Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: "Auschwitz: A New History" by Laurence Rees

From Goodreads:  "Auschwitz is the site of the largest mass murder in human history. Yet its story is not fully known. In Auschwitz Laurence Rees provides a devastating and shocking portrait of the most infamous death camp the world has ever seen. He reveals new insights from more than 100 original interviews with Auschwitz survivors and Nazi perpetrators who speak on the record for the first time. Their testimonies expose the inner workings of the camp in unrivalled detail - from the techniques of mass murder, to the bizarre microcosms that emerged within the camp, such as the brothel and dining hall, where the lines between guards and prisoners became surprisingly blurred." Auschwitz is a history we cannot afford to ignore, first because history that is ignored is liable to be repeated, and second because we should never allow ourselves to be persuaded that mankind is somehow today incapable of such unspeakably cruel acts. Auschwitz is not only the story of one singular camp where more than one million people were murdered, but also a timely reminder about the indelible human potential for committing evil.

My Thoughts:  This book was really eye-opening in more ways than one.  I would venture to guess that everyone has heard about Auschwitz but we don't ever hear about from the people who created it as well as the people who worked, lived and died at the camp.  This book provides that kind of insight into the minds of the people who experienced Auschwitz either as a prisoner or as a Nazi working at the camp.  There were several interviews with former guards in the book that were just mind blowing.  We always hear about how the guards 'were just following orders' but after reading this book, I definitely do not believe that.  Rees interviewed former Nazi guards who worked at Auschwitz and truly believed that the Jewish people were responsible for World War I and for the downfall of Germany as a great power and believed that the Jews were getting what they deserved.  What was even more amazing about this is that these former guards still, to this day, believe in what they did and are not remorseful.  

It was also interesting to read the accounts of former prisoners.  It surprised me to see how many different kinds of people were housed in Auschwitz: Jews, political prisoners, gypsies, prisoners of war, etc.  The list is endless and I don't think I ever realized how much of a catch-all it was for people the Nazis wanted to get rid of or use as slave labor.  I also was very surprised by the discussion of the women who worked in "Canada" (the area where people left their belongings before being led to the gas chamber).  These women were actually able to eat and look like women (their head wasn't shaved, they wore normal clothes) and this was how they survived.  I had actually never heard of this and was very surprised by the picture of a girl who worked in this area; needless to say, she did not look like the typical Auschwitz prisoner but she suffered there nonetheless.  I think that the suffering of everyone who walked through the gates of Auschwitz touched me most of all and that despite the unspeakable losses these people suffered, they still maintained a strong desire to live.

As I said above, this was a very eye-opening book.  If you have any interest in the Holocaust or the World War II history, you should definitely check this out.  4 stars.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

In My Mailbox (2)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.  It is a place to highlight books I have purchased, picked up from the library or downloaded to my nook this week.

From the library, I picked up:

A Long Way Gone:  Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
Johnny One-Eye by Jerome Charyn

I downloaded the following ebooks:

Madame Tussaud by Mchelle Moran
Throwaway  by Heather Huffman

I hope you all have a great week!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: "The Woman in White" by Wilkie Collins

From Goodreads:  Full of secrets, mistaken identities, surprise revelations, amnesia, locked rooms and locked asylums, and an unorthodox villain, The Woman in White marked the creation of a new literary genre of suspense fiction that profoundly shaped the course of English popular writing.

My Thoughts:  I am purposely going to be vague in this review because I do not want to give anything away that might ruin the story.  This book was first published in 1860 but that does not diminish the fact that is a great mystery story.  There were so many twists and turns that I really had no idea what was going to wind up happening.  There was fraud, intrigue, kidnapping, and conspiracies all over the place.  I really thought I would be kind of bored with the story but I must say that Mr. Collins really kept my attention and every time that I had it all figured out, there would be some new twist to the story.  I also loved how the story was told by different characters' points of view and I think he definitely created a fantastic literary villain in Count Fosco who was described in such a way that he just gave me the creeps.  Even if you don't like 'classics', I highly recommend that you check this book out.  4 stars.

Book Blog Hop (2)

Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted by Jenn at Crazy for Books and it's a way to for book bloggers to connect and check out other blogs.

This week's question is:  What book-to-movie adaptation have you most liked?  Which have you disliked?

I thought that Shutter Island was one of the best book-to-movie adaptations I have ever seen.  I was so surprised by how closely the movie followed the book.  I also really like A Time to Kill; this is one of my favorite movies and even though it is different from the book, I think that they did great job of staying true to the story and the book's main points.

