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Beth F has commented on (7) products.

Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian
Skeletons at the Feast

Beth F, January 3, 2010

Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian belongs at the top of any list of World War II novels. This is not a story of politics, of war strategy, or of Hitler. This is a story of human beings, of terror, of unspeakable horrors, of naïveté, of survival, and even of love.

Only when war is shrunk to the individual level, to what happens to civilians, can those of us who have been spared firsthand experience begin to get the mere glimpse of such a world. We wonder about our own strength, our own skills, and our own survival instincts.

Anna, Callum, Cecile, Uri, and the other inhabitants of Bohjalian's novel are not characters, they are people. Each with a history that has informed the choices he or she makes during the last months of the war in Europe. We get to know these men and women, their dreams, their memories, their scars. We cannot forget them.

It is impossible to read the epilogue without sobbing—not so much because of what does or does not happen to the characters in a book but because of the sheer emotional impact of the story. Because we think of our fathers who were there as soldiers, our relatives who escaped or not, and our friends who live in phoenix cities throughout the Continent.
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This One Is Mine by Maria Semple
This One Is Mine

Beth F, May 15, 2009

Neither Violet Parry nor her husband, David, grew up with money or comfort. Neither could have imagined that they'd be living in luxury in Hollywood Hills with a gardener, pool boy, and nanny. Sally Parry, David's sister, has always felt like an outsider and has always wanted to be rich and loved.

Sally and Violet seem to be on inversely related paths. The richer and happier Violet is, the more in debt and more alone Sally becomes. Then one day their fates seem to reverse. Sally meets Jeremy, an up-and-coming sports commentator, and Violet meets Teddy, an ex-junkie, down-and-out bass player.

Both women seem to be out of control on their crazy pursuit of what they are sure will make them happy. Just when Sally knows she has everything she has ever dreamed of, all their lives begin to change forever, but not according to plan.

The convergence of Hollywood's rich and famous, hot new properties, wannabes, and never-will-bes is at the heart of Semple's debut novel. This is not just another book about a rich woman feeling unfulfilled or a gold-digger thinking she's finally found the bank. Violet and Sally make choices that most of us would question, but it's where those choices take them that drives the story.

Through humor and a unabashed take on LA life, Semple explores how even the clueless can reach the place where they want what they have, keep what they love, and accept who they are. Throughout the book, we are treated to a fabulous cast of characters, who seem to rise just enough above stereotype to be believable but close enough to the line to let us laugh along with them.

The double-sided look into the interactions among the characters, whether within the same economic class or between classes, was a treat. Few people see themselves as others do, and in the often-shallow relationships of the Hollywood crowd, the discrepancy can be amusing.

This One Is Mine was a bit of slow start for me because I was sure I knew where Violet and Sally were headed. But the women's stories and those of the people who surround them are more complex than expected. The characters were motivated by deeper issues than simple instant gratification, and their growth and self-realizations led to a satisfying end.
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