Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife, by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's Wife The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story
by Diane Ackerman
Get it from Amazon.

The Zookeeper’s Wife sounds rather grim on the surface: it’s about the keepers at the Warsaw Zoo hiding Jews during the holocaust. As the blurbs on the back say, it’s a rough subject to find in such a beautiful book, and yet, beautiful is what this story is.

Antonina and Jan live in a modern glass house inside the zoo. When the Nazis arrive in Poland, many of their animals are sent to German zoo’s, while others are slaughtered for sport, and yet, because one of the ranking officers is a zoologist, of sorts, the pair are allowed to remain in residence for most of the war, and eventually the zoo houses both a munitions station, and a fox farm.

At the same time, Jan and Antonina are smuggling Jewish people out of the ghetto, using their zoo as an initial stop on a sort of “underground railroad.” Some of these Guests are housed in the old aviary, in the rabbit house, in the pheasant house, and are referred to by the names of the animals whose cages they occupy. Others are hidden in closets, walls, tunnels, etc. around the the house, and still others move in, hiding in plain site.

Throughout this book, which reads like a novel though it is not fiction, even when things are at their worst, Antonina holds her strange family together, and a thread of hope runs through it all.

Goes well with: a bowl of hearty soup, artisan bread, and a cold gray day.

Teaser Tuesday: The Zookeeper’s Wife, by Diane Ackerman

On Teaser Tuesdays readers are asked to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given.

My teasers are:

But spring floated outside the small rupture in time the war had gouged. For people attuned to nature and the changing seasons, especially for farmers or animal-keepers, the war snagged time on barbed wire, forced them to live by mere chronicity, instead of real time, the time of wheat, wolf, and otter.
The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story, by Diane Ackerman. Page 223.

Review: Dog Years, by Mark Doty

Dog YearsDog Years
by Mark Doty
Get it from Amazon

Dog Years was, perhaps, not the best choice of read for a time when I was convinced we were going to lose our chihuahua, Zorro. (He’s got a heart condition, and while we know we don’t have much time with him, he’s no longer in that “death rattle” stage.), but I couldn’t resist the happy golden retriever on the cover.

This memoir of the author’s last months with his partner Wally, of the new relationship with partner Paul, and of his two dogs, Arden and Beau, is a rambling story, loosely chronological, but not entirely orderly, in much the same way that walking the dog around the block really involves zigging this way to sniff a fence post, or zooming the opposite direction to pee on that particular blade of grass, or going wildly off course because it was imperative to chase a bird/cat/squirrel/kid on a bicycle.

A gentle read, parts that stood out for me were moments on the beach at Sandy Hook, NJ, which is where I grew up, and the daily routine of dog stewardship (because really, they own us more than we ever own them), and the pain of loss when each finally went to his end – this isn’t a spoiler – it’s obvious from the back cover that the dogs would not survive the book. I laughed when I read about Arden spitting out his medication, and cried when I read that he suffered from anxiety attacks after 9/11 (the dogs lived a good part of their lives in New York).

Dog Years is, in many ways, a memoir of a man told through the eyes of his dogs, though it’s never in their voice. Author Mark Doty is also a poet, and you can hear the poetry underlying the rhythm of his prose.

Goes well with:: Cool water and bits of cheese to share with a cuddly canine friend.

Booking Through Thursday: Honesty

I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the book just because I got a free copy of it. However, some authors seem to feel that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a positive review.

Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?
– BTT, 20 November 2008

I review books here in my own blog, and also for the e-zine All Things Girl, where we post reviews in the blog, and in the actual zine. We try to always find something positive to say, but it we really dislike something, or felt a work was flawed, we’ll say so.

Here at Bibliotica (which was founded in 2004, but I recently purged the archives), I don’t do lengthy reviews, but if I dislike something, I’m not shy about it. Of course authors and publishers prefer positive reviews, but as readers, and many times as writers ourselves, we do them a disservice if we don’t give fair, honest reviews.

For more answers to this question, visit Booking Through Thursday

Teaser Tuesdays: Immoveable Feast, by John Baxter

Teaser Tuesday asks readers to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given.

My teasers are:

There are always two possible strategies in preparing a meal for the French.

One was novelty. I could present the family with something so exotic that sheer strangeness would keep them interested. I’d done this a few times when I first cooked in France. At various times, dinner guests had been treated to Indian curries, Thai shrimp salad, and Mexican chicken with bitter chocolate mole sauce. We had once – not an experience to be repeated – even taken them to an Australian restaurant that served kangaroo.
Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas, by John Baxter. Page 60.

Review: On What Grounds, by Cleo Coyle

On What GroundsOn What Grounds
by Cleo Coyle
Get it at Amazon

In the first of the Coffeehouse Mysteries, a cozy series set in the fictional Village Blend coffeehouse in Greenwich Village, we met Claire Cosi, divorced writer, coffee addict, mother of a daughter going off to college, and ex-daughter-in-law of the woman who owns the coffeehouse, whom we come to know simply as “Madame.”

Madame, it seems, is dissatisfied with the most recent manager of the coffeehouse, and she has dangled in front of Claire a carrot that cannot be refused: live in the furnished luxury townhouse above the cafe, and resume the management position she left after divorcing her daughter’s father, Matteo, while earning shares of the company.

Claire agrees, and is reflecting upon all of this as she drives into the coffeehouse one morning. Upon arrival, she finds one of her employees lying near death on the floor, and – convinced it was not an accident – becomes an amateur sleuth in order to find the truth. Along the way, she strikes up a friendship with police detective Mike Quinn, and drags Matteo (who has been offered a similar arrangement, but without the management duties) into her investigation.

The plot is fast-paced, the characters representative of the regulars you’d find in any urban coffee bar, and there is enough espresso lore woven through the pages to make anyone crave a venti skinny vanilla latte while reading. To cap it off, author Coyle has included recipes at the back of the book.

This is the first in the series.
Other titles I’ve read in this series include:
Through the Grinder
Latte Trouble
Murder Most Frothy

Goes well with: A classic cappuccino and a biscotti or two.