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Book Review: Hitler’s Forgotten Children by Ingrid von Oelhafen and Tim Tate

Image of a digital book cover. A black-and-white photo shows a woman in a nurse's outfit next to two bassinets. A colorized Nazi flag flies above them.

Summary:
Created by Heinrich Himmler, the Lebensborn program abducted as many as half a million children from across Europe. Through a process called Germanization, they were to become the next generation of the Aryan master race in the second phase of the Final Solution. 

Ingrid is shocked to discover in high school that her parents are actually her foster parents and struggles, like many in post-war Germany, to get official documentation of who she is. When the Red Cross contacts her, she slowly starts to realize her connection to the Lebensborn program. Though the Nazis destroyed many Lebensborn records, Ingrid unearths rare documents, including Nuremberg trial testimony about her own abduction.

Review:
There can sometimes be this misconception that society immediately dealt with all of the fall-out of WWII. Germany does do an admirable job of directly confronting genocide and fascism. But, as this book demonstrates, not everything was in fact dealt with right away. There were intentions to, but other things like the Cold War got in the way. One of the things that got swept under the rug until the early 2000s (!!) was the Lebensborn program.

Ingrid speaks eloquently about the rumors in the 90s especially about an SS “breeding program.” I actually remember hearing these rumors. Ingrid does a good job of describing how she felt realizing she might have a connection to Lebensborn in the face of these rumors. In fact, there was no “breeding program” aspect to Lebensborn. At least, not in the way the rumor mill said it. Women were not kept in breeding houses with SS members sent to them. But women were encouraged to sleep with SS members, regardless of their own coupled or marital state, to make more Aryan babies for Hitler. Where Lebensborn came in was that if a pregnant woman and the father of the baby fit the Aryan bill sufficiently, she could come to Lebensborn to be cared for until her baby was born. Then she might keep the baby or she might give it to “suitable” foster parents, usually high-ranking officials.

But the actual war crime part of Lebensborn was the other aspect. The SS abducted children from largely Eastern European occupied territories, sending them to Lebensborn to be Germanized and given to foster parents. They literally would put out a call ordering all families to report with their children to a center, check them for “racially desirable” qualities, and then take the children that “had potential” for Germanization, returning the rest. They also used this as a punishment against resistance fighters, only they would abduct all of their children, sending the “undesirable” ones to work camps and the rest to Lebensborn. It’s this latter aspect of Lebensborn that Ingrid discovers her connection to.

The book begins with a scene of a child abduction and then switches to Ingrid’s memories of her early life immediately post-war and her discovery that she was a foster child. Then many decades are skipped because in reality Ingrid discovered nothing new about her childhood until she was an older woman starting to think about retirement. The earliest part of the book is quite engaging because her foster mother escapes from East to West Germany right before the Iron Curtain closes. The rest is engaging because, of course, we are alongside with Ingrid as she discovers the truth of her early life.

Ingrid’s early investigations in the early 2000s are hampered by intentional resistance and red tape. Even though on paper it should have been easy for her to get assistance going through the voluminous archives (the Nazis kept meticulous records of everything), she actually met foot dragging and even downright lies from those who should have been helping her. Essentially, some people didn’t want the truth of Lebensborn to get out. But Ingrid finds help along the way from those who want to see the truth come out and justice, what little is available at this point in time, done.

Ingrid is quite honest about her difficult feelings during all of this. She ultimately decides she’s not defined by her origins. While I absolutely agree that “the choices we make throughout our life” (page 267) are essential in defining us, I also think where we come from does as well. The two go hand-in-hand. It saddens me that she seems to need to distance herself from that, although I understand why it helps her to do so.

Overall, this is an engaging book that is a quick read. The pairing of the historical facts with the memoirs of an innocent person who discovers her connection to this program works well for the delivery of these facts. It helps the reader remember that these were real events impacting real people who were just starting to discover the truth of their early childhood in the early 2000s.

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4 out of 5 stars

Length: 276 pages – average but on the shorter side 

Source: purchased

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Book Review: Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

Image of a digital book cover. A plant with green leaves and the red lips of a kiss on it is in the background of the book title.

