I kicked this summer off with a weekend of reading. May had been a very busy month. We had Meg's First Communion, piano recitals, a ballet recital, our parish festival, Clare's birthday party, and a few more things thrown in. When Memorial Day arrived, I declared I would be spending the weekend reading and so I did.
I started my holiday weekend off with The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick.
My favorite aspect of this book is Phaedra Patrick's ability to push flat characters into dynamic characters. Arthur's children are initially seen as uncaring, preoccupied adult children who occasionally check on their dad out of duty. As the narrative progresses you discover the personal woes the children are facing and you realize that their father's perception of them is not the whole story. Similarly, Arthur's do-gooder neighbor has a son who initially falls into the "goth teen who won't speak" flat character category. But the reader soon learns about this teen's struggles and why he is how he is. This technique not only challenges us as readers, but also as human beings. We have perceptions about people, but we don't know everything they are going through. Actions we perceive as a slight might in fact be perfectly innocent. There's always more to the story. People are not merely the stereotype they seem to fall so easily into.
This book is filled with hope. There are certainly some very sad scenes that realistically draw a picture of a mourning widower. But life continues as Arthur moves away from his own grief and comes to know so many people in his life better (including his deceased wife).
The next book I read over Memorial Day weekend was Jenny Colgan's The Bookshop on the Corner.
Now onto the story itself. This book follows Nina, who is being laid off from her librarian job. As the library undergoes many changes, she finds herself rescuing unwanted books, but then finds she has no place to put them. She has already filled her home with so many books that her roommate forbids her from bringing in more. After a series of unforeseen events, Nina finds herself living in a Scottish village and running a bookshop out of a truck. If this sounds like your secret dream come true, then you should read this book. It is a charming story. Undoubtedly the book is a light read, but it is a well-written light read.
The final book I started over Memorial Day weekend (and finished soon thereafter) was Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly.
This is an amazing story. Martha Hall Kelly takes on the difficult task of humanizing a Nazi. It is easy to explain the actions of the top Nazis as psychopathic or pure evil. But there were a lot of people who went along with the actions of the Nazis who were neither pure evil nor psychopaths. This book explores some of the reasons that might have happen.
This book also explores the mental anguish of those who survived the concentration camps. We see some of the characters prior to their arrest, within the concentration camp, and after the war. We see the change in them. They struggle with anger and hate toward the Nazis as well as guilt over surviving when their actions might have placed others who didn't make it at risk.
I highly recommend Lilac Girls. It's not perfect. Historical fiction is difficult because you don't want to put a phrase in someone's mouth that would not have been a phrase the character would have used in that time period. Lilac Girls is not only historical fiction, but also has characters in Polish culture and German culture. At one point in Lilac Girls a character says her Polish mother would have called the rain "a gully washer." But "gully washer" is a term unique to only certain parts of the United States--not Poland. Little mistakes like this keep the book from being perfect, but it is an excellent book and certainly worth the read.
In the coming weeks I'll review more of the books I've read this summer. I think we'll also figure out a way to have the Meg and Clare review some of their favorite books of the summer.