Graceling – Kristin Cashore

Review (Amazon): Kristin Cashore’s best-selling, award-winning fantasy Graceling tells the story of the vulnerable yet strong Katsa, a smart, beautiful teenager who lives in a world where selected people are given a Grace, a special talent that can be anything from dancing to swimming. Katsa’s is killing. As the king’s niece, she is forced to use her extreme skills as his thug. Along the way, Katsa must learn to decipher the true nature of her Grace . . . and how to put it to good use. A thrilling, action-packed fantasy adventure (and steamy romance!) that will resonate deeply with adolescents trying to find their way in the world.

My Review (SpOiLeRs!!!):

Executive Summary: a fun escape

The book is set in the Seven Kingdoms which were originally ruled by the same family, but now many generations later, each has a different ruler–some good and some bad. In this land, certain children are born with two different colored eyes and a special skill of some sort. These children are called Gracelings and their skill is called their Grace. The main character Katsa is a Graceling who is from the Middluns and her Grace is killing.


As it is the protocol in most of the kingdoms, Gracelings are given to the ruler once their Grace appears and the ruler can determine whether the Grace is of use. (If your Grace is holding your breath underwater for a long time, it might not be. If that’s the case, you’re sent home to your parents.) Katsa’s mother was the sister of the Middluns king so either way, she ended up as the king’s ward at a young age when her parents died. Once her Grace appeared at age 8 as she accidentally killed her distant cousin, a creep who liked little girls and tried to touch her, the king put her to work.

It was a lonely childhood as most view the Graced as people to avoid–a sort of curse. Especially in Katsa’s case. Her only friend was the King’s son Raffin, her cousin. Eventually she also gained the confidence of Captain Oll who helped her train as well as a woman named Helda who was the nurse of the royal nurseries, but who had a son who was a Graceling who she had left behind so she took a particular fondness to Katsa.

As Katsa grew older, she trained in all fighting skills and did King Randa’s dirty work. She continued to get more and more disenchanted with it. She, Raffin, and a few others decide to start using their skills for good and assemble a council.

The book begins with a mission. Katsa, Captain Oll and Giddon (one of Randa’s right hand men) were in the dungeons of Sunder to rescue the father of the King of Leinid (Prince Tealiff) who had been kidnapped. During the process while Katsa knocks the guards unconscious and gives them some sleeping medicine developed by Raffin, she encounters another Graceling, a Lienid, who she wasn’t expecting. She doesn’t want to kill anyone but she also doesn’t want her plan foiled. She debates what to do with him and eventually leaves him unconscious like the others. They rescue the Prince and take him back to Middluns to hide him and figure out who kidnapped him and why.

They immediately thought of the kings of Wester, Nander, and Estill as they were typically the most troublesome. King Randa for the most part minded his own business so he wasn’t likely to blame. King Ror of Leinid was the least troublesome and well-liked by his people. Even King Murgon of Sunder where the Prince was found was typically only doing someone else’s bidding, not plotting something on his own. The only other kingdom was Monsea who was ruled by King Leck whose wife was a Leinid and also the daughter of Prince Tealiff. Monsea was separated geographically but the general view was that King Leck was well liked and kind to children and animals. However, the word was also out that the queen had locked herself in her room after hearing of her father’s disappearance.

After returning to the kingdom after some time away, it turns out that Prince Tealiff hasn’t spoken. She asks Raffin if he had ever heard of a Graceling Leinid and Raffin mentions that he’s the son of King Ror and is in the Middluns castle at the moment as he is searching for his kidnapped grandfather. On the way to her rooms to dress for dinner, she sees him a floor above and feels his gaze on her.

At dinner, she is seated next to Giddon and next to the next potential suitor, Lord Davit, that King Randa has arranged, except this one has come to inquire about the Council. Katsa overhears the King telling a story about her and gets enraged and leaves the dinner to go for a walk. The Leinid Prince, Po,  finds her at the archery range. He explains that he is no good at fighting with weapons but is graced with hand to hand combat. He’s looking for his grandpa and he fights Katsa, an even fight, to get some answers, and he is invited to that evening’s Council meeting.