Summary:
This bawdy book originally published in 1973 tells the story of Molly Bolt, the adoptive daughter of a dirt-poor Southern couple who boldly forges her own path in America. With her startling beauty and crackling wit, Molly finds that women are drawn to her wherever she goes – and she refuses to apologize for loving them back. 

Review:
I’ve been trying to read more queer classics and not solely limit myself to modern queer books. I stumbled upon this when looking for other books published around the same time as Tales of the City (review). While I absolutely appreciate how groundbreaking this was at the time, it didn’t work for me. I’ll have to give a couple of spoilers to be able to discuss why, so be forewarned!

Let’s start with what I did like. The prose calls out the racism of the north at a time when Jim Crow was still around in the south. Just because things may be better from a legal perspective doesn’t mean they actually are any less racist. This isn’t done in a preachy way. It comes about smoothly as Molly’s family moves from the hills of Pennsylvania to Florida. I really liked Molly’s dad, and the arc of her relationship with him. I loved how Molly’s first crush in middle school on another little girl named Leota is depicted. I appreciated how key moments in Molly’s life makes it clear she has to conform to succeed, and she refuses to do it. It hauntingly shows how minoritized people are kept down.

This is told in the first person, and Molly isn’t, to me, particularly likeable. I really wanted to like her. But I didn’t. She’s crass, abrasive, quite reactionary. She looks down on other people even while insisting she doesn’t. Ok, so for most of the book she’s a teenager or a young adult working her way through college. No one is perfect, and she has a lot stacked against her. But I would say she just becomes more full of herself as the novel progresses. I didn’t feel like she really learned anything. I suspect I’m supposed to think she did based on her final film school project, but it was hard for me to be moved by a film I didn’t see.

Something about Molly that particularly bothered me was an instance that really reminded me of some movies from the 70s I’ve seen, where a woman will say no to sex, but then the guy gets a little rough, gets her a little drunk, and later she basically says she’s grateful he took “advantage of her” because she really wanted it deep down (aka he raped her but she liked it). Well, Molly takes on the role of the aggressor in just such a situation in this book.I get it that this was a common trope at the time this book was written, and I’m imagining the goal was to show the same scene but with two women. But just because something was commonly shown in media at the time doesn’t make it right. I just can’t view Molly as a heroine when that’s how she engages with other women.

The other thing that’s problematic about Molly is that, since she’s adopted, she likes to say she doesn’t technically know her race. She bases this on having dark hair. At the end of the book she finds out she’s half…wait for it…French. She sees a photo of her father, and he’s French with dark hair. She never confronts herself about why she had this weird obsession with imagining herself as partially another minoritized race.

One more thing I feel I ought to mention is that Molly has a tendency to speak very negatively about butch presenting lesbians. It’s ok to not be into dating butches yourself. It’s even ok if you yourself find the butch/femme dynamic odd (although why you should care is beyond me). What bothers me, though, is how she describes butch women every single time she sees them. It’s downright insulting. You can be kind to other queer people you aren’t attracted to.

Again, I don’t expect characters to be perfect. Indeed, I think first person books with an imperfect main character are important for understanding other people’s perspective. But I do expect some growth and development over time. I felt throughout the book like Molly had no interest in self-improvement or reflection, and she never even has an epiphany that maybe she should.

Overall, why I understand why this book was groundbreaking, and it certainly had some memorable scenes, I felt the main character is unlikeable and doesn’t grow or change over time. I really liked her dad though. He was a morally flawed, complex character who I really felt could have held up his own fascinating book.

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3 out of 5 stars

Length: 221 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

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Book Review: House of Zeor by Jacqueline Lichtenberg (Series, #1)

Digital image of a paperback book cover. A man with tentacles coming out of his arms holds a woman from behind.

