Stories From Both Sides of the Second World War/How I Overcame Some First World Problems

Despite the title of this post, I am going to keep my discussion of my recent first world problems to a minimum.  They are even more embarrassing after reading through some of my accumulated books on the Second World War.

My reading personality is an Explorer. I like to build empathy and see the world from other people’s perspectives as I ride on the SUP I got for my birthday and have the health and time to train enough to do well in local triathlons and knit for fun with luxury yarn.  Some of it is charity knitting, to be fair.

The thing that is depressing about both of these beautiful second world war novels is that it is sad to die in the war, and sometimes it can be as sad and anticlimactic to survive it.

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A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson

I loved Life After Life.  I believe I have shared this sentiment on the blog already.  This is meant not as a sequel but as a companion piece to that novel, according to Atkinson. I think she could not bear to leave her characters after writing Life After Life.  She chose the perspective of Teddy, or Edward, Todd, the most loved and lovable of the Todd sons, to flesh out his story and participation in the war as a fighter pilot.   Excellent choice to choose the most sympathetic character, but I wondered about her choices in spinning him out into a daughter, Viola,  who is not likable in the least.  Atkinson does not try to make her appealing in any aspect: she is immature, greedy, self centered, and hopelessly unable to make herself happy or be satisfied, even before the death of her mother when she was a kid.  And much of the story is hers, especially earlier on in the novel.  I really wondered about Atkinson’s choice in this.  I need tension from a novel, that is true, but I like tension from a character I like.  The story is enough about Teddy himself and his participation in the war and the original family cast of characters to keep me interested in the parts about his daughter, and especially in the parts where he is a loving grandfather to rescue his grandchildren from the complete ruin of their disaster parents.  Viola takes a decent stab at redemption but his grandchildren adore him long past my caring about her and what she does, and that makes her bearable.

This novel is not just depressing in the production of the daughter Viola but also in that Teddy’s real actualization in life is centered around the war.  He is aimless before and aimless after, engulfed in a typical British tedium (and I say typical just because of the other British books I have read) devoid of a certain amount of action and passion.  And then he lives on to his own ruin, a depressing ending to a hero in the war, in the midst of a generation who never had to participate in the war and question his morals in doing so. It’s kinda heart wrenching.  You like Teddy, you want him to find more after his participation in the RAF from life than puttering around and being the target of his daughter’s dissatisfaction with everything.

But, because Atkinson is a true artist, I still loved it.  I am still glad I read it.  I should have read it sooner.  I love the story of the Todd family and all the iterations that Ursula lives through. I love how she chose to end A God in Ruins.  It reminded me of my love of the story as the final note.

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The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

This one really gnawed at any lack of appreciation I was harboring toward my life.  A little girl in Nazi Germany taken into a foster home because her mother is too ill to care for her but not before her brother dies on the way to their new family.  No, that has to happen first.  She has to be ten years old and totally alone in the world. And death is narrating one of the most deadly periods in history.

Zusak makes it beautiful, though, because Liesel thrives in a terrible time and devastated place.  She is resilient.  She is lovable and kind and works hard and wants to do good things.  Yes, she steals books, but it is to feel whole.  Books are her survival and I can totally relate to that.  She comes of age in a scary time where survival is at a premium, and she experiences her own layers of trauma.  Liesel survives and makes a happy life for herself, but will have the demons from the war cling to her forever.

It’s that important YA that can make teenagers stop and think about what things must really have been like at that time and place.  I am a firm believer in appreciation and I am sure these books reminded me to do a little more appreciating.

I was going to say I won’t watch the movie, and I don’t watch a lot of movies, but this one could possibly be an exception.  I might not be able to promise that.

I loved both of these stories, but I am recovering from them by changing tracks with my reading.   I have three more WWII novels and I can’t do five in a row or I will be threatened with collapse.  On my SUP.  I liked how it worked out that I read books on the same topic from two different points of view, but in some ways, these views were very much the same.

I may have given up resisting Reading Challenges, even though I have had other, competing plans of how I am going to shape my reading.  Because it needs a shape.

Comments/shares/likes are always appreciated!

 

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Mermaids!

