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stella bainFor the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist at War Through the Generations, Serena and I will be hosting an August readalong of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve, which is set during World War I.  2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, or the War to End All Wars.

It is 1916, and a woman awakens, wounded, in a field hospital in northern France.  She wears the uniform of a British nurse’s aide but has an American accent.  With no memory of her past or what brought her to this distant war, she knows only that she can drive an ambulance, and that her name is Stella Bain.

As she puts her skills to use, both transporting the wounded from the battlefield and ministering to them in hospital tents, the holes in Stella’s psyche gnaw at the edge of her consciousness.  At last, desperate to find answers, she sets off for London to reconstruct her life.

She is taken in by Dr. August Bridge, a surgeon who becomes fascinated with her case and with the agonizing and inexplicable symptoms that plague her.  Delving into her deeply fractured mind, Bridge seeks to understand what terrible blow could have separated a woman from herself.  Together, they begin to unlock a disturbing history — of deception and thwarted love, violence and betrayal.  But as her memories come racing back, Stella realizes she must embark on a new journey to confront the haunted past of the woman she used to be.

In a sweeping, dramatic narrative that takes us from England to America and back again, Anita Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, and about loss and redemption in the wake of a war that devastated an entire generation.  (publisher’s summary)

Here’s the schedule for the discussions on War Through the Generations:

Friday, Aug. 8: pages 1-70

Friday, Aug. 15: pages 71-138

Friday, Aug. 22: pages 139-207

Friday, Aug. 29: pages 208-end

We hope you will read along with us, and even if you’ve already read the book, please feel free to join the discussion!

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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i am reginaFor the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist at War Through the Generations, Serena and I will be hosting an April readalong of the young adult novel I am Regina by Sally M. Keehn, which is set during the French and Indian War.

“Alone yet not alone am I,” the young Regina sings to herself, as she and her mother always used to sing together.  But she sings now in a different time and a different place.  Attacked by the Indians, her wilderness home has been burned to the ground, her father and brother scalped, and she taken captive.  And her mother, who was away from home that fateful day?  Regina can only hope she survived.

Yet even as she hopes, the eleven-year-old girl begins a new life.  Befriended by kindly Nonschetto, she learns to catch the wily fish maschilamek, to dance the Indian dance, to speak the Indian tongue, to stand up to the vicious Tiger Claw, and finally, even to grieve as her new people are lost to smallpox and the gun of the white man.  Still, as the years go by, she does not forget the song, or the hope that someday she will once again meet the woman with the light brown hair and the sweet voice who was her mother.

In poetic prose, remarkable for its simplicity and beauty, Sally Keehn captures the drama of a young girl torn from her home and forced to learn an alien way of life.  I am Regina is an unforgettable first novel, written with understanding and compassion for the innocent of both sides caught in a war between conflicting cultures.

Winner of the 1992 Carolyn W. Field Award  (publisher’s summary)

Because the book is so short (my copy is only 240 pages), we’ll be dividing it into two discussions:

Friday, April 11: Chapters 1-13

Friday, April 25: Chapter 14-the end

The discussions will be held on War Through the Generations.  We hope you’ll join us!

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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For our 2014 War Challenge With a Twist, in which we cover six wars over the course of the year, Serena and I decided to host a few readalongs that correspond with the challenge.  And since you only have to read one book to complete the challenge at the lowest level, we hope you’ll join us for one or all of these readalongs.  (And it’s not too late to sign up for the challenge!  The details can be found here.)

sunrise over fallujah**Our first readalong will be hosted at War Through the Generations in February and focuses on the war in Iraq: Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

Spring 2003.

Robin “Birdy” Perry, a new army recruit from Harlem, is not quite sure why he enlisted, but he’s sure where he’s headed: Iraq.  He’s riding along with the rest of the Civilian Affairs unit:  Marla, the witty gunner; the ever-cool career man Captain Coles; Jonesy, the funny guitar-picking blues player; Victor, an ex-gangbanger; and Captain Miller, a thoughtful and complicated military doctor.

