Book Buzz: The Confusion of Languages

Book Buzz: The Confusion of Languages

Oh my. This book.

Book Buzz: The Confusion of Languages

The Confusion of Languages, a novel written by the talented Siobhan Fallon, is so worthy of a book group discussion that I wish I could find one right this minute to talk about it.

The Confusion of Languages

The story is about two military families stationed in Amman, Jordan at a time of tenuous calm, during the rise of the Arab Spring. When Crick Brickshaw, his wife Margaret and their infant son arrive, the expat community is happy to welcome some new faces. Dan Hugo and his wife Cassie have been stationed in Amman for two years. They volunteer to take the Brickshaws under their wing to ease them into Jordanian society.

Cassie and Margaret become fast friends even though they are very different. Cassie is a by-the-rules kind of girl, while Margaret is a free spirit. Cassie warns Margaret that many things we take for granted in America are strictly forbidden in a Middle Eastern country. Covering up when she goes out in public, not interacting with other men, not going out on her own without at least telling someone — these are all imperatives.

For foreigners, life in Amman is unpredictable and as the political unrest grows potentially life threatening. The families are notified by the Embassy when there are protests in the streets, are steered away from hot spots, and sometimes told to stay home with the curtains drawn.

Margaret blithely ignores the admonitions and is determined to do her own thing. She is awed by the beauty and history of the country and wants to experience it first-hand, happily befriending every Jordanian she meets. Cassie is aghast at Margaret’s disregard of the rules, and this strains their friendship.

The men find out they are about to be deployed to Italy and Crick, aware of his wife’s vulnerability, asks Cassie to watch over Margaret.

The story takes place on just one day, when Margaret is involved in a fender bender and leaves the baby in Cassie’s care while she goes to the police station to pay the fine. As the hours tick by and Cassie is unable to reach her friend, she is fearful that something bad has happened. Walking around the apartment, she finds Margaret’s journal and reads the entries, shocked to learn of a side of her friend she never knew.

The confusion of languages means many things in this novel. The disconnect between cultures, between friends, between married couples. How should women behave in a foreign country? As guests in another country, are we obliged to follow the rules, or try to bend them?

Wow. I loved The Confusion of Languages. A page turner with an intense, nail biting plot, it also is nuanced and complex with its underlying themes. Further, it is a fascinating look into the world of military life and the stresses these families face.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Confusion of Languages. Please leave a comment and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of The Confusion of Languages from G.P. Putnam’s Sons for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: The Child

Book Buzz: The Child

Imagine this scene in modern-day working-class London. An old apartment building is being dismantled to make way for new construction in a gentrified area. The demolition crew is hacking away at the debris, when suddenly, amidst the dust and rubble, a shocking discovery is made: the skeletal remains of a newborn baby, apparently buried years ago.

Thus begins The Child, Fiona Barton’s suspenseful psychodrama, whose protagonist is a woman in mid-life, a dogged investigative journalist who frets that her traditional reporting skills are becoming passé in the sensationalist world of new media.

The Child

The community is stunned and the case quickly becomes front page news. Dubbed the “Building Site Baby,” the infant’s identity becomes an obsession. What lead to the child’s demise? Why would an infant be buried underneath all the rubble, and whose child was it?

Whodunit, and whydunit?

Four women’s differing perspectives tell the story of The Child. At first we don’t see the connection, but as the plot unfolds,  we learn that each one holds a key to solving the mystery.

Book Buzz: The Child

Kate is the persistent but empathetic newspaper reporter used to getting her hands dirty in pursuit of the truth. She comes from the old school of journalism, and is dismayed to see layoffs of the old guard at her newspaper in favor of inexperienced young writers whose specialty is click bait-y headlines. The pressure of 24/7 online news goes against her grain and she stubbornly resists. At the same time, she worries that journalists of her ilk are disappearing like dinosaurs and she may be the next one to be let go.

Intrigued by the mystery of the Building Site Baby and begs her editor for the plum assignment. With support of the police detectives, she pursues the identity of residents of the building from years ago who might be able to help.

Then, there is Emma, a young married woman who works from home as an editor. She suffers from depression and anxiety, haunted by secrets of her childhood under the care of her single mom, Jude.

Narcissistic Jude raised Emma in an environment of instability and fear. When Emma turned 16, Jude abruptly threw her out of the house. Now that Emma is an adult, Jude would like to have a better relationship with her, but there is little trust, and their periodic interactions never go very well.

