Weekly book round up: what I read last week Nov 11-18, 2019

Review

Weekly book round up: what I read last week Nov 11-18, 2019A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee's Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival by Melissa Fleming
on January 24, 2017
Pages: 285
Format: Audiobook
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Doaa and her family leave war-torn Syria for Egypt where the climate is becoming politically unstable and increasingly dangerous. She meets and falls in love with Bassem, a former Free Syrian Army fighter and together they decide to leave behind the hardship and harassment they face in Egypt to flee for Europe, joining the ranks of the thousands of refugees who make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean on overcrowded and run-down ships to seek asylum overseas and begin a new life.
After four days at sea, their boat is sunk by another boat filled with angry men shouting threats and insults. With no land in sight and surrounded by bloated, floating corpses, Doaa is adrift with a child’s inflatable water ring around her waist, while two little girls cling to her neck. Doaa must stay alive for them. She must not lose strength. She must not lose hope.

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This is a book everyone should read. It tells the history of the Syrian conflict in a readable and succinct way. But that is just the backdrop to the story of this one woman’s (this is a true story) path as a refugee. Doaa’s story gives the reader an understanding of why people leave their homes and the dangers and challenges they confront to do so.

The real content of this book is in the last 25% of the text. The preceding pages give the background and the first years of being a refugee. That portion is solid, but the last 25% is harrowing.

I have seen the news stories of people crossing the Mediterranean by boat, but this accounting left me shell shocked. Rare for me, I just sat and cried during much of the Mediterranean crossing passages. I had to wait a day to even write this review and there is no way I can convey the horror of the Mediterranean crossing. It is an emotionally difficult book to read but one people should read.

I say it often, but books help me exercise my empathy muscles and this one – wow – I felt it

Weekly book round up: what I read last week Nov 11-18, 2019Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Published by Simon and Schuster on March 19, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 352
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The painful and comic story of a 25 year-old black woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither.

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Review

4.5 stars or maybe 4 but I rounded up. The s is a book Millennials will be more attracted to than people n my age demographic. Young women of color may particularly identify with Queenie. I have children of color and they have friends and I like to read books that give me insights into their range of experiences. Queenie is another book that was good for pushing my empathy muscles. I appreciated the ultimate message and I learned more about the world from a perspective radically different from mine.

Weekly book round up: what I read last week Nov 11-18, 2019The Girl with the Leica by Helena Janeczek, Ann Goldstein
on September 7, 2017
Pages: 364
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1st August 1937. A parade of red flags marches through Paris. It is the funeral procession for Gerda Taro, the first female photographer to be killed on a battlefield. Robert Capa, who leads the procession, is devastated. They have been happy together: he taught her how to use the Leica before they left together to fight in the Spanish Civil War.

Other figures from Gerda’s past are in the crowd: Ruth Cerf, her friend from Leipzig, who shared the hardships of their first years in Paris after feeling from Germany; Willy Chardack, who resigned himself to the role of loyal companion after Gerda snubbed him for Georg Kuritzkes, a fighter in the International Brigades. For all of them, Gerda will remain a stronger and more vivid presence than her image of anti-fascist heroine. It is her who binds together a narrative spanning distant times and places, bringing back to life the snapshots of these young people and the challenges they faced in the 1930s, from economic depression to the rise of nazism, to the hostility towards refugees in France. But for those who loved her, those young years would remain a time when, as long as Gerda was alive, everything seemed possible.

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Review

I can give this author the benefit of the doubt and say the translation was the issue. Or that the literary value was way beyond my appreciation level. But I did not enjoy this read. I finished it because it is for a book club I love but I had to force myself to read 50-60 pages/day like it was a dreaded school assignment. To me it was like a shitty first draft that needed serious support during and revision so the reader could follow what was going on.

The only interesting aspect of the book was its exploration of the political left demonstrating the most opposition to the rising fascist governments in 1930’s Europe. Ironic that those groups, largely communist, were the groups vilified post war. So that was interesting. And occasionally there was a paragraph I could follow easily and more rarely a page or two, but mostly I struggled just to connect the dots of the narrative. Reading should not be this hard.

