Posts Tagged With: bookreview

Book Review: I Shall Be Near To You – 4.5 of 5

I Shall Be Near to You: A Novel by Erin Lindsay McCabe

neartoyou

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This book is such a good example of why I love historical fiction. Historical fiction can take the liberties needed to craft a really excellent story, while still teaching me a little about the lives and actions of past history. For me, nothing makes things like love or loss ring more true than when I’m reading it in a historical context. McCabe does a truly wonderful job of making all that happen in this book.

I Shall Be Near to You is clearly well researched, but you’re not overwhelmed by facts. The book isn’t about the Civil War in of itself; it’s about Rosetta. She’s a feisty woman who wants nothing more than to run a farm with her husband, Jeremiah, a local boy she’s loved forever. Their lives promise to be happy, if it weren’t for the war.

Rosetta’s voice is incredible. McCabe does a wonderful job of using language of the time and of Rosetta’s upbringing (which would have consisted of only an average education). But her farm-like manner doesn’t hinder the reader from seeing how strong, resourceful, and passionate Rosetta is. And never, not for one moment, do we doubt her love for Jeremiah.

Romantic as it is, this isn’t a book for the weak of stomach or for someone who doesn’t have any tissues handy. About half of this book takes place marching or on the battlefield and McCabe provides us with a myriad of visions, sounds, and smells (especially smells!) of what is going on. It’s gut wrenching and I guarantee you heart is bound to break. In all honesty, I didn’t think what happened was going to happen and I was astounded when it did. I think it was best for the story, but I can tell you it was not what I wanted.

What can I say? This is a great story and adds just a little to what we know and think of when it comes to the Civil War. An excellent read.

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Book Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – 3 of 5

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

oryx

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let me first preface this review with this: it took me forever to read this book. It was really no fault of the book itself. Somehow this became my bed stand book that I only picked up in the few minutes that the hubster and I were getting ready for bed. Because of this, I don’t think it’s fair for me to say the book was “slow” or “uninteresting” or even “confusing” because any book that you only read 4 or 5 pages at a time with isn’t going to have time to catch your interest.

That being said, the first adjectives that come to mind when I think about this book is slow, uninteresting, and confusing. Maybe I’m just not fair.

But I love Atwood. She wow’d me with The Handmaid’s Tale but I truly fell in love with The Blind Assassin. The woman is a genius and even with my sludge-y read, by the end of this book I felt awed. She’s got this post-apocalyptic thing down. What starts off as something bizarre and strange pulls together into something that makes sense (in a horrifying, I wish-I-didn’t-understand-as-well-as-I-did kind of way). Still, even with that, the wrap-up of the book just wasn’t what I wanted to would find. I always do my best to keep out spoilers, so let’s just say I had hoped to get more from the characters we were promised we would meet. I wanted some good interaction but it wasn’t there.

I also have a huge qualm with trilogies that are trilogies just to be trilogies. I feel like the three books should stand alone. When you get the end you’ll realize that this doesn’t stand alone in the least. It could be the most heart-stopping cliff-hanger ending ever. Yes, even more than the season finale of season 4 of The X-Files.

So, at this point, I can’t say if it’s a pick-up or a put-down. I think the rest of the trilogy will tell. In truth, if this were by a different author I wouldn’t even go on, but I trust Atwood and I’m willing to make my way to the The Year of the Flood to see what happens.

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Series Review: Angelfall and World After by Susan Ee – 4 of 5

Angelfall and World After by Susan Ee

angelfall   worldafter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first instinct upon completing these books?

Slow clap.

When I am reading a story I need one of two things for it to be something I like – I either need great characters with excellent development, or a kick-butt plot line. Obviously, if I can get both, I’m in love.

Ee just wows me. It’s not a writing marvel and it’s not a masterpiece but I can’t help loving this. It’s hard to explain why I enjoy reading these books so much. I think I just admire Ee’s risk taking. Honestly, she’s balls to the wall with this stuff. Descriptions are bare minimum, exposition is to the wind, this book is a learn as you go – and it’s going to go fast. I find myself filling in the gaps of what’s happening. Ee is constantly surprising me. Sure, like every ya novel with a female protagonist you get some predictable items but in the long run I just want to give Ee a hearty thumbs up. This book had a ton of “What the H?!” moments that make me all antsy in my chair. It’s well designed and even though some of the character development was a little shallow, I enjoyed it all the same. The Angelfall series, for me, is about the plot line. It was interesting, unique, and it was quick.