Po remains in Middluns until they decide what to do, practicing fighting with Katsa which continues to make Lord Giddon upset.  Katsa and Po get to know each other out of the ring too as Katsa has never really met any other Gracelings. She learns that he has six older brothers, his own castle, and has never felt weird about his Grace. In the meantime, Lord Randa sends Katsa to do his bidding. When she arrives, she makes the decision to not follow orders because she knows the King can’t actually harm her. She also refuses Giddon’s proposal for marriage but something he says gives her cause for concern–it’s an exact phrase that Po has said to her. When she returns to Middluns, she confronts Po that his Grace is not what he has said–he is in fact a mind reader. Katsa is furious, but Po eventually convinces her that he has to keep it a secret so that he can lead a relatively normal life. He tells her that he is leaving the following day and asks her to come with him.

Before she can answer, she gets called in to see the King for her disobedience. The king has lined up all his best soldiers to confront her, 10x more than the usual amount. Instead of unleashing her fury, she listens to Po’s voice in her head and tells the King how she could defeat all the soldiers and still get to him and then tells the King that she will no longer be his pawn and is leaving the following day with Po.

As she and Po travel, she becomes more accepting of his Grace and they figure out a way to make it work. He openly shares with her and she practices on guarding the thoughts that she doesn’t want him to outright know and also how to communicate with him without speaking. He boosts her confidence, first by suggesting that she keep in mind that she started the Council so therefore is not completely evil and only good for doing the King’s bidding and then leading to her revelation that in fact, her Grace is not actually fighting–it’s survival.

Po also tells her the tale of the King of Monsea. The previous King and Queen of Monsea yearned for a child but never could have one. One day, a young boy arrived, wearing an eye patch, and charms the King, Queen and the rest of Monsea. The King and Queen take him in, feeling pity for this poor boy who has no home and has lost an eye. So a few years later, when the King and Queen still do not have an heir, they name him the heir. Only a few days later, the King, Queen and their closest advisers had all died.

They collect information along the way which leads them into changing their plans to head to Monsea instead to talk to King Leck. And then they realize that his eye patch might mean that he’s actually Graced and has used the patch to hide it. They suspect that King Leck’s Grace is distributing misinformation. So they head that way and assume that Po’s Grace will protect them. As they travel, both Katsa and Po hone their Grace. Po begins to be able to sense things around him, even inanimate things that could not be thinking of him. Katsa and Po also begin to think about each other. Katsa does not want to get married or have children, and Po is OK with that.

When they arrive in Monsea, they stumble across a scene–a woman is running from an army of men, led by a man with an eye patch. The woman is shot in the back trying to escape. Po tells Katsa to kill King Leck, but he sees them and goes on about what a terrible accident the whole thing was so Katsa doubts what she has just seen and puts down her bow. Po and Katsa run into the woods although Katsa’s thoughts are blurry and disoriented and she doesn’t understand what is going on. It takes a while for her to realize that she was fooled by Leck’s Grace. He shot his own wife in front of Katsa and he was still able to convince her that it was an accident.

They hide out in the woods until they believe that it is safe (that King Leck’s men aren’t looking for them) and they go off in search of Bitterblue, the King’s daughter who took off and is hiding. Luckily Bitterblue’s mom thought about where Bitterblue was hiding as she died so Po has a good idea of where it is.

Once they find Bitterblue, she reinforces that her father needs to be killed. He tortures children and animals. And her mother locked the two of them up so that her father couldn’t get to Bitterblue. King Leck stole Prince Tealiff to try to blackmail Bitterblue’s mother into changing her mind. Po is to set out early to find King Leck and kill him. However, he returns very injured and King Leck is very much still alive. Po remains in hiding because he will slow them down due to his injuries. Po gives Katsa his ring so that his parents will trust her, and Katsa and Bitterblue set off to Leinid. They take an impossible pass since Leck and his minions will be watching for them at the obvious ones.

