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A Few Good Books: September 2017

by Emily M | Sep 11, 2017

Looking for a book recommendation?  Look no further!  Here are a few good books I've enjoyed recently.

Book Review:  In the Land of Armadillos: Stories by Helen Maryles Shankmaninthelandofarmadillos

With careful attention to detail and a touch of magical realism, Shankman presents a collection of fascinating and heartbreaking interrelated short stories set in a Nazi-occupied town in Poland during World War II. In her stories, we meet Max Haas, the ruthless Nazi personally responsible for the murders of countless Jews.  Haas wants to keep his “pet Jew”, the illustrator of his son's favorite picture book, alive.  We also meet Pavel Walczak, a Polish Jew-hater who risks his life to save a little Jewish girl.  And Zosha Luft, a young Jewish girl trying to keep her head down long enough to survive.  We meet William Reinhart as well, the Reich Regional Commissioner of Agricultural Products and Services, an Oskar Schindler-like figure, who believes he can keep hundreds of Jews alive by employing them on the massive estate he has commandeered.  And many others.

Shankman creates complex, realistic characters who don’t fall into simple categories of “good” or “bad” but, like all of us, are made of shades of gray.  Though each of these stories can stand on their own, together they create a narrative in which the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts.    

Note: This book has also been published under the title They Were Like Family to Me: Stories. 

Book Review:   thepatriotsThe Patriots: A Novel by Sana Krasikov

Florence Fein is a twenty-something Jew of Russian descent who emigrates to the Soviet Union from the U.S. during the 1930s.  She's searching for a summer love who has returned to his country -- and a chance at the freedom she believes she will find as she helps build the Soviet “worker’s paradise.”  However, Florence is unprepared for the realities of life there, and with the American government turning its back on American citizens stuck in the Soviet Union, she soon finds herself entangled in a web from which she cannot escape.

Meanwhile, the nonlinear timeline of The Patriots introduces us to the stories of Florence’s son Leon, who, after being denied his PhD due to Jewish quotas set by the Soviet government, decides to immigrate to the U.S. with his wife and two young children during the 1970s, and Florence’s grandson, Lenny, who, like his grandmother before him, moves to Russia in search of a better life.

The Patriots is many things: a sweeping family epic, a well-researched history of nineteenth century Russia, and an exploration of political ideas. Coming in at over 500 pages, it is not a quick and easy read; nonetheless, The Patriots is worth your time.

Book Review:  longbournLongbourn by Jo Baker

Longbourn is one of many spin-offs of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice published in recent years.  While Austen’s classic was concerned with the loves and trials of the Bennett family, Baker’s Longbourn reveals to readers the loves and trials of their servants: Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper/cook; Mr. Hill, the butler; Sarah and Polly, the housemaids; and James, the newly acquired footman. 

While Sarah’s love story moves the plot along, what I most appreciated was how Baker shined a new light on the events of the original novel.  Elizabeth’s delightful and invigorating walks through the countryside in Pride and Prejudice meant hours of scrubbing mud-encrusted petticoats with painful, chilblained hands for Sarah in Longbourn.  In Pride and Prejudice Mr. Bingley is charming, handsome, and, most importantly, wealthy; in Longbourn Mr. Bingley’s wealth is revealed to have been obtained through slave labor.  Mary Bennet and Mr. Collins are portrayed as ridiculous and somewhat obnoxious in Pride and Prejudice, but Baker reveals both to be surprisingly sympathetic characters in Longbourn.

Overall, I found Longbourn to be an enjoyable read that I would recommend for fans of Downton Abbey, Upstairs, Downstairs, and of course, Pride and Prejudice. 

EmilyLong before becoming a librarian, Emily was an avid library patron. She enjoys reading fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, biographies, and classic children’s literature. Her favorite book is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.


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