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Archive for September, 2012

According to an introduction to Trapeze, the French Section of the Special Operations Executive sent thirty-nine women into the field between May 1941 and September 1944.  Of these, twelve were murdered following their capture by the Germans, while the others survived.  The best part about this background information is that the reader does not know whether the ones that are discussed in Trapeze will live or die.

The primary character in Trapeze is Marian Sutro, also known as Alice, Anne-Marie and Laurence throughout the book.  She goes through training in the Scottish countryside – including how to fall off of eight foot walls, how to catch a trout in the stream with her hands, how to kill a man from behind, and how to shoot guns.  She also learns how to be a spy – how to determine if she is being followed, how to get in touch with contacts, and how to get through checkpoints.

Ultimately, Marian is sent to France to carry out various missions.  She is based in the countryside, but has to go into Paris at times to carry out other missions.  It is her time in Paris that is the most exciting and suspenseful, and it is those times that I wish there were more of in Trapeze.  While the entire book is an enjoyable read, my favorite parts were, as I said – when she was in Paris.  The ending is, of course, a surprise, and the author did a great job of keeping it from the reader until the very end.  Trapeze was very well-written and seemed well-researched, and I enjoyed the bits of French throughout the book.

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The Baker’s Daughter is a very well-written, thoughtful tale of Elsie Schmidt, the daughter of a baker living in a small town in Germany.  By 1945 she was 17 and had lived through the war relatively unscathed.  Her sister Hazel had become a sort of Nazi child-breeder, and had moved to be a part of a community where women lived and Nazi soldiers visited those women, and then the children were brought up under the Nazi principles.  As a result, Elsie was alone at the bakery with her mother and father, helping them to make the bread and to serve the customers.  Just like every other town in Germany, I suspect, the war finally came to them, and she had her own experiences with evil Nazis and frightened Jews.

The chapters alternate between Elsie and Reba, a magazine feature writer living in 2008 in El Paso, Texas.  Reba meets Elsie and her daughter Jane in their bakery in El Paso when Reba attempts to write a feature on Elsie and German Christmas customs.  As a result of the chapters alternating between 1945 and 2007, we learn how Elsie managed to make it through the war, and how she ultimately ended up living in Texas. 

While I enjoyed reading The Baker’s Daughter, it did feel a bit like a lot of other WWII books that I have read, in that it alternated from chapters set in the 1940’s to chapters set in the modern day.  I usually do not enjoy those alternating chapters, because I seem to wish that the chapters would stay in the 1940’s, but with The Baker’s Daughter, I also became interested in Reba’s character and the life choices she was making.  The Baker’s Daughter was a well-written wartime book and I am glad to have read it.

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What a great recommendation these books were! I had never heard of Marisa de los Santos, but a friend recommended these two books to me and I thought I would give them a try – I loved them!  They were just very enjoyable, nice, sweet, sad, fun books to read.  They were easy to read and had a nice combination of happy and sad mixed together.  They were a bit unbelievable (some of the characters are very … original and hard to imagine existing outside the world of these books), but sometimes I believe that is what we look for in books.

The main character throughout both books is Cornelia Brown – a pixie-ish waif of a girl who has a pretty face and loves to decorate her apartment with vintage finds and loves old movies and can quote classic books and poems and always says the most witty and clever things and is pretty much perfect.  Writing this sentence would make anyone think that I didn’t like Cornelia- but that’s not true.  I loved Cornelia, but I realized that it would not be possible for a real-life Cornelia to exist, which is probably why, once I realized that, I dove headfirst into the rest of the books.  

In Love Walked In, Cornelia’s life changes the day that a handsome man walks into the cafe that she manages in Philadelphia.  She soon begins to date him and gets entangled in his life and with the other people who are already in it.  The book is written in alternating chapters – from alternating points of view. One chapter is from Cornelia’s point of view, and the next chapter is from Clare’s point of view.  When I first started reading Clare’s chapters, I was a bit confused, because it is not clear how the two are related, but that becomes clear around the middle of the book.  I liked Clare’s chapters anyway, and I didn’t care much that I didn’t know how she fit in to Cornelia’s life.

The second book, Belong to Me, follows Cornelia about 2 years after Love Walked In.  This time she is married, and living in a suburb of Philadelphia.  The chapters once again tell different points of view, and this time they alternate between Cornelia, a 14-year old boy named Dev, and Cornelia’s perfect neighbor, Piper.  Once again Cornelia is the star of the book, but with appearances by her husband, Clare, and the other characters who have their own chapters. 

It is hard to say which book I enjoyed more, and I like to think of them as just one book, and so I will say I loved them both!

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Many lists of the best books of the year so far, or Editors’ top ten books this month have included The Light Between Oceans.  This is the one reason why I decided to read this book.  I did not think I would like it after I read what it was about, but I thought that so many people could not be wrong about one book, so I was sure that I would see what everyone else saw.  After reading it, I agree – I did like The Light Between Oceans – but it was a hard and difficult read. 

The main character of the book – Tom Sherbourne – returned to his homeland (Australia) after fighting in WWI.  Not really knowing what to do with himself, he took a job as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock – a half-day’s treacherous boat journey from the Australian coastline.  He believed he would live there on his own, until he met Isabel (Izzy) in Partaguese, the port from where he would leave for Janus, just before actually going to Janus.  After a short courtship, he and Izzy marry, and the two of them start their solitary life together on Janus Rock.

