All the Broken Places by John Boyne 383 pages

Greta Fernsby is a 91 year old widow who lives in a lovely apartment in London. She was born in Germany an but moved to Poland when she was twelve when her father became the commander at Auschwitz. Since the end of World War II, she has tried to ignore her past and the part she played in it. When a family with a nine year old boy moves into the apartment beneath her, Greta is forced to look at her childhood and what she was responsible for.

John Boyne’s most recent novel is a page turner and an easy read with well drawn characters. Mark my words: All the Broken Places will be a best seller.

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All the Broken Places by John Boyne 383 pages

Foster by Claire Keegan 92 pages

The young, unnamed female character of Keegan’s novella is sent to spend the summer with her childless aunt and uncle. Her home is filled with children, and her mother is pregnant. Her father is a cold, selfish man who is probably an alcoholic. The summer she spends with her aunt and uncle on their farm in southeast Ireland is paradise compared to her life at home.

This is a lovely short novella. Using few words, Keegan conveys the heart and soul of the young narrator and her family. I also admire how she took a typical tale of foster care and turned it upside down. Yet, is it worth $20 for an hour of pleasurable reading. I think not.

Foster by Claire Keegan 92 pages

The Rising Tide by Ann Cleeves 384 pages

Every five years for the past 50 years a small group of friends meet on Holy Island in northern England to eat, drink, catch up and reminisce. When one of them is found hanged in his room, Detective Vera Stanhope takes on the case. Certain it is murder, not suicide, Vera and her small crew delve into this group’s past in order to find the murderer.

I rarely read mysteries, but I always try to read the latest from Ann Cleeves. Like most of her mysteries, The Rising Tide is a good easy read with wonderful descriptions of the English countryside and of Vera, the cranky, overweight fearless, woman who eventually gets the job done.

The Rising Tide by Ann Cleeves 384 pages

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett 320 pages

Patchett’s collection of 22 essays covers a variety of subjects. We meet her family-mother, father, sister, step-fathers, step-mother and husband. She describes experiences with several of her closest friends, some she has known since childhood, one is a very recent friend. Ann Patchett tells her readers what it’s like to own a bookstore, write a novel and go on a book tour. What all these essays have in common is the subject of death. In some death hits you in the face; in others it is a subtle suggestion. But obvious or obtuse, the grim reaper is in all 22 essays and in the introduction and the epilogue.

If you are squeamish about death and dying, I suggest you don’t read These Precious Days. However, if you enjoy Ann Patchett’s nonfiction, especially when she cynically honest, read her most recent work.

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett 320 pages

Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions by Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi 233 pages

Nonso, Remi, Aisha and Solape are best friends at a boarding school in Nigeria. When a new, abusive principal heads the school, three of the four girls join a somewhat violent protest with disastrous results. Told through a series of short stories, narrated for the most part by three of the four friends, Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions, describes the lives of these girls in the past, present and future.

It took me a while to get the hang of this novel, especially to be able to differentiate each of the girls. Also, there are a lot of foreign words and phrases thrown in which might be annoying to some readers.

Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions by Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi 233 pages

Trespasses by Louise Kennedy 304 pages

It is the 1970’s in a small town in Northern Ireland near Belfast. The main character, Cushla Lavery is a teacher in the town’s Catholic school. She also helps out at her family’s pub and has just begun an affair with Michael Agnew, a married man who is a barrister. Cushla lives with her alcoholic mother. She helps the McGeown family who has seen more than their share of misery since “The Troubles” began.

Louise Kennedy’s first novel is great. The characters, especially Cushla and Michael, are realistic and complex. I fell in love with Davey McGeown, the youngest of the unlucky Mcgeowns, who is a student in Cushla’s class. Trespasses rendering of what it’s like to live in Northern Ireland during “The Troubles” is true to life and unnerving.

Trespasses by Louise Kennedy 304 pages

Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden: Two Sisters Separated by China’s Civil War by Zhuqing Li 350 pages

Jun and Hong are the daughters of a wealthy, illustrious Chinese family. Both are smart, hard working girls who have an almost idyllic childhood. At the start of the Chinese Civil War, Jun is visiting her friend on an island that is under Nationalist control, and Hong is on the mainland. Although both women become successful, Jun is an entrepreneur, Hong is a doctor,their lifestyles, loyalties and philosophies are very different. However, they both feel that their lives are incomplete because they have been separated from each other for decades.

The author of Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden is Jun and Hong’s great niece. Li does a fine job of presenting what life was like on mainland China before, during and after the Cultural Revolution. She also describes the interesting lives of two bright, hard working, practical women.

Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden: Two Sisters Separated by China’s Civil War by Zhuqing Li 350 pages

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet 230 pages

Gil was orphaned at a young age, grew up living with a strict, reserved grandmother, and inherited a small fortune when he became an adult. After a long term, live in girlfriend breaks up with him for the second time, Gil decides to move from New York City to Phoenix and walk the whole way. When he moves into a house that he bought online, he becomes very friendly with the family of four who live in a glass house next door.

I loved Dinosaurs and I especially loved Gil. He is a very decent man who always tries to do the right thing. Something I don’t see much in literature these days. In fact, one of the highlights of Dinosaurs is that almost all of the characters are decent, yet complex, human beings. Millet’s novel even gave me a new appreciation of the desert and the birds that live there.

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet 230 pages

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver 560 pages

The narrator, Damon Fields, nicknamed Demon Copperhead, is a young boy living with his drug addict mother in Appalachia. Young Demon’s life is plagued with poverty, addiction, abuse and death, yet somehow he maintains a sense of humor and a realistic look at the world around him. Demon is bright, perceptive and talented, but sometimes that is not enough for him to overcome all that the world has thrown at him.

Barbara Kingsolver readily admits that Demon Copperhead was inspired by David Copperfield. Having never read Dickens’ novel, I can’t make a valid comparison. Kingsolver’s tome is clever, and Demon is a likable, sympathetic character. However, for me, there were descriptions of his bad luck life that became tedious.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver 560 pages

The Mosquito Bowl: A Game of Life and Death in World War II by Buzz Bissinger 331 pages

Although The Mosquito Bowl is the title of Bissinger’s work of nonfiction, the game itself is merely a blip in the book. Rather, it is a vehicle to bring together the story of five young men who participated in the bowl game and how their lives played out in Okinawa in 1945. Bissinger tells the biographies of Marines George Murphy, Tony Butkovich, Robert Bauman, David Schneider and John McLaughry. All five could have remained stateside and played football, but instead they chose to join the Marines and fight for their country. In depicting their lives on Okinawa, Bissinger vividly describes the horrors of war.

While the title of this book is totally misleading, Bissinger does a good job of describing five good men and their gruesome life in World War II.

*I’ve just read two works of nonfiction that describe the atrocities and senselessness of war. No more “war books” for me for a while.

The Mosquito Bowl: A Game of Life and Death in World War II by Buzz Bissinger 331 pages