The Monday Check-In ~ 9/30/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life. 

Wishing all who celebrate a sweet and happy new year!

And in other news…

No more cast! The cast came off this past Friday, and now I have a brace to wear for about six weeks. Freedom! You have no idea how great it feels to take a shower without having to wrap my arm in plastic first. Now comes the hard part — I start physical therapy on Tuesday, and I’ve been warned already that it will hurt.

But yay for being on the road to recovery!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What did I read during the last week?

In brand-new fiction:

An Unorthodox Match by Naomi Ragen: Don’t be put off by the misleading cover image — this is a thoughtful, touching novel about a woman who chooses a new life in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of Brooklyn. My review is here.

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman: Beautiful and tragic. My review is here.

In audiobooks:

Kopp Sisters on the March by Amy Stewart: The Kopp Sisters series continues strong in this, the 5th installment, and the audiobook narrator is as terrific as always. My review is here.

Book group reads:

I couldn’t help it — I was so frustrated by reading The Pickwick Papers in tiny increments that I ended up reading through to the end. I suppose I’m glad to have read it, but of the four Dickens novels I’ve now read, this one would go at the bottom of the list for me.

We wrapped up our group read of Virgins by Diana Gabaldon this past week. For me, it was my 3rd time reading this novella. If you’re an Outlander fan and haven’t read this yet, definitely check it out!

Pop Culture

While on the plane traveling to a conference this week, I started watching season 1 of Fleabag.

Man, is it funny. And man, do you not want to be watching this in public! I didn’t realize how filthy (in a good way, IMHO) this show is, but watching on a plane, I felt like I had to keep hiding my screen — especially since I was using captions. Hilarious — can’t wait to continue!

Fresh Catch:

Hurray! My copy of the new Simon Snow book arrived this week while I was away.

And thank you, Orbit Books, for sending me a copy of Ghoster! Sounds creepy and delicious — can’t wait to start!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith: I’m only just getting started.. but a library in hell? Yes, please.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli I was in the mood for a light-hearted listen, and so far, this seems to be hitting the spot.

Ongoing reads:

None at the moment! My book group has a new novella starting next week, but our next classic read doesn’t start until December. What will I do with all my reading freedom for the next two months? (I’m sure I’ll figure it out…)

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

 

In 1941, during humanity’s darkest hour, three unforgettable young women must act with courage and love to survive, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Marriage of Opposites Alice Hoffman. 

In Berlin, at the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.

Lea and Ava travel from Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, to a convent in western France known for its silver roses; from a school in a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved. Meanwhile, Ettie is in hiding, waiting to become the fighter she’s destined to be.

What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never ending.

In The World That We Knew, author Alice Hoffman brings her unique infusion of magic and nature to a store of survival during the worst of times. Starting in Berlin in 1941, the story introduces us to Hanni and her young daughter Lea. Hanni knows it’s only a matter of time until they’re captured and sent to a death camp like the rest of the Jews around them. Desperate to save Lea, Hanni begs for a miracle from the rabbi known to have mystical abilities, but instead, his daughter Ettie offers help in exchange for an escape opportunity for her and her younger sister.

Etti, having listened outside her father’s door for years, has herself grown wise in the art of Jewish mysticism, and uses her knowledge to create a golem — a powerful creature made from clay shaped into human form and brought to life through secret rituals, whose entire purpose is to protect Lea. Hanni can’t escape with her elderly, disabled mother, nor can she leave her behind, so she sends Lea away in care of Ava the golem, to seek what safety might be available to them in France.

France isn’t exactly safe for Jews either. Finding refuge with the Levi family, and joined by Etti, Lea and Ava are still at risk, and finally make their escape before their new shelter is raided by Nazis — but first, Lea forms a connection with the young son of the Levi family, Julien. Lea and Julien make only one demand of one another: stay alive.

From here, the story spirals out in multiple directions. We follow Lea and Ava from one temporary haven to another, including a remote convent where the nuns shelter the children who come to them, at risk of their own lives. We follow Etti into the forests as she seeks and then finds the resistance, desiring only vengeance. We follow Julien on his own path toward escape, refuge, and meaning. For each, and for the other characters we meet, there are dangers around every corner — and yet, there is also the opportunity to help others, to find meaning even in the middle of horror and tragedy.

Once upon a time something happened that you never could have imagined, a spell was broken a girl was saved, a rose grew out of a tooth buried deep in the ground, love was everywhere, and people who had been taken away continued to walk with you, in dreams and in the waking world.

The writing in The World That We Knew is just gorgeous. The author evokes the glory of the natural world, even as the people in it carry out horrific deeds and leave destruction in their wake. There’s magic all around, both in the form of Ava, the golem who starts as a mere bodyguard but finds her own personhood as time goes on, and in the flowers, bees, and birds that surround our characters and interact with them in unexpected ways.

Every now and then a crow would soar past with a gold ring or coat button in its beak, a shiny souvenir of murder.

