“Love and Ruin” Book Review

36529552Love and Ruin
Paula McLain

Note: This review is based on an Advanced Readers Copy of Love and Ruin, which I received free of charge. Expected publication is May 2018.

Though Martha Gellhorn would hate for me to start a review of this book with Hemingway, I must start with Hemingway. You see, he’s always showing up in my life.

I read A Farewell to Arms when I was in high school, then The Sun Also Rises when I was at university. Both were pleasure reads, not assigned, and the latter caught my attention. I liked its spare prose, its spare characters, and the thrill of the adventure. But I didn’t seek out Hemingway again.

Instead, Hemingway found me. When I’m not traveling I live in Sun Valley, Idaho. Hemingway spent bits of his life in my mountain town, ultimately ending his life there in 1961. He’s buried in the local cemetery, and as you might imagine, his name pops up in all sorts of places.

Still, that’s not why I ultimately picked up Love and Ruin. I picked up Love and Ruin because years ago my book club read McLain’s first well known book, The Paris Wife, and I liked it. When the opportunity arose to read an Advanced Readers Copy of Love and Ruin I took it.

And I’m so happy I did. First, I love Paula McLain’s prose. It’s beautiful. Beyond being descriptive and lovely to read, there were moments of the story when I physically felt the impact of what she was saying. I highlighted. I wrote down quotes. I thought “wow, that is a stunning line.” And I love books that do that to me.

Second, Marta Gellhorn. What a bad ass this woman was. She was Hemingway’s third wife and the only one to leave him. But beyond Hemingway—because she was so over Hemingway for the remainder of her life after the divorce—Gellhorn was a celebrated and impressive war correspondent.

Martha wrote stories of every day people. She snuck onto a hospital ship and was the only woman, and only correspondent, on the beach during D Day in World War II. She covered wars well into her 80’s. She was feisty and brave and brilliant.

This book, which I adored, was my fictional entry point into the very real Marty Gellhorn. I can’t wait to learn more about her, read her work, and find inspiration in her unique path through life.

Rating: 5/5

Love and Ruin on Amazon (affiliate link)

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“Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” Book Review

16071764Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
Sheryl Sandberg
Dewey Decimal Challenge

When I picked up Lean In I thought I was perhaps the last person on Earth to read tit. I work in technology, like author Sheryl Sandberg, and when Lean In hit the shelves in 2013 all my colleagues were talking about it. All my friends were talking about it. I felt like everyone was talking about it.

But when I told a friend recently I was reading Lean In, they said hadn’t heard of the author or the book. Go figure.

Lean In is a book about women in the workplace. It’s focused primarily on women aiming for leadership and senior roles. The first half of the book had my full attention. In the first half Sandberg talks about the lack of women in leadership roles and the history of gender roles. She brings in personal experience but also relies heavily on studies, data, and figures. I appreciated that.

Where Sheryl began to lose me was about halfway through Lean In when the subject turned to motherhood…and stayed there. I get it, a discussion of motherhood is inescapable when talking about women in the workplace. But when the discussion lingered for chapter after chapter (after chapter) I had to force myself to sit down and read a few pages each day just so I could get through the book.

I give Lean In full marks for the first half, which was insightful and eye opening. I knew the playing field wasn’t equal, but I won’t be looking at that inequality the same way again.

Rating: 3/5

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead on Amazon (affiliate link)

“The Big Four” Book Review

16316The Big Four
Agatha Christie

When I stopped in Idaho for a few weeks last fall I went to the movie theater to see Murder on the Orient Express. This is notable by itself, as I never go to the movies. I don’t like small, dark theaters that smell of popcorn and strangers. But I do like Kenneth Branagh, and I was itching to leave the house.

I loved Murder on the Orient Express. I remember that another movie goer had brought in his pug, which slept on the chair next to him snoring softly. It’s tags jingled whenever it moved, detracting from my concentration a bit, but the movie kept drawing me in again and again. It was beautifully filmed.

When I looked at reviews after the movie it became clear to me that many Agatha Christie fans did not like the movie. Having never a read an Agatha Christie, I was in no position to judge its worth against the book. Which got me thinking – how had I never read an Agatha Christie?

I’m a devoted Sherlock Holmes fan, and I love a good mystery. I saw The Big Four at a library book sale and picked it up. It’s the fifth in the Hercule Poirot series, which is a weird place to start, but I dove in anyway.

The Big Four is the story of Poirot, his sidekick Hastings, and their fight against four globally powerful super-villians. Poirot is a funny little man with a particular love of grooming and odd habits. He uses deduction and analysis to unravel mysteries and threats.

And here’s the thing. I liked the story. It kept me engaged and I enjoyed the mental gymnastics to try to figure out what was happening. But the whole thing felt simply Sherlockian to me. The consulting detective is quirky. He has a less-brilliant sidekick. There’s a chief inspector not quite smart enough to work it all out. Poirot fakes his death and lets Hastings believe it.

Perhaps it’s a matter of preference, liking Sherlock or Poirot. For me, I may be too deep in my lifelong love for Sherlock to go back now.

Rating: 4/5

The Big Four on Amazon (affiliate link)

“The Sisters Brothers” Book Review

9850443The Sisters Brothers
Patrick deWitt
Translated by Marcelo Barbao

I love good design. And I’ll admit that it was the cover of The Sisters Brothers that drew me in more than anything else. It’s spectacular, is it not?

But it wasn’t just the cover art that kept me reading. The Sisters Brothers is the story of two brothers, with the last name of Sisters, who are mercenary vigilantes in the American West. One brother is the brains, the other mostly brawn. The story is written from the standpoint of the latter, a kind hearted and slightly befuddled man named Eli.

The plot traces the brothers as they make their way to kill a man. It’s not the first man they’ve killed, and they kill many more on the way to their target. This is half a story of the West, half a story of redemption, but it doesn’t do either completely.

I liked the gentle pace the author used to unravel this tale. I liked it, but not enough to think about it between readings or feel remorseful once it was over.

Rating: 3/5

The Sisters Brothers on Amazon (affiliate link)

“Orphan Train” Book Review

9DE2B3DE-FF84-4666-AD35-0DF3299C8BF3Orphan Train
Christina Baker Kline

4.14 stars with 283,895 ratings on Goodreads…my jaw dropped. Goodreads readers are often tough, no nonsense reviewers. Any book near four stars I consider a safe bet, and with so many ratings I immediately returned to my Kindle and clicked download. 283,000 people can’t be wrong, right?

And they weren’t. Orphan Train weaves the story of two orphans separated by 70 years. One rode the “orphan train” from New York City to Minnesota and spent her childhood shuffled between families, and the other was born on a reservation in Maine and spends her childhood shuffled between foster parents.

Working together to clean up the elder orphan’s attic their stories weave together as similarities are uncovered, each finding pieces of salvation in the other.

It’s a beautifully worked story, with gentle twists of the unexpected. The plot is realistic, with heartbreaks that stay broken and moments of redemption.

Rating: 4/5

Orphan Train on Amazon (affiliate link)