Showing posts with label world war 2. Show all posts
Showing posts with label world war 2. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

2 Mini-Reviews and They Are Both AWESOME.

So busy around here these days, reader friends!  In the last couple of weeks, I've run 3 races (if you include my virtual 10K--recap coming soon!), we road tripped to Connecticut to watch my stepbrother graduate from the Coast Guard's Officer Candidate School (woot!), I had a busy/excellent Mother's Day with my crew, and (most importantly) my husband successfully defended his doctoral dissertation after 7 LONG years of hard work!!!  I am beyond excited for him, and we are gearing up for the graduation this weekend.
Me, my brother, and my stepbrother at OCS graduation.  I am a proud seester!  Go Coast Guard!
Then we have all the things on the horizon: Small Fry's last couple weeks of preschool, planning for my mom's 60th birthday celebrations in June, gearing up for a beach vacation in July...

These are all great reasons to be busy, but my head is spinning and it leaves little time for bloggy activities.  Luckily, I am still reading, because I have so many good books on the docket right now that I'm having a tough time choosing between them!  And for my running friends--my marathon training starts on Tuesday (the 17th), so I'm getting ready to fit that into my life as well.

If you want to stay up-to-date on my reading/running activities, your best bet is Instagram (@thewellreadredhead), because a quick snap from my phone takes way less time these days than a blog post.  ;)  But lucky you, I did manage two mini reviews for today...and both of these books rocked my socks!

Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer
Da Capo Press, 2007
personal purchase

I hope that Switzer's name is, at the very least, ringing a small bell for you, but if not: she was the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967.  (Roberta Gibb ran it before her, but "bandited" the race--ran it without registering--whereas Switzer actually registered (as K.V. Switzer) and ran it with a bib.)  Because she registered with her initials, race officials did not realize she was a woman until the race was underway and the press trucks started following her.  One of the officials was so furious that he actually tried to attack her/rip her bib off during the race--a now-famous confrontation that she was able to escape, as she went on to finish the race.

Switzer's story was incredibly inspiring to me well before I read her memoir, but after I finished Marathon Woman, I had a whole new respect for her journey.  After that first marathon (Boston was her first!), she went on to cut over an HOUR from her marathon PR, win the NYC Marathon, and organize an international series of women's races that showed the world that women are just as capable of running (and competing) in distance races as men.  All of these things had an integral role in making women's running a respected sport (leading to the eventual addition of the women's marathon to the Olympic games) and helped make it the mainstream activity that it is today.  If you are a woman who runs, for fun or for competition, Kathrine Switzer is someone you should thank!

To top it off, Switzer's voice in the memoir is wonderfully candid and funny, while still emphasizing the lasting importance of her work in women's sports.  (I also had the AMAZING opportunity to meet Switzer at the Right to Run 19K in Seneca Falls, NY last weekend, and can tell you that her demeanor is every bit as inspiring and lighthearted in person!)  This book is NOT just for runners!  If you want a memoir that inspires, I can't recommend this one enough.
My copy of Marathon Woman. Now featuring extra awesomeness!
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Simon & Schuster, 2016
copy received from the publisher for an honest review

The #1 reason I picked up this book was because of its author.  I've not found a Chris Cleave book yet that did not agree with me (and/or was downright amazing--Gold is one of my favorites).  That said, I was a little unsure about the subject matter in this one, as WWII era historical fiction novels have been hit-or-miss for me in the past.  I know that's a real broad genre to comment upon, but still.  I had my reservations.  To give a very general synopsis, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is set in WWII London during the Blitz, and focuses on three (okay, the description says three, but I think it's more accurate to say five) extremely different characters that are thrown together in the desperate circumstances created by the war.

WHY DID I HAVE RESERVATIONS?  This is likely on my favorites list for 2016. You know how sometimes you're reading a book, and things are happening that are making you get very emotional, or at the very least are causing your blood pressure to rise, and it all just gets to be TOO MUCH and you have to set the book down for a while so you can catch your breath and recoup?  This is that book.  And I just love a book that can leave me breathless for a bit, don't you?