Finally, Angela, the wife and mother of two grown children whose infant daughter Alice was abducted decades ago from the hospital the day she was born. Her child was never found. Could this dead infant be her daughter? She prays that this is the case and she will finally have closure.

The short chapters keep the action going at a rapid pace, and gradually we come to see exactly how these women are connected and find out the identity of the Building Site Baby.

A lively, page-turning whodunit, The Child satisfied me as a good beach book and I particularly related to the personage of Kate, whose angst about competing with the younger generation in the workplace rang very true.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Child. Please leave a comment and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of The Child from Berkley for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: The Lost Letter

Book Buzz: The Lost Letter

Every artifact has a story behind it, be it a stone jug from the Prehistoric Age or the mummified remains as the last vestiges of the lost city of Pompeii. The study of antiquities can be left to archeologists, but curiosity can inspire all of us to muse about the lives that were touched by the relic that has survived.

In Jillian Cantor’s achingly beautiful new novel The Lost Letter, it is a unique engraved stamp from World War II Austria that prompts a quest for answers.

Book Buzz: The Lost LetterThe Lost Letter

The action shifts from the late 1980s in Los Angeles to the late 1930s in Austria.

Katie is a freelance writer whose life has come undone. Her father is suffering from dementia and has moved into a nursing home. His care has required her full-time attention, and in the midst of this crisis her husband decides to leave her. She puts her emotions on hold while she devotes herself to her father’s care as he drifts in and out of senility.

Katie attempts to simplify his life by sorting through his belongings. An avid philatelist (stamp collector) his entire life, her father has left his cherished collection to her but she has no interest in keeping it. She locates a local stamp appraiser and makes an appointment to see him. Could there be something of value there? Or is the collection simply another thing for her to dispose of?

The appraiser contacts her in a few days. He has found an unusual stamp, one he has never seen before, on an unopened letter in the collection. Who was the recipient, and why was the letter never delivered? He wants to research this further and has Katie’s consent.

However, in a lucid moment, Katie’s father is apoplectic when she tells him she has given the collection away, but he can’t verbalize exactly why.

The story shifts to the earlier time, just as World War II is spreading across Europe. Austria has just been occupied by Germany, and the plight of Jewish families becomes extremely grim. Frederick Faber is a renowned stamp engraver with a family and a beautiful home, but as the Nazis move closer to his town destroying everything in its path, the family prepares to flee. Faber’s apprentice Kristoff, an artist struggling to learn the fine craft of stamp engraving, is not Jewish and therefore not in imminent danger. Deeply devoted to the family, he promises Faber to take care of the home and business.

Before he flees, Faber is instrumental in forging the resistance to the Nazis through his craft and responsible for evacuating many Jews to safety.

As the tension grows, the intertwining of both stories culminates in a stunning conclusion.

The Lost Letter is a story of resilience,  love, and triumph. Cantor is a historical fiction writer extraordinaire, her characters seem real and relatable, and the dual timeline works seamlessly as the two threads ultimately converge. The intertwining of both stories connects a time of persecution to a future in which survivors have prevailed.

The Lost Letter is receiving critical praise, including being named as Amazon’s Best Book of the Month.  It would go on my Best of the Year as well.

And now I am off to look through my husband’s stamp collection.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Lost Letter. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of The Lost Letter from Riverhead Books for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: It Ends With Us

I am a person who needs a book handy at all times. Hence, you will find one not just next to my bed, but also in the bathroom, in the side pocket of my car, and on the kitchen counter.

Audible has enabled this quirk of mine by offering hundreds of audiobook titles that I can listen to anywhere. This is especially nice when I’m in the car or out for a daily walk. I can get so wrapped up in a good tale that those 10,000 steps seem much less arduous.

The buzz over author Colleen Hoover’s latest novel, It Ends With Us, had intrigued me, so I eagerly downloaded it from Audible.

Romance, yes, But so much more. A complex story that takes on a harrowing subject with frankness and emotional depth, It Ends With Us is a novel that left me breathless even before getting winded by step #5849.

Book Buzz: It Ends With Us

Listening to It Ends With Us on Audible, I found my emotions running the gamut, and because I was moved from highs to lows over and over again, I may have unleashed a few expletives on my neighborhood jaunts. Hopefully I was out of earshot of the neighbors.

The narration bounces from 15 year-old Lily reading entries from her diary to the present day Lily. The younger Lily writes mostly about her relationship with Atlas, a boy from her school, and the older Lily brings us up to date 10 years later.

