Monday, April 24, 2017

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk

Book 23 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from April 16 - 24

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes

Summary (via the book jacket)
The smallest items can hold centuries of secrets...
Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt's island estate when she find an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara's life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lien, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before. Through the stories Mei Lien tells in silk, Inara uncovers a tragic truth that will shake her family to its core - and force her to make an impossible choice.
Inspired by true events, Kelli Estes's brilliant and atmospheric debut serves as a poignant tale of two women determined to do the right thing, and the power of our own stories.

My Opinion
The parts of the book in flashback were fascinating and wanting to know what happened to Mei Lien was the only thing that kept me reading.  The parts of the book that took place in the present felt contrived with unnecessary drama and everything wrapped up way too neatly and coincidentally on all fronts.

Normally when I feel so up-and-down about a book I'll split the difference and rate it a neutral 3 stars but in this case, the "downs" were so down that I stuck with a 2.

I do agree with the author that the way we treated Chinese immigrants and people of Chinese descent in the late 1800's and early 1900's is a part of a history we should know more about.

Quote from the Book
"The longer [Inara] was here, the more she felt like a snake shedding its skin, like something tight and constricting was falling off her. For nine years she'd focused on her studies and her goals for the future, and now that her future was upon her, she wanted only to sink into the comfort of the past. Of this island."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Winter Fortress

Book 22 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from March 13 - April 16

The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler's Atomic Bomb
by Neal Bascomb

Summary (via Goodreads)
It's 1942 and the Nazis are racing to build an atomic bomb. They have the physicists. They have the will. What they don't have is enough "heavy water", an essential ingredient for their nuclear designs. For two years, the Nazis have occupied Norway, and with it the Vemork hydroelectric plant, a massive industrial complex nestled on a precipice of a gorge. Vemork is the world's sole supplier of heavy water, and under the threat of death, its engineers pushed production into overtime.
For the Allies, Vemork must be destroyed. But how would they reach the castle fortress high in a mountainous valley? The answer became the most dramatic commando raid of the war. The British Special Operations Executive together a brilliant scientist and eleven refugee Norwegian commandos, who, with little more than parachutes, skis, and Tommy Guns, would destroy Hitler's nuclear ambitions and help end the reign of the Third Reich.
Based on exhaustive research and never-before-seen diaries and letters of the saboteurs, The Winter Fortress is a compulsively readable narrative about a group of young men who endured soul-crushing setbacks and Gestapo hunts and survived in one of the coldest, most inhospitable places on earth to save the world from destruction.

My Opinion
This book covered an aspect of the war I wasn't familiar with at all and it amazes me that there is still so much I can learn about WWII.  What they went through was mind-boggling but I wasn't truly invested.  Maybe it would've been better if I'd read it faster but I never really got a good handle on who was who.

Unexpected observation: I could handle the descriptions of torture but reading about how they ate the eyelid fat of reindeer made me super queasy.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Microphotographs of building blueprints, detailed drawings of equipment, and production figures followed. It was everything one might need to build a heavy water plant, or indeed to destroy the only one in existence."

"[Ronneberg] echoed the words Tronstad had told them all before they left for the mission: "Remember: What we do in the next hour will be a chapter of history for a hundred years to come...Together we will make it a worthy one." "

Sunday, April 16, 2017

They May Not Mean To, But They Do

Book 21 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from March 26 - April 16

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine

Summary (via Goodreads)
The Bergman clan has always stuck together, growing as it incorporated in-laws, ex-in-laws, and same-sex spouses. But families don't just grow, they grow old, and the clan's matriarch, Joy, is not slipping into old age with the quiet grace her children, Molly and Daniel, would have wished. When Joy's beloved husband dies, Molly and Daniel have no shortage of solutions for their mother's loneliness and despair, but there is one challenge they did not count on: the reappearance of an ardent suitor from Joy's college days. And they didn't count on Joy herself, a mother suddenly as willful and rebellious as their own kids.

My Opinion
This book is like people-watching because it's a book about a regular family.  There's drama but no huge problem and an ending that wasn't really an ending but was fitting for the book.  It's like reading a snapshot of how one family came together to handle the death of their husband/father and the balance between grieving and continuing to live their daily lives.

It's a quick read while it's happening but not very memorable when it's over (not an insult).

I felt the words, including this passage as Joy (the widowed mother) returned to her apartment after a trip to visit her daughter: 
  "The sadness was there, waiting for her in the apartment. I'm sorry, Joy said to the sadness. I'm sorry I had to leave you behind for so long. But, believe me, the blue skies never fooled me, you were in my thoughts, in my heart, every minute. She looked out the window at the rain and the wet trees and the bleary spots of red taillights and white headlights. I'm home, she said, with relief, to the emptiness."

Quote from the Book
"Joy woke up and, as usual, Aaron was dead."