Thursday, March 31, 2016

Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade

Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade

In 1919 when Rachel is four she loses her entire family one afternoon to an act of violence.  Her mother is dead, her father flees and her older brother is put in an orphanage.  Their caseworker tells the children that she will do her best to find them an adoptive family quickly where they can be together again, but until that time Rachel is placed in the Jewish Orphaned Infant Home.  At the home Rachel is placed in a crib and due to her good health becomes a subject in an experiment, she is orphan #8, to test the efficacy of x-rays on removing tonsils.  When the caseworker returns in a few weeks she doesn’t find the bubbly little girl she left there but a sickly little thing she knows she would never be able to place.  Not only are Rachel’s tonsils removed, so is all the hair on her body, and it never grows back. 

In the 1950s Rachel is now a nurse working at the Old Hebrews Home on the fifth floor where terminal residents spend their last days.  Rachel finds a lump in her breast and is pretty sure she knows what that means, and that the x-rays caused her cancer.  One day on rounds Rachel meets a new patient who is dying of cancer, Dr. Solomon, the woman who experimented on Rachel as a girl.  Will Rachel exact revenge?  Or can she begin to understand Dr. Solomon’s reasons and forgive her?

I really enjoyed the way the story unfolded.  We see the story of Rachel’s past from the time she was four until she is about sixteen and with that story her current life in the 1950s, only about a two week period, is told in alternating chapters.  You really know and understand Rachel, her good choices and bad, and empathize with her at every turn.  Rachel wants to belong and have a family again but fate and her own blossoming sexuality, which society tells her is wrong, keeps making her feel separate from the world.

I listened and read this book to make it go faster because I wanted to know what happened next!  While the story is more leisurely paced it doesn’t feel like a slow read.  Fans of historical fiction and psychological stories, like those written by Jodi Picoult, will enjoy this story. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Into Oblivion by Arnaldur Indridason

Into Oblivion by Arnaldur Indridason

It’s 1979 in Iceland.  A woman suffering from psoriasis tries bathing in the mineral rich lagoons forming from the waste water created by the local geothermal power plant on the Reykjanes Peninsula.  (Bit of trivia: this is the true origin story of the famed Blue Lagoon, it was a happy accident and is not naturally formed.)  Her treatment is interrupted by the discovery of a shoe, which she is horrified to find still has a foot in it attached to an entire dead body.

Detective Erlendur is assigned to the case and when examining the body back in the morgue in Reykjavik he notices that all the clothes on the dead man are American made.  Could he be a soldier from the American military base at Keflavik?  If so, how did he end up kilometers away in the lagoon?

The novel revolves around two mysteries, the death of the man found in the lagoon and a twenty-five year old missing persons case that Erlendur can’t stop thinking about.  Of course, he solves them both and does it without computers and Google.  Refreshing actually.

Having been all around the places mentioned in the novel recently I found it interesting on that level but also learning about the animosity that existed between base personnel and the native Icelanders.  While the army brought modernity to Iceland in the 1940s the warm and fuzzy feelings were not really there in the 1970s.  The base was completely separate, truly a country within a county, and the two groups never really mixed; which brings interesting tension to solving a murder with a body found in the countryside and the probable murder site on the base grounds.  The author combined the history and the mystery very well.

It’s interesting that this book was written now since it looks like the U.S. military will reopen its base in Keflavik next year.  Hopefully the military personnel based there now won’t think it is a hardship assignment like those stationed there back in the 70s.  I would go willingly!  Maybe they need a librarian…?  

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

It's OK to Go Up the Slide: Renegade Rules for Raising Confident and Creative Kids by Heather Shumaker

Reviewed by Laura the Librarian

Parenting often involves a series of uncomfortable moments, and Shumaker gives real-world examples and sage advice on how to deal with them. Shumaker is a proponent of outdoor play, children taking risks and limiting the use of screen time. She also tackles some other hot-button issues like banning homework in elementary school and reconfiguring kindergarten. 

Shumaker is up front in her introduction that readers may love one chapter and not the next. And that may be true depending on what stage of development your child is at. This book addresses topics facing preschool to mid-elementary school kids.

If your child refuses to say hi to friends or kiss family members; doesn't want to participate in group activities; or asks you questions about difficult subjects like terrorism, racism, etc., Shumaker presents strategies to best deal with these scenarios. She provides a framework of how kids may view these situations and offers words to use and to avoid when discussing. The book challenges parents to re-evaluate expectations that society places on our children and ourselves. A valuable resource for many parents.

