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Friday, September 16, 2016

Love It, Like It, Leave It

 Staff Reviews of New Releases

 Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (publication date: August 23)

Goodreads Description:

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

Jill's Review:

(3 out of 5 stars) I read this book because of the Netgalley comparison to Khaled Hosseini, the classification of "Literary Fiction" and the Kirkus star it earned. I was expecting a rich & complex story, but I found the characters to be stereotypical and unconvincing. As I progressed through the book I felt as though I had read versions of this story and these characters many times before. I kept waiting for the twist or surprise and while there were a few interesting hills, I was still looking for the mountain view.
Based on the reviews, most people feel differently. Maybe it's me.

The Nix by Nathan Hill (publication date: August 30)

Goodreads Description:

Meet Samuel Andresen-Anderson: stalled writer, bored teacher at a local college, obsessive player of an online video game. He hasn’t seen his mother, Faye, since she walked out when he was a child. But then one day there she is, all over the news, throwing rocks at a presidential candidate. The media paints Faye as a militant radical with a sordid past, but as far as Samuel knows, his mother never left her small Iowa town. Which version of his mother is the true one? Determined to solve the puzzle—and finally have something to deliver to his publisher—Samuel decides to capitalize on his mother’s new fame by writing a tell-all biography, a book that will savage her intimately, publicly. But first, he has to locate her; and second, to talk to her without bursting into tears.

Jill's Review:

(3.5 out of 5 stars) It's difficult for me to pass up a book where the main character is not only an English teacher at a university but also a writer! His mother abandoned him at the age of 11, and decades later the two meet again through an entertaining set of events.

The main characters are well developed and believable with all their flaws and psychological baggage (love that!), and I appreciate how none of the circumstances in the story were cut & dry but rather all quite layered and interesting.

I did end up with mixed feelings by the end. When a book is this long, I expect all the sections & characters should feel relevant to the story by the end, and I didn't necessarily feel that way. Sometimes I found myself skimming. If it was pared down a bit, I think I would have enjoyed it more.

"Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own story that we don't see how we are supporting characters in someone else's." I need to remind myself of this more often! A solid 3.5 stars.

Mischling by Affinity Konar (publication date: September 6)

Goodreads Description:

It's 1944 when the twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, Pearl and Stasha Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood.

As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele's Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.

That winter, at a concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl disappears. Stasha grieves for her twin, but clings to the possibility that Pearl remains alive. When the camp is liberated by the Red Army, she and her companion Feliks--a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin--travel through Poland's devastation. Undeterred by injury, starvation, or the chaos around them, motivated by equal parts danger and hope, they encounter hostile villagers, Jewish resistance fighters, and fellow refugees, their quest enabled by the notion that Mengele may be captured and brought to justice within the ruins of the Warsaw Zoo. As the young survivors discover what has become of the world, they must try to imagine a future within it.


Jill's Review:

(5 out of 5 stars) I was hesitant to read this book, because the subject matter is so disturbing and heart wrenching, but I am so glad I did. Her prose is truly lyrical (oh - to have such talent!) and while the subject matter is grim, hope runs through the pages rather than pain. I was amazed how she managed to tell the story of things we would all rather forget yet keep me distanced enough to not be sobbing on the floor. Such an amazing work of art! Unforgettable.


Katherine's Review:

(3 out of 5 stars) This is a very hard book for me to review mainly because it was such a hard book to read. I wasn't prepared for the emotional toll this book would take on me and although it ends on a hopeful note, it was the horror in the book that remained with me. Definitely not a book for everyone.

The Ballroom by Anna Hope (publication date: September 6)

Goodreads Description:

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, where men and women are kept apart
by high walls and barred windows, there is a ballroom vast and beautiful.  For one bright evening every week they come together and dance.  When John and Ella meet it is a dance that will change
two lives forever.

Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, THE BALLROOM is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.

Katherine's Review:

(3 out of 5 stars) Overall I enjoyed reading this book. It is very well-written and while the story is slow moving I appreciated the extra time to really get immersed in the setting. At times this is a bleak story, but I believe it important to read anyway. Our treatment of the mentally ill (and those not truly mentally ill) has never been perfect and it was interesting to read about the thinking during this period of time. I was happy that there was information at the end of the book discussing what real-life events and places inspired the author to write this book.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (publicaton date: September 6)

Goodreads Description:

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

Jill's Review:

(3 out of 5 stars) I immediately loved both the concept & the setting of the book. An aristocrat is sentenced to live the remainder of his life under house arrest at a grand hotel in Moscow in the 1920s. The descriptions of the time and place are lovely and immersive & the nuances of the characters and their relationships bring them to life. Certainly a wonderful book for lovers of historical fiction. I felt it was a bit light on plot, but I read it slowly and thoughtfully and appreciated the journey.

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