Summary:
In the distant future, humanity has split into two mutant forms: the life-energy producing Gen, and the vampiric, tentacled Sime. Most Simes treat Gens like animals to be consumed for food. Hugh Valleroy from the Gen Territories must infiltrate the Sime lands in order to locate his beloved Aisha. This means joining House Zeor, a Sime Householding led by Klyd, that believes in the necessary unification of the two peoples, and who have the ability to let the Sime feed without killing the Gen donors.

Review:
I do my best to read widely in scifi, which includes older scifi. I especially try to find older scifi by women authors. This book was first published in 1974, and, in addition to being older scifi by a woman, I heard it involved tentacles. I was intrigued, so I hunted down a copy. There are very few reviews online from modern reads. There are some nostalgic reviews about reading it many years ago. So, even though I didn’t like it, I thought it might be helpful to others to contribute a modern, non-nostalgic take.

The basic concept was interesting. There are predators who absolutely need something from the prey to function. It is made abundantly clear that eventually without consuming some Gen life force the Sime die. But the prey are sentient. What to do? Something else that was interesting was that the mutation doesn’t occur until puberty and, bizarrely, children in both Sime and Gen territory mutate into both forms. This means Gen parents turn on their Sime child (for fear of being eaten) and Sime parents….eat their Gen children. What a world! I wish this had been explored more deeply than it was.

A lot of the world building is touched on briefly but then not really explained or not explored deeply enough. Hugh has a “starred cross” he wears that his mother, who escaped Gen territory, gave him, telling him belief in it would protect him. But does it? It’s unclear. What is he believing in exactly? It’s never explored. Similarly, the “selyn” is mentioned a lot but never really defined. The Gens all speak English but the Simes speak “Simelan.” Is this true of the whole world? Just this area? What is Simelan anyway?

Let’s talk about the three things that made me bump this down from three stars to two. First, one of the heroes of the book, Klyd, displays clear homophobia. He and Hugh are an auction of Gens looking for Aisha. It’s established that most Simes view Klyd as a “pervert” because he doesn’t kill Gens but rather has a symbiotic companion relationship with them. Another Sime goes to bid and Klyd says that Sime is the true pervert because he sleeps with men as if they are women. He and all the other Simes show disgust at it, and our other hero doesn’t argue back against it. The existence of queer people is never touched upon again in the book, so this viewpoint remains unchallenged. I found this particularly upsetting as the companionship relationship has some really clear homoerotic undertones. In order to do a selyn exchange, the two people must hold each other’s forearms and then touch at a fifth touching point, the preferred one is lip to lip contact aka to kiss. It’s also common for companions to share a bed. But somehow this relationship isn’t a perversion but being queer is?

The second thing is how race and ethnicity are handled. At a couple of points, it’s established that at some point the races all mixed up together and we have many blended people now. That’s fine. But the main characters are all white coded. I mean, really white coded. In a way that wouldn’t make any sense if this was truly a future of completely mixed races. And when talking about it, Hugh, who is born in this “mixed race” world uses current terms to talk about what races he thinks various people are mixed with. Um, ok. If it’s all of them, why even wonder this? I also want to mention for my Asian diaspora readers that at one point a slur is used to describe someone of Asian descent.

The third thing is how the women in the book are handled. This frustrates me as this was written by a woman. You’ve already noticed the two main characters are men out to save a woman. There are really only three other female characters in the book. One is raped (off-screen). (Slight spoiler coming here). One dies in childbirth. I’d say Hugh’s mother is the only woman character who is well-rounded and interesting.

Overall, the initial world imagined is interesting, but how it is handled is not. Additionally, those looking for a thoughtful handling of the existence of queer people, race, and women won’t be getting it in this book.

2 out of 5 stars

Length: 224 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön

Image of a digital book cover. A pond in a forest in the winter with the name of the book.

Summary:
In this book, Pema provides the tools to deal with the problems and difficulties that life throws our way, so that we may let our circumstances soften us and make us kinder, rather than making us increasingly resentful and afraid. This wisdom is always available to us, she teaches, but we usually block it with habitual patterns rooted in fear. Beyond that fear lies a state of openheartedness and tenderness. This book teaches us how to awaken our basic goodness and connect with others, to accept ourselves and others complete with faults and imperfections, and to stay in the present moment by seeing through the strategies of ego that cause us to resist life as it is. 