The journey is incredibly difficult but Katsa’s Grace protects them. Eventually they arrive at Po’s castle and his whole family is there…with King Leck. King Leck has the entire family in a trance. Luckily Bitterblue has fought against him long enough to be able to combat his trickery some. King Leck wants to talk about Po–where he is and how he is doing. When he begins to suggest that Po’s Grace is more than just fighting, Po’s mom and Katsa become agitated and Katsa kills Leck with a dagger to the throat.

It takes quite a while for the effects of Leck’s spell to stop but eventually Po’s family realize that they had been tricked. They set off the next morning to take Bitterblue back to Monsea where she will be the new queen. They make their way back to find Po. He has healed some but Katsa finds him depressed and not the fun loving person she left. Eventually, she realizes that he is blind–blinded during his fall into the river after his attack with Leck’s men. His Grace keeps the others from realizing what has happened. Katsa begins training him as well as Bitterblue so that Po can get back to full health and Bitterblue can learn to protect herself. She decides to take her skills on tour–starting in Monsea where she continues to teach Bitterblue along with other girls how to fight. The book ends with her planning to meet Po back in Leinid in the fall.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

This book was a fun, easy read. It had a lot of resemblance to Hunger Games but it didn’t feel quite so dark. I did enjoy that while it was still a YA, it wasn’t the traditional “I’m just waiting for that man to come along and suddenly I’ll be smitten and get married and have babies!!!” On the other hand, I wished that we got to see a bit more depth out of Katsa throughout the book. Maybe in the next one.

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How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

Review (Amazon): For more than sixty years the rock-solid, time-tested advice in this book has carried thousands of now famous people up the ladder of success in their business and personal lives.

Now this previously revised and updated bestseller is available in trade paperback for the first time to help you achieve your maximum potential throughout the next century! Learn:

* Three fundamental techniques in handling people

* The six ways to make people like you

* The twelve ways to win people to you way of thinking

* The nine ways to change people without arousing resentment

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: useful

One of my work development goals for 2016 was to read this book. Every other week, my manager and I discussed the couple chapters that we had read. So it took me a year to read but it was definitely worth reading.

The book is divided into four parts:

Part One – Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

Part Two – Six Ways to Make People Like You

Part Three – How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking

Part Four – Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

It’s a short book and the chapters are short with typically a few real world (albeit sometimes 1930s real world) examples. I don’t think there was anything earth shattering in the book, but it’s often the simplest of things that make the most difference, for instance the book begins giving an example about how Al Capone thought he was a public benefactor, using the example to show that everyone regards themselves well and criticizing them (showing them they aren’t as great as they think) isn’t going to make an iota of difference to them. It’s just going to piss them off. And really this is the underlying principle. Remember people’s names. Listen to their conversation (people love to talk about themselves). Give praise. All pretty obvious and straightforward things, but still things that people need to work on. (I’m rotten with names, and I always mean to make an effort at them but I always forget right in the moment that I’m supposed to be making a better effort.)

I would say that the book is one that you should read multiple times but not just read. Really work to test out some of the techniques in your daily interactions. (My boss used a lot of the techniques on his toddler with quite good results according to him.) The book could perhaps more aptly and modernly be named “How to get shit done while still being nice.”

Verdict: 4 stars

There’s a reason this book is still in print nearly a hundred years later. It’s easy to read, simple to comprehend and is full of valuable techniques. I wouldn’t say that it changed my life but it definitely makes me more mindful of my communication to others.

 

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Those Who Save Us – Jenna Blum

Review (Amazon): For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy’s sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald.

Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother’s life.

Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama, Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.

