“The book of lost names” Kristin Harmel

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster.) To be published July 21, 2020.

The book of lost namesIn 2005, Eva Abrams sees an article in the New York Times seeking the owner of a rare book that had been looted by the Nazis. Eva knows it’s her book that she’d thought was lost long ago, and that it contains a secret she’s waited 60 years to find. With single-minded purpose she books a trip to Berlin to claim it, hoping it might contain a message from her long lost lover who died in 1944.

From Florida 2005, readers are taken to 1942 Paris where we’re introduced to Eva Traube. She and her parents don’t believe there’s going to be a roundup of Jews but, when her father and thousands more are taken, she and her mother escape to Free France where they planned to continue on into Switzerland. Instead, against her mother’s wishes, she becomes involved with the French Resistance. In the hidden library of a Catholic church her artistic skills are put to use forging identity documents for hundreds of Jewish children escaping to Switzerland. There she and Rèmy, a fellow forger, develop a secret code based on the Fibonacci sequence and use a rare book to record the real names of the children to whom they were giving false identities.

Through flashbacks between the past and present readers learn of the difficulties Eva faced by falling in love with a Catholic, the battles she had with her grieving and bitter mother, and the hard work she did to save the lives of many children. We see the ways in which the Catholic church was involved in saving lives, the love she held for Rèmy, and how she’d hidden her true self for many years. It is a story of love, hope and faith, in the midst of despair, that rings true to its time and place.

Highly recommended for Adults.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Elizabeth I: The making of a Queen” Laura Brennan

3 stars *** ARC. ebook. Pen and Sword History. To be published July 19, 2020. (Includes lists of primary and secondary sources, as well as period photographs).

Elizabeth IThis book about Queen Elizabeth I is divided into several parts, concentrating on historical and political events from before Elizabeth was born, before she became Queen, and that transpired during her 45-year reign. She saw how her father, King Henry VIII, treated his wives and watched men conspired against their wives, leaving them powerless. This inspired her to remain single, and keep her own power. England’s religious battles, and the strained relationship she had with her sister Queen Mary I are also detailed. Thus, as Queen, Elizabeth used the experiences of her past and present to help her become a strong willed Queen.

Learning about Queen Elizabeth I was interesting because I believe that it’s important to “put [what is being studied] in its time and place,” a quote attributed to my former college professor. However I disliked how Brennan jumped from one event or person to another, then circled back again a few chapter or paragraphs later with information that would have been useful to know when she first began talking about that person or event. This made the book feel disjointed.

There are interesting facts about Elizabeth I mixed in with everything else, so I will recommend it to Adult readers who want to know more about this monarch.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“The kept” James Scott

Rated 2 stars ** 2014. HarperCollins. 354 p. (Includes “Insights, Interviews & more.”)

The KeptIt’s Elspeth and her twelve-year-old son Caleb against the world of 1897 after three men killed her four children and husband when she was away from home. Only Caleb survived so, bonded by revenge, the two of them struggle through the wilderness seeking the nearest town. There Caleb gets involved with the local gangsters while Elspeth tries to survive the guilt she feels, knowing she was the reason her family was killed. Both she and Caleb have to control their demons if either expects to reach closure.

I was not a fan. The book meandered too much, and many questions weren’t answered. What was Elspeth and Jorah’s relationship in the beginning? Why did her father beat her so terribly if all she said was hello? I especially did NOT like the ending because, after taking readers through a convoluted path to get where Caleb and Elspeth finally arrived, why end the book so openly? These were just a few of my disagreements with “The kept.”

So, though I didn’t like it, I will leave it up to you Adult readers to decide if you want to read it or not.

 

“I belong to Vienna: A Jewish family’s story of exile and return” Anna Goldenberg

Rated 3 stars *** Translated from German by Alta L. Price. ARC. ebook. New Vessel Press. To be published June 9, 2020. Includes Period photographs and “Archival sources and references.”

I belong to ViennaIn 2012 Anna Goldenberg moved to New York to attend graduate school and, while there, felt out of place among American Jews for being an Austrian Jew.  As time passed she missed her Viennese family so much she became interested in her family history. Through relatives who had immigrated to New York, Anna pieced together stories about her great-grandparents and grandparents. As she dove into old family letters and did research, she uncovered information about what it was like for them during the Holocaust, and what they had endured during the Nazi occupation of Austria. As Anna uncovers their stories, and their love for Austria, she uncovers her own mixed feelings about her homeland.

I understand and admire Anna’s need to piece together her family’s past so she could honor them through her future. However I felt the many transitions from memories to the present and back again gave the book a disjointed feeling.

Recommended for Adults.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Spirit run: A 6,000-mile marathon through North America’s stolen land” by Noé Álvarez

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Catapult. To be published March 3, 2020. 213 p.

