Monday, June 27, 2016

669 (2016 #24). The Girl From Krakow

by Alex Rosenberg,
read by Michael Page

I read this book because the local book club I used to belong to (before they moved their meetings to weekday daytime, when I can't attend) chose it for their next discussion.  I might have read it anyway, as it is being marketed as historical fiction, which I love.

"The Girl From Krakow" is Rita Feuerstahl, a Jew who can pass for "Aryan."  She ultimately does just that, with false papers turning her into Margarita Truschenko, an ethnic German (Volks-Deutsche) from Ukraine. The book covers the period from 1935 through 1947.  Rita's story is set mostly in Poland and Germany, and ultimately in Austria.

The other main character in the book is Rita's extramarital lover, another Jew named Tadeusz Sommermann, a gynecologist.  Besides Poland and Austria, he spends time in France, Spain (during the Civil War there, where he becomes Guillermo Romero), and Russia.  Thus the author pretty well has Europe covered for this time period, as well as various scenarios for the era - the military, the Jewish ghetto, factory work, post-war United Nations work, etc.

Rita is not a particularly sympathetic character.  I don't mind sex in books, and I don't see anything wrong with a character being sexually promiscuous and adventurous (besides Tadeusz, she is sexually involved with her physician husband, later a gay man who shares her room in the Jewish ghetto, and even later a woman).  However, it all felt somewhat gratuitous in this book.  It felt like the author (who is male) felt he needed all this to spice up the story.

The big problem I have with this book is that author Alex Rosenberg is a philosophy professor, and the book, his first novel, felt pedantic at times, with the characters discussing atheism and nihilism and other such topics.  It seemed like the author wanted to get his points across at the expense of character development, for all the book's characters seemed pretty shallow.

I also did not find it particularly realistic that Rita would carry two large, heavy volumes of Darwin's works with her everywhere she went (despite the risks), nor the "secret" her gay roommate told her that supposedly put her life at risk.

It didn't help that audiobook narrator Michael Page was awful.  His British accent was especially annoying with his rather nasal voice, and his interpretations of the female characters in the book were grating.  He did a fine job with male-only voices in The Watch That Ends the Night, but he should stay away from audiobooks where he will be voicing female characters.

While I learned a lot and am glad I read the book, it won't be for everyone, and I will not be re-reading it.  I wish I hadn't wasted an Audible credit (albeit a free one) to purchase it.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This electronic audiobook was purchased from Audible with a free credit.]

Monday, June 13, 2016

668 (2016 #23). Strong & Sculpted

by Brad Schoenfeld

I requested this book (along with some others) one month in the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program because I've recently lost (and kept off) 25 pounds, and would now like to tone up.

Strong & Sculpted was written by Brad Schoenfeld, a fitness expert who has actually conducted studies and written articles for peer-reviewed journals.  He explains the science and theory behind his exercise programs, including clarifying myths about bulking up, spot reduction, and becoming longer and leaner.

The book has step-by-step instructions and full-color photos for 117 different exercises.  What I like most about this section is that Schoenfeld groups them by the targeted muscles, and in almost all cases, there are choices for the equipment I have at hand (dumbbells only, and not a proper exercise bench).  I appreciate not feeling that I *have* to join a gym to use this program - although the advice of a professional trainer would probably be useful in helping me determine just how much weight to use for each exercise.  In fact, I think the book would be especially useful for a personal trainer.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.  I think I will hang onto it for a while.]

Sunday, June 12, 2016

667 (2016 #22). Love of the Game

by Lori Wilde, read by C. J. Critt

This is the third book in Lori Wilde's Stardust, Texas series, which features daughters from the Carlyle family of the mythical East Texas town of Stardust, and baseball players from the mythical Dallas Gunslingers team.  I read the first two books in the series, Back in the Game and Rules of the Game, about six months ago and about 11 months ago respectively.  You don't need to have read the other books to understand or appreciate this one, however.

Wilde has meshed far fewer romance tropes (which I've italicized) into this story than some of her others I've read. Our tortured heroine is physical therapist Kasha Carlyle, an orphan adopted at age seven after a terrible incident in her family of origin that leaves her with physical and psychological scars that make her anxious about losing control and feeling passion.  The athlete is injured pitcher Axel Richmond, who becomes Kasha's patient (office romance).  He too has scars, having lost his son at age ten to cancer.

This story has an interesting twist:  Kasha discovers she has a biological half-sister with Down syndrome, and is seeking guardianship of her.  This could be a bit of a complication to the budding romance.

There's further evidence in this book that Stardust might be modeled on Gladewater, the "Antique Capital of East Texas."  On page 3, concerning Kasha's commute to her job with the Gunslingers, Wilde writes,  "Every day, she made the one hundred and thirty-five mile, one-way trek to the stadium from her hometown of Stardust."  Gladewater is 135 miles from Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers baseball team.  Kasha's adoptive parents own an antique store in Stardust.

I've met Lori Wilde and I know she is a yoga devotee, just like Kasha.  She also has some interesting rituals that help her with her writing, which she speaks about in a recent interview.  "For each book I write, I make a musical playlist, a visual collage, and pick a scented candle that represents that book."  I think these help her writing be so descriptive.  Not only does she detail sights, but also sounds, smells, tastes, and textures.

I listened to the audio version performed by actress C. J. Critt.  Her reading had some unusual pauses and emphases, but I enjoyed her giving characters appropriate voices and Texas accents.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Friday, June 10, 2016

666 (2016 #21). Involuntary

by Andrew G. Anderson and Chester L. Blunk

I purchased this book partly for my father, who also flew B-26 Night Intruder missions over Korea, in a different squadron.  The 731st Bomb Squadron, originally established during World War II, was reactivated in August 1950 for combat duty in Korea.  The men in the unit had been in the Air Force Reserves, and thus their recall was involuntary.  It was also the name of one of the planes flown by one of the authors.

