Ron Rash’s novel Serena tells the story of Serena and George Pemberton’s life in the North Carolina timber country. The newlyweds return to their timber land to oversee the removal of all trees from their land. From the start, Serena is not a woman typical of her era and class. She has a mysterious past and unlike Pembertons’ partners wives Serena rides out with the men to oversee the workers.

Serena takes on a mythical character amongst the workers when she trains an eagle to kill the rattlesnakes that populate the timber area. Serena is the center of the story and she’s a woman that knows what she wants and is not afraid to get her hands dirty. Her absolute disregard for the land that has become her home is shocking to the workers who witness the increase in rats in their home due to her playing God with the rattlesnakes and introducing an unnatural predator. She treats the land and the people as a means to an end. Rash portrays her as a psychopath with zero compassion for anyone and absolute no regard for the environment. She only cares how people and the land can further her own profit.

Rash created a wonderful antihero masked by raw beauty and heroism. Whenever I thought her depravity couldn’t go further, Serena surprised me. This was a great read and very educational about what was/is probably a common mindset of those who raze the land with no intentions to help it heal.

Read January 2014

Remember Me?

Remember Me? is a Sophie Kinsella novel and it is true to her form. Kinsella is very good at the characterization of woman of a certain age and class. Not being British, I don’t fully understand the class dynamic, but its very clear in her writing when we encounter someone from a different class.

In this novel, class is especially important. We meet Lexi Smart who went out to a bar in 2004 and wakes up in present day 2007. In the preceding 3 years, none of which our narrator remembers due to a car accident and subsequent amnesia, she became a career oriented, bitch boss, who married a very wealthy success-driven partner. On paper, Lexi has the dream life. A career where she’s making 3x her former income, a penthouse in ‘loft style living’, a beautiful, devoted husband, a new body including new teeth, and rich successful friends.

As we follow Lexi in her immersion into her new world, the cracks in the perfect life slowly start to appear. As we learn how Lexi became so successful and focused, Kinsella shows us what she’s lost in return. In trying to rediscover her 3 lost years, Lexi regains part of her 2004 life back.

Kinsella is a popular chick lit author for a good reason. Her stories, while female centered, don’t follow a trite storyline. While Lexi is involved in several romances, one of which helps rediscover whom she is, its not the romance that holds the story together. Lexi’s search for herself and her former friendships are the driving force of this novel, and strong female friendships are what make Sophie Kinsella’s books enjoyable to read. Plus, she likes a good curse word mixed into her internal and external dialogue!

Read January 2014

In the Garden of Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts tells the story of Ambassador Dodd and his family from their time spent in Berlin from 1933 until 1939 when they were witnesses to the final ascent of Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany. Erik Larson details the story of their arrival and immersion into the Berlin world of politics while Ambassodor Dodd relays the events back to Washington DC.

For how much I read about WWII, I felt very unfamiliar with the world that Larson recreates. I knew a little about the night life and high living of those who lived in Germany during a certain period, I just never realized that the high living overlapped when Jews and others were taken into secret prisons that sprung up all over Germany.

Many of the names were familiar, but not nearly as familiar as I think they should be. Of course I know Hitler, but Larson dissects the political dissension among the prominent members of the Nazi party. Goring and Goebbels are names I recall, but not for their particular heinous crimes. And pretty much everyone connected to the Nazi party has a part in the crimes. Larson also shows them in a personal light, interacting with Martha Dodd, meeting with the Ambassador, or hosting infamous gatherings.

This was a time period that most of the world should like to forget their complacency and anti-Semitism, and Larson does not hold back on many American politicians openly not wanting to help the Jewish people. Especially young Martha who Larson shows being entertained and enjoying the German hospitality of the 1930’s.

Overall a very detailed look at the smallness of a family and the largeness of international politics leading up to WWII. I think this is a book that I would need to read a 2nd time to truly understand all the Larson has laid out.

Read December 2013