Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff. MIRA Books, 2017

There are multiple orphans in this story. Astrid, a Jewish woman whose Nazi husband has been ordered to divorce her, returns to her circus family home to find everyone gone and presumed dead. Noa, a Dutch girl impregnated by a German soldier, is cast out by her family; her baby was taken from her by the Germans and she lives by being a custodian at a country railroad station. When she sees a boxcar filled with babies, with no one caring for them and exposed to the cold, she steals one of these parentless children and runs off through the snow. These orphans converge on Herr Neuhoff’s circus. Astrid knows him from her childhood; her family lived next door to the Neuhoff’s home base and she grew up with him. Noa and the baby, who she claims is her brother, Theo, lands with them by accident. To Astrid falls the chore of training Noa to be an aerialist like herself; to avoid questions, everyone in the circus must have a job. Plus, Neuhoff needs another aerialist to work with Astrid on the trapeze. Never mind that Noa has never done any such thing, and is afraid of heights.

After working together for a while, Astrid and Noa grow to respect and even like each other. Astrid has a lover; a Russian clown who does dangerous political satire. Noa also meets someone and falls in love instantly; the son of a small French town mayor who is a collaborator.

They are always in peril; even when safe for a few hours, they are on high alert. They hope to escape Nazi areas, but it’s not to be. False papers protect Astrid and Noa as long as they are not closely examined. But multiple tragedies befall the circus, and hard decisions must be made.

While the plot line of hiding from the Nazis could make this a thriller, it’s really a book about relationships: lovers, parents, friends. These relationships interweave like the net that stretches below the aerialists in the big top, which should catch a falling person but you never know when it will fail.

Astrid and Noa are really the only characters who are fleshed out decently. The others seem rather flat; they fill the space nicely but have no existence outside of the story. I would have liked to have seen more of Peter the goose-stepping clown, and the story would have seemed realer had Noa and Luc spent more time together before falling head over heels in love. But it’s a good, tense story, showing WW 2 from a perspective I’ve not encountered before. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything= from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. 

neither of these things influenced my review.  

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Things We Have in Common, by Tasha Kavanagh. Mira, 2017

When Yasmin Laksaris’s father died five years previous to the story, her life spiraled out of control. We are given no clue as to what her life was like previous to this, other than that she and her father were close. Since then, food has become her only source of comfort. Her mother is not close to her and has remarried, to a man who seems to barely tolerate Yasmin. Now she’s obese, and the students, teachers, and principle of her school all treat her like a total outcast. She takes endless taunting. When her not very subtle stalkerish behavior towards the most popular girl in school becomes obvious, the taunting gets even more vicious. But it doesn’t stop her from endlessly watching pretty, blonde, Alice.

Then one day she discovers that she’s not the only one watching Alice. Sitting outside during lunch, she notices that a man walking a dog is watching Alice intently. She intuits somehow that this man means harm to Alice. But rather than reporting the man to the school, she decides to figure out who he is. Because she doesn’t want to stop him from abducting Alice; she wants to be the one who rescues Alice once she’s abducted, figuring that Alice will then return her love. So Yasmin plays junior detective, and, amazingly, finds the man. She manages to work her way into his life- which he responds to rather oddly- and when Alice really does go missing, Yasmin turns her stalking to him.

The author has captured the feelings of a teen outcast pretty well. She’s so desperate for affection that even the slightest imagined (and she imagines a LOT- she is, in fact, delusional) favor shown by the man changes her life. The book is written as if Yasmin is telling the story to the man, and it gives us a deep look into her mind. Yasmin is, quite frankly, not a very sympathetic character. In some ways, she is- anyone bullied as much as she is would be- but she has a very warped mind. The story is built such that you could see it going in several directions. I couldn’t put the book down, dying to see which way it would go. The end is positively Hitchcockian. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Everything Belongs to Us, by Yoojin Grace Wuertz. Random House, 2017

Sunam, Jisun, and Namin are all students at the prestigious Seoul National University, but that’s pretty much all they have in common. Namin comes from a poor family, where both parents and her older sister all work to put Namin through college. She wants to become a doctor to lift her family out of poverty.  Sunam comes from a middle class family, and is trying to make connections with rich people to ease his way into the world of business. He, too, is the only child in the family to go to university. Jisun comes from an insanely wealthy family; her father assumes she will take over his business when the time comes. But, despite her life of privilege, she is obsessed with the rights of the working poor.

Odd a group as they seem, they become friends- and more. Their relationships are not easy ones; it’s hard to overcome the barriers of money and class- and what their families expect of them. This is their coming of age story.

Set in South Korea in 1978, it’s a time of great change politically and economically. Unions are forming, protests are being staged, and state police are cracking down on activists. The story shows how these pressures affect the characters and their families, and on one level it’s a really good social novel. But it devolves into a soap opera situation and never really recovers from that.

I liked the characters of Namin and Jisun (although I didn’t like some of the choices Jisun made; on the other hand, I applauded one thing she did), but disliked Sunam. Or, rather than dislike, I didn’t feel anything for him- he doesn’t have much personality. The ending left me wanting something more- the three main characters ended up just as one expects from the story, and it’s so abrupt that I felt like the author wanted to tie it up as quickly as possible. I’d give three and a half stars if I could. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine early reviewers program in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things affected my review.