Birdy and the others in Civilian Affairs are supposed to help secure and stabilize Iraq and successfully interact with the Iraqi people.  Officially, the code name for their maneuvers is Operation Iraqi Freedom.  But these young men and women in the CA unit have a simpler name for it:

War.

Much of what Birdy knows about war he learned from the letters his uncle Richie Perry wrote from Vietnam.  Seems like a lot of the fear feels the same.  But it’s a different time, a different war.  Caught in the cross fire of a conflict, a country, and a culture he doesn’t understand, Birdy soon finds that “winning” sometimes becomes just surviving — and that hero is a complicated word.  (publisher’s summary)

Discussion questions will be posted on Fridays for the designated chapters on War Through the Generations.  As there are no chapter numbers, we’ll have to use page numbers (which are the same in the hardcover I have from the library and the paperback Serena owns).

Here’s the reading schedule and discussion dates:

  • Friday, Feb. 7:  Pgs. 1-86 (ends with “I don’t mind, though.”)
  • Friday, Feb. 14: Pgs. 87-152 (begins with “April 12, 2003″; ends with “nothing over here.”)
  • Friday, Feb. 21: Pgs. 153-214 (begins with “Sergeant Harris and Jonesy got” and ends with “toothpaste to the Iraqis.”)
  • Friday, Feb.  28:  Pgs. 215-end (begins with “A tribal leader”)

Here’s our plan for the rest of the readalongs:

April: I Am Regina by Sally M. Keehn (French and Indian War)

June: War Babies by Frederick Busch (Korean War)

August: Stella Bain by Anita Shreve (WWI)

October: The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter (WWII)

December: Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien (Vietnam)

We hope you’ll consider joining us for one or more of these books!

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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He said the offensive in Flanders was going to the bad.  If they killed men as they did this fall the Allies would be cooked in another year.  He said we were all cooked but we were all right as long as we did not know it.  We were all cooked.  The thing was not to recognize it.  The last country to realize they were cooked would win the war.

(from A Farewell to Arms, pages 133-134)

I was really excited when Serena suggested A Farewell to Arms for the War Through the Generations read-along, mainly because I’ve owned my brittle, tattered used copy for over a decade and have yet to read a Hemingway novel.  However, I knew I was in trouble when I alternated from wanting to fall asleep and wanting to throw the book across the room…and I was only on the first page.  Right away, I determined I was not a fan of Ernest Hemingway’s writing style, which is mostly sparse prose with bland descriptions and some rambling paragraphs with a glaring lack of commas.  But because it was our read-along pick for the WWI Reading Challenge, I didn’t abandon the book.

A Farewell to Arms is set mostly in Italy during World War I and based somewhat on Hemingway’s war experiences.  The main character, Lieutenant (Tenente) Henry is an American ambulance driver in the Italian army.  He seems to be a calm man with command of any situation, and he appears to be well liked.  Although the war is always there hanging over the characters, it’s mostly a love story, centering on the relationship between Henry and an English nurse, Catherine Barkley, whose fiancé was killed in battle.  Theirs is an interesting romance, one that I had trouble buying, at least at first.

Catherine comes off as kind of crazy at the beginning, which I attributed to her recent loss and her hesitance to start a new relationship.  She begins working in Milan when Henry is transferred there for surgery and therapy after he is wounded, and that is when their relationship really heats up.  Catherine’s blabbering conversations underscore her weakness; she prattles on about how she and Henry are the same person and how she is nothing without him, and she’s always asking if he loves her and going on about how she only wants to please him.  Pages and pages of this really got on my nerves.

The story hits a high point, however, when Henry returns to the front, and the Italians are forced to retreat.  Hemingway’s sparse descriptions work here, emphasizing the bleakness and desolation of war.  But events conspire to bring Catherine and Henry back together, then it’s more of the same, and I grew bored again.  It becomes a bit more exciting just before what I found to be an abrupt ending.

Much of what I didn’t like about A Farewell to Arms has to do with the distance placed between the reader and the narrator, which is disappointing because the story is told in the first person.  I never felt like I knew Henry; for much of the book, his inner thoughts are concealed from the reader.  His reactions to big, life-changing events are muted, and because I didn’t know him, I couldn’t tell whether shock or indifference was to blame.  I understand that Hemingway’s writing style is more about the things that aren’t said, but I just didn’t feel like it worked here.

