submitted by Kit Darling and the members of the Bay Area Book Club
In January we read The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff. This gripping tale moves from present to past and back again. Set in Germany and France during World War II, add in a circus, characters hiding from the Nazis or hiding from their past, treachery and bravery, love and loss, birth and death and you have a compelling read. The story is told from the point of view of 2 alternating narrators – Astrid, a Jewish aerialist whose own circus family has vanished and is being sheltered by a neighbouring circus owner, and Noa, a young Dutch girl who has been disowned by her family and is fleeing pursuit by Nazi soldiers. Noa has found an orphaned infant, left in a rail car destined for ‘the east’. She snatches the child and runs. She is rescued near death with the child in her arms and is taken in by the circus owner who determines that she will become an aerialist in the circus. Members commented on the circus community – everyone has their role but they are protective of each other despite their diverse backgrounds. That contrasted with the Nazi ‘Aryan’ ideal. The phrase “bread and circuses’ came to mind as circuses were allowed to continue as a distraction from brutal reality.
Sin Eater by Megan Campisi. 14-year-old orphan May Owens is sentenced to become a “sin eater” for stealing a loaf of bread. A heavy brass collar locked on her neck is attached to a large sloping S; S is tattooed on her tongue. She cannot speak nor can she be spoken to or touched – shunned by her alt-Tudor era society. As a sin eater, May hears the dying confess their sins and then eats the foods that symbolize those sins. May takes their sins upon her own soul in silence to her grave. The deceased can enter heaven, but May can never be confessed nor absolved. “Sins of the flesh become sins of her through the Eating, praise be.” Historically, sin eating was a ritual that was commonly but sporadically associated with Welsh culture until 1906. The novel segues into a murder mystery. May is called to the royal court to attend one of Queen Bethany’s ladies on her deathbed and is then pulled into a royal plot flush with treason, treachery, secret lovers, soiled virginity, and unrecognized bastards. The court is a world of danger and cruelty with the intrigue of the rich and powerful. Good semi historical fiction with vibrant settings and compelling characters and a heroine that will charm you with her strength and resilience.
The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny She’s done it again! Penny has crafted a novel that is both an engaging puzzle and a commentary on current issues. A professor of statistics has compiled a report for the Canadian government on the pandemic crisis. The government refuses to accept the report and its conclusions. Echoes of the horrific deaths in Long Term Care homes, people’s fear of the future and economic recovery all blend into a story that is a mirror held up to our current situation. A definite must read – entertaining, thought provoking and somewhat frightening.
Note: The bookmobile stops at Bennetto Recreation Centre, Thursdays from 4:30 to 5:00. There is no access to the bookmobile to browse, but staff are on hand for contactless returns and holds pickup.
Have you read any of our recommendations? Liked any of the same books we talked about or disagreed totally? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org .