The characters are lovely and memorable. I especially loved Ava, but it’s also wonderful and awful to see Lea grow up during war, having lost eveyrthing, but still clinging to her mother’s love and her connection to Julien. But really, I can’t just single these two out. There are side characters who come into the story briefly, whose stories we come to know before they exit once more, and their stories have power as well. In some ways, it feels as though the author has painted a picture through her writing of all the lost potential represented by the millions murdered during this terrible time.

And yet, the book is not without hope. Despite the tragedies, there’s still goodness, the possibility of a future, and the possibility of meaning:

What had been created was alive. Ettie did not see clay before her, but rather a woman who had been made by women, brought to life by their blood and needs and desires.

I don’t think I can really do justice to how special and beautiful this book is. The writing is superb, and the story leaves an indelible impression. Highly recommended.

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The details:

Title: The World That We Knew
Author: Alice Hoffman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: September 24, 2019
Length: 384 pages
Genre: HIstorical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday

Nothing like a Wednesday for thinking about the books we want to read! My Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday post is linking up with two fabulous book memes, Wishlist Wednesday (hosted by Pen to Paper) and Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine).

This week’s pick:

The Museum of Extraordinary Things: A Novel

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
(release date February 18, 2014)

Synopsis:

From the beloved, bestselling author of The Dovekeepers, a mesmerizing new novel about the electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the twentieth century.

Coney Island: Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a boardwalk freak show that amazes and stimulates the crowds. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s museum alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man photographing moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River.

The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father’s Lower East Side Orthodox community and his job as an apprentice tailor. When Eddie captures with his camera the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance.

New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a sizzling, tender, and moving story of young love in tumultuous times. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is Hoffman at her most spellbinding.

I seem to have a love/hate relationship with Alice Hoffman’s books. When they work for me, I simply love them! But when they fall flat, it’s way more than just dislike — no middle ground for me! In this case, from the brief synopses I’ve seen so far, I’d say that The Museum of Extraordinary Things sounds like it’ll go in my “love” column. New York, early 1900s, Coney Island, mystery, romance… so much to look forward to!

What are you wishing for this Wednesday?

So what are you doing on Thursdays and Fridays? Come join me for my regular weekly features, Thursday Quotables and Flashback Friday! You can find out more here — come share the book love!

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Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Flashback Friday: Second Nature by Alice Hoffman

It’s time, once again, for Flashback Friday…

Flashback Friday is a chance to dig deep in the darkest nooks of our bookshelves and pull out the good stuff from way back. As a reader, a blogger, and a consumer, I tend to focus on new, new, new… but what about the old favorites, the hidden gems? On Flashback Fridays, I want to hit the pause button for a moment and concentrate on older books that are deserving of attention.

If you’d like to join in, here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

Newest edition. Pretty, but really provides no clue what this book is about.

This looks like the one I read, way back when.

Second Nature by Alice Hoffman

(published 1994)

I have a love/hate relationship with Alice Hoffman. Not with her personally (we’ve never had the pleasure of meeting), but with her novels. When they work for me, I fall in love. But when they don’t, I tend to really, really dislike them. Second Nature goes into the “love” column, along with Practical Magic and The Dovekeepers, among others.

The Amazon description of Second Nature is a bit vague:

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Dovekeepers, Second Nature tells the story of a suburban woman, Robin Moore, who discovers her own free spirit through a stranger she brings home to her perfectly ordered neighborhood. As Robin impulsively draws this beautiful, uncivilized man into her world — meanwhile coping with divorce and a troubled teenage son — she begins to question her wisdom and doubt her own heart, and ultimately she changes her ideas about love and humanity.

Not so different from the generic chick-lit, suburban love story type of fiction, right? Well, no. What they’re not telling you is that the man who enters the life of the main character was raised by wolves — so when they say “uncivilized”, they really mean uncivilized.

A little more info from the Library Journal synopsis:

Hoffman continues her sensitive portrayal of outcasts, growing more bizarre with each book. Here she introduces Stephen, raised by wolves and about to be declared incurably insane, who is rescued by a woman in the midst of a messy divorce. This small Long Island town is complete with pettiness, busybodies, and interrelated lives. Robin’s estranged husband is on the police force, her brother is Stephen’s psychiatrist, and her teenage son dates the girl next door, whose sister is murdered. It is one of many murders (first animals, then humans), all easy to blame on you-know-who.

Okay, yes, bizarre might be an apt description. But it’s also passionate and lovely, and I love a good story that doesn’t follow along the well-trodden path. Maybe every single plot detail doesn’t quite hold up to logical scrutiny, but that’s beside the point. What makes Second Nature work, at least for me, is the depth of emotion and fire that practically drip from the pages.

So, what’s your favorite blast from the past? Leave a tip for your fellow booklovers, and share the wealth. It’s time to dust off our old favorites and get them back into circulation! 

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join in the Flashback Friday bloghop, post about a book you love on your blog, and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Jump in!