Review:
The majority of this book suggests that fearlessness can be accomplished via mindfulness and various types of meditation. This may be true. I’m certainly not an expert meditator. Although it is something I have been working at for many years. But it was disappointing to me how much of this book was essentially – meditate and be mindful, and you will become fearless. It’s not that it might not work; it’s that I wanted more.

Some of the more that I was wanting did come up a couple of places in the book. The first was in a story of a couple who live in a gated community. They eventually become so afraid of what is outside the gates, that they basically stop living. They get so caught up in the what if’s that they don’t live. I liked how this showed that walls can be of our own making, and being fearless is a daily practice. You don’t just suddenly wake up one day walled in, rather you build that wall gradually day by day. The older I get, the more I appreciate the value of one small step a day.

I also appreciated the introduction to the idea of training in the three difficulties. This was a new a concept to me. I’ll just post the quote, since I doubt I could explain it any clearer than it is in the book.

[It] gives us instruction on how to practice, how to interrupt our habitual reactions. The three difficulties are (1) acknowledging our neurosis as neurosis, (2) doing something different, and (3) aspiring to continue practicing this way.

29%

This reminded me of the wisdom of early sobriety. Becoming sober is largely about changing negative habits into good ones. We acknowledge what isn’t working, commit to do it differently, and practice doing that every day. I liked the idea of applying that to anything I wanted to be braver at. I also like that it has a name. The three difficulties.

If you are new to meditation, the instruction in the book is good. It’s largely focused on metta (loving-kindness) meditation and tonglen (taking and sending). Metta is one of the first types of meditation I learned, and it definitely helps me when I’m in a bad mood. I’m not personally sure that it makes me braver, though. Although, who knows, maybe I would have been much more fearful these last years without it.

Overall, this is an interesting book and a quick read. It was not what I was expecting, but also had its moments of value. Recommended more so to those who are new to meditation and mindfulness.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 187 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

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Book Review: Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair (Series, #1)

Image of a digital book cover. A Black teenage girl with a fro and a bright head band holds her hands around her mouth accentuating it. The title of the novel comes out of her mouth as a speech bubble.

Summary:
Set on Chicago’s Southside in the mid-to-late 60s, following Jean “Stevie” Stevenson, a young Black woman growing up through the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Stevie longs to fit in with the cool crowd. Fighting her mother every step of the way, she begins to experiment with talkin’ trash, “kicking butt,” and boys. With the assassination of Dr. King she gains a new political awareness, which makes her decide to wear her hair in a ‘fro instead of straightened, to refuse to use skin bleach, and to confront prejudice. She also finds herself questioning her sexuality. As readers follow Stevie’s at times harrowing, at times hilarious story, they will learn what it was like to be Black before Black was beautiful.

Review:
After reading Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin (review) and finding myself disappointed with how it handled race, I intentionally looked for older classics of LGBTQIA+ lit written by Black authors. (As a starting place. I intend to continue this searching with other BIPOC groups). In my search I found this book listed as an own voices depiction of a queer young Black woman in the South Side of Chicago. My library had a digital copy, so I was off.

First published in 1995, this is certainly an own voices book. The author grew up in Chicago in the same time period as Stevie, and that authenticity really shines through. The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 (spring 1965 to summer 1967), Part 2 (fall 1967 to fall 1968), and Part 3 (fall 1969 to spring 1970). Part 1 begins in Stevie’s last year of middle school. It establishes the systemic racism Stevie and her family live with that the Civil Rights movement that Stevie will later become involved in in high school. It also demonstrates Stevie’s difficult relationship with her mother. In Part 2, Stevie enters high school, Dr. King is assassinated, and Stevie starts to push back on racism and colorism. In Part 3, Stevie starts to question her sexuality and also the lack of interracial friendships and relationships she sees among her friends and family.

