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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    I took advantage of Amazon’s free book download a couple of months ago, in celebration of International Book Day.  As they did last year, Amazon offered up several books by international authors for free.  I downloaded about a dozen books, and The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia was the first one I read.

    You might think a free book would be bad.  Not.

    I really loved this book and this story by Mexican author Segovia.

    Segovia brings the reader to pre-revolution Mexico, where landowners and tenant farmers, corrupt politicians and revolutionaries are walking a fine line of survival and power in early 1900’s.

    The Morales family is a hard-working and upstanding family with generations of land ownership being handed down from father to son.  But their lives will be forever changed when anciently old Nana Reja discovers a newborn baby…a child with mysterious ways and the power to change everyone’s lives forever.

    Segovia’s talent for story telling and use of some third person chapters and some first person chapters creates a lovely rhythm to the book and you will find yourself lulled into the characters and their lives and in particular the peculiar and fascinating child named Simonopia.

    Like the swirling bees that follow Simonopia everywhere he goes, this book buzzes with the frenzy of the developing plot, believable characters, stunning narrative describing the rich and beautiful scenery and most of all the love and sacrifice of family.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Five stars for The Murmur of Bees by Sophia Segovia.

    Read last week’s review of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane: A Novel by Lisa See

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Although I enjoyed this story, I expected a bit more, given how long I was on the wait list to get this book from the library.

    It’s good.  Just not great.  The best part for me was learning about a particular minority ethnic group in China I was not familiar with.

    The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane: A Novel by Lisa See is a compelling story of the remote Akha mountain people of China.  The Akha in 1988 when the story begins, are still a very superstitious and traditional people, living a poor existence in their remote region with little food, power or plumbing.  Their traditions and tea farming life go back thousands of years and have changed little over the centuries.

    But slowly the modern world approaches and the long-established customs of these people are challenged in every way possible.  The book follows the life of Li-yan, a girl from a family of tea farmers.  It is her generation that will be directly affected by the challenges to the conventional and somewhat ignorant way of life, and the encroachment of the modern world.

    Li-yan faces scandal and gives up a baby girl, then leaves the village to go to college and eventually becomes a highly successful tea broker.  Back in the village life is changing dramatically as the cultivation of the now highly prized Pu’er tea is making all the village extremely wealthy.

    But Li-yan never forgets the daughter she abandoned and wonders about her always.

    It’s not too hard to come up with how this will end, and a few too many coincidences bring it all together in the end.

    But the book is interesting for the education I received about the very lucrative world of tea, the fascinating culture of the Akha, and the heart-tugging topic of the one-child society of China.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane: A Novel, by Lisa See

    Read last week’s review of The Altruist.

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Altruist: A Novel by Andrew Ridker

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    An engaging story of family and dysfunction with some lovely writing that includes occasional brilliant descriptive prose that took me by surprise and made me admire this writer.

    The story, Ridker’s debut novel, spans several continents and decades as it wanders through the life of Francine, her husband Arthur and their children Ethan and Maggie.

    Francine passes away of cancer and after her death the family learns that she has amassed a fortune in stock that even her husband knew nothing about.  But in her will she gives it to her children and leaves nothing for her Professor husband who has never gained tenure and has lived his entire life regretting choices he made in his youth.

    Ethan, gay and insecure, and Maggie, angry and dealing with an eating disorder, have zero relationship with their father following the funeral and thus the story unfolds as the author takes you through the inner thinkings, struggles and personalities as well as the mistakes and choices that have brought this family to where it is in this story; on the brink of disaster.

    I enjoyed this book very much.  I found this family sad, believable, pathetic, and endearing.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for The Altruist: A Novel by Andrew Ridker

    Read last week’s review of The Children of Blood and Bone.

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Tattoosist of Auschwitz: A Novel by Heather Morris

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    I have read dozens of Holocaust books, many of those just in the last few years as a glut of such stories have blanketed the market (Sarahs Key, Mischling, The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas, The Book Thief etc.).  Although this story is interesting and shows the powerful will to survive during the worst possible circumstances, it falls flat for me.

    Perhaps because there have been so many brilliant novels with this theme that have come before, or perhaps because I found the writing clipped and rushed – I didn’t love this book.

    Based on a real person Lale Sokolov who spent three years as a prisoner in Auschiwitz during which time his job was the tattooist, tattooing the numbers on each arriving prisoner.  Behind the prison walls he meets and falls in love with Gida and their love for each other keeps them alive.  Lale’s positive personality is tested beyond its limits as he watches innocent men, women and children die all around him, but his one goal in life is to keep Gida alive so they can have a future together.