My Review (spoilers!):

Executive Summary: decent

I’ve expressed my general apathy toward WW2 (German-focused) books on here before. Yet somehow I keep reading them (because I foolishly take recommendations of them from people who love them). This one really is not bad, however it was my 3rd WW2 for 2016 (technically I finished it in ’17 but it was started in ’16 so I’m counting it). It wasn’t as great as The Nightingale, but it wasn’t as rotten as The Book Thief, so I guess that makes it solidly decent.

The book follows two intertwined stories–One of Anna and eventually her daughter Trudy in 1940s Germany, and another story in the present (late 1990s) of the mother and daughter in Minnesota. Despite that literary device being a bit overused in my opinion, the author did a good job with it and was able to freshen it up a bit with the modern story.

Trudy is a professor of German history. When her colleague and only friend tells Trudy about her upcoming project to interview Jews who lived through WW2, Trudy has a revelation that she wants to do the same with German nationals. She wants first person stories about how people who lived through such atrocities could turn a blind eye to what was going on around them. She also secretly has a desire to learn about her own past since her mother has closed off everything about that time.

Anna grew up in Weimar in Germany (not the town in Texas that has really good fried chicken). Her mother died and she took over the job of taking care of her father who early became a Nazi. He was a social climber and wanted to find Anna a good pure husband. Unbeknownst to him, she had other plans. Anna falls for the town doctor, a Jew, and eventually hides him in their home. Anna’s father is away much of the time and she visits Max in the secret closet. Her father inevitably finds out and turns Max into the Gestapo. Anna at this point is pregnant and retreats to a sympathetic Mathilde, the town baker.

Mathilde keeps her hidden until Trudy is born and begins teaching her the craft–not just baking, but also smuggling food to prisoners at the nearby work yard where she collects and returns with their messages.  Mathilde keeps this up until she is eventually killed, presumably caught in the act, and Anna takes over. However, this is not to last either. A German officer, the Oberstrumfuhrer, takes interest in her. Anna makes the decision to encourage these advances to both protect her daughter and also feed them. She keeps up work at the bakery until there is no more ingredients left from which to make bread (although she is only feeding the Nazi soldiers at this point and is not taking any to the prisoners). The Oberstrumfuhrer is a man of some depth. While he is a horrible man in many ways, he does seem to generally like Anna and Trudy, bringing them chocolates and taking them on trips. Anna struggles with her decisions daily, but she doesn’t see another option. When finally the American arrival is inevitable, the Oberstrumfuhrer leaves and heads for Argentina, leaving Anna and Trudy in Weimar.

The Americans arrive, and one drunken soldier breaks into the bakery and tries to rape Anna. He is stopped by a superior officer, a Jack Schlemmer. He and Anna marry and they move to Minnesota with Trudy. Anna never really fits in with the locals in the small town, and she has so much emotional baggage from her time in Germany that she and Jack have a very broken relationship until he dies and Anna is put into a home which she is eventually kicked out of when she comes to live with Trudy.

Trudy continues doing interviews. In one, she is bamboozled by a Jew who has called her for an interview only to berate her entire project denouncing all Germans for what they have done. However, Trudy is drawn to this man and feels a connection to him. She tells him that she is the daughter of an Oberstrumfuhrer as she has seen the picture of him, Anna and her in her mother’s cigarette case. He tells her that his brother was shot in the head point blank by a Nazi soldier just to make a point. They date for a while, Trudy falling in love with him, but it is not to work. Her mother secretly watches the interviews and Trudy has caught her watching the one of Rainer, but her mother will not agree to be interviewed and spills no information.

Another interviewee who reaches out to Trudy is a man named Felix who grew up just outside Weimar. Trudy acknowledges her birthplace and begins to listen more intently to his tale. He tells of how he was a bit of a scumbag–out to make money on the war. He bought people’s valuables in exchange for papers and ways out of Germany. Eventually he was caught and imprisoned. He tells Trudy about the bakery angels who would leave presents in the hollow tree and take their messages. He tells Trudy about a man named Max who was also in the camp and had a secret daughter with one of the bakery angels. At this point, Trudy, in shock, asks her camera man to stop the tape and asks Felix if he will come meet her mother. He agrees and while they are waiting for the camera man to pack up, Trudy asks what became of Max. Felix responds that Oberstrumfuhrer von Stuern hanged him and kicked away the chair.