A Farewell to Arms is strong when it comes to the war, but less than thrilling when it comes to the romance.  Hemingway’s writing style just isn’t for me.  Even so, by the end of the book, I did find myself liking Catherine a little bit.  Although I thought the book was just okay and probably wouldn’t have felt guilty abandoning it, overall I’m glad I read it.

Have any of you read Hemingway?  What did you think?

If you are interested in checking out the read-along discussion (BEWARE OF SPOILERS), go here:  Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4.

Book 11 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Book 26 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I bought my copy of A Farewell to Arms. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Serena and I are co-hosting a read-along for the WWI Reading Challenge on War Through the Generations, but you don’t have to be a challenge participate to take part.  We will read a little bit of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms each week throughout the month of June, with discussion questions to be posted on the challenge blog every Friday.  It’s not too late to sign up, and you can jump into the discussion at any time.

Here’s the schedule:

Week 1: Chapters 1-10 (discussion on June 8)

Week 2: Chapters 11-20 (discussion on June 15)

Week 3: Chapters 21-30 (discussion on June 22)

Week 4: Chapters 31-41 (discussion on June 29)

We hope you’ll consider joining us.  I’m excited to delve into Hemingway, as I’ve only read a couple of his shorter works.

Have you read A Farewell to Arms?  What did you think?

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Carrie from Books and Movies hosted a read-along of The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey during the month of March.  This final discussion focuses on pages 239 to the end, the sections titled “Secrets, 1922,” “Choices, 1922,” “Home, 1922,” and “Epilogue, 1924.”  (Check out my responses to the discussions on Part 1/Part 2 and Part 3.)

Beware of spoilers!  Please note that I will be posting a spoiler-free review next week!

Here are my responses to Carrie’s questions:

Were you as angry as I was when Eileen slept with James while pregnant with Owen’s baby, in order to pass the baby off as his?

I wasn’t angry with Eileen, just sad.  To be honest, I fell in love with Owen myself, so I was sad that they couldn’t easily be together, and I was especially sad that she was willing to deny Owen his child.  However, I understood why Eileen felt she needed to do it.  First, she was married to James, and who knows how he would take the news?  Second, she would be ridiculed at the mill when everyone found out that she was carrying another man’s baby.  On top of all that, Owen and James were on different sides of the fighting, and lives could be in danger.

Was Owen’s reaction to that justified, in your opinion?

Of course!

Did you understand why Eileen was so torn about reporting what she knew about James’ plans for the mill?

Yes.  She still felt a certain loyalty to James, though I don’t necessarily understand that, yet she didn’t want innocent people to die or lose their livelihoods.  However, why it took so long for her to make the right decision was a bit baffling.  I didn’t think she’d wait until the crime was in progress.

What about her hesitancy to marry Owen?

I understood why she wouldn’t want to jump into marriage again.  She’d gone through so much in her life already, and she needed time to process it all.  I’m just glad that Owen was so understanding!

What did you think of how things ended for the following characters: Frankie, Lizzie, Terrence, Fergus, and, of course, James?

I though Fergus acted cowardly, though I could understand how conflicted he was.  I was sad for Frankie, but I think in the end, he was happier.  I was sad for Terrence, too, because he’d lost so much as well, and whether he’d get a second chance was uncertain.  I felt bad that Lizzie had lost so much, but I felt she had a happy ending.  James…I felt like he got what he deserved, but his last meeting with Eileen was touching.  I didn’t expect that from him.  It almost made me feel sorry for him.

Were you satisfied with the way things ended for Eileen’s mom?

I thought Falvey ended her story realistically.  At least there was some promise on that front.

And, lastly, were you happy with how things ended for Eileen?

Yes.  She was at a point where she was content and could imagine herself being happy.  Her dream had come as true as it could, and that was satisfying for me.

I’d like to thank Carrie for organizing the read-along, and I hope you all check out my review next week! Have you read The Yellow House?  What did you think?