I doubt few things are more interesting or appealing than mythical creatures whose intention it is to destroy men.  Fewer things are more timeless than destruction, seduction, and curiosity.

What could be more timeless than the mermaid whose purpose it was to drive men mad in the pursuit of them? And then the countless attempts at recreating these creatures in legends and curiosity exhibits?

The few books in this post to sample the topic of mermaids treat them all differently.  And it does not include all the mermaid books I would like to read or all the circus/sideshow reads in my book hoarding situation.

the mermaid's sister

The Mermaid’s Sister, Carrie Ann Noble

This was a either a Kindle First or a discounted price treasure and was the winner of Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award in 2014 for Young Adult fiction.

This one is as magical and mythical as a mermaid story gets. It is a fairy tale with the usual dose of nefarious characters and intentions, magic, and larger than life characters.  Two girls raised as sisters and one is becoming the mermaid she was meant to be, making the other sister, who is trying to get her to the ocean where she belongs out of love, wonders what this means for her.  Is she meant to turn into a stork, like her own legend of origin suggests?  What about the boy that is almost like a brother figure to her who is helping her try to save the sister and her feelings about him that just won’t be controlled?   All sorts of drama, darkness, and magic. Characters in this one actually have tattoos to immunize themselves from the curse of madness that seeing a mermaid can set upon one. And some regular teenage crises too just to keep it real.  I liked the audio with this one, and I am not at all surprised that it stood out enough to get an award for being the new kid on the block.

the book of speculation

The Book of Speculation, Erika Swyler

Also a debut novel, interestingly.  Strong family themes (similarly to The Mermaid’s Sister) in this tale of mystery and an inter-generational family curse that has to be untangled in time to save the latest generation from the same fate.  A librarian comes into possession of a book that helps him to unravel the reason why his mother and grandmother, both with mermaid abilities to swim and perform in a traveling show, seemed to drown themselves on the same day.  Again, the mermaid’s otherworldly, obsessive appeal is also talked about here as well as the mermaid being part of a show. Because what else would a woman with an uncanny swimming ability and in need of support do with herself back in times past?  Especially a woman to whom men felt an unexplainable draw? There is also a lot of reference to Tarot and reading Tarot cards to amp up the atmospheric mystery.  Sara Gruen endorses the novel on the cover, and people who like Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants and At the Water’s Edge) will probably like this one too. And the ending has just a bit of a twist on it.  So, worth the time.  I also have the prequel that I didn’t get to in time for this post. Shame on me.

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The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman

I coveted this one for awhile before it came up on an Audible sale and I snagged it. Alice Hoffman is an author who I have hoarded up, and this one reminded me of why and that I need to get crackin through all her other stuff. It was one I was excited to procure, that I had not read yet which could be a Reading Challenge category.

While this one is more popular than some of hers (I am defining popular by the number of reviews I see on Amazon), it does not appear to be as much so as The Dovekeepers or The Marriage of Opposites.  This one just hinted right at the get go of being atmospheric, set in turn of the century NYC, one of my favorite novel settings for some reason, and it did not disappoint.  Have I mentioned before in my posts that NYC always has had this draw for me and for about ten minutes a year I think I could actually live there, when I currently live in a beautiful home in the country and driving to the nearby small cities can get overwhelming for me? A home where I regularly enjoy the benefits of living where I do? Yeah.  Then I am down there visiting a friend and I see children my son’s age boarding the subway and I have a panic attack imagining if that was me with my boy.

Alice Hoffman intersects personal histories in the context of the setting like only she can do.  A girl born with webbed fingers to a man who owns a sideshow museum and is groomed for performance as a mermaid in a tank, essentially as a prisoner, a Jewish boy who separates from his father after his father tries to commit suicide, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster, and the intense political climate of the haves and have nots.  There usually aren’t even ten minutes of the year where I want to live in turn of the century NYC, but I love to read the tales of immigration, coming of age in a fast changing but still traditional world, people trying to hang onto their personal history as well as responding to the world around them in order to survive.

This book was everything I wanted it to be. Engrossing, intense, painfully real. I listened to it during driving in the rain which seemed to intensify it even more.

Mermaid books that I can’t miss?  None of these are romance novels, and I thought I saw some romance novels in the mermaid category, which would make sense, given then are supposed to drive men crazy.