I absolutely hated movie adaptation of The Horse Whisperer.  I read this book in high school and my mom and I loved it.  We were so excited for the movie but were so very disappointed in it.  It was almost 3 hours and they completely changed the whole end of the story.   

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Review: "A Woman Nobly Planned: Fact and Myth in the Legacy of Flora MacDonald" by John J. Toffey

From Goodreads:  Flora MacDonald is one of Scotland's leading ladies of legend. Her ten-day adventure with charismatic Bonnie Prince Charlie in June 1746 and her consequent confinement at Leith and in London brought her instant and lasting fame. Fame did not bring fortune, however. At fifty-two, Flora, with her husband and some of her family, left Scotland for better times in North Carolina. Instead, she and her family were caught up on the losing side of the American Revolution and suffered separation and hardship. In the two and a half centuries since her precipitating adventure, Flora has been mentioned in history and celebrated in legend. In the eighteenth century, Johnson praised her, London society flocked to her, and the principal portraitists of the day painted her. In the nineteenth century, Sir Walter Scott, King George IV, and Queen Victoria paid tributes to her, and her descendants built and dedicated memorials in her honor. In the twentieth century, Flora has continued to be celebrated in portrait, play, poem, song, and story; her name was given to a college, and her image has adorned marmalade jars and shortbread tins.

My Thoughts:  Since finishing the Outlander series, I have been fascinated by Flora MacDonald and have wanted to learn more about her.  I chose to read this book because it looked like it might be from a more reputable source than some of other books I found about her life.  I must say that I wish I had a read a biography of her first.  The main goal of this book is to debunk the different legends surrounding Flora MacDonald's life; her early years, the escape of the Bonnie Prince and her time in North Carolina.   It was interesting in that I had no idea there was so much misinformation out there about this woman but it didn't give me a really good picture of Flora as a person.  I guess this was the point of the whole book:  there isn't a lot of information period about Flora MacDonald which has led to the creation of these legends about her.  It was pretty neat to see how important her memory is in North Carolina and how she seemed to have an impact in America as well as in Scotland but I like I said I was definitely looking for more of a narrative of her life.  3 stars.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Review: "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen

From Goodreads:  Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.

Jacob was there because his luck had run out - orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive 'ship of fools'. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act - in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

My Thoughts:  I never had much interest in this book until recently.  The concept of it didn't grab my attention which is why I held off on reading it so long.  With the movie coming out, I started to hear more buzz about how amazing this book was so I decided to pick it up.  I am glad I read it so that I know what everyone was talking about but it did not 'wow' me at all.  The only character I cared about through the whole book was old Jacob.  I loved how things worked for him and I was glad that Gruen created two characters who actually cared about him since his family didn't.  The younger characters did nothing for me and I really never liked Marlena.  I felt like I was supposed to feel sorry for her but I just didn't.  I did like the descriptions of the animals and their personalities and the abuse they suffered really bothered me and the fact that the animals were abused made dislike the characters in the story even more.  I also didn't like that the ending was given away at the beginning of the story in a dream old Jacob had; since I knew what was going to happen, I cared even less about the past events and I paid more attention to old Jacob.  3 1/2 stars.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

In My Mailbox

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.  It is a place to highlight books I have purchased, picked up from the library or downloaded to my nook (!). 

Here is a picture of my pretty nook cover.  I ordered it from etsy.com and I LOVE it!

My nook arrived on Friday and right away I downloaded the following books.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

I already own Dracula and The Woman in White but one was free and the other 99 cents so I couldn't resist.

I also picked up the following books at the library:

Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
Hard Eight by Janet Evanovich
To the Nines by Janet Evanovich
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

I can't wait to get started on these books!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Blog Hop

I have never done this before but I thought I would try it out.  Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted by Jenn at Crazy for Books and it's a way to for book bloggers to connect and check out other blogs.

This week's question is:  "If you were given the chance to spend one day in a fictional world (from a book), which book would it be from and what would that place be?"

