Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tigerlily's Orchids by Ruth Rendell (audio)

I didn't really like this book all that much.  I don't know...maybe I just don't get British humor.

I liked the concept enough: A young man throws a housewarming party for his neighbors, all who have their own story to tell.  Three college roommates, a reunited elderly couple, a recently divorcee who want to drink herself to death, a history phanatic, and the care taker and his wife.  Intertwined in the story our the new neighbors. Tigerlily and her husband / brother / uncle (no one is quite sure!)  The stories were interesting enough, but in the end, I didn't really care all that much what happened to any of the characters...which is probably good considering many of them did not even life to see the end of the book.  

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian (audio)

★ 1/2

"My mother used to talk about passages and, once and awhile, about ordeals.  We all have them; we are all shaped by them.  She thought the key to find the healing in the hurt."

This is the second book I've read by Chris Bohjalian (the other one was The Sandcastle Girls).  I really like his writing style and characters.  Plus my local library has a lot of his books on playaway!!!

The Night Stranger was pretty good.  After a devastating plane crash that kills 39 people, the pilot Chip relocated his wife Emily and twin daughters to New Hampshire.  The old Victorian house that they move into holds many secrets - a door bolted shut in the basement and stories of a young boy committing suicide years before - the family is for more then they bargained for.  The story gets stranger as Chip meets some of the dead passengers from the plane crash in his basement and the herbalist neighbors begin to take a strong and almost obsessive interest in the twin girls.  This modern-day ghost story is full of town secrets and and the strange people that live there.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

* Christmas List Books for 2012

Finally finished all of the books that I got for Christmas last year!!!

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

★ 1/2
 "The best historians...take a thorough knowledge of the evidence of their subject and combine it with a sharp intellect, the warmest understanding of people and the highest imaginative powers."

I first started this book last March and had to re-start in about a month and a half ago because I couldn't remember where I left off.  It was also one of the seven books I got for Christmas last year.  The novel was over 600 pages and it took me about a month and a half to finish once I started it again.  It is an epic novel that intertwines a survivor's account of the holocaust with modern-day characters and story-lines and a wonderful testimony to the importance of oral and first-hand accounts of history.

I first got really interested in the holocaust and World War II sometime in early high school.  I don't exactly remember why exactly, I have always liked history and historical fiction and found the time period to be extremely interesting.  The holocaust was a horrific event and is often very hard to read about, but I became fascinated with personal accounts of those involved and learning about how people survived these unthinkable tragedies.  In high school, my senior portfolio centered around music in the holocaust and in music college music history course, I wrote a paper about this as well.  It focused on the children's opera Brundibar that was produced and performed by prisoners at Theresienstadt, a concentration camp that was used for Nazi propaganda and contained many prominent Jewish musicians, writers, artists, and scholars.  I've completed a lot of extensive research and try to read as many books on the subject as a I can (you can see my complete list here).

That being said, Elliot Perlman's portrayal of the Nazi death camps and gas chambers were the most graphic I have ever read.  The author gave a great amount of detail on the procedures of death camps.  The descriptive and graphic language created an simple comparison between the camps and factories - which, essentially it was.  A factory solely designed for killing as many people as possible.  I guess I was just being naive, but I did not give much thought to what happened to the prisoners once they entered the gas chambers.  I guess I just assumed that they were killed instantly.  And while this was a tragedy in itself, it was nothing compared to the pain and suffering that they had to endure in the minutes before their deaths.  

This was a great story, but it had A LOT of different characters and story lines: a ex-convect searching for his daughter, a elderly holocaust survivor, a historian on the verge of losing his career and relationship, a psychologist research personal accounts of concentration camp survivors in the mid 1940s - just to name a few.  While all of these stories ultimately fit together, there was a lot going on and a lot of keep track of. Normally I don't mind lots of complicated story lines, but the author seemed to go back and forth between each one around every other page.   I might have to read this one again because I feel like I missed some important detaiils while trying to keep everything straight!

This book was #8 on my top ten list of 2013.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (audio)

"Meaning that history is always written by the winners.  When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books - books which glorify their own cause and siparage that conquered foe.  As Napoleon once said, 'What is history, but a fable agreed upon?'...The Sangreal documents simply tell the other side of the Christ story.  In the end, which side of the story you believe becomes a matter of faith, and personal exploration, but at least the information has survived."

By looking at the reviews on goodreads and amazon, everyone either seemed to love or hate this book.  I wouldn't say that this was one of the best books I've ever read, but I did enjoy it.  There was a lot going, and some parts got a little confusing, but that might have been because I was listening to it instead of actually reading the book.  I first watched the movie when it came out in 2006 (wow that seems like so long ago!!!) and the book has been sitting on my bookshelf ever since.  Glad I finally got the chance to read...or I guess I should say "listen" to it!

The novel tells the a contemporary story of the famous search for the "Holy Grail."  While lecturing in Paris, the symbologist Robert Langdon becomes involved with the murder of a famous curator at the Louvre.  Shortly before his death, he left a secret message to his grand-dauther, Sophie Neveu.  When Robert is accused of the murder, he and Sophie begin a chase across France to find out the truth about the death of Sophie's grand-father.  They quickly discover that the clues reveal the truth about a two-hundred year old mystery - and about the involvement of Sophie's family.

There were a lot of things that I really liked about this book:
     1.) Historical information - Throughout the story, are all kinds of facts about Western history and religion including Da Vinci's paintings, the legend of the holy grail, the portrayal of women, and Christianity.  I'm not sure how much was fact and how much was Brown's interpretation, but I enjoyed it none the less.
     2.) Paris - The novel was mostly set in Paris and the author used the scenery and well-known places throughout the book.  I spent two weeks in Paris a couple years ago, so it was really neat to remember all of the places the were mentioned in the book.  My aunt and cousins went right after right after the movie came out.  They not only saw it at a theater in Paris, but traced the route that Robert and Sophie turned out to be a really awesome scrapbook page!!
     3.) Information literacy - This is going to sound really dorky, but I LOVED all of the research that was incorporate into the novel.  My favorite part was when Robert and Sophie visit the curator of a religious museum and search for articles in a database that will lead then to a tomb where a key item in solving the mystery of the holy grail is hidden.  I was super excited that they used actual research terminology like keywords, truncations, and proximity searching!!!

Definitely worth reading!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

* A Year of Reading the World

I came across this article today on my facebook page.  This girl spent the last year reading a book from every country around the world...that's 196 books!  You can visit her blog where she has posted about each book and also has a list of recommendations that were given to her.

I love these types of challenges!!!  Not only do they promote reading, but, like book clubs, it's a great opportunity to pick up books that I wouldn't normally read.  I didn't get a chance to look too much at the list, but she has some great books on it.  What a great way to read and learn about all of the different cultures around the world!  I can't wait to read her book "Reading the World: Postcards from my Bookshelf" when it comes out in 2015.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom (audio)

"What the color is, who the daddy be, who the mama is don't mean nothin.'  We a family, carin' for each other.  Family makes us strong in times of trouble.  We all stick together, help each other out.  That the real meanin' of family.  When you grow up, you take that family feelin' with you."

I've read so many wonderful books lately and this one was no exception!  This novel is set in the late 1700s and is told from two very different point of views: Lavinia, a young orphan from Ireland and Belle, the illegitimate daughter of the owner of the plantation.  After her parents die on a ship heading to America, she is taken in to live and work on a tobacco plantation.  Lavinia is eventually welcomed into the family of these working at the Big House.  As Lavinia grows up, she is torn between her adopted African-American family and her expected role as a young white women in society.  When she is forced to make a choice between the two worlds, everything she knows is put into question.

I really liked how this book incorporated the lives two very different women.  It showed not only the tragedy of slavery at the time, but of women as well.  Both Belle and Lavinia are left with very little choice on what would happen to them.  Even though the story was very sad, I felt it was very realistic and a wonderfully moving story of plantation life in the south.

This book was #4 on my top ten list of 2013.