11 February 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 7 Short Book Reviews

6 reviews from Beth Fish ReadsHappy Monday! I hope that everyone is ready to face the week, whether you're working, vacationing, or somewhere in between. I'm grateful to have a regular workweek ahead of me and am hoping to have the time to catch up on reading, straighten the house, and relax with some pleasure reading (or listening)

Since I last wrote about the books I'm reading, we've gone through the polar vortex, had some crazy warm days, fierce winds, and now we're on the brink of another snow storm. Starting Sunday night and heading on to Tuesday, we could see another foot or so of snow as well as an accumulation of ice. Have I mentioned lately that I'm so, so glad I work from home?

I missed last week's short story, but I read one over the weekend. I've been reading the first story in each collection, but at the end of February, I think I'll take a different tack and start reading the title story instead.

Here's what I read over the last two weeks. Many of them are audiobooks, because that's what I turn to when I busy editing.

Review of At the Wolf's Table by Rosella PostorinoAt the Wolf's Table by Rosella Postorino, translated from the Italian by Leah Janeczko (Flatiron, January 29). This is a totally different take on the World War II story (at least for me) and was inspired by a true story. In 1943, Hitler was headquartered at the Wolfshanze (the Wolf's Lair), where he had a personal chef prepare his meals. Hitler's fear of poisoning ran deep, so he forced 10 local, German women to eat three meals a day at his country home. After they ate, they remained under SS guard for about an hour, to see if anyone got sick or died. Rosa Sauer, is one of the tasters. She is living with her in-laws, whom she barely knows, while her husband is fighting in the German army. The food tasters don't know each other before their assignment, but they soon develop uneasy friendships: some are proud to be Nazis, others (like Rosa) are not, but try to do what they must to survive. Some of the SS men are strict, others begin to ease up. No one is really safe. Because Rosa tells the story, we know she lives, but what we don't know is how or why. I was really interested what becoming tasters did to the women: they all lived with a constant fear of dying, and for the women like Rosa there was the further dilemma of being forced to protect Hitler while not believing in anything he was doing. Can Rosa ever have peace with herself; does she in fact really survive to have a full life? Even if you think you've read everything about World War II, you should give Postorino's novel a try. This would make a great book club pick because there is so much to think about. I don't want to give away what happens to Rosa, but I think about her choices, her interactions with the other people involved in the cooking and tasting, her relationship with her husband and his family, how we should think about her, and what her postwar life is like. This novel is all the stronger because it is based on the confessions of one of the real-life food tasters. (copy provided by the publisher)

Review of Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah BirdDaughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird (St. Martin's Press, September 4, 2018). In one of those odd quirks, I ended up reading another book based on a true story of a woman in wartime, this time the American Civil War. Cathy Williams was born into slavery in the Deep South and "freed" by Union General Philip Sheridan, who needed an assistant for his camp cook. Cathy worked for Sheridan, learning to survive in a world of white men, all the while missing her mother who told her stories of Africa and the gods and her own mother, who was a queen. After the war, there were few opportunities for a black woman who wanted to escape the hate and violence of the defeated South, so Cathy disguised herself as a man and enlisted into the army under the name William Cathay. She thus became the first woman to ever serve in the peacetime U.S. Army. As a member of the cavalry, she and her fellow buffalo soldiers went west to fight the Indians and open the land up to (mostly white) settlers. Cathy's story is not a fairy tale: she misses her family, she is terrified of being found out and raped, she almost dies in the southwest desert, and she mourns the death of those she loved. I had never heard of Cathy Williams nor had I read much about the buffalo soldiers. Don't pass this by because you think you're not all that interested in the Civil War and the settling of the American West. This is the true story of a brave woman who tried to find a way to survive in a changing world. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Macmillan Audio; 16 hr, 31 min) brilliantly read by Bahni Turpin. Turpin's expressive performance brings Cathy Williams's story alive. The audiobook also includes an interview with the author. (copy provided for a freelance assignment)