In addition to being in awe of the events of the story as they unfolded, I was also impressed by the writing.  Cleave's prose is insightful and incredibly quotable (thank goodness I read this on my Kindle, as the highlighting was fast and furious), and the dialogue (especially Mary's and Alistair's) is amusing and snappy.  Even if you're unsure if this story is right for you, genre-wise, the novel is worth reading just so you can steep yourself in such excellent wordsmithing.

Read. Enjoy. Thank me later!

What are your current reads?  Have you met any authors/gone to any book signings lately?  What recent read of yours has had the best/most enjoyable dialogue?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Book Review: The Bridge of Years by May Sarton

Title: The Bridge of Years
Author: May Sarton
Publisher: WW Norton
Publication Date: April 18, 1946
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

This novel, first published in 1946, is one of May Sarton's earliest and, some critics think, one of her best. It takes place during the years between the world wars and explores the life of a Belgian family, the Duchesnes, and their mutual devotion which intensifies under the shadow of impending disaster.

Mélanie Duchesne, mother of three, is an active businesswoman, whose courage, energy, and optimism bind the family and its farm together. Paul, her husband, is a philosopher, detached, moody, continually embroiled in the spiritual conflicts of a crumbling Europe.

The last years before the second war are tense ones, a time for stock-taking, for a quickening of the pace of life. But it is Mélanie who encourages her family to proceed with their plans, to continue with their way of life. And it is Mélanie who decides their future as the Germans launch their invasion of Belgium.

My Review:

I'll admit it--when I started looking for a book for this month's Around the World challenge, I wasn't super stoked.  I was having a really hard time finding a good Belgium pick.  I usually try to choose a monthly novel for this challenge that looks at least somewhat familiar to me, but nothing on the Belgium list jumped out.  However, based on its description, I put The Bridge of Years on hold at the library and hoped for the best.

Final verdict: SO GLAD that I gave this one a chance!  May Sarton's writing is absolutely beautiful, and I found myself completely enveloped in the Duchesnes' daily drama right from page one.

I will note right away that this is not a novel with an "action" plot.  Despite being set in a very turbulent political period, this is very much a character-driven work.  Sarton hones in on the relationships between each member of the Duchesne family, and spends a lot of time developing their joys, misgivings, and philosophies as the book progresses.  When the novel begins, World War 1 has just ended--by the end, World War 2 has recently pushed into Belgium.  What Sarton manages to do is create a concise illustration of the Duchesnes' ever-changing family dynamic, as the politics and worries of the wider world bear down upon them.

What is most striking about this novel is how each character brilliantly comes to life on the page.  A period of twenty years goes by in the course of the book, and yet Sarton is able to convincingly portray the maturity and development of each widely-different person: everyone from Melanie, the vivacious and charitable family matriarch, to Pierre, a young family friend who often spends summers with the Duchesnes.  Sarton eloquently delineates every character's inner conflicts, and to me, this is The Thing that makes this novel worth devouring.  She writes, in just 342 pages, words that seem like they belong in a much longer epic novel:

"Life was not lived at the point of intensity...when he finished his first book, when Colette was conceived.  Life might be conceived there, but it was maintained on another level, less pure, less violent, closer to earth, difficult, gradual, asking above all the ability to endure."

The last third of the novel did feel a little slower for me, as politics become a larger part of the Duchesnes' everyday lives.  However, I felt such a bond with the characters by then that it really did not disrupt my reading experience.  And the ending left me with a lot to think about, as the Duchesnes try to determine if their way of life can continue as war becomes their daily reality.

I feel like I can't do this one justice in one small review.  So you'll just have to trust me.  If you're looking for an introspective, fluidly-written, character-driven novel, The Bridge of Years is a wonderful choice.  This one snuck up on me, and reminded me that the more well-known novels are not the only good ones out there!

What novels have taken you by surprise lately?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Book Review: Frozen In Time by Mitchell Zuckoff

Title: Frozen In Time
Author: Mitchell Zuckoff
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
Source: ARC received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

On November 5, 1942, a U.S. cargo plane on a routine flight slammed into the Greenland ice cap. Four days later, a B-17 on the search-and-rescue mission became lost in a blinding storm and also crashed. Miraculously, all nine men on the B-17 survived. The U.S. military launched a second daring rescue operation, but the Grumman Duck amphibious plane sent to find the men flew into a severe storm and vanished.

