Sunday, April 26, 2015

City of Women by David R. Gillham

City of Women  by David R. Gillham

                Sigrid Schroder is one of the many women waiting for her husband to come home from war in Berlin in 1943. The wireless keeps saying that the war is almost won, yet the bombs continue to come and the air sirens continue to wail. In the meantime Sigrid has taken a lover, a Jewish lover named Egon, who she has fallen in love with. She has also befriended a young woman by the name of Ericha, who she comes to find out is part of a network of people aiding Jews and criminals as they flee the country. Her knowledge of the crimes has turned her into an accessory and she has decided not to stand idly by but to become a part of the network even though it spells danger for everyone involved.
                Can I just say that I loved that this novel took place in Berlin? I absolutely did. It heightened the suspense of the novel knowing that everything was taking place in the heart of the Nazi capital. Here we have Sigrid who lives with her mother in law, is cheating on her husband and starts supporting the resentment. Her mother in law dislikes, her neighbors are nosy and she doesn’t trust her only friend. She is testing herself and her limits all while in the middle of committing crimes that could likely get her whole family killed. I liked her. She was a well-developed character with obvious flaws but I was drawn to her and as the story progressed and intensified I was rooting for her, scared for her and proud of her. In times of war, you have to constantly reevaluate what you stand for and she was constantly doing that. It was obvious she was becoming stronger and I admired that. It lent itself to a great story.

                Now how is this historical fiction novel set in World War II Germany different from any other novel of the same genre? I have no idea. I haven’t read them all but I will say that this one was very suspenseful and filled with drama. It focused on the women waiting at home and that was a view point I wasn’t familiar with. It was also filled with suspense, a good helping of backstabbing and rumor mongering with a little forbidden sex thrown in for good measure. It was a page turner, filled with unexpected plot twists, a sense of danger and a touch of helplessness. No one can imagine how they would react in these situations but I thought Gillham produced an extremely telling rendition of what life may have been at this time. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to fans of historical fiction.  

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

                Anne Frank lived in hiding for twenty five months in a “Secret Annexe” above an office building. She was a Jewish girl living in Amsterdam with her father, mother and older sister, who received a diary for her thirteenth birthday in 1942. Shortly after her family went into hiding with the Van Daan family, who was also Jewish. There were eight people in all living in the Secret Annexe after the addition of Dussel, an elderly Jewish dentist. With the help of Anne’s father, Otto Frank’s associates they lived successfully in hiding for twenty five months before they were found. Anne’s diary was recovered by her father, the only survivor in the family and later published.
                The one thing that you must keep in mind when beginning The Diary of a Young Girl is that this literally is a teenager’s diary and was not meant to be a literary work. This is where a young woman poured her heart and soul out for a little more than two years. All of her fears, notions, wonderings and desires were placed in this diary and was never meant to be shared. Anne tossed around the notion of one day using this diary to aid in writing but never explicitly said she would publish it. What’s funny is that this is very well written. For a teenage girl she did and incredible job of expressing herself in written form. Anne said more than once that she wanted to be a writer and she “wanted to go on living after my death.” She has.

                Knowing the entire time while reading this book that she was never able to live beyond the war was a stark and detrimental reality. Anne’s youth shone through the pages in the most amazing way. Here we have a teenage girl who is not only experiencing becoming a woman but she is in fear for her life and hiding and yet she lives. It was so incredible to realize while reading this diary that life has to move on. Even when you are afraid, even when there is a war, even when you are falling in love, even when the raid sirens are blaring, life must go on and it did in that “Secret Annexe” for Anne and the rest of the people hiding. Some of her writings are so trivial and so meaningless and so honest because what thirteen or fourteen year old girl doesn’t ponder on trivial matters. Yet she matures over the twenty five months into a young woman well beyond her years, who self reflects on the path and looks forward to a future without war where she can attend school, become a journalist and travel the world. Those things didn’t happen for her and yet her story lives on. I am affected and moved by this diary in a way that I hadn’t imagined. For that reason I have to give Anne’s diary 5 out of 5 stars. These are the stories we need to share and we need to read. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

                A Little Princess is the story of Sarah Crewe, whose mother died when she was born and leaving her in the care of her loving father, Captain Crewe. At the age of seven she left India and the only home she has never known to attend Ms. Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies. Her father insured that she would have every comfort that his wealth allowed. As her father returned to India Sarah attended and minded her lessons, helping her friends when she could and letting her imagination run wild with stories whenever possible. Sara pretended she was a princess and taught herself to carry herself as such, mindful of the way she treated and respected everyone. She was obviously well loved by her father and as the years passed her comforts increased, but her mild mannered and respectful ways remained. When Captain Crewe unexpectedly passed away and she was left with nothing due to unexpected circumstances, Sara’s world shifts. She is now a ward of Miss Minchin forced to live in the attic, run errands and work with the other students to earn her keep. As her world changes she tries to remember what it was like to be loved, well fed and a princess.
                The movie adaptation of this book might have been one of my favorite movies as a child. I have it now and find myself drawn to it still. I am actually shocked that I never decided to pick up the book before now but I am very happy I did. A Little Princess is such a beautiful story about a little girl whose entire world is taken away and yet she somehow finds the strength to make it through each day. The fact that she was such a considerate child before and was able to retain some of that hope regardless of her desolate situation is amazing. Sara’s mind is one that I would love to understand. The resilience and the ability to leave her circumstances and create a different world for herself through simply “pretending” is so wonderful. If more children were like Sara I might have more faith in this world.

                Burnett created an easy to read, well imagined and elegantly told story around Sara. This story reveals so much about people’s true character and how they respond to the loss of fortune or misfortune of others. A Little Princess in many ways is a sad story because it reveals so much about how society chooses to treat people that they feel are less than or poor. I find hope in Sara and I loved watching her endure even with everything had changed. I give this story 4 out of 5 stars. A beautiful read with a necessary story about overcoming the odds and finding a way to be happy. 

Treasure Island by Robert Luis Stevenson

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

                Jim Hawkins is on an adventure of a lifetime. A patron of his father’s inn, Billy Bones, is dead and has left him a treasure map. By following it he will discover the gold of the Captain Flint. He is leaving with the Dr. Livesey on an expedition to recover the gold, along with John Silver, Captain Smollett, the squire Trelawney and their crew they will set sail. Trustworthy seamen are hard to find as Hawkins finds out when he overhears talks of a mutiny. Now the few men he can trust are trying to make it back alive and if they are lucky, with some gold.

                I was entertained but not captivated by this classic. It is well told but only slightly interesting. I have heard of John Silver and thanks to the TV show “Black Sails” I also know of Captain Flint. I was in the mood for a pirate tale and that is exactly what I got but all be it a mild one. Hawkins narrated most of the story and it was through the eyes of the boy that we learn of the coming and goings of the crew. Honestly the pirates never came to life for me. All they did was drink, argue, kill someone and commit mutiny. I was hoping to hear more about Captain Flint and about why he and John Silver were so feared. I got nothing. If the pirates were given more life I probably would have been more engaged in the story. I give this novel 3 out of 5 stars.  It’s an easy enough to enjoy classic but not a page turner. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

                Vic McQueen was good at finding things with her Raleigh Tuff Burner, the bike she was given for her eighth birthday. All she had to do was ride across the Shorter Way Bridge and it would take her exactly where she needed to go. Like when her mom couldn’t find her bracelet, the Shorter Way Bridge took Vic from Haverhill, Massachusetts to New Hampshire in minutes to the diner where she left it. Or when her friends doll went missing, the Shorter Way Bridge took her exactly to where she needed to be to find the doll. For years the Shorter Way Bridge took here where she needed to go to find things. So when Vic went looking for trouble after an argument with her mother, she found Charlie Manx. Manx had a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith with a license plate that spelled NOS4A2. His car was able to bridge gaps too. His car would bring him, and the children he “rescued” to Christmasland where the only thing that existed was fun. But those kids would never return home. They would stay with the other children in Christmasland. Vic would survive her encounter with Manx but just barely. Their meeting would haunt both of them though for the rest of their lives.
                I am pleased. I picked up this book after seeing some great reviews and after finding out that Joe Hill was Stephen King’s son. Of course I had to read it. Could Joe Hill possess even a smidgen of his father’s brilliance? Yes he can and he does. This book was great. Vic is a character that you try to understand and root for even if she does some things that make you want to scream. I loved her because she knew she was imperfect and she called herself out on those imperfections. She had been in a mental institution and was convinced that all of these trips she took on The Shorter Way Bridge were just the works of her vivid imagination and it caused her to battle with her reality. Manx, on the other hand, was a great villain. He was easy to hate, easy to root against, corrupt, vile and set on revenge. It was collision that I couldn’t wait to happen.

                Joe Hill created a novel that swept me away into this land where some people can bridge the gap between our world and their inscape, the world within their own head. NOS4A2 was highly imaginative with just the right touch of horror, mystery, suspense and humor. What really threw me over the edge and made me love this novel even more was the fact that Hill consciously merged it into the same universe as his father. Stephen King has stated that all of his novels come from the same universe. Well I guess Hill lives in that universe as well because he definitely mentioned Shawshank, Derry and Pennywise which are all subjects highly significant in the Stephen King universe. This novel stands on its own BUT that one touch of King, promises so much more and just makes me excited for the things to come from Hill. I highly recommend this novel and give it 5 out of 5 stars.