I finished "Sarah's Key" this morning and I have so many thoughts going through my head about it. I loved the pacing of the story, how it switched betI finished "Sarah's Key" this morning and I have so many thoughts going through my head about it. I loved the pacing of the story, how it switched between Sarah's story and Julia's story up until the point where the two merged. I loved how the style of Sarah's story was completely different than the style of Julia's story. I loved how both stories made me cry, even though I knew what was coming. I loved how realistically the characters were portrayed. Nobody was all good or all bad, just human with human frailties. I loved the depictions of the small acts of conscience and kindness. I had no idea about the roundups of Jews in France. I did know that the Nazis tended to just send children who were too young to work straight to the gas chambers. I think the author did a good job of illustrating why the French people seemed to forget what had happened and how the Holocaust indirectly affected them. I hope writers continue writing stories like "Sarah's Key" that bring the atrocities of the Holocaust to light so we can learn and not repeat those mistakes....more
"The Terror" really came close to that 5-star rating. However the last 75 pages or so were so out of character with the rest of the book, they really"The Terror" really came close to that 5-star rating. However the last 75 pages or so were so out of character with the rest of the book, they really seemed like they didn't belong. "The Terror" is 90% historical fiction and 10% horror. The historical part is much more terrifying than the horror part. Simmons obviously did a lot of research on 19th century Arctic exploration in general and Franklin's Lost Expedition in particular. He fleshes out what little is known about the fate of the Erebus and the Terror with some really great details. He captures the sights, smells and sounds of life on ships trapped in pack ice. I felt the cold as I was reading. The little details are absolutely fabulous. I think Simmons would have been well advised to write a novel that was strictly historical and leave the horror out. In the grand scheme of things, the monster was superfluous. The mythological ending was unnecessary and confusing. Despite it's flaws, "The Terror" was a really good book that will stick with me for years to come....more
I original had The Book Thief on my young adult shelf, but decided to remove it from there. This is by no means a book just for teens. While I would lI original had The Book Thief on my young adult shelf, but decided to remove it from there. This is by no means a book just for teens. While I would love to have a child of just about any age read it (even with a bit of rough language), this is really a work of literature that is meant for adults. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, it works on so many levels that would go over the heads of children. I suspect that it's a book that one could get something different out of depending on where one is in life.
The Book Thief gives us a different view of life during WWII. We've seen Holocaust stories from the Jewish viewpoint many, many times. We've seen English life during the Blitz. We've visited people in countries occupied by the Nazis. What we rarely see in literature is stories about the German people during the Third Reich. This is a story about those ordinary Germans and it's every bit as moving as any other WWII story.
What really pushed this book to the top was the ending. We are told fairly early on what is going to happen. We know that Death is telling the story, thus death is involved. However, even though we know what is going to happen, it still comes as a shock. The ending brought me to tears and I felt a bit silly because I was in a public place at the time. It was brilliant in its ability to bring about such an emotional response. I cry during movies, during old hymns in church, and during inspirational stories on the evening news; but I rarely cry while reading novels. This one did me in though and that's why it gets 5 stars....more
I won this through First Reads and thought that it would be really interesting. As far as I can tell it's a historical romance about a doctor who is tI won this through First Reads and thought that it would be really interesting. As far as I can tell it's a historical romance about a doctor who is trying to find a way to mass-produce penicillin and an up-and-coming photographer who wants to tell the story. The divorced photographer lost her young daughter to blood-poisoning caused by a small scrape several years later. I learned that it was really easy to die from stupid stuff like skinned knees. I also learned that the military conscripted the disparate penicillin researchers to speed up the development of mass-production techniques so they would lose fewer soldiers and get them back to the front sooner. With so much going for it, why did I give up on this book after reading 211 of its 530 pages?
First, the author does the one think I really hate to see in historical fiction. She includes nearly every fact she found interesting even if its completely irrelevant to the story. For example, the researcher and his sister (also a researcher) lost their parents to the 1918 influenza epidemic. In one scene (fairly close to where I gave up), the sister is alone in her apartment and starts thinking about her parents' deaths and how people had to bring their dead down to the street to be picked up by death carts from the churches. The city ran out of coffins and people had to be buried in mass graves. This flashback takes up 5-6 pages and doesn't do anything to move the main story forward. Futhermore, the character thinking about the epidemic was four years old at the time her parents died and wouldn't have even remembered all that detail. I lasted through 211 pages of similarly irrelevant flashbacks that seemed to serve the sole purpose of showing how much the author had learned.