This squadron was the first to fly the "Night Intruder" bombing missions in Korea, nighttime low-level forays to bomb trains, truck conveys, and other targets of opportunity.  By the time my Dad arrived in Korea in October 1952, the 731st had been inactivated for over a year.

This book is full of some great stories and memories about Night Intruder missions as well as life on base.  I thought the description on page 105 of the navigator (my dad's job) was particularly apt:

He literally had a front row, orchestra seat in the bombardier's glass nose, sitting out in front of the whole airplane.  That vantage point also at times provided some terrifying and apprehensive moments.  It was rather like being in a fish bowl attached to the front seat of a roller coaster.

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Chester Blunk wrote a book called Every Man a Tiger, published in 1982.  It forms the basis of this book, along with chapters from a collaboration between the two authors on their squadron history, as well as chapters by retired Air Force Reserves Captain Andy Anderson, and one chapter full of memories from other squadron members.  It's not clear who wrote what, and I think the flow of the book suffers somewhat for that reason, but it is still a most worthwhile read.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I purchased this book, and will pass it on to my father to enjoy.]

Friday, May 27, 2016

665 (2016 #20). The Masque of the Black Tulip

by Lauren Willig,
read by Kate Reading

This is the second of 12 (full) books (there are also two novellas and a short story) in the Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig (whose bio sounds a bit like the Eloise character in the book).  I listened to the first in the series a couple years ago, and enjoyed it, so I decided to continue when I wanted a "light" read (or listen, in this case).

It's still 1803 (summer), but this book focuses on two characters who played a minor role in the first book, Lady Henrietta Selwick and Miles Dorrington.  They are, respectively, the little sister and the best friend of Sir Richard Selwick, the former spy known as "The Purple Gentian."  Henrietta takes on the bumbling amateur spy role played by her now-sister-in-law Amy Balcourt Selwick from the first book.  In this case, she and Miles are trying to catch the mysterious French spy, the Black Tulip.

Naturally there is romance and some steamy sex and a few cameos by real historical characters, although a bit out of context.  And naturally I figured out pretty quickly who the Black Tulip was.

Once again, framing this story is the 2003 tale of Eloise, who is continuing her work on a dissertation on the mysterious British spy known as the Pink Carnation.  She spends the weekend exploring the archives at Selwick Hall, with Richard's descendant, Colin Selwick (and of course there are hints of romance there - at least for Eloise - but not much).

Kate Reading (real name:  Jennifer Mendenhall) does a fine job with American, British, and French accents and both male and female voices in the audiobook.  I will likely listen to a few more in the series when I'm looking for something funny, easy, and entertaining.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

553 (2016 #19). Vinegar Girl

by Ann Tyler

Vinegar Girl is a fun retelling of Shakespeare's comedy The Taming of the Shrew by bestselling author Anne Tyler (an author I am not that familiar with, as I have only read one of her books, years ago).  It's been stripped down to its essentials - Katharina (Kate in this book), Petruchio (Pyotr), and Baptista Minola (Dr. Battista).  These three main characters lack a lot of social skills - which of course makes the story funny.

Baptista's daughter and Katharina's sister Bianca (Bunny in the book) still appears, but her distracting subplot is (mostly) gone - as is (thankfully) the confusing introductory induction scene (no Christopher Sly here!).

I'm much more familiar with The Taming of the Shrew, having seen the play performed at least five times.  That made it quite easy to see the parallels in this book.  They are merely parallels, though, as Tyler has crafted a unique version of the tale, set in modern times, with an interesting twist in the plot.

The clever title comes from a comment Pyotr/Petruchio makes to Kate/Katharina that reflects his Russian's fascination with American idioms.  There's also a reworking of Katharina's (in)famous "obedience" speech at the end that's much more up-to-date.  Tyler also adds a humorous epilogue, set about six years later - perhaps as an opposite to the induction in Shakespeare's play.

Vinegar Girl is the third in the Hogarth Shakespeare series of books where bestselling authors are commissioned to retell stories from Shakespeare.  I didn't really care for the second book in the series, based on The Merchant of Venice which, like The Taming of the Shrew, also deals with a politically-incorrect (today) theme - Anne Tyler just handled it much better, in my opinion.   However, I'm interested in reading the first book as well as future titles in the series.  I do think this is a series where it is helpful to have read the Shakesspeare play the book is based on, particularly if you are otherwise unfamiliar with the retelling author's work.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received this advance reader edition through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

552 (2016 #18). An Armadillo in New York

by Julie Kraulis

Arlo is a very cute little armadillo (from Brazil - which I did not realize had armadillos), who loves to travel.  Author/illustrator Julie Kraulis' first book had him traveling to Paris, this one takes him to New York City.

Arlo's grandfather Augustin wrote travel journals that help Arlo plan his trips.  The journals refer to a "Lady Liberty" Arlo will meet, with lots of information about her.  Some of the references, though, are a bit vague ("she has had a few opera cameos"?  "often spotted at the [Yankees baseball] games"?).  The book ends with Arlo gazing up at the statue of liberty (in a double-page spread that is oriented at 90 degrees), plus a few additional facts about the statue.

This book reminds me of the old series of "This Is..." travel books by M. (Miroslav) Sasek that I loved growing up, as well as the Bluebonnet the Armadillo series by Mary Brooke Casad, featuring an armadillo traveling to interesting spots in my home state of Texas.

The author used oil paint and graphite pencil in her illustrations.  The inside of the dust jacket doubles as a poster promoting the book.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received this hardbound book though the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be added to my university library's collection.]