In some ways this was a tough book to read. It pulls no punches about what life was like for a young Black girl at this time. Although it always pains me to read about racism and colorism, there was an extra twinge in reading this because Stevie is just such an immediately likable little girl with a protective mother. The book opens with Stevie asking her mother what a virgin is (because a boy at school asked her if she was one), and her mother not wanting to tell her. This reminded me of all the conversations about Black girls being forced to grow up too fast and letting them stay the little girls they are. Although I advocate for frank talks about sexuality with questioning children, I also understood her mother’s impulse to keep Stevie little just a while longer.

Stevie’s sexuality is left open-ended in this book, in spite of my finding it on a list of lesbian fiction originally. Essentially the idea is posited that sometimes adolescents feel confused only to realize later they’re straight. I wondered if this is what happens with Stevie so peaked at the sequel. (spoiler warning!) Apparently in the sequel Stevie identifies as bisexual. This thrilled me, because there’s so little representation of bisexual folks in literature, but also because I felt a bit of a twinge of recognition when reading about Stevie’s confusion in the book. Part of why she’s so confused about if she’s straight or a lesbian is because the answer is neither. It was a great depiction.

I did feel the book ended kind of abruptly. It’s definitely a bit of a plot hanger that leaves you yearning for the sequel. Not in an uncomfortable way but more in a I want to see Stevie finish growing up way. Plus, it’s the start of the 1970s, and that’s such a fun time period to read about.

Overall, this own voices book gives a realistic yet fun depiction of growing up Black in the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s. If you’re coming for the queer content, hang in there, it shows up in Part 3. A great way to diversify your reading.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 256 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

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Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (Series, #1)

A digital bookcover shows a door in the middle of the forest with forest on both sides. It is a door with no house around it.

Summary:
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care at her Home for Wayward Children understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things. No matter the cost.

Review:
This is the first book in the series but they all also can be read as stand-a-lone stories if you want. One of my siblings-in-law gave me the second book as a gift, and I decided I wanted to read the first book first to ensure I got the greatest enjoyment out of it possible. I felt confident with this decision, because I’ve really enjoyed everything else by Seanan McGuire I’ve read. As expected, this was a fun read.

The worldbuilding is gorgeous and creative. Not just the idea of the doors but also the map of how the other worlds are organized. Stephen King’s other worlds are organized around a tower. These are organized around a compass, similar to those political leaning compass tests, only this is organized on points such as Logic vs Nonsense and Wickedness vs Virtue. The worlds are varied, and so are the children who get drawn in then come back. Although come back is the wrong term for these children. They all want to “go home” to their other worlds. The children who don’t want to go back attend a different boarding school. (Now that’s also a series I’d read, just saying).

I found the plot to be less engaging than the world building. The mystery at the school was both bloodier than I would have preferred and also far too expected and easy to figure out. I viewed the plot as an excuse to continue sojourning in the world.

There is diversity present in the book. Although the main character and owner of the school are both white, Nancy’s roommate is Japanese-American. One of her new friends is Latino. I do wish the races and ethnicities of more of the secondary characters were more clearly stated. There is a trans girl character, who is a strong secondary character with a lot of realistic struggles. Nancy, the main character, is asexual (but romantic), and the word is used. Although I am myself queer and bisexual, I fully admit my understanding of the ace members of our community is less than it might be. I was uncertain about the representation in the book, so I found an ace person’s review. They loved the representation and felt Nancy to be very representative of them.

Some folks complain the book is too short, but largely because they wanted to linger longer. I thought it was just about the right length. I like reading a shorter read sometimes, and this means it’ll be much faster and easier to visit the worlds of the other characters featured in the other entries in the series more in-depth.

Recommended for readers looking for a quick read with a creative and engaging fantasy world. Especially recommended for those looking for asexual and trans representation in their fantasy.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 176 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

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Book Review: Race Across Alaska: The First Woman to Win the Iditarod Tells Her Story by Libby Riddles and Tim Jones

Image of a book cover. A woman with a dog sled team races across the cover.

