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I have a pretty good mix of historical fiction, young adult, and nonfiction this month for my November 2018 book reviews. While not all of them were excellent, at least one will make my best reads of 2018, so that always makes for a good reading month.
I also had a couple of books I did not finish (also known as “DNFs”), which I’m actually pleased about. I’ve never been great about giving up on a book, but it’s been satisfying to put down books that aren’t working in favor of others that I’ve been looking forward to. I’m hoping to continue spending more time with books I love than with books I feel like I “should” read (for one reason or another).
November 2018 Book Reviews
We Were the Lucky Ones is the incredible story of the members of one Jewish family in Poland during World War II--parents, five grown children and their spouses, and their young children--each struggling for survival as the world crumbles around them, sometimes ripping them from their family at a moment's notice.
The story is fictionalized but based on the real experiences of the author's own family, and this is how you do "based on a true story" fiction. While I had to pause for a moment at the start of each chapter and orient myself (because each chapter moves to a different family member), the experiences and emotions kept me rooted in the story with no confusion--a feat, considering the number of characters.
This was not only edge-of-my-seat reading (all the more so knowing that many of the events actually happened), but it was one of the most informative World War II books I've read about the Jewish experience in Poland during the war. One of my best reads of 2018.More info →
Waiting for Eden is a short, intense novel that brings us into the mind of Eden, the most wounded soldier ever--he was both injured and kept alive by the newest technologies. For three years, Eden has been holding onto life while his wife, Mary, keeps vigil in his hospital room and his friend and fellow soldier who died watches, and waits. As Eden battles fears and struggles to find order in his own mind and to communicate his wishes, his wife struggles as well--with her sense of loyalty, her exhaustion, and her guilt.
Eden's friend narrates and guides us between the past and present, bringing us to difficult questions of how past wrongs affect our present decisions, and who decides what makes a life worth living. Beautifully written and emotionally charged, this is not a light read--but it is a powerful one.More info →
Someday is the sequel to the YA novel Every Day, which offers the interesting premise of a person who wakes up in the body someone else each day. "A," as the character calls themselves, has no body of their own and never knows what life they will be living from day to day--but they try to be good stewards of the people they inhabit each day, mostly just trying to get through without causing harm. In Every Day, A fell in love with Rhiannon and grappled with the difficulties of a relationship under such bizarre circumstances.
They also encountered another "traveler" named X, who doesn't have intentions quite so noble and who wants to partner with A. Someday puts X in pursuit of A, with Rhiannon and her friends in the middle, and A and Rhiannon still agonizing over how to manage their love for one another.
While this last piece--the romance--is the weakness of the book (it suffers for the angsty passages that could be in any teen romance), the overall premise was enough to keep me reading.
But what's most interesting about this book is not really the story itself, but the unique way that David Levithan weaves in discussions on identity, gender, acceptance, morality, love, art, and a whole host of other issues relevant to teens. It's not subtle, but the issues are framed in such a way to make the reader ponder them and how they might apply outside of the fantastical world of body-hopping beings.More info →
After losing her family in a Russian pogrom, Lillian Leyb comes to America and talks her way into a job and the lives of some New York theater powerhouses. Intent only on survival, her focus is finding and maintaining stability--until word arrives that her young daughter, Sophie, may have survived the slaughter. Lillian then begins a journey across the United States, intent on returning to Siberia to find her daughter.
From New York to Seattle to the Alaskan wilderness, Lillian calls on wiles and a resourcefulness she never knew she had. This book was oddly affecting--not odd because of the subject matter, which is devastating, but because Lillian herself is written as somewhat detached. I found this a little uneven and I was impatient with some of the tracks of the story that felt like they had no connection to either Lillian's past or her goal. As a mother, the arc of the story hit me hard, but the execution of it didn't quite hit the mark.More info →
As Hurricane Katrina headed toward New Orleans, Abdulrahman Zeitoun never considered leaving. He was used to riding out the storm and keeping watch over his painting business and the properties he and his wife, Kathy, owned. Kathy and the four kids would leave, eventually making their way to Arizona to stay with friends, but Zeitoun stayed. As everyone knows, New Orleans soon turned into a disaster area. Zeitoun was largely isolated from it, staying on the second floor and roof of his home at night and paddling through the nearby neighborhoods by day, feeding dogs and helping people who needed it.
He and a friend are in a home he owns, visiting a tenant, when heavily armed authorities burst in and arrest them all. Thus begins an imprisonment filled with indignities, no standard rights, and accusations of terrorism. It's an insightful look into one of the only parts of the machine that seemed to run like clockwork during Katrina: arrests and imprisonment.
This book is especially interesting not just for its content, which paints Zeitoun as quirky but noble, but also for its aftermath. Since Katrina and the writing of this book, Zeitoun and Kathy divorced, and he was accused of trying to beat her with a tire iron and then with soliciting a hitman in prison to kill her. He was acquitted of both but later convicted of stalking her. He was recently freed from prison after a deportation order couldn't be carried out because of the war in Syria.
It's always interesting to look at the larger story outside of a book, to find out if there are other perspectives or if new events have occurred since the writing--particularly when a person in a nonfiction book is portrayed in a certain way. I believe that most of the story in Zeitoun is probably true, but I also believe that people can be nice to dogs, help out a few neighbors, and still do other horrible things.More info →
This third book in the To All the Boys I've Loved Before young adult series is just as sweet as the first two--and the stakes are even lower in this one. Lara Jean, her family, and her boyfriend Peter are just as charming as in the previous two, and that sweetness is really what kept me reading. The dilemma here is about the end of high school and making choices about college and staying together. The plot is thin, but I enjoy the characters that Han created. It's not my standard fare, but this has been an enjoyable series to read quickly between more serious books--and I love the To All the Boys I've Loved Before Netflix adaptation, so now I'm all caught up for the sequels.More info →
Books I Didn’t Finish
I attempted the following books, but they just didn’t hold my interest.
Bridge of Clay is Markus Zusak's followup to The Book Thief, which I enjoyed but didn't love as much as many readers. I will be interested in reading more reviews on Bridge of Clay, because it didn't capture me. Over 100 pages in, I still could not track the characters and just didn't care very much about what was happening. I didn't finish this one.More info →