Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Author: Garth Stein
Pages:  321
Rating: PG-13 (there is a little too much swearing for my taste, including probably about 10-12 instances of the F-bomb. Also, the dog does describe his master having sex with his wife twice, but it is not very graphic. This is more of an adult novel for sure.)

Summary: Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television and listening carefully to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Now in his twilight years, Enzo finds himself thinking back on his life with the Swift family, reflecting on all he has learned about the human condition and how life, like racing, is about so much more than simply going fast.

My Thoughts: I read this book in about 2 days. It was a really quick read, and you just don't want to put it down. I love that the whole thing is told from the dog's perspective. If you like dogs, you'll probably like this book. However, even though there is a lot about racing and different race car drivers, which is something I'm not remotely interested in, I never got bored with it. It was never so much that I felt like it took anything away from the story. In fact, it helped me love Enzo even more. By the end, I wanted him to be MY dog, and I'm not really a dog person!

A little more about the storyline - Denny is constantly torn between opportunities to further his racing career and being there with his family. A race car driver often has to be away from his family for months at a time. After his wife's death, Denny is sued by his in-laws for custody of his daughter, Zoe. All of this is told through the eyes of the ever loyal, totally understanding and helpful dog, Enzo. Enzo has complete and total faith in his master to be able to get through these difficult challenges and move on, just like he does during races when something unexpected happens.

I really enjoyed this sweet story. I could have done with fewer swear words, but overall it was a quick read with a feel-good ending One of my favorite quotes from Enzo is towards the end, when he knows he is on his deathbed. "Have I made a mistake by anticipating my future and shunning my present?" Such a good question for us each to ponder every single day.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Nightingale

Author: Kristin Hannah
Pages: 438
Rating: PG-13 (It's war, it's intense, there are 2 F-bombs, and a few other scattered bad words, but not many, most of the swearing is done in French, so unless you know French swear words, it's not a big deal. A woman is raped, there is some torture and of course, people are killed.)

In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.
FRANCE, 1939
In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn't believe that the Nazis will invade France … but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne's home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.
Vianne's sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can … completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.
With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women's war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France--a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

My Thoughts: I loved this book. World War II is my favorite period of history to read about because I am just constantly amazed at the bravery and toughness that carried these people through such a difficult time. I loved this book because it was all about the "women's war." Towards the end of the book there is a quote that I thought was so awesome. "Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over." I just loved that. Men went out and fought the war, but women fought in their own way. The war was terrible for everyone, not just those who had to fight or who got sent to camps.

I love the realistic-ness of the characters. I felt that they were real people with real stories. Vianne's story is so heart wrenching because she is forced time and again to make the choice over whether to protect her family or try to save her friends and others. She does her best, and sometimes her choices are difficult and cause her a lot of guilt.  Nazi-occupied countries were not fun places to live. The Germans took all the food and resources for themselves and left the people of the countries they occupied to starve and freeze. It was no picnic.

Then there's Vianne's little sister Isabelle, who is determined to do ANYTHING to resist the Nazi's and help free France. She sometimes makes rash decisions, but she is so incredibly brave. She ends up helping to create an escape route for downed Allied airmen that allows them to get safely into Spain and from there, back to England or another Allied country. The one thing I missed in this book was an afterword explaining which parts of the story were true, so I looked it up. It seems as if Isabelle's story was loosely based on a woman named Dedee de Jongh, who really did help hundreds of airmen escape from France. You can read about it here. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/15/AR2007101501218.html

This book is also about love, and about families. Vianne, Isabelle, and their father have never had great relationships with each other. But the war teaches them what is really important and that they truly do love each other and want to help and protect each other.

I highly recommend this book. It's so good you won't hardly be able to put it down, and when you finally do, you'll have a new appreciation for how good your life really is. You'll wonder if you could have been so brave, if you could have endured the kinds of things Vianne and Isabelle had to endure in this book. Even though they are fictional characters, the events that transpired are real, the things they endured really happened. We can't ever afford to forget that.