It Ends With Us

Adult Lily meets hunky Ryle in the most romantic of ways: on the roof deck of a Boston apartment building late one night, each one seeking an escape, with the stars and lights of the city twinkling above.

Lily, distraught after failing to deliver an appropriate eulogy at her father’s funeral that day, needs a refuge where she can be alone with her thoughts. Ryle, a brash neurosurgeon, has come up for air as well. At first she is annoyed that her space has been invaded, but as they strike up a conversation she starts to feel a spark. It lasts just a moment, and they go their separate ways.

My reaction: Meh. He sounded dreamy at first, but way too aggressive for my taste. If a man was that coarse with me I would be outta there. You’re well rid of him, Lily.

Some time later they run into each other and although Ryle has steadfastly opposed getting into a romantic relationship, he falls in love with Lily. Initially wary herself, Lily is deliriously happy.

My reaction: Dismay. Lily, this guy may be cute, but his quirks make me shudder. Like taking your pulse during sex to see how high your heartbeat will get? Gross.

Without giving the plot away, let’s just say that eventually Lily finds out in the most shocking of ways that there is another side to Ryle that rocks her physically and emotionally.

My reaction: Horror. Lily, girl, get away from that creep!

Out to dinner one night, Lily and Ryle run into Atlas, Lily’s boyfriend from long ago. Although she is in love with Ryle, Lily realizes that she still cares for Atlas as someone who once was so important to he.

Atlas can read Ryle like a book, and out of concern for Lily he wants to intercede, wants to tell her how this guy is wrong for her, but holds back.

Thus begins Lily’s personal struggle to justify being with a man whose behavior is reminiscent of her own father, the father whom she was unable to properly eulogize at his funeral. Her own experiences have taught her one thing, but now in the moment herself, she is vacillating between her love for Ryle and her own self-respect and survival.

This is a portrait of what happens in too many homes behind closed doors. The shame of the victim often shields the perpetrator from scrutiny until it is too late. As observers, we can be judgmental or sanctimonious, but we can’t truly understand the anguish of this situation unless we walk in the victim’s shoes.

Reading It Ends With Us will put you there. After the final sentence, which gave me goosebumps the author revealed what prompted her to write this story.

My reaction: Wow. Read this book!

Have you tried Audible? Go to Audible’s free trial site and you will have a month to listen to as many titles as you like.

 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Audible.
The opinions and text are all mine.

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Book Buzz: Siracusa

Book Buzz: Siracusa

 

Book Buzz: Siracusa When People Magazine, Amazon and Publisher’s Weekly all named Delia Ephron’s Siracusa one of their top books of the year, that was enough to intrigue me about this novel, although I didn’t really need prompting to read the latest from an author whose work I always enjoy.

Two years ago I recommended Ephron’s Sister Mother Husband Dog . This time, Ephron switches gears and takes us to the town of Siracusa, located on the sun-drenched coast of Sicily. Vacationing together there are two married couples whose complicated relationships are as twisted and treacherous as the rocky paths on the island.

Siracusa

Meet New Yorkers Michael, a well-known writer, and his wife Lizzie, a freelance journalist. Lizzie had a long-ago affair with Finn, a restauranteur, whose control freak wife Taylor and strange 10 year-old daughter Snow (suffering from “extreme shyness syndrome”) accompany him. Although Finn and his family live in Portland, Maine, he and Lizzie have kept in touch platonically over the years. Why not travel to Siracusa, Lizzie suggests, as an homage to her deceased father who had spoken glowingly of the crumbling charm of the ancient town.

Note: vacationing with an ex-lover and your current spouse is probably never a good idea.

At the beginning, all seems benign enough. Four sophisticated, cultured Americans and one child are on vacation together. The plot is as languid as the Ionian Sea on a quiet morning. Everyone is guardedly happy to be on vacation together. The first stop is Rome for a few days. Tempers are under control until they arrive at Siracusa and Taylor is appalled at the primitive accommodations. That seems to be the point at which dark clouds begin to amass. Seemingly innocent flirtations become something more sinister … jealousy and betrayal lead to emotional warfare … infatuations and danger take the plot in a different direction.

Told in retrospect in alternating voices of the four adults, the narrations reveal earlier missteps of each character, and their desire to make sense out of lives that haven’t gone quite the way they expected. Lizzie, Michael, Taylor and Finn reveal hidden secrets and resentments by recounting the same incidents but with completely different interpretations. Gradually, we come to learn that things are not as they seem. Their secrets and lies bubble to the surface and position them for emotional upheaval.