This is a toughie.  I have always wanted to spend a day in Outlander era Scotland so that I could hang out with Jamie Fraser (woohoo!).  I am kind of conflicted about this though because after finishing Shadowfever, I think it be so awesome to spend a day in Dublin with Mac and Barrons especially to see the bookstore (I am so jealous that Mac gets to run BB&B!).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review: "Shadowfever" by Karen Marie Moning

From Goodreads: 
MacKayla Lane was just a child when she and her sister, Alina, were given up for adoption and banished from Ireland forever. Twenty years later, Alina is dead and Mac has returned to the country that expelled them to hunt her sister’s murderer. But after discovering that she descends from a bloodline both gifted and cursed, Mac is plunged into a secret history: an ancient conflict between humans and immortals who have lived concealed among us for thousands of years.
What follows is a shocking chain of events with devastating consequences, and now Mac struggles to cope with grief while continuing her mission to acquire and control the Sinsar Dubh—a book of dark, forbidden magic scribed by the mythical Unseelie King, containing the power to create and destroy worlds.
In an epic battle between humans and Fae, the hunter becomes the hunted when the Sinsar Dubh turns on Mac and begins mowing a deadly path through those she loves.
Who can she turn to? Who can she trust? Who is the woman haunting her dreams? More important, who is Mac herself and what is the destiny she glimpses in the black and crimson designs of an ancient tarot card?

From the luxury of the Lord Master’s penthouse to the sordid depths of an Unseelie nightclub, from the erotic bed of her lover to the terrifying bed of the Unseelie King, Mac’s journey will force her to face the truth of her exile, and to make a choice that will either save the world . . . or destroy it.

My Thoughts:  Let me start out by saying that I normally do not read books in the paranormal romance genre but every now and then a book (or group of books) comes along that completely changes my mind about that genre.  The Fever series by Karen Marie Moning did just that.  Shadowfever is the fifth, and final book, in the series and in my opinion, it is the best.  The story was action packed with some major plot twists that I was definitely not expecting and the whole thing just cemented MacKayla Lane and Jericho Barrons as two of my favorite fictional characters.  Jericho Barrons now rivals Jamie Fraser (Outlander) for my affections as best, and sexiest, male character EVER.

I was concerned because this book was the longest of all five but I hardly noticed the length.  I could not put it down until I knew how everyone was going to end  up.  I must say I am pretty pleased with how Ms. Moning ended the series; I can't think of one thing that I would want to be different.  I also need to praise the dialogue in this book; there are quotes that had me running for my notebook to write down and keep because they were so powerful.  If you have not read the Fever series, you should most definitely do so!  5 stars.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Review: "Siberian Education" by Nicolai Lilin

From Goodreads:  In a contested, lawless region between Moldova and Ukraine known as Transnistria, a tightly knit group of "honest criminals"—exiled there by Stalin-live according to strict codes of ritualized respect and fierce loyalty. Here, tattoos tell the story of a man's life, "honest" weapons are separated from "sinful" ones, and authority is always to be distrusted. Beyond the control of any government and outside the bounds of "society" as we know it, these men uphold values including respect for elders and an unwavering adherence to the truth with passion-and often by brute force. 

My Thoughts:  As someone who is intrigued by all things Russian, this was a really interesting read for me.  I won it on Goodreads and really didn't know what to expect when I started reading it.  I honestly don't know how much of it is fact and how much is fiction (the author's note says some tales are made up) but the author provides the reader with a look at the criminal world in Transdneister.  I found the descriptions of the rules of the criminal factions, the tattoos and the "language" they spoke fascinating but I felt like the story was kind of disjointed and jumped around.  The book was comprised more of anecdotes and stories then one cohesive storyline.  There were some really neat characters in the book and I think that's why I kept reading despite being confused at times as to where the story was going.  I was also really struck by how the criminal groups were really one large family and worked hard to look out for one another despite their violent backgrounds.  I must say that I did find the part about the prison rapes revolting; I had to skip through those parts because I could not stomach what was being described.  Overall, if you are interested in Russia, you may want to check this book out.  3 stars.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I finally did it!

I bought a nook!  I have been thinking and re-thinking this decision for months and finally I just went for it.  I had been planning to wait until I made a serious dent in the books I already own but I got my paycheck from my second job yesterday and figured what the heck.  I did buy a refurbished one because it was less expensive; my biggest fear is that I would spend $200 on something I would bored with in a month so this I won't have to feel so bad if that happens.  I can't wait until it gets here so that I can try it out!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Books I am Excited About

I have been trying to use the library more this year and I just picked up several books that I am super excited to read!

Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning-I love the Fever series!  This is the last book and after the major cliff hanger at the end of Dreamfever, I can't wait to dive into this one!

Auschwitz:  A New History by Laurence Rees-This isn't a newly published book but I just recently heard about it.  It's supposed to include interviews from survivors as well as the Nazis working at the camp.  I am really interested in the Holocaust and World War II and am curious to see what this book brings to the table. 

