by Brenda S (Langley, B.C.): The story was very charming….I really enjoyed the characters, some very likeable and some not so very likeable. The storyline was really clever. I highly recommend the book to everyone.
by dpfaef (Spokane, WA): Debt collection has always had a bad reputation, this book does nothing to dispel that reputation. Jake Halpern follows an ex Wall Street Banker and an ex-convict set up shop in the Collection Capital, Buffalo, which is home to some of the largest collection agencies in the country.
Who knew that banks sold their uncollected debts for pennies on the dollar? We do know that collection agencies are unmerciful in their pursuit of money, but the pursuit of “paper” is even more cut-throat than could be imaged. Consumer Debt Collection is a totally under-regulated industry. I learned a lot about this dark side of the financial world.
by Gloria: What kind of society values sons so highly that desperate women dress their daughters in pants and raise them as boys? And what happens to those daughters when they reach puberty and suddenly have to live as women in a society that demands that they be clothed from head to foot and never appear in public unless accompanied by a male family member?
Jenny Nordberg explores these questions in her thought-provoking book, “The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan.”
Nordberg introduces us to these “bacha posh,” women who live or have lived as men, and we discover that this practice is not specific to Afghanistan or Islam or even to the 21st century. The reasons for bacha posh are cultural, religious and financial, an offshoot of a patrilineal society in which a woman's sole purpose is to bear a son.
I could hardly put Nordberg's book down. It is, above all, enlightening. And at other times depressing and infuriating. “The Underground Girls of Kabul” shows how women are oppressed in one of the most war-torn countries in the world, but it also reveals how many women in Afghanistan are trying to push back against the oppression and find freedom for themselves and their daughters.
by Saransh Gautam (India): A beautiful book by Mitch Albom…. The reader feels many emotions while reading this book, ranging from happiness to sadness, and more than likely, will be wiping away tears at the end. It makes the reader think about their own life and ponder aging, forgiveness, family, compassion, and mentors in life, just as Mitch Albom does during the course of the book.[Top]
by Ms.G (Williamsburg, Va): I thoroughly enjoyed this book and my only criticism is that at time the tangents became distracting and while they did reflect a realistic pattern of delving in to memories I would have preferred if they had been edited. That being said, the story is excellent and their are so many themes that are worthy of discussion that there is no way I can do them justice here. I found the author to be very talented and look forward to his upcoming work. I highly recommend the book and think it would be a particularly good bookclub selection.[Top]
by AmberBug @ ShelfNotes (CT): Quirky, that is the perfect word for this book. If The Room lasted any longer (approx. 125 pages), I would have picked a less pleasing adjective to describe it. Bjorn, the main character, is completely on the spectrum and the reader is fully aware of this after a few pages in. He clearly likes to do things a certain way and can’t understand why people may live in separate realities from his perfect one. A great example of this was when he sees a drawing his coworkers child has made (primitive drawing of a sun and mound of grass), but he can’t understand why she has posted this for everyone to see. He feels completely baffled as to why someone would subject others to looking at something so deplorable. This should give you a little insight into the kind of character Bjorn is, this is also a great way to determine if you want to read this book. Does Bjorn sounds like someone you can spend 125 pages with? For me, it was a resounding YES. I love reading behind the eyes of someone so different from me, even IF they do infuriating things.
The whole book is set in Bjorn’s workplace, has a cast of characters only from that workplace and focuses on only the relationships within that office. Again, this might not be for everyone but I really liked it. I thought it brought a little lightness to the topic and was a great setting for someone with OCD/Autism to be driven to the brink of despair. I felt terrible for Bjorn and how his coworkers treated him, he obviously can’t help himself… but at the same time, his uniqueness was also the thing that had me laughing for much of the book. I wouldn’t call this a comedy or a drama, maybe a dramady? Anyways, I don’t have much more to say other than I really enjoyed it, nice and short but completely for me. I like novellas like this and I wish I would come across them more often.
by Davida Chazan (Jerusalem, Israel): To tell the truth, crime dramas aren’t really my thing. But being Jewish, I found the connection to the ultra-orthodox or Hassidic world was what drew me to this book. Their world is famous (or perhaps I should say infamous) for being insular and separatist to the extreme, and this is what makes them so fascinating. Their wanting to remain that way also forces these communities to use whatever means possible to cover up any imperfections that might make them liable to scrutiny from the outside world. In a democracy, one of those means is their ability to use their large blocks of votes in exchange for elected officials turning blind eyes to their internal goings on and private organizations. So when Rebekah sees the body of the dead woman taken away by a Jewish burial society instead of the Medical Examiner, questions start to arise. Of course, these questions also lead Rebekah to discovering more about the community her mother grew up in, left and then returned to.