Aha, you will think as the clues start to accumulate and the plot thickens. Maybe you will figure out the delicously macabre ending, but I was certainly surprised.

Ephron is a master storyteller. Her skewering take on marriage and mores, with a healthy dose of black humor thrown in to sweeten the pot, makes Siracusa a book you will not be able to put down. Now out in paperback, Siracusa is just the right blend of psychological thriller and expose of human nature that makes it a hugely satisfying read. No wonder it has found its way onto so many Top Book of the Year sites.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Siracusa. Please leave a comment below, and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of Siracusa from Blue Rider Press for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: The Light We Lost

Book Buzz: The Light We Lost

Always in search of a great read, I love getting recommendations from other bookaholics.

“You must read The Light We Lost,” insisted several of my bookie friends. “You won’t be able to put it down.”

They were right. I was swept up in the romance and emotion of Jill Santopolo’s The Light We Lost from the get go, and if you love page turners, this is certainly one.

Book Buzz: The Light We Lost

The Light We Lost might inspire you to ponder your own life decisions. Were they made based on love, on instinct, or on practicality?

The Light We Lost

The novel, set in New York City, begins with the tragedy of 9/11. Columbia University students Lucy and Gabe are in their Shakespeare class when the word comes in about the twin towers attack. Although they are virtually strangers, they find comfort in an embrace. For just a few moments they cling to each other, gathering strength while reflecting on the fragility of life.  They are surprised by the electricity in that embrace, but separate and move on with their lives.

They don’t realize it yet, but they have found their soul mates that day. They also will someday learn that the darkness of that tragic event was a harbinger of the pain and regret to come in their own lives.

A year after graduation Lucy and Gabe run into each other in a bar and that spark is still there, and this time the stars are aligned for them. They fall deeply in love, passionate about each other, and certain that their destiny is to be together. But they are also passionate about their careers. Gabe aspires to be a photojournalist in dangerous areas of the world, to capture the political turmoil and struggles of war-torn countries.   Lucy is equally driven in her position as a television producer and won’t give it up. These circumstances force them to make an anguished decision to part ways.

And then, life goes on. The next 13 years bring marriage and children for Lucy, and worldwide professional recognition for Gabe. Lucy loves her husband, Darren, but jealousy, heartbreak, and unfulfilled dreams consume her each time she thinks about Gabe. As for Gabe, he also struggles with the despair of giving up the woman he truly loved. Ultimately, Gabe and Lucy are forced to confront their true feelings for each other.

This is a dramatic story of love found and lost and found again, and I can attest to tearing up at the end. I will say that the three characters sometimes acted in ways that were self-centered, and that was a bit of a distraction for me. However, I still recommend the book, and fans of JoJo Moyes in particular will enjoy it.

Narrated in the second person (Lucy addresses Gabe throughout), The Light We Lost will remind you of the powerful and lasting effects of first love.

 

I am partnering with Putnam to give away a copy of The Light We Lost. Please leave a comment and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

 

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Book Buzz: Lilli de Jong

Book Buzz: Lilli de Jong

Before the current political upheaval in our country, the phrase “she persisted” might not have carried much weight. But now it has taken on an iconic meaning, representing the uphill battle women face when advocating for their right to be heard.

Book Buzz: Lilli de Jong

This struggle persists, as does our rebellion.

Lilli de Jong

As I read Janet Benton’s absorbing new novel, Lilli de Jong, I kept thinking that the eponymous Lilli, thrust into a fight for her survival, might have demurred at the idea of being a persister, but indeed her struggles in an unyielding world required every ounce of persistence one could muster.

At a time when having a child out of wedlock branded the mother — and the child — in the most cruel and unforgiving way, Lilli discovers she is pregnant and has nowhere to turn. The father of the child was unaware of the pregnancy before he moved across the state for a better job opportunity. Lilli lost her beloved mother due to an accident, and her father brought shame to the family by taking up with a first cousin afterwards. Because of that, Lilli has lost her job as a teacher. She is frighteningly alone.

Raised in the Society of Friends, more commonly known as Quakers, Lilli is an educated, purposeful young woman, and now is banished from the order.

Unwed pregnant women in those days had few options. Back alley abortions often resulted in the mother’s death. Keeping the baby meant a lifetime of shame for both mother and child. Giving a child up for adoption could be too heart wrenching to consider. Fathers shirked their responsibilities without fear of retribution.

Lilli decides to leave home to have her baby at an institution for unwed mothers and plans to give the baby up. But then, she just can’t.

