The History of Love- Nicole Krauss

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Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.

As most books go, this one was recommended to me by a coworker who had to read it for a literature class. I had nonchalantly asked her if she had heard of it; her eyes widened and she clutched her heart in shock that I hadn’t read it yet. I went out the next day and checked it out of the library.

The History of Love is told from the point of view of three different characters who switch off chapter to chapter. Leo Gursky, a Polish man who came to America during the war, a man who loved a girl when he was young and never quite got over her. Alma, a fourteen year old girl who recently lost her father and is clinging to the pages of his favorite book, a book that gave her her name and that her mother is currently translating to English. Last, but not least, an un-named “historian” (for lack of a better word) who tells the tale of the author of the book within the book also titled The History of Love.  All three narrations are unique and have distinct voices, you never once get confused on who is speaking at the time. The symbols before each chapter and at the top corners of the pages help, if for some strange reason you can’t tell an older Polish man from a fourteen year old girl from New York.

Now, I have to say that I have been shooting myself in the foot recently with my book choices. I have been reading all of these great books but they have such crazy plot twists which makes it hard for me to talk about the books at any great length. This book is one such book but I feel I may be able to divulge some things without ruining the plot. When you first meet Leo Gursky you think he is a strange little Polish man who enjoys getting in people’s way and is afraid of dying. Then when you find out that he was in love when he was a younger man in Poland and that he was a writer (and a damn good one at that) your heart warms to him and he becomes as dear to you as your own grandfather. Alma. Alma I loved from the very start. You feel for her over the loss of her father and the fact that she feels she needs to protect her brother, Bird, from the world. If I talk about Alma I have to talk about her brother. Bird is a secondary character but I found myself fascinated with him and I wish that he had more of a central role in the story. There isn’t much to say about Mr. No Name historian. He moves the story along and fills in plot points that otherwise wouldn’t have been filled by Leo Gursky or Alma.

I really enjoyed this book and will pick up others by Ms. Krauss. You close the book wanting more from Leo and Alma, Bird and Mr. No Name. I would’ve gladly have read another couple hundred pages with these characters that I loved. That being said, i believe that she ended the journey right where it needed to end and she did it beautifully.


Finding Robert – Emily DeBias

I’ve been struggling with whether I should write this or not. At the end of the day I’m not forcing any one to read anything that I write, I just didn’t want someone to read this and think that I am looking for any type of pity. I have had an amazing adventure of a life. It’s just been different than most.

My little brother and I are what society has lovingly labeled “bastards”. Actually, I’m not even sure if they use that term anymore, but that is what they used to call us. The dictionary defines a “bastard” as: a person born of parents not married to each other. My brother and I, never satisfied being of the status quo did it one better. We are also the product of a broken home and were raised by our amazing mother. Yes, we were the Three Musketeers for most of my life.

We left Long Island when I was three and my brother was one, the reasons we left are hazy at best and are probably told differently from every side of the story. The one constant is that we left. I remember sitting at my great aunt Joan’s house with my Uncle eating strawberries dipped in sugar. Try it, if you haven’t already, it’s heaven. I don’t remember the plane ride and I don’t remember most of the time we spent living with my grandparents in San Antonio Texas. I know that my brother, ever mischievous, got in to my grandmother’s pills and the ambulance was called to the house a few times. Now, now, before anyone gets up in arms; this was a different time. There weren’t child protected pill bottles and my brother was a chubby little handed child, capable of ripping the lids off of just about anything.

We went and saw our father once in 1993, at least that’s what the picture says and I only have one memory of that trip. We were trying to catch fireflies in jars, we are assholes us children, and he was trying to help but he accidentally smashed it on to his shirt instead. He glowed the rest of the night. That was it. That was the last time I saw him. That was over twenty years ago. I have a vague memory of seeing him at my Uncles house, his cigarettes rolled up in to the sleeve of his plain white t-shirt. But the mind is a fickle lover and memories fade and are often concocted of what we want to remember. So, I can’t tell you for sure if that ones real. The fireflies were real. You never forget fireflies.

