Adriana Reads
4 Stars
The Girl from Krakow
The Girl from Krakow - Alex Rosenberg
Outstanding! If you watch The History Channel, you've probably had your fill of WWII documentaries and may think you've glanced on just about every aspect of the war. Well, this book went into areas I never even thought of. How overnight Poles suddenly became Ukranians. What life was like in Moscow if you were a foreigner. How veterans from both sides of the Spanish revolution fared during the war.

It's a story of survival, and sacrifice, as in the parts of ourselves we need to sacrifice to maintain our sense of self in the face of unimaginable hardship and privation. In this story, we meet two Jewish Poles and follow them through their very different wartime experiences. Many reviewers have disliked Rita, and while I understand why, I also understand why she was the way she was. Up until very recently, there was no realistic way for an intelligent self-aware woman to live life on her terms. After being her parents' daughter for 18 years, Rita grasped at straws to become her own woman by going to law school, but could not fool herself into believing she would be allowed to be independent. So she did what just about all women did - sacrificed her "self" and went from being someone's daughter to being someone's wife. By today's standards, I am somewhat of a shrinking violet, but even I cannot fathom the despair so many women must have felt at knowing they'll never be anything more than someone's wife and someone's mother.

Then comes war, and she must forsake all she thought she would ever have just to survive. No one goes through war unchanged, certainly not Rita. She finds herself in a situation that many might find easy to condemn, and I'm not entirely certain the lesbian relationship really added anything to the story, but again, you do what you need to to keep your sanity.

And this book managed to do something no book that I can recall reading recently has done: it got me thinking philosophically. This book discussed themes of not just right and wrong/good and evil, but why is something right or good, and why is something wrong or evil - just the sort of thing that creates immense discomfort in the small-minded who believe what they believe and never bother wondering why.
3 Stars
The Husband's Secret
The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty
Perhaps it's just me, but I cannot like a book if I cannot empathize with any of the characters, and pretty much all of the characters in this story behaved badly except for Connor , starting with the titular husband, his perfect and judgmental wife Cecilia, Rachel, who despite the understandable fact that she never got over her daughter's death, then went on to ignore her son, Will and Felicity who were both forgiven way too easily for their transgression , and even Tess, whose social anxiety I can totally relate to after hearing how their breakup affected Connor, she proceeded to shamelessly use him anyway and then took Will back after a betrayal that I don't think I could forgive .

3 stars only because the book was well written and the stories well woven together.

3 Stars
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows
This wasn't bad. It's just that the book is written as a series of letters, for the most part to and from the central character, Juliet, with the occasional letter to her friend Sydney from another secondary character, and I don't particularly care for this style of writing. It really has to be a spectacular story (such as Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) for me to get past my dislike of epistolary novels.
5 Stars
A Man Called Ove
A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman
Beautiful, touching, heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.

How many of us know someone like Ove and ignore him or her? How much richer would our lives be if we only took the time to get to know every Ove that has ever come our way?
3 Stars
The Sea
The Sea - John Banville
I can find no fault with the writing, but the story, while not really long, meandered too much and in the end, did not really have much of a point. I had to take breaks while reading this book, because I kept losing interest.

Had the writing itself not been so strong, this would have been a 2 star book.
4 Stars
The Martian
The Martian - Andy Weir
I haven't read science fiction in over 20 years. I haven't read serious science fiction since my senior year in high school when I was required to read Clarke, Bradbury and Orwell. The Martian was a good reintroduction.

I thought it was well written, and found Mark Watney likable and relate-able. It's a relatively short and easy read, and very compelling. I had meant to take my time with it and read it over the course of a week, but just couldn't put it down and in between activities of daily living, finished it in 3 1/2 days. As I read, I found the whole premise of a Mars voyage entirely plausible as presented in the book (every scenario is explained in detail), and I couldn't help wondering, why aren't we working on making this happen? (Is my utterly dismal understanding of science and mathematics showing?)

I can't wait for the movie, even though I do wish they'd gone the indie route, something like Moon, but I'm not going to knock Matt Damon. I think he'll be spot-on as Mark Watney.
3.5 Stars
Please Pretty Lights
Please Pretty Lights - Ina Zajac

I was provided with a free copy the ebook in exchange for my honest opinion of the book, so here it is.

Let me preface with saying that after reading it, I do not feel I am the target audience for this book. It's more of a new adult novel, and therefore geared toward a younger audience than me.

I'll start with the bad. I really had a hard time with the beginning of the book. First off, the central character, Via, suffered a major tragedy ten years earlier at the age of 11. As the story opens, she is celebrating her 21st birthday. She is presented as being reasonably well-adjusted considering what she had been through, and I had difficulty buying into her actions immediately after her birthday dinner, which set in motion the downward spiral as she counted down the 100 days from her birthday to the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.

My other problem with the story was when Via was presented with the opportunity of snorting coke. It was indicated she had tried it in college and didn't hate it. If she really was that maladjusted that she flew off the rails so easily, I don't think she would have remained just a casual user. It might have worked better if she'd never used, but then it would have required more of a buildup to lead to her first time (which probably would have worked better in illustrating her downward spiral).