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Carrie from Books and Movies is hosting a read-along of The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey during the month of March.  This week’s discussion focuses on pages 165-238, the sections titled “Truce, 1920-1921″ and “Passion, 1921.”  (My answers to the previous discussion questions are here.)

Beware of spoilers!

My overall impressions of the book so far:

Och, what a page turner!  I have so much going on right now that the slower pace of the read-along schedule works for me, but it’s so hard to put the book down.  It really is a good book to savor and contemplate, but it’s so tempting to drop everything and read to the end.  At least the suspense won’t kill me for too much longer, as the final discussion is next week.

I absolutely love Falvey’s writing and especially her handling of Irish history.  There’s no rambling Frank Delaney-style storytelling (which I love), but the way the story is unfolding totally fits Eileen’s character.  And speaking of characters, Falvey’s are so complex and vivid that they feel real to me.  I loved her most recent novel, The Linen Queen, but so far, The Yellow House is even better!

Carrie asked the read-along participants to post some questions this time around.  Serena asks, do you think Owen has a right to ask Eileen for something in return for his kindness, and do you think he goes too far asking her to give up her role in the Troubles and commit to volunteer work?

Well, considering that he’s gone out of his way to keep Eileen in her job and she’s asking him to go out of his way to help her (and she so desperately needs said job), I think he has a right to ask for something in return.  After all, she doesn’t have to agree.  And based on what the gossipers think, he could have asked for something worse (though she might not have thought about it that way, ha!).  I think Owen being older and having seen the horrors of war gives him an advantage over Eileen in terms of growing up.  I think he knows Eileen is hurt and angry and can’t see beyond that now, and I also think her work for the Cause was too much on the sidelines for her to know the horrors of war.  Owen knows that when he makes Eileen work at the hospital, she’s going to see things that will make her think, that will cause her some pain, but that will eventually help her grow up.  (Oh, and it was also necessary for her to be at the hospital so that she could uncover the truth about Lizzie.)

Serena also wants to know, do you think Owen is right that confronting the past can help us heal? Do you think it will help Eileen?

I think he has a point, that you really have to face your troubles head on for you to move past them.  Will it help Eileen?  One can hope, but we need to get James out of the way permanently first!

Here are some questions of my own:

Do you think Frank is justified in abandoning his family and in the treatment of his sister?

I don’t dislike Frank as much as I do James, but he’s another one who makes me angry.  I can see how the revelation of his parentage would hurt him deeply, but at the same time, the man who raised him was nothing but good to him, and Eileen, even understanding as a child that he was angry, distant, and brooding and didn’t care for her much, continually reaches out to him because he’s family.  I think he has a lot of growing up to do and should have done it by now, but there are some deep wounds in the O’Neill family that will take time to heal, if they even can be repaired.

Do you think finding Lizzie will help Eileen’s mom to heal?

I hope I’m wrong, but I think she’s too far gone for that.  If seeing Lizzie alive would just cause her to come out of her shell, I would be so angry for Eileen and Paddy and Frank.  They are her children, too…and yet, mental illness is a scary, complex thing.  I feel so bad for Eileen every time she visits her mom and effectively gets the cold shoulder.  I still am trying to understand how she went from the strong I-mean-business woman in the bank to a mess in the blink of an eye.

What do you think about Owen buying the Yellow House?

Given that much has been made about how the O’Neill ancestors “stole” the house from the Sheridans and now the O’Neills have fallen apart, I found that totally predictable.  And yet the romantic in me was happy, because Owen understands Eileen’s dream and had similar hopes for the Yellow House.  I’m still holding out for the sappy ending in which they are happy together in that house.  There’s so much about their relationship that reminds me of Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

Have you read The Yellow House?  What did you think?

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Carrie from Books and Movies is hosting a read-along of The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey during the month of March.  Since I loved The Linen Queen by Falvey, I really wanted to read this book.  I started a bit late, but I’ve caught up now.  Here are my responses to the first two sets of discussion questions. 

Beware of spoilers!