The real reason I am writing this is because a few years back I got a message on facebook from a guy named John. Now, let me go back, back, back a few years. Yes, I knew that I had half siblings. Yes, I knew I had five of them. Yes, I did try and find them but it’s hard when you don’t know anything about them except for the fact that they exist. Now, jump forward, forward forward a few years to the golden age of facebook where you can find anyone! So I woke up 2/6/2011, the Steelers were playing the Packers and since I was living in Chicago at the time this was a pretty big one for our house. I opened facebook and found this:

Hi Emily i know this is weird but after doing some research i just wanted to contact you. My name is John DeBias i’m the first born child of Bob DeBias and if I have this correct I’m your half brother. I’ve always wondered if i have brothers or sisters out there and being unable to find Bob i had to search on my own. If i have the wrong person i’m very sorry if not and you would like to contact me my number is *** *** ****. or message me on here. if not i totally understand as well. I hope your doing well.

My jaw hit the floor and it took me a good five minutes to call my mother.

Me- Mom, I got this facebook message from a guy claiming to be my half brother.

Mom- What’s his name?

Me- John.

Mom- Yeah, that’s him.

So, within the minute it took me to read a message on the internet I had a half brother and then a few months later we had found our father. I cried uncontrollably the night I found out that we knew where he was and I had his phone number. It took me a while to call him. My brother, braver than I, called him first. I was out shopping and he called asking for his number. I was nervous to give it to him because I didn’t know what he was going to say. What if he ruined my reunion too? My brother and I always had different “views” of our father. Where I had let go of any animosity I had towards him years ago, my brother was still bitter. He said he just wanted to leave a message. He called me back and said that they had a nice conversation and that he really wanted to hear from me. I still couldn’t do it. I want to say it was another month before I even got up the nerve to call, and even then I had to have a beer to slow my heart down or else he would have heard it pounding through the phone.

I thought about hanging up after the first ring. I thought about hanging up after the second. Then before I realized what was happening a woman answered:

-Hello?

-Hi, I’m looking for Robert?

-May I ask who’s speaking?

-Um, yeah, it’s Emily.

-Oh, I, hold on. Bobby! It’s your daughter.

She knew who I was. This woman I had never met nor spoken to in my life knew me by name. Then it happened. I was talking to my father. “Hey darling.” He sounded like I remembered. We talked for ages. I apologized for taking so long to call him. He apologized for not being around. We forgave each other. We cried. And just like that, I felt as though my life was complete again. Then he told me that he was having brain surgery in a few months. He’s been epileptic for a long time and they thought that this would help. So, now I have my father back and people want to cut his head open and take part of his brain out. Ok.

If I had the money I would’ve flown out there to be with them. I would’ve swooped in before he woke up from surgery and surprised him. Or would I have? What if he woke up and didn’t remember who I was? This thought plagued me until I got a call from him from the hospital telling me that everything was alright. He was fine. That was three years ago. We talk as much as we can. My brother, I’m happy to say, calls him more than I do. In a few weeks I’m flying to North Carolina where my brother and I will go meet him for the first time in twenty years. I’m excited and nervous at the same time. I never thought this would happen and now as the day grows closer I become more and more nervous. It’s happening. I’m bringing baby pictures. I’ll probably even bring them a book or two; they love to read. Yes, I will probably have to stop and get a glass of wine before we get there, but soon I will be looking in to eyes so much like my own and I will know that I am whole.

“Hello darling, I just called to wish you a happy rabbit day…or chicken..or chick…uh duck? It’s one of them! Happy something! I love you. Bye Bye.”


Dearly Devoted Dexter- Jeff Lindsay

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“The key to a happy life is to have accomplishments to be proud of and purpose to look forward to, and at the moment I had both. How wonderful it was to be me.”

