Welcome to my blog where I share book reviews
and life along the winding road

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright

The Rent Collector is a sobering look at the families that live and try to survive by living around the municipal dump, Stung Meanchey, in Phnom Penh. Although fiction, Camron Wright uses people in his son's documentary to bring life his characters.

Sang Ly and her husband collect recyclables from the dump to sell (and sometimes fat snails that live in the water during rainy season to eat) which in turn provides their living, rice to eat , water that has to be purchased and rent for the ramshackle covering they call home. The rent collector for their hovel, Sopeap, is almost always drunk when she shows up to collect the rent and with little empathy demands the rent paid timely if they wish to avoid eviction. Through her desire to provide a better life for her son who is sickly, Sang Ly works out an arrangement with the rent collector to teach her to read. Through their interaction Sang Ly learns more about the drunken rent collector who was once an English professor.

Sopeap encourages Sang Ly to read literature instead of the scraps of paper and labels she finds at the dump and they read the story of Sarann (Cambodian's version of Cinderella)

Sopeap tells Sang Ly:
If we expect our personal lives to always end with a handsome prince, most of us will close our books with shattered dreams. 
On the other hand if we treat these tales as simple entertainment we miss the deepest most life changing aspects of the stories and grow cynical.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Since we Fell by Dennis Lehane (author of Gone Baby Gone) is a gripping story. The New York Times describes it as "A Troubled Woman Seeks Answers."

After the death of her mother, Rachel Childs searches for her father who left their home abruptly when she was a young child. Already confused with her life, Rachel is sent to report a story on the Haitian earthquake and, amid the tragic events there, has a breakdown. But the mysteries keep piling up and nothing in the truth is what Rachel wants to hear.

There are a lot of unexpected twists and turns in the story that keep the reader hooked. The only part that I found a little frustrating was the ending. While the reader can surmise how the story turned out for Rachel, I would have liked the ending to be when she was in a safe place, not while her future was still precarious.

Note: Dennis Lehane has many TV miniseries and movie credits, including Bloodline, Gone Baby Gone, and Castle.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker

thumbThe Crowded Grave is the fourth book in Martin Walker's series set in the fictional French countryside town of Ste. Denis. Chief of Police, Bruno Correges, is more concerned with protecting the local people of Ste. Denis and rarely finds a reason to arrest anyone. He is a gentle man with  an ability to solve crimes in an unconventional way with his loyal dog by his side and enticing the loves in his life with his amazing recipes.

Archaeologists find, along with the remains of ancient skeletons, a more recent unidentified body. While Bruno is trying to solve the crime, protesters begin sabotaging local duck and goose farms in protest of the force feeding to produce foise gras. But a bigger problem is going on in the area, a summit between French and Spanish diplomats to discuss terrorist actions of the Basque separatist group, ETA (which has now disbanded). Trying to provide protection for those attending the summit is hindered by the ongoing protests and the mystery of a person killed over a decade earlier and buried near the archaeological dig.

Bruno, Chief of Police is a great series and full of action and mystery.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende was a book club read and although the story sounded intriguing, I struggled through only the first 50 pages (my criteria before closing a book). The problem may have been because I'd just finished reading The Nightingale which was such a powerful and well written novel and The Japanese Lover seemed to be a list of choppy sentences, with very little dialog, rather than a story.  The NY Times review states that the story has a thin plot and weakly motivated characters with dialog which simply conveys information. The novel, however, does have some good reviews so I'll be interested to hear what the rest of the book club thought about it.

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

June 22, 1940 was when France surrendered to Hitler, the French government went into hiding, and the German occupation of France began. Kristin Hannah writes an amazing story of a family, already dispersed by tragedy, each fighting to stay alive in occupied France during WWII. Along with the harsh treatment of the French, there was a shortage of food - most of the food was taken to feed the German armies. Jewish friends were ousted from their homes and businesses, and two sisters worked to protect Jewish children and get downed allied airmen home by guiding them over the Pyrenes mountains to Spain.

This is a powerful, tense, and gripping novel. Be sure to keep a box of tissues nearby. Definitely one for my favorite books of the year list.

Friday, November 2, 2018

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles sets us in the midst of 1920s upheaval in Russia when the aristocrats find themselves in less than desirable circumstances after the Bolsheviks take over.

Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in an attic room at the grand Metropol hotel. Having led a life of elegance and privilege, the Count finds himself dealing with the lack of servants and his normally accustomed living under the Imperial Romanov rule which he does with humor and finds himself adapting to his circumstances. He watches, through his small attic window, the results of the Revolution unfold.

My thoughts: I must admit, I didn't finish the book, I found it a little tedious, but I think it may be timing and intend to go back and read it again. I always find it fascinating when characters are set amidst major events and we can see how people survived through turmoil and out of their normal comfort zone. The book has great reviews and was on many best seller lists for quite a long time.

Kenneth Branagh is in the process of producing a film based on the book.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Black Count by Tom Reiss

I was looking for a biography of Alexandre Dumas when I came across Black Count by Tom Reiss. The book is about Thomas-Alexandre de la Pailleterie (Alexandre Dumas' father). He was born in 1762 to a black slave mother and a fugitive white French nobleman in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) where both sugar and coffee plantations were plentiful. He later became a general in the French Black Legion. Some of the inserts were taken from Alexandre Dumas' own memoirs about his father and it is clear that some of the tragedies that befall the Count of Monte Cristo were taken from his father's struggles because of his mixed race. He had conflicts with Napoleon who, with a smaller stature, (Alex Dumas was over 6 feet tall) felt inferior as many often mistook the General as Napoleon because of his warrior-like appearance. After commanding an army of nearly 50,000 and rising quickly through the ranks, when returning from Egypt he was captured, thrown into a dungeon and subjected to slow poisoning. He was released two years later but never recovered from his ordeal.
Note: There is a Monte Cristi Province in the Dominican Republic near the border of Haiti which may have been why Alexandre Dumas chose the name for his fictional island.