I realize that’s a terrible review that tells you nothing, but I’m sticking to it. Pleasantly surprised. If YA fantasy is your style, pick it up! And if you enjoy Angelfall, then World After will not disappoint. Penryn is still a BA and the world is still f’d up.

All I have to say is brace yourself for the ending to both of these books.  You’ll never see it coming.

Not sure when the next in the series is coming – but I’m looking forward to it!

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Book Review: A Woman in Berlin – 5 of 5

A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary by Anonymous

berlin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book. Just wow. I don’t know what it is about WWII stories, but I love them, and this one is no exception. There are so many things that make this a must-read. It’s a side that we don’t always see when it comes to WWII literature – this diary takes place in Berlin, from the perspective of a German woman, as the Russians come in. It’s only been in recent years that we’ve really started to hear about the horrible things that happened in Germany, to Germans, because of the war. This gives the reader just one horrifying glimpse.

This book is by anonymous. This woman was having a hard time dealing with what she knew would be her fate and started to write it all down. She was some kind of journalist, or in publishing, before and must have found writing comforting. She chronicled her life as the Russian victors came in and took what they wanted – namely the beds of every female. It’s a story about survival. She chose one path to stay alive and she made note of the paths others took. She wrote about what went right and what went wrong, she wrote about being hungry, about not having light, about not being safe, about where life might go. This diary feels like it was written from the soul and it’s amazing that we can all now read it.

It’s not just about the occurrences of the days. It about some of the fascinating things she mentions. She hypothesizes on why the invaders rape, why they choose who they do, why they have to be drunk, how the community reacts to the rapes, how the ration cards can still be so organized – any number of things. She talks about grander ideas of war and masculinity –

“These days I keep noticing how my feelings toward men – and the feelings of all the other women – are changing. We feel sorry for them; they seem so miserable and powerless. The weaker sex. Deep down we women are experiencing a kind of collective disappointment… Among the many defeats at the end of this war is the defeat of the male sex.”

It’s just such a great, short, chronicle of a horrible time in history. Highly recommend for everyone, but especially anyone who is fascinated with WWII.

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YA Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth – 4 out of 5

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yeah, okay, it’s good.

Let’s be honest. I picked up this book for two distinct reasons:

1) It’s super hyped and it will soon be a movie
2) It’s set in Chicago, where I now live.

That’s it, the only reasons. I had no idea going into it what it would be. I fully expected it to be far over-hyped, for it to be silly YA, for it to feel like a copy of other books, etc.

But you know what? I liked it. I found myself eating it up. When I had to put it down because life intervened I found myself sucked back in. I found myself thinking about the characters when I wasn’t reading.

To me, this book is a hybrid of The Giver and Ender’s Game. Surprised I didn’t say The Hunger Games? Really, it’s nothing of the sort. It just came out around the same time, is a trilogy, and unfortunately has a similar cover. I totally judged this book by the cover for a long time and had I continued to do so I would have missed out on a really enjoyable read.

Is Roth the best writer in the world? No. But I loved the character she made from Tris. Tris is effin’ scary, guys. I’ve heard some people complain about this book because they couldn’t connect with Tris as a character. Well, I certainly hope not. Tris is a straight-up B*A* with some serious anger issues. She’s still a person and can love and all that crap but when it comes down to it, she’ll do what she needs to do and won’t even care. It was downright ballsy for that to be the character Roth created and I like it. I guess in that respect it is a little like Katniss. I just hope when I get to read the rest of this series Tris stays true to herself.

Anyway, I love the kind of book that gets me absorbed and keeps the pages turning. This book will do that to you. Just let yourself get soaked up in it and you’ll find yourself loving it.

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Reviewing a Classic: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna

With the recent hype of the Anna Karenina movie, I decided it was time to tackle the tome that is Tolstoy – it’s my first real encounter with Tolstoy and I figured this would be the best place to start. After all, I’ve enjoyed many other classic romance novels and Anna tends to fall in among other names like Elizabeth Bennett, Jane Eyre, etc.

One of the biggest complaints I have heard is the inability to keep the characters straight with all those crazy Russian names all over the place. I had no trouble though. No, I side on with the other popular complaint – the damn length. I was so close to liking it, I really was, but there was just so much in-between mucking it all up.

I don’t need to go on and on, Tolstoy has that covered, let me just put it like this.

According to my nook version I read, this story was 1157 nook pages. I legitimately enjoyed 500 of those. Those 500 or so pages were impressive, Interesting, page turning, and heart-poundingly wonderful.