A Woman Nobly Planned:  Fact and Myth in the Legacy of Flora MacDonald by John J. Toffey:  The Outlander series really turned me on to Scottish history as well as the history of the Scottish Highlanders in America.  I found Flora MacDonald to be an intriguing figure in the series and am looking to learning more about her.

In the Garden of Beasts:  Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson-I am on a very long library waiting list for this book and I haven't decided if I want to break down and buy it or not.  I think the premise of the book sounds fascinating and as I said above, I am really interested in that period in history.  I also liked Larson's Devil in the White City so I think this could be a really good read.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana de Rosnay

From Goodreads:  Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

My thoughts:  This is one of the best books I have read this year.  It was excruciatingly sad but so compelling.  I am drawn to books set in the Holocaust because I am always interested in seeing how writers approach the subject.  This book was unlike any that I have read about the Holocaust because it took place in France and discussed French atrocities during World War II.  I have never heard of the Vel' d'Hiv roundup and now I really want to read up on France during World War II.  I felt that the characters in this story came to life and were very well developed and I thought Ms de Rosnay did an amazing job of telling the story from different points of view (for some of the book the story skips between the past and the present and is told from either Julia's or Sarah's point of view).  What Sarah suffered broke my heart and I just can't even imagine how events like those described in the book could affect a person and I loved how Julia was so adamant at trying to make things as right as she could.  I don't want to say too much more because I will give the story away, but I would highly recommend this book.  5 Stars.

Review: "Remainder" by Tom McCarthy

From Goodreads:  A man is severely injured in a mysterious accident, receives an outrageous sum in legal compensation, and has no idea what to do with it.

Then, one night, an ordinary sight sets off a series of bizarre visions he can’t quite place.

How he goes about bringing his visions to life–and what happens afterward–makes for one of the most riveting, complex, and unusual novels in recent memory.

Remainder is about the secret world each of us harbors within, and what might happen if we were granted the power to make it real.

My thoughts:  This was the May read for my book club.  It sounded kind of like "The Bourne Identity" and I thought it would be an interesting read.  I was wrong.  The whole story is very vague; you never know much about the main character and you never find out what his accident really was.  The story is basically about a strange guy with a lot of money that he spends setting up 're-enactments' of things he vaguely remembers from his life prior to the accident and events that happen after the accident in order to feel 'normal' or 'real'.  He pays people to help him and eventually winds up going too far.  Throughout the story I kept waiting for some moment of clarity that would make me say "Oh, I get it now"...this never happened.  I also kept wondering why the people in his life did not just say no to him.  No matter how many hair-brained schemes he came up with, everyone went along with his ideas and this really bugged me! I don't know if I just did not understand the main point or I was just bored, but I did not care for this book at all.  1 Star. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Books I am Excited About

There are several books that have either just come out or will be coming out in the next couple months that I am super excited about.

Queen by Right by Anne Easter Smith-Anne Easter Smith has written several novels that take place during the Wars of the Roses and that feature both Edward IV and Richard III.  I have thoroughly enjoyed all of her books and can not wait to read this one as it focuses on Edward and Richard's mother, Cecily Neville.

The Summer Garden by Paullina Simons-This book was published a few years ago from what I can see but it is very expensive to buy in hardcover and I was unable to get it from my library.  It is coming out in June in paperback and I will be pre-ordering my copy so that I get it as soon as possible.  The Summer Garden is the third and final book in the "Tatiana and Alexander" trilogy.  It is also historical fiction but is set in America after World War II.  The first book in this trilogy, The Bronze Horseman, is an AMAZING book (seriously, if you have not read it, go get it asap).  It is probably the best book I have read this year and I am really anxious to see how everything works out for the two star-crossed lovers in The Summer Garden. 

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater-This is the third and final book in 'The Wolves of Mercy Falls' trilogy and comes out in July.  I liked both Shiver and Linger and after the big cliff-hanger at the end of Linger, I absolutely have to read Forever to find out what happens to Grace.

Review: "The Queen of Last Hopes" by Susan Higginbotham

From Goodreads:  A man other than my husband sits on England's throne today.
What would happen if this king suddenly went mad? What would his queen do? Would she make the same mistakes I did, or would she learn from mine?
Margaret of Anjou, queen of England, cannot give up on her husband-even when he slips into insanity. And as mother to the House of Lancaster's last hope, she cannot give up on her son-even when England turns against them. This gripping tale of a queen forced to stand strong in the face of overwhelming odds is at its heart a tender tale of love.
Award-winning author Susan Higginbotham will once again ask readers to question everything they know about right and wrong, compassion and hope, duty to one's country and the desire of one's own heart.

