A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini, 2007)

A_Thousand_Splendid_Suns

Why did you choose this book?

This was the group read for our LEI Around the World in 80 Books class.  I was not excited about reading it but my opinion changed considerably by the time I was finished.

What’s it about?

This is the story of two women growing up and living in Afghanistan.  Mariam is the illegitimate child of a middle-class theater owner, who built her mother a shack in the woods.  After a tragedy, her father arranges her marriage to a cobbler named Rasheed.  Mariam is barren and Rasheed mistreats her horribly.  After a tragic bomb blast, Laila has been orphaned and Miriam nurses her back to health.  Rasheed takes her as a wife as well.  I won’t say more here at the risk of spoiling the story for you.

Categories

Historical fiction, Middle Eastern

Other recommended reads?

The only other fiction works I can think of are Hosseini’s other books.  For nonfiction, you might try The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg.

Review

The only words I can use to adequately describe this book: heartbreaking and important.  Every time I thought Mariam and Laila could take no more hardship, something else would happen to them.  Mariam was always my favorite and I just wished she could find some happiness in her life.  I guess in the end, she did.

Up next?

The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

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Some Luck (Jane Smiley, 2014)

some luck

Why did you choose this book?

This was the April pick for our library fiction book discussion.  Since we’ve already had the discussion at this point, I can say it was the best I’ve led to date!  So much to say and none of us wanted to leave.

What’s it about?

This is the first volume in a trilogy, with each chapter of the book covering one year.  The entire trilogy will cover 1920-2020 but this installment covered 1920-1953.  The book is character-driven and follows the lives of the members of the Langdon family.  Over the 33 years covered in this book, you see the children grow up, have relationships and children of their own, and make their own marks on the world.

Categories

Historical fiction, family saga

Other recommended reads?

Any family saga.  McCullough’s The Thorn Birds comes to mind.

Review

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about chapters going year by year, but it was the perfect metric to tell the story and did not feel forced at all.  Within the chapters were multiple points of view, so if you didn’t care for one character, it was easy to escape to the perspective of another.  The story took place at the same time my grandparents were growing up on farms and many parts of the story paralleled their experience, so that was a neat connection.  It was a dense read, however, so while I’m excited to finish the trilogy, I’m going to wait a while before diving into the next volume.

Up next?

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver, 2005)

poisonwood bible

Why did you choose this book?

Every spring, the library hosts an LEI (Learning Enrichment Institute) class for people over age 50.  Our theme this year was Around the World in 80 Books.  So each librarian or manager was assigned a continent and I received Africa.  I am sad to say I didn’t read every book on my list, but I did attempt a few and finished two.  This is one of those two, because although it took me forever, it’s a classic and I had to finish it.

What’s it about?

In short, a family arriving in the Congo as missionaries.

More in-depth: Nathan Price and his family of daughters arrive in a tiny village to serve as missionaries.  Nathan is a bit of a bully.  His wife, Orleanna, is just along for the ride.  Rachel is the prissy oldest daughter who believes herself the center of the world.  Leah is a twin, a tomboy, and desperate to win her father’s praise.  Adah is a twin and doesn’t speak due to a disability.  Ruth May is the littlest and a typical and precocious youngster.  The novel follows these women throughout their lives and into adulthood.

Categories

Historical fiction

Other recommended reads?

I’m struggling with this one a little because it doesn’t really remind me of anything else I’ve read.  I want to say The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, but not having read it, I could be totally off-base.

Review

It took me about 350 pages to really become invested in this book, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down.  Of all the books I talked about in our LEI class, this one felt the most immersive to me.  Kingsolver describes the landscape and the characters living in the town, rather than just maintaining inner monologues of her central family of characters.  It was also nice to get the outsider perspective – the members of the family were also outsiders to Africa.  Most of the other books were written from the point of view of people who grew up in Africa, so the sights and sounds were normal to them.  I completely understand why it’s a modern classic, and I appreciate the historical upheavals incorporated into the narrative, but I don’t think I’ll be rereading this novel.

Up next?

A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie

Epitaph (Mary Doria Russell, 2015)

epitaph

Why did you choose this book?

It was the next fiction book discussion pick at our library!

What’s it about?

It is the story of Wyatt Earp and the events that led up to the gunfight at the OK Corral.  Other major players in the novel include Virgil and Morgan Earp, Doc Holliday, Johnny Behan, and Josie Marcus.

Categories

Western, historical fiction

Other recommended reads?

I’m not sure there are too many other modern Westerns of this sort.  Russell has also written a book about Holliday, simply called Doc.

Review

This was a solid and engrossing historical fiction novel.  I didn’t know much about the OK Corral, so this was interesting on many levels.  It was a long novel at nearly 600 pages, and it took me a very long time to read because it was very very dense.  In fact, it was so incredibly well-researched that it almost read like narrative nonfiction.  I appreciated that level of research, but wish the author had included a note describing which sections were fictional and which were not.  I also think the novel would have been better had it ended with Earp’s vendetta ride, but several of the book group members liked the fact that it ended with Josie’s death decades later.  My favorite character was Doc Holliday – he was much more complex than many books and movies make us believe.