In this thrilling adventure, Mitchell Zuckoff offers a spellbinding account of these harrowing disasters and the fate of the survivors and their would-be saviors. Frozen in Time places us at the center of a group of valiant airmen fighting to stay alive through 148 days of a brutal Arctic winter by sheltering from subzero temperatures and vicious blizzards in the tail section of the broken B-17 until an expedition headed by famed Arctic explorer Bernt Balchen attempts to bring them to safety.

But that is only part of the story that unfolds in Frozen in Time. In present-day Greenland, Zuckoff joins the U.S. Coast Guard and North South Polar--a company led by the indefatigable dreamer Lou Sapienza, who worked for years to solve the mystery of the Duck's last flight--on a dangerous expedition to recover the remains of the lost plane's crew.

Drawing on intensive research and Zuckoff 's firsthand account of the dramatic 2012 expedition, Frozen in Time is a breathtaking blend of mystery, adventure, heroism, and survival. It is also a poignant reminder of the sacrifices of our military personnel and their families--and a tribute to the important, perilous, and often-overlooked work of the U.S. Coast Guard.

My Review:

Two things initially drew my attention towards this book: first, it's Coast Guard-related (both my brother and stepbrother are Coasties, and I am exceedingly proud of them!).  Second, I was intrigued by the unique blend of past-meets-present that Zuckoff proposed in the book's synopsis.  Books that are purely nonfiction-historical usually don't grab me, but if that history is blended with a modern-day twist, I'm on board.

And let me tell you how happy I am that I tagged along for this ride.

Zuckoff's book reads like an intense, unpredictable docu-drama.  I didn't think that a nonfiction book could keep me in my seat better than an action movie, but this one did.  Zuckoff begins his narrative in November 1942, introducing us to the crew members of a Grumman Duck airplane that is soon fated to crash on Greenland's ice cap.  From there, the chapters alternate between the story surrounding the Duck's crash, and the 2012 journey of Lou Sapienza, a man hell-bent on finding the remains of the Duck and bringing its crew members home.  Zuckoff joined Sapienza's team as they traveled to Greenland for the search, so his accounts on that front are all first-hand.

The alternation between 1942 and 2012 is part of what makes the reading experience so intense.  Zuckoff has a knack for ending a chapter precisely at a big turning point, which makes you want to tear through the next chapter so that you can get to the next part of the story.  Except, he does the same thing to you at the end of the next chapter...and the next...and the next.  Until it's 2am and suddenly you're wondering why you didn't go to bed yet.

As I mentioned before, I sometimes have a hard time keeping interest in historical nonfiction books, but Zuckoff's writing in the 1942 chapters was far from dry or boring.  He takes care to make sure each crew member involved in the incident is thoroughly profiled.  As a reader, this makes you feel not only like you know each person, but that you are with them as they struggle for survival on the ice: their failures and successes make you cringe and celebrate as they go.  The trials and tribulations through which they had to persevere are astounding, and surely would have broken many weaker men and women.  I have similar admiration for the hard work of the members of the 2012 search team.  I felt invested in both stories--which sounds funny since they are true accounts, unaffected by my support or nonsupport--but it makes all the difference in terms of keeping your interest in the book.

The only wish I had for this epic tale was that a little more information could be provided about the 2012 Duck search.  The search team's adventures on the ice are intense, but their story ends when the search is almost--but not quite--completed.  I know this was likely done simply because that is as far as the search got before the book's publication, but what can I say--I'm a reader with big demands.  Holding off on publication until just a tad more of the work was completed would have made me happy.  I feel like I got so steeped in the search that I wanted to see it out all the way through to its total conclusion.

Final verdict?  This book would be an absolutely fabulous movie.  The story behind it is amazing, and highlights the bravery and dedication of America's wartime heroes.  (For the record: I already sent a copy to my Coastie brother for his birthday, because I think he will find it pretty inspiring!)  Plus, the determination of the 2012 search team is incredible.  Jon Krakauer fans, rejoice--you just found your next must-read.

Much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Mitchell Zuckoff on his website, Facebook page, or Twitter account.

Also (because I'm full of goodies and links today), here's the book trailer:

Have you read any great nonfiction lately?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book Review: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Title: The Storyteller
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: February 26, 2013
Source: bought a copy from Norwich Bookstore at her VT event on 2/26!

