Compassionate story of maternal love

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The Caregiver by Samuel Park

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Ana and her little girl, Mara, take care of each other in their home in Copacabana, Brazil.   Ana works as a voice-over actress but her job brings in little money.  In desperation, she agrees to take a job posing as a citizen with information about student guerillas in an attempt to lure the violent Police Chief Lima from his post.  Ana then makes a decision that tears their lives apart.

Years later when Mara comes to America undocumented, she takes a job as a caregiver to a woman, Kathryn, who is suffering from stomach cancer.  Caring for Kathryn brings up memories of Mara’s mother and Mara struggles to come to terms with her past.

This is a beautifully written book about the relationship between a mother and daughter and what lengths a mother would be willing to go for her daughter.  The characters are very well developed and the book is full of heart and compassion.

The author, Samuel Parks, passed away from stomach cancer shortly after writing this book.  At the end of the book, his essay that was published in the New York Times is shared.  It’s called “I Had a 9 Percent Chance, Plus Hope” and it’s a must read for all.  After reading this book, I’m even more anxious to read “This Burns My Heart”.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

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Entertaining, thought-provoking spy novel

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Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

It’s 1940 and Juliette Armstrong has been recruited to work for M15.  She’s 18 years old and quite naïve.  She’s been given the tedious job of transcribing recordings of meetings of British Fascist sympathizers.  But she’s soon pulled even deeper into this frightening espionage world.  When the war is over, Juliette believes the past is behind her.  But she learns that there are still consequences that need to be dealt with.

There are sometimes light hearted moments in this novel that are deceiving because this is quite a deep, thought-provoking work.  While I very much enjoyed Juliette’s witty remarks, there are layers and layers to explore in this book.  I feel like starting the book from the beginning again and dissecting it, scene by scene, which is not something I’ve ever enjoyed doing.   The fragility of loyalty, how thin the line can be between “them” and “us”, how contradictory our inner beliefs can be and how history can be re-shaped in its telling are all explored.

On the negative side, I did get bogged down some with all of the boring transcriptions but I don’t really see how the author could have gotten around those.  Also, while most of the book is very realistic and believable, there were some scenes toward the end that were a bit far-fetched.

Overall, this is was a very interesting and enjoyable read.  Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Gorgeously written literary work

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Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Hannah is an American historian who is in Paris to do some research.  She’s writing about the lives of women who were present in Paris during the German Occupation.  She listens for hours to recordings these women made detailing what living in Paris was like at that time and how these women felt about the German soldiers.  As she walks the streets of Paris, memories of her time there ten years before and the love affair she has never gotten over begin to haunt her.  She’s also haunted by the ghosts of the Paris witnesses she’s listening to.

She takes in a boarder, 19-year-old Tariq, who has run away from his home in Morocco.  Tarij isn’t sure why he came to Paris, possibly to find answers to all of the questions he’s had about his long dead mother.  Hannah and Tariq couldn’t be more different and yet they form a friendship.  Tariq is ashamed that he knows so little history and learns that many North Africans hate France for its treatment of Muslims.  One of his newly found “teachers” is a man who thinks he’s Victor Hugo, a homeless man who performs puppet shows in the subway for donations.

This is a gorgeously written literary work, a slow-moving, thought-provoking book.  There are several stories in this book, not only the stories of Hannah and Tariq but also of the women who witnessed Paris during the German Occupation, relating the atrocities committed, and real-life women such as Andree Borrel, a French heroine of World War II who was executed by the Germans.  The ghosts of the past converge with those walking the streets of Paris in the present day and Paris’ history continues to echo into the future.  This is a book that will linger long after the last page is read.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Amazingly creative look at life’s mysteries

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The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star review

A bewildered man wakes up in the hospital and has no memory of past events or even his name.  His doctor tells him his name is Innokenty Petrovich Platonov.  The doctor urges Innokenty to write down all of his thoughts and feelings.  Those writings release a story of a young boy living in Russia in the early 1900’s, traveling through the Russian Revolution.  Some of these memories are blurry and he wonders if they’re real, especially since he starts to see signs of now being in 1999.

The above is a very bare bones description of the beginning of this complex book.  I hesitate to talk too much about plot as I don’t want to spoil this masterpiece in any way for anyone.  This book has so many layers and I read it slowly to absorb as much as I could.  I know I’ll want to read it again someday to find other layers that I may have missed in the first reading.  It’s a book that will make you think about whatever stands out for you.  Possibly it will be thinking about memory and how memories can be different between different people and how events stop being real immediately after happening but live on in people’s memories.  Perhaps it will have you thinking about getting older and the witnesses to your life dying so you begin to lose parts of your history.   The meaning of retribution is explored in a mind opening way.  It will definitely get you thinking about the importance of the written word and how it preserves history and memories.

