Monday, September 18, 2017

Love Is the Higher Law by David Levithan

"One review a week, that's manageable, right?" Said the absentee blogger.
In a Nutshell: Claire, Jasper and Peter are teenagers in New York City on 9/11.  Confusion, grief, mourning, and learning to live and love again follow.

The Good:  Getting 9/11 from an insider perspective.  I never thought about two building’s-worth of paperwork fluttering into Brooklyn, re-lighting candles in the park in the rain, not being allowed to return to your downtown home.  There’s a great scene where Jasper and Claire are at MSG that October for a U2 concert that showcases music’s power to unite and heal.  It’s very cathartic.

The Bad: Levithan’s writing style.  I sometimes find it hard to take.  It’s like a breathless torrent of teenage “deep thoughts” mixed with over-jaded adolescent angst.  His teenagers seem too old and too young at the same time.  It may be wildly realistic, too, which is why most teenagers frighten me ever so slightly.  Also, there is a love story aspect that left me cold.

The Verdict:  I had high expectations going into this one, which is probably part of my problem with it.  I loved the parts from Claire’s perspective that seemed to focus more on the events and aftermath of 9/11 and disliked the ones from Jasper’s more confused, disconnected perspective.  I wanted more emotional kick from this and maybe for Levithan to spread out all the teenage profundities his characters’ internal narratives were constantly spewing.  Short answer: I wanted this book to make me cry.  Instead, all the words got in the way. 
My copy purchased from a store or someplace.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Baker's Secret by Stephen Kiernan

In a Nutshell: Vergers is a coastal French village occupied by Nazis who are using the beaches to fortify their claim over much of Europe.  Emmanuelle is a baker with no bakery, a girl alone with her grandmother whose mind is slipping, who ends up sustaining a village in shortage by her wits and an uncanny ability to reallocate sparse resources and secret favors to those who need them most.  The only thing Emma is short on is a little hope for herself, but a little hope might surprise her when she least expects it.

The Good:  A rich community of characters, a beautiful depiction of provincial France, the French perspective on a major World War II turning point, a writing style that makes France during the Nazi occupation seem somehow fairy tale-esque. 

The Bad:  Needs more exposition.  In a book full of “are things as they seem?” with the small and large acts of resistance from the occupied villagers, I was dying for a little more “this is the rest of the story on X character.” 

The Verdict: I like Stephen Kiernan’s books, enough to give them four stars on Goodreads, but there’s always just a little something missing that keeps me from all-out loving them.  I loved all the parts of this book but, as a whole, it just falls the tiniest bit short.  That said, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Baker’s Secret. It’s a welcome addition to the World War II historical fiction genre I love so much.
Review copy received from the publisher.