Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

beneath a scarlet sky

Paperback: 513 pages
Published: May 1, 2017 by Lake Union Publishing

Life has been a little too busy, and sadly, I’ve gotten a bit behind on this blog.  I hope to remedy that.  I haven’t read as much lately, but I also just need to post the ones I have read.  This one is another book group pick and yet another good World War II story.  This one takes place in Italy which was a little different, and although it is fiction, it was based on a true story.

Pino Lella was a typical seventeen-year-old boy from Milan interested in girls and music when the book begins.  He has to grow up quickly, however, when his home in Milan is destroyed in one of the bombings. Pino goes to stay at a church where the priest has him climb the mountains every day.  Little does he realize that he is being trained to help Jews escape over the mountains.  Once he has mastered the mountains, he is entrusted with guiding the Jews and Allied soldiers across treacherous areas of the Alps.  As the war progresses, his parents worry that he will be sent off to the Russian front and killed, so they make him join the German army as a safer option.  Through a fateful event, he ends up being the driver for powerful, high-ranking German General Hans Leyers who was responsible for overseeing slaves who were often worked to death building military fortifications.  Pino is very conflicted about his position in the German army, but he uses it to gather information, acting as an undercover spy.

I usually don’t like reading books this long, but I found the book so compelling that I didn’t mind.  The author did an excellent job developing the story (and there is so much more than what’s in the summary) and all the various characters.  This is a truly fascinating story, and I once again learned a little more about the war.  My only complaint about the book, and it’s minor, is that many times seemed contrived where Pino just happened to be at the scene to witness a significant event.  I believe the incidents all occurred, but find it hard to believe he was always present at the time.

My Rating:  4.5 Stars

 

The Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig

the last bus to wisdom

Hardcover: 453 pages
Published: August 18, 2015 by Riverhead Books

One of my book groups picked an Ivan Doig book years ago which I wasn’t able to read at the time, and I have always wanted to since then.  Thus, I was thrilled when another group picked The Last Bus to Wisdom to read for this month.

The Last Bus to Wisdom is a coming of age/adventure story.  Donal Cameron is an eleven-year-old whose parents are both dead, and he is being raised in 1951 by his grandmother in Montana.  When she needs to have surgery, she decides to send him by bus to stay with her sister, Kate, who is married and childless in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  Donal is quite the adventurer with an active imagination, and he encounters a myriad of interesting characters on the bus along the way.  Once he arrives in Manitowoc, however, he finds that his Aunt Kate is not as loving and easy to get along with as his grandmother.  He is pretty miserable but finds some companionship with her German husband, Herman. Aunt Kate is often shocked by what she considers his impolite topics of conversation, and she doesn’t know how to relate to a young boy, resulting in unrealistic expectations for him.  Consequently, she decides to ship him back home.  When Donal is on the bus heading back to Montana, he is shocked to find that Herman has run away from home, leaving Kate to join Donal.

Ivan Doig is a good writer, and I can see why people enjoy his books. This book is a good one for someone who is looking for a charming, easy-to-read book with lots of interesting and unique characters and generous humor thrown in throughout as well.  I enjoyed all the stories, but I did feel that the book could have been at least 100 pages shorter, and I would have enjoyed the book a lot more if it had been.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars

 

We Are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai

we are displaced

With the topic of immigration being such a hot topic these days, I grabbed this audiobook off of the shelves of my library.

This is a short book that I feel will help anyone who wants to gain understanding of what some of these women have gone through.  The impactful book starts with a recap of Malala’s story and then proceeds to have other women tell their stories.  The stories are not just from one region, but from all over the world.  Although the stories are different, they all share similarities with the women’s courageousness, finding themselves in unbelievable circumstances through no fault of their own, and their persistence to find a better life for themselves and/or their family.  Even though these women lived in dangerous situations, deciding to leave their home was not an easy choice. The stories time and time again illustrated the heartbreak in having to make these kind of decisions. Neither the decisions nor journeys were easy either emotionally or physically.

I highly recommend reading or listening to this book. All proceeds for the book go to the Malala  Fund.

My Rating:  4 Stars

 

 

 

 

 

Park Avenue Summer by Rene Rosen

park avenue summer
Print Length: 368 pages
Expected publication: April 30, 2019 by Berkley

 

This book was described as Man Men meets Devil Wears Prada, so how could I resist that?! I really hadn’t read anything else to know that this is a fictional account of the time when Helen Gurley Brown took over as Editor-In-Chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine. This was a delightful book that kept me reading well into the night.

