I have returned to a more regular reading rhythm which is great even if I am extremely behind in writing about books I’ve recently read. I just finished Laura Hillenbrand’s work Unbroken but will be writing about that in a separate post, since a life as amazing and at times unimaginable as that of Louis Zamperini deserves its own post.
Serena by Ron Rash
I first learned about Serena thanks to Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. I saw on their filmographies that they would be starring in another movie together, one in which they played husband and wife and was set in Depression era North Carolina. However, years went by and the film was never released in theaters, although by then I’d discovered that Serena was in fact a book first. (On a side note, the film version is said to be finally coming out this year.) Before my trip to Peru, I was trying to borrow an ebook from my local library and naturally everything I wanted to read was checked out; Serena was one of the few that was not. I’m not going to lie-I didn’t really care for it mainly because the two main characters are both pretty despicable in their own ways (well, one more than the other) and I just couldn’t like it as a result of this. After marrying Serena, the woman with the mysterious past, George Pemberton, knows that nothing will stop the lumber business he has built and with Serena, even if it means breaking the law and committing unimaginable crimes. Knowing nothing about the lumber business and certainly now how it was during the 1930s, that side of the book was interesting, but characters and plot wise, not so much.
The Johnstown Girls by Kathleen George
Johnstown is a small town about two hours east of Pittsburgh and unfortunately the most “noteworthy” part of its reputation is that it has suffered catastrophic floods over the last 130 years, most notably the “Great Flood of 1889.” In the span of just one day, 20 million tons of water were unleashed on this small community following the failure of the South Fork Dam, ultimately killing 2200 people. The Johnstown Girls, is set between the past and present (on the eve of the centennial of the flood) focusing on three main characters-Ellen, who survived the 1889 flood as a small child; Nina, the reporter who is a Johnstown girl herself and wants to tell Ellen’s story; and Mary, the elderly woman whose past she can’t fully remember. I’ll admit, I found the present day (1989) parts to be lacking in the writing (seemed more high school level), but the past parts were extremely fascinating. I keep wanting to make a trip out to Johnstown to see the famous flood memorial and this book definitely spurred my interest even more. I think save for those who live locally in the Pittsburgh region, most people won’t know about the Johnstown flood, so in addition to being a relatively easy read, you will get an education out of it too.
The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
I borrowed this book almost a year ago from my mom and only recently read it. Asne Seierstad is a Norwegian journalist who has spent significant time in Asia covering the War on Terror and Operation Desert Storm in both Afghanistan and Iraq in the 2000s (I read another of her books, A Hundred and One Days years ago). In the early 2000s while reporting in Afghanistan, Seierstad befriends a local Afghan bookseller. She ends up living with his family for a year and The Bookseller of Kabul is basically a nonfiction account of his family’s life for those 365 days. The book can be summed up in so many ways-fascinating (learning about the Afghan culture and history), heartbreaking (learning about the plight of women and also the plight of families there that truly have nothing), an education (you get none of this in the media). I didn’t really care for her other work, but I would highly recommend The Bookseller of Kabul to anyone, especially those who say terrible and unfair things about the poor Afghan people, who seem to never have a say in their country’s doings.
The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor
While the Titanic may be one of the most overtalked and overwritten about topics (even a century later), it still fascinates me immensely. So when I heard about the novel The Girl Who Came Home: a novel of the Titanic, I didn’t have to think too long before purchasing it for my Nook. While a work of fiction, Gaynor’s story is based on the Addergoole 14. In 1912, 14 residents from the tiny western Irish village of Addergoole boarded the Titanic. Only three survived the sinking. In the novel, Maggie is one of the Irish villagers who is rescued and while she never shared the traumatic experiences of what happened onboard the “unsinkable ship,” she eventually opens up with her great-granddaughter decades later. Gaynor did a great job weaving intriguing storylines in both the past (in the fictional Irish village as well as on the Titanic) and also in the modern day (the 1980s). While most historical enthusiasts will already know the details of the Titanic, it’s still an enjoyable and interesting read all the same.