One of the first things you’ll notice about this book is the writing style. Dahl first person account is imbued with a gruffness that is well in keeping with the crime-beat journalism scene. While this might seem a bit more hard-boiled than a reporter this young might use, it does work well in the setting. This tone makes more sense when you realize Rebekah has lived her whole life estranged from her biological mother, and all she knew about her was shrouded in various levels of anger and doubt. This is toughness is well tempered with a vulnerability that comes with her youth combined with the innate insecurity of someone just starting out in her career. With this mixture, it then becomes reasonable that Rebekah is of two minds regarding finding her mother. In short, Dahl has brought us a marvelously developed and changing character that acts and reacts to her surroundings and the situations they present with a lovely balance of the expected and unexpected. There is no doubt that Dahl’s Rebekah Roberts is exactly the type of protagonist that crime fiction readers will want to follow for several volumes.
I should mention that Dahl has also done a very good job dealing with writing about the Hasidic community. Often writers have a difficult time delving into a part of society that is the source of rumors and conjecture without coming up factually short. The Hasidic community in particular isn’t one that will open its doors for investigation. Even when they do, their trepidation will often prevent researchers from getting too close to any uncomfortable truths. But Rebekah is technically Jewish and that does open some lines of hesitant communication that would otherwise be closed. My only problem with this premise is that I’m not convinced they would have been quite as forthcoming as Dahl makes them, partially because of Rebekah’s gender. This isn’t to say that they’re all tripping over themselves to reveal their dirty secrets, but one or two male characters did seem a bit more communicative with a female than I would have expected. Still, this is hardly anything that most readers would notice, and I’m willing to believe that behavior among the ultra-orthodox in Israel that I’ve experienced isn’t exactly the same as those living in New York.
With the setting and characters all in place, what would a good crime drama be without a good plot? Dahl’s murder here is what underlies this story, and in the best traditions of any mystery, she leads us down blind alleys and towards her eventual twist without revealing too much. In fact, her clues are so subtle that I was actually surprised to find out who the murderer was, and I’m usually very good at figuring these things out. Dahl does this with a very even pace throughout most of the book, so that when the climax finally comes she can let the adrenaline kick in, and take it all up a notch, making for a truly exciting reveal. This shows an exceptional talent for a debut novelist, and if she can repeat this in her next novel, she’ll be well on her way to being a superstar. All of this is to say that I have to give "Invisible City" by Julia Dahl an extremely strong four and a half stars out of five, and highly recommend it to even people who don’t usually read crime drama.
by Barbara (Cherry Hill): A Reunion of Ghosts is a novel of wordplay, dark comedy (tragedy, gloom, morbidity) and absurdity mixed with historical fiction. What a zany combination!
A series of coincidences prompts three sisters: Vee, Lady and Delph, the 4th generation of the Alter family, and the great-great granddaughters of Lorenz Otto Alter (roughly based on Fritz Haber, Jewish born, 1918 Nobel prize winner in chemistry who discovered processes to produce poison gas for chemical warfare, synthetic fertilizers and pesticide Zyklon) to join their sister, Vee, in a millennium suicide pact.
Despite the subject matter, the book has plenty of levity and historical facts. Around page 150, gets darker, gloomier, then picks up again, and much later in book some surprises.
Great topics for Bookclub discussions along with interesting characters and clever writing, tragedies of science and the coincidences of the universe.
Despite the core subject matter the book will leave you thinking … chuckling …but not crying.
by Joan (Maple Grove MN): Great review of history. I have read all three of this series and they are so readable you don’t want them to end. It is easy to follow all of the families from the five countries through the whole series. I especially liked the last book because I could actually remember the things happening, but it is a great way to learn history. Ken Follett has a way of bringing history to life![Top]
by Beckyh (Chicago, IL): DEAD WAKE, the beautifully detailed history of the events leading up to and after the sinking of the Lusitania, is written in Larson's style of presenting well-known facts and events in the manner of a well plotted mystery. Using both famous and obscure persons, Larson fleshes out the event that ultimately leads to the United States entering World War II. He contrasts the tension generated by the ship speeding to disaster with the courtship of the widowed and lonely President Wilson and the discord between Winston Churchill and Jacky Fisher in the British Admiralty. The action moves between the Lusitania, the U-20, President Wilson, and the Admiralty. Book groups will find the history intriguing and lead to a good discussion of the merits of attacking “innocent” targets during war. Participants will also enjoy a discussion of the courtship between the President and Edith Galt, a “distracted” President during a time of international tension, the safety measures taken on board ship, and the actions (or inaction) of various passengers and ship crew. A map of the entire area traversed by the U-20 and the Lusitania would be helpful in following the routes. I was frustrated by failing to find points mentioned (and important) noted on the end paper map. A listing of the persons encountered in the book with a brief description would be helpful in identifying the many passengers on the Lusitania when they are re-encountered in widely separated parts of the book. For real history buffs, the end notes are generous and detailed. 5 of 5 stars[Top]