The book is told through the point of view of Alice.  Alice’s mother had once been a model living in New York City, and she had wanted to move her family there from their small hometown.  Her mother died, though, when Alice was thirteen, and the family never moved. Now in her early twenties, Alice’s father has remarried, so Alice, an aspiring photographer, decides to follow her mother’path and moves to New York City to start her career.  She contacts her mother’s best friend, Elaine Sloane, an editor in the publishing industry. Although Elaine doesn’t know of any photography jobs, she does connect her to a friend who can help Alice learn the photography business. The only job Elaine knows of is a secretarial job, so Alice pursues that and is soon the secretary to Helen Gurley Brown who has just been named the new Editor-In-Chief to revive the failing Cosmopolitan Magazine.

Helen has some unique ideas for the magazine, pushing the boundaries of what everyone considers decent, and often scandalizing the higher-ups at the parent company, Hearst Corporation.  She is in constant battle with her parent company executives and other employees trying to undermine her.  At times, it appears that Alice is her only ally.

I loved seeing how Helen battled back to get around the various obstacles thrown her way.  I will say I would like to know if all of the characteristics HGB displayed in the book were accurate portrayals.  I did find some documentation substantiating her hose frequently being snagged was true to character.  Alice’s story was an interesting one as well.  I liked that she was a loyal person with high ethics, and I enjoyed her romantic adventures and personal growth.  Her storyline had some intrigue with some family secrets revealed.  The author does an excellent job of capturing the time period and setting.  I definitely recommend this one.  Be on the lookout for it in April.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

the tattooist of auschwitz

Hardcover: 262 pages
Published: September 4, 2018 by Harper

 

I keep saying that I’m tired of WWII novels, but then I find myself reading another one because it seems to promise a new look at the war.  The Tattooist of Auschwitz has been one of those.  I wondered what it must have been like to be a tattooist and was also intrigued because this is based on the real life of Lale Sokolov.

Lale was a Slovakian Jew who was sent to Auschwitz.  When they discovered he spoke many languages, he was given the job as the Tattooist responsible for tattooing the numbers on the arms identifying them as Jews.  As a result of his job, though, he was given privileges that other Jews were not provided.  Although he deplored what he had been tasked with doing, he used his position to get food or medicine to help keep the other prisoners alive.  Time and time again he risked his life to help others and miraculously was able to escape death on many occasions. While there he also fell in love with another prisoner named Gita.

The book started off a little slowly for me, but soon I was captivated with the story.  Although it is difficult to read of the atrocities that happened, it is still hopeful, and the resilience of the people is inspiring. Knowing it was based on the lives of real individuals made it even more captivating. I listened to the audiobook version and enjoyed the narration by Richard Armitage.

 

 

The Editor by Steven Rowley

the editor

Kindle Edition: 320 pages
Expected publication: April 2, 2019 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

I was excited to receive an advanced review copy of this book because it sounded intriguing to me.  Although it is getting a lot of good advanced reviews, I found that I was disappointed in it.

James Smale is an author who has written a book about his relationship with his mother,  and, finally, the book gets bought by a publisher.  When he goes to meet the editor for the first time, he is shocked to find that his editor is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  She tells James she loves his book but feels James has unresolved issues he needs to work out with his mother and change the ending.  He decides to go home for Thanksgiving, taking along his boyfriend, Daniel, and during the strained family reunion, his mother blurts out a secret she’s been keeping which topples his world.

I thought the addition of Jacqueline Kennedy as his editor was entertaining and added to the novel, but the main character, James, was often frustrating.  At his first meeting with Jackie, he becomes a bumbling fool who can’t say or do anything right.  I think it was supposed to be a funny scene, but I just found it irritating.  James is also not a very likable character. He is very self-centered and doesn’t treat his boyfriend as well as he should.

I also felt I never really connected with the story or characters.  There was a lot of verbiage without a lot of substance in moving the plot along or developing the relationship between James and his mother. I also felt the dialogue was often stilted.

I didn’t dislike the book, and like I mentioned previously, plenty of people have really enjoyed the book. It just wasn’t a stellar read for me.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for an advanced copy of this book.

My Rating:  3 Stars