The rest? Well… okay, how about this. Do you know when you’re with a group of people and half of them know each other from somewhere you’re unfamiliar with? Like, maybe they were all in a class together that you weren’t in? Then they start telling stories about people you don’t know? So, of course, you listen because you’re not a rude person, and the stories are kind of interesting, or funny, or whatever but since you don’t actually know the people you’re missing some kind of crucial element to make the experience actually enjoyable.

The rest is kind of like that.

So is it worth you time? If you’re willing to skim, I think so. The story and premise itself is great, it’s just Tolstoy likes his world and he wanted to say a lot about it. It was also written during a time when making a political point in a novel was normal. Hooray for reading it now.

Last night I watched the newest version of Anna Karenina and was pleasantly surprised, for the most part I think they did a great job… until the end. I won’t spoil anything but I feel as though they just missed the mark on who Anna is overall and, especially, why she does what she does at the end. I think the movie implies her motives are out of jealousy when I think it’s more of a realization that she’s wholly and utterly trapped- mostly by herself.

So – all the hours spent reading the book, and the hours I spent watching the movie and I still come back with a shrug and a meh.

Well, at least I know someone cares.

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6 Books to Remind Us of Bigger Problems Than Bad Calls in Football

Last night, my Facebook news feed exploded. It was one in the morning and almost everyone I knew was up in arms – the most horrible thing had happened. They were tearing their hair out, cursing their lives, rolling in agony. The Wisconsin Badgers lost to Arizona State University on a terrible call – or lack of call as it may be.

Now, I am guilty of this behavior as well. I even woke up still angry about it. (Really, it was crap – the refs just walked off the field! I mean – well, never mind. You can read about/see the madness here. )

That being said, I felt a bit sheepish this morning.  How is it that football is the only thing about which we can jointly get overwhelmed?  Shouldn’t we be much more upset about the lack of world peace and starving children?  I’m no bleeding heart, but sometimes there are just bigger things in life.  To make up for my own shortcomings, I decided I would make a short list of books that have helped to give me a bit of perspective.

1) The Road of Lost Innocence: True Story of a Cambodian Heroine by Somaly Mam
www.somaly.org

   somalymam

Sometimes it’s not about the quality of the writing, or the style. Sometimes it’s just the purpose of the story, the reason for writing it. That alone makes this book worth reading. Mam’s ability to tell her story and the stories of others with a real, intricate, and critical eye just makes it that much better.  I don’t think I need to give you any more information about that – I think this book should be read in an effort to make people, especially those in the west, understand that human trafficking and forced prostitution is a huge and horrendous problem and there are people out there still living with it, and people like Mam, who are actively fighting against it.

2) Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan
http://www.nextgenerationnepal.org/


littleprinces

This book is unbelievable – it is SO good. If you can listen to the audio book version; do it. Conor Grennan narrates it himself. He’s fantastic at it and unbearably funny – something I did not expect to find in a book with such a serious and heartbreaking subject. It adds a great element to reading non-fiction like this and I really appreciate it. He had such an incredible experience and story. There are so many parts that will make your heart stop. Wonderfully done.

3) Wine to Water by Doc Hendley
http://winetowater.org/


winetowater

I saw Doc Hendley speak at a conference, prompting me to buy his book. Why did I buy it, you ask? Well, I’m a sucker for any memoir, particularly one where the individual goes off and does something pretty awesome. So I know I would like this book before I even read a single word. Doc Hendley is obviously an amazing person. I had the opportunity to speak with him briefly and sneak a picture with him. He’s a guy who decided to get passionate about helping the world. I’m both envious and guilty/thankful that I haven’t done the same.  It’s definitely hard work to go out there and do good.

To the point of the book itself, I do have to say he’s obviously not a writer. The book isn’t painful, and it’s really quite quick for how reasonable thick it is, but I didn’t find it completely drew me in like other books I have read that take place in the area. To me, the book seemed repetitive – certain stories and situations came up numerous times without a clear distinction of their difference. Plus – since I saw him speak – I had heard some of the stories before (obviously that won’t be most people’s problem but it still challenged my reading).

That aside it is worth reading the book just to understand how lame most of us are in comparison. It’s also worth reading the book to persuade you to donate; or volunteer somewhere yourself.

