Sunday, September 20, 2015

Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This One was a Hard One

Books regarding World War II and the Holocaust Always Get Me


This isn't my first rodeo and I have read many books that take place during World War II and have material related to the Holocaust. As a young girl, I read the Diary of Anne Frank and in fact, I am watching my own ten year old reading it right now. 

There's been plenty of books since with this as a general theme of the plot, or a backdrop. There would be too many to list here or refer to previous reviews. That being said, for me, what made this one a little different was that it didn't focus on just the Jewish people but on the citizens of France that were impacted by the way. What is especially interesting is that most of this book is from the perspective of heroic women who were forced to make difficult decisions to save their families and their communities.

The story is a recollection from the past, as a older woman is about to pack up the last of her belongings in a home that she has lived in for the past fifty years, as she is moving to an apartment in a senior community. As she is in her attic, she comes across the trunk that holds memories she has kept at bay, and part of her life that her only son does not know about. . .

So begins the tale of two sisters in France that starts a little before the Nazi invasion. They are as different as can be. Vianne lives with her husband and small daughter is the countryside. Its is an idyllic life that changes dramatically as the Nazis threaten to invade. Vianne's husband goes off to fight in the war and soon disappears as many of the men do. Vianne has always been a rule follower, and tries to keep "under the radar" as soon the Nazis invade and take over their village due to a nearby airfield that is needed for strategic purposes.

Isabelle is the rebel, always questioning authority. At the beginning of the book she is once again being kicked out of another boarding school and seems to be more interested in romance than learning anything. Once the Nazis broach France's borders, she begins to look for ways to fight them.

Without giving up anything in terms of the book, both sisters end up having to face difficult decisions. Some heroic measures come with more infamy and others are quieter acts of courage that also save lives. Neither woman is spared the brutal impact of war and their lives are never the same.

This book really is a wonderful epic journey that also remind us that everyone has a story to tell but sometimes it is difficult to remember. This older woman, who from her son's perspective, was a mild mannered mother who was not much more than a mother and wife, has a rich history that she has kept a secret for over fifty years.

What makes this book difficult is the brutal scenes and imagery of concentration camps and misery that are just hard to deal with. That being said this is a beautiful book and I would still recommend it. I'm still thinking about it two weeks after I completed it so it was a powerful story.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Book Review: Where She Went by Gayle Forman

This One Really Tops the First One

A companion book to "If I Stay"

As I mentioned in my review of If I Stay, this is the second book in the series which I discovered halfway through reading it. I put this down and began If I Stay instead. While you could read this book without reading the first book, you would miss some of the background and it wouldn't be as rich.

That being said, I think that this book is far more interesting in a lot of ways. This story picks up about three years or so after If I Stay and is from the voice of Adam rather than Mia.

Adam is now a famous rock star with a lot of demons, including baggage from his break up from Mia. He isn't sure why she stopped talking to him but from those turbulent emotions he was able to convey his anger into his music which launched him into stardom. The problem is that he can't seem to deal with anything anymore, including being seen on the street, answering questions for an interview, or even being with his bandmates.

Through a series of events, he finds himself in front of Mia once again and looks for closure from her, as well as the reason why she broke it off with him.

I really enjoyed this book. It reminded me just a bit of The Notebook in terms of emotions and love. While the characters are much younger I think that many of the issues they had in their lives were ageless and I really enjoyed this book.

Book Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Yep, Another Teen Fiction Lured Me In. . .

. . . and I'm glad it did

So maybe I'm a little skeptical now when I start reading a book but I was actually reading Where She Went by this author when I had an inkling that maybe this was not the first in a series? I consulted Amazon and figured out that Where She Went was indeed the second companion book to this one, and I stopped reading and began this instead. While you can read Book 2, without one, you do miss some of the background so I have to recommend reading this first (although I liked the second one even better).

I read this in one evening. I think part of it was my desire to get to Book 2 and finish it, since I was about halfway done. As soon as I began this one I realized that I had seen previews for this a one of those teen movies but I soldiered on.

The story is told through the eyes of Mia, a seventeen year old cellist with a bright future, who lays in the balance between life and death after a horrible car accidents takes away the rest of her immediate family. As she watches the struggle to keep her alive in an out of body experience, she must decide if she will return to her life, despite the losses she faces.

While I really enjoy Book 2, which takes place three years after this one, I think it's imperative to read this one first so you have the background. This is told in Mia's voice while the next book focuses on Adam's story.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Book Review: You Were Mine by Abbi Glines

I Almost Won't Admit I Read This. . . 