My Thoughts:  I love love love historical fiction and I have read several novels in this genre that take place during the Wars of the Roses.  Most of the books I have read about this period are told from the Yorkist perspective and tend to villainize the Lancastrians, especially Margaret of Anjou.  The Queen of Last Hopes does just the opposite.  The story is told from the point of view of Margaret of Anjou as she tries to protect her husband's right to rule as well as her son's birthright.  Higginbotham made her a very sympathetic character and I was truly rooting for her to win against the House of York despite knowing that she would lose.  I know that both the Yorkists and Lancastrians were vicious towards each other in their attempts to gain power in England but Higginbotham really made me feel sorry for the Lancastrians who assisted Margaret and her husband as they tried to maintain the throne.  This is the third novel I have read by Susan Higginbotham and I must say that I enjoy her books quite a lot.  I can always relate to her characters and the stories she tells are very compelling. I especially appreciate that she is very clear in her 'author's notes' that her books contain some historical facts as well as some fictional occurrences.  She never claims to be telling the whole truth in her books and that makes me prefer her books to those of other, more popular, authors of historical fiction. 4 1/2 stars.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Review: "It" by Stephen King

From Goodreads:  A promise made twenty-eight years ago calls seven adults to reunite in Derry, Maine, where as teenagers they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city's children. Unsure that their Losers Club had vanquished the creature all those years ago, the seven had vowed to return to Derry if IT should ever reappear. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that summer return as they prepare to do battle with the monster lurking in Derry's sewers once more.

My Take:  I just have to say that Stephen King creates the best characters.  The seven children he wrote for this book were amazing; I felt like I knew each one of them personally.  They were each so unique with their own individual problems but still felt strong enough to try to combat the evil that took over their city.  I must say that I was surprised at how not scared I was by this book.  The story was definitely creepy and Pennywise/Bob Gray was one bad dude but I think some of the other characters in the story were more frightening then Pennywise and the people he controlled.  Eddie's mom was terrible; I kept thinking that she was borderline Munchausen syndrome.  Patrick was also an awful little psychopath who gave me the creeps.  I felt like King was trying to show people who were innately bad alongside people who were bad because they were affected by the evil forces in the town.  

The only thing that I didn't like so much about this book was the jumping around.  The book bounces between 1958 and 1985 and towards the end of the book every other chapter was a different time and it started to get confusing.  Other than that, I don't have any issues with this book.

4 stars:  I highly recommend this book!

Review: "Faefever" by Karen Marie Moning

From Goodreads:  He calls me his Queen of the Night. I'd die for him. I'd kill for him, too. When MacKayla Lane receives a torn page from her dead sister's journal, she is stunned by Alina's desperate words. And now MacKayla knows that her sister's killer is close. But evil is closer. And suddenly the sidhe-seer is on the hunt... For answers. For revenge. And for an ancient book of dark magic so evil, it corrupts anyone who touches it.

Mac's quest for the Sinsar Dubh takes her into the mean, shape-shifting streets of Dublin, with a suspicious cop on her tail. Forced into a dangerous triangle of alliance with V'lane - an insatiable Fae prince of lethally erotic tastes; and Jericho Barrons - a man of primal desires and untold secrets - Mac is soon locked in a battle for her body, mind, and soul.

As All Hallows' Eve approaches and the city descends into chaos, as a shocking truth about the Dark Book is uncovered, not even Mac can prevent a deadly race of immortals from shattering the walls between worlds - with devastating consequences.

Review:  I LOVE the Fever series.  This is the third book in the series and it was definitely one of my favorites.  Mac is a hilarious character but in this installment, the pain she feels at losing her sister is even more raw then before.  You also sense how conflicted she is; everyone who is helping her has ulterior motives and she can't fully trust anyone, even Jericho Barrons who has given her a job and a place to stay.  I had a really hard time with Barrons in this book because he was kind of a butt.  I think the point was to show that deep down he cares about her and worried about her safety but goodness, he is pompous and secretive.  The story had a few slow moments in the middle but for the most part it was very fast-paced, especially toward the end.  I also enjoyed how we got to see more of Christian MacKeltar as well as a softer side to Inspector Jayne (who I kind of like now).  

I don't want to give too much away but I must say the ending was shocking and had a major cliffhanger.  I can not wait to pick up the next book and if you haven't read any of this series, I highly recommend that you do.

4 stars.
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