Breaking my Book Review Silence to say that I love this book, and also that it has made me sob a lot during the last 20 pages, making a change from ma...moreBreaking my Book Review Silence to say that I love this book, and also that it has made me sob a lot during the last 20 pages, making a change from making me laugh a lot for the greater part of the book.
I love this book for many ridiculous and possibly wrong reasons, thusly:
Mal Peet and I share the distinction of having our books Life: An Exploded Diagram and Code Name Verity named as the two Boston Globe - Horn Book Award Honor Books in the fiction category this year (the overall award winner is Vonda Michaux Nelson’s No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller). So Mal Peet and I have met, and sat next to each other and patted each other on the back as we accepted our awards, and were dragged apart just as we’d started a really interesting conversation about Westland Lysanders, and sat on a much-too-short panel together being asked really good questions by Martha Parravano on the theme ‘War Stories’.
Also, curiously, Life: An Exploded Diagram shares all the peculiarities of Code Name Verity that trip up the inattentive reader: a complex narrative structure in which the narrator refers to himself/herself in the third person for most of the book; flashbacks to several different time periods; an overaged narrator for a teen read; sections which focus on contemporaneous historical events which interrupt the action of the story; and overall, a love of the sound of words and something bordering on worship of place. Not surprisingly, I wallow in this kind of writing and adore reading it. I’m reckoning the same readers who find Code Name Verity difficult to get through will find Life: An Exploded Diagram equally dense. But readers who enjoyed CNV might really enjoy Life.
I should probably also mention that this book reminded me a LOT of Red Shift for many reasons, and also that I think it is a bit old-fashioned that way - while being quite innovative, there is a long literary history that feeds into the crafting of this novel.
I love this book because it has made me understand the Cuban Missile Crisis in a way that, for the first time ever, makes sense.
I love this book because it captures 20th century Norfolk and the changes in the land so beautifully.
I love Frankie and her beauty - I love the worship of the desire and sensuality of youth - and I love the triumph against the odds of the Grammar School Boys, first of their kind (partly because I am married to one and like seeing this early description of what the grammar schools actually offered).
And I love that the author, in spite of himself, has given me the chance to believe in a happy ending.
Thank you Mal Peet, and congratulations!
(I don't know if it really qualifies as a Wasteland Book, but there are a lot of themes I recognize going on here.)(less)
It’s 1960, and 13-year-old Sophie is doomed to a boring summer with her aunt and ill grandmother on the decaying remains of what was, 100 years ago, a...more It’s 1960, and 13-year-old Sophie is doomed to a boring summer with her aunt and ill grandmother on the decaying remains of what was, 100 years ago, a bustling Louisiana sugar plantation. Through the strange machinations of a Brer Rabbit-type “Creature” (with clear parallels to the Natterjack of Edward Eager’s The Time Garden, Sophie’s preferred reading material), Sophie is plunged back in time to the plantation’s heyday. She’s a direct descendant of the plantation owners and is recognized as family: but not as legitimate family. Everyone assumes she’s the love-child of one of the tearaway sons and his mulatto mistress. Consequently she’s taken to be a light-skinned slave.
Sophie starts out in a high position, as the personal maid to her great-great-etc. grandmother, but events (and the spoilt teenage plantation owner’s daughter) conspire to reduce Sophie’s circumstances little by little; so that by the end of the book she’s working in the grimmest situation possible, assisting with the dangerous, backbreaking and hellish work of the sugar refining factory.
This is what timeslip novels were designed for - Edward Eager grown up: putting your protagonist through the wringer of her own ancestral past and having her come out a better person as a result. No, really a better person - a more capable, physically stronger, self-sufficient person in addition to learning some obvious lessons. One of the things that I loved about this book was the fact that Sophie changed physically as well as mentally - the changes were real, and VISIBLE. She returns from her six-month stint in 1860 taller, stronger, thinner, chestier, and a mature woman. She does not, like the Pevensie children, grow up and find herself back home a child again. What happens to her is real.
Sophie’s decompression and re-entry into modern life was one of my favorite parts of the book. She is as shell-shocked as a concentration camp survivor (I confess this is where my own current research is focused, and the parallels were IN. MY. FACE); she is prepared to flaunt racial convention in a way that could be dangerous; she is ready for the Civil Rights Movement, which is about to begin in her own time. She's also is determined to find answers to some of the unresolved threads that her precipitous departure from 1860 left hanging. Her historical-society and museum excursions uncover a couple of hilariously ironic family bugaboos which Sophie wisely keeps to herself, but which the reader will hug to his or her heart.