But I did, and I liked it!

I once again preface this with my disclaimer that I get a stack of books and I read them without knowing anything about most of them ahead of time. Sometimes the reputation of a book precedes it and I have an inkling. Other times, I have read something by the author beforehand and that gives me a little bit of an idea of what to anticipate.

Other times, I have no idea. That is the case with this one although the cover suggested something with a lot of romance (as well as the title) and some idea that the relationship may be a little, ahem, possessive. . .

It turns out now that I'm looking into it, after reading this book (well maybe devouring), that this is Book 9 in a series that takes place at "Rosemary Beach". Maybe, just maybe, I may look into getting a few more from this line although they each feature different couples and it might be that I just liked these two characters.

When I began this book the first chapter took place in the past and they characters were teenagers. I thought this might be a teen romance but I soon learned that the book alternated between past and present. Not that dealing with a 22 and 26 year old is really in my peers but it did help to justify my continuing. . .  Sidenote, in reading Abbi Glines' bio on Amazon, she indeed does write teen fiction as well so maybe I'm  not really that far off?

This story tells the story of Tripp and and Bethy. Eight years ago Tripp was spending one last summer at the resort in a condo given to him by his grandfather, feeling pressured into a life he did not want that had privilege but with ties. He was set to go to Yale and work in his father's firm. During that summer he felt an attraction to a 16 year old girl from the other side of town but realized that he shouldn't be with her. . . See, I'm cringing even writing this but I'm going to go on. . . Long story short, he fell in love with her but knew he had to leave at the end of the summer to become independent with a plan to come back for her. Events lead to him not coming back in time and Bethy ended up with someone else. Six years later, tragedy struck and Bethy was alone. Tripp wants to come back and rescue her, at least make sure she is safe.

Yes, I really read it. I read it and it was a guilty pleasure despite all the romance stereotypes and the male is caveman elements that sometimes are just a little bit romantic. I enjoyed this one thoroughly. Not a hard read by any standards but a fun one. The story alternates between Tripp and Bethy's voice, and between present and past. Lots of cliches but oh so much fun.

Yes, I looked on Amazon and I can buy the first 5 in the series in one fell swoop. I may just do it. . .

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Why haven't I read this before?

A Good Classic

I  know there is a whole list of books that are classics that I should read but often I find that I really don't like them. There, I said it out loud. I do not like a lot of the classics. Pride and Prejudice? Don't get me started about Jane Austen. Romeo and Juliet? I am just not into Shakespeare.

To Kill a Mockingbird is just not like those other "classics". Not only is it a tale that kept me interested, the cadence of the writing was melodic as it tells the story with the voice of a young girl. What's brilliant about this book as we discover what is going on through her eyes, as she tells the story as it unfolds for her. Being a child, she is often not in the middle of the action but uncovers facts by listening to adults, or being on the periphery of what is going on. It is also interesting to see how she sees things as her perspective is often not the same as the adults. Themes about racism, elitism and family are revealed as Scout encounters them and it's an interesting narrative.

Scout Finch lives with her older brother Jem, her father Atticus, and their housekeeper in a small town in Alabama during the Depression. Her rather is a state representative who is charged with the task to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman. As this story unfolds, we see so many layers to a town with classes, prejudice and tradition. Scout learns life lessons on so many levels as she witnesses the actions of people and learns that not everything is how it seems.

This is a wonderful story on so many levels.

Restaurant Review: West Texas Barbeque Company

Texas BBQ

Comfort Food without any Frills

We went off roading today near Jackson, Michigan which was an excuse to try this BBQ place. It was featured on Under the Radar and it was on the list for a future road trip.

This is Texas BBQ. Dry rubs and smoking with wood. There is no use of charcoal or gas, and the meat is never basted with sauce. Sauce is served on the side at the table for your own dipping. This place boasts about the smoke ring on their meats and we definitely did see it on the brisket, a pink layer right under the char.

There is no decor at this place and it's fine. Maybe it's even part of the charm. The building has a some seats, as well as a small gravel lot outside. You order at a counter and then sit down and wait for your name to be called. The prices are very reasonable and there are some basic sides to pick from as well as a variety of meats. You can have a sandwich or a platter. We ordered a Polish Sausage sandwich, and platters with turkey, brisket and pork shoulder. We also had a side of mac and cheese, cornbread, and a chocolate chip cookie.

