Monday, May 2, 2016

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Published May 2016 by Simon and Schuster
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
London, 1939.

The day war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up.

Tom Shaw decides to ignore the war—until he learns his roommate Alistair Heath has unexpectedly enlisted. Then the conflict can no longer be avoided.

Young, bright, and brave, Mary is certain she’d be a marvelous spy. When she is—bewilderingly—made a teacher, she finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget.

Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary.

And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.

My Thoughts:
If you ask me if I'd like to read a book set in Europe during the Second World War, I'd likely say "no." It so often feels that there cannot be a stone left unturned in the story of that war. And knowing that any such book it likely to be devastatingly sad, I find it hard to do that to myself. But Chris Cleave won me over with Little Bee so I was willing to take a chance. Cleave has become something of the master of combining humor with crushing sadness.  

In Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, Cleave as found a way to bring those elements together in a completely different World War II story. While Mary stays in London, volunteering, she faces the day-to-day hardships of the Blitz but also unexpected racism. Alistair finds himself stationed on Malta, an island that the Axis powers lay siege to for more than two years, trying to break the people on the strategically important island. There is no shortage of the gore and desperation of war here but the emphasis never veers from the characters.

What first grabbed my attention was the witty dialogue between characters.
"Mary frowned. "You are a mousetrap of a friend, all soft cheese and hard springs."
 Hilda beamed. "I use you for practice. One day I'll have a husband."
 Mary took a second envelope from the tray. "God help the poor man."
 "God will take my side," said Hilda. "He's only human, after all.""
And what great characters they are! Filled with kindness, melancholy, jealousy, anger, bigotry, love, hope, hopelessness, disgust, and sorrow. I became so attached to Mary and Tom and Zachary and Alistair that at times I could hardly keep reading, so unable was I to keep "seeing" them hurting.

Of course, I couldn't stop reading. Cleave's writing grabbed me and held onto me with its honesty, intelligence, and emotion. More than once, I found myself thinking "oh, please no" and just as often "oh, yes, this."
Cleave's mother, Mary
"Even as she railed, a hollow feeling grew that perhaps life would turn out to be like this. No, after all, the effortful ascent to grace that she had imagined, but rather a gradual accretion of weight and complexity - and not in one great mass that could be shouldered as Atlas had, but in many mundane and antiheroic fragments with a collective tendency to drag one down to the mean."
"There in the sweet sacking smell of the mailbags he understood that he was dying, and it pleased him that he was going in the company of so many soft words home." 
Cleave's father, David
"I was brought up to believe that everyone brave is forgiven, but in wartime courage is cheap and clemency out of season." 
"The quick bright shock of the light between the cloud and the eastern horizon: an unimagined thing, thought Mary, a life. It was an unscrewing of tarnished brass plaques. It was one tile lost to the pattern. It was a world one might still know, if everyone brave was forgiven."
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is loosely based on Cleave's own grandparents lives during the War. The idea for the novel was given to him by his grandfather when Cleave's grandfather asked Cleave to transcript his handwritten memoir into one computer document. The true story is included in the book as well and is every bit as interesting.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Life: It Goes On - May 1

Happy May Day! After all of these years of not doing it, it still seems strange not to be putting together May baskets for the kids to deliver to friends, neighbors and classmates.

May here is coming in exactly as April left us - wet, wet, wet. I'm so ready for some sunshine! We had box seats at a baseball game today but, sadly, it was rained out.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: We've been back at the gym this week so I've been listening to more podcasts, several episodes of NPR Books and two episodes of Nerdette. I finally set up my own Pandora account so I've been listening to a lot of different music as I've done that: Alison Krauss, The Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlisle, Chevelle, Florence + The Machine, Incubus, musicals, Nina Simone. I've been all over the place!

Watching: Miss H introduced me to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I finally caught "Love Actually," and we're catching up on BBC's "Luther." Love me some Idris Elba!

Reading: On audio, I'm listening to The Absolutist by John Boyne. So good and so well narrated! In print, I finished When The Moon Is Low and Why We Write About Ourselves yesterday. Today I'm starting Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman and my new nightstand book is The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller.

Making: Chili (it's been that chilly lately - ya' see what I did there?!) and cinnamon rolls yesterday and today I'm making a breakfast souffle and french toast for brunch.

courtesy of the MeanStreetsOmaha
Twitter account
Planning: It's all about the graduation party and our upcoming house guest. Since Miss S's mom will be staying in Mini-him's room while she's here, Mini-him will need to stay in my office for several days. That meant I finally had to buckle down an get that room cleaned up. I found my bookshelves again!

Thinking About: How lucky Omaha was the other day. The weather became unexpectedly severe and a couple of tornadoes touched down (one not too far from my office). Minor damage, no injuries but impressive footage. Got home to find we'd gotten a fair amount of pea-sized hail but looks like all of our plants survived that.

Enjoying: Brunch today with Miss S and Mini-me. Miss S has been in Fort Worth for four months for a school rotation and we are so glad to have her back!

Feeling: Productive. I could have spent the afternoon reading since I wasn't planning on doing anything around the house but, instead, I've been deep cleaning the kitchen. No one else may notice that the cupboards look cleaner, but I do!

Looking forward to: Mini-me's graduation on Friday!

