This Blog is Dedicated to our dear friend Karen.
When she left this life she left a hole in our hearts as well as several to be read books.
We, her friends, will read these books for her.
This blog will be a sort of book club for us to post our thoughts and feelings about the stories and feelings we have of Karen while we read.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

#68 The Girl of Fire and Rain by Rae Carson

10429092In general, a pretty good first book for a fantasy trilogy. I enjoyed the latin feel - including the use of Spanish (or at least a Spanish-influenced language). I also enjoyed the fact that Elisa starts off as this typical chubby, ineffectual princess and gradually becomes a strong, assertive leader. There was a strong religious element to the story, as well; again, it really worked well by creating a sort of Spanish Catholic feel (if that makes sense).
The idea of Elisa being chosen by God, and marked as His with a Godstone jewel, was interesting. But having that jewel sticking out of her navel was just weird. And late in the book there's a really strange scene with the Godstone that just makes the story lose a lot of credibility. A true wtf moment.
I'm interested to see where the story goes, so I'll probably come back to this series when I have the chance. Not a must-read situation, but a good enough tale that I'm ready to give it some more attention.

#166 Enclave by Ann Aguire

This is well-written post-apocalyptic fiction. The first part of the story takes place in an underground settlement. The residents are divided into three categories: breeders, builders, and hunters. The hunters scavenge for food and protect the settlement from predators; the builders provide everything the settlement needs, from weapons to medicines to clothing; and the breeders provide... the next generation of citizens. If you don't provide something to the community - if you're too old, or too weak, or handicapped in some way - you're a drain on the settlement, and you're banished to the tunnels outside its barricades (where you won't last long, since you'll be attacked by the Freaks).
Deuce, the narrator, is a newly initiated Hunter who has a hard time following orders. To teach her a lesson, the Elders accuse her friend of hoarding; Deuce takes the blame instead, and is banished, along with her hunting partner, Fade. Instead of fighting the Freaks, they decide to take their chances above-ground, in the ruined city of New York. Most of the remainder of the book covers their adventures in New York and their journey out of the city in search of a safe place to live.
I enjoyed the descriptions of each of the "worlds". The author obviously spent a great deal of time researching and thinking about how an apocalyptic event would affect not only the city above, but also the subway tunnels and other underground spaces. (She discusses some of that process in a note at the end of the book.) She also did a good job showing how the collapse of modern society would affect the people that survived - from Deuce's enclave, to the gangs in above-ground New York, to others they meet outside the city.
The story reminded me a bit of Cormac McCarthy's The Road , but is not quite to the level of that book. McCarthy does a better job of showing the emotional and psychological strain caused by the constant struggle for survival - from searching for food and water, to defending against attacks by wildlings and poachers, down to even wondering if things will ever improve.

#12 My Mother's Secret by JL Witterick


Short novel based on the true experiences of Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter, Helena, during World War II Poland. Four sections, each relating the events from the point of view of a different narrator - Helena; Bronek, a Jewish man whose family is hidden by the Halamajowa family; Mikolaj, a young Jewish boy whose family is also hidden by the Halamajowas; and Vilheim, a German soldier and pacifist hidden by the family. A fourth section picks up Helena's story again, after we've been introduced to all the other characters, and follows the story through to the end of the war.
The story, while fiction, is written in the form of a memoir (or series of memoirs); it is not an "exciting" or suspenseful book, in that there is not a lot of action, but there is certainly an element of suspense in that any or all of the characters could have been discovered at any time - which would have meant the death of all of them.
The book is plainly written; although I found it in the adult fiction section of the library, it could very easily be read by a teen or even someone in middle school or junior high. While the subject matter of the Holocaust is pretty heavy, there is nothing in the book that would be inappropriate or difficult to deal with for a younger reader. In fact, I felt the book belonged in the library's Young Adult or Juvenile section, instead of the Adult section. (In her Acknowledgements, the author mentions several of the people she had pre-read the book either mentioning it was a good book for children, or being children or young adults themselves.)
It was interesting to know that the book was based on real people and events. As the epilogue says, before the war, the village of Sokal, Poland held over 6,000 Jews - after the war, only 30 survived. The Halamajowa women hid 15 Jews (and one German soldier) in their home for most of the war - fully half of the survivors of the war. I would have liked to have seen more information on what happened to the real people that survived the war - if there was a real Mikolaj, a real Bronek. Aside from that, this was a good, short book.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

