Two Paths in the Woods

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante is the first in a series of four novels by a popular Italian author who writes using a pseudonym. That is a word I don’t hear often! No matter who wrote this story, I most certainly enjoyed it.

Told in the first-person, the tale takes place in 1950’s Naples. Two girls living in the same neighborhood, Elena and Lila, are classmates. At first, Elena dislikes Lila, but her personal desire to excel in school attracts her to Lila, who is exceptionally intelligent. With each passing year, the girls steadily grow apart with education and economics playing key roles.

This novel resounded deep within me for several reasons. I am Italian. This fact made the actions of many of the characters way too familiar for me. Lila’s father has his own business as did my father. I did not attend college right after high school even though many of my friends did. In the novel, Elena received more education than Lila who is forced to leave school earlier than she would have liked. These are only some of my relatable points.

I don’t believe you need to have had as many similar circumstances as I did in order to appreciate this novel. It’s about much more – the 50’s era, post WWII Italy, male domination, and life in close-knit communities. Although the story is told in the first-person, it was well-done and the many characters, well-defined. Ultimately, it is a story about the life choices we make and the consequences which follow. I highly recommend it.

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Leave the Door Open

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin has finally moved from my “to read” to “read” stack!!! It took long enough, but I am happy I finally obtained a copy.This book reminded me in many ways of another of my favoritesLove in the Lower-case. Both have similar plots. In this novel, Mr. Fikry is an oddball bookstore owner. He lives alone above the bookstore and is very discriminating about what books he carries. A hermit, he lives all inside his head and books.

Plot twist, as in Three Men and a Baby, someone leaves a baby girl in the closed shop when AJ left the front door unlocked after his most precious rare book is stolen, and life takes on meaning once more.

I think this was a delightful novel. I especially loved its references to other books! I felt proud knowing the name of a returned book in the story before it was revealed. I’d read The Book Thief!

If you love books, I think you will add this to your list of favorites!

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Bouncing Ball

The Clancys of Queens: A Memoir by Tara Clancy was recommended to me by another blogger who enjoys many of the same books I do. This is a hilarious, well-written story told by a woman who was raised in New York and spent much of her early life being shuffled between divorced parents –  a mother with a wealthy boyfriend, to her father, a stereotypical Irish cop, to her huge family of Italian relatives.

Using many strong words in Italian and English, Tara captures the frenetic energy of her youth and relatives. Her unusual life being jostled from one home to another is humorous in many ways, but also leads to a lack of permanence and stability. The story is lighthearted with an undercurrent of turmoil which led the author to act out at home and in school.  Surprisingly, Tara ended upright after reading Shakespeare and discovering her passion for literature. As in many cases, education and a good mentor can change lives for the better.

Even though this isn’t one of the best memoirs I have read, I enjoyed much of it and thank my blogger friend for recommending it to me. It provided me with many belly laughs and those are difficult to come by!




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In Search of Glory

Napoleon: Life, legacy, and image: A biography by Alan Forrest is an interesting biography about the famous Corsican man of humble beginnings who promoted himself to Emperor in the 19th century.

I have always been fascinated by Napoleon and decided it was time to re-educate myself on his life. This fine book was enlightening and filled-in many gaps in my knowledge about his rise to immortality.

The author has provided a perspective on the man behind the many wide-held beliefs about Napoleon and paints an image of a man driven by an insatiable thirst for power. According to Forrest, Napoleon calculated every move he made in effort to advance his thirst for power. It’s almost unbelievable when one considers how easily he succeeded at creating what might be termed, his “brand”. His mystique and ability to persuade and lead others was quite a feat. Although the end of his life was spent in exile, what led up to it was pretty amazing!

I was particularly surprised to learn Napoleon was exiled not once, but twice. That’s something I didn’t remember! The book focuses mainly on his military and political career which I appreciated. I gained a great deal of historical knowledge while reading this book and am grateful I did!

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Amateur Sleuth

I was searching for some light reading when I discovered Peter Mayle’s detective series. I have read two of the books now and can’t say either one tickled my fancy.

The stories, The Diamond Caper and The Corsican Caper are short in volume. The main characters are Americans, Sam Levitt and Elena Morales who love France, the country, the food, the people. Their escapades occur during their holidays in France.

Although the concept is clever, I thought the storylines were weak. I have enjoyed Mayle’s memoirs, but his capers have left me cold as a bowl of vichyssoise. Food and wine descriptions are plentiful and certain to stimulate your gastric juices. Mayle’s good in that regard as well as providing scenic descriptions of French cities and citizens.

I have a couple more books in the series yet to listen to. I will hope for the best!

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Turn coat

With the exception of what I thought was unnecessary explicit sex, A Single Spy by William Christie is a novel I enjoyed. It takes place during World War II. The main character, Alexsi, is an orphaned teenage boy who becomes a spy for the Russians. Despite his young age, he is streetwise and speaks several languages. His command of the German language makes him a prime candidate to spy on the Germans. Familial connections place him in a government office where he has access to highly classified information which he passes along to Russia.

The twist comes when Alexsi radios information, which he believes he will be commended for, only to be disbelieved by Stalin himself! This makes him question everything he has been taught to believe.

The story is fast paced and based on events which occurred during the war which made it all the more interesting.

As stated earlier, the novel contains graphic depictions of sex. I don’t think it added anything of benefit to the story. Take that away, and I’d recommend the book. I liked the way the story ended and have expectations of a sequel.

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If Only

The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion is the story of a British man who meets and falls in love with a woman named Angelina while living and working in Australia. He is playing piano  in a bar when he meets Angelina. Adam doesn’t know she is a well-known soap opera actress. Soon afterward, he discovers she’s married. This however, doesn’t keep the two from falling in love.

The relationship doesn’t pan out and each go their separate ways. Adam continues to carry a torch for “the one that got away”. Twenty years pass and Adam receives an unsolicited email from Angelina. From there, the story gets even better.

I really enjoyed this novel; especially the many music references. I like the author’s writing style very much. There is truth in the story itself with regard to unresolved feelings we sometimes carry for people we have loved and lost – the role our fantasies play when our chips are down. I highly recommend it.

*Please note there are adult themes in this novel

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