Regardless of what this book gets you thinking about, it’s a powerful, moving story in and of itself.  It touched my heart in so many ways.  The life of Innokenty Platonov is one that I will never forget.  I’m not a talented enough writer to do justice to a book like this.  All I can say is that it profoundly affected me.

I have long loved Russian novelists and read all of the old Russian classics like “Crime and Punishment” by Dostoevsky and “War and Peace” by Tolstoy.  There was a period of my younger life when that was about all I read.  Now I have another beloved Russian novelist to look forward to and will be reading his book “Laurus” as soon as I can.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publicist in return for an honest review.

 

Fascinating, illuminating and moving

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The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

Book Review:  5 out of 5 stars

There are three stories in this wonderful novel about the history and destiny of bees and their ties to humanity. The stories take place in 1851, 2007 and 2098. 1851 tells the story of British shopkeeper William Savage, whose dream is to build a better bee hive to ensure his children a better future. 2007 centers on George and his son, Tom. George is a beekeeper who longs to build up his business together with Tom, but Tom’s longings lie elsewhere. In 2098, Tao has the horrendous job of hand painting pollen on trees in an effort to provide enough food for the Chinese inhabitants. There are no longer bees in her world. It’s a very physically taxing job and she fears for her little son who will soon be old enough to join the workers. But then tragedy strikes and Tao sets off on a perilous journey looking for answers.

I absolutely loved this book. Each of the three stories touched my heart. The chapters are short and I would no sooner get pulled into one story than the author would switch to one of the other stories so there are often cliffhangers. I was never disappointed to switch as I found each of the stories as fascinating as the other. This style of writing really moved the book along and kept me wanting to know more. This Norwegian author cleverly maps out this beautifully written book so that each of the stories have a final connection.

Bees. Such little creatures but so very important to our existence. Our world has seen what might happen should bees disappear completely. The author has provided a fascinating look at the beginning of bee keeping, the period when bee colonies first started encountering difficulties and what the future might look like without hard working bees. Even more than a study of bees told in a very moving way, this book also touchingly delves into the bond of parents and their children.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Politics and romance in S. Korea

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Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

The two main characters are quite different women. Jisun has had a privileged life, although not much of a loving family life.  In rebellion against her father, she joins an underground activist group.  Her best friend, Namin, comes from a poor, hard-working family and is struggling through college at the Seoul National University in the hope that she will be able to offer her family a better life.  The two main male characters are Sunam, a student trying to join the prestigious Circle, and Juno, Jisun’s conniving brother.

The story takes place in the 70’s and the author does a very good job of describing the hopes and fears of the young generation in South Korea at that time. There were those who rebelled and protested the harsh working conditions and there were those who strived to make the right connections so they could move upward.  The living conditions for many made it very difficult to break out of their dismal prospects.  While politics play a big part in the book, it’s not heavy handed and the author smoothly blends it into the story.  I became engrossed in the story of these young people, their loves, their families and their friendships.  The author offers excellent insight into the moral dilemmas faced by her characters and the choices that each makes.  I felt the ending sort of petered out but I did enjoy this book as a whole and recommend it.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Wonderfully unique

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The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

What a delightful blend of the past and the present and the ties between them.  This book is so unique and completely one of a kind.  I’ve never read anything like it.   This is a hauntingly beautiful book, one that will pull you into its imaginative world.  It’s breathtaking, magical and poetical – all that literature should be.

For those of you who like mysteries, there are several of them in this book.  The first is the disappearance of a young child twenty years ago while in the care of 15-year-old Jane.  And then there’s the mystery of a young woman who went missing over a hundred years ago, which an adult Jane is researching.   But the most haunting mystery involves the fascinating ghostly beings connected to Jane.  The author does a masterful job of weaving together the three time frames without any confusion as to what is happening.

This is no run-of-the-mill historical mystery.  It’s layer upon layer of thought-provoking material.  On some levels, it’s a light read since it’s very easy to follow.  But it’s also a very deep read which you will remember long after the book is finished.  It’s one of those books that I hated to see end as I wanted to stay in the world that this author had created.

This book is deserving of the highest awards presented to works of literature.  The writing is glorious and I look forward to reading more work from this author.

I received this book from http://www.bloggingforbooks.org/ in exchange for an honest review.

More info:  http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/228128/the-world-before-us-by-aislinn-hunter/

Author Bio:  http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/177228/aislinn-hunter/