Review of From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya MenonFrom Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon (Simon Pulse, May 22, 2018). This is a fun story about Twinkle Mehr, an Indian American, who dreams of becoming a filmmaker but thinks she has a million strikes against her. She lives in Colorado Springs, her parents can't afford to buy her good equipment and won't be able to pay for an expensive out-of-state college, and she's not a member of the popular group at school. To make things worse, her best friend is suddenly social climbing and the guy she's crushing on is not returning the feelings. When Sahil Roy--the twin brother of Twinkle's crush--offers her a chance to make a film for a local festival, Twinkle thinks all her dreams will come true. Not only will she be able to make a real movie but she'll have a chance to catch the eye of the cool kids. The novel is told through Twinkle's diary entries, with a few sections from Sahil's perspective, and is somewhat more than a cute contemporary teen rom-com. Twinkle's home life is difficult (for example, her mother suffers from depression) and she has many life lessons to learn about love and friendship and the dream of fame. I always enjoy Menon's take on Desi teen life. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio; 9 hr, 32 min) read by Soneela Nankani and Vikas Adam. Both Nankani and Adam did a fine job tapping into their inner teen, though Nankani occasionally went over the top with her emotions. Still, a decent audiobook. (digital and audio copies provided by the publisher)

Review of The Chessmen by Peter MayThe Chessmen by Peter May (Quercus, February 3, 2015): I finally finished up the Lewis trilogy by May. I don't have a lot new to say about this entry, but I love May's writing and I love how the island of Lewis (in the Outer Hebrides) is as much a part of the story as what happens to the characters. In this final Fin Macleod story, the ex-detective discovers a dead body in a private plane, which was exposed after a bog break drains a loch. His involvement with the cold case has links to his teenage years and one of his best lifelong friends. Meanwhile, Fin's personal life is not going as smoothly as it could, and he's feeling directionless since he returned to the island to restore his family's croft. The ending of this book was satisfying, though I was happy to see that the door has been left ajar, so maybe May will write more about Fin in the future (or maybe he's already done so; I need to check that out). If you want to try May but don't want to commit to a trilogy, check out his standalone novels. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 10 hr, 1 min) read by Peter Forbes. I love his skill with the several needed accents and much appreciate hearing the proper pronunciation of the Gaelic. (print and audio copies provided by the publisher)

Review of The Overnight Kidnapper by Andrea CamillerThe Overnight Kidnapper by Andrea Camilleri, translated from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli (Penguin Books, February 5): This is the latest installment  in the wonderful Montalbano mystery series set in Sicily. Detective Montalbano doesn't like paperwork, loves to eat, and is the man you want on the case. In this outing, Montalbano is tasked with figuring out why two woman, both of whom work for banks, were kidnapped but then let go several hours later unharmed and untouched. Before the detective can get far with this case, another women is kidnapped, but she is found naked and injured. Meanwhile, there's an arson, a possible Mafia hit, and a missing person. As Montalbano works through all these strange occurrences, he wonders if any of them are linked. I love Montalbano's personality, the dynamics between the police detective and his staff, the wisecracking dialogue, and the undercurrent of the Sicilian Mafia. Although this series is long (I think this is the 23rd installment), you can probably jump in anywhere and not feel lost. Each book is a single case; though, as with all series, there are recurring characters who develop through time. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Blackstone Audio; 6 hr, 15 min) read by the wonderful Grover Gardner. I love Gardner's characterizations and how easily he handles the humor and quick dialogue. If you're an audiobook fan, this series should be listened to instead of read in print. (audio copy provided for a freelance assignment)