It took me far too long to finish this book and at just under 300 pages I am ashamed. I should have been able to knock this thing out on a lazy Tuesday off from work, but alas this is not the way it went down. Unlike the first which I couldn’t put down and was startled back to reality by a coworker while enjoying a shift drink (Thanks, Bryce.), I became restless while reading the second installment.

In Dearly Devoted Dexter this is where we see a real shift from the TV adaptation. While some things remain the same (ie: Doakes taking a after-hours interest into Dexter’s goings on.) Dexter admittedly becomes all too human. Enjoying a beer on the couch with his girlfriend, playing “kick the can” with the neighborhood children, and not fulfilling the need of his ever present Dark Passenger. While the case that he gets wrapped up in is gut wrenching and Dexter’s humor is still in tact it was still hard for me to get passed the droning of the “day to day Dexter”. Isn’t the main reason we love this murderous vigilante is because he IS a murderous vigilante? That being said, once I got passed the “everyday Dexter” I became more interested in the case and trying to figure out how they were going to catch this psycho bastard.

Another departure from the TV adaptation is the…

(I must interject a la William Goldman. Now you know, friends, that I am not one for spoilers.But frankly there is no way around this one and if I am going to continue on my Dexter journey and Mr. Lindsay continues with this storyline then I have to make an exception. Just this once. So, if you want to be surprised by this plot twist…Stop reading. )

(I also refuse to say “spoiler alert”.)

…fact that Cody and Astor seem to have Dark Passengers of their own. Cody’s comes out on a fishing trip with Dexter, a bonding man trip for the boy who was beaten by his father, he gleefully stabs a fish that has swallowed his hook. Then when the neighbors dog goes missing and Cody and Astor make excuses for its disappearance Dexter suspects the baby Dark Passengers are behind it. He asks them about it one night and they fess up or at least they tell him that Cody did indeed dispatch the canine. It is unclear at the time if Astor will participated or if she is just trying to keep her brother’s secrets safe. Either way, I’m interested to see where this storyline is going to go.

Thought it took me a while to get through the second book I’m still enjoying the ride that is Dexter. I am taking a detour to read The History of Love. I heard about it a few years back and then when a coworker of mine gave it glowing reviews after she had to read it for a class I decided that I could not put it off any more. Stand by for that review soon.

Read on, friends.


Darkly Dreaming Dexter- Jeff Lindsay

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“I’m a very neat monster.”

A few months back I gave up on reading books. I know. I know. To be honest I was stalled on a book that was given to me that I just couldn’t get in to. I was forcing my way through the thing like a kid being forced to eat peas, and I hate peas. I would wake up in the morning and think “Ok, make some coffee, pick up the book, and at least finish the chapter.” Nope! I would pick it up get through a paragraph and put it down.

So, I gave up reading for a while and started watching Dexter. I had started it a little while back but I threw myself into it this time. I flew through the first few seasons, muscled my way through the last three, and said some choice words at the series finale. I had always been interested in picking up the book and since I work across the street from the library I peeked my head in to see if they had it.

Now, I had heard that the show took some liberties with the source material, and let me tell you they took quite a few. People have different jobs in the book than the show, people die fairly quickly but stick around in the show for seasons. I didn’t mind it actually. It made sense. It also gives me hope that the book series will end better than the show did. Oh, please, let it be so. I will have some choice words for Mr. Lindsay if they are the same. Sorry.

Either way, Darkly Dreaming Dexter was an extremely easy read, but it kept me on edge the entire time. Think Lucy reading that thriller and constantly throwing it out the window when Ricky inevitably scares her. If you’re looking for some easy reading at the end of this gorgeous summer, head over to your local library and pick it up. Now, on to the second book!

Happy reading, people!


The Book Thief- Markus Zusak

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“Even death has a heart.”

My darling mother gave me this book. Now, my mother and I disagree on many things; movies, clothes, books. So,  when she mailed this to me I opened it with trepidation. I had heard people rave about this book and I had also heard people spitting in this books “face”. So, again, trepidation.

