For years, I've thought that France rolled over when the Nazis invaded during WWII. Books like Sarah's Key left the impression that most French citize...moreFor years, I've thought that France rolled over when the Nazis invaded during WWII. Books like Sarah's Key left the impression that most French citizens did little to protest against the repression, violence, and occupation that the Germans left in their wake. A Train in Winter tells a different story: that of the resisters, ordinary citizens who in their own, often seemingly small ways, fought back against the terror of those days. In particular, Caroline Moorhead focuses on the women of the French resistance; these were defiant, proud women who not only supported their husbands, brothers, fathers, sons, and lovers in the fight to reclaim Occupied France, but who often risked their own lives and gave up their children in the process.
Moorehead's tale of these women is well-researched and documented, but I had many of the same problems that others did with this book. In truth, it's probably closer to a 3.5-star book for me, but the second half of the book makes up for some of the slog that must be undertaken to get through the first half; there are a lot of facts that must be recounted in order to establish the atmosphere in Vichy France, and unfortunately, the first half of the book suffers from too much telling, and not enough showing.
I would also have to agree with those who suggest that Moorehead attempts to pack too much into A Train in Winter. There were 230 women packed on to the train that left France for Auschwitz, and at times, it feels as if Moorehead is trying to tell each woman's story, but there simply isn't enough of a story in order to include them all. If she had focused on a smaller number of the women, perhaps the reader would feel more of a connection to them than is possible when trying to remember which woman is which.
That said, the second half of the book, which takes place at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ravensbrück, and Mauthausen, is brutal, heartbreaking, terrifying -- and impossible to put down. It then becomes clear that it almost doesn't matter that you can't remember the differences between the women -- their story is so intimately tied together that it can never fully be untied. This is what gives the book its power -- and lifts it from a mediocre book into something a little more special.(less)
This eternally unanswered question lies at the heart of Sweetness #9, the new novel by Stephan Eirik Clark. A...moreWhat came first, the chicken or the egg?
This eternally unanswered question lies at the heart of Sweetness #9, the new novel by Stephan Eirik Clark. A fictionalized account of the current debate over food production and the Western diet, the novel follows the story of the Levereaux family during the period of the American food revolution. The father, David, works as a flavourist, but he came into his role after an eventful start doing animal research at one of America's leading food production companies. What David sees and doesn't see in the production of the bestselling, ubiquitous artificial sweetener called Sweetness #9 sends him on a decades long search for the truth.
While David struggles with questions of ethical responsibility, his family falls apart at the seams. His long-suffering wife, Betty, fights the age-old battle of the bulge, but is hers the quest of Sisyphus and the rock? Meanwhile, David's children, daughter Priscilla and son Ernest, have problems of their own. But is their malaise caused by the composition of Sweetness #9 (found in almost everything they consume), or is it the result of the "American condition"? And just what caused this "American condition", anyway?
Sweetness #9 veers off into strange territory while attempting to solve the mystery, but with great wit and sharp storytelling, Clark never loses his reader. Tangents aside, Sweetness #9 leaves one pondering the eternal question, thereby dismissing the notion that this particular formula is all empty calories.
*** ARC generously provided by Little, Brown and Company, and Netgalley.
There are many, many, many adaptations of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, so when I received this manga classics version from Udon Entertainment an...moreThere are many, many, many adaptations of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, so when I received this manga classics version from Udon Entertainment and Netgalley (in exchange for a fair review), I went in with my eyes open. The text is mostly faithful to the classic tale of enemies who overcome their misunderstandings to fall in love, but the charm of this version is in its illustrations. The artwork is beautiful, and reminds me of the work done by REM for Gail Carriger's Soulless manga adaptations in its attention to detail. I have to say that the egalley I received of this work was difficult to read at times because the copy lost some of the clarity necessary to read the text, but my familiarity with the story made up for this. Despite this limitation, or maybe because of it, I think this would be a good entry point to manga for those who are unfamiliar with it. It takes some practice for novices to get used to the "backwards" reading style that it requires, so some familiarity with the text will allow new readers to focus more on the style of reading and on the artwork, which is this particular adaptation's greatest asset.(less)
I'm trying to find a way to review The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry that isn't too trite or too cliché, but in the end, all I have are A.J.'s own words:...moreI'm trying to find a way to review The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry that isn't too trite or too cliché, but in the end, all I have are A.J.'s own words:
"A question I’ve thought about a great deal is why it is so much easier to write about the things we dislike/hate/acknowledge to be flawed than the things we love."
This is a book for book lovers. It is not flaw free -- I found the narrative was sometimes rushed; great spans of time were condensed and I found myself wondering how much time had passed from one paragraph to the next. Nevertheless, I gave this book five stars because I was enchanted by the story of one man and the ways in which his heart and his mind are opened and set free.