#129 Pillage by Obert Skye


A decent book. Beck's mother dies, and he's sent to live with his rich but eccentric uncle. He rarely sees his uncle, and is looked after by the loyal family retainers, who mostly leave him to his own devices - which means he spends most of his free time exploring the parts of the mansion he's been told to stay out of.
Of course, this means he eventually discovers his family's dark secret - they can manipulate plants. Oh yeah, and there are dragons.
Some good plot twists and turns, and the characters were (mostly) likable. There was a little bit of teen romance, but it's not shoved down your throat like in some books. Pleasantly free (mostly) of teen angst, too.
This was in my library's young adult section, but I think a lot of juvenile readers would find it easy to read, as well.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

#86 Pulse by Patrick Carman

Meh. Faith is a kind of boring teenager, living in what's left of a boring town after most of society has moved into mega-cities. She goes to a mostly boring school, and not much exciting happens. She discovers that she's telekinetic, a slightly less boring boy named Dylan teaches her how to use this power, and they have a big fight with the kids who we knew were villains basically when we first met them.
This isn't bad, but it's also not that good. Pittacus Lore (!) said it had "pulse-pounding action"? Maybe in the last couple chapters, but otherwise it was pretty slow.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

#89 Scheisshaus Luck by Pierre Berg


4.5 stars rounded up to 5. A really good book.

I've read several books about the Holocaust and Nazi Germany's concentration camps - Elie Wiesel's Night, Roman Frister's The Cap, Heinz Heger's The Men with the Pink Triangle. Surprisingly, none of them brought home to me on a personal level the severity of conditions in the camps, like Berg's book has. The heavy labor, the randomness of why one person dies and another lives. The starvation-level rations - including days or weeks where the inmates scrounged for anything to eat - shoe leather, dandelions and grass, and (in at least one case) cannibalism of the recently deceased. And the constant emotional wearing down, so that witnesses to the cannibalism just sat and watched, unable to find the energy or empathy to stop the act.

While Wiesel's story is that of the Jewish experience, and Heger's from the viewpoint of a gay man, Berg's memoir is from the viewpoint of a French teenager who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time - the finest example of his "Shithouse Luck". (In fact, the "Scheisshaus Luck" of the title has two meanings - Berg's bad luck that causes him to be sent to Auschwitz, and the incredible instances of luck in that "shithouse" that made it possible for him to survive.) It was especially significant to me that, in addition to the groups we've known of that were sent to the camps - Jews, Romani, Communists, Jehova's Witnesses, criminals and political prisoners - the camps also included random citizens from Germany and the occupied countries, sent there by whim or as payback. The Auschwitz sub-camp of Monowitz (one of the four camps experienced by Berg) even had a contingent of British POWs - though, because of the Geneva Convention and regular Red Cross packages, conditions for them were far better than for the majority.

Although the memories in the book are Berg's, the completeness of the memoir is thanks to Berg's cowriter, Brian Brock, who took Berg's original manuscript, asked Berg questions to flesh out details, polished it, and helped to bring everything together in the final product. Both men admit it was a painful process, reliving (or, in Brock's case, forcing Berg to relive) the experience of the concentration camps. But the result is a stark, clear picture of everyday life in the camps.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

#50 The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion


Definitely mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, for what it is - a romantic comedy about a man with (undiagnosed) Asperger Syndrome and his project to find the perfect mate - it's very well written. It's fun, at times funny, and romantic in places.
On the other hand, it often feels like Don's autism is used solely as a vehicle for comedy. And, while I'm not an expert in the subject, I question some of the information shared. Don feels the need to follow a strict routine; any deviation from the schedule causes him extreme discomfort (typical among those with autism). But the author implies that, with just a little effort, schedules and routines can be broken without any lasting repercussions. From my (limited) knowledge of Asperger's, I doubt that's the case.
It seems that Simsion had an opportunity here to tell a funny, engaging story, while at the same time giving factual information about autism; it appears (at least to me) that he didn't manage to do that.