After two miscarriages and one stillbirth, Izzy is despondent and beside herself when, one day, a boat washes ashore on Janus and there is a tiny, crying baby in it.  Izzy convinces Tom that they should keep the baby, and the rest of the story revolves around their lives together, and where the baby actually came from.  

The Light Between Oceans was beautifully and wonderfully written.  There were many points where I could not bear to put it down.  But I have an awful time reading books that I know will go bad at some point – i.e., when I know someone has done something for which they will ultimately get caught.  I read with a sense of foreboding, waiting for that moment to come.  This is the only reason it was not entirely enjoyable for me, although I did have a very good feeling about the book when I turned the last page.  I would definitely recommend The Light Between Oceans,  and I can see why it is on all of those ‘must read’ lists at the moment.

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Well here’s a surprise – yet another Sarah Addison Allen book that I LOVED.  And yes, the only thing I’m sad about now is 1) it is finished, and 2) I have no more Sarah Addison Allen books left to read.

The Sugar Queen is set in another idyllic town – in the mountains of North Carolina – and the main focus is Josey Cirrini.  Josey is the only daughter of Marco Cirrini, an Italian immigrant who transformed the town into a ski resort community and is considered one of its founding fathers.  Josey is 28 and yet she still lives at home and her whole world revolves around taking care of her mother, a beautiful, perfect example of a Southern belle who is getting older and expects Josey to be there for her every minute of the day.  The two bright spots in Josey’s life are her hidden candy drawer and the daily visits from the mailman… until a girl named Della Lee shows up in her closet. 

My favorite character in this book, apart from Josey (who I loved) was Chloe.  Chloe runs a sandwich shop in the courthouse, and she has a problem with books – they just appear to her.  For instance, when she decides to buy a new home, the book The Complete Homeowner’s Guide shows up under her pillow.  When she breaks up with her cheating boyfriend, the book Finding Forgiveness starts popping up everywhere she goes.  I love this idea! I wish it would happen to me!

Once again, in The Sugar Queen, Sarah Addison Allen has managed to inject just a bit of magical whimsy into the book while keeping it real enough to make you believe.  LOVED it!

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Why oh why hasn’t Sarah Addison Allen written more books?!?! I just finished one more of her books, and I only have one more to read until I have exhausted my supply of Sarah Addison Allen novels. I am in LOVE with them, and Garden Spells was no different.  I loved this book for continuing to make me want to be one of the main characters and wanting to live in the town where it is set.  I also loved it for including just the right amount of magical whimsy so that it mostly seemed real, but with little bursts of magic interspersed.

The main character is Claire Waverley – a caterer who cooks things with the edible flowers that grow around her apple tree in her yard in a small town in North Carolina.  These flowers make the people who eat them feel certain ways and she can change those moods by using different combinations or arranging things in various way.  Claire lives a lonely life in her family home that was left to her after her grandmother died and her mother who ran away when Claire was young also died.  Claire’s sister Sydney moved out of the house as soon as she could get away and so Claire lives alone with only visits from her cousin Evanelle interrupting her routine.   Garden Spells focuses on Claire, but then adds Sydney’s story to the mix when she suddenly moves back in with Claire, and also adds the stories of some of Claire and Sydney’s high school friends.

I LOVED the character Evanelle – Claire & Sydney’s third or thirteenth cousin (no one knows), who is about 80 years old and goes around town giving people things that she is compelled to give to them.  Evanelle once gave a spoon to a young man who put it in his pocket and then later on saw something shiny in the ground and used the spoon to dig out a quarter, and then went to the movies where he met the love of his life.  Most times she would give people batteries before they needed them, or band-aids before they were cut.  She was a great character and I couldn’t wait to see what she would be compelled to give to her next recipient.

I couldn’t get enough of Garden Spells and was only disappointed when it ended because I wanted to continue reading about the Waverleys!! LOVED this book!

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Wow was this a good book! Most times when I read a book, I have just read a review of it, or at least an overview of it, and so I know what I’m getting into when I start reading.  With Tell the Wolves I’m Home, I just started reading the book, and did not know a single thing about it.  I must have loaded it on to my e-Reader after reading something positive about it, but I could not remember anything about what the story would be.

Maybe that was why I liked the book so much – it was all a complete surprise.  The book’s main character, June, lives in New York, in a suburb of NYC, with her mom, dad and older sister, Greta.  The girls are 14 (June) and 16 (Greta), and the story is set in the late 1980’s.  Man, did the author ever nail it with her pop culture references, like watching Family Ties or The Cosby Show as a family, or buying a pair of Guess jeans, or playing Trivial Pursuit for the first time. My most favorite pop culture reference was the Best Friends necklace in the shape of a heart – broken down the middle so one friend wears Be / Fri and the other wears St / Ends.  I definitely had 3 of those growing up.

Poor June is a bit of an outcast (she likes to pretend she lives in Medieval Times) and her Uncle Finn who lives in the city is her best friend.  Finn is a well-known painter… and he is gay, and has AIDS. Once I learned that Finn had AIDS, then the timing of the story made sense – the author wanted to frame the story around the time when no one really knew what AIDS was or how it was contracted. 

Finn is not well and is obviously at the end of his life.  Once he is gone, his “special friend”, whom June’s mom is convinced should be called a murderer since she believes that he gave Finn the disease, contacts June, and the two develop a sort of clandestine relationship.  Interspersed in all of this is June’s relationship with Greta.  The two girls are only 2 years apart, and the author absolutely nailed the dynamics of a sisterly relationship between two girls that are so close together in age – and at that specific age as well.  I highly recommend Tell the Wolves I’m Home.

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