Summary:
Libby Riddles wanted an adventure. At the age of 16 she left home for the snowy frontiers of Alaska, the Last Frontier. There, her love of animals drew her to the sport of sled dog racing. When she entered the Iditarod in 1985, the famous marathon from Anchorage to Nome, she was just another Iditarod Nobody. Twelve hundred miles later, having conquered blizzards, extreme cold, and exhaustion, she and her dogs crossed the final stretch of sea ice, miles ahead of the nearest competitor… and suddenly she realized: I will be the first woman to win the Iditarod. This is the story of a courageous woman and her heroic dogs. This is the story of Libby Riddles’s adventure.

Review:
First published in 1988, this book drips with the freshness of an event recently lived. Both in the assumption that everyone reading this knows at least some things about Libby and in the clarity with which she remembers the events. In fact, Libby was actually featured in Vogue magazine after winning the Iditarod, so the novelty of being the first woman to win meant it reached out further to the general population than it might have otherwise. Reading it in 2022 without previously having given much thought to women in the Iditarod made it feel like a fun, time-travel adventure.

Each chapter is one day of the Iditarod, and the book jumps right in with day 1. There’s no prologue or introduction to Libby. It’s just day one of the race. Each chapter also shows which part of the trail Libby completed that day, gives a note on the weather (highs, lows, and wind speed), and a brief summary of what that day was like for her. Throughout the book there are asides explaining various aspects of the Iditarod and mushing, everything from what clothes mushers wear and why to the history of the event. I found these very helpful. I just wish there’d been one introducing me to Libby too.

I expected the Iditarod to be a story of loneliness and individual perseverance. Instead, I learned that the race involves a lot of people, includes seeing people more than you might think, and is a meaningful event to various towns and villages along the trail. In retrospect I should have realized this. But the Iditarod is discussed as such a survivalist event that it never crossed my mind. Especially at the beginning of the race, the mushers are quite close to each other, and even sometimes travel in groups if they have a similar pace. Villages, towns, and even just individual homes are checkpoints throughout that the mushers must check in to. The locals open up their homes to the mushers, even giving over their beds for them to get an hour or two of shut-eye. At one point, Libby sleeps in a bed with two other mushers briefly. It’s really not the individual experience I was expecting! This sort of help is allowed only if it’s offered to all mushers equally, so when a person chooses to open up their home and feed and clothe people, they’re really offering it up.

Each checkpoint also has at least one veterinarian available to check in on the dogs. Dogsled racing is largely about the dog teams, after all. Many mushers actually breed their own sled dogs. Libby’s dogs were half hers and half her partner Joe’s. Throughout the book, we get to know her dogs a bit and see how much care she gives to them. Libby also won the award given by the vets to the musher who took best care of their dogs, an interesting accomplishment for the person who also won the whole thing that year.

This isn’t to say that mushers are never alone or reliant only on themselves and their dogs. As the race goes on, they get more spread out from each other. At one point, Libby must camp out on her sled in the middle of a blizzard completely alone. Also the further in front you are, the less clear the trail is, and the easier it is to get lost. So winning is also about having the fortitude to go ahead of everyone else.

I enjoyed how I learned about the Iditarod without ever feeling like it was a textbook. The learning happened naturally as I followed Libby on her route and rooted for her inevitable win I knew was coming. You can see some footage of Libby in the 1985 Iditarod and her induction moment into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame here. If you have little ones in your life, you might like to get Libby’s children’s book about her historic Iditarod win. The adult memoir is a fun and educational read for anyone interested in the tale.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 244 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

February 1, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. An aerial shot of a snowy forest with a church in the middle of it. The title is in red over the top. of this.

Summary:
Things have been wrong with Mr and Mrs Wright for a long time. When Adam and Amelia win a weekend away to Scotland, it might be just what their marriage needs. Self-confessed workaholic and screenwriter Adam Wright has lived with face blindness his whole life. He can’t recognize friends or family, or even his own wife.