However, once I got past what I felt was an awkward beginning, the rest of the story was fairly captivating. Despite being marketed as a dark, gritty story, it felt more like a romance with dark undertones, until about 2/3 of the way in when it really did get dark, and I felt the happy ending I was expecting start to slip away. I had planned on taking my time with this story, but as I got close to the end, I just couldn't put it down.

The story takes place in Seattle, and a couple of other major characters play in a 90s cover band. I absolutely LOVED all the musical references (Foo Fighters, Green Day, Bob Marley, and even Sheryl Crow). It always adds to my enjoyment of a story when an author creates a soundtrack for the story out of music I already like.

2 Stars
Life After Life
Life After Life - Kate Atkinson
I probably should have bumped this up to 3 stars, as I didn't really dislike this book as much as I was annoyed by it.

It has a very gimmicky premise, which can best be summed up with the tagline from Tom Cruise's movie from last summer: "live, die, repeat." For about the first third of the book, I got the impression that the author did not really have an idea for a full-length novel and decided to cheat by replaying the same events over and over (and over) with only slight variations.

It almost goes without saying that there was a LOT of repetition, particularly at the beginning. The first quarter could have been cut in half. It wasn't necessary to replay her birth each time she died before the age of 10. And then toward the middle of the book, the repeated lives that ended in the neighborhood of the London apartment, with very few changes to each life. It really got tedious. And despite all the repetition, you'd think at some point there would have been a reveal of a few mysteries. Who was the man with Sylvie in London? Who was the little girl they found that cold morning? Who was the man with the limp? What happened to Izzy's baby?

Now that I've finished it, it feels less gimmicky than it did at the start, and I think I would have liked it much better with some serious editing - eliminate the repetitions that were almost identical and just stick with the three or four most divergent stories. And for God's sake, give it an ending! Happy or tragic, I don't care, but don't leave it to the imagination that it all starts over again!
4 Stars
The Golem and the Jinni: A Novel
The Golem and the Jinni - Helene Wecker
A very enjoyable and easy-to-read story that combines historic fiction, fantasy, magic, mysticism and religion.

It's obvious that much research was involved in crafting this story, and as a reader, I too learned much about history and Jewish and Middle-Eastern lore.
5 Stars
Shirley - Charlotte Brontë, Lucasta Miller, Jessica Cox
How is it that I never read this book before now? It's magnificent! It's everything I love about Jane Eyre, but with so much more to satisfy my more mature literary palate.

It has Charlotte's beautiful, lyric language, serious discussions about religion and spirituality, not just one but two heroines to root for, feminism, romance, societal inequality and social justice.

It is very nearly the perfect novel.

And since I've apparently become an inarticulate, gushing fool, I'll stop now.
3 Stars
Funny Girl
Funny Girl - Nick Hornby
This was Nick Hornby's first novel since Juliet Naked, which is one of my absolute favorite books, so I was fairly excited about finally getting my hands on Funny Girl. (I even went so far as to order it from Amazon UK so I could read it well in advance of the US release date in February.)

Alas, my feelings toward it can best be summed up as "meh." The titular Barbara was likable enough, but the whole story read like a buildup toward a conflict that never came.

I was expecting a story about an aspiring comedienne who had to claw her way into the industry and then deal with stereotyping and prejudices in order to stay on top, and finally seeing what sort of compromises she would have to make regarding family life. That is not what Funny Girl is about. It's about a small town beauty queen who can't stomach the idea of life in a small town, so she ditches it and her beauty crown to see if she can make it in London. Once there, Barbara essentially had everything handed to her.

It wasn't bad, it just was not at at all what I expected, and sadly too lackluster in comparison to what I thought it would be.
4 Stars
The Visitors
The Visitors - Sally Beauman
Despite the fact that I had a couple of issues with this novel, I thoroughly enjoyed it. First of all, it took a while for the actual story to get going. There are many characters, most historical, which needed to be introduced, and that took nearly 100 pages. But once that was done and I got to the meat of the story, it kept me hooked and I found the book difficult to put down.

The next problem I had was totally of my own making. I expected more history and less novel in this historic novel. That was not the case. This novel is about the fictional character Lucy Payne, and how she happened to be present to witness historic events.

The Visitors is a first person narrative, told by an elderly Lucy as she recounts how at the age of 12, she came to be in Egypt at the precise time when King Tut's tomb was discovered. Ms. Beauman beautifully weaves the present (it's actually 2002, but it close enough to present day) with the flashbacks.

Sadly, the main part of the story concluded once the tomb was found, and the final 100 or so pages were spent catching us up with what happened to Lucy over the next 80 years. I loved Lucy too much to see the rest of her story only in bits and pieces. I think I would have preferred a more abrupt ending after her return from Egypt, or a more detailed account of the rest of her life. However, given that the book is already over 500 pages, perhaps this was too daunting an undertaking.
3 Stars
The Moonlight Palace
The Moonlight Palace - Liz Rosenberg
It wasn't bad. It was just totally unmemorable. The characters lacked depth and the narrative was not particularly compelling. I wonder if perhaps this book has been marketed incorrectly. It might work better as a YA novel than a straight up historical novel.