Isabel Allende's writing is so fluid, so poetic, so beautiful, that you'd forgive her almost anything. Maya's Notebook, which tells the story of a tee...moreIsabel Allende's writing is so fluid, so poetic, so beautiful, that you'd forgive her almost anything. Maya's Notebook, which tells the story of a teenage runaway who falls into a life of crime and addiction, almost gets away with its flaws. Almost.
The story follows 19-year-old Maya Vidal, who escapes a harrowing adventure across California, Oregon and Nevada by taking up residence in Chiloé, Chile, where she lives with an older gentleman, two cats, and a stray dog who follows her to her new home. In her island refuge, Maya learns about the healing power of community and love. She slowly begins to recover from her ordeal and sets out to share her insights with her new adopted family in the village she now calls home. But Maya learns that she has more to discover than she realized and that what she learns may change not only her life in Chiloé, but her fate.
Maya's Notebook is a beautifully written book, but it relies on the strength of its characters, not its plot. It's fair to say that its plot is weak; the resolution seems forced and far too neat given the premise of the book. But Allende's strength is her ability to create such vivid worlds and characters that you feel like you're on the island of Chiloé with Maya, Manuel Arias and all the other characters. I enjoyed the escape more than the reasons for being there.(less)
Note: this is a review of an advanced reading copy from Netgalley and Simon and Schuster. The final publication may differ from the material reviewed...moreNote: this is a review of an advanced reading copy from Netgalley and Simon and Schuster. The final publication may differ from the material reviewed here.
I'm not sure I can adequately express my thoughts on We Are Not Ourselves, the debut novel by Matthew Thomas. In my notes, I wrote that none of the characters are likeable and that the book reminds me a lot of The Winter of our Discontent, Death of a Salesman, and Revolutionary Road in tone -- in general, an all around bleak sort of story about the gulf between expectation and reality. Having finished the book, I would say that there's more going on than just that. There's also the gulf between guilt and empathy and an underlying sense of resignation. The characters are at times infuriating -- Eileen Leary (née Tumulty), determined, come hell or high water, to seize the brass ring of the American Dream, Ed Leary, her husband, so set in his ways that they seem to be heading for an impasse, and their son Connell, floating through life without ambition or concern. Through the first part of the novel, I felt not only disconnected from the Learys but actively reviled by them, but the devastation visited upon them in the course of the story made their transgressions against one another if not understandable, then at least forgivable.
I don't want to spoil the book (although what happens to alter the course of the Leary family is foreshadowed heavily) but suffice it to say that it causes a radical shift in how they perceive one another, as well as the life they have created together.
This is not a perfect novel; it can stand at times for greater flow between the perspectives told from Eileen's point of view and those of her son, Connell. Still, Thomas' prose is strong and faithful. He has created a novel of impressive depth and gravity, which is all too uncomfortably real.(less)
I just finished a series of books that I think could only be described as Serious Reading, so I wanted something light and sweet and enjoyable and boy...moreI just finished a series of books that I think could only be described as Serious Reading, so I wanted something light and sweet and enjoyable and boy, did I ever get that with this book. I actually debated giving it only 4 stars because I usually save my 5 stars for the aforementioned Serious Reading, or at least books that make me think, but this just hit the right spot and I enjoyed it so much that I felt bad leaving that last star off.
I won't go into an in-depth discussion of what Attachments is about; you can read the summary elsewhere. All I can say is that I love Rainbow Rowell's writing -- I read Eleanor and Park last year, and also really enjoyed that book; Rowell has a way of writing sympathetic characters that aren't cloying. They are self-deprecating but not pathetic. Ms. Rowell also has a way with words, sometimes writing things that I feel compelled to underline and quote. If that's not enough for five stars, then maybe I should revisit my entire system.(less)
There have been so many books written about World War II that you start to think that it is impossible to come up with a new way of telling such a fam...moreThere have been so many books written about World War II that you start to think that it is impossible to come up with a new way of telling such a familiar story. There is a groove in the path of history that points to Europe during Nazi occupation. Admittedly, at times, I grew restless while reading All the Light We Cannot See, wanting just to get to the point already, there must be a point, there's always a point to these types of books...
This is a book that you can't rush through because only in slowing down do you appreciate what the point is: there is beauty even in chaos; there is order even in disorder. For Marie-Lauré LeBlanc, the blind daughter of a Parisian locksmith, and for Werner Pfennig, an orphaned boy caught up in the Nazi machine of war, beauty and order come from the veracity of the intellectual world. Werner's gift in being technically proficient and Marie-Lauré's ability to see beauty in the world even without the sense of sight bind them in a way that leads to their inevitable meeting, and leaves the reader hoping for their escape from such a mad world to be reality.(less)
I'm such a sucker for a good family saga, and even moreso if it involves magical realism. I am not sure why the publisher saw fit to categorize this a...moreI'm such a sucker for a good family saga, and even moreso if it involves magical realism. I am not sure why the publisher saw fit to categorize this as YA, except that Ava is, for the bulk of the story, a 16-year-old girl, but I think The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender transcends its categorization and would appeal to readers of many ages. It is indeed beautiful and strange, but more than that, it's magical.(less)