The Part 1 discussion was held on March 9 and covered the first two sections of the book, “Glenlea, County Armagh 1905″ and “Queensbrook Linen Mill 1913,” pages 1-90.

What do you think of the writing?

I love Falvey’s writing.  You can tell she’s from Northern Ireland and Ireland and is familiar with the culture, the history, the legends, and the politics.  I especially love and appreciate how Falvey explains the politics of the time, the fight for Home Rule that begins just as World War I is heating up, and how it leads to the Irish War of Independence.  I wish I would have read The Yellow House before reading Sebastian Barry’s novel A Long Long Way because he just assumes the reader already knows what was brewing in Ireland at the time.  Best of all, Falvey’s explanations fit the narrative, so it doesn’t feel like she’s breaking away from the story to give a history lesson.

What do you think of Eileen’s parents?

What a sad situation!  It’s obvious that they love each other, but Eileen’s mother is more sensible and practical, while her father is hung up on the stories of his warrior ancestors and is laid back when it comes to running the farm and supporting his family.  The scene in the bank when Mary is determined to pay off the mortgage that her husband took out makes her seem like such a strong woman, so it was surprising to me that she fell apart and withdrew from life when Lizzie died, especially when she had two other children who needed her.

It seems that the book is heading in a romantic direction when it comes to Eileen and Owen Sheridan. What do you think of this potential romance?

There’s something about Owen that I like.  Though at this point it seems like it’ll take awhile for their romance to come about, mainly because he’s going off to war and she’s perceived as not being good enough for the son of the mill owner.  Of course, Owen doesn’t seem to care about that, as he goes out of his way to make conditions in the mill better after hearing Eileen’s complaints.  I can’t wait to see where the story goes!

As we closed the second section, the world is on the brink of the First World War, and Ireland is being torn apart by the fight for Home Rule. Have you learned anything about Ireland or the world at this time period that was new to you?

I first heard the term Home Rule in Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Way, but I had no idea what it was all about.  Ireland’s politics was pretty complicated at the time, but Falvey does a good job giving readers a basic understanding of the politics.

******

The Part 2 discussion was posted today and covers the next two sections, “War 1914-1918″ and “Insurrection 1919-1920,” pages 91-164.

Were you surprised by the turn the romantic storyline took?

Not really, because I didn’t think Eileen getting together with Owen was going to happen quickly or easily.  There has to be another man involved!  I just didn’t expect her to marry James.  That part did surprise me a bit.

What do you think of James? Is his treatment of his family – all in the name of the cause – justified?

I didn’t like James from the start.  Eileen should have known not to get involved with him when she tried to sit in his chair when he wasn’t even living with his mom and his mom wouldn’t let Eileen sit there because it’s his chair.  Never mind the fact that his brother, Fergus, has to sleep outside because the sainted James needs his own room when he comes home from the war.  And he doesn’t care enough to have his brother brought back inside!  And don’t even get me started about how he ignored Eileen’s choice of name for their daughter and let his crazy mother name her at the baptism.  His actions toward his family are not justified; he’s just a spoiled child who has been coddled by his mother and never had to think or worry about the needs of anyone else.  Is he really in it for the cause or for the action?

What do you think of Eileen’s reaction to James’ final betrayal – the emptying of her savings account?

I wasn’t surprised by how broken up she was about it, especially considering her mother’s breakdown.  She’d worked so hard to overcome all of the blows dealt to her family, pinning all of her hopes and dreams on buying back the Yellow House, and now that dream is gone.  What does she have left?  Her family is torn apart, she hasn’t really bonded with her daughter, her mother-in-law is a monster, and she obviously can’t count on her husband.  I felt so sad for Eileen, yet she shouldn’t really be surprised given what she knows about her husband.

How do you think the author is handling the intricacies of the political situation?

I like that Falvey shows both sides of the battle.  Even on the side fighting for Home Rule, there are varying levels of support and involvement.  No war is ever black and white, and Falvey highlights the shades of gray with Owen representing the side of the British.  Eileen being torn between James and Owen represents how the country is torn, and some people aren’t sure what side to take.

Have you read The Yellow House?  What did you think?

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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