    The author admittedly writes that this story was originally a screenplay.  And it feels that way.  Perhaps I would like it better as a movie.  I don’t know.  Heartbreaking and interesting I can’t write it off completely, and if you love a novel about this time period and how love survives, it may be for you.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️Three stars for The Tattoist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

    Read last week’s review of Asymmetry.

     

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Asymmetry: A Novel by Lisa Halliday

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Whoa.  This book.  As the name implies, it’s not equal, it’s not what you think.  And it’s not symmetrical.

    Say what?  Yes, it is a bit difficult to pull the pieces of this book together, but I loved it just the same.  Told in three very distinctive parts, Asymmetry, Halliday’s debut novel, sets out to explore the imbalance of human relations and bias of inequities of age, power, wealth, fame, nationality and justice.

    How does she explore these questions?  First with a story called Folly about an unexpected romance between Alice and a much older and very famous author.  Just as I am really falling for these characters and this unusual romance something unexpected happens.

    The story ends.

    Next Halliday offers a story called Madness.  This story by contrast is about Amar, an Iraqi-American who is detained by immigration officers in London.  Again you find the character compelling and you feel helpless for him to find justice.

    Still waiting for these two separate stories to connect in some way, Madness also suddenly ends.

    You are left wondering what Halliday wants you to think.  Finally she wraps the book up with a somewhat humorous and interesting radio interview of the older author from story number one.

    This book is unique of all normal aspects of novel-writing and yet it provides a way to look at the questions of inequity through an inspired and powerful new style of novel-writing.

    Although not for everyone, I give Asymmetry five stars.  Because four is too symmetrical.⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Read last week’s review of A Thousand Splendid Suns

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    This is the third book I have read by Hosseini.  His masterpiece The Kite Runner is my favorite and this work A Thousand Splendid Suns comes in a close second.  He writes in a hauntingly beautiful style that brings his characters alive, in a country few of us have or will ever visit.

    In A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini once again transports his readers to Afghanistan through a very personal story of two women and their struggles to survive.  We are introduced to Mariam in the first page of the book.  A bright and inspired five-year old girl who is still naive to her plight in life as a female, a child born out-of-wedlock and a poverty-stricken child with no prospects.  She is known as a “mugwort”, a weed, something tossed aside.  The trajectory of Mariam’s life is in other people’s hands, unfortunately for Mariam those making the decisions do not have any love for her.

    Laila is born nearly a generation after Mariam, on the night that life changed for everyone in Afghanistan in April 1978 when the Soviet communists invaded.  The baby girl named Laila, meaning Night Beauty, arrived to her proud parents Fariba and Hakim.

    Laila’s prospects are better than Mariam ever imagined for herself, but Laila’s life will also take a horrific turn when she is only 14 years old and the Taliban invades Afghanistan.  After years of war, Laila has lost her two brothers who were resistance fighter, and then in one terrible moment both her parents are killed when a bomb falls on their house.

    Mariam and Laila’s lives collide and their destinies are entwined forever, as each woman realizes they will need each other just to survive.  The war rages on, thousand disappear and die, and in the end Mariam and Laila who are more like sisters or mother and daughter after their years together, find the true meaning of family does not always mean blood relations.  During a truly terrible time of war and death, this book is both heartbreaking and inspiring with a message of love, friendship, sorrow, abuse and perseverance.

    A masterful work.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Five Stars for A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

    Read last week’s review of Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love by Dani Shapiro

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    I am not familiar with Shapiro as a novelist and memoir writer, so I approached this book blind.  In the first few pages I thought I wasn’t going to like it.  But I was very wrong.

    Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love is a remarkable story of one women’s fascinating journey when she finds out at age 54 she is not who she thought she was.

    Dani Shapiro was raised in a strict Orthodox Jewish home in New Jersey.  An only child she adored her father, struggled with her mother and always felt a bit of an “outsider”.  She has clear childhood memories of people questioning whether she really was Jewish – so blonde, blue-eyed.

    Shapiro’s journey that began in 2016 leads the reader through the questions of family secrets, ethnicity, paternity and ethics.  And more than anything, what is it that makes us family?

    Shapiro is one of thousands of people who have, for better or worse, learned they are not who they thought they were as a result of the world we now live in where DNA testing is as easy as making a phone call.  But learning the results can create a whole new set of ethical and social questions in a world  where technology and science have outpaced medical ethics as well as the capacity of the human heart to contend with the consequences we discover.

    An absolutely beautiful yet astonishing story.

    Five Stars for Inheritance by Dani Shapiro.

    Read last week’s review of Five Presidents by Clint Hill