The Summer Before The War

by Helen Simonson, 2016, Random House, New York

This novel centers on the experiences of a young woman who is trying to make her way in life just before WWI breaks out.

The story has some interesting moments but the characters are pretty standard fare; the good guy, the heroine, the jackass lord, the young schoolboy who is interested in his school subjects but is afraid to show it because of fear of being ridiculed by his classmates, etc.  The story also didn’t move along very well in places so it became a bit tedious.  In spite of all of the above, the writing is fairly good and it’s not a really bad read; just not great. 2 1/2 stars

The Nix: a novel

by Nathan Hill, 2016, a Borzoi Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York

This book is pretty fascinating.  It interweaves topics such as computer game addiction with the anti-war protests that occurred during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, along with Nordic myths.  The author did a fair amount of research on all of these topics and managed to pull them together into a compelling novel.

As with many novels, however, the author relied heavily on some improbable circumstances which sometimes strained my belief.  I would cut him some slack in this regard as the story he spins is pretty fascinating.4 stars

Small Island, A Novel

by Andrea Levey, 2004, Picador Books, New York

This book is about a man and a woman from Jamaica who married and then immigrated to England after WWII.  It highlights the degree of racism that existed in England and the difficulty these individuals had in adjusting to their new surroundings.

The book wasn’t very interesting in the beginning but became more readable as I became more familiar with the characters.  The writing is pretty good and the story picked up once I was into it.  Overall, it was a pretty enjoyable read, but certainly not what I would categorize as a great book. 3 1/2 stars

Skink, No Surrender

by Carl Hiaasen, audiobook read by Kirby Heyborne, 2014, Random House, LLC

This is a very light weight novel about a girl who runs away to meet a guy she met on the internet and the subsequent search for her by her friend and a wacky old guy who was once the governor of Florida.  It is hardly believable but it was fun to listen to on our way to Florida.

2 1/2 stars

The English Girl

by Daniel Silva, audiobook read by George Guidall, 2013, Harper-Collins Publishers

This book was just plain terrible.  I was really disappointed because I had listened to another book by Silva that I really liked.  This one had a bit of a plot, but there was a voluminous amount of rehashing information from his other books.  Whenever a character was introduced, Silva spent an inordinate amount of time going over that character’s past history and episodes.  I kept wondering when he was going to tell me about what was going on in this book!

I can usually hang on to the bitter end, which is what I did with this book.  When the end of the book came, I felt myself breathing a huge sigh of relief.1 1/2 stars

Orphan Train: A Novel

by Cristina Baker Kline, audiobook read by Jessica Almasy and Suzanne Toren, 2013, Audible, Inc.

This is a book about a young, alienated girl in Maine who begins to establish a relationship with an elderly lady.  She, at first, does not recognize that she has much in common with the lady, but begins to discover that they both were abandoned by their families at an early age.

Apparently, orphaned children were routinely sent on trains to the Midwest to find homes.  There they encountered many hardships which are vividly described in this book.  Despite the suffering, however, many of these young children went on to live successful and fulfilling lives

The book was enjoyable to listen to but, as I have experienced with other books, the ending seemed very rushed.  There was probably at least another chapter or two that needed to be written.  It’s disappointing to go through an entire books and leave with a feeling that the work was unfinished.

3 1/2 stars

The Nightingale

by Kristin Hannah, Audible Audio Edition, narrated by Polly Stone, 2015, Macmillan Audio

This is the story of two sisters in occupied France during World War II and the two different paths they pursued to survive the Nazis.  The one sister pursued active resistance while the other sister tried to comply with the demands of the occupiers.

The book paints interesting contrasts between the two sisters’ approaches and also links their differences to the personalities of the two sisters.  The book also depicts the hardships of the occupation in stark terms.

I didn’t find the book to be all that compelling, probably because I have read so many similar accounts.

3 1/2 stars

The Last Hurrah: A Novel

by Edwin O’Connor, introduction by Jack Beatty, 2016 (originally published in 1956), Kindle Edition, University of Chicago, Reprint Edition

This novel was chosen as our November 2016  Men’s Book Club Selection.  While it is a book of fiction, it was purportedly written based on the life of James Michael Curley, the infamous governor of Massachusetts and mayor of Boston.

The book alludes to the many things that Steffington, the fictional main character of the book, did in his political career to get the results he intended.  Some of these tactics were underhanded, but most of them succeeded.  The author depicted one example where Steffington tricked a somewhat slow-witted son of one of his opponents into accepting a job for which is was clearly unqualified. This example, however, was the only example in the book that really showed how devious Steffington could be.  I wish that there had been a few additional episodes like this.

The final pages of the book suggested that politicians of the old school like Steffington might not exist in the new realm of mass media.  The passage of time since this book was written doesn’t bear that out.  New “media-smart” politicians seem to carry on in the new environment, but, just because they have grasped how to manipulate the media hasn’t caused them to give up their old ways of doing things.  As I read the book I thought of Buddy Cianci in Providence and how he did things while he was in office.  I didn’t see a lot of difference between Cianci and Steffington, and perhaps James Michael Curley in Boston even though Cianci came onto the scene much later.

The book was fairly well-written and apparently caused a sensation when it first appeared.  It is definitely not a page-turner, however, and I didn’t find anything surprising in it.

3 1/2 stars

North River: A Novel

by Pete Hamill, 2007, Kindle edition by the Hachette Book Group

This is a story of  a doctor who grew up in a tough area of Manhattan and then enlisted in the army.  He was in the trenches in France in WWI and then returned to his old neighborhood to resume his practice.  In the very first pages of the book, his daughter dumps her child on his doorstep and takes off for Spain.

The story focuses on how he deals with having to bring up a child in this environment while trying to carry on with his own life.

While the book does provide some insights regarding how it was in this New York neighborhood during the Great Depression, it seems to focus a lot more on the relationship the doctor develops with his grandson and another individual who comes into his life.  The book sometimes seems to lack some energy and the ending is less that I had hoped for.  I enjoyed reading it, but it fell short of being a really memorable book.3 stars

The Lake House: A Novel

by Kate Morton, 2015, Kindle Edition, Atria Books, Reprint Edition, sold by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales, Inc.

This book is a mystery about a cold case disappearance of a young boy in Cornwall, England. A woman detective, who is temporarily suspended from her job for alleged misconduct, visits her grandfather who has recently moved to Cornwall after the death of his wife.  While there she becomes interested in what happened when the young boy disappeared.

The book is well-written but didn’t seem to offer much in the way of suspense as the disappearance occurred many years in the past.  Much of the narrative delves into the motives and thoughts of persons who had been dead for many years.  Additionally, the final resolution of the mystery depends, as many mysteries seem to do, on a somewhat hard to believe coincidence.3 stars