When they get to Trudy’s, Anna still does not give away anything. She says she cannot remember ever seeing a murder at the prison while she was delivering food, although Felix later assures Trudy that it was indeed Anna who he saw there. He has lunch with Anna and when Trudy returns him to his place, he tells her that he would like to visit Anna again, and Trudy agrees that she thinks her mother would enjoy it. The book ends with Trudy in silent reflection.

Verdict: 3.5 Stars

All in all, I thought it was a pretty good book. I enjoyed the premise of Trudy being a child in the war who grew up to be a professor of German history. I found the characters to be very well rounded and well developed and they felt very real, even the ones the readers didn’t know well. The only real downside is that…it’s hard to be very original on a German WW2 novel.

 

 

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2017 Book Club List

Another year, another book club list! This year, I decided to choose historical fiction as my category (as I always like to choose a different category each year), and the three books I chose to offer up for consideration were:

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan which is the one that was chosen by book club member vote.

The others that were chosen for all genres are as follows:

January (Literary Fiction) – The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

February (Suspense/Thriller) – The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

March (Memoir) – Hillbilly Ellegy by J.D. Vance

April (Classic) – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

May (Mystery) – And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

June (Book into Movie) – Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

July (Historical Fiction) – The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan as referenced above!

August (Non-Fiction) – The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

September (Young Adult) – The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

October (Best Seller) – TBD

November – TBD

December – Book Swap!

 

If you ever want to go back to see our many previous book club lists, they can be located right here!

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2016 in Review

So this year was a little weak for me. I’ve been involved heavily in an animal rescue which has taken up a good portion of my free time. I only read 16 books in 2016, or an average of 1.3 per month. The books I read encompassed 5583 pages, or 15.3 pages per day.

On the positive side though, there were a few bright lights. I read a career book for work which is a yearly goal of mine. I also read a book that was written by a woman of color which was another goal of mine. In fact for 2017, all 3 of my book club choices were books written by non-white women. Lastly, I knocked off a few books off of my To Read list! For 2017, I intend to read another career-oriented book for work as well as a technical book related to my job.

My genres were fairly well-balanced over the year. I did not have any books that I would have specifically considered fantasy, but I would consider that Midnight Robber was a fantasy/sci-fi but I technically considered it sci-fi.

2016-genres

Next, I want to see whether I am reading books that I like. I separated all of the books compared to just the book club books. The book club books comprised of all the 2.5 ratings–the lowest rating for the year. Otherwise, there was a pretty decent spread for both book club and non-book club books. Last year, I had one 4.5 rating with significantly more 4 star ratings so that’s a bit of disappointment that I didn’t get more higher-rated books this year.

2016-all-books

2016-book-club

I also keep track of how much money I spend on books. This year the good majority of my books came from the library, mostly by ebooks. I borrowed one book as well as was given one by my mom for my birthday. I only purchased one–the one for work so that I could write in it for my bi-weekly discussions.

2016-method

Here is to a much more bookish 2017! I’m already reading and hope you are too!

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The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah

Review (Amazon): In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: slow to start but really strong ending

This book has a nearly perfect rating on Amazon, but our book club was still a little hesitant to read this one due to a previous Kristin Hannah book we read (Magic Hour, pre-blog) which was very mediocre. I’m happy to report that Hannah has matured as an author and in my mind, pulled off a nearly impossible task–a great ending!!

I apologize that this review will not be quite as detailed as some of my others–I’ve found myself so swamped and want to get this in here before I bet even more swamped with the holidays!

The book starts with an old woman who is being moved into a nursing home due to a poor cancer prognosis, and she is going through her stuff. The book goes back and forth between the old woman and her son (present time) but mostly stays in the past.

