City of Thieves by David Benioff

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I read this last year but unbelievably forgot to write about it. I love war stories and I loved this one because it tells of the Nazi’s vicious siege of Leningrad, which I hadn’t previously read about. And the story is actually based on Benioff’s grandfather’s telling of his WWII days. Be sure to read the prologue. When Lev is caught looting, he ends up in the same prison cell as Kolya, a charming deserter. In return for their lives, they must find a dozen eggs for a colonel’s daughter’s wedding cake. So begins their amazing quest.

Gwenamon says: Wonderful

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1984 by George Orwell

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The fact that Orwell conceived of this novel and wrote it after WWII, but that it’s eerily still relevant and predictive (e.g., Fake News) is amazing. The ideas he expresses are visionary and brilliant, even if horribly depressing. But this “novel” is more like an essay than a story. I found reading it to be a slog.

Gwenamon says: Brilliant, but hard to get through

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Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

forgiveness

Sakamoto tells the heart-wrenching story of how both sides of his family were deeply affected during WWII. Forgiveness is why he was born and can now tell the tale. His maternal grandfather was a Japanese POW; his paternal grandparents were thrown out of Vancouver and forced to work in rural Alberta. My criticism of this novel is that it sorely needs better editing since Sakamoto isn’t a professional writer. Of course, that adds some charm, but it also makes for some dips and curves, which detract from the powerful story.

Gwenamon says: Good

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Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

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An affair begins at a baby’s christening party, inevitably re-structuring two families. The lives of four parents and six children become entwined. This novel is about the ties that bind, the longevity of deep affection, the mismatch of romance, and who gets to tell family tales. I gave up when I first attempted to read this novel about a year ago. Yet I rediscovered “Commonwealth” recently and couldn’t put it down. Guess it was the right time.

Gwenamon says: So well told

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We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night by Joel Thomas Hynes

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This novel is narrated by the main character, Johnny, in his unique vernacular. The story begins with him waiting to go to trial for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, Madonna, with a teapot. Johnny is very unlikeable. But that makes his odyssey to leave behind crime both darkly funny and stirring at times.

Gwenamon says: Probably not for everyone, but well done

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March by Geraldine Brooks

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I’m astounded that this novel won the Pulitzer. “March” has a really interesting premise; it follows the father of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” during the American Civil War. On the plus side, much of the writing is very well crafted. But the father’s character? He’s a weak, philosophy-espousing man who lacks any self-awareness. And the mother is always flying into a rage. Together, they make it incredibly hard to believe that they could have ever conceived or raised the interesting characters from the original novel.

Gwenamon says: Short-sighted

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Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

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Based on the true story of American child-trafficker Georgia Tann, this book is an easy and captivating read. When Avery Stafford returns home to help her father overcome health problems, she also discovers some discordant family facts. She’s compelled to look into their history and begins to uncover shocking surprises. I really enjoyed this novel, but I often didn’t like the writing, which I found very mainstream. Key facts are repeated unnecessarily, descriptions are sometimes hackneyed, and Avery’s love story is so predictable, I felt like I was being hit over the head each time it surfaced in the plot.

Gwenamon says: An easy-to-read page-turner

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