Review: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (May 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780399161469

The year is 1923. As a typist in a New York City Police Department precinct, Rose Baker can seal the fate of an individual within a few keystrokes. While she’s dictating testimony or a confession, she wields all the power. Outside the interrogation room, however, she once again becomes a member of the weaker set, not suited to deal with anything more trivial than brewing a pot of coffee. Her life is relatively quiet and routine. Then walks in the other typist.

It’s not like there aren’t any other typists other than Rose. She’s one of a few who are employed within the precinct, yet there is something vastly different about the beautiful and glamorous Odalie.  She bobs her hair, a relatively new and unique trend. She catches the eye (and attention) of powerful men within the precinct. Something is definitely sinister and suspect about Odalie, however. Despite this, and desperate for the companionship she’s lacked all of her life, Rose is drawn to Odalie and a friendship ensues. They visit speakeasies together and Rose is introduced to a completely different world within New York City. Odalie becomes a large part of her life, so large that Rose dedicates a journal to Odalie. Soon, however, the friendship turns into an obsession.

Going in, the reader knows that Rose is a completely unreliable narrator. The description of the book mentions it and several times throughout the book, Rose refers to her doctor and his opinion of her behavior. Therefore, it is no surprise when the tone of the book changes drastically. You know going in that something is going to happen, but just what that is isn’t revealed until the very end. This book quickly transforms into a book of chilling psychological suspense that will have readers sitting at the edge of their seat, rapidly flipping through the pages until IT happens.

I heard rumblings of IT going in, but I didn’t know the specifics. As I read, I honestly began to question what others were saying about this book. It’s not that it wasn’t engaging or interesting, it was. I was just waiting for IT, and when IT happened. Wow. I was stunned into silence for a few moments and then suddenly all sorts of expletives came rushing out of my mouth. Only once has this happened to me before. A story of another incredibly unreliable character with a twisty ending. Yet, dare I say it..this twisty ending was even more intense because IT totally wasn’t expected. This book, and the author’s incredibly skilled writing, completely messes with your head…and you’ll enjoy it.

Bottom line: looking for a completely mind-altering, intense psychological thriller? This is the title for you. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Trial of Fallen Angels by James Kimmel, Jr.

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (November 8, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 039915969X
  • Source: Publisher

Brek Cuttler has the life people pine for: an adoring husband, a beautiful baby girl and a successful law practice. That all changes when she awakes on an empty train platform, blood covering her clothing. She soon realizes she has died and has been given a new, enormously important role in her new “life” in heaven: she has been chosen to join an elite group of lawyers whose sole role is to prosecute and defend those souls facing their final judgement.

The individuals Brek is assigned to represent at first seem meaningless to her, but eventually she discovers that seemingly unimportant events in her life have led her to this very moment, allowing her to finally uncover the cause of her own death. For those individuals whose lives cross her path, every act of kindness or cruelty help determine their ultimate fate. Able to experience their individual lives first hand, Brek sees a side of each of them that alters her opinion, once their identity and relation to her own life are revealed. She learns quickly that, as in life, the justice dealt must be fair, that one individual cruel action in life doesn’t result in a less desirable fate, just as one act of kindness doesn’t reverse a deplorable action.

A dynamic host of characters join Brek on her journey, many representing individuals from her own life. They walk side by side with her as she, through the lives of those she’s representing, she learns of the act that lead to her death.

It is nearly impossible to characterize this novel into one genre. While there are aspects of spirituality, don’t let that lead you to believe this is a religious novel. Themes of love, forgiveness and much more run throughout this incredibly dynamic novel. Most importantly, however, is the idea that one’s fate isn’t only determined by that individual themselves, but those around them, those that have an impact on their lives, no matter how minor. Quite the emotional subject matter, readers will experience every emotion imaginable, from sadness to exhilaration and anger.  This is a book that will continue to linger in the heart and souls of its readers, long after the final page is read. Highly recommended.

 

Review: City of Women by David R. Gillham

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (August 7, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 039915776X
  • Source: Publisher

Set in 1943 Berlin, the midst of World War II, the majority of the men have been sent to the battlefront. Berlin has essentially become a city of women: wives, mothers, sisters of German soldiers living off of rations and meager wages to get by. Sigrid Schröder is one of these women, her husband Kasper shipped off to Russia to fight in the war. Singrid holds down a job, reluctantly putting up with her meddling mother-in-law. Despite the tough economic times and food shortages, Singrid continues to seek solace and an escape from the crumbling, war-torn world around her.