My book club met and we universally gave a thumbs down to this novel. It wasn’t just me.

Weekly book round up: what I read last week Nov 11-18, 2019Don't Let Go by Harlan Coben
Published by Dutton Books on September 26, 2017
Pages: 351
Format: Audiobook
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With unmatched suspense and emotional insight, Harlan Coben explores the big secrets and little lies that can destroy a relationship, a family, and even a town in this powerful new thriller.
Suburban New Jersey Detective Napoleon “Nap” Dumas hasn't been the same since senior year of high school, when his twin brother Leo and Leo’s girlfriend Diana were found dead on the railroad tracks—and Maura, the girl Nap considered the love of his life, broke up with him and disappeared without explanation. For fifteen years, Nap has been searching, both for Maura and for the real reason behind his brother's death. And now, it looks as though he may finally find what he's been looking for. 
When Maura's fingerprints turn up in the rental car of a suspected murderer, Nap embarks on a quest for answers that only leads to more questions—about the woman he loved, about the childhood friends he thought he knew, about the abandoned military base near where he grew up, and mostly about Leo and Diana—whose deaths are darker and far more sinister than Nap ever dared imagine.

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Review

Classic Harlan Coben – fast paced. Not t my favorite of his but still good and with twists and turns that kept me listening. Steven Weber’s audible narration was fantastic. This is a good book for a drive or plane trip.

Weekly book round up: what I read last week Nov 11-18, 2019True Places by Sonja Yoerg
on January 1, 2019
Pages: 347
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A Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestseller
A girl emerges from the woods, starved, ill, and alone…and collapses.
Suzanne Blakemore hurtles along the Blue Ridge Parkway, away from her overscheduled and completely normal life, and encounters the girl. As Suzanne rushes her to the hospital, she never imagines how the encounter will change her—a change she both fears and desperately needs.
Suzanne has the perfect house, a successful husband, and a thriving family. But beneath the veneer of an ideal life, her daughter is rebelling, her son is withdrawing, her husband is oblivious to it all, and Suzanne is increasingly unsure of her place in the world. After her discovery of the ethereal sixteen-year-old who has never experienced civilization, Suzanne is compelled to invite Iris into her family’s life and all its apparent privileges.
But Iris has an independence, a love of solitude, and a discomfort with materialism that contrasts with everything the Blakemores stand for—qualities that awaken in Suzanne first a fascination, then a longing. Now Suzanne can’t help but wonder: Is she destined to save Iris, or is Iris the one who will save her?

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Review

A good book with some excellent parts interspersed with, what I felt, were weaker sections. Overall this story of an affluent, “success” focussed, traditionally structured family getting an abrupt eye-opening from a foundling girl rescued near death after a life in the woods.

I was frustrated at times when the characters or storyline veered to unrealistic or into caricature. For example, when the social worker comes to visit I cringed as her character did not behave realistically at all . Maybe the author would have benefited from talking to a real social worker supporting foster families, but the bull-doggish, hostile, interrogating person she described was way off (and I have been a foster parent). Home visits are generally supportive and respectful of the children.

The author did better at describing dysfunctional family interactions and especially the culture of entitlement many children raised in affluence develop. All in all a decent book, but if you are looking for a book about a child surviving alone in the wilderness Where the Crawdads Sing is a log order better.

In conclusion…

Every week I’ll post reviews of the books I read the previous week. I read a lot so expect 3-5 reviews each week. The genres I read are diverse: fiction, non-fiction, contemporary, historical fiction, memoirs, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thriller, self-help. About the only genres I don’t read much are horror (pretty much not at all) and romance (maybe a little, but not much).

I try to make my reading choices reflect the world around me and pick many titles written by or about underrepresented groups. You will find many titles featuring people of color, LGBTQ, and indigenous people covered here. In addition, I am on a mission to read a book from every country in the world so you will find reviews of books from all regions.

Join me as I present reading challenges and compile suggested reading lists to fit special topics. Please share your own suggestions and opinions in the comments.

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