The second reason I gave up is that the characters are so impossibly perfect, I couldn't relate to them. They're all beautiful or handsome, successful, and smart. They are flat and their emotions seem unreal. The romance between the doctor and the photographer progresses way too quickly with no romantic tension.
The last reason I gave up is the lack of a clear point of view. If two characters are together, the author bounces from one character's innermost thoughts to another's with nary a paragraph change between. It's annoying and confusing.
I really, really wanted to like this book and I really, really want to know how the penicillin thing works out. I just really, really don't want to wade through another 319 pages to get there. I have two shelves of books to read and several more on my Nook. I just don't have the time to spend wading through all this to find the little bit of story that's interesting....more
I started Genghis Birth of an Empire with a bit of trepidation. It starts out like a book for teenage boys. Indeed, it is a book that should have a grI started Genghis Birth of an Empire with a bit of trepidation. It starts out like a book for teenage boys. Indeed, it is a book that should have a great deal of appeal to teenage boys. Shortly after I did my eyeroll over brotherly rivalry and impending manhood, I really got sucked into the story. In many ways, this book reminded me more of epic fantasy than historical fiction. A young prince finds himself in the lowest of situations, facing death. He finds a way to survive and rises to his intended greatness. The Mongolian setting is not unlike a setting in a fantasy novel. I usually think of historical fiction as being more romantic and less epic.
I knew very little about Genghis Khan when I started this novel. For one, I had no idea that his life and conquests were so heavily documented. In his afterward, Iggulden says that he relies heavily on primary sources for the history in this novel. He manages to take that documentation and create characters that truly come alive. His portrayal of Temujin's mother was excellent. A very minor gripe for me was that Iggulden never tells us when the story is taking place. Looking online, I found that Ghengis Khan lived from 1162 to 1227 A.D. I had no idea that his reign was so recent and I wish Iggulden had included that information in his otherwise excellent afterword.
Now, I'm not going to pretend that this is great literature or even a good history. It's neither. However, Genghis Birth of an Empire is a wonderfully entertaining read that also managed to teach me about a piece of history I knew nothing about....more
Stephen King’s latest novel has been receiving some major accolades. The New York Times named it one of the top ten books of 2011, making it one of thStephen King’s latest novel has been receiving some major accolades. The New York Times named it one of the top ten books of 2011, making it one of their top five fiction books. That kind of surprised me until I listened to the book. It really is that good.
Now, I’m not a huge Stephen King fan. I’ve only read about half a dozen books out of the gazillion that he’s written. I found the longer works that I’ve read to be kind of convoluted and in need of serious editing. I must admit that this one doesn’t seem to suffer from the confusing ramblings of “The Stand” or “Under the Dome”. I think the biggest reason the story holds together than those other giant novels is that King uses a first person perspective that keeps him from going off on tangents. Also, because most of the story takes place from 1958 through 1963, the pop culture references are historic rather than easily dated. Despite it’s length, it kept me engaged and I couldn’t stop listening.
The audio book narration is excellent. It’s not over-dramatized, yet it’s also not horrendously dry. The narrator individualizes each character without making them cartoonish. I highly recommend the audio version, especially since it doesn’t involve holding a five-pound hardback. ...more
I've seen The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society many times and never even picked it up to read the blurb. The cover looks like boring andI've seen The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society many times and never even picked it up to read the blurb. The cover looks like boring and the title is just silly-sounding. I knew that it had sold a gazillion copies, but I had no idea what it was about. When it was recommended to me by a GoodReads friend, I decided to check it out at the library.
I have to say that I'm so glad I read this book. The story is told with a series of letters between a London author, her friends and a group of people on the island of Guernsey in 1946. The book made me smile, it made me laugh, it made me cry and I often smiled and cried at the same time. The epistolary style made it a very quick read and made each of the characters seem real. I learned so much about the German occupation of England's Channel Islands and of England during and after WWII. (I didn't even know that the Germans had occupied English soil.)
