Now with the elite Special Operations Executive, Maggie continues her somewhat maverick approach to acts of derring-do on behalf of His Majesty with a two-pronged mission in Berlin. Unfortunately, most of the people she encounters during her exploits there fail to come alive on the page. Add to that less-than-convincing mission details and some entirely-too-coincidental meet-ups, and this adventure just doesn't measure up. But MacNeal has already proven that she has what it takes in this genre, so I'll continue to hope for good things in future Maggie Hope adventures.
Two additional notes: First, this book shouldn't really be called a mystery, since there is no mystery to be solved. Second, MacNeal shouldn't feel the need to rip off scenes from tv shows, although I'm sure it was entirely an unconscious thing on her part. She chose one of my favorite scenes from an excellent show (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but I was still very disappointed. Her writing is strong enough without resorting to copying, even from the greats.(less)
This book got off to a very promising start for me. Nayman's initial narrator (Oscar) said something that gave me an instant feeling of connection. Bu...moreThis book got off to a very promising start for me. Nayman's initial narrator (Oscar) said something that gave me an instant feeling of connection. But, after only a few pages with this narrator, and just as things are starting to get interesting, we are abruptly thrust into a new time and place, and given a narrator (Christine) with whom I not only felt no connection, but couldn't even bring myself to be really interested in at all. I was so turned off by this section of the book, that I had a hard time feeling any investment in the the next section, even though I felt at least some connection with this third narrator (Marilyn). Both Christine and Marilyn hint at some dark secret from Oscar's past that they think they know, though both do it in such a jumpy, pseudo-tantalizing fashion that by the time we hear Oscar's voice again I was more relieved that all the games were coming to an end than actually interested in what the secret was.
It's a shame that the story felt so herky-jerky, because I think that if Nayman had kept Oscar's voice as the sole narrator throughout the book her story would have had the emotional impact she was going for. Instead, by throwing in so many extraneous plot points and red herrings (Christine's opium addiction and Marilyn's conflicting feelings about her wartime photography, among others) she's declawed what could have been a powerful story.(less)
The entire time I was reading this book, I felt like I was missing something, like it was the sequel to a book I hadn't read. Relationships were writt...moreThe entire time I was reading this book, I felt like I was missing something, like it was the sequel to a book I hadn't read. Relationships were written as though there was a lot of tension between characters, but nothing was developed enough (either in the backstory or the present story) for me to really care about where the tension came from, or whether it got resolved. Most of the characters seemed to just drift through the story, occasionally colliding with each other in encounters that were evidently supposed to be very weighty, but really just seemed like random plot devices. I think Kluge was aiming for high drama, but only managed to give us melodrama.(less)
The master butcher's singing club of the title doesn't really figure into this book at all. Fidelis, the master butcher in question, does start a sin...more The master butcher's singing club of the title doesn't really figure into this book at all. Fidelis, the master butcher in question, does start a singing group in his new home of Argus, North Dakota, that's meant to reflect the master butcher's singing club he was a part of back in Germany, as a place where outside grievances can be set aside.
But this story is really about Delphine, a native of, though an outsider in, Argus. It's about her relationship with men, sort of, but really about what she discovers when she meets Eva, Fidelis's wife. In Eva, Delphine discovers the mother she never had, as well as a best friend. That Delphine comes to love Eva's family as her own is fortunate when Eva is struck with a massive tumor. Delphine nurses her until her death and then cares for Fidelis and their sons.
All of this makes for a story that is lovingly told. What threw me for a loop, though, was at the very end of the book when the truth about Delphine's mother is revealed to the reader, but not to Delphine herself. Although I was vaguely interested to have this mystery cleared up, I don't really think it was necessary to the story at all. By including it at the end, it seemed as though we were supposed to think that this revelation was the whole point of the story, rather than an incidental part of the character Delphine became. The answer provided excellent closure to the story as a whole, but part of me wishes Erdrich had finished the book without it.(less)
The first two-thirds of this book were pretty good. We start with young Peter describing his childhood visits to his grandparents in Switzerland. His...moreThe first two-thirds of this book were pretty good. We start with young Peter describing his childhood visits to his grandparents in Switzerland. His grandparents edit a series of light novels, one of which is the story of Carl, a German soldier, and his struggle to return home from the Russian front after WWII. Unfortunately, Peter has only the manuscript of the book, and the ending is missing. What happens when Carl returns home and finds his wife with another man and two small daughters? Does he stay and fight for his wife, or does he turn and leave? Peter is unable to find the book on his grandparent's shelves and forgets about it until he finds the manuscript again as an adult. Then he begins the quest to find the book so as to learn its ending.
The story of Peter's search for the book and it's author is quite interesting. Unfortunately, about two-thirds of the way through, Peter makes a startling discovery about his father, who he had thought died in WWII. The rest of the book is about Peter's search for the truth about his father, not just what happened to him but why he disappeared. This story is much less compelling, and even bizarre in places. Schlink tenuously connects this search to Peter's interest in the Carl story, but neither the connection nor the individual stories are resolved.(less)
This book is something of a departure for Bohjalian, since it doesn't take place in the northeast United States of today. Instead, it takes place duri...moreThis book is something of a departure for Bohjalian, since it doesn't take place in the northeast United States of today. Instead, it takes place during the end of WWII in Europe. As in his other books, though, Bohjalian is not afraid to ask difficult questions in subtle but inescapable manner.
Through the eyes of the daughter of a Prussian aristocratic family fleeing the Russian advance, a Scottish POW, and a German Jew who is masquerading as a German soldier, Bohjalian explores the nature of revenge and collective guilt. Interspersed with the story of their trek west through Germany, is the story of a group of women being marched in the same direction from a Nazi labor camp, through which Bohjalian explores hope and survival.
This book is not a romance, no matter what the publisher may claim. But it is a compelling and well-told story about the relationships that can develop between people who initially think they're on opposite sides of a war.(less)
Some books disappoint on a second reading, but not this one. When it came time for my book club to read this book I was very excited, because I rememb...moreSome books disappoint on a second reading, but not this one. When it came time for my book club to read this book I was very excited, because I remembered that I really liked it the first time I read it. And I was not disappointed. I think I liked this book at least as much the second time around as the first.
This is a story with two contrasting themes. One is difference. Told mostly from the perspective of Trudi, a dwarf, who feels how different she is from the members of her community on a daily basis. And she sees how difference in others is persecuted under the Nazis.
The other theme of this book is community. One thing I really liked about this book is how we come to know so many members of Trudi's community throughout their lives. We understand as well as Trudi does why certain members of the community do certain things, because we have known them almost as long as she has. Hegi does a wonderful job of bringing the whole community to life.
And she is more than equal to the task of describing what the advent of Nazism does to this small German community. She does not shy away from the people who enthusiastically embrace Hitler and his party, but she does portray in a more sympathetic way those who at least question Hitler's policies.
Rather than making a judgment call, though, based on how her characters respond to the Third Reich, Hegi seems more interested in demonstrating the range of responses that existed in a small town, and how those differing responses change the character of the town itself.(less)
Ursula Hegi takes us back to Burgdorf in the 1950s, a time when WWII is barely spoken of in Germany, although its scars are everywhere. This time we g...moreUrsula Hegi takes us back to Burgdorf in the 1950s, a time when WWII is barely spoken of in Germany, although its scars are everywhere. This time we get the stories through the Hanna Malter, born a year after the end of the war, as she struggles to make sense of her town and her place in it. Told as vignettes, rather than as a continuing narrative, Hegi gives her young narrator a keen eye to observe her town and a clear voice to tell us about them.(less)