Another thing I loved about this book was its atmosphere - the strange presence of eerie religion, and the matter-of-fact reality of the plantation ghosts (one of which is plainly Sophie herself!) - the delicious mystery of a letter turning up from Sophie’s unwitting and pretended 1860-era “father” which seems to confirm her existence, referring to the gift of a dress for "his little girl."
I’m not doing this book justice, because it’s even more complex than I’m making it out to be - there’s Sophie’s real family, which is falling apart, and there’s the volatile civil rights situation of the 1960s to take into account (Lousiana in 1860 vs Louisiana in 1960? *WOW*), and there’s the fact that every character in the book is complex and has good points and bad points, making almost everyone sympathetic or shockingly harsh depending on what’s going on. The research behind the book is phenomenal, but I only notice it as a writer, not a reader, because the reading experience is so enjoyable and effortless.
I’ve heard a few people compare this book to Jane Yolen’s The Devil's Arithmetic, and that’s a very fair comparison in terms of structure - another book I deeply admire. But what these novels really have in common is the use of time travel as a means to deliver a crackling new perspective on difficult and sometimes appalling periods of history.
I was sent this book for review for the Historical Novel Society and behaved myself professionally for them, and I’m not sure when their publication d...more I was sent this book for review for the Historical Novel Society and behaved myself professionally for them, and I’m not sure when their publication date is so I won’t repeat myself here; this is a kind of an addendum. This book reminds me of the French World War II aircraft-oriented graphic novels to which I am addicted. The background is effortlessly glorious in its attention to detail and historical accuracy, and so very, very beautiful — and yet the girls are all incredibly vapid and the story’s pretty unbelievable. I don’t mind putting up with the cardboard cutout stereotyped characters and the lack of anything resembling a plot until 40 pages from the end, as long as it’s all so very pretty.
A bit like eating an entire mixing bowl of Crisco frosting. I hasten to add: I CAN DO THIS AND ENJOY IT. But afterward you wish you’d eaten a little less and that it had been a bit more nourishing.
I got really annoyed by the use of the word “Pennsylvania” as synonymous with “backwards” and “unfashionable.” Granted, a lot of Pennsylvania is rural, but even in the 1920s it contained Philadelphia, where Katharine Hepburn started at Bryn Mawr in the year this book is set and where Grace Kelly was born a few years later. During the 1930s Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey played regular gigs at the Hershey Hotel, deep in the middle of the state. This isn’t anything to do with the book. It’s just my cultural roots kicking into defense mode. (less)
**spoiler alert** Spoilers spoilers spoilers! (but Tori should read it anyway.)
Much to my surprise and DELIGHT, in this issue Gaby joins the SOE - the...more**spoiler alert** Spoilers spoilers spoilers! (but Tori should read it anyway.)
Much to my surprise and DELIGHT, in this issue Gaby joins the SOE - the Special Operations Executive. He’s burnt out as a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain, his pilot friends are all dead, and his girlfriend the voluptuous redhead Margaret has been squished in an air raid (YEAH RIGHT, how is his destiny directly bound to hers if she’s really been squished? And anyway, when she first turned up in her WAAF uniform spouting French and claiming to be a wireless operator, my diseased brain automatically went, SOE RECRUIT.) So Gaby packs it in with the fighter pilots and joins THE MOON SQUADRON at Tempsford, OH YEAH. Where he starts ferrying SOE agents to France in Lysanders.
The plot unspools as we discover exactly how all Gaby’s girlfriends have their destiny directly bound together and to Gaby… Elena, whom we haven’t seen since Page 11 of Volume 1, is now a Resistance agent in France; and Margaret, who is NOT dead (ok, that didn’t actually come as a surprise) is a fabulous SOE double agent pretending to be a collaborator and sleeping with Nazis. When Gaby and all the Resistance people are caught, Elena recognizes Margaret - en guise de collaboratrice - from a photograph, and in a fit of jealousy, to get back at Gaby (and presumably also to stop her captors repeatedly sinking her head in a bathtub full of ice water), she shops Margaret.