4) A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah


alongwaygone

Ishmael Beah told his story straight up – this is what happened and this is what he felt. This is one of those stories where I had to keep reminding myself, “This is a memoir, this is not fiction.” I honestly can’t say much about this other than that you should read it. It is one of those books that really means something. Great memoir.

5) Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi


survival

“If I was God, I would spit at Kuhn’s prayer.”

I found this to be one of the most powerful lines out of a book that, if you let yourself really see, always kept you gasping for air. This is a book that never should have been written, because it is a tragedy that never should have happen. But because it did, we must all read and never, ever understand.

5) We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch

rwanda

“Odette nodded at my notebook, where I was writing as she spoke. ‘Do the people in America really want to read this? People tell me to write these things down, but it’s written inside of me. I almost hope for the day when I can forget.'”

Mind numbing, mind boggling, and mind blowing. Gourevitch manages to write this book with clarity and depth and in a way that tells me all the brutal facts but without completely overwhelming me as a reader. I really appreciate that I felt he was able to really convey to me the horrors and emotions but didn’t do it in such a way that I had to put the book down for a while. Because this is kind of lengthy, I really value that aspect.  Well done and I think a great reminder that while this was published in 1999 there are still horrible things happening in that region.

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Book Review(s): Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

outlander   Gabaldon-Dragonfly-in-Amber-220x332

I can’t help it, I love these darn books.

To be honest, I didn’t really want to – let’s just say I can be pretty snooty about books that do really well in the eyes of the general public. I tend to over criticize them and decide to dislike them just because I wouldn’t be original if I did like them. Still, despite my efforts, the Outlander books have me hooked.

In my opinion, what’s not to like? Suspense, history, romance, adventure, this book is exactly what it’s cracked up to be. Somehow even with the dense, incredible amount of words this book has I was with it all the way. I adore Gabaldon’s descriptions – she’s managed to create a word with such meaningful detail. She doesn’t just tell us about the dew reflecting the cool, low sun on the horizon in the Highlands just because she wants to create a setting, she does it because it’s part of the story. I’ve never felt like the descriptions of place and people to feel quite so natural as with Gabaldon’s writing.

Now, I can’t speak too much to reading the dialect in the dialogue, something which apparently some people have a challenge with, based on reviews I had read. I have enjoyed both of these books on audio book – and, though I am sure the real book is nice to – I highly recommend you listen to the story. The narrator is incredible. She has so many beautiful accents and excellent rhythm. I truly believe Jamie and Claire, the two main characters, have come alive not only because of Gabaldon’s writing, but because of Davina Porter’s excellent performance. Even the smallest character has their own feel and cadence. As much as I love to read, it’s not often I feel a deep connection with a character and am truly sad to see him/her go. I won’t say anything more about the story because there are many twists and I don’t want to give any spoilers.

kilt

If I weren’t already married to someone who is decidedly not Scottish…

Anyway, Outlander is great, and so is Dragonfly in Amber. This sequel to the first has just as much adventure, just as much love and sexy time, and one more added element to shake it all up – a realization of what the future truly is. It’s unnerving. In Outlander we didn’t know what the future would hold, truly. In Dragonfly we don’t know it all, but many, we know enough…

Okay, I won’t say any more. Chat with me if you want to gush – feel free to comment below. And If I said it once I’ll say it again -give this audiobook a try. It’s glorious.

PS – I started Voyager immediately after I finished this. Onward!

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Top Seven Books I Loved From the First Line to the End

Ever get two pages into a book and think, “Oh man, this is going to be good.”?   Expect that from these reads.

1) The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

   invisiblebridge

This book is powerful. If you enjoy WWII literature at all – this is totally worth your while. Even if you don’t, you should read it. Andras Levi, the protagonist, is a great character. He’s one of those central focus characters that is almost perfect in nature – kind, intelligent, thoughtful – who provides a fantastic window to see the other characters and the rest of the world. I miss his mind already and I’ve only been out of it for a day.

The writing itself is spectacular, Orringer is overwhelmingly good. She describes settings that make me feel, even more than see.

Beautiful beginning, middle, and end.

2) In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah

inarabiannights

This is the only book I have ever finished and immediately wanted to re-read. I originally read this on my nook and have now bought a paper copy as well.  This is one of those books that I want to scribble on, highlight phrases that jumped out at me and somehow said everything I never knew I wanted to express. Maybe my significant attachment came because I was reading this while I was living and traveling alone in Spain, knowing that a visitation to Morocco was on the horizon.  Regardless, it’s excellent.