Question of the week:  With a party just around the corner, I'm using that as an excuse to get some projects done around the house that we've been putting off. Is it just us or do you do that, too? 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The List - Nebraska Authors

Nebraska is a small state, population-wise, the majority of it living in the two biggest cities, Omaha and Lincoln. We're proud to be the birthplace and/or home of many famous people (okay, maybe not so proud of some of them). Some of those people we're so proud of are authors. Maybe you know some of these folks?

1. Ron Hansen - author of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (made into a movie starring Brad Pitt)

2. Roxane Gay - born in Nebraska, Gay is best known as the author of Bad Feminist and An Untamed State

3. Mignon Eberhart - at one time Eberhart was the leading female crime novelist in the U.S. and one of the highest paid female crime novelists in the world.

Willa Cather
4. L. Ron Hubbard (yeah, this is one we're not so proud of) - Hubbard wrote prolifically for pulp fiction magazines, mostly fantasy and science fiction works, before founding the Church of Scientology for which he is best known.

5. Nicholas Sparks - yes, THAT Nicholas Sparks, was born in Omaha and for a time lived in Grand Island, Nebraska, which is not in any way, shape, or form and island.

6. Richard Patrick Dooling - Dooling is the author of White Man's Grave which was a finalist in 1994 for the National Book Award in fiction.

7. Willa Cather - author of O, Pioneers and My Antonia, Cather is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Timothy Shaffert
8. Alex Kava - best known for her Maggie O'Dell series, Kava has written 15 novels and been a contributor to a number of short story collections.

9. Timothy Schaffert - I've talked about Schaffert a lot on this blog as he is the driving force behind the Omaha Lit Fest and the author of several books, most recently The Swan Gondola.

10. Rainbow Rowell - Rowell started writing in Omaha as a columnist for the paper but gave that up to begin writing novels. As much as I enjoyed her column, I'm mighty glad she gave it up to write Eleanor and Park among others.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
Published July 2009 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: borrowed from my parents
Narrated by: Simon Vance

Publisher's Summary:
Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government. But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander - the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who previously came to his aid, and who becomes the focus and fierce heart of the current situation. As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander's innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.

My Thoughts:
Okay, you all were right. Simon Vance is amazing. Except...he really cannot do a convincing Swedish accent, particularly a Swedish woman. Shouldn't even have tried. Lisbeth Salander became a Cockney girl, and not a particularly tough one.

Why, yes, this is the bed Lisbeth bought
If that were the worst thing to be said about this book, it would be a minor quibble I could have gotten over. It isn't. I have no idea where Stieg Larsson's editor was when this book was being published. Perhaps they were, like Dickens, both being paid by the word. One could actually furnish their apartment with exactly the same furniture that Lisbeth bought from Ikea, right down to the lamps and bedding. Every shop anyone went into is named, every kind of food Lisbeth ate. And don't even get me started on the street names. I do believe I could navigate through Stockholm and surrounding environs.

It's a shame to burden the story with all of this nonsense. It's a complicated story and readers need to be able to stay focused. There are a lot of names and relationships to remember. If I'd been reading, rather than listening, I might well have made notes as I started. Eventually, I got it all straight in my head and was able to go along for the ride. It really is a great ride, if you can get over the fact that it would appear a good half of the men in Sweden are chauvinist pigs. Because Lisbeth Salander is just so damn interesting.

I'd be ready to jump right into the next book if I could just get over the idea that it's bound to be three discs longer than it should be.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Published February 2012 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: all mine

Publisher's Summary:
Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter—Annawadi’s “most-everything girl”—will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”

But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.

My Thoughts:
I feel like I've been wanting to read this book for longer than it has existed. I knew it was going to be a tough read but something I "should" read. I blame Thrity Umrigar, who taught me about the slums of India in The Space Between Us, and Aravind Adiga, who taught me how political and corrupt the system is in The White Tiger.

Whatever veil was still over my eyes after those books, has been shredded away by Boo.
""The big people think that because we are poor we don't understand much," she said to her children. Asha understood plenty. She was a chit in a national game of make-believe, in which many of India's old problems - poverty, disease, illiteracy, child labor - were being aggressively addressed. Meanwhile the other old problem, corruption and exploitation of the weak by the less weak, continued with minimal interference."
Boo spent three years talking to the residents of the Annawadi slum, getting them to trust and confide in her, finding the right story to center her book around. In Abdul's family she found the perfect story to highlight all of the ills of the Annawadians, of all of those living in Mumbai slums - a shortage of work, religious conflicts, corruption down to the lowest level, political chicanery, abuse of power by the police, and an ineffective judicial system. They are pawns in a game they don't even know is being played, busy as they are just trying to stay alive, and the first to suffer when the world economy collapsed in 2008.
"Every country has its myths, and one that successful Indians liked to indulge was a romance of instability and adaptation - the idea that their country's rapid rise derived in part from the chaotic unpredictability of daily life. In America and Europe, it was said, people know what is going to happen when the turn on the water tap or flick the light switch. In India, a land of few safe assumptions, chronic uncertainty was said to have helped produce a nation of quick-witted, creative problem-solvers.  
Among the poor, there was no doubt that instability fostered ingenuity, but over time the lack of a link between effort and result could become debilitating."
I cannot stress enough how important this book is if you want to understand what it is to live as a poor person in India today and how such a person can feel hope for a better future.