m a huge Robin McKinley fan. In some important ways, Echo North was respectful of the genre of YA retellings. However, the YA fairy tale retellings market peaked several years ago and the burden fell on the author to justify this book’s existence so far past the height of the genre’s relevance. While the book was moderately enjoyable, it was also disappointing.

Echo North Highs

What made the book stand out the most was what felt like an underdeveloped plot twist the author just realized at the end of writing the book (and didn’t bother returning to the beginning and middle to fully capitalize on). Although there is something to be said of subtly and surprise twists, this was so out of the blue it was nearly laughable. As such, the dual timelines could have made the book so special had the author taken more time to develop it.

Another high was the main character’s appearance. I like how her angst about her appearance, and the superstition her appearance ignited in those around her, drove the story.

Echo North Lows

Hal, the love interest, is probably the dullest romantic character I’ve ever read. I felt no chemistry between him and Echo and wasn’t necessarily rooting for his rescue by the end of the novel. So Echo could have saved herself 10 years and gone straight home for all the affection they showed each other. There were no heart pounding moments and no knuckle biting romantic scenes that justified Echo’s feelings or actions towards Hal.

Mokosh is perhaps the most underserved character the author introduced. She was interesting, mysterious with a depth I envied for the love interest. Unfortunately the author let this beautiful character’s story fizzle out with no real resolution.

My Rating

3/5 Stars

More Book Reviews

Daisy Jones & The Six

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance

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

More Book Reviews

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance