Saturday, June 27, 2020

Going Back in Time with Ellen Marie Wiseman's The Plum Tree

Although I may not be known for my clever bon mots, the title for this post does, in fact, have a double meaning.  The Plum Tree not only takes place during WWII, but it's also Ellen's first book!  But enough about me. Let's get to the review.  And keep in mind that Ellen, herself, set a very high bar with 2 of my favorite books from the last few years - The Life She Was Given and What She Left Behind.

What is The Plum Tree about, you ask?  Well, I'll tell you:

"Bloom where you're planted," is the advice Christine Bolz receives from her beloved Oma.  But seventeen-year old domestic Christine knows there is a world waiting beyond her small German village.  It's a world she's begun to glimpse through music, books - and through Isaac Bauerman, the cultured son of the wealthy Jewish family she works for.

Yet the future she and Isaac dream of sharing faces greater challenges than their difference in stations.  In the fall of 1938, Germany is changing rapidly under Hitler's regime.  Anti-Jewish posters are everywhere, dissenting talk is silenced, and a new law forbids Christine from returning to her job - and from having any relationship with Isaac. In the months and years that follow, Christine will confront the Gestapo's wrath and the horrors of Dachau, desperate to be with the man she loves, to survive - and finally, to speak out.

I liked a lot of things about this book:

1.  It was really interesting to see how Germany's non-Jewish citizens were treated during the war.  It was a real eye-opener...and it wasn't pretty.
2.  Even though it wasn't the main focus of the book, we still got an up-close look at how the Germans treated their Jewish citizens.  It's always a very rough read, and I certainly didn't "like" it.  But it's a good reminder that this actually happened.  And in today's world, we're still seeing prejudice in a lot of different forms.
3.  I learned how non-Jewish German citizens were treated at Dachau. They may not have been mass murdered, but they were still dealt with brutally.
4.  I, unfortunately, learned how the allied bombers killed so many innocent German citizens.  Much of it seemed random and unnecessary.
5.  I also learned how the different zones of Germany were dealt with after the war depending on which of the allied countries governed.
6.  This book hit me emotionally in myriad ways:  I shuddered, got chills, uttered OMGs, and had a fair amount of tears.
7.  Aside from all of the different elements of the book, let's not forget that it's also very well-written.  Here's an example:  "Isaac's sudden appearance on her doorstep felt like a previously hidden clue on a treasure map, or a newly discovered fork in a familiar road.  Something was about to change."

As I mentioned at the top of the post, The Plum Tree is Ellen's 1st book. Let me just say it sure doesn't read like a debut novel.  I'm really glad I read it, and now I have 3 of her books under my literary belt.  I will definitely be grabbing The Orphan Collector when it comes out in August.  After that it's on to Coal River.  Then I will be caught up and waiting (im)patiently for #6.  If you haven't read any of Ellen's books...WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

3.25s 2019

Okay, this is it (at least until 2021!).  It's a list of the 3.25s for the year 2019.  Again I say that these are all good reads.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman - Fiction

Pieces of Me - Lizbeth Meredith - Autobiography

I'll Give You the Sun - Jandy Nelson - YA

Becoming (audiobook) - Michelle Obama - Autobiography

Daisy Jones & the Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid - Historical Fiction

More Than Words - Jill Santopolo - Fiction

Fallen - Aria Glazki - Romance

The Tatooist of Auschwitz - Heather Morris - Book #1 - Historical Fiction

With Love in Sight - Christina Britton - Historical Romance

The Violets of March - Sarah Jio - Fiction

You, Me, and the Sea - Meg Donohue - Fiction

Caged - Ellison Cooper - Agent Sayer Altair, Book #1 - Mystery

Dear Wife - Kimberly Belle - Thriller

The Art of Adapting - Cassandra Dunn - Fiction

The Gifted School - Brian Holsinger - Fiction

The Lost Vintage - Ann Mah - Historical Fiction

The Fountains of Silence - Ruta Sepetys - Historical Fiction/YA

The Tenth Muse - Catherine Chung - Fiction

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Camille di Maio is 5 for 5!

I just finished Camille di Maio's latest, The First Emma.  This is her 5th book, and I'm very happy to say I have read them all.  All 5 of her books have been at least a 3.5/4 for me.  And The First Emma might be my favorite (by a slim margin).  Those of you who read a lot, and who have large TBR piles, can relate to the satisfaction of knowing that you are going to like what you read.  That's what happens with Camille's books. By the way, her Goodreads ratings are all between 4.07/5-4.35/5.  These are very good scores.  And, before I give you some thoughts, take a look at the synopsis:

The First Emma is the true story of Emma Koehler, whose tycoon husband Otto was killed in a crime-of-the-century murder by one of his two mistresses - both also named Emma - and her unlikely rise as CEO of a brewing empire during prohibition.  When a chance to tell her story to a young teetotaler arises, a tale unfolds of love, war, beer, and the power of women.

Since I never read the blurb before starting a book, I didn't know it was a true story.  It certainly felt true, and I wasn't surprised to learn that it actually is true.  The story starts in 1914 and ends in 1943.  There's a lot of stuff that happens in between.  Trust me that Emma Koehler's story will grab you.

Camille combines a fictional love story with history.  I was thoroughly caught up in both.  On top of that, we get to see a real news article at the end of each chapter, giving us details from different newspapers around the country regarding Otto Koehler's death and the subsequent trial of the mistress that murdered him.  Historical fiction is definitely one of my favorite genres.  But it doesn't normally take place in San Antonio, Texas or deal with a female CEO of a beer company.  This is another example of Camille teaching us something that we are most happy to learn about.  Camille, keep 'em comin'!

Monday, June 8, 2020

3-3.5s for Your Reading Pleasure

I've got 3 books that I've read in the last couple of months that are all 3.5/4.  I'm going to give you the synopsis for each in a couple of sentences.  I highly recommend all of them.

The Closer You Get - Mary Torjussen:
Coworkers Ruby and Harry are in love-but they're married to other people.  They decide to tell their spouses that their marriages are over and to start a new life together.  Ruby has wanted to leave her controlling husband for a while, so she tells him she's leaving and waits at the hotel where she and Harry are to meet.  But Harry never shows up.
Suddenly, Ruby has lost everything.  Harry won't answer her calls, and she's fired from her job.  She finds a cheap apartment in a rundown part of town, all the while wondering what happened to Harry.
Just as Ruby thinks she's hit rock bottom, strange and menacing things start to happen-someone is sneaking into her apartment, and someone is following her home late at night-and she is going to have to fight for her survival.

This is a thriller/mystery, pure and simple.  The story is told in the voices of Ruby and Emma, Harry's wife.  Great storyline.

The Two Lila Bennetts - Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke:
Lila Bennett's bad choices have finally caught up with her.  And one of those decisions has split her life in two.  Literally.
In one life, she's taken hostage by someone who appears to be a stranger but knows too much.  As she's trapped in a concrete cell, her kidnapper forces her to face what she's done or be killed.  In an alternate life, she eludes her captor but is hunted by someone who is dismantling her happiness, exposing one secret at a time.
Lila's decorated career as a criminal defense attorney, her marriage, and her life are on the line.  She must make a list of those she's wronged-both in and out of the courtroom-to determine who is out to get her before it's too late.  But even if she can pinpoint her assailant, will she survive?  And if she does, which parts of her life are worth saving, and which parts must die?  Because one thing's for certain-life as Lila Bennett knew it is over.

Here's another thriller for you.  And I have to tell you that both alternate stories in TTLB are equally plausible and gripping.  There's even a reference to one of my favorite John Cusack movies!

The Yellow Bird Sings - Jennifer Rosner
As Nazi soldiers round up the Jews in their town, Roza and her five-year-old daughter, Shira, flee, seeking shelter in a neighbor's barn.  Hidden in the hayloft day and night, Shira struggles to stay still and quiet as music pulses through her and the farmyard outside beckons.  To soothe her daughter and pass the time, Roza tells her a story about a girl in an enchanted garden:
The girl is forbidden from making a sound, so the yellow bird sings.  He sings whatever the girl composes in her head:  high-pitched trills of piccolo; low-throated growls of contrabassoon.  Music helps the flowers bloom.
In this make-believe world, Roza can shield Shira from the horrors that surround them.  But the day comes when their haven is no longer safe and Roza must make an impossible choice:  whether to keep Shira by her side or give her the chance to survive apart.
Inspired by the true stories of Jewish children hidden during World War II, Jennifer Rosner's debut is a breathtaking novel about the unbreakable bond between a mother and a daughter.  Beautiful and riveting, The Yellow Bird Sings is a testament to the triumph of hope-a whispered story, a bird's song-in even the darkest times.

This one, like many of the historical novels I have read about WWII, invoked a lot of emotional responses from me.  In particular, I had a bunch of chills.  I think I am most impressed by the fact that this is a debut novel for Jennifer.

Friday, June 5, 2020

3.25s for 2019...Just Kidding - I've Got a Review for You of a VERY Good Book

Everybody is a comedian...or so they/we all think.  I've actually got a review for you.  It's a book called Love Is A Rebellious Bird, by Elayne Klasson.  It's a love story unlike most love stories.  Here's the synopsis:

This tale of a sixty-year love affair examines the age-old question of why we love the people we do.  A beautiful, charismatic and wildly successful man is adored by a woman.  Even when they were children, he held the power.  Though they are bound by tragedy and friendship, he defines the terms of their relationship,  until finally, in old age, the power shifts. Looking at the roles of Beauty, Insanity, Magic, Deceit, Consolation, Sensory Fulfillment, and, finally, Being Seen, Judith explores why she loved Elliot - a relationship that impinged on every other in her life. 

You all are VERY aware that I am not an intellectual.  And those books that try to convert me are bound to fail.  Having said that, there are definitely authors who can combine literary expertise with readability. Of course Pat Conroy immediately comes to mind.  Well, I can honestly say that Elayne has that skill.  This book is both literary and readable.

I also have to say that she grabbed me right away.  As early as Page 13, I was emotionally vested in the 2 main characters.  And it never let up.  I cared about Judith and Elliot from beginning to end.  It certainly didn't hurt that Elayne can turn a phrase:

"Lilly looked at me with one brow raised, as if I were an item on the menu she'd overlooked."

And let's not forget the awards circuit and a great Kirkus review:

Love Is A Rebellious Bird Has Been Selected As A Finalist For:

2020 Next Generation Indie Book Awards: General Fiction Finalist AND Best Cover Design Finalist

“Best New Fiction” from the American BookFest 2019 Best Book Awards

The Goldberg Prize for debut fiction from the National Jewish Book Awards

The 2019 Sarton Women's Book Awards

“Klasson fills every scene she can with thought-and romance. A surprisingly complex and realistic love story delicately narrated by an endearing protagonist.”

— Kirkus Reviews

Am I recommending Love Is A Rebellious Bird? Uh...yeah.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

3.25s for 2018

And, 4 days later, we've got the 3.25s from 2018.  Do you know why I'm posting this so soon after the last one?  Is it because so many of you clamored for the next batch?...uh, that would be no.  The simple truth is that it's a good filler before my next review or 2!  But don't forget that these books ARE REALLY GOOD!  So here they are:

The Night Trade - Barry Eisler - #2 in the Livia Lone series - Thriller

How to Stop Time - Matt Haig - Fiction

The French Girl - Lexie Elliott - Fiction

I Can't Breathe - Matt Taibi - about Eric Garner with guest appearances by our son-in-law, Joe Doyle - Nonfiction

Freedom Child - Chandra Ingram - book 1 of  the Azadi series - Fiction/Nonfiction

The Woman in the Window - A.J. Finn - Mystery/Thriller

Wild in Love - Jennifer Skully and Bella Andre - Romance

Bardwell's Folly - Sandra Hutchinson - Women's Fiction

Things You Won't Say - Sarah Pekkanen - Fiction

The Daisy Children - Sofia Grant - Historical Fiction

The Masterpiece - Fiona Davis - Historical Fiction

The Mother-in-Law - Sally Hepworth - Mystery

A Spark of Light - Jodi Picoult - Fiction