Review of Renegade Women in Film & TV by Elizabeth WeitzmanRenegade Women in Film & TV by Elizabeth Weitzman (Clarkson Potter, February 5). As I wrote on Friday, this book contains dozens of short biographies of women involved in making movies and television shows. Each woman was a ground-breaker on some level and on both sides of the camera. This is a book to enjoy over the course of a few days, reading a couple of biographies at a time. I really enjoyed meeting new (to me) women, such as Gertrude Berg, who was one of the early television creators and who paved the way for many of the family sitcoms that have formed the foundation of prime-time television. Each biography is accompanied by either a short interview or a pithy quote: "I want to be identified with the body of filmmakers, not just women. What will really  help women is if they show up everywhere" -- Shirley Clarke (1919-1997), filmmaker. Don't miss the beautiful portraits of each woman by Austen Claire Clements. I love the art! The book ends with a bibliography and with a list of must-see movies and television. (review copy provided by the publisher)

Review of This Is Not a Love Song by Brendan Mathews"Heroes of the Revolution" by Brendan Mathews from This Is Not a Love Song (Little, Brown, February 5). This story is about two participants in a three-month fellowship program in the Chicago area for foreign journalists: Edina from Bosnia and Vitas from Lithuania. On an apple-picking group outing organized by an American graduate student, Edina and Vitas (both middle-aged) have a moment to talk and get to know each other while walking through the orchard. At the end of the day, young Kristen, who has a crush on Vitas, tells a story from her carefree teen years, which prompts Edina to tell her own story--not so carefree in the war zone of Sarajevo. Vitas also has a story to tell, and we are left with the striking difference between the innocence of American youth and those who must deal with the horrors that people can inflict on others. I'll definitely be reading more of Mathews's stories. (digital copy provided by the publisher.


rhapsodyinbooks 2/11/19, 8:03 AM  

I wasn't aware of what At the Wolf's Table was about. Sounds really interesting!

bermudaonion 2/11/19, 8:19 AM  

Wow, that's a lot of books! My sister talked about At the Wolf's Table a lot when I visited for my mom's birthday. She lent her copy to my mom - hopefully, I'll get it next.

Kay 2/11/19, 8:29 AM  

I love that Peter May trilogy and agree that the narrator is really talented. I don't think he has returned to Fin, but I hope he will give us an update.

Susie | Novel Visits 2/11/19, 10:25 AM  

That's a lot of books, Beth! I just read a WWII book so feel like I need a break from the era, but your thoughts on At The Wolf's Table have me reconsidering. It sounds excellent.Renegade Women also sounds interesting, but definitely one you'd want to read in print. I'm going to see if my local library has it. Have a great week.

Laurel-Rain Snow 2/11/19, 10:37 AM  

Renegade Women looks tempting...and I am also drawn in to At the Wolf's Table.

Thanks for sharing, and for visiting my blog. Enjoy your week.

sherry fundin 2/11/19, 12:32 PM  

Really like the look of Peter May's book.

sherry @ fundinmental

Kathy Martin 2/11/19, 12:37 PM  

Quite an assortment of books these past two weeks! We are in a pattern with lots of snow right now too. It messes up my exercising but does allow for lots of reading time. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours 2/11/19, 4:35 PM  

I need to read more by Peter May, I really enjoyed Coffin Road. This book on Hitler sounds fascinating!

Greg 2/11/19, 7:23 PM  

Same here on the weather. We're supposed to get more snow and ice starting tonight. Oh joy lol. The Overnight Kidnapper sounds fun, and I'm intrigued also by The Chessmen with that Outer Hebrides setting.

Sue Jackson 2/11/19, 7:30 PM  

Quite a reading week for you! And so much variety, too.

Hmmm...I JUST went through audios available for review and passed on At the Wolf's Table, but now I'm thinking I should have requested it! Sounds intriguing.

Hope you enjoy your books this week and stay cozy and warm inside! Today was actually nice for a walk here with the snow!


Book By Book

Yvonne 2/11/19, 8:54 PM  

They are predicting snow for us too but it doesn't sound like it's as much as they are predicting for you. Your books all look really good. I hope you enjoy them and have a great week.

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