Sisters Isabelle and Vianne have been emotionally estranged for most of their lives. Their father came back from the Great War a changed man and when their mother died, the girls were off to boarding school. Vianne was much older than Isabelle and as soon as Vianne was old enough to get married and move on with her life, she did. She married Antoine and despite a number of miscarriages, had a daughter Sophie and lived in Carriveau. Isabelle fared worse. Her sister never stuck up for her and left her as soon as possible. Isabelle failed out of one boarding school after another, unwelcome at Vianne’s and unwelcome with her father in Paris. Vianne’s dream life in the French countryside comes to a dramatic halt when Antoine, a postman, is drafted for war (WW2). Her friend Rachel’s husband is also drafted.

Isabelle is kicked out of yet another school and is sent back to Paris. Her father has no interest in her living with him but he begrudgingly allows her until the Germans invade Paris. Then he sends her to Carriveau to live with Vianne, especially now that she is alone. Eventually the car that she is in runs out of gas and they are forced to walk. The family she was riding with abandons her, and she finds herself alone. Luckily she is stubborn and persistent. She meets a young man, Gaetan who is roasting a rabbit on a fire. They decide to stop by Carriveau, see his mother in Poitiers and then go join the resistance. They finally get to Carriveau, having to walk most of the way. Vianne doesn’t answer as the house has been harassed by other refugees all day so Gaetan and Isabelle sleep in the back. When Isabelle finally awakens, Gaetan has left her with just a note “You are not ready”.

Isabelle grows more and more enraged. She wants to help but can’t. Vianne doesn’t want to rock the boat at all, even when things get more and more dire and France surrenders. After hiding all the valuables despite Vianne telling her how foolish it was, Isabelle turns on the radio and hears General de Gaulle who is talking about the resistance. Isabelle realizes there is some hope…until the Nazis come to Carriveau and a soldier, Captain Wolfgang Beck, billets in their home. In general, he is pretty reserved. He believes he is fighting the good fight, hoping to get back to his own wife and kids.

Isabelle, Vianne, and Sophie go on pretending things are normal–going into town to pick up their rations, growing their garden. One day when Isabelle is going into town to get rations, she picks up a piece of chalk. She notices a war propaganda poster in an alley and decides to draw a giant V on it (for Victory) with the chalk when she is caught. She can’t see who it is who has caught her and where she is being taken, but she eventually realizes it’s not to the Gestapo–it’s to the resistance. They realize that women and girls can get away with a lot more than men so they task her with delivering messages. She is thrilled!

She delivers many messages–sneaking away at all hours to do so. On one occasion, Vianne and Sophie see her and Vianne immediately assumes that Isabelle’s odd behavior is because of a boy.

Meanwhile, Vianne learns that Antoine has been captured, but Captain Beck is able to get messages to him. In return, Vianne lists all Jews, Communists, etc. who are teachers at her school, including her best friend Rachel, and they are all dismissed.

Isabelle gets the message that she is needed, and heads into town. She is needed for bigger tasks–the first being to take a message to Paris and stay there to be the contact. She convinces Captain Beck to give her a pass on account of her father being ill. Vianne still assumes that Isabelle is going on about for a boy and Isabelle lets her believe it. She arrives in Paris and sees the bookstore all boarded up, and waits in the apartment until her father returns. Eventually she convinces her father to let her stay. She meets her first appointment with another woman messenger. She is brought into their group and given a false identity (Juliette Gervais) and given more tasks especially when they realize that her fancy education has taught her German and English. She reopens her father’s bookstore to use as a front and it earns her a little money as well.

One night on her way home from picking up food (leftovers from the Germans in the restaurant), she finds a British RAF pilot. She decides to take him to their apartment and hide him in the closet in her room. She takes him to the other resistance people who don’t know what to do. They are trying to figure out how to get the downed pilots into Spain but that means having to cross the Pyrenees. Isabelle has a family friend who is a Basque and she thinks that she can help by going undetected and getting the men to safety. As she is helping flesh out the plan, in comes Gaetan. He tells her that he left because it’s dangerous and he wanted to forget her, but now it turns out they’re working together like she had wanted.