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Sage Singer befriends an old man who's particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone's favorite retired teacher and Little League coach. They strike up a friendship at the bakery where Sage works. One day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses…and then he confesses his darkest secret - he deserves to die, because he was a Nazi SS guard. Complicating the matter? Sage's grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.

What do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who's committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren't the party who was wronged? And most of all - if Sage even considers his request - is it murder, or justice?

My Review:

I know, I know.  You're all tired of me waxing poetic about Jodi Picoult's novels.  But hear me out!  Because I just finished her newest one, and yes, I loved it...but I think you will too.

I will admit that, going in, I was feeling a little ambivalent about the topic.  I mentioned in my recent review of The Thief of Auschwitz that I am always unsure how fiction authors will be able to take on the Holocaust in a way that is original, and thus worthwhile for the reader.  I'm not trying to say they shouldn't write about it (I think it's important to do so, to continue sharing the experience of those victimized).  But it's fiction, not nonfiction--so the author does have some responsibility for putting a unique twist or angle on it in order to keep the interest of the reader.  Not easy with a subject that's been tackled so many times.

However, this book is in three parts, with the second part told from the POV of Minka, Sage's grandmother and a Holocaust survivor.  And within a few pages of starting Minka's narrative, I knew this was not a repeat of novels past.  As you would expect from this subject, Minka's story is simply horrific, and Picoult glosses over nothing.  There were times that I had to put the book aside for a while and take a breather before returning.  And the truly horrible thing is, having attended the author's tour event last month, I knew that most of these hideous events were NOT fictional.  Picoult interviewed many Holocaust survivors and used parts of their actual stories as events in the novel (she recounted them at the event and then I later recognized them in the book).  Knowing that made it all the more heart-wrenching to read, and lent an air of truth to this fictional tale.

As expected from any Picoult novel, the book is full of moral and ethical questions.  Do we all have good and evil within us?  How does one reign over the other?  And if someone practices more evil than good, does that make it okay to hurt them back?  Can you ever forgive them, or yourself?  It gives you a lot to contemplate, and to make it more intriguing, you have a lot of angles to contemplate from.  There is Sage and Josef's story, but then you also get Minka's POV, as well as a side story that she wrote in her childhood.  All of these perspectives are essentially attacking the same questions, but as a reader, it gives you a fuller understanding of the moral ambivalence of the novel.  And Picoult does a wonderful job intersecting all of these views throughout the book, leaving you guessing about what direction it will eventually take.

If you've read any JP novels before, you're probably wondering--is there a big twist at the end?  She is certainly known for that.  There is a that is still sticking in my brain and making me replay the novel in my mind quite a bit.  I won't say it's completely unpredictable (you get the sense that something is afoot once Part 3 begins, and I kind of figured it out a few pages before it was revealed), but it's not blatant either.  Certainly leaves you wanting to devour the last third of the book, that's for sure.

My one complaint about this one?  Too many current event/technology references!  I feel like Picoult was trying way too hard to make her book "hip" and contemporary by throwing these things in willy-nilly.  Constant reference to iPhones, Flip cameras (aren't they outdated already?), FiOS, Snooki, was a bit much, and is going to make this book sound extremely dated in about 5 years time.  I've never noticed this in her other novels and I'm not sure why she went in that direction here (it really wasn't necessary given the topic at hand).  It didn't ruin the novel by any means, but it was very noticeable.

My final verdict: this book was outstanding, up there on my list of Picoult faves.  She handles an often-used historical event with amazing accuracy and sensitivity, while also weaving a complex tale that will leave you stuck to the book and wishing your son would nap for just five more minutes, for heaven's sake, because you only have 10 pages left.  Not that I would know anything about that.  It's just an example.  The point is, READ IT!

Other reviews of The Storyteller:
So Many Books, So Little Time
...But Books Are Better
All The Books I Can Read

Have you read any other Holocaust-centric novels that really moved you?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book Review: The Thief of Auschwitz by Jon Clinch

Title: The Thief of Auschwitz
Author: Jon Clinch
Publisher: unmediated ink (self-published)
Publication Date: January 2013
Source: e-book provided by the author for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads :

"The camp at Auschwitz took one year of my life, and of my own free will I gave it another four."