Up next?

Works Well with Others by Ross McCammon

Salt to the Sea (Ruta Sepetys, 2016)

salt to the sea

Why did you choose this book?

It was on my TBR list to begin with, but my officemate read it and RAVED about it.  He said he couldn’t put it down, he cried five times, and it was amazing in so many ways.  With a recommendation like that, and an ARC in my hand, how could I not read it?

What’s it about?

This story is told in 4 points of view.  Joana is a nurse fleeing Germany, Florian is on the run from Nazi officials, Emilia is a young pregnant Pole, and Alfred is a Nazi sailor.  All four end up evacuating Germany on the Wilhelm Gustloff, a cruise ship loaded with 10,000 refugees and soldiers.  The ship was torpedoed and sunk, with around 9,400 passengers perishing.  It remains the largest maritime loss of life in history.

Categories

Teen, disaster reads, mulitple POVs

Other recommended reads?

It depends why you’re reading this book.  If you like World War II fiction, try Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale.  If you like reading about maritime disasters like Titanic, try Erik Larson’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.  Both were among the best books I read last year, with Dead Wake being the absolute best nonfiction I picked up.

Review

I wanted to love everything about this book like my officemate did.  I thought Joana and Florian were too perfectly heroic and Emilia and Alfred were too flawed and annoying.  I loved learning more about the disaster but I wanted more information.  My coworkers bemoaned the loss of a good premise on a teen book.  I don’t agree with that – I think teen books can be just as amazing as their adult counterparts, but I do wish the author had treated it with more detail, respect, and research.  It is a great premise that just needed a bit more oomph, for lack of a better word.  I wanted to cry but couldn’t summon a single tear.  It fits into the category of good reads, but not great.  But can we talk about that cover art???? Gorgeous!

Up next?

Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard

The Forgotten Room (Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig, 2016)

the forgotten room

Why did you choose this book?

I thought the premise sounded intriguing, very similar to one of my favorite authors, Kate Morton.

What’s it about?

The chapters rotate between three characters.  First is Kate, a doctor in 1940s New York, working in a hospital that used to be a mansion.  Second is Olive, the daughter of an architect now working as a maid in 1890s New York.  Third is Lucy, working as a secretary in a law firm and boarding in an old mansion in 1920s New York.  The three are grandmother, mother, and daughter and are all connected to the same imposing edifice.

Categories

Historical fiction, mystery

Other recommended reads?

Kate Morton’s The Secret KeeperThe House at Riverton, or The Forgotten Garden.  But The Secret Keeper has the World War II tie-in.

Review

I loved the rotation between the characters and the level of mystery in this novel.  It took me quite a while to put all of the pieces together.  For example, which man each woman married, which man was the father of each daughter, the connections of each woman to the house, and how much of the backstory each of them knew.  It was quite the tale!  As much as I loved that, I didn’t care for any of the female protagonists that much.  My favorite character was one of their love interests, Harry, and while he played a supporting role, he stole the show!

Up next?

The Glass Sentence by SE Grove

A Curious Beginning (Deanna Raybourn, 2015)

curious beginning

Why did you choose this book?

A historical mystery with a spunky female protagonist!

What’s it about?

Veronica Speedwell is a professional butterfly-hunter interested in all areas of natural history.  She is also an orphan, taken in by a pair of elderly sisters.  After the second sister’s funeral, she returns home to find a burglar.  He threatens her but she is rescued by a German baron, who whisks her away to London, promises to tell her about her family, and deposits her in the warehouse home of a tattooed taxidermist named Stoker.  When the baron is murdered, the two are on the run before either is arrested in connection with the crime.

Categories

Historical mystery, set in London, late 1800s

Other recommended reads?

This is the best historical mystery I’ve read in a while.  Another series set in historic London is the Lucy Campion series by Susanna Calkins, though that series is set much earlier.  If it’s the writing style you like, try Wendy Sand Eckel’s Murder at Barclay Meadow.

Review

I loved this book!  Veronica is a feisty heroine who never takes no for an answer and isn’t afraid to get her Victorian hands dirty.  Stoker is the gruff but intelligent male counterpart along for her adventures.  I love the hint of romantic tension between the pair without being smacked in the face by romance.  I really enjoyed the author’s writing style.  The language was stilted enough to keep the reader in the 1800s, but it was witty and made me chuckle.  It was also easy enough to understand that I didn’t have to think about it, like I do with older authors like Agatha Christie.  I enjoyed this one enough that I will be going back and reading her other series – Lady Julia Gray.  Have you read those?  I don’t know anything about them – so please share your thoughts but no spoilers!

Up next?

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell