Tag Archive | reading

Book Review: Dragonfly in Amber

Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon

Claire Randall has a secret.  She’s kept it for over 20 years, but finally it is time to return to Scotland and confront her past.  Dragonfly in Amber is the second in the Outlander series, but my friend assured me that you can read them out of order.

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander, #2)

The story begins with Claire searching for historical records that will confirm her difficult to believe story.  20 years before, she went missing for months as a young, married woman, before arriving back at home malnourished and pregnant, as mysteriously as she vanished.  But where was she?

Now 20 years later, Claire’s husband has died and it is time to reveal to her daughter the truth about her father.

The book is a long saga weaving in the 1960s with the 1740s, in Claire’s attempt to stop the slaughter at Culloden during the Scottish Jacobite rebellion.  It weaves history into the novel’s story and is extremely detailed and painstakingly researched.  You will learn about the family connections of the clans in Scotland, the political motives of the various players, and some pretty gruesome medical treatments of the time.

I don’t want to give away the story, but highly recommend the book. The only challenge was that it took so long to get through (I admit I had to put it down to read other things in between), it was hard to remember the beginning once I got to the end.

5 stars

 

Book Review: The Idiot

The Idiot, by Elif Batuman, was another book club pick…

In 1995, back when email was a new thing, Harvard freshman Selin, a young Turkish-American woman, sets about to discover herself.  She navigates dorm life, takes classes in subjects she never imagined herself studying, and begins meeting new friends.

It all sounds like the beginning of a fabulous adventure, because who wouldn’t expect a novel about college life to be filled with fun and frivolity.  Except this one isn’t.

The Idiot is basically a story about what happens when people are so smart that they can’t actually relate to the real world.  Her conversations with others barely touch on subjects that normal 18 year olds would discuss, instead opting for the nonsensical ramblings of a genius with no real-life experience.

Selin bumbles along, disliking her roommate without ever having a conversation, falling in love and getting her heart broken via email without seeming to display any emotion, and never really finding any joy or sorrow in her surroundings.  The best way to describe her life is academic.

I kept waiting for this book to get better, because a friend said her mother told her it was funny.  I wonder now if she meant funny in the ironic sense.  At any rate, this book, for me, did not contain any funny.  It also didn’t contain any emotion at all…

1 star.

Book Review: The Murderer’s Daughters

The Murderer’s Daughters, by Randy Susan Meyers, was a book club pick, and I was thankful that my hold at the library came in just in the nick of time.  Of course, my hold at the library had been ready for several weeks, but pick ups were delayed by violence and protests at a homeless camp that had been set up on the library lawn…  2021 so far seems to be a continuation of 2020!  But that’s a story I won’t get into here.

The Murderer's Daughters

Lulu and Merry were 9 and 5 years old when they witnessed their father murder their mother in a drunken rage.  The family was fractured and dysfunctional, and shortly afterwards, the girls were sent to live in a group home for girls.  They had weekend visits with their grandmother, who inexplicably couldn’t care for them, even though she managed to live on her own, and visit their father in prison every other weekend.  She and Merry had to take a couple different buses and the Staten Island Ferry to get there, but visited him faithfully, while Lulu refused.  The girls spent years in the orphanage before they were finally fostered by an employee of the home for a short time.

Lulu and Merry each developed different coping methods and strategies and built drastically different lives for themselves.  They remained bonded in their trauma, neither effectively dealing with the pain of what happened.  The novel follows them from the time of the murder in the 1970s until the early 2000s; their careers, their relationships and their family bonds.

Randy Susan Meyers draws on her experience working as a domestic violence advocate to frame the story. It was interesting in many ways, with the characters displaying believable attributes.  The manipulative father who holds no accountability for his actions, the perfect child, and the daughter who rebels against everything…  That said, the characters felt one-dimensional and flat to me; they needed more depth to truly immerse myself in the book.

3 stars.

Book Review: Mistress of the Ritz

Mistress of the Ritz, by Melanie Benjamin

This book was another pick from the “available now” section of audiobooks on the library website.  I hadn’t heard of the book, or the author, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Mistress of the Ritz

Blanche wanted to be rich and famous – she was going to make it as an actress!  She arrived in Paris in the early 1920s with her silent film star friend Pearl White, and met the assistant manager of the Hotel Claridge, Claude Auzello, when they checked into their rooms.  Claude found out that in a weeks’ time, Blanche was set to rendezvous with her paramour, Egyptian Prince J’Ali Ledene; he set about to sweep Blanche off her feet by showing her Paris.  And it worked…

Blanche and Claude married, and he jump-started his career with a move to The Ritz Paris, where he secured the role as Hotel Manager.  Their lives were wonderful until the Nazis came and set up their headquarters in the Hotel Ritz.

The book is a story of secrets, and a marriage built upon those secrets.  Their marriage crumbles, as Claude takes a mistress, and Blanche begins working clandestinely for the French Resistance.  But even more so, it is a story of love.  Love tested by hardship and betrayal, and love that blossoms in the most unexpected of places.

It wasn’t until I finished the book that I learned that Blanche and Claude Auzello were real people, who navigated their way through the French Occupation while living right underneath the noses of the Nazis at the Ritz.  The framework of Blanche’s life is known, but Melanie Benjamin filled in the gaps in this wonderful historical work of fiction.  A must read for lovers of historical fiction, and World War II history.

5 stars. 

Book Review: Dark Places

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

I’ve read other books by Gillian Flynn, so when I noticed that this one was available at the library website, I decided to check it out.

Libby is a woman in her early thirties, trying to escape her past.  When she was 7, she was the survivor of the murder of her mother and two sisters; her 15-year-old brother was convicted of the crime.  Libby heard her brother in the house that night, even though he told police he was not at home.

Dark Places

The sympathy money that has kept her going all these years has finally run out, and Libby is forced to accept the fact that she is broke and in need of a job.  She receives an offer to appear at The Kill Club, an unfortunately named convention of sorts, where amateur sleuths convene to swap tips and try to solve their favorite cold case murders.  Libby learns that there is a significant group of followers who believe that her brother is innocent.  But why?

Led along by the small sums of cash offered by the group, she agrees to meet with her brother for the first time in almost 25 years, and begins to harbor a nagging doubt that her brother murdered her family.  What if Libby’s testimony was wrong?  She had to find out the truth…

As is the case with all of Flynn’s books, the reader is taken on a roller-coaster ride of ever-changing facts, opinions and realities.  As she weaves in the stories of Libby, her mother and her brother, both then and now, the reader begins to realize that nothing is as it seems.  A well-planned thriller that kept my interest, if not somewhat unbelievable in the end…

3 stars.

Book Review: Building the Great Society

Building the Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson’s White House, by Joshua Zeitz

First of all, let me just say that I did not finish this book.  I tried.  Our library has been opened and closed over and over again due to COVID (and a bit of casual rioting but that’s a different story), and nobody else wanted to read this “masterpiece”, so I kept on trying through three standard checkout periods – nine weeks total…  I couldn’t.  So this review is based on pages 1 to 137, and a little bit of casual skimming beyond that page to see if the narrative would change (it did not).

Building the Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson's White House

I wanted to learn more about President Johnson’s self-described War on Poverty, otherwise what became known as The Great Society.  I wanted to learn about this New Deal-esque plan to lift Americans out of poverty by the multi-pronged plan to address inequities in housing, employment, education and nutrition.  I also wanted to learn about the successes and failures of this sweeping legislation and how it has continued to shape politics and people’s lives today, even more than 50 years later.

I didn’t get any of that.  This book – at least the first 137 pages, focused on who Johnson allied with to pass his legislation, who he selected for his implementation team, and the political infighting that was rife, even at the staff level.  I learned which ill-equipped and un-remodeled buildings they were housed in, how they had to scramble to even get pens and phone lines, and how team members who should have had access to information were shut out and marginalized.

If this was interesting, it might have made up for the fact that a third of the way into the book, Zeitz still hadn’t given the reader more than headline scraps of the meat of the Great Society plan, but it wasn’t interesting.  In fact, it just frustrated me.  It reminded me that back then, and still today, politicians seem to have forgotten that we the people have elected them to work together, to find compromise, and to actually SOLVE problems.  Instead Johnson just sounds like a bastard.  And probably an alcoholic.

So if you are interested in learning more about the Great Society, maybe this book gets into it later on, but go ahead and skip the first third…  And if you know of any good books on the Great Society, please let me know.

1 star. 

Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

I feel like I might be the last woman in the world who hadn’t read this book…  Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L James…  It was available on the library’s website, so what the heck?  People were raving about it; why not see what the hype is all about?

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)

Anastasia Steele is a bright, young woman just about to graduate college when she does her roommate a favor and interviews rich, handsome, CEO Christian Grey.  She can’t shake the physical attraction, and neither can he.  However, Mr. Grey, in his late 20s, has acquired a taste for the BDSM lifestyle, and only wants to date Anastasia if she will agree to his kink.  As a 22 year old virgin, this is her first foray into any type of romantic relationship, let alone one with so much risk…  Of course, he is gorgeous, and so sexy, and rich… What will she choose?

The majority of this book is Christian and Anastasia’s two-steps-forward, one-step-back relationship progression, with Anastasia falling hard and getting way, way, too worked up about this jerk of a man…  Love?  I mean, she barely knows the guy.  Yet she agrees to sleep with him on their second date?  And don’t get me started about how a young woman with no sexual experience whatsoever is able to feel mind-numbing pleasure within 5 minutes of her first encounter…  Guys in their 20s just don’t deliver like that…

This novel is really just a vessel to deliver a story of kink and BDSM, wrapped up in a mainstream package with a red bow…  If that interests you, you will like it.  Otherwise, you will probably agree with me, that it’s one to skip…

2 stars.

Book Review: The Flight Attendant

I recently finished The Flight Attendant, by Chris Bohjalian.  It had been awhile since I’ve read one of his books, but I have liked them in the past, so I was game when this one came up as available at the library’s website.  I’m always looking for good audio books!

The Flight Attendant

Imagine being a flight attendant, traveling around the world and spending nights in fabulous cities all around the world.  Like Dubai.  Now imagine you have a bit of a drinking problem, and a bit of a memory problem to go along with it…  Cassandra Bowden’s love for drink, and her love for men lead her to the worst possible scenario.  She wakes up from a drinking binge in a man’s hotel room.  Only he’s dead, soaked in a pool of his own blood, and she can’t remember what happened… 

What would you do if you were alone, in a foreign country, in a dead man’s room?  Cassandra does the only thing she can think of…  She begins to lie. 

This novel leads the reader into a fast paced thriller as Cassandra tries to learn the truth of what happened before the FBI charges her with murder.  Only along the way, she does just about everything a rational person would not do, leaving the reader practically shouting, “you stupid, stupid woman!” 

The twist ending is interesting, although not truly believable, and the novel held my interest until the end.

3 stars. 

Book Review: City of Girls

City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Vivian grew up in a rich family in a small town several hours outside of New York City.  She had just been kicked out after her freshman year at Vassar College, basically for not going to class.  Her parents didn’t know what to do with her, so they sent her to live with her eccentric Aunt Peg in New York City.

Peg owns and runs the Lily Playhouse, a run down theatre in a working class neighborhood of Manhattan.  They operate on a shoestring budget, with simple performances for simple working people.

Vivian makes herself useful by designing and sewing costumes for the girls from thrifted clothing, and quickly immerses herself into the party scene of New York City.  She goes down the rabbit hole of booze and men, learning that her desires aren’t those of ‘nice’ girls.  Vivian’s life is set against the backdrop of World War II, with her brother volunteering for service in the Navy.

The book is narrated by 95 year old Vivian, who is looking back and reflecting on her life, filling in the blanks for the daughter of a man who meant the world to Vivian.  She is honest and candid about her non-traditional life, lived in a time when women were expected to conform…

As usual, Gilbert’s character development and fluid descriptions allow the reader to fully immerse into the story, feeling the full sadness, rage, pain and joy of the characters.  It is well worth the read.

“Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are.”

5 stars.

 

 

Book Review: In the Footsteps of the Band of Brothers

In the Footsteps of the Band of Brothers: A Return to Easy Company’s Battlefields with Sergeant Forrest Guth, by Larry Alexander

I found this audio book in my perusal of the library’s collection, and it sounded interesting.  Having more than a passing interest in World War II, and having watched the Band of Brothers miniseries, I wanted to learn more.

In the Footsteps of the Band of Brothers: A Return to Easy Company's Battlefields with Sgt. Forrest Guth

Larry Alexander confesses that he developed his fascination with World War II as a young boy, and has gone on to write three books on World War II.  After meeting some of the veterans of Easy Company, he pitched an intriguing idea to his editor.  He would accompany a member of Easy Company, the Band of Brothers, on a return to the battlefields of the company’s campaigns in Europe.

Alexander travels with Sergeant Forrest Guth, and documents Guth’s observations and reactions to the battlefields and villages they visit. They try, whenever possible, to find homes and buildings where their troops were billeted or places they fought.  Alexander also offers his own observations, from the perspective of someone who wasn’t there during the war.   He details what the battlefield looked like then versus now, along with details of each battle Easy Company fought.

Alexander even describes the warm welcome they received from the people living in the villages they visited, who 70 years later still wanted to express their gratitude to the men who saved them from tyranny.

This book is an interesting look into the war from a different perspective, although it will be easier to follow if you have some knowledge of Easy Company and the campaigns they fought in during World War II.

3 stars