So why? Why am I so ga-ga over this book? One of my greatest loves in life is traveling and this book just oozes with the emotions of a traveler. Shah is an individual who is restless, who is curious, who judges people with an eye of disbelief AND understanding, who takes people as what they are and, while human beings are unable to completely ever fill another’s shoes, he incorporates what he can. It’s incredible – I stopped multiple times while reading to ponder or scribble down a sentence. Shah’s words described my own emotions: it’s so wonderful to feel understood.

This book is both memoir and story – it’s a mixture of tales, events, meaningful and not. His ability to tie in everything makes me believe he’s led not only a great life but also a fascinating one – I believe this book is filled with both truths and fibs and it works beautifully into one tapestry.

3) Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones by Erica Jong

fanny

This book was pretty astounding and probably the least expected to be on the list. Very rarely have I reacted to a book with as much gusto – and I’m not talking about tears and laughter here, I’m talking about flat out shock. In terms of fiction, I’ve never had a book startle me as much as this one did and I loved it all the more for it.

Erica Jong wrote this in such a manner that I truly believed she was Fanny Hackabout-Jones. She said in the beginning that she would keep no modesty, and she kept true to her word. The events in this book had ways of simultaneously disgusting and arousing me but ultimately making me truly care for, and hate, the same ones that Fanny did. Fanny wanted to teach Belinda, her daughter, all the things she had learned in the world.

At the very least, I think she succeeded in teaching me.

4) Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

waterforelephants

I have read this book a number of times and, yep, still love it.  This is one of those books that every time I see a used copy for sale somewhere, I still want to buy it.  As it is I’ve bought two copies for myself, mostly just because I love to lend it.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in Baraboo, Wisconsin – a small town where the Ringling Bros museum and winter headquarters are – but this novel is like gold to me. Circus stuff fascinates me and Gruen puts together all the deeper, darker parts to make this a story completely for adults.

The images are brilliant without being overwhelming. It’s told from the eyes of an old man named Jacob looking back on his life as a young man. Because of this, I feel like we see things precisely the way humans remember them. I noticed Jacob’s feelings: his anger, frustration, confusion, compassion, and helplessness the most throughout the book. It thrilled me throughout.

5) Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

wildwood dancing

Ho-ly cow, this is good. This is good good. This is really good good.

I don’t know what I really expected when I began this. I had briefly read some reviews, heard it was a fairy tale and decided to pick it up. When they say fairy tale they mean it in the Grimm sense of the term – man, this is DARK. I was spooked and concerned far more than I was laughing.

The characters are fascinating. We see the world through the eyes of Jena; second oldest of five. She’s the most sensible, mildly attractive, easy to relate to. She and her sisters have been visiting the ‘Other Kingdom’ every full moon for dancing, relating with other world creatures, etc. Right from the beginning we learn that, while her sisters seem at ease, Jena has always had some trepidation about the whole experience. That feeling of unease only grows through the book. It’s extremely high powered.

Probably my best praise of this book is how Marillier puts it together. Let’s see if I can explain this properly: This story is full of twists and turns, however nothing quite took me by “surprise” – I managed to at least kind of guess each new and exciting part to the story. However, I don’t believe that was at all my intuition. I think that Marillier does a fantastic job with foreshadowing – she kept me in the dark for as long as SHE wanted to keep me there. Very well executed.

6) City of Thieves by David Benioff

cityofthieves.final.indd

This book was recommended to me by my history professor – and for good reason. It’s fantastic. It’s everything I want in a WWII setting novel. It had the history, the imagery, but it also had a story that was independent of it all. It was nice to have that fresh piece in there, something many other WWII related novels are missing. The events are so horrific – death, starvation, siege – and yet it’s so contrasted by the vibrant characters. I never thought I would have loved a character like Kolya so much. I seriously wanted to marry him by the time the book was half over. Exceptional story for a little history, a little fiction, and a great story

7) The Help by Kathryn Stockett

thehelp

Holy cow. What a phenomenal book. I read this book at the height of it’s popularity – before the movie and when you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about it. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into – all I knew was that it was a supposedly good book and that it was that month’s read for my book club. I can’t even begin to say how happy I am to have read it.

And, what’s funny is, my favorite part is technically not part of the book. It’s the very end, where Stockett takes a moment to say why this book exists and how she felt, being a white woman who grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, writing it. For me, this helped solve all the questions I had, and the mixed emotions I felt, throughout the book. This is the kind of book that even though some might not agree or might not think she had a right to write it… I’m glad she did.

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