Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

January 2015 Books

Salt & StormSalt & Storm by Kendall Kulper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. There are a lot of good things about this book, but in the end it just wasn't for me. I was thrilled to see that it was set in the 1860s in a community based on the whaling industry - so unusual, with a lot of interesting potential! But the story as a whole didn't carry a great sense of time and place with it - I felt like it could have been anywhere, at any time, really.

The book did get better during the last third, though. Some issues that I thought were being dealt with in a really heavy-handed way ended up being more nuanced than I expected. I also kept thinking of this book as an alternate to The Witch of Blackbird Pond, except set two centuries later and the girl actually IS a witch.

I think the right reader would LOVE this book. That reader is just not me.

Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed AmericaBringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America by Les Standiford

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I know this is weird, but I actually wish this book had been LESS about the case of Adam Walsh in particular, and more about its impact on the investigations of child abductions in America in general. What happened to Adam Walsh is just so chilling that I had a really hard time reading about it. It's that awful, perfect storm that all parents worry about - turning our back on a child for a moment in an ostensibly safe place and having the worst happen.

So I couldn't stomach the middle chapters of this book. I recommend that anyone especially sensitive to violence against children skip over them as well. The final chapters do a good job summing up what happened and showing the results of the hard work of Adam Walsh's parents.

The American HeiressThe American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I kept wanting this book to go full-on horror (or at least Gothic), instead of just being vaguely, lazily creepy. Then I realized that I don't think the book is even supposed to BE creepy. It's too bad, because it definitely has "Mrs. Rochester in the attic" potential.

Instead, I'm left frustrated with men who want to make out instead of have important conversations with their significant others. I mean, I get doing that once or twice, but literally EVERY time your wife comes to you with a vital topic of discussion? All the men in this book are both boors, and bores. (Yes, I thought of that myself, late the other night and I am quite proud of it.) Even the man we're supposed to root for (out of nowhere, at about the 85% mark) is SO weak-sauce. I just cannot be bothered with him or anyone else in this book. Let alone the actual husband, who I think is just the worst, and also emotionally abusive.

I think I need to go read The Age of Innocence again as a palate-cleanser.

The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna BannisterThe Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister by Nonna Bannister

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With a more heavy-handed editor, I think this book could have been outstanding. As it is, it's only pretty dang good. I understand the editors' wish to leave the source material alone as much as possible (these are literally scraps of diaries written by a young Russian girl during WWII, plus later recollections written by her over her lifetime), but it made for a sometimes confusing read. This issue of not quite knowing what/when/who I was reading was compounded by the fact that in my Kindle version, the voice of the editors and the voice of the author were not distinguished at all - same typeface, same size, same spacing. I wonder if it's made more clear in the hard copy version.

BUT. This is a truly amazing and heart-wrenching story, and I think it's one that we don't get to hear very often. Nonna was a Russian girl who happened to be in the wrong social class when the dust of the Russian Revolution settled. So when WWII started and the Germans moved in, she and her family knew they were in danger from both sides - and thus had nowhere to seek refuge. It was an impossible choice and it was so sad to read of her fall from a lovely childhood into a frantic, violent, hand-to-mouth existence.

It was especially moving to realize that one of the concentration camps that plays a major role in the story is the one we visited this summer (Flossenburg). So sad.

The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic MysteryThe Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery by Catherine Bailey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars. Ostensibly, the central mystery(s) of this story could have been explained in a few chapters. But thankfully, the author makes herself part of the story, so we investigate the mystery alongside her and see it unfold as she does. That made the book for me. I thought the author was smart, industrious, and logical in the way that she approached the mystery, and it was fascinating to be sitting there in Room 1 with her thinking, "what do I do now? Where could those letters be? What is even going on here?"

I wouldn't really call this a "true Gothic mystery" - my copy of the book had a different subtitle. However, the author and I share an imagination style. She shares one moment about looking at an old photograph of two of the protagonists as children (I think it's the one on the cover of this edition, but it wasn't on mine). She describes it as being kind of spooky, knowing what we now know about those two people. One side of me was rolling my eyes like, come on, it's just a photograph. But the other, stronger, more genuine side of me was right there with her, registering a similarly high rating on the spooky scale.

Speaking of photographs, this book includes tons. I am so glad! Sometimes people write books like these and then do not include photographs!

Speaking of Downton Abbey, except we weren't, except every book set in that time period seems to be "speaking of" DA - there are so many DA plot threads running through this story I could hardly believe it! I have to wonder if Fellowes knew this family's story and borrowed a few elements.

Highly recommend, even if it gets a little muddy toward the end. I think a few chapters belong in the book the author intended to write when she set out on her research, and she couldn't bear to part with them so she included them in this, the book she ended up writing.

Dad Is FatDad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Audiobook, read by the author. I love it when they do that.

There is something here for everyone. I laughed a lot, especially at his depiction of life with a toddler (goals: 1. find poison; 2. destroy things) and the ordeal of leaving the house with children.

Downton Abbey 5.5 (SPOILERS)

January 30th, outsourced