There was a lot of potential, but the execution fell short. Part of the problem was in choosing to tell the story in the first person from the perspective of a naive 17 year old girl. More detailed stories of the grandparents and the great-uncle would have been nice.

Also, I'm not particularly knowledgeable about the Chinese uprising and how it affected neighboring countries, and this story did those events a huge disservice by casually glancing on it as it did. Again, more detail would have been nice in addition to far more depth to the character in question - his history, his family's history, his ambitions, motivations, how did his actions impact his friends and family back home?

Honestly, the more I think about The Moonlight Palace, the more irritated I get at how little it actually told me.
5 Stars
Us - David           Nicholls
Note: This review is of the special preview edition of the uncopyedited manuscript, which the publisher was kind enough to provide me after a fair amount of groveling.

As I read Us, I was reminded of one of my favorite Spanish language songs, Historia de un Amor, a song about an epic love story. Mr. Nicholls vividly captures the passionate exuberance of young love, and as we journey through the years with our couple, we witness what so often happens to that love over the course of time. This truly is a modern love story, in all its joyous, ecstatic, monotonous, heartbreaking, gut wrenching honesty.

In Us, we meet Douglas Peterson, a middle aged biochemist who has it pretty good. He has a job he likes, and a wife he adores. But because no one can ever have everything, he also has a distant teen-aged son, who is a source of constant frustration. Oh, and his beloved wife has just announced that she thinks she the marriage is done. The story that ensues is Douglas desperately trying to convince her otherwise, while he valiantly tries to understand and bond with his son. In describing Douglas' relationship with his son Albie, Mr. Nicholls has given us one of the most heartbreaking quotes I have ever read:
"I have had some experience of unrequited love in the past and that was no picnic, I can tell you. But the unrequited love of one's only living offspring has its own particular slow acid burn."
Douglas narrates, and he really could be anyone we know. He comes across as mostly likable, but like any of us, in moments of stress (or distress), he can thoughtlessly lash out. More than once while reading Us, I shook my head sadly and thought, "Oh, Douglas, how could you?" as if he were a real person, a friend whose side I want to be on, but find it impossible to excuse his actions or words.

There's just something about David Nicholls' characters that either strike a chord with readers, or which readers find absolutely loathsome. I fall into the first group, and for this reason he is one of my absolute favorite writers. Although at times I have difficulty buying into why his characters do what they do (who tells their spouse they think the marriage is over and then decides it's a good idea to take an extended family vacation together?), I keep coming back because he never fails to keep my head nodding in agreement as he describes fears, insecurities, social awkwardness, and even the occasional small victories. They're characteristics I recognize in myself. They are characters I would create if I possessed his gift.

If you've read and enjoyed Mr. Nicholls' other books (plural, as in you've read Starter for Ten and/or The Understudy in addition to One Day), you won't be disappointed. Us is an outstanding character study of the middle class middle-age. We deeply feel for Douglas as he fumbles his way situations that make you both laugh and cringe. There were a couple of instances where Douglas found himself in extremely uncomfortable situations, and I empathized with him so deeply, I had difficulty reading on - that's how real the writing feels to me.

And as I reach that middle age malaise and find myself facing another 20 years of doing the same mindless job I've done for the last 25 years, Us did a wonderful job of reminding my why I transferred out of the art program in college when I was already halfway through. Thank you, Mr. Nicholls.
4 Stars
A Thousand Splendid Suns
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
Mr. Hosseini is an okay writer. He is, however, an amazing storyteller. And no, the two are not the same. There is nothing remarkable about his style. But the story is what hooked me. I cried through about the last 80 pages. And nearly three weeks after I finished reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, I still tear up when I think about it.

I read this book at the request of my 16 year old daughter who read it for her English class last year. I'm so glad schools are incorporating stories like this into their curriculum. I think it will empower American girls by making them realize what a gift freedom is.
4 Stars
The Buddha in the Attic
The Buddha in the Attic - Julie Otsuka
3 1/2 stars, rounded up.

This is the second book I've read in almost as many weeks that employs an odd sort of narrative style. And as in the earlier book I read like this, it's a good thing it's short, because this style would not have held my attention very much longer. It is told in the first person plural (we), something I would have said was impossible prior to reading it.

It is the collective experience of Japanese women coming to America, from the turn of the 20th century, and ending in 1942, although at no point are we given a time frame of any sort. This style of writing made everything seem distant and impersonal. While not generally a good thing in storytelling, I was infinitely grateful for it when describing the wedding nights, and later on, childbirth. The watered down descriptions of some of the brutalities were sufficient to get the point across and make me cringe.

However, the most riveting chapter was the last. The perspective shifts from that of Japanese women to the American population as a whole, talking about the overnight disappearance of an entire group of people. It reads like a paranormal dystopian novel. Except that it is neither paranormal nor dystopian. It really happened.
The Bowie Book Club's read book montage
The Bowie Book Club 153 members
This book club was created in honor of the extraordinary artist and avid reader David Bowie. May ...

Books we've read

The Master and Margarita
In Cold Blood
A Clockwork Orange
Billy Liar
Nineteen Eighty-Four
Madame Bovary

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