Thursday, January 2, 2014

Winter Vacation Reading List

I read a wide range of books this holiday - some were better than others…

The Harem Midwife by Roberta Rich
This is a loose sequel to Rich's first novel, The Midwife of Venice.  Though the characters are the same, you do not have to have read the first book to understand this one.  The book pick up where the last one left off - Hannah and Isaac Levy who have been exiled from Venice are making a life for themselves with their adopted son Matteo in Constantinople.  Hannah is a well respect midwife to the Sultan's harem while Isaac scratches out a living in the silk trade.  Life is generally good for the Jews of the Ottoman Empire - certainly better than it was in the Venice Ghetto.

Hannah runs into trouble when she is asked to verify the virginity of a Jewish slave girl who has been captured as an offering for the Sultan.  She takes pity on the young girl and lies for her which leads to fear for her life if found out and tension with her husband.  At the same time the family is visited by Francesca who poses as the widow of Isaac's deceased brother.  She is in fact trying to get her hands on his money and Matteo who was originally a Christian baby.

I won't give away the end - suffice it to say intrigue and close calls abound until the book comes to a neat but too predictable end.

The Great House by Nicole Krauss
I read this book for the second time as it is on my book club reading list.  And I did not like it any better than the first time around though I loved her other novel, The History of Love.  This book centres around a desk that makes its way from Nazi Europe, to London, to a Chilean writer, to New York and eventually is headed for Jerusalem.  Along the way we meet the various characters who use the desk - a writer in New York, a Chilean poet who is executed by Pinochet, an Holocaust survivor in London who harbours great secrets which her husband only uncovers when she reverts to the past with Alzheimers and an antique dealer who spends his life trying to find the desk and rebuild his father's study in pre-war Europe.

The language was just a bit too complicated and the writing too meandering for my taste.  I kept reading because I wanted to know how the various stories fit together but I was not really satisfied with how they did in the end.  I do look forward to discussing this with my book club as maybe I'll gain insights into the book which went over my head.

The Book Club by Mary Alice Monroe
Now this was just mindless beach reading but it did the trick.  We delve into the lives of five middle aged women who discuss books and life in a book club.  Each chapter starts with a quote from the book they are reading and ties into the happenings in their lives at the time.  I wouldn't run out to find this book but if you happen to come across it by chance, as I did, it's worth a read on a sunny afternoon.

About a Boy by Nick Hornby
This is also mindless reading about twenty something rich and unemployed Will who is living on the royalties earned for a Christmas carol his father wrote in the thirties.  He invents a two year old son so he can join a single parent's support group and meet single mothers who, in their vulnerability, are more attracted to him than they should be.  However, eventually he meets Marcus, a twelve year old self described weird kid who needs the kind of guidance Will can provide - how to dress, what music to follow and how to talk to girls.  He's less able to help Marcus with his severely depressed mother and detached father, but his help does enable Marcus to fit in at his new school in London where previously he was only bullied.  However, in the end it is probably Will who gains more of a sense of purpose from Marcus.  Again, I wouldn't run out to find this, but it's not bad.

Your Sad Eyes and Unforgettable Mouth by Edeet Ravel
I really enjoyed this book though it was a bit heavy for vacation.  Maya and Rosie are both the daughters of Holocaust survivors who meet as teenagers and quickly become best friends.  They each cope with their parents' eccentricities in different ways - Maya by trying to distance herself and Rosie by being drawn into her parents' haunted life.  Maya attends a Socialist summer camp and there she meets Anthony, a counsellor who, together with his brother Patrick, become key players in Maya and Rosie's life.  Together the four teenagers visit the boys' mother's cottage in the Laurentian and must forever keep a terrible secret about what occurs there.
This is really an exploration of families and how they survive terrible atrocities that affect even subsequent generations.  And it is a story of unrequited love and how damaging that can be.  But most of all I admired Maya's strength at dealing with all of this and coming out fairly together in the end.

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