Spirit runMigrants, and the hard labor of low paying jobs in fruit factories, abound in the lush apple country of Selah Washington, near the author’s childhood home of Yakima. Noé is a smart student, and wants to make life different for his family. He has dreams of going to college and earning enough money to free his mother from her monotonous, back breaking job at the apple factory. He wants to make a difference.

When his dreams get tangled up in the stress of reality, Noé  likes to run. He dreams of the day he can escape Yakima yet, when he gets a full scholarship, dreams turn to nightmares. He believes his insecurities that say he’s not good enough and, soon, can’t keep up with the workload. When he finds out about a run from Alaska to Argentina for Indigenous Indians Noé decides to drop out of college to participate. In the process he discovers the good and bad of human nature. His journey of self discovery, as well as his foray into understanding his parents, is chronicled in this book.

The problems he encountered, as well as the agonies of running an ultra marathon, are interspersed with reflections of his place in the world. The open ending, the seeming lack of a concrete plan for his life, along with continued disappointment that he’s working class made the book a bit of a disappointment. There will always be those of us who will never get to live a life of leisure without having to work, and I hope Noé can come to peace with that reality.

Despite my misgivings I will recommend this book to Adult readers as there are lessons to be learned, and experiences to be hashed through, which would make for good discussions in book groups.

“The debt of Tamar” by Nicole Dweck

Rated 5 stars ***** St. Martin’s Press (Thomas Dunne Books) 2015.

The debt of TamarIn 1544 Portugal José, his rich aunt Doña Antonia, and his cousin Reyna find themselves caught up in the “Death by burning” of six Jews condemned as heretics in the Portuguese Inquisition. Deeply moved José tries to get involved, but his aunt forcibly restrains him. Later she reveals that they’re Jewish – including the parents he’d never known. Stunned by the knowledge his aunt had kept secret for so many years, José dedicates himself to learning everything he can about his Jewish faith.

When it’s discovered that the family is Jewish, they’re forced to run for their lives. Eventually they arrive in Istanbul, where the reigning Sultan allows Jews to safely worship. In time José marries Reyna. Their child Tamar falls in love with the Sultan’s son, but José is unable to bear the thought of her marrying outside of the faith. He banishes her to an unsettled land, allowing everyone to believe she died from a fever. With that act a curse is placed upon his ancestors that isn’t broken until centuries later when readers are introduced to the last Sultan of Istanbul.

Reading how all the generations since José were tied together, of loves lost and found, and learning about the Ottoman Empire was fascinating. I was glad the Sultan allowed his land to be a place of refuge for the Jews when other countries were kicking them out. It’s too bad that goodwill between the two countries has been deteriorating in the past few years.

Recommended for Adults.

“Tigers, not daughters” by Samantha Mabry

Rated 2 stars ** ARC. ebook. Algonquin Young Readers of Chapel Hill. To be published March 24, 2020.

Tigers, not DaughtersThe four Torres sisters became three when Ana, their older sister, was found dead after falling out of her second floor window on her way to meet a boyfriend. Their father had given up on being involved in their lives when his wife died years earlier, so the three remaining sisters are forced to figure out how to go on without Ana.

As the youngest Rosa has always been a dreamer, spending hours listening to animals. She believes a dead bird and a missing zoo hyena are signs on the one-year anniversary of Ana’s death. She’s determined to figure out what they mean. Jessica coped by trying to become Ana. She has her old room and clothes and dates John, Ana’s abusive boyfriend. Iridian buries herself in her notebooks, writing lurid romance stories, and re-reading a favorite, battered book. As if all this drama isn’t enough, Ana’s ghost decides to haunt them.

The book blathers on through their lives, showing Rosa as air headed and fanatical, Iridian as lazy and clueless about the world around her, and Jessica as alternately weak and strong. My favorite character was Peter, a friend of their next-door neighbor and a co-worker of Jessica. I thought he had the strengths neither sister owned, and loved how he put John in his place.

I was not a fan of this book. I thought it was piecemeal, bouncing from one sister’s thoughts to another, and left open endings – why was Ana’s window broken when she died? Why did the father need money so much? It was also hard for me to believe that Iridian could leave school in 10th grade, and not have anyone there (other than her neighbors) notice her absence to report it to authorities.

Also, in my opinion, the sisters didn’t have to be named Torres, other than to sell a “diverse” book. Since it was set in Texas, the author must have assumed the main characters should have a Latino last name. However, they could just as easily been named Smith or Jones, as there was nothing cultural to happen that went along with the name Torres.

I will leave it up to readers, ages 16 and older, to decide if you want to read it or not. I would rather that I had not.

I received an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.