Sarah’s Key

A few friends recommended this book to me last year. And for my 2016 book challenge, I needed a book set in Europe. I’m not a big historical fiction fan, but books about WWII and the Holocaust are too important to avoid, so I took the plunge and read this book, even though I was told that it would rip my heart out.

And let me tell you. It didn’t. At a couple points in the book, I thought, “Oh, that’s sad,” but that’s about it, honestly. Partly because the big reveal that usually happens toward the end of the book happens in the middle. I wasn’t invested enough in the story to be truly emotionally hooked. That said, I’m not like post people. I don’t cry about books, really. But if you are looking for an emotional upheaval, this book probably fits most people.

A good chunk of the book is told in alternating chapters, past and present. I enjoyed the present day ones more, but I really don’t have a reason why. The main character is writing a story about a particular event in Paris history,  (The Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup ),  but people aren’t talking. So she has to do some investigative work. The story from the past is Sarah’s, who was one of the children picked up in the roundup. Why she has a key is a particular tragedy, and one that is eventually resolved in the book.

Overall, this was a good book. Not as good as others, but still worth reading. I’m happy to report that I do not need therapy (as was suggested) after reading it.

Advertisements

Conversion

For my “book recommended by someone you just met” I walked into Barnes and Noble and asked the first employee I saw. He was probably in his early twenties and his name was Tristan. My only caveats were that I needed a book I hadn’t read before, and a book that wasn’t in the middle of a series. He first recommended Troublemaker by Leah Remini, but I already had that on hold from the library for my ‘book written by a celebrity” so I asked for another. He lead me to the YA section and handed me Conversion by Katherine Howe.

I used to teach HS English, so this book was right up my alley. Girls at a boarding school start to have mysterious illnesses ranging from verbal/facial tics, hair loss, headaches, coughing up pins!!!, etc. The girls just recently read The Crucible, also. In between modern day chapters, we meet Ann Putnam, in Salem, while she tells her story and involvement in the Salem Witch Trials.

This book *should* have been really great. It had all the right ideas. But I just never could get into it. The mystery disease is thought to be one thing, then another, then another, and finally a diagnosis is given. However, you are never fully sure that an illness is truly behind all the girls’ ailments. This story does take place in Danvers, Mass, formerly known as Salem.

And at the very end the author’s note is where I was completely irritated. This story isn’t her own. Not that she plagiarized or anything, but a case like this really happened a few years ago. She pulled details from that news story and made a fictionalized account merging the current story with the Salem story. I’m not a fan of ripped from the headlines Law & Order. It feels too much like fan fiction for the real world. And this book felt much like the same.

Harry Potter books 2-4

I’m making my way through the series, yet again. I haven’t read them in 7 years, and with the new book/script out, I thought I should revisit these. I have the script, but am waiting to finish the series, first.

A few things have occurred to me as I’ve been reading. The first two books really could have been edited down into one longer book, but I guess the two separate tasks (Sorcerer’s Stone and destroying the diary) really needed their own books. But I felt like each book wasn’t complete. Maybe Rowling just was getting the hang of things, much like the first couple seasons of a tv show, but once you get to the third book, things start rolling. Sirius is my favorite character in the series, so I really love the books he is in. Sadly, he isn’t in the fourth book much, and is mostly referred to in the third, but I still get a good feel for his character, which is a testament to Rowling’s writing ability.

I did something I’ve never done before at the end of the 4th book. I cried a little bit. I’ve always gotten choked up when Mrs. Weasley hugs Harry after the tournament and he comments on how it’s the most motherly hug he’s ever gotten. But this time around, that got to me. Probably because this is the first time reading the series after my children were born. Last time I read it, I had just gotten married, so the parenthood emotion didn’t exist. That said, I know I’ll be a goner in the last book when Harry sees his parents again.

The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer

About a year ago, I participated in a book exchange with some friends. We all brought a book wrapped as a gift, drew numbers, and the book you picked was what you took home. Of all the books my friends brought, this was the only one I had never read, so it was lucky that I picked it. Granted, it took me an entire year to finally sit down to read it, but I should never have waited. What a fascinating book!

I had never heard of Richard Kuklinski until this book. He was a Polish man, abused by his parents, grew up poor, made fun of by all the neighborhood boys, and he turned into one of the mafia’s biggest contract killer. Because he wasn’t Italian, he couldn’t be made, so he worked for the 5 biggest families in NY, and the 2 biggest in NJ. He was simply a killer for hire. And, and far as anyone knows, all the families used him, but never targeted him for a hit he did as retaliation. He was too good, too efficient, too successful to hold any hits against him. If Family A wanted to kill a member of Family B, they called Kuklinski. If Family B wanted to kill a member of Family A, they called Kuklinski, no hard feelings for his previous job against their family.

He was a killer for over 30 years, no regrets, no conscience. He was also a giving family man. He was terribly abusive to his wife (beating her until she had miscarriages, even), but never beat his children. He bought them anything they wanted, paid for sick kids in the hospital to have treatment, enjoyed feeding the ducks at the park. I watched a documentary on HBO after I read this book, and he had such a shift in personality when speaking about the killings vs his family. He teared up (maybe crocodile tears, I don’t know) when talking about how his family meant so much to him, but had zero remorse for the over 100 people he killed. It was just a job to him. He killed at will. Anyone who looked sideways at him was a target.

Kuklinski was eventually brought down by police. An undercover cop gained his confidences and set him up. Kuklinski was arrested and confessed to 5 murders. He wasn’t given the death penalty because of his confession, but died in prison due to a rare blood vessel inflammation.

There are a few books on Kuklinski, and this is the only one I read, but I highly recommend it, if true crime is something you enjoy reading. It read like a novel, telling Kuklinski’s life story. I would love to hear the author speak about all the interviews he did to get this information. This book is such a well written comprehensive of Kuklinski.