It is at the theater that she meets Egor and the two embark upon a sensual love affair. Infidelity was never something Sigrid ever thought she was capable of committing, but in a war savaged by war, frequented by air raids, her body was one thing of which she had control.  Her affair is just the cusp of the risks Sigrid takes on, for after she befriends Ericha, the young nanny for other tenant in her building, she soon finds herself immersed in the practice of protecting Jews and other individuals from detection by the Gestapo. Sigrid, a woman once so set on creating the perfect home for her perfect German husband now forced to risk her life to protect dozens of individuals, families who are strangers to her. The risk is high, Sigrid has to watch every step she takes, every person she confides in. For all it takes is a accusation of crimes against Hitler for her to be carted away to an internment camp.

One might wonder why Sigrid would risk all this, her life, her future with her husband. Admittedly, her marriage was never a happy one. She conceded to living with her mother-in-law after she miscarried their first and only child. She goes to work daily at the patent office, a thankless job overseen by a brutal, uncaring woman. The steps she takes to ensure the freedom of these individuals may seem small, but to Sigrid they are huge. In a world she has little control over, in a life she’s forced to live in, this is her way of having an impact on the fate of these poor individuals.

What was truly remarkable about this novel was the level of sensuality amidst a cold, dark & brutal Berlin. The feelings she has for Egor are genuine, the two of them relying on their sessions of lovemaking to get them through the tragedies of war. Their love is a forbidden one, and not simply because Sigrid is married. Sigrid feels dead inside, her happiness crushed by the war surrounding her. This affair bakes her feel alive again, makes her feel as though she is needed, wanted.

Another paramount theme within this novel is the idea of trust. Sigrid had to be incredibly discriminating when it came to who she could rely upon, who she could talk to, who she could confide in. Several times throughout the novel her decisions were tested and she learned, unfortunately, what it meant to be betrayed by those for which she had great respect.

I was truly amazed at how well the author captured the life and beliefs a young female. Obviously not a woman himself, he so eloquently captured her essence, her feelings and emotions. While reading the novel, I frankly forgot it was written by a man, a true testament to his skill of writing.

City of Women is a brilliant, completely unique perspective on World War II and the individuals (while fictional) who survived it. That said, I wouldn’t refer to this as a war story but instead a personal story of love, perseverance and hope. Not a small book at 400 pages, I found myself unable to put it down, staying up until literally the early hours of the morning to finish it. Highly, highly recommended.

 

Review: A Good American by Alex George

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (February 7, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 039915759X
  • Source: Publisher

It’s 1904. Frederick, a junior clerk in a small bank, falls in love with Jette, the daughter a woman striving to use her daughter’s future husband as a means to elevate herself in society. Needless to say, Frederick doesn’t exactly live up to Jette’s mother’s expectations. She’s disgusted by Frederick’s “lack of breeding” and forbids Jette from seeing him again. Of course, this just draws Jette and Frederick even closer. Soon, Jette discovers she is pregnant. Frederick is elated, Jette is a bit more realistic, knowing that her mother will never accept this child as part of the family.  Without any other options, the young couple decide to journey to a land known for new possibilities, America.  They set forth on a ship, originally planning to go to New York. When the learn the ship they are about to board will instead take them to New Orleans Jetta replies “New York, New Orleans, what’s the difference. They are both New. That’s good enough.” Embarking on this ship, they are also embarking on a new life together.  

They ultimately end up in Beatrice, Missouri, not necessarily a planned stop. Beatrice is a small town, many of the people speak German, making Frederick and Jette feel at home. It’s not long before they get settled, attempting to keep some semblance of their native land, of their roots, in this new country. So begins the story of a century of the Meisenheimer family. Surrounded by extremely unique and rich characters, each generation of this family is forced to rediscover it’s own unique identity while at the same time appreciating and understanding those before them. It is a multi-generational story of German family, determined to live the dream set out by Frederick & Jette: finding home. The story is at times humorous, oftentimes it is achingly sad.