The first thing about this book that is interesting is the narrator is Death and he guides you through the life of a young girl names Liesel who lives in Germany during the Nazi occupation. She is given to a family by her mother, not really ever explained why, but my personal opinion was that her mother was Jewish and she was giving her children to people who could protect them from the impending doom. Since it is stated that Liesel has blonde hair and blue eyes she fits into Hitler’s idea of “the perfect human race”.

While at her adoptive parents house she learns to read and steals a few books, but that isn’t what the story is about. During her formative years a young Jewish man shows up at their door and is quickly smuggled to the basement. His father and her “father” were in the wars together and he promised the man that he would do anything to help him and his family after he died. There the man stays and while there learns to see the world differently through the eyes of a young girl.

Now, you all know that I am not one to ruin an ending or spoil anything; but the book id narrated by Death and is set during a time of great suffering. So, I’m sure most of you can guess how this story ends. I found it fairly easy to read and even heartwarming in places, considering the subject matter. I saw the movie not long after and it wasn’t half bad either. Zusak even makes Death seem like a nice guy.


These Things Hidden – Heather Gudenkauf

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This is going to be a hard one. Which is probably why it’s taken me so long to post this. I fell in love with Gudenkauf’s story telling back when I read The Weight of Silence,  I couldn’t put it down and finished it within days. The same happened with this book. The chapters switch from Allison, a young girl newly released from jail and has had to bare the brutality that comes with her crime and also the judgment of her family.  Brynn, her sister who is the only one who knows the true story of what happened the night that Allison was arrested and she isn’t talking. Charm, a teenager going to nursing school and is also taking care of her estranged mother’s ex-boyfriend whom she recognizes as her dad. Claire, a woman who had trouble conceiving in the past and owns a bookstore with her husband.

The reason this is so tough is that I am not one to spoil a good book and there are so many twists in this one that it’s hard to describe without blowing it wide open. For anyone who has read any of Gudenkauf’s work you can commiserate with me. Every voice is clear and concise and well thought out. You feel for each woman and can understand why things played out the way they did and why each character made the choices that she did. It’s always refreshing to read a book with strong female characters who can hold their own and carry a book to it’s satisfying conclusion.

Like I said before, I love Gudenkauf and can’t wait to pick up another book by her. This was an emotional rollercoaster of a book but ultimately satisfying.


The Divergent Series – Veronica Roth

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Fear doesn’t shut you down; it wakes you up.

I originally bought Divergent for my mother for Christmas, but the first thing I see when I get in her car is a copy of Divergent and she’s halfway through it already. Oh well, just another book for me I guess. I started reading it over the holiday and was quickly transfixed, along with most of the nation, by Roth’s dystopian Chicago. I also found joy in trying to pin point the locations that she was referencing through out the books since I had lived there for eight years, and honestly I couldn’t get them all.

It is refreshing in Young Adult novels to have a female lead who can hold her own and doesn’t need a man to hold her up. The journey from quiet Abnegation Tris and balls to the wall Divergent Tris is slow, and yet believable. She grapples with the choice of leaving her family behind to join a different faction. A feeling, I’m sure, that most college bound kids have; that feeling of finally being free but grappling with the thought of “did I make the right decision?”

Roth did not stick to the “normal” format of story telling she throws curve balls left and right and keeps you guessing right up until the end. You become emotionally invested in characters that you loathed when they first appeared and vice versa with others. I liked the twists because it kept me guessing and thirsty for more. I do know that most people were appalled at the ending…I hate giving things away so I won’t discuss it in much detail here; but I thought it was a gutsy move and not one that many authors would think of pulling. I tip my hat to you Ms. Roth.

All in all, I enjoyed reading all three of the books. They are YA so they are easy to read, but they get the point across and you become entangled in the plight of everyone involved, of an entire civilization really. She definitely kicked off a genre though because now wherever you turn there are dystopian YA novels. What Meyer did for the vampires Roth did for the dystopians.

 

 


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