Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Island of Glass by Nora Roberts (2016)

Had to finish the last of the Guardians Trilogy. Though this series seems to find more of a balance between the six characters - they do function and evolve as a team, but then each book is focused on one of the couples. This time it was Doyle and Riley's turn. He is the immortal, who has suffered for centuries, as those he loves or becomes close to, die; and she is the archaeologist, scholar, adventuress, who also happens to turn into a wolf three nights a month. Of course they are suited for each other, it just took a bit longer for them to discover this than their companions Bran & Sasha and Anika & Sawyer.

They have returned to Bran's home in Ireland to try to figure out where to look for the third star - the Ice Star. Turns out he has built his home on the ruins of where Doyle's family home once stood. Once they find the star, they have to find the Island of Glass and return all three starts to the goddesses.The magic is a bit hokey, the fight scenes not too engaging, and I figured out what Doyle and Anika would get as rewards from the goddesses, but it was a fun story anyway. I like the daily interactions better than the main events, and the subplot of the three guys getting their ladies rings. I have wondered what has happened to the old gods of yore, as has Neil Gaimon in some of his books, so there is a satisfaction to hear a fairy tale of devotion to a quest with superheroes of sorts.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (2011)

Ruta Sepetys is a Lithuanian-American who is writing novels about our Baltic history. This is very like our own Ruta U.'s Dear God, I Wanted to Live. The story is very similar, how a family that has committed no crimes is dragged out of their house in the middle of the night - men separated out and sent to prison camps, women and children put into cattle cars and then sent off to Siberia. The Latvian version by Ruta U. is actually written by someone who experienced it herself, being deported at age 14. In this story the girl Lina is 15 and written by someone who has researched these deportations. Lina travels with her mother and younger brother. They spend a month and a half in the cattle car getting to their first labor camp, where they live in a hut with a Russian woman while they work, but then they are taken to another place north of the Arctic Circle, where they are expected to build their own shelter - a yurt, and of course many do not survive the winter. Stalin is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 20 million people. This is less known than Hitler's atrocities, so these kinds of books are important. It looks like this has been made into a film, but I can't find any references to it being out yet. I believe it is called Ashes in the Snow. With all the other shades of gray books and movies out there, the original title might not work. 

A minor detail is the maps in front of the book. I always like books with maps that show me where the action is taking place. This map is very familiar to me, as have taught excerpts from Dear God, I Wanted to Live at the Latvian school for years, and one of our activities is to follow their trip on a map of the Soviet Union, so the path of these deportees was very similar. I find it interesting, that at the end of Between Shades of Gray, when Lina has spent two of her twelve years of imprisonment, her thoughts are focused on survival, on wanting to live, as in the title of our Latvian book.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009)

This book was suggested by a friend years ago, and I finally got around to reading/listening to it. The book is interesting on various planes - and I understand the attraction for her to all the medical descriptions, as my friend is a vet.

I understand Verghese is an Ethiopian-born medical doctor, so much of the story takes place in Ethiopia, a place that holds interest for me, as I work with a journal and conference on African development that focuses a lot on Ethiopia. It helped me visualize Addis Ababa and understand the various political upheavals the country has endured.

Actually, few of the characters were Ethiopians. Stone of the title is a British surgeon from India. Sister Mary, Hema, and Gosh are Indian expat doctors and nurses. Even of the "locals" some are Eritreans - and I had to look up the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict, finding out that Eritrea broke off in 1993. Ethiopia itself has an interesting and unenviable history. It was interesting to hear about medical education in India and Ethiopia and then how those that land in the U.S. have difficulty getting into the major hospitals, but work in those treating the poor populations of Americans. All of these doctors in the story were highly dedicated to their work, their patients, and some even managed to come up with medical breakthroughs.

All of this interesting information was couched in an engrossing story of a set of twin brothers born in an Addis Ababa hospital. Unfortunately their mother does not survive and father disappears, so they are brought up by Hema and Ghosh, two other doctors at the hospital. The story is told by Marion, one of the twins - as he reconstructs his birth parents story, remembers his own childhood and puberty (very touching), how he started helping Ghosh at the hospital and realized he too wanted to be a doctor. His twin Shiva was brilliant, but not one to follow narrow guidelines, so he ends up helping Hema in her work with obstetrics without going to med school. The brothers are incredibly close, but different and life does separate them. 

This was a beautiful story of human compassion and endurance, of family ties, even if not by blood, and opened my heart and eyes to one more part of the world.