Posts Tagged ‘book club’

the program

Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I hate The Program and what it does to us, but I also know that I don’t want to die.  I don’t want any of us to.  Despite everything, our school district has the highest survival rate in the country.  So in some sick and twisted way…I guess The Program works.  Even if the result is a life half lived.

(from The Program, page 24)

The Program is a young adult novel set in a world where suicide has become an epidemic among teens.  In an effort to prevent them from succumbing to their depression, some high schools have implemented the Program, which aims to cure them by erasing their memories.  Sloane is grieving the death of her brother and the loss of her best friend to the Program.  Neither Sloane nor her boyfriend, James, can express their feelings for fear they will be taken by the Program — either at school, where they are under the watchful eyes of handlers, or at home, turned in by their own parents, who believe the Program is their only hope.  They don’t seem to notice or care that the children who complete the Program come home as empty shells of their former selves.

James is the only person Sloane can trust, the only one who can see her cry, and he vows to protect them both from the Program.  But when they lose someone else close to them, James starts to unravel, and Sloane must find a way to safeguard her memories of him so that, no matter what, their love will survive.

The Program is an interesting look at how far society and the government will go to protect the next generation, but it soon becomes apparent that the Program doesn’t have the best interests of its patients in mind.  Although the cause of the suicide epidemic is unknown, the Program only makes things worse by forcing teens to bury any emotion other than happiness.  Sloane, for instance, has to fake an injury to have an excuse to cry and must always pretend for her parents’ sake that everything is just fine.

Suzanne Young tells the story through Sloane’s eyes, so readers understand the depths of her grief and the fear of knowing that every move she makes is being watched, and they follow her as she struggles to hold it together.  With the threat of the Program looming overhead, there is little talk about the future — other than trying to make it to 18, when they can no longer be forced into the Program.  Given their shared grief and their lack of another emotional outlet, it’s not surprising that Sloane and James’ relationship takes center stage.  Of course, Young creates a love triangle, among other obstacles, and between that and the Program, there is more than enough angst and melodrama to go around.  I understood why their relationship was so important to Sloane and central to her happiness, but it was also sad that she felt she had little to live for beyond that relationship, and all the memories she wanted to preserve involved James.  Honestly, all the “James this” and “James that” quickly became repetitive and even annoying at times.  I read this book with The Girl for our July book club meeting, and she did a fair share of eye-rolling throughout.

Still, the idea behind the story is intriguing, and the choice Sloane must make provides much food for thought.  The Program did generate a great book club discussion, though most of us had mixed feelings about the book.  It didn’t seem as though most of the book club was curious enough to read the sequel, The Treatment, but there were enough loose ends to make me want to know how it all plays out.

Disclosure: I borrowed The Program from the public library.

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

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Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★☆

Alek found himself deposited into the commander’s chair as the machine began to move.  He struggled with the seat straps, but a terrible thought took hold of his mind, freezing his fingers.

If they’re trying to kill me…it’s all true.

Count Volger crouched beside him, yelling over the rumble of engines and gunfire.  “Take heart at this impoliteness, Alek.  It proves that you are still a threat to the throne.”

(from Leviathan, page 49)

Leviathan is the first book in the steampunk series of the same name, which presents an alternate history of World War I.  The novel is set partly in Austria-Hungary, a Clanker nation that uses steam-driven iron machines as weapons, and Britain, a Darwinist nation that uses fabricated animals as weapons.  The novel centers on Prince Aleksandar Ferdinand (Alek), son of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who is on the run in a two-legged Cykolps Stormwalker with his fencing master, Count Volger, and his master of mechaniks, Otto Klopp, after his parents’ assassination.

Meanwhile, Deryn Sharp aims to become an airman in the British Air Service, so she disguises herself as Dylan Sharp.  After managing to keep her head when a storm botches her air test on a Huxley, a jellyfish-like hydrogen breather, Deryn is rescued by the Leviathan.  She soon becomes a member of the whale-like airship’s crew.  When war breaks out between the Clankers and the Darwinists, Alek and Deryn are brought together as the factions — each needing something from the other — join forces to make a delivery of the utmost importance to Constantinople.

This was my first foray into steampunk, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  Scott Westerfeld’s detailed descriptions of each Clanker machine and each fabricated animal, coupled with illustrations by Keith Thompson, make them come to life.  Without being able to visualize their inner workings, I would have been lost, since their maneuverings make up a great chunk of the story.  It’s obvious that the Clanker and Darwinist weapons are fiction, but Westerfeld plays with other historical details as well, and I was thankful for the afterword that sets everything straight.

Leviathan shines not just in its world-building but also in its characters.  Alek and Deryn are both strong, admirable characters whose flaws are on full display throughout the course of the novel.  They are both intelligent, quick thinkers, but they are also teenagers, and their secrets are nearly exposed several times due to their pride and foolishness.

Westerfeld manages to make both the characters and the alternate history believable, and the novel is perfectly paced with plenty of action to keep readers’ attention throughout.  I wish all science fiction novels showed the same attention to detail as Leviathan, as I didn’t find myself questioning this world as much as I normally do when reading books in this genre.  I finished this novel months ago (for my book club’s October selection, in fact), and it has stayed with me.  I hope to finish the trilogy, which continues with Behemoth and Goliath, in the new year.

Disclosure: I borrowed Leviathan from the public library.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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his majesty's dragon

Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★★

Laurence did not understand his attitude, until Temeraire said, “I do not suppose that is real?  There is no way that people can become dragons, or the reverse?”

“No, I am afraid not,” Laurence said slowly; the notion that Temeraire might have liked to make a change was distressing to him, suggesting as it did a very deep unhappiness.

But Temeraire only sighed and said, “Oh, well; I thought as much. It would have been nice, though, to be able to read and write for myself when I liked, and also that you could fly alongside me.”

(from His Majesty’s Dragon, pages 209-210)

His Majesty’s Dragon, the first book in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, was my book club’s August pick.  Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the novel follows Captain Will Laurence of the British Navy, whose ship captures a French frigate carrying an unhatched dragon egg.  When the egg hatches before they reach the shore, Laurence, recognizing the importance of the dragon to England’s war effort, harnesses it — bonding himself to the dragon for the rest of his life.

As a result, Laurence is forced to give up any plans he might have had for marriage and any semblance of a normal life to join the Aerial Corps as captain of Temeraire, a rare Chinese Imperial dragon.  As he and Temeraire forge a strong friendship, Laurence soon realizes that he is where he belongs and becomes very attentive and protective of the dragon everyone wants to see and no one thinks he deserves.

Novik takes readers on a journey with Laurence as he overcomes the hostility among members of the Aerial Corps who waited for years to captain their own dragons only to be usurped by a lowly Naval captain with no aerial combat experience; endures grueling training sessions, intense combat, and even moments of sheer joy with Temeraire; and most importantly, develops a relationship with the dragon that is somewhere between a close friendship and intense love.  Laurence spends all his free time grooming, reading to, conversing with, and simply enjoying the company of Temeraire, whose childlike awe and advanced intelligence never cease to amaze him.

I have never been a fan of fantasy novels, and I admit I wasn’t looking forward to reading His Majesty’s Dragon, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it from the very beginning and how much I grew to love Laurence and especially Temeraire by the end.  At the beginning, when the sailors were waiting for the newly hatched Temeraire to talk, I was worried that aspect of the book