When she gets home, she discovers another surprise. Her father too is working for the resistance. He works for the Nazis where he can create fake papers for people including her. He knew about the airman she was hiding and told her that he had sent her away to protect her. He already knows about her plan to lead the airmen to Spain and gives her the name of the family friend. He tells her that she will never be able to come back because she will have to go completely underground from now onward.

The first trip is the biggest risk as they can’t be sure that Madame Babineau will help them, but when Isabelle appears with 4 airmen, Madame Babineau indeed does. Isabelle, Eduardo (guide) and the airmen make the rough 5-day trek across the Pyrenees into Spain. Isabelle presents them at the British consulate and is provided with money to set up safe houses, food and clothing for the inevitable other airmen. She sent word back that “The Nightingale has Sung” alerting the resistance that she made it.

In the meantime in Carriveau, everyone is nervous about the collaborators and people are being rounded up for the slightest infractions. The Jews, including Rachel, have to wear yellow Stars of David on their clothing.

Over the next months, the Nightingale continues to escort airmen into Spain as the Germans start closing in on her. The Resistance sets her up with a job doing clerical work for the Nazis. No one knows what she’ll be doing. When she arrives, she finds that she is sorting foreign born Jews from native born. When she sees the name of the mastermind behind her branch of the resistance on the list, she feigns flu and leaves. All the foreign born Jews are being rounded up and sent to the camps in Germany. In Carriveau, the same is happening. However, Captain Beck alerts Vianne that Rachel should not be home the following morning. This time Vianne listens and she, Rachel and Rachel’s two kids take the long walk to see if they can cross the border with Rachel’s false paperwork. When they get close, something goes awry and the guard opens fire on the crowd. Sophie’s best friend Sarah does not survive. Rachel and Ari hide in Vianne’s barn while Vianne buries Sarah.

The next day, they walk with Rachel back to her house later in the day (because somehow they thought they would round everyone up in a couple hours in the morning) and she is picked up by the gestapo. Since Ari was born in France, he can stay, and Vianne takes him in. She tells Captain Beck what she has done, and he promises to not turn her in and even gets her a set of fake papers for him.

Isabelle returns to Carriveau on a mission and upon arrival stumbles upon a downed airman. She and her colleagues take him to Vianne’s house where they hide in the safe spot under the car in the barn. Unfortunately the airman was too far gone and dies. All the soldiers in Carriveau are looking for this pilot, including Captain Beck. Vianne sees the barn door is astray and thinks it’s Rachel. She is shocked and annoyed when she finds that it’s Isabelle and the pilot and says some terrible nasty things to Isabelle. When Beck returns home, he realizes that he has not searched her barn. When he goes out there, he finds the trap door, and Vianne hits him over the head with a shovel as he opens the door and Isabelle shoots him.

Isabelle is taken to a safe place, the bodies are disposed of, and Vianne tells the soldiers that Captain Beck went looking for the pilot and never returned. Vianne gets a new, much worse Nazi billeting with her in his place. Whereas Beck did not like the direction that the war had moved, Captain von Richter did and he took his power very seriously. Vianne begins to grow a spine and take part in a plan where she moves Jewish children into the church orphanage. To keep suspicion down, she is a good little French woman to von Richter who repeatedly rapes and beats her.

Meanwhile Isabelle keeps the Nightingale going, meeting Gaetan secretly when they cross paths. On a trip to the Pyrenees, the safe house is raided and everyone is captured. Isabelle is questioned for days, but everyone assumes the Nightingale is a man.

Isabelle’s father goes to Carriveau to tell Vianne the news that Isabelle has been captured. He tells her, as best as he can, how sorry he is about everything. He tells her that she needs to be strong for Isabelle and asks her what she would do to save Sophie before going off and confessing that he is the Nightingale to free Isabelle and save her life. She is thrown onto a train with other political prisoners and is left there until the war ends and she is freed.

Antoine returns to a broken and pregnant Vianne. They manage to hold it together for Sophie and Ari. Vianne continues to search for news of Isabelle but cannot find any. She learns that Rachel and her husband have died, and one day, two Jewish men come for Ari. He has family in New York who want to look after him, and it is important for him to learn the Jewish customs since so few of his generation remain.

SPOILERS!!!

Isabelle returns to Carriveau, gravely sick. Antoine, Vianne, and Sophie keep her alive until Gaetan arrives and she dies peacefully.

The story returns to the old woman, who we now know is not Isabelle like I had assumed (and hoped). It is Vianne and her child Julien born from the Nazi captain. Vianne has been invited to speak in Paris on account of Isabelle where she is posthumously presented an award for her service. She sees Gaetan there who tells Vianne that he loved her (Isabelle) all his life. And then lastly, she meets Ari who has come there to reconnect with her, telling her how she saved his life. Julien admires his mother in a way he never knew.

Verdict: 4 stars

I actually found myself getting a little misty eyed in parts during this book which doesn’t happen frequently. I really liked Isabelle and was rooting for her during the book. I was really surprised to find that the “old woman” was actually Vianne in the end and in general, I really thought the flash forwards were woven in thoughtfully (which is not that common). I’m really racking up my WW2 books this year as I’m already reading another one!

 

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My Name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

Review (Amazon): Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: blah

Yes, that is two “blahs” in a row. Not great. This book is our literary fiction book for the year, and it might actually just be that I don’t really like literary fiction. On the plus side, this is a very quick read. I just happened to really dislike Lucy Barton.

As you probably figured out, the main character is a woman named Lucy Barton who is presumably in her early 30s. She lives in New York City and is married with two children. For some unknown reason she is in the hospital and has been for a little while when her mother arrives.

Lucy and her family (mom, dad, brother, sister) grew up very poor. Lucy’s mom did sewing and alterations and her dad, who had PTSD (although this wasn’t described in extensive detail) wasn’t able to hold a steady job. They had no TV and little climate control. Lucy would stay at school late to take advantage of the heat and space and did very well–well enough to go to college.

She ended up getting married to what seemed like a upper middle class husband and basically spent her entire life in complete denial of where she ended up. It was like mentally she couldn’t believe where she was and seemed somewhat intent on sabotaging it. She was separated from the rest of her family mostly due to the vast difference in their current statuses so it was a surprise that her husband (who doesn’t come to see her much because he hates hospitals) called her mother to come see her.

When her mother arrives, Lucy interacts with her through gossip and stories about people who they used to know. When she tries to bring up painful childhood memories, her mother moves on without addressing them or she simply just cannot remember what Lucy is talking about. However through these stories we learn a slight bit more about Lucy and her life. She wants to be a writer, attending writing workshops with an author she loves. She also has basically only one friend in New York City, an older gay man named Jeremy who ended up dying of AIDS while she was in the hospital.

Eventually Lucy gets out of the hospital from whatever mysterious illness she had. She still doesn’t keep in touch with her mother because she is busy with her own life and children and her best-selling novel (but also mostly just because she doesn’t really want to). She only visits her 9 years later when her mother is dying. She sees her father there as well, and he dies the following year. When Lucy’s children go off to college, she and her husband end up getting divorced. Lucy ends up getting married to a man who also grew up in poverty but now is a cellist in the Philharmonic Symphony.

Verdict: 2.5 stars

This book was not for me. If it had been any longer, I would have not made it through it. It was challenging to even write a review for it because literally nothing happened. I probably could have summed it up in about 3 sentences. When we discussed it at book club, we didn’t really seem to be able to answer any questions because the story was just so vague and focused on a bunch of trivial stories instead of anything important. Although, maybe that is the point? I don’t know.

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Filed under 2.5 stars, Book Club, Book Review