Monday, August 27, 2012

THE TIME in BETWEEN by Maria Duenas (fic)

The time in between refers to those years in Spain between the Civil War and World War II.  The action takes place in Madrid, Spanish Morocco and Lisbon. The author, Maria Duenas, is a professor at the University of Murcia in Spain, and she put a tremendous amount of research into this novel.  Although the main characters are fictitious, Duenas makes many historical characters come to life in a fascinating account during a troubled time in Spain.  Much of the book takes place in Morocco and adds to the flavor of intrigue.  I kept expecting Humphrey Bogart with a cigarette in the side of his mouth to come around the next corner, or perhaps a Graham Greene character.
The story is told in the first person by a young seamstress named Sira Quiroga.  I had to suspend reality to believe that this young naive girl could become the sophisticated spy working for British intelligence that she becomes by the middle of the novel.  Once the reader lets this go, the story progresses nicely. It picks up pace and becomes an interesting page turner full of action and suspense.  As I got into the meat of the book, I really began to enjoy it.  I liked reading about a different part of Morocco than I have been to, and it sent me to the maps and Internet to find out more of the Spanish protectorate and how it fit into the civil war and World War II. By the end of the book, I could hardly put it down. 
"The Time in Between" has been translated from the Spanish.  It was a best seller in Europe and has enjoyed success in the States as well.  This novel won't disappoint; it will introduce you to a noir world of spies and exotic climes.  The plot resolves itself nicely, though still leaving an opening for a sequel should the author be so inclined.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

WITHOUT A MAP by Meredith Hall (non-fic)

"Without a Map" like my last read was published in 2008.  Some portions of this poignant memoir had been published in several magazines.  Hall's story is heartbreaking, but also the story of a strong woman who meets life head-on.  Meredith was a child of the sixties.  With no sexual experience, she became pregnant at age 16.  Still a naive child, she faced abandonment from the father of the child and the rejection of her parents, family and friends with incredible bravery.  This painfully sad ordeal leaves her scarred and forms the way she deals with the rest of her life. 
Meredith's tale begins in Hampton, New Hampshire.  Any New Englander who has been to Hampton Beach will recognize the landmarks.  Working through a tough relationship and a series of dangerous adventures, she eventually becomes a vagabond and wanderer through the world.  She finally finds her center and returns to her family. Hall has an immense capacity for forgiveness and compassion.  She manages to finish her education at Bowdoin College, and now teaches at the University of New Hampshire.  Beside all this, she has an emotional reunion with her lost child and takes in a dying man, making his last days happy ones.
I found Hall's story brave and affecting.  There were parts that brought tears to my eyes.  How cold and rigid were the mores of the sixties when compared to the way unwed mothers are accepted today.  While I was touched by Hall's story, I did not like the style of her writing with the time frame jumping forward and backward.  I recommend this book as a look at a time past and a story of a young girl's struggle to understand herself and the world around her. It is a good choice for a reading group.

THE SENATOR'S WIFE by Sue Miler (fic)

"The Senator's Wife" was written in 2008, and this being an election year, I thought it might be a good choice to read.  As I began reading and was introduced to the young couple, Nathan and Meri, at the center of the story, I presumed that somehow Nathan, a college professor was going to go into politics, and the story would be about Meri's adjustment.  I soon found that the character in the title was their next door neighbor, Delia Naughton, whose husband, Ted is the Senator in question.  Ted Naughton is what has become a stereotypical philandering politician. He is a brilliant man, and he and Delia have been living apart for a number of years.  At one time Bill Clinton might come to mind, but if anyone has been following the television series, "Political Animals," the ex-President in that show might be a more apropos model.  Delia just can't quit her man.  When a stroke fells Ted, Delia, at last has him to herself. 
Meanwhile next door, Meri who had landed herself an exciting new job as an interviewer and researcher for a public radio program, becomes pregnant.  Her struggles with motherhood, reflect Delia's own with her now handicapped husband. The women become dependent on each other and forge a bond which is at the heart of the novel, and their relationship forms the direction of the story.  Meri betrays Delia's trust in an emotional scene which is the climax of the book. 
Sue Miller's strength lies in reaching the emotional lives of her characters.  At times the book dragged, but taken as a whole, I found it a satisfying read and a character study of two outwardly independent women.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

MIDNIGHT IN PEKING by Paul French (non-fic)

It is 1937 in the Imperial City of Peking.  It is a city of louche westerners living out the last days of the empire, a diplomatic outpost, a city of poor White Russian refugees, and a city about to be invaded by the Japanese. Peking, rife with opium dens, widespread depravity, and the Forbidden City hidden behind thick walls, is dying itself.   One winter night an English school girl named Pamela Werner goes missing, and her horribly mutilated body is discovered beneath the Fox Gate on the edge of the badlands.   Why she was there and how she met her fated end is a mystery that two detectives, one English and one Chinese set out to solve.  As Japanese troops tighten their hold on the city, the detectives are bound by time to discover what person, or persons would commit such a monstrous crime.
The historian Paul French, an expert on Chinese history, keeps the reader enthralled as the story unfolds.  He makes this story interesting much as the writer Eric Larson does in his books.  From his research, he discovers the true story of Pamela Werner's tragic young life, and solves the mystery at the heart of the murder, answers which have lay hidden and forgotten until modern day. This is a story that is as interesting and frightening as any fictional mystery story, only it is true and doubly horrifying for being so.  Recommended as a realistic picture of the final days of Peking before the rise of the communist state.