Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Friday, February 20, 2015

Between Shades of Gray

I grew up with a father who fought in World War II. I always knew he didn't think much of Josef Stalin, but beyond the bit I learned in school I really didn't know why. This book by Ruta Sepetys, helped illuminate for me what went on "behind the scenes", so to speak, in Stalin's Soviet Union. To say I was profoundly moved and appalled is an understatement.

Fifteen year old Lina and her family are taken from their Lithuanian home one night in 1941, placed on a cattle train, and sent far away to remote Siberia. Separated from her father, Lina does not understand why they are forced to leave, and fear of the unknown is crippling. Along with her mother and younger brother, the taken people are forced to live in a shack and work for the NKVD (the Soviet military in charge). Lina, a gifted artist, is forced to dig in dirt, pick beets, and carry heavy bags of grain, all for a small bread ration each day. Her mother, Elena, is relentlessly upbeat about the possibility of being let go and reuniting with the father, and Jonas, Lina's younger brother, works hard but falls ill to scurvy. There is a young man, Andrius,with whom Lina begins to form a relationship, and a soldier named Kretzky whom Lina particularly despises. The others in the camp, including the bald man and the grouchy woman, bring the story to life as Lina struggles to maintain a sense of hope while just trying to survive.

At first glance, this story seems to be another Holocaust story, but the truth is, it has nothing to do with the Holocaust at all. These Lithuanians were all Christians who were sentenced to twenty-five years of hard labor for their "crimes" against the Soviet Union. This included the children of those accused, and there was little to no hope of escape. The conditions these people were forced to endure do indeed echo the Holocaust, but are perhaps even worse as their story remains mostly untold.

It was easy to become engrossed in this story, as Lina's voice is clear and her words pull you inside the horrible, unthinkable actions of man against mankind. Her art helps her to survive, allowing her to express herself in limited ways and giving the reader a sense of the human who would not be defeated. This is not an easy book to read because of its subject matter, but it is an important one. With its strong content and horrible situations, it is probably better for slightly older children, but its message is definitely one people of all ages could embrace.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Girl on the Train

Hmmmm...what to say about Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train that hasn't been said yet? Well, I'm not much of a mystery reader usually, but the buzz about this one was interesting enough to make me think maybe I'd like it. So I picked it up on a whim and what do you know? It's that good and generally lives up to the hype. Win!

The basic storyline is this: Rachel, a miserable alcoholic, continues to take the daily train into London even after losing her job because she doesn't want her roommate to find out how and why she's unemployed. You don't find this out right away; the author has a delicious way of revealing details that click another piece of the plot into place a bit at a time. Anyway, the train takes Rachel past the stop where her ex-husband and his new wife and daughter live--coincidentally in the same home Rachel shared with her ex, Tom. Rachel becomes fixated on a couple a few houses down from where she lived, even giving them names and inventing an entire, perfect life for them. But then the perfect wife, Megan, goes missing and Rachel, either desperate or drunk or a combination of the two, becomes overly involved. A drunken night she does not remember places her at the scene during the time Megan disappeared and an acrimonious relationship with Tom's new wife fuel Rachel's imagination and lead her to interacting with Megan's husband, Scott. But nothing is the way it seems and everyone has something to hide.

If I'm being nitpicky, the biggest problem with The Girl on the Train is that there is literally no one likable in the entire book. Not Rachel, who is a drunk and sorta pathetic all around; not Scott, who is the focus of his wife's disappearance; not Tom, who cheated on Rachel and then married Anna; not Anna, who is self-righteous in her marriage; not even Megan, whose infrequent point-of-view chapters reveal that she has her own problems. I would have liked for at least one person I could whole-heartedly cheer for, but there is no one who is not flawed to the point of being contentious. Still, that does not in any way take away from the mystery and its ultimate resolution. I was turning pages long after my bedtime in order to sort it all out.

I suppose there may be more complex mysteries out there, but this one, even with its unlikable characters, is so well plotted and fueled that I was totally caught up. It's one I have no problem recommending to most everyone, including those who don't normally read mysteries *raises hand*. A very solid 4.75 that I will round to a 5 because I think it's that much of a page turner. Read it for yourself and find out what the buzz is about.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Third Twin...A YA Thriller!

The Third Twin is a well-written thriller that kept me guessing right up through the end, and that doesn't happen all that often in adult fiction, let alone in YA. So pull up a seat and crack open the story that has twins second guessing each other amid a chaotic environment full of secrets.

So what's The Third Twin about? Here's the basics: Identical twins Ava and Lexi were adopted as infants by a man and his wife, but the wife left the family early on. As small children, the girls invented a third twin, Alicia, who took the blame for mishaps, etc.--pretty basic stuff that was fairly innocent. Fast forward to senior year of high school, and we find the girls resurrecting Alicia in a much less pleasant way: They take turns playing her when they want to date boys they normally wouldn't (for lots of reasons), even maintaining social media pages for her and coming up with a list of rules they must follow when they embody her. The problems really begin when Lexi goes out (as Alicia) with Casey, who attempts to rape her in his car. Lexi escapes, and wants to put Alicia away for good, but Ava still sees the third twin as useful. When Casey is found murdered, the girls' lives slowly begin to unwind as Ava refuses to let Alicia go and Lexi is forced to continue the story they've created. Drop in some eerie coincidences, a new guy Lexi is attracted to, an absent father, and mysterious clues that seem to implicate involvement in the murder, and you've got The Third Twin.

Told from Lexi's point of view, we get a skewed vision of the events surrounding the creation of Alicia and the downward-spiraling of what should be charmed lives. There's a side story of Lexi wanting to attend Stanford which sort of fuels things later on but it's really the weirdness of both girls pretending to be a third person that drives the entire plot. There were times when I was frustrated with both girls and even found them unlikeable, but just enough is revealed at a time that I was hooked into trying to guess what was really going on. Without much adult involvement in their lives, the twins think they can handle themselves but it doesn't take long for them to get in over their heads. I thoroughly enjoyed The Third Twin, and even if I feel that a few parts were unrealistic, I definitely can recommend this thriller.