The Past by Tessa Hadley

The Past by Tessa Hadley

Four siblings meet in rural England at the home they grew up in for what could be the last time.  Is it time to sell the home and all the memories it contains?  Even the most nostalgic of the bunch thinks that it may be time to part ways from the house rather than undertake the cost and effort to update and maintain it.  With the decision all but made the siblings and their guests, familial and otherwise, are determined to enjoy their last summer there. 

There is an art to writing a compelling book that makes your readers want to keep turning the pages in a book in which nothing much happens.  Children get into things that ought not to, teenagers find their ways to be together, love blossoms but doesn’t necessarily bloom and adult children wonder if they will ever get past their childhoods.  I’ll admit to waiting for something horrible and awful to happen at the end, but I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t.  This is family life and life in general, seen in a window of three weeks.

I both listened to and read this book and can recommend both.  Best read on a lazy summer day, preferably when on a family vacation spending a rainy day indoors.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

Forty years after the bombing of Nagasaki a scarred man knocks on Amaterasu Takahashi’s door in Pennsylvania.  He claims to have known her before her world burned and to have been sent with a box of letters a former acquaintance is sure she would want to read.  Unable to contain her curiosity she does read them and is swept back into the past, not just of that horrific day when she lost her daughter and grandson but far into her own past that is even now affecting the present.

This is a slight book that will keep you on your toes.  There aren’t too many characters, but there are LOTS of secrets.  Each time you think you know the whole story, another secret is revealed.  Amaterasu has been dealing with survivor’s guilt all these years; she feels it is her fault that her family members died.  It’s up to the reader whether or not to agree, and whether or not you believe all that she says.

The book has this interesting title because each chapter starts with a word or phrase in Japanese and a definition.  Each is a unique concept to Japanese culture and adds to the telling of the story.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Alice travels from New York to Bel Air to be the assistant to the famous reclusive author M. M. Banning.  Banning wrote one book, but it is THE book all schoolchildren know and love and hold onto throughout their lives.  (Think of a book similar to To Kill a Mockingbird.)  Banning is now broke; she was the victim of bad investing, so she has to write a new novel and fast.  But she needs Alice’s help.  Someone needs to take care of Frank, her nine year old son.  And taking care of Frank is certainly a full time job.  Frank is different, yet delightful.  He is definitely living in the wrong era as he wears morning suits and top hats and adores old black and white movies.  He knows everything about the movies and any topic that interests him.  He also manages to get into everything and doesn’t really get along with other children his age, social interactions are not something he is comfortable with at all.  But is Banning Frank’s mother?  Who is his father?  And will this book ever be written?

Eccentric only scratches the surface of this small family.  As we learn more about Banning we understand more about her current life and why Frank is the amazing child he is.  The characters are all well drawn and even though for most of the novel it seems like nothing much is happening you keep furiously reading caught up in the everyday drama of Frank and his mother.  I did get a little annoyed with Alice as she acted like a typical young woman, can’t say I would have acted any differently at her age mind you, but being closer to Banning’s age than Alice’s I got annoyed with her all the same.

If you like family drama liberally dosed with humor as well as heart you can’t go wrong with Be Frank with Me.

Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Family members and friends await the arrival of a luxury yacht from Portugal at the Reykjavik pier. They watch horrified as the yacht crashes into the pier and it quickly becomes clear that no one is on board.  Seven people: the captain, two deckhands and a family of four are missing.  Did they become victims of the wind and weather?  Or did something more sinister happen? 

This is another entry in the Thora Gudmundsdottir series but you do not need to have read any of the other books in the series to enjoy this one.  This is a great locked room (locked ship!) mystery.  Chapters alternate between Thora and her investigation in Iceland and life aboard the ship leading up to the crash into the pier.  Yrsa’s last book was a ghost story and she brings the mood of a horror book to this mystery.  I kept getting more and more nervous for the people on the ship as time went on, and just when I thought I had it all figured out, I didn’t.  Not even close.  The clues were there, I just didn’t see them.

I did the thing I tell all librarians not to do: if a patron is going on a trip never give them a mystery or thriller set in that location.  It puts the place in a bad light.  Who wants to go sightseeing and then picture the body that was found mutilated right around the corner in the book they read before bed the night before?  Well…me?  Since nothing really happened in Reykjavik except the investigation it wasn’t strange walking around the city; I didn’t have to look at it like it was a crime scene.  I waited until I got back to start the next book set there…