Friday, July 12, 2019

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

I have read and enjoyed pretty much everything Weiner has written, but in my view this was her very best - she seems to be at the top of her game.

This book tells the story of several generations of women though it centres on two sisters - Jo and Bethie Kaufman - who grow up in suburban Detroit in the 50s.  Jo is a tomboy who can never quite meet her mother's expectations for a daughter though she bonds with her father over baseball.  Bethie is the perfect "girly girl" who her mother holds out as an example.  But nothing is as simple as it seems in suburban Detroit.

Jo struggles with her sexual orientation while Bethie suffers a trauma which "turns the good girl bad".  It is Jo who ends up adhering to social norms at the time, becoming a wife and mother in Connecticut, while Bethie leads a more alternative lifestyle.  Neither is truly happy.

I don't want to give too much more away, but it is fascinating to read about these two sisters and through them to learn a lot of the history of feminism, sexual violence, sexual orientation, and even race relations.  I saw the author speak last night and she felt a key message is how difficult it is for women to achieve happiness - whether they conform or not.  And looking at Jo's daughters a generation later, the message is not much more hopeful.

I highly recommend this book.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

This is the second novel I've read by Hoang (the first was The Kiss Quotient).  Both are romantic comedies where one of the parties has autism.  In this case, Khai (who is the cousin of one of the main characters in the prior novel) has autism and he believes it means that he is incapable of feelings, including grief and love.  His mother thinks otherwise and travels to her native Vietnam to find him a wife.  There she finds Esme, who as a mixed race single mother who never knew her father has never really felt like she fit in or was "good enough".

Khai's mother convinces her to travel to California and live with Khai to try to get him to marry her - not as a trick, Khai is aware of the plan just expects to be resistant to it.

On these facts a fairly normal rom/com ensues.  Both parties fall for the other; both believe the other could never fall for them...etc.  And then of course there is a happy ever after.

As an aside, while it added some dimension to recognize the characters from the prior novel, it is by no means necessary to read it first.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Daughter's Tale by Armando Lucas Correa

In 2015, an elderly French Catholic woman, Elise Duval, is approached in New York City by a mother and her daughter who have come from Cuba bearing letters belonging to her.  Faced with these letters Elise is forced to look back on a past which she has buried for almost 70 years.

The narrative then moves back in time to pre-War Berlin where Amanda Sternberg and her husband Julius have their lives disrupted by the arrival of the Nazis.  Amanda was operating a bookstore handed down by her father - the Nazis arrive and burn all the books so she turns to taking care of her two daughters, Viera and Lina.  Julius is a respected cardiologist who is dragged away to a concentration camp and not seen again.  His final act for his family is to impose on the father of a former patient, who is now a Nazi officer to save his family.  He secures passage to Cuba for his two daughters where they are to meet up with Amanda's brother who previously immigrated there.  Unable to get passage for Amanda, he arranges for her to be sheltered in the home of a widow of one of her father's best friends, in Haute-Vienne, a small village in southern France.

When Amanda arrives at the docks to see her children off, she makes the impulsive decision to send only the elder Viera.  She lives with the guilt of this decision for the rest of her life.  Amanda and Lina are temporarily safe living with Claire and her daughter Danielle in France.  But they are eventually betrayed and sent to an internment camp.  There Amanda makes further difficult and dangerous decisions in order to help Lina escape.

Then follows the story of Lina's struggle to survive when the Nazis come down hard on the small town.

I'd say this is a fairly typical Holocaust book, but I did find it interesting and well written.

A Nantucket Wedding by Nancy Thayer

Thayer is one of my favourite summertime authors.  Like most of her novels, this one is set on the island of Nantucket.  I wouldn't say it was my favourite of her books, but I did enjoy it.

The story revolves around Alison, a woman who has been widowed from the love of her life for several years, and to her surprise falls in love with David, also a widower.  They have decided to marry and Alison uses the opportunity to bring together her adult daughters - who have never been particularly close - their families and David's two children and their families.

Thus begins a fairly typical story of the relationships between siblings, step siblings and spouses.  Everyone is suffering from some sort of disappointment in their marriages or professional careers and take some time on the island to work through the issues.

None of the events are particularly dramatic or surprising, but the relationships are interesting enough to sustain the narrative.

A Dangerous Act of Kindness by LP Fergusson

I chose this book because the online library platform, Overdrive, was making it available to anyone without a waiting list.  It was worth reading though was somewhat longer than it needed to be.

The novel tells the story of a British widow, Millie, who discovers an injured German pilot, Lukas, whose plane has crashed near her farm during World War II.  As he has landed during a terrible snow storm, and she knows he will be killed by locals if discovered, she makes the dangerous decision to take him in and hide him.

During the course of the storm they discover that despite being on opposite sides of the war they have a lot in common - her husband died by suicide, as did his father - and both of them were the ones to discover the deaths.  They also fall in love (perhaps a tad too predictable).

When the storm ends Lukas must leave the safety of Millie's home and is eventually captured.  He goes to great lengths to avoid confessing her involvement in his rescue.  Despite that a local rogue police officer suspects her treason and harangues her relentlessly despite orders from superiors to leave her be (think Javert's hunt for Jean Valjean).

The story follows what happens to Millie and Lukas through the course of the war and several years after.  While it was interesting I did think it could have been wrapped up more succinctly.