In my own mermaid moment it is finally warm enough to swim in the lake with a wetsuit.  The fact I own a wetsuit and like to swim in lakes makes me ultimately unsuitable for my NYC dreams.  I don’t feel like a siren, either, just a woman wrapped in some weird fabric trying not to  dead sea float for long enough for the neighbors to think I might be dead out there.

Comments/suggestions/shares? I always love them.

Good-for-You YA

Sometimes, I think that YA books work harder at tackling difficult issues and topics because they are still meant to meet impressionable minds trying to make their way in the world.  When I see calls for YA manuscripts, usually ones that tackle tough and current issues, like mental illness and immigration, are the ones that publishers are looking for.

And it’s great.  I have often said on this blog that YA books can help build empathy in a mind that is open to empathy but might still be focused on the smaller immediate world of the person.  I don’t think that all teens are necessarily ‘me’ focused. I have met many on different parts of the spectrum, from completely self centered to so giving and concerned with others I have had to help them pull it back a little to take care of themselves.

Today I am tackling two YA books that are very very different, but I both feel are important in their own ways, written in different times and contexts.

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A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K Le Guin

There are lists floating about discussing important children’s books always mentions A Wizard of Earthsea, floating between Anne of Green Gables and Charlotte’s Web and Winne the Pooh and all the other better known ones I long since read.  And like those classics, it is about growing up and knowing your power, but it reminded me more of the Lord of the Rings, and His Dark Materials.  It is a created world, and there are significant philosophical slants to it, very Tao. It discusses the power of names and knowing true names, managing and respecting power, coming to terms with death.  I noticed in the age rating on Amazon it says 12 and up, no upper age limit, because although intended as a children’s book, it extends past the reaches of coming of age and into bigger, more lifelong concepts. Even if one did tackle it in middle school, it would need to be revisited, much like Lord of the Rings and His Dark Materials require multiple readings.  Full disclosure, I have only read the Hobbit and the Fellowship, and I know that the other two are going to have to happen.  Maybe when the snow returns in a fit of binge crafting.  Anyway.  This is heavy and it is not flashy.  It is a journey through an unknown land of a boy figuring out how to wield his power.  I feel more well read in the children’s classics, but I don’t know if this is something I would share with my son.  Depending on who he is and how I frame it to him.  Huge work, though.

So Wizard was written in 1968, and combines legends and philosophical concepts, which I think is in keeping with the times in which it is written.  Race forward to 2014. Prejudice has focused to Pakistan and Afghanistan and Muslim countries as our ‘enemies’ when the vast majority of these equally god fearing people are coming here to live for opportunity and freedoms. Like the reason we all came over.  My family was here before we were a country because we wanted religious freedom and began the Seventh Day Adventists.  So I am not judging on anyone who is looking for the same.  I think our young people need to be informed and empathic to everyone coming here looking for something better. Just because some of us may have gotten here first doesn’t mean we have rights to more of the pie.

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The Art of Secrets, James Klise

I stumbled on this one because it was a 2015 Edgar Award Winner. This is an epistolary novel, which may fit some reading challenge criteria. It is interesting, well written and pulls in a number of personalities and motives.  It’s a mystery, not so much who committed the catalyst crime but who committed the following one.  The tragedy centers on a Muslim family who are the victims of arson and then the privileged white school kids who are trying to help them. Told from all these perspectives it is a rich and multi faceted plot that does not ignore the differences between kids coming in to the privileged school in Chicago and the worlds that they come from.  Some reviews felt that some of the nonwhite voices are a little stilted and stereotypical, and maybe they are, but I still liked it the same.  It has a rating of 3.5 on Goodreads, which I feel maybe could be a little higher, considering The Winter Sea was rated higher but I think it is less important.  It has won or been in the running for a number of awards and reading lists. This is one I might encourage my son to read or read with him.

I have sooo much YA in my kindle because of my own enjoyment of the genre and my own desires to write it.  So there will be lots more YA posts to come, but I felt both of these works are important in their own ways.

May has finally arrived!

Half marathon on Mother’s Day weekend next weekend!  ahhh

Comments/likes/shares!

A Lighter Magical Trilogy

Serial books with heavy magic themes can feel so dark and involved.

Even if I love them, I have to be willing to enter their worlds: the dark vs light, shifting alliances and constant twists, the angst of having magical abilities, detailed characters and multiple plotlines.  Sometimes I don’t want to go so far in.  Sometimes I want less darkness, fewer details to keep track of. I can appreciate a shorter, lighter series on magic, with a healthy dash of steampunk and an appeal to adult and YA audiences.

Enter The Paper Magician series by Charlie N Holmberg.

The magicians in this trilogy animate and make uses of manmade objects instead of making things manifest out of thin air.  I like that the protagonist, the talented aspiring magician Ceony Twill got an element that at first seems boring that she isn’t sure she really wants.

Not only is the magic unique with its own set of clear rules, though, there were other unique elements:

The Paper Magician:  very unique exposition for the background of Emery Thane, the master magician that Ceony has been sent to as an apprentice.

The Glass Magician:  Ceony learns that she can break one of the thought to be unbreakable rules of magicianship, which I also thought was unique.  Many of the books I have encountered on magic are a battle between dark and light, not about manipulating some of the laws of the magic itself.  If you like well behaved characters, Ceony Twill might not be for you.  She is competent and loving and has many good qualities but she loves taking matters into her own hands, like, all the time.

The Master Magician:  This one combines both her personal story reaching a resolution as well as the last remaining threads of the conflict with the dark magicians.  Yes, there is dark vs. light but it is more than that. There is a decent twist when Ceony’s rule breaking discovery is revealed.

These books are also pretty short, fewer than 300 pages.  I used these as a break from heavier tomes.  One of my other reader friends who generally prefers lighter reads blew through these long before I did.  I read The Paper Magician and then I wandered off for awhile and then I finished the last two as a break from getting through my Reading Challenge reads.  It was not so forgettable or involved to not be able to pick up after a break.

Also, there is romance, but I think it is well done.  I don’t always like when characters have to get paired off in books, but I felt that the pairing here is tasteful and makes sense based on what we know of the characters.  I did not feel that the pairing was forced or unnatural.

These books started out priced more indie but are published by an Amazon Publishing company that does not accept unsolicited submissions.  So I guess this is not an indie series, but it is not one of the big five either. It was a really poor idea researching this for this post because now I see she has other books and I can’t buy more books this year.  This month.  Something.  No new books.  I hate January.

Do you have any lighter magic series that you like to read?  I have some cozy mysteries with magic that I have not delved into yet.  They could also make the cut for breaks from the heavier reads.

Comments/likes/shares are always appreciated.

 

Halloween Reads: Ghosts

This could almost have counted under houses, but the houses post a few weeks ago were houses that wanted to own the residents inside.  These are houses that have ghosts but do not want the characters to join their ranks.

I feel like the leaves have been changing more slowly this year. I feel like usually they have peaked by the time I am writing this post (Oct 8 if I must be honest) and this year it seems that they are still working up to full glory.

Okay.  Ghosts today.  One book I am talking about today is decidedly Gothic while the other is closer to horror and being scary.

The Gothic read:

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Miramont’s Ghost, Elizabeth Hall

This story focuses on how Miramont got a ghost in the first place, and not really what she does when she becomes a ghost.  It is based on an unsolved historical mystery, which I think is really cool when someone takes a story and fills in the blanks.  Much like my love Phillippa Gregory.   I guess if someone has become a ghost then she has lost her battle somehow, but she does not go down fighting and I wish she did.  A young beautiful woman who has secluded herself from the world is ensnared by the evil machinations of an older relative, an aunt this time, to protect some family secrets.  I still was not clear really how the protagonist needed to be involved in the secrets the aunt and cousin were guarding.  it was Goth entertaining, and I thought it would be a bit more ghosty but there were some other supernatural elements at play.  It was like something Ann Radcliffe would have cooked up, but her endings are happier. Bonus:  It came with 1.99 audio. Perfect accompaniment to charity knitting.

The scary read:

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What the Dead Want, Norah Olson

This is a YA scary novel.  A fifteen year old girl, Gretchen, is asked by her eccentric aunt to come down and take possession of the family property she has inherited with little other preamble.  It is the summer and Gretchen’s mother has mysteriously disappeared years before. Gretchen she comes up from the city to help her aunt and maybe solve the mysterious disappearance of her mother. The story starts off as eerie but there is the part where it gets pretty real that is scary. I don’t think it is giving too much away to say that the souls are in torment from the memory of the treatment of black people in the Civil War era.  The story talks about white privilege and the freedoms once denied women.  These pieces can be a little heavy handed, but maybe only to an adult who has had coursework and seminars on this topic and don’t need it spelled out the way a typical teenager might.  My privilege when I was fifteen was not really evident to me, or how much I would really enjoy the modern freedoms allowed women until I was an adult and reveling in them.  What? An influential career and my own money? The ability to leave my husband whenever I please? Not that I want to, but it is a wonderful thing to not be trapped.  This one has ghosts and some demon like creatures, just to add to the freaky. Good YA read. And you do find out what the dead want, by the way.

Keep reading the scary! Halloween is only a week away!

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Halloween Reads: This House Wants You

Haunted houses!

There could possibly be two parts to this post because haunted houses abound in the scary literature.

This is the centennial year of Shirley Jackson’s, author of The Haunting of Hill House, birth.  As so Amazon was kind to have it somewhat discounted, but beyond that, all the TBR blowing up lists of must reads usually features this book somewhere. So it had to be added to my arsenal.

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Paranormal research, to my particular delight, is all over the television, but it is not a new idea.  This book came out in 1959 and features a researcher and people he invited to stay with him as a part of conducting research on the paranormal.  The two women invited both have some kind of interaction with the paranormal in the past and the particular protagonist, Eleanor, comes chock with vulnerabilities from her own recent past.  Although she is in her early thirties she has thus yet spent her adulthood caring for an ill mother and resides with a sister and her husband, for whom she cares little.  As such she is still fanciful and childlike and full of traumatic memories.  She is ripe for the execution when she comes to the door of the house.

This book is scary, if somewhat understated and subtle.  The characters sarcastic joking around and banter got a little tiring and I couldn’t tell what was real and what were jokes played all the time, but that is probably a big piece of the appeal.  Not knowing what is real and what is not is, at least to me, what freaks me out.  Stephen King’s It got me like that.  I am dying to see that new movie of it even though I know what it will do to me.

I read a more modern take on this as well, more modern even than The Shining:

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The Haunting Season, Michelle Muto

Muto takes Jackson’s book, makes it feature young adults, and ups the demonic and research plots.  Gone are some of the understated subtleties and unmoored adults of the 1950’s, these kids have real powers and are headed to college after this summer project of participating in research is over.  They are a little more dynamic than amorphous and sad Eleanor who is trying to figure herself out now that her life is her own.  Of course, just because they are more dynamic does not mean they are not coming in with their soft spots to be devoured, because what haunted house can really get to a fully intact individual?   Actually, I don’t want to ask that one.

Muto develops the demonic a little more than Jackson does.  The negative forces have more of a backstory and are personified more. The scary moments are more dramatic. The ghosts manifest and speak. Hill House has its moments where supernatural elements manifest in less direct ways, but in this one, ghosts just roll up without a lot of preamble.  Which is fine, because the point isn’t to find out if there are ghosts, it is more to discover something that is vastly more sinister about why they are ghosts and what they want.

Muto had two plots going and went with developing the one more with the kids banishing the evil from the house, or trying to.  Just like with any book about conducting controversial research, it goes off the rails.  She could have expanded the real reason the kids had been chosen to be part of the research but developing both completely likely would have made this book a little cumbersome.

I liked it.  I would have liked it more had I read it when I was the target audience age.  I wish YA had been as much of a thing when I was in that demographic as it is now. I have so much YA on my kindle that I have not read yet and I think it does such great things for kids awareness and empathy in a world that still needs it. I try to recommend books to some of my kids who do and do not read.

These books are both about scary houses that want you.  I am upset that I already talked about The Shining in a previous reading challenge post because I would have added it here. I want to read Gillian Flynn’s short The Grownup and see if it has the same idea of a house wanting someone.  Maybe some Poe.

Other good haunted house stories out there?  I like suggestions.  Even though I already noted in a previous post that I can be somewhat glacial in getting to them.