The sandwich was very tasty. I think it might have been my favorite item even if I didn't order it. The meat really took on the smoke and had a great texture, with a really soft bun. The brisket was also very
good, although I prefer it to be a little more fatty and my cut was probably a little leaner. My daughter loved the turkey. I did not really like the pork shoulder as it was a little bland.

The macaroni was a big hit. It was definitely homemade and featured a good amount of cheese. The cornbread was on the sweet side and not too dry. I would definitely recommend that as well.

While the meat comes dry you get your choice of sauces on the table. The Hot was not as spicy as I anticipated and really was the best choice. The Big Un's sauce was a vinegar base with a lot of pepper and was tasty but very watery in texture. I like my sauce to be thicker to cling to the food.

Would I drive again to Jerome for this BBQ? I don't think I would make a specail trip as I still think the Woodshop is the best. They also make their meat with wood and dry rub so I guess I'm spoiled. I really like the array of sauces that they offer. I will say that while Woodshop is lauded for the mac and cheese, West Texas was better in my opinion.

Restaurant Review: Detroit Burger

Burgers in Clawson

Branded Buns? Cool!

I love a good hamburger. While I write this post, I am thinking about some of my favorite places to get them and it could be a blog article all on its own. There's The Porker at the Woodshop, the Korean at Green Dot Stables, and for just a good bar burger, there is Field of Dreams.

A good burger starts with a good mix of meat and topped with cheese for it meet my standards. Rather than ketchup I like a Russian Dressing. Old Detroit Burger Bar has those components and it's local.  Clawson is their latest location and while I haven't been to the other ones, it looks to be the same menu. The restaurant is definitely a bar, but family friendly. Televisions line all the walls and there are multiple options to watch. On this particular night the Little League World Series was on along with pre season football and major league baseball. Blue lights provide some ambiance and the lighting is a little dim rather than too bright.

We started with nachos. There was nothing special about the nachos and I would skip it next time. The chips were on the salty side but had a generous portion of meat and cheese (we skipped jalapenos, lettuce and tomatoes). I also ordered a frozen margarita which was quite good for a slurpee version and I would definitely order that again. I have to say that so many times I find that they leave off the salt on the rim but here they remembered (go figure, I don't want salty chips but I do want a salty drink)

The Burgers are named after Detroit Landmarks. I wanted to order the Ambassador, with corned beef, Swiss cheese and Russian Dressing, but they were out of corned beef. I hear it was Wrigley's which is really very good (they have it at Green Dot for a slider). So instead, I ordered a burger with cheddar and Russian. There are a few options in terms of sides. Stick with the waffle fries, they really were the best and quite good. Onion rings are also offered but we didn't try those.

Verdict? This is a decent burger joint and close to home. If you are a purist and looking for a 1/2 pound of quality beef, cooked to order, this might be your place. For more exotic fare, I would still recommend Green Dot and Woodshop.

Book Review - The Damascus Countdown by Joel Rosenberg

Third in a Trilogy, Exciting until the End

I had a lot invested in this series and it did not let me down.

If you have not read The Twelfth Iman and The Tehran Initiative, stop reading.

This is the last book in the trilogy and like the second book, continues the story of David Shirazi, trying to stop Iran from launching a nuclear war as part of the End of Days. While as an NOC (Non Operative Cover) for the CIA, he was able to thwart most of Iran's plan, the leaders have a few other things planned, including alliances with other countries to absorb their nuclear aresenals. The clock is ticking as David must find the last two remaining warheads that are set to attack Israel and set off a world war.

As mentioned in the other reviews, these books are Christian fiction and often refer to the New Testament, being Born Again, and accepting Jesus as a savior. If that is not your belief I think you can still read these books and enjoy them, as I did, because the rest of the plot is so compelling. Especially in light of current day politics, and efforts by the U.S. to come to terms with Iran, I think that this is a timely tale.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Book Review: The Tehran Initiative by Joel C. Rosenberg

If you haven't read The Twelfth Iman - Don't Read This

Just know that you should go read the first book of the trilogy

The Tehran Initiative begins right where The Twelfth Iman left off. CIA Operative David Shirazi knows that it's only a matter of time until Israel launches a deadly first strike after nuclear testing conducted by Iran. He must race to disarm Iran's nuclear warheads while maintaining his cover.

As I noted in my review of the first book, this is Christina fiction and there are a lot of references to being Born Again or converting to Christianity. That being said, I enjoyed the trilogy and did not feel it diminished from the fast pace this story has. It was very interesting to read some of the background on the Twelfth Iman, which is folded into this series, and the Muslim version of the End of Days.