I’m not really sure what to say about “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen. It was a thoroughly charming and entertaining novel. It was well written anI’m not really sure what to say about “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen. It was a thoroughly charming and entertaining novel. It was well written and well researched. It really brought a bit of American history to life. I really loved all the old circus photos that were included between chapters. The ending made me feel warm and fuzzy, and I closed the book at the last page with a smile on my face. When I started, I thought it would be kind of depressing. And, to be honest, it should have been. The prologue, which is re-told in the last chapters, is shocking. I’m not saying that the happy ending should have been sad. I just think that the parts that should have been sad or horrifying somehow didn’t come off as sad enough or horrifying enough. That doesn’t mean that I thought the book was bad. I actually thought it was quite good. However, I think it could have been so much more. It was a delight for the hours that I held it in my hands, but I think it will stay with me about as long as cotton candy.
So, now that I’ve made absolutely no sense whatsoever, what is my conclusion? I don’t think “Water for Elephants” is a must-read book, but it’s good if you just want to be entertained. It’s the perfect book to read if you are weary of heavy, depressing literature.
I loved the way this book combined historical fiction with science fiction. It just blew me away. I don't think I've ever seen alien encounters handleI loved the way this book combined historical fiction with science fiction. It just blew me away. I don't think I've ever seen alien encounters handled in quite the same way....more
This book really deserves two stars. I gave it an extra one because of the audiobook narration by Luke Daniels. He's so good. I wish we could have a sThis book really deserves two stars. I gave it an extra one because of the audiobook narration by Luke Daniels. He's so good. I wish we could have a separate rating for narrators.
The book itself is kind of dull. I didn't know what to expect going in. Maybe magic? Maybe interesting ideas? What I didn't expect was a really abrupt ending. I know that it's part of a trilogy, but it felt like someone took one giant book and arbitrarily divided it in thirds. "Okay, this is 1/3 of the pages, let's break here." I have said many times that I hate cliffhangers. This doesn't even have one of those. UGH.
I will be finishing the trilogy. I got the Kindle editions on a Daily Deal and the audiobooks were really cheap because I had bought the Kindle books. I'm going to try Whispersyncing the second book. Luke Daniels is one of my favorite narrators, but maybe text is a better way to consume this series. Or, maybe it just sucks....more
I don't know if I would give this book 5 stars if I just read it. However, Samantha Eggar's narration of the audiobook is phenomenal. She really voiceI don't know if I would give this book 5 stars if I just read it. However, Samantha Eggar's narration of the audiobook is phenomenal. She really voiced Alice's emotions perfectly. There were a couple of times that I just ended up sobbing.
Now, I'm going to try to talk about content. Alice I Have Been takes the known facts of Alice Liddell's life and tries to explain the mystery of why Alice and her family had absolutely no contact with Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) starting around the time she was 10 or 11 years old. I hope it's not a spoiler to say that I am very uncomfortable with the theory Melanie Benjamin bases this novel on. I did find it interesting to learn that Dodgson was a math professor who was a photography buff. When I did a Google search of his photos while listening to this story, I found it a bit creepy that he mostly photographed little girls.
Although I don't read many historical fiction books, I have noticed that some of them try to include every detail about the historical period. (See my review for Dracula the Un-Dead.) It can be really annoying and too many details take away from the novel. Benjamin completely avoids that trap. She includes plenty of detail, but does it in a completely natural way. Her description of Victorian clothing and manners were especially good.
I'm not a fan of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass, but I was really fascinated by the story behind the story, even if it's highly fictionalized. There's one scene near the end where an elderly Alice meets the man who was the basis for Peter Pan. He's about thirty years old. Benjamin gives the reader just enough of a glimpse of him to leave me wanting to see her write a book about him....more
I am really waffling between 3 & 4 stars here. The Little Stranger is a gothic romance with a few twists. First, instead of a female protagonist wI am really waffling between 3 & 4 stars here. The Little Stranger is a gothic romance with a few twists. First, instead of a female protagonist who gets caught up in some mystery at a creepy manor house, we have a male protagonist who has a lifelong fascination with a local manor and whose life becomes entwined with the family who owns it. It's a ghost story that doesn't doesn't have a lot of ghostly involvement. It's very well-written and much of it remains ambiguous. I like ambiguity in novels. It reminded me a lot of The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales. I'm not sure if it's just because of the name of the son/brother of the house (Roderick) or if the tone has something to do with it. There are many points of similarity between Poe's work and Waters' novel. Waters does a terrific job of illustrating the transition from a society of landed rich to a more middle-class society in the aftermath of WWII.