Set in 1800s Philadelphia, the story is both harrowing and uplifting, because it is about a mother’s unrelenting fight for her child. The fierce bond between mothers and babies, and in particular the mutual nourishment of mothers and their nursing babies, propels the story line.  Lilli’s dogged determination is fueled by the unconditional love and trust of her baby.

I loved the historical background of this story. Having always lived in the Philadelphia region, I enjoyed learning more about this era and recognizing the local landmarks. Though this is a novel, this feels very authentic. In Lilli’s diary form, it reads like a memoir.

Benton has a lovely, engaging writing style and the plot had some unexpected turns. She has given us a glimpse into the past that continues to resonate in the present day. Lilli de Jong is a virtual maternal hug of a novel, that acknowledges the persistence of mothers everywhere.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Lilli de Jong. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

I received a copy of Lilli de Jong from Nan A. Talese/Doubleday for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

 

 

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Summer and Springsteen

Summer and Springsteen

Like cotton candy and sticky fingers, hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, and warm nights in the yard catching fireflies, the music of Bruce Springsteen means summer to me.

Summer and Springsteen

Springsteen, just a regular Jersey boy.

When I was in college I had a summer job at the Jersey shore – a rite of passage for many of us who live in the northeast. Shucking clams by day and partying by night, surviving both romantic flings and crushing heartbreaks, I had the time of my life.

I worked in a beach community on a small barrier island a far cry from the glitz of Atlantic City, without a boardwalk or large concert halls. There were few venues for musical entertainment other than smoky motel bars or dilapidated watering holes like The Acme and The Rip Tide that we college kids flocked to night after night. If you wanted to hear live music, you might catch a local act. Or you might get lucky and witness a performance that in time would become legendary.

This is what happened to us.

Bruce Who?

We heard one day that there would be a performer at the improbably named Le Garage, a small warehouse that was usually a venue for teen dances. Some guy named Bruce Springsteen was performing. No one had ever heard of him, but we had nothing else to do that night, so why not.

Summer and Springsteen

From the book “All Things LBI” (Down the Shore Publishing)

At 10:30 that night the place was full. How many it held, I don’t remember, but probably not more than a couple hundred stood perspiring in the heat. The lights were dimmed as we waited for the show to begin. Bruce Springsteen, in all his grungy, unknown glory, his guitar slung across his hips, ambled out on center stage blanketed in a spotlight. He opened with the song was 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy). That voice, as gritty as the sand between the rocks in Barnegat Light, that song, so Jersey shore soulful, that moment, that would become a memory to cherish. The crowd was spellbound and the ovation that followed was thunderous.

That man would become The Boss.

As of that night I was a fan forevermore, and this song would always evoke a pang about that moment, the salt air, my sunburned shoulders and peasant blouse I wore, how our ears rang as we walked out into the night air talking about the music.

Over the years my devotion to Bruce has never wavered and to my delight, the Boss published his autobiography, Born to Run, which fans and critics alike have enthusiastically endorsed. When a fellow Bruce fan and friend of mine raved about the audiobook version, I made it my next Audible selection.

So here is the thing about autobiographies on audiobooks narrated by their authors: you feel like you are having a private conversation with this person. I loved hearing Springsteen talk about his early years in Freehold, his introduction to the music world, and everything that came after. I loved hearing him talk about meeting Stevie Van Zandt, another Jersey musician trying to make it in a competitive business.

No surprise, Springsteen is a gifted writer, and I was as blown away by his book as I was by seeing him live at that little club so many years ago.

Here is Springsteen just a few years after I first saw him, performing 4th of July, Asbury Park, (Sandy) live. I would see him in concert again and again, but that first time was the best by far.

Enjoy.

And Happy Summer.

Do you use Audible? You can try it out for a month by going to Audible’s free trial site and have access to hundreds of titles.

 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Audible.
The opinions and text are all mine.

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Book Buzz: Enchanted Islands

The flora and fauna of the island of Galapágos provide the piquant backdrop for Enchanted Islands, a novel that reads so much like a memoir I was sure it had to be true.

Book Buzz: Enchanted Islands

Much to my satisfaction, I found out at the end (spoiler alert) that it was based on a true story of a gutsy woman who led quite a remarkable life.

Enchanted Islands

Women born a century ago were largely expected to live a pre-scripted life: marry, become a homemaker, have children. Frances Frankowksi, born in the late 1880s to Polish Jewish immigrants who settled in Minnesota, forged a different path that would be considered daring even in modern times, let alone the early 1900s.