Everybody gets caught and blown up except Gaby and Margaret, who escape in a Potez 25, which is a totally obsolete 1920s French biplane. Possibly Elena also survives, as she is still alive when we last see her, but gravely wounded as the Nazis move in. She appears to blow everybody up with a suicidal grenade at the last minute, but I’m not convinced she’s dead.
Okay, I confess it, this book has really brought out the planespotter in me to the point of cackling out loud with glee. I mean, I didn’t expect the SOE when I ordered the sequel to Opération Dynamo; I was overcome with joy when I realized there was going to be Lysander action in the book, but hilariously, it turns out to be the Shuttleworth Collection’s Lysander - I mean, it is the identical plane with essentially the identical markings. (They have changed one digit from a 6 to an 8.) I know this because I got up close and personal with this particular Lizzie less than a year ago:
…and, well, I am myself a Lizzie and a weinie. Also I checked the numbers.
But as planespotting goes this book gets even better, because every time the good guys get trapped it is because there is this Luftwaffe Storch that keeps swooping overhead and reporting their position. And yes, I am also a Storch nerd. (The aircraft in the book does not have the same markings as the Shuttleworth Storch. But there are a lot of them around and also some replicas, whereas there is only the one airworthy Lysander in the whole world.)
I am in fact such an SOE nerd that I also know they got the landing strip runway lights wrong, and that probably also the landing distances (the glacial valley where Gaby crashes looks to me wide enough to land ACROSS, and why on earth doesn’t he ground loop when he realizes he’s about to go over a cliff?) (Must be lacking rudder control, I guess, having had an encounter with enemy fire, but surely his brakes work?). etc. etc. I don't mind these errors. I love finding them and being enough of a nerd to recognize them. Also, the book is just so. MUCH. FUN.
I *loved* this book. The whole reading experience was self-indulgent. God knows why I picked it up - I liked the look of the cover, I think, after rea...more I *loved* this book. The whole reading experience was self-indulgent. God knows why I picked it up - I liked the look of the cover, I think, after reading someone else’s enthusiastic Goodreads review.
It is I Capture the Castle Lite. Or I Capture the Castle set 20 years later on, in a giddy 1954/1955 England gorging itself on butter and sugar and bacon and pop music after 15 years of austerity and rationing. The castle in question is the wonderful, decaying and doomed Great House Milton Magna, plundered for military accommodation during the war and never quite recovered. In this book it’s the teenage narrator’s ancestral home. Actually, it’s safe to say that Magna, as the narrator fondly refers to it, is my favorite character in the book. (‘Nothing, not the dedication of Inigo Jones, nor the years of hard work from those austere, painted faces that lined the walls in the drawing room and the hall, made me anything other than the most important person ever to have lived at Magna, the one who understood and loved the house the most.’ As the precarious heir to a similarly decrepit building I SO UNDERSTAND THIS.) Out of all possible outcomes, my only desire was for some rich American bloke to come along and fall in love with the HOUSE and save its butt Long Gallery.
That didn’t happen, but all the human characters ended up happy, which really is a much better outcome.
Also like I Capture the Castle, it’s a book about writing and learning to write. In fact absolutely nothing happens in this book up until a dramatic event near the end, which ridiculously I didn’t see coming but in retrospect is really the only right and proper thing to have happened. (And I am convinced HARRY DID IT.) Most of the book is parties and train rides and young people getting ridiculously drunk - all disguising some deep and beautiful truths about growing up.
I can’t figure out why this isn’t a YA novel. But it isn’t. It should be; fifty years ago it would have been. But it isn’t.
‘One would never write a single word if one knew the horrors that lay ahead,’ agreed Charlotte.
‘But if you sell copies by the sackload, you may well forget the horrors,’ I agreed quickly.’ (less)
As in all these French aircraft-related graphic novels, the flying sequences are just superb. I am willing to relinquish almost all plot-and-character...moreAs in all these French aircraft-related graphic novels, the flying sequences are just superb. I am willing to relinquish almost all plot-and-character criticism just for the stunning detail and gorgeous coloring. This 48-page graphic novel appears to be entirely composed of WATERCOLOR PAINTINGS.
Simply for the illustrations alone, the evacuation of Dunkirk is amazing.
The story itself - it's okay, not exactly throwing me any surprises. The boy has met several girls. They all appear to have a certain amount of spirit, but so far none of them have actually DONE anything (apart from hugging and kissing and sleeping with the hero). What is this "linked destiny" of which they speak on the back cover?
I had to laugh at the trick of flying under an viaduct to escape a pursuer in an Me-109 - who follows but doesn't fit, and of course hits the arch and dies a fiery death. I really can't believe that any Me-109 pilot bearing down on a PO-I-15 wouldn't just wait till the dumb bunny in the biplane came out on the other side of the bridge and then blast him to smithereens. (less)
**spoiler alert** Hilary McKay is my favorite contemporary children's author and A Little Princess is my all-time favorite children's book, so why did...more**spoiler alert** Hilary McKay is my favorite contemporary children's author and A Little Princess is my all-time favorite children's book, so why did it take THREE YEARS for me to read 'The Sequel to A Little Princess'? Three years and THREE ATTEMPTS? The answer is, I don't know. I read it halfway through the first time and then just stopped reading and forgot about it. I picked it up a year later, got two-thirds of the way through, and then the same thing happened. This year I was determined to finish it, but it has still taken me months.
I really don't know why. I enjoyed it; I find no fault with the narrative voice, which is a little less formal than Burnett's but still pays homage to the original; I find no fault with the historical accuracy; the characters all ring true, despite every single one of them being given typical McKay quirks and redemptions (everybody gets redeemed, everybody gets happy endings, even Miss Minchin, which is really very McKay if you ask me. But it works.) The story is told from the point of view of Ermengarde and describes events at Miss Minchin's Select Seminary for Young Ladies immediately following the end of A Little Princess. The books climaxes in a GLORIOUS inferno as the entire seminary collapses into a pile of cinders and flame, with everyone, even Melchisedec, escaping over the roof - it's epic, it pays tribute to the climax of A Little Princess, it makes sense, it's been foreshadowed, it's classic McKay (it's my favorite part of the book), and again, it works.
So what was missing? As I'm writing this I'm realizing what was missing. Of course, the answer is simply and obviously, Sara.
She's there a little bit. Ermengarde gets letters from her, and they, more than anything else in the book, sound like Frances Hodgson Burnett could have written them herself - they are so perfectly in character. Sara also turns up at the end and imparts a key piece of information that saves everybody's lives, even though she is forced to watch the breathtaking firefight from safe behind glass. Ultimately, she's not part of the story except in that she haunts everyone by being absent. And I wanted a book about Sara, didn't I? The reason I have read A Little Princess fifty times or whatever it is, the reason I own ten different copies and versions of the book and two different film and television adaptations of it, is because I love Sara. She is my very favorite heroine ever, proud, smart, kind, generous, secretly revengeful, starving and frozen - with nerves of steel and the self-control of a general. She is the original aristocrat-thrown-into-tyrannical-servitude on which every single one of my own literary heroines, AND heroes, is based. I named my own daughter Sara.
I'm only seeing this now, but I think that basically I kept putting this book down and not coming back to it because there was no Sara to come back to. I'd read a bit, realize that she wasn't ever going to turn up, and then I'd leave the book in the summer house and find it there the following year when the weather warmed up again.
So. Here's the deal. If you love Hilary McKay, her wacky characters and her utterly engaging writing style, you will enjoy this book. The spin on the events of A Little Princess is terrific. It's got lovely happy endings for everybody (Miss Amelia and Becky both end up married, Lavinia is destined for Oxford). But if you're looking for Sara Crewe, she's not in London any more.
I also want to say that I love the way the design of this book pays tribute to the Houghton Mifflin hardback edition of A Little Princess, illustrated by Tasha Tudor, in its physical detailing (though clearly it is also designed as a companion piece to this edition: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/64... )
'Oxford is only quite an ordinary town, Lavinia… My big sister bought a hat there once, but she gave it away quite soon. My mother said afterwards that Oxford was a ridiculous place to buy a hat.'
'People,' said Lavinia, through her teeth, 'do not go to Oxford to buy hats.'
The hat on my Goodreads profile picture comes from The Hat Box in the Oxford Covered Market - 'Oxford's only specialist hat shop'! (It is now 20 years later and I have NOT given it away.)
I still buy shoes from Macsamillion, too. I would go to Oxford just to shop in the Covered Market. Of course, that is a lie - I would not go to Oxford just to shop in the Covered Market. I would have to go punting while I was there, too.
I am going to stop writing this so-called 'review' now. Because I need to get my life back. (less)
**spoiler alert** 'Guys will want to be Nick Grant, and girls will fall in love with him,' blurbs C.M. Fleming.
What does it TAKE to get people to real...more**spoiler alert** 'Guys will want to be Nick Grant, and girls will fall in love with him,' blurbs C.M. Fleming.
What does it TAKE to get people to realize that a girl might be able to fly a plane HERSELF????
The irresistible title of this book, and the promise of a cameo appearance by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, were a no-brainer combo for me. But you know, I almost think this book would work better if it were straight-up history - the intrigue never really gets going. However, the story of building aerodromes for the first trans-Pacific passenger flights is pretty darn swell. I get the impression it's also well-researched. I want to put every single one of the 'Sources and Further Reading' list on my to-read list (and have actually read one or two of them already). I learned things from this book.
But the title is misleading! The spy theme was fairly incidental throughout the book, even though it worked as a frame; and when your first up-close sight of a flying boat is on page 169 of a 231-page book, it's not soon enough. I am enough of a plane-spotter that my favorite part of the whole novel occurred between pages 169 and 187, and I confess to being disappointed that there wasn't more flight time logged.
I could have also done with the 'spy' element being less focused on knife fights and more focused on, well, spying. And I wish, wish wish that when Anne Morrow Lindbergh did make her brief appearance she'd been introduced at the side of 'world celebrity and renowned aviator' Charles Lindbergh not as 'his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh,' but rather, the way Lindbergh himself would have introduced her: 'She's crew.'
I forgot to mention the EXPLODING SHARK! There is an exploding shark in this book. I knew it would explode but it was still hilarious when it did. The anticipation of an exploding shark doesn't EVER ruin the effect!(less)
This is really the most fantastic series of books, used throughout the UK for trainee pilots. There isn’t really anything comparable available in the...moreThis is really the most fantastic series of books, used throughout the UK for trainee pilots. There isn’t really anything comparable available in the US. These books are written in clear, straightforward, accessible English - there is an informal feel to the text, as if it’s coming from an understanding instructor with a good sense of humor. The layout and diagrams are clear and easy-to-follow, the lessons proceed in a systematic order, and the text is summarized in sidebars throughout the book. Also, what really impresses me is how carefully cross-checked and smoothly edited the books are. A LOT of work went into this series, and its success is well-deserved.
This first book in the series, Flying Training, takes the novice PPL from his or her first flight right up to the PPL skills test. There’s a bit of everything covered, but mostly it’s the basics of flight. I personally think I’ve read the chapter on ‘The Forced Landing Without Power’ about 40 times, kind of so much so that I don’t really take it in any more and am constantly ashamed of myself for STILL not being entirely sure of the correct order for the Mayday radio calls. EPIC FAIL E WEIN.
I like it that the photo on the first page of the introduction shows a young and fresh-faced female pilot in a skirt and gingham blouse, giving a friendly smile to the prospective pilot-reader . She doesn’t really look old enough to have finished school, but she’s at ease and confident at the controls of a good-sized single-engine plane, a PA-28 or Cessna 172 or something like that. The first edition of this book was published in 1987 and my copy was revised in 2000, so maybe she’s my contemporary. I wonder what she’s doing now.
I almost want to put this book in my “Architecture-Go-Figure” shelf but it doesn’t really fit there. In one of my lesser-worn hats I have a history-of...moreI almost want to put this book in my “Architecture-Go-Figure” shelf but it doesn’t really fit there. In one of my lesser-worn hats I have a history-of-the-circus interest, and I’ve even written a short story about a kid who lives on a circus train (‘Always the Same Story’ in The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales). Trains of the Circus got picked up for me by my RailSim-employed husband on a research trip to the train museum in Sacramento, CA.
If you know a lot about freight cars and the way they’re built, this is interesting and maybe even informative. I thought it could have benefitted from being more aggressively organized - by type, by year, by location, anything, really. I was very sorry there wasn’t more detail about where most of the pictures were taken. I liked the occasional editorial comments about the color scheme of the cars, because you do tend to forget, turning page after page of black-and-white photos of very similar looking “elephant cars,” that these trains would have all been gorgeously decorated.
There’s also very little human interest here, which is tantalizing - occasional faces of onlookers or workmen are intriguing insights into what really went on inside these carriages.
My very favorite picture is of Lillian Leitzel - ‘The Queen of Aerial Gymnasts’ and one of my off-the-wall childhood crushes - reading to a small girl in her private stateroom. She is so very beautiful. She plunged to her death on Friday 13 February 1931 when her aerial wire broke while performing in Copenhagen, and as a small girl I was so enamored of her fascinating story that to this day I can’t watch an acrobat performing Leitzel’s signature rope trick without getting all teary. (less)
Inspector Sinet took a good look at her. She was an odd sort of girl, not yet twelve and wretchedly poor, and yet there was something about her that m...moreInspector Sinet took a good look at her. She was an odd sort of girl, not yet twelve and wretchedly poor, and yet there was something about her that made you think twice. She was worth having on your side.
For STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS, no one EVEN COMES CLOSE to Marion Fabert. You just can’t beat her. 1955, in too-short skirt and cut-down man’s jacket, gold fringe beneath a black beret — the gang’s treasurer, tough as nails, vet to every dog in Louvigny, with a dozen dog patients kept in cast-off rabbit hutches at the bottom of her despairing single parent’s garden. Marion is not the protagonist of this novel, but she is the heroine. She is the strongest, most memorable character in the book —an original, nobody’s sidekick, although she is Fernand’s best friend.
’Hey!’ called Marion.
The astonished men turned, and their hands hung useless and their jaws dropped to see the girl and her sixty silent, straining dogs standing behind them. The dogs were waiting as though they were held back only by some invisible leash.
‘Go on!’ cried Marion in a shrill voice. ‘Catch ‘em! Pull ‘em down! Rotten bums who steal the kids’ toys in Poverty Lane!’
‘Dazzling’ - The Independent ‘Extraordinary and brilliant’ - Sunday Times ‘Blazingly savage and brilliant’ - Sunday Telegraph ‘Who turned out all the bri...more‘Dazzling’ - The Independent ‘Extraordinary and brilliant’ - Sunday Times ‘Blazingly savage and brilliant’ - Sunday Telegraph ‘Who turned out all the bright lights?’ - e wein
For a Booker Prize winner, The White Tiger is remarkable in that the language isn’t particularly fresh or even very dynamic, there isn’t any kind of twist or cunning applied to the plot, the framework isn’t original (a series of emails — it’s been done before to better effect - Salmon Fishing In The Yemen comes to mind), and the subject matter isn’t particularly original either (Q & Aand A Fine Balance paint similar portraits of the corruption and poverty in Indian society). It’s a fast read, which is good, because there wasn’t a single sympathetic character to be found, and I always find that makes tough reading. I like to have someone I can relate to. It says on the back of the book that the narrator is a murderer, so the act itself hardly comes as a surprise, merely as long-awaited and somewhat gratuitous violence. The addressee of the emails never responds and we can assume he never will, and that this ‘confession’ will vanish into ether. There is no literary closure to this book, nor any literary showmanship.
Clearly a worthy effort that has left me colder than it should!
I think I probably read this book half a dozen times between the age of 10 and 14, although I haven’t read it since. Everything is incredibly familiar...more I think I probably read this book half a dozen times between the age of 10 and 14, although I haven’t read it since. Everything is incredibly familiar, although I’ve forgotten all the details EXCEPT how they used their bicycle lamp to generate light to read by in the evenings. I’m also kind of taken aback at how little time in terms of story, and text in terms of the book, is lavished upon Ravensbrück, which made a HUGE impression on me — Corrie ten Boom, you have a LOT to answer for — and the realization that a) she was only there from Sept. to Dec. 1944, and b) she was RELEASED (boy, had I forgotten that). And also, I suppose it’s worth mentioning that c) her sister Betsie died, heartbreakingly, only about 2 weeks before Corrie was released (Corrie gives thanks for that — that they are spared the potential agony of only one of them being released).
So yes, this was my first introduction to Ravensbrück and, I suspect, to World War II. I first stumbled across this in comic book form at the age of eight. It’s not actually a bad introduction to the war because it covers many years and a lot of ground — the rise of Hitler to power, the invasion and occupation of Holland, the discrimination against the Jews turning into full-blown extermination, the rising tide of quiet resistance — and a lovely portrait of life in pre-war and during-the-war Haarlem.
How could I, as an eight-to-ten-year-old reader, relate so completely to a 50-year-old heroine? I don’t know. Part of it must be that it’s in the first person, simply narrated and readable; part of it must also be the ‘little sister’ relationship that Corrie has with Betsie, the exact same relationship that Laura and Mary Ingalls have. And at eight, Laura Ingalls Wilder was essentially my role model. Like Laura, Corrie sees herself as being the ‘naughty’ one, the unkempt one, the thoughtless and selfish one, in contrast to Mary and Betsie’s insufferable shining goodness. This very ‘little girl’ partnership probably appealed to me on the same level.
The Hiding Place is a very Christian book, whose message really did get to me when I was 10 — not so much in terms of converting me, but in terms of really making me want to appreciate the gifts around me, including the fleas. As an adult (and as someone who has read a LOT of Ravensbrück accounts) I find Corrie and Betsie’s unwavering faith a little hard to swallow. But it makes more sense when I realize that, unlike Wanda Potawska or Margarete Buber-Neumann or Micheline Maurel, she wasn’t incarcerated there for years upon miserable years. (less)
I don’t think I really get this book. I appreciate the wit and knowledge behind it, and the premise had me terribly excited - King Arthur fighting for...moreI don’t think I really get this book. I appreciate the wit and knowledge behind it, and the premise had me terribly excited - King Arthur fighting for England during the Blitz. The jacket flap says: ‘Dunkirk has fallen, the Americans have not yet entered the war, and King Arthur and his worshipful Knights of the Table Round are hip-deep in the fighting.’
They aren’t, though; they don’t seem to be fighting for Britain, they just do a lot of bashing each other. There doesn’t seem to be any communication between the Table Round courtly folk and the normal folk who are actually fighting the war. I do appreciate the class issues at work here, but there was a BIT of levelling during the war, right? The characters in this book might as well be in different centuries. Or different books. Apart from a little lip service to North Atlantic convoys and the occasional broadcast from Lord Haw-Haw, there’s absolutely nothing here that references WWII - or, more importantly, illuminates its meaning in any way (and all Haw-Haw ever does is badmouth Guinevere, anyway).
As a gentle parody of Malory, it’s exquisite and rather entertaining. As ‘King Arthur Takes Over Wing Command for the Battle of Britain’ - I must have been mistaken. Given that the author wasn’t really going to bother, why even drag the Battle of Britain into the picture? It just confuses me.
The excerpt below does, of course, make sense, but honestly it shows ALL THE CONTEXT you ever get in the entire book. Guinevere turning on a radio hardly counts as descriptive scene-setting. It might as well be set in a vacuum.
‘Now he’s putting something together!’ ‘What is it?’ ‘It appears to be a fishing rod!’ ‘But there are no fish here!’ ‘And no water, either!’ ‘Still, he sits, the king sits!’ ‘He’s fishing!’ ‘He’s fishing as hard as he can!’ ‘They say it’s a sign of senility, fishing under such conditions!’ ‘It doesn’t make much sense to me!’ … ‘Sweet Jesu mercy, it’s a fish!’ ‘Not only a fish but a good fish, a large fish, a plump fish, a ripe and bouncing fish!’ … ‘This puts paid to all talk of the king’s inadequacy!’ ‘He is as able as ever he was!’ ‘It is a miracle of the rarest order!’
That's a fairly canon serving of grail meat, IMHO. Given the premise, I think it could have been wittier and more germane. Something to do with bouncing bombs, perhaps, or U-boats? Alas, I did not find it to be the ‘dazzling travesty’ John Updike promised me on the dust jacket. And what *is* here has already been done by TS Eliot, rather more poetically.
This is currently my favorite book, ahahahahaha! Although I confess I didn't ACTUALLY read the individual handling notes for all 90-some aircraft incl...moreThis is currently my favorite book, ahahahahaha! Although I confess I didn't ACTUALLY read the individual handling notes for all 90-some aircraft included here.
It says copyright 1996 but it certainly had no internet footprint in 2010 when I was desperately trying to find out what it looked like and if, for example, it might be possible to fill the margins with desperate scribbling. It WOULD be, but it would also be illegal, as "Pilots should not alter the cards in this book in any way or add their own notes to them" - and also, its "irregular use, loss by neglect [etc.]... are penal offences and will be dealt with as such."
It is a very useful book to have if, for example, you want to find out obscure technical details like how to lower the undercarriage in an Anson, or the long distance endurance of a Spitfire with an extra fuel tank, or the fact that "Men cannot breathe in slipstream" of a Tempest at full power, or whatever. SOME OF US NEED TO KNOW THESE THINGS.
I am pleased to report that although I really wish I'd had a copy of this book in my hot little hands three years ago, I've managed just fine without it - ultimately no face was lost for my not having realized until this week that "The speed given as 'Final Approach' is the desired speed when passing over the hedge during an engine assisted approach (except in the case of biplanes where it is the normal 'Engine OFF' biplane approach speed)." Now I know about the hedge.(less)
I have very mixed feelings about this book - my reaction to most books is usually a visceral 'I like it' or 'I HATE IT.' I didn’...moreThe Book of Human Skin
I have very mixed feelings about this book - my reaction to most books is usually a visceral 'I like it' or 'I HATE IT.' I didn’t dislike it, and I didn’t hate it. I immensely enjoyed the rich setting and background and found the writing exquisitely crafted. It drew me along, but I grew resentful of its length; I got tired of so much non-stop YUCKINESS; and I was annoyed by the multitude of narrators.
Despite the anti-hero Minguillo’s glib aside to the Reader on the last page of the story - ‘You loved to be shocked and you craved more. Do not tell me you did not flick through the pages, eager to be revolted’ - I maintain that by that time I only craved an end to his catalogue of gore, which I persisted through chiefly because I am so ashamed of ever turning up at another book group meeting without having finished the assigned book.
BUT. But, for all that, this book is beautifully written and wonderfully researched, and I bow in true and astonished admiration for the author’s ability to blend fact and fiction and make them appear to be seamless. Also, no mean feat, to present ‘historical fiction’ in such a way that you don’t think ‘OH here I am reading historical fiction.’ You just go along and enjoy the ride.
And when I discovered that the last 40 pages of text weren’t in fact more narrative, but rather an extensive historical note, I was delighted - I was so very Done with the narrative by then and really interested to discover some of the incredible and intriguing background of the settings (18th and early 19th century Peru and Venice).
Some random notes:
- I thought the Peruvian sections were considerably more descriptive and evocative than the Venetian sections. Curious, since the author presumably knows Venice more intimately than Peru. Perhaps she’s just so familiar with Venice that she takes it for granted? The passages describing the journey by foot and mule over the Andes were superb, as was the description of Santa Catalina’s nunnery. The descriptions of Venice’s squares and canals and even the lunatic asylum were quite cursory by comparison.
- OMG MULTIPLE NARRATORS. WHAT IS IT WITH YOU PEOPLE. This book did not need five narrators. (Not to mention five different fonts, one for each narrator. It makes me SIGH just remembering. Also, I was annoyed that the Note about Fonts at the back of the book doesn’t give examples of the fonts described, so you have to guess which is which. How the heck do I KNOW which is which? And I am INTERESTED. Who is this information for, if not for the Interested Reader???? Although I suppose this is not the author’s fault. Design staff, are you listening?)
- OMG MADE-UP WORKING CLASS DIALECT. OH. MY. GOD. I have a very strong stomach for the literary horrors of mental and physical torture, if it furthers the plot, but Gianni’s pretend illiterate rambling NEARLY made me give up and burn the damn thing. As with Aibilene’s sections inThe Help, eventually I learned to kind of skim these sections for sense without taking in the full epic experience of the meticulously constructed (yes) but SO RELENTLESS spoonerisms, malapropisms, puns and deliberate misspellings. Also irritating about these sections was the fact that whenever it suited Gianni to quote anything he’d read or heard elsewhere, his grasp of the English language suddenly became flawless. And FOR WHY???? Ultimately, he WOULDN’T HAVE WRITTEN THIS IN ENGLISH ANYWAY. HE’S VENETIAN. (I suspect there are some readers who would really enjoy this, but I am not one of them.)
So… I dunno. I did enjoy this book, mostly, and I have a huge appreciation for the work and background that went into writing it. And now please can I read a book with one narrator only who speaks in Received Pronunciation. Humbert Humbert or somebody. I don’t mind villains, as long as they’re articulate. (less)