Every anniversary the couple exchange traditional gifts – paper, cotton, pottery, tin – and each year Adam’s wife writes him a letter that she never lets him read. Until now. They both know this weekend will make or break their marriage, but they didn’t randomly win this trip. One of them is lying, and someone doesn’t want them to live happily ever after.

Ten years of marriage. Ten years of secrets. And an anniversary they will never forget.

Review:
I have a thing for the themes for each anniversary year of marriage. I also have a thing for thrillers about marriages. So when I saw this one incorporating both, I knew I just had to read it. I can’t be the only one this appealed to because I waited for a few months for it at the library. This was definitely a unique and fun take on the thriller about a marriage theme.

The telling alternates between the anniversary letters Mrs. Wright writes to her husband and the present day Mrs. Wright going on the trip with Mr. Wright to Scotland. They are seeing a marriage counselor who suggest a trip away, and Mrs. Wright wins a weekend trip to a converted chapel in Scotland. One of the stronger scenes in the book is the late-night arrival at this Air BNB style home. If you have ever arrived late at night at an Air BNB or other vacation rental where you have to let yourself in and hope it lives up to your expectations, this scene will really set your spine to tingling!

Much as I was enjoying the present day explorations of the spooky getaway, I also really enjoyed the anniversary letters from Mrs. Wright. They were the perfect interlude because very quickly it becomes clear she is keeping something from him. So you end up with two different mysteries. What is going on at the weekend stay? And what is Mrs. Wright keeping from Mr. Wright?

I wasn’t sure at first how I’d feel about the face blindness aspect. But it is a real condition, and I like how the perspective sometimes shifts to Mr. Wright’s. We see how he sees his wife, and how he recognizes her anyway. I also really enjoy how important the title is to the book and how often it comes into play.

Now, this is a thriller so of course there is a twist. It is a major one, and I really wasn’t seeing it coming. I was a bit miffed because it was one of those situations where the only reason I didn’t see it coming was some information was withheld from the reader. But I so enjoyed the process of getting to that point that I ultimately didn’t care.

Overall, this was a fun entry into the thriller category. It delightfully combines a marriage on the rocks with a creepy vacation rental for a new feeling plot.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 297 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Good House by Ann Leary

January 25, 2022 Leave a comment
A digital book cover. The peak of the roof of a yellow house with a cardinal on it in the snow.

Summary:
Hildy Good is a successful realtor in her small town on the North Shore of Massachusetts. She’s also a grandmother, dog owner, and divorced. She’s also recently back from rehab for alcoholism from an intervention her two daughters staged for her. Hildy is not an alcoholic, but she went along with the whole thing to ensure access to her grandbaby. Inconveniently now, she must continue to pretend to abstain in public and suffer through parties sober until she can get home to a glass of wine or two in the evening. She also begins to befriend a newcomer to town she sold a very expensive home to – Rebecca. She is obsessed with horses and her one-time psychiatrist. When a cluster of secrets become dangerously entwined, the reckless behavior of one threatens to expose the other, with devastating consequences.

Review:
The North Shore of Massachusetts is a really fun and unique place, and this book artfully and realistically depicts both that location and the unfortunate realities of alcoholism, especially as it is seen in the older generation. I particularly like that alcoholism in an older woman is featured.

Hildy clearly thinks the story is about her own ability to be a successful businesswoman in the face of encroaching real estate chains and her daughters’ “ridiculous” belief that she’s an alcoholic putting a damper on her socializing. She also likes her new friend Rebecca but can’t understand why Rebecca and her psychiatrist care that Hildy knows they’re seeing each other. The thing is, the reader can clearly see that the real story is about Hildy, alcohol, and the havoc she’s wreaking across her own and other people’s lives. But the story isn’t heavy-handed about this. It comes across as this is the day to day life of this woman in this North Shore community. It’s just her day-to-day life is impeded by alcohol. Occasionally at first, but ever increasingly as the story progresses. It’s a slow burn of moderation quantifiably not working.

