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.]