Monday, April 20, 2015

Three recent reads

I've been reading quickly lately and not getting a chance to post my reviews, so here are my three most recent reads:

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

I don't usually read much by Picoult as I find her novels somewhat formulaic but I needed something to read and this was lying around the house so I decided to give it a try.  It wasn't bad, though it did follow her typical formula - family issues, complicated, public and controversial court case to resolve some of these otherwise private issues, resolution (and not being sure until the end whether the resolution would cause happiness or despair).  This one was even more blatant in its attempt to pull at the heartstrings in that it included a CD of original music (lyrics by Picoult).  Each chapter was supposed to be accompanied by one track to enhance the mood/enjoyment.  That was too much for me - the CD remains in its sealed envelope.

The story centres around Zoe Baxter, a music therapist, who is now about 40.  She and her husband have been trying for years to have a child but, despite multiple expensive rounds of IVF treatment have been unsuccessful.  Eventually her husband can no longer stand the relentless pursuit of a child and leaves Zoe.  He moves back into his brother's basement (where he has been before) and drowns his sorrow in alcohol (he was a recovering alcoholic throughout his marriage).  His brother and sister-in-law eventually introduce him to their evangelical pastor who helps him find comfort in Jesus rather than the bottle.  But this leads to no end of grief for Zoe.

Zoe, in the meantime, finds love with an unlikely partner - a woman.  Because Zoe can no longer have children (medical issues you can read about) she seeks permission to have her leftover frozen embryos implanted in her partner.  This does not sit well with her ex-husband's newfound right wing Christian travelling companions.  So they fund his fight for "custody" of the embryos so he can give them to his brother and sister-in-law to be raised in a "proper" family.  Thus the high profile court case ensues.

I will not tell you how the drama ultimately unfolds in case one day you too are looking for something to read - but all the loose ends are tied up in an epilogue that takes place a few years later.  Though the story is somewhat predictable and many of the characters are more caricatures, there are some nice parts dealing with Zoe's relationship with her mother and her new partner as well as her ex-husband's relationship with his sister-in-law.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Hannah is another popular author whose books are sometimes a bit formulaic, but I really liked this one.  It focuses on the role some regular French women played during World War II.  And, given the grave subject, the ending was really sad - and well done.  Though certain passages took place in the present, the author did a really good job of keeping secret who survived the war and who did not (at least I was not able to figure it out though I had a couple of theories).

Vianne Mauriac is a 28 year old mother of one daughter in 1939 when her husband Antoine heads to the front.  Though she does not believe the Nazis will invade France, they do and, in fact, she is forced to host a German captain in her home in occupied France.  Vianne's 18 year old sister Isabelle has always been a rebellious girl and she uses this energy and drive to join the French resistance to the German occupation and the French collaborating government.

The book follows the sisters through the war years - showing how each helped fight the Nazis in their own way.  Though Isabelle was the overt risk taker, Vianne risked her life and that of her daughter to help first her best friend who was Jewish and then other Jewish children.

I really enjoyed seeing this side of the war as so much is written about the role of men, or what took place in ghettos and concentration camps.  This showed what happened from the perspective of ordinary Frenchwomen - while these women were probably not representative of many who either did nothing or even aided the Nazis, it was still interesting to see the impact that the women who tried to help could have.

Though sad and a heavy topic, this is an easy read as it is well written.

Then and Always, by Dani Atkins

This was another sad book though completely different than The Nightingale, and frankly a little bit weird.  It is about Rachel Wiltshire who is injured in a freak accident as she celebrates her high school graduation with her friends.  They are sitting in a restaurant and a car comes through the windshield injuring Rachel and killing her friend Jimmy who risked his life to save her - or so she thinks.

Five years later, Rachel returns to her home town for her best friend's wedding.  Her life has not turned out as she expected - rather than going to university, after a lengthy recovery from her accident she has moved from her hometown, become a secretary, lives in a shabby apartment over a laundromat and her father is dying from cancer.  The night before the wedding she suffers another terrible accident, banging her head, and wakes up to discover a completely different life.

In the life she wakes up to - Jimmy is not dead, her father does not have cancer, she is a journalist in London and she is engaged to her high school sweetheart, Matt.  In other words, she has the life she dreamed of having in high school.

The book tracks these two parallel lives and the reader (through Rachel who thinks she has some weird form of amnesia) is left trying to figure out what her real life is.  This is only revealed in the last few pages and is predictable in retrospect but not really something I had figured out.  Truthfully, I couldn't figure out what was going on.

I read this book quickly because I got so into it and was intrigued to find out what happened, but I'm not sure I would say it was a great book or that I would highly recommend it.  Maybe if you're looking for a way to pass a rainy afternoon or a long plane ride.  It doesn't take a lot of energy.

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