My absolute favorite scene in the book is when Hildy has a bottom moment and goes out to walk her dogs the next morning. She’s uncharacteristically angry at them and berates them verbally. Normally she loves these dogs to pieces. She gets to the shore, sees a heron, has an ah-hah moment, and breaks down crying. What was so gorgeous about this to me was how real this moment is. Being hungover and doing something ordinary yet suddenly connecting to something higher than yourself and realizing you’ve really messed up. But it was bittersweet because I just knew this wasn’t Hildy’s bottom yet. (Even a person with no addiction experience would realize this as it does not occur anywhere near the end of the book). But Hildy doesn’t realize it. You think all it will take is one powerful moment but in fact it takes so much more than that.

The book does not shy away from the worse features of late-stage alcoholism, and these come to a head alongside other issues in the town at the end of the book. I really appreciate that it goes there.

What kept me from loving the book is how Hildy treats her love interest. Not when she’s drunk. But when she’s sober. I know no one is perfect, but it really saddened me to see how she treats this lovable old New England man. Is it accurate to how I’ve seen men like that treated here? Yes. But I wanted a bit more escapism in that regard in my read. For me that held me back from complete love.

Recommended to readers looking to visit the North Shore or see the trajectory of alcoholism in an older main female character.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 292 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Audible

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Book Review: The High House by Jessie Greengrass

January 18, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A heron stands in water. A topographical map is superimposed over him in yellow.

Summary:
Perched on a sloping hill, set away from a small town by the sea, the High House has a tide pool and a mill, a vegetable garden, and, most importantly, a barn full of supplies. Caro, Pauly, Sally, and Grandy are safe, so far, from the rising water that threatens to destroy the town and that has, perhaps, already destroyed everything else. But for how long?

Review:
I haven’t really been in the mood for dystopian literature since March of 2020, preferring a bit more escapism in my reading. But the cover of this book featuring that gorgeous egret really drew me in when I was browsing NetGalley. And I thought that maybe a book about a dystopia brought on just by climate change would be different enough to still work for me. Plus I had my fingers crossed it would involve birds after featuring one so strongly on the cover. What I found was a book about trials different enough from our own that it gave me distance and yet with meaningful moments that took my breath away with their relevance. It was like eating a very delicious chocolate cake and then sometimes getting mouthfuls that are even more delicious because they have surprising ooey gooey pockets of liquid chocolate.

“All I can think is that what’s different now is that no one can claim this is progress.”

 (loc 1308)

The High House is a coastal summer home inherited by an environmental academic named Francesca. In spite of being coastal, it is, as the name implies, on high ground. She can see what’s coming, even though others won’t listen to her. So, while she keeps trying to bring about change to prevent it, she also secretly sets up the high house for her stepdaughter Caro and her son Pauly (who is 14 years younger than Caro). She also hires on the local elderly groundskeeper who is very wise in the old ways, Grandy, and by extension his university-aged granddaughter, Sally. I thought the book was going to be mostly set in the now of these folks living together after the flooding. But really it was largely these characters looking backward at the years just before the event, and through the event. How they came to be the way they are now. Sally, Caro, and Pauly all take turns narrating.

It’s difficult to explain how beautiful this book is without spoiling it. It’s no like the ending is a surprise or a twist but rather it takes reading the book in its entirely to get what the book is saying. And what it is saying is just simply gorgeous. In a sad way. I suppose what I can say is that this book depicts complex grief without ever really saying that’s what it’s doing. And it’s exquisite.

And the birds. Pauly loves birds, and it’s his knowledge and genuine love of them that lets everyone else know a bit of what they’re talking about when they talk about the birds. The heron on the cover is a bit of a flaw in cover design, because the birds that are actually important to the story are a pair of egrets. is They have a very important role that, again, was devastatingly exquisite. (We don’t see any harm come to the birds, and it’s a bit up in the air if any does).

This was a gorgeous book that I found comforting the way a sad movie can sometimes be. I stayed up far too late to finish it, because I just simply couldn’t look away. If you love nature and question what can remain for humans after large changes, pick this one up and let yourself get swept away.

5 out of 5 stars

Length: 272 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: NetGalley

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