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review 2017-10-17 05:00
To Capture What We Cannot Keep
To Capture What We Cannot Keep: A Novel - Beatrice Colin

I admit, I judge a book by its cover. As a graphic designer, it comes with the territory, and a habit it's too late to change at this point. Having said that, I will also say that this habit has only rarely let me down. This book had the tremendous advantage of 1. featuring the Eiffel tower on the cover (compelling for me after staying within feet of it in Paris last summer), and 2. bearing a remarkable resemblance to the cover of All the Light We Cannot See, a huge favorite of mine. While I don't condone knock-off covers, this one, with a similar type layout to Doerr's book, subliminally convinced me it was going to be good. Normally I might feel manipulated, but Colin was able to follow through on the promise I felt when I first laid eyes on this cover, so I'll forgive her (and the cover designer).

 

I am a fan of historical fiction, inspired by real events with larger than life characters and their creations. Before I visited the Eiffel Tower, I didn't know much about the controversy surrounding its creation, and the fear of it being an eyesore is surprising knowing what an icon it has become for the city, many years after it was supposed to be dismantled. There are a couple of plotlines going on here, and of course a little romance thrown in for good measure, but the true story does not require a whole lot of embellishment to make for an interesting tale. The politics of the drawing room and the social scene in Paris provide a backdrop for what becomes a compelling story with a surprisingly satisfying untidy ending.

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review 2017-10-17 04:28
Born a Crime
Born a Crime - Trevor Noah

I was not really familiar with Trevor Noah when this book became available on NetGalley, but the title stood out. Later, when it was still on my to-read pile, I got a "you should read this" note from my sister-in-law through Goodreads. Since this was unusual, I moved it to the top of my list.

 

I was at the University of Maryland during the height of the Anti-Apartheid protests, and I was a (very small!) part of the protests outside the South African embassy in DC. Nevertheless, my concept of life in South Africa was very limited. Noah's essays provide a unique perspective of a life on the fringes of so many different cultures. They are at turns heartbreaking and hilarious, for every outrageous thing Noah does there is an equally outlandish story about his mother. Mother and son are almost, as they say, two sides of the same coin. I agree with Noah when he describes the book as a love letter to his mother, it is all that and so much more. A must read, sure to move and inspire.

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review 2017-10-17 04:03
Beneath a Scarlet Sky
Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel - Mark T. Sullivan

5 stars for story

4 stars for narration

4.5 stars overall

 

I loved this. It's easily the best thing that has come out of Amazon Kindle First ever, and I'm so glad I picked it up. 

 

This is a "novel" only because the author wasn't able to verify all the facts of the story that Pino Lella told him about his time in Italy during the last two years of the war. As it explains in the foreword, a lot of documents were "lost" after the war, and many people who lived through it chose not to talk about it and simply let it fade into history. Being unable to 100% verify every detail, the author decided to call it a novel, but it is a biography. 

 

As such, I can't really critique this the same way I normally would any other story. These are real people and real events. There's no ultimate struggle of good vs evil (well, there is but as we all know, humans are complicated and things aren't always so black and white) and there are no tropes to rely on or subvert. This is just what happened, and it's both inspiring and infuriating. 

 

Without giving too much away - and assuming you're not a WWII history buff and might know some of these details already - Pino Lella was seventeen when the war came to Italy, and in order to avoid being conscripted and forced to fight on the German front in Poland, where many Italians pressed into service were losing their lives, he instead "volunteered" to work for Operation Todt. All he knew about it was that it was less likely to get him killed and would keep him off the warfront. Things don't go as planned and he ends up in a prime position to work for the resistance, getting them valuable information that helped the Allied invasion. 

 

For the first third of the book, things move pretty slowly. Pino is at first hidden in the mountains near the Switzerland border and helps refugees escape over the border. When his parents bring him back to Milan, things start to pick up and slowly get more complicated. And yet, things seem to almost go too well. Then the end of the war is in sight, and that's when things really hit the fan. The writing in the last third is especially strong and emotive, and I really had to work not to cry in the car as I listened to this on my daily commute. 

 

As for the narrator, Will Damron, he takes the Kevin Costner approach to accents. I would honestly have no accent at all than to listen to a really horrible Italian accent, so I wasn't bothered by this. He does do a decent German accent though. He's very clear and easy to follow along with, and he reads at a good pace. At first, his narration was almost matter-of-fact, but he can really bring the emotions when it's called for. I would say for the most part, he's a 3 star narrator, but the ending was strong enough to bump it up to 4 stars. (And he's certainly popular with audiobooks, so he has his fans.)

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review 2017-10-17 03:59
Faithful
Faithful: A Novel - Alice Hoffman

This, for me, was not a typical Alice Hoffman story. Having read several of her other books (including her middle grade novel), this one, ironically, seems lighter, despite the weight of serious, complex themes. I appreciated that Hoffman tackled a conventional subject from a new angle — the car crash described at the start of the novel does not take lives in the literal sense— but both of the girls involved, and their families, cope with the "life" they each have left. Shelby has been dealt what may seem like the better hand (her friend Helene is comatose), but her guilt for the circumstances related to the crash, her experiences in the hospital after, and the fact that she has managed to build a life beyond it, all overwhelm any relief she might feel.

 

Hoffman is at her best rendering the finer details of ordinary life; here, even the minor characters provide transcendent moments with simple acts of kindness and compelling stories of their own. At some point, I found I was almost more interested in them than with Shelby, but that is not a criticism, Hoffman's powerful writing ensures each character is a fully realized, compassionate individual, worthy of our time and attention.

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review 2017-10-17 00:14
The Zoo is Foreclosed
The Penguin Who Knew Too Much - Donna Andrews

Caerphilly has a zoo. A small zoo, but a zoo. The owner has run into money troubles and has been selling his animals and then is found dead in the basement of Meg and Michael's recently renovated home. He is found on the day that they are starting the move into the house. Things come to a grinding halt when they have to wait for the investigation. 

 

They call the chief and let him know that a body has been found in a recent hole dug by Meg's father to allow for a pond for the penguins he has been caring for because of the foreclosure. As the day progresses, more police show up, her cousin shows up and many other characters start showing up. People are dumping animals at her house for her to care for and she meets the great Dr. Montgomery Blake. He has come to town to see if he wants to be financially responsible for the zoo. 

 

The family has started to show up and the Sprockets (the family Meg and Michael bought the house from) start showing up, digging holes in Meg's yard on the premise that the body they found is their missing uncle. 

 

I already shared one of my favorite moments, from pages 86-87 where someone who was not invited to stay at her home finds a snake in the bathroom, the coroner (who has too many phobias) is terrified in the yard by Meg's brother, Rob, and all the animals being kept on her property and her father's neighboring property. 

 

Meg gets involved in finding out who murdered and buried the zookeeper in her yard and finds out all the weird things that were happening, even learning about canned hunts. I had never heard about this, until this book. This is where hunters pay to hunt rare animals in a small area where the animal cannot get away so that it is an easy target for them. I don't agree with trophy hunting, but I understand the need for food hunting from any other levels. 

 

Good story. Lots of funny moments. 

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