Two key things lie in the very core of this family: music and food.  The book opens up with the line “Always, there was music.” Never have more true words been spoken. Despite the trials and tribulations the family were dealt, there was always music. Music and food. Each generation supported itself by feeding the community around it, starting with Jette and Frederick and their traditional German food. Despite the gradual transition to more American food, the family devoted itself to this life. Their restaurant served several roles throughout the years: a gathering place for those families with men in the war, during Prohibition, it became a place for people to enjoy food and entertainment. Core to it was always one element: family.

A Good American is a truly epic tale that, like good food or good wine, must be savored. The story of Frederick and Jette is told through the voice of their grandson, James.  Despite having been born in the United States, at times James is just as confused about his identity as his grandparents before him. He, like those before him, learned that family isn’t only based on blood, on heredity. Family is made up of those that surround you, envelope you, care for you.

When I began reading A Good American, I had no idea what I was in for.  I’d picked up on quite a bit of discussion about the book, but nothing too specific. I try to keep myself in the dark about highly popular books until I have had the chance to read them myself. Never could I have imagined how enamored I became with this book, the characters, everything Alex George, through the Meisenheimer family, portrayed to the reader. I laughed with the characters, cried and sobbed with them, celebrated their successes, learned from their failures. As each chapter ended, I refused to go on, but would go back and reread the passages again. I savored the story-like quality of the writing; oftentimes I felt as though I were sitting across the table from James, listening to him tell of his parents, his grandparents, and all those before him. It isn’t often that you come across a book like this anymore, one that you want to read over and over again, relishing each line. I do not exaggerate when I state that A Good American is a truly remarkable book. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: If Jack’s In Love by Stephen Wetta

  • Hardcover:368 pages
  • Publisher:Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (September 29, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0399157522
  • Source:  Publisher

The Witcher house was the one house in the neighborhood everyone avoided. I was falling apart, dogs always roamed in the yard. Twelve-year-old Jack Witcher lives in that house, along with low-life, pot-smoking brother Stan, his frequently unemployed father & his beautiful, hard-working mother.

Jack is a genius. No one denies it.  If it weren’t for his last name, he’d have a pretty remarkable and happy childhood. But he doesn’t. Due to his father’s lack of emotion or feeling, Jack can’t seem to form any sort of emotional attachment to anyone. Until, that is, he meets Myra Joyner.  The Joyner family doesn’t quite get along with the Witchers.  Myra is forbidden to speak with Jack, but they are both determined to at least attempt some sort of relationship.

But then tragedy hits; Myra’s brother, Gaylord, the town’s golden boy has gone missing. Stan’s a person of interest in Gaylord’s disappearance. The two had been in a few scuffles before in the past.  Needless to say, this certainly puts a kink in any sort of relationship Jack has with Myra.

But with the help of his only friend, Mr. Gladstein, the town jeweler, Jack is determine to win the love of Myra, whatever it takes.  Additionally, Jack is forced to deal with a truth he’s hiding, clawing away at his conscious. In dealing with both issues, he comes to the realization that he must overcome the town’s prejudices about him and his family, to be the individual he’s destined to be. No matter the consquences, including the potential damage it could cause to his family.

Jack is a completely endearing character. He’s smart, hard-working, talented…but all of this is forgotten purely due to his family name. You can say he’s gotten used to living this way. No Witcher has ever been successful, held a decent job, went to a quality school. The amount of growth Jack experiences throughout the novel is impressive. The sort of stigma surrounding the family is strong, yet Jack is able to overcome it.  He’s desperate not to become like his brother and father. The fact that his period of growth & rediscovery takes place at this age makes the change ever more powerful.  As a teen, one searches for identity, struggles to connect. But to completely separate one’s self from the only the identity they’ve ever known? Powerful. Had Jack not had Mr. Gladstein at his side, I’m certain his fate wouldn’t have been so pretty.

Wetta captures Jack’s story perfectly; the feelings Jack experiences, his response to strife in his family, are typical and accurate for his age. The story is a compelling one, the reader is drawn in instantly. The prose is quite fluid, the reader will find themselves immersed in the story in no time.  The subthemes of racial and economic tension add a unique spin.

If Jack’s in Love is a compelling coming-of-age story, one that I recommend highly.