Frances spent her childhood sharing a small apartment with her parents and siblings. She envied her best friend Rosalie, who seemed to have it all: beauty, an effervescent personality, a richer lifestyle, and parents who approved of education. Frances’ parents insisted she quit school to help pay the family’s expenses.

One day, Frances was shocked to learn about a dark secret in Rosalie’s family, the family she had thought was so perfect. With Rosalie wanting to escape, and Frances willing to accompany her, the two girls decided to run away to the big city of Chicago.

They found jobs to sustain a meager lifestyle. Rid of the strictures that had bound them, they enjoyed the independence and city life, until the time that Frances was shocked to find that Rosalie committed an unforgivable betrayal. Frances fled Chicago, and the girls lost touch for many years.

Rosalie’s life ultimately took an expected turn: she became a housewife and mother. Frances got a job working as a secretary for the Office of Naval Intelligence that she kept for many years. As the country was on the brink of World War II, she was offered an unusual top secret assignment: marry American undercover agent Ainslie Conway and move to the Galapagos Islands to investigate the Germans living there.

Frances, unattached and childless, and bored with the humdrum life she had been living, accepted the assignment. She would marry a man she didn’t know and move with him to the remote Galapágos Islands. She had no idea how unconventional this marriage would turn out to be.

Talk about roughing it! The island was undeveloped and barely habitable. In preparation for living in those conditions, Frances and Ainslie had been trained how to hunt, grow their own vegetables, construct a house, and rely on their wits to overcome enormous challenges. Alone except for several other island residents, life was a very solitary existence. They stayed on the island two years. This is when Frances began writing her memoir, which now I can’t wait to read.

Enchanted Island has several themes: the vagaries of friendship, wartime adventure, marital secrets. Author Allison Amend describes the conditions on the island so vividly you feel like you are there, and I’m not sure how anyone could have toughed it out as they did.

For me, there is always an extra dose of satisfaction when I am reading a novel based on fact. What an interesting story this turned out to be — not at all what I expected.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Enchanted Islands. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of Enchanted Islands from Anchor Books, a division of Penguin Random House, for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: The Handmaid’s Tale

Book Buzz: the Handmaid's Tale

If you’re like me, you have an ever-expanding list of books TBR (to be read). I do read a lot, but there are many classics heretofore unread, and Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, was one I regrettably had not gotten to.

Book Buzz: the Handmaid's Tale

The buzz is already out about the Hulu version coming out next week, starring Elisabeth Moss in the leading role. The reviews are glowing. Critics are wowed by the script, the performances and the stunning visual effects. I can’t wait to watch, but I really wanted to read the book first.

Only one problem. I’ve got at least half a dozen review books in my queue. Also, it’s a busy time right now, with holidays and birthdays and family obligations. My reading time is limited.

But thanks to Audible, and these lovely April days, my problem was solved. I’ve listened to the audiobook version during my daily walks and I’m all caught up. Narrated by Claire Danes, it is a riveting novel, especially relevant now.

Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale?

It is quite a stunning piece of work, as most readers of Margaret Atwood’s feminist novel will agree.

It is the year 2195. The Handmaid’s Tale recounts “the new normal” in the Republic of Gilead, the totalitarian state that exists in what was formerly the USA. A fundamentalist Christian faction has assumed power and stripped women of their rights. In response to a precipitous drop in birth rates, the new government imprisons women who are determined to still be fertile and forces them to work as handmaids, AKA breeding surrogates. Their freedom and their access to the outside is taken away. Their names are changed; their identities are erased.

Offred, the protagonist, once had a husband, a child, and a normal life. When the drumbeats got louder, she and her family tried to cross the border into safety, but she was captured. She clings to hope that she will be reunited with them someday, but her memories of life “before” are slipping away.

With themes of gender oppression, authoritarian leadership and religious politics, some might draw parallels to our current political reality. Read this excerpt and tell me it isn’t chilling:

“I was asleep before. That’s how we let it happen,” Offred said. “When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didn’t wake up then either. They said it would be temporary. Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.”

Will these themes hit too close for comfort? For me, yes. Part of the shock is learning about Offred’s life before the regime came into power. It was so normal, so mundane, just like our lives. And then it’s not. That’s all I will say about that.

Audible always delivers, and as an added benefit, there are extra goodies in this recording. I enjoyed hearing the exclusive content written by Margaret Atwood at the end because it deepened my understanding of the book. The novel extends beyond the original final line, “Are there any questions?,” by adding the questions and answers that the people at that Symposium, occurring in 2195, might ask.

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The opinions and text are all mine.

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