If you don't like spoilers, don't read any further.
A few things bothered me about the story. Was Roderick really driven mad by the ghost or was he mad to start with? Was the ghost Susan, or was it something else that was interpreted by Mrs. Ayres as being Susan? Was the manifestation a result of Dr. Faraday's relationship with the family. (There doesn't seem to be a ghost until after he's well-entrenched with the family.) Who was Caroline talking to when she said "You!" before she fell to her death? Was it the ghost? Was someone in the house? Why is Dr. Faraday such a twit? ...more
My daughter lent me "The Other Boleyn Girl" and told me how much she enjoyed it. Oh my. It made me blush.
Truthfully, this was an entertaining read. IMy daughter lent me "The Other Boleyn Girl" and told me how much she enjoyed it. Oh my. It made me blush.
Truthfully, this was an entertaining read. It's trashy and titillating. It probably plays pretty loosely with historical fact. But it was fun. And, in some parts, it made it seem as if I really understood what it was like to be a part of Henry VIII's court....more
I somehow missed reading Roots when it was new and fresh. I also never watched the iconic miniseries based on the book. I do remember that both book aI somehow missed reading Roots when it was new and fresh. I also never watched the iconic miniseries based on the book. I do remember that both book and miniseries created quite a buzz in the Seventies. I've recently been reading a bit of African-American fiction and a smaller bit of non-fiction about slavery and race issues. It seemed to me that I would eventually need to read Roots simply because of its impact. When I saw it on sale at Audible for $4.95, I snatched it up. As a bonus, the narrator is Avery Brooks from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He's got such a wonderful voice that reminds me a lot of James Earl Jones in cadence and timbre.
The novel starts out great. The scenes involving Kunta Kinte's growing up in Gambia are rich and well rounded. There was a lot of suspense because you just know that he's going to get sold into slavery, but you don't know how or when it's going to happen. Will the slavers capture the whole tribe, or will Kunta simply disappear like so many others? When the inevitable happens, it's frightening and gut-wrenching. The scenes of his captivity and transport seem quite realistic, albeit disgusting.
The novel quickly goes downhill once Kunta Kinte reaches America. My biggest complaint may be the over-use of the N-word. Yes, I know that the N-word is the name used by and for the Negroes of the time. However, other terms were also used. Haley just went strictly with the N-word though. However, in Haley's defense, while that word was offensive in 1974, it is much more offensive today. I also thought that either Haley did a bad job with dialect or Brooks over-acted it. After listening for an hour or two, it had to stop myself from saying things like, "I's a goan ta..." or "Yes sah, massah sah". I also thought that the slaves in the book were very unrealistic. They are aware of almost every historical event. I doubt the whites of the time were as well-informed as these slaves were.
I couldn't help but wonder why these particular slaves wanted to be free. Haley paints an idyllic picture of slave life. Heck, they have it better off than the poor whites of the time. Oh, they hear about bad overseers and families being broken up, but this family manages to stay together and they have really nice massahs. Even Massah Lee, who raped Kizzie when he bought her, turns out to be a good massah. So much of this novel reads like the positive images white slave owners tried to perpetuate about slavery rather than a condemnation of the practice.
Shanghai Girls is a historical novel that covers twenty years in the life of Pearl and her sister, May, as they move from a life of privele(3.5 stars)
Shanghai Girls is a historical novel that covers twenty years in the life of Pearl and her sister, May, as they move from a life of privelege to poverty to escaping Japanese attacks on Shanghai. They are sold in marriage to a couple of Chinese-American brothers and travel to Los Angeles by way of Angel Island in San Francisco. Once in LA, they experience prejudice, poverty and segregation.
The book was a quick and easy read, but I don't think it benefited from that. It really needed to be twice as long to cover everything that it tried to cover. It was rich in historical detail, but fell a bit flat emotionally. It seemed like I should have felt more horror, sympathy, fear and joy about the things that were happening than I did. I felt like I got a detailed, yet somehow superficial view of the mid-century Chinese experience in LA than I did.