So begins The Thief of Auschwitz, the much-anticipated new novel from Jon Clinch, award-winning author of Finn and Kings of the Earth.

In The Thief of Auschwitz, Clinch steps for the first time beyond the deeply American roots of his earlier books to explore one of the darkest moments in mankind’s history—and to do so with the sympathy, vision, and heart that are the hallmarks of his work.

Told in two intertwining narratives, The Thief of Auschwitz takes readers on a dual journey: one into the death camp at Auschwitz with Jacob, Eidel, Max, and Lydia Rosen; the other into the heart of Max himself, now an aged but extremely vital—and outspoken—survivor. Max is a renowned painter, and he’s about to be honored with a retrospective at the National Gallery in Washington. The truth, though, is that he’s been keeping a crucial secret from the art world—indeed from the world at large, and perhaps even from himself—all his life long.

The Thief of Auschwitz reveals that secret, along with others that lie in the heart of a family that’s called upon to endure—together and separately—the unendurable.

My Review:

Remember back when I said I was struggling with self-published novels?  To summarize; I said that I had had very bad luck with self-pubs in the past (which is why my review policy says I do not accept them for review).  However, I had been solicited to review several that sounded really, really promising, so I took the plunge and agreed to read two of them.  The first was Bluff by Lenore Skomal, which, though it had its hitches, was overall a very coherent and engaging read.  My cold reviewer heart began to melt, just a tad.

The Thief of Auschwitz is the second self-published novel that I decided to read and review.  This is partially because I was intrigued by Jon Clinch's personal publication journey.  You can read about it HERE, but basically, he had what so many authors covet: a publishing deal with Random House.  Even so, it ended up causing him more frustration than success, so for his newest novel, he decided to self-publish.  His "microbrewery approach," as he calls it, allows him to have more control over the success or failure of his writing, from the social media outreach, to the sales numbers on Amazon.  It was a risky move, but admirable--and so far, it seems to be working.

Okay, enough talking about how Jon Clinch kicked the publishing industry in the ass.  What did I think of the book?

I thought...the book rocked.

Gripping, masterfully written, profound--I sound like a flippin' book jacket, but The Thief of Auschwitz is all of these things.

The Holocaust is a difficult subject for authors to tackle, because it's been written about so many times before.  Adding another fictional perspective runs the risk of either not hitting the mark that the nonfiction accounts describe, or repeating the impassioned efforts of other fiction novels.  However, The Thief of Auschwitz is not lacking in authenticity or sentiment, and in fact captures the harrowing everyday lives of the death camp prisoners in a way that I found to be remarkably unique.

Clinch's writing style is much of what drives that uniqueness.  Most Holocaust books I've read (everything from Anne Frank to Wiesel's Night) focus very much on using passion-filled language to nail down the emotional core of that time period--which, of course, is appropriate and often unavoidable.  However, Clinch's novel speaks in a crisp, straightforward manner about the things the Rosen family had to do to survive in the camp, and in so doing, the emotional aspects seep out between the lines.  It is amazing to see how the family moves from being carefree and compassionate, to hardened and survival-focused by the time we reach the end:

"The good that there's been a catastrophe on the rail project and scores of men have died."

Plus, the mystery.  The story of the family's time in the camp is told alongside Max's modern-day perspective, as he (now a world-renowned painter at the end of his career) slowly reveals a secret that he has been keeping from the art world.  Clinch builds the tension in both the historical narrative and Max's secret in the last 10% of the novel, to the point where you literally will not want to put it down.  All is not revealed until the very end, and while it's not a Gone-Girl-esque atom-bomb ending, it's still a reveal that takes your breath a bit, and fits with the emotional climate of the rest of the novel.

My only (small) gripe about this novel is the title.  While there is thievery involved (and it relates to the central mystery of the story), I just felt like it didn't capture the majority of the plot very well.  There are so many other things that I think the title could capture, about art and beauty and love through adversity, but it just doesn't.  Again, this is a very small disappointment, as no matter what the title, the book itself is still awesome.

Final verdict: read this book.  If you already gravitate towards books about the Holocaust, this is a must.  But even if you don't, the Rosen family's story is still one that is painstakingly told and worth experiencing.

(As for me and self-pubs?  Clinch knocked this one out of the park, but I'm still taking it day by day...)
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