Comments/likes/suggestions?

Reading Challenge: Dystopias

 

I have dedicated the month of August to marking progress on any and all relevant reading challenges.  I read Station Eleven for a post apocalyptic book last year and wow. I loved it and I know that I am not alone.  I loved people keeping art alive to enlighten those left, I loved the story of the comic writer who was married to a famous actor for a time.

This year both Popsugar and BookRiot wanted dystopian novels and I want to say I read two different ones to really take these challenges to another ;level, but really, I liked the pretty dresses on the covers of the series I read.  I boasted a few weeks ago on an article I shared regarding the purpose behind Elena Ferrante’s abysmal book covers that I don’t read books with high heels or martini glasses or purses or shopping bags on the cover, but I don’t seem to be so immune to ball gowns.  And I would rather drink martinis and go shopping than be a princess, so this makes even less sense.

For the first dystopian choice:

the iron heel

The Iron Heel, Jack London

I have read 1984 and Brave New World already, and I wanted to read the first modern dystopia.  But you know, it was about a communist revolution if it had happened in America around WWI-1920’s more than I would consider it a dystopia like one of those or like Hunger Games or Red Queen. The dystopia is how I imagine America really was at that point in history, despite the fact that it was not intentionally created to be a few living rich on the backs of many oppressed. Our government was formed originally with the intent of having as little government as possible, and capitalism just is that way, although in theory it offers everyone the same opportunity to ascend whereas the other dystopian novels I have read suggest that people do not have a way to move up in the world.  I mean, I say in theory anyone can ascend in capitalism, as I am aware of all the other forces at play to keep some with particular immutable disadvantages from really rising.  Anyway, I was surprised this was considered that when it seems more of a treatise on communism. I don’t think it is a spoiler to share with you that the actual Iron Heel in the book is capitalism. It was okay, it was a good read to have as the basis for others. If I have to read another non YA dystopia I am thinking of reading We by Yevgeny Zamyatin as that is another one that shows up in the little Amazon spend more money cluster that they put on the book webpages.

So, if The Iron Heel was my dose of history, my dystopian guilty pleasure quickly followed on the heels of The Iron Heel (haha):

the selection

 

The Selection Series, Kiera Cass

This is more what I expected out of a dystopia.  It is like Red Queen and Hunger Games in that people are born into castes where they are supposed to stay and then the girls break out. In the previous two books, the girls find a way up by being awesome, and in this one, they find a way up by being selected as a possible bride for the prince.  Not as kick ass feminism and hard core revolution as the other two.  The plot is slower, the conflicts are less intense, there is theoretically a lot at stake (ruling a country!) but the main character is not sure how much she really wants to be a princess or if she is up to it through most of the first three.  I only read the first three of the five because the other two are about the next princess and I don’t care about her right now.  I was only going to read the first of this trilogy but then I got invested.  Even though I was pretty sure I knew how it would turn out. And it was good for my burnt brain even though even my burnt brain wanted a big chunk of action to be spread out longer than the last twenty percent of the last book. I could have done with a little more girl on girl drama, although I know that the author probably didn’t want a lot of mean girl unhealthy stuff going on in a YA book.  Young girls often don’t want to read about that or they don’t need it as a model, and finding oneself is a healthier theme for girls reading princess books rather than conquering bitches. Probably also because once you find yourself bitches lose their power over you.

This was not a bad book, it just depends on what you want when you are reading.  Do you want the love story and the emotional journeys of the characters as the foreground, or do you want the revolution and bad assery and intense plotting and people dying in the foreground?  If you want the emotional stuff more then this would be fitting.  In all three series I am talking about here young girls are finding themselves, and reconciling how to manage real leadership positions. I am glad these kinds of books are selling to young girls. Lure you in with royalty and ball gowns and then read about girls finding and using their many assets for the good of many.

As a note about dystopias, I read them more than I intend to. I think I don’t want them and then I do because now I am really feeling a hole about not having read Ally Condie’s Matched series.  I think that it is similar to the Selection series.  That I just kind of bashed.  I don’t make any sense.

Like this? Share/comment/like!

More reading challenge posts on their way for the month of August.