I'm in no way saying that I didn't like the book or that I wouldn't recommend it. I did enjoy it, I learned a few things from it, and I would recommend it. I just felt like it could have been so much more....more
There seem to be quite a few books about Count Dracula lately. Maybe the popularity of vampires is making people re-visit the original popular vampireThere seem to be quite a few books about Count Dracula lately. Maybe the popularity of vampires is making people re-visit the original popular vampire. Dracula in Love is far, far better than Dracula the Un-Dead and less boring than The Historian. It's got plenty of mildly graphic sex and sexual fantasy for those who like that kind of thing, but isn't so over the top that it's gulp-inducing for those who don't. My biggest complaint is the way it twists Bram Stoker's story and puts a completely ridiculous interpretation on Dracula's origins and why he's obsessed with Mina. It starts out pretty good, but really stretched my suspension of disbelief towards the end.
Fortunately, I won this book through FirstReads because it really would have been only worth the price of a mass-market paperback....more
I am so glad I listened to the audiobook of Black Hills instead of trying to read it. It's so dense and convoluted that I don't think I would have madI am so glad I listened to the audiobook of Black Hills instead of trying to read it. It's so dense and convoluted that I don't think I would have made it through the print version. Plus, it was pretty cool listening to the two readers. The one who narrates all of Paha Sapa's experiences sounds like a Lakota. He does a great job with all the Lakota words and phrases that would have just fouled me up royally if I had been trying to read it. The reader who does Custer's ghost sounds sufficiently 19th century.
The problems I had with this book were also some of the things I liked. Black Hills has a ton of historical information covering 80 years of South Dakota and US history. I learned about the Lakota and how they related to other Plains tribes; I learned about the carving of Mount Rushmore; I learned everything I need to know about dynamite; I learned the history of headlights on Harley Davidson motorcycles; I learned more about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge than was ever covered on Modern Marvels; I learned everything there is to know about the Chicago World's Fair; and I learned that George Armstrong Custer was a horny guy and his wife was the original Cosmo girl. (The scenes where Custer's ghost is reminiscing about his sex life with Libby were extremely uncomfortable. Paha Sapa rightfully calls them pornographic.) There's a lot more history in Black Hills, but I think that's enough for one review.
My biggest issue about this book is that it rambled. It went back and forth between historical periods without much rhyme or reason. Sometimes, a scene in Paha Sapa's early life is told in present tense, other times it's a flashback. Throw into the mix the fact that Paha Sapa sometimes gets people's forward (future) memories when he touches them, and you get a narrative that is more than non-lineal.
As he did with The Terror, Simmons dragged the ending out way too long. There were at least 3 places before the actual end when the book should have and could have ended. As in The Terror, there is an extended dream sequence near the end that really doesn't make much sense and actually detracts from everything that came before. There was also a pointlessly long epilogue and 20 minutes of acknowledgments that I didn't bother to listen to.
There's a lot of great stuff in Black Hills, but it sure would have benefited from some serious editing....more
So Brave, Young and Handsome: A Novel is a very interesting read. It's got so many layers and nuances. Set in 1912,the narrator is a Minnesota postalSo Brave, Young and Handsome: A Novel is a very interesting read. It's got so many layers and nuances. Set in 1912,the narrator is a Minnesota postal worker who wrote a fabulously successful novel, quit his day job, and hasn't been able to write anything since. He befriends with an old guy who builds boats, and leaves his wife and son to spend six weeks helping his new friend find his long-lost love. It quickly becomes apparent that Monte is either a very poor judge of character or that he is the most unreliable of narrators.
Monte's adventure traveling in the West show us an early 20th century that is changing rapidly. His buddy, Glendon turns out to have been part of Butch Cassidy's Hole in the Wall Gang. He's being pursued by a former Pinkerton detective, Charlie Siringo. Both men are clearly from a bygone era. Horses have pretty much been replaced by cars. Wild West extravaganzas are dying out. Even small Western towns are much more civilized than the Old West frontier outposts.
Reading this book was a pleasure. It was so vivid and poignant. However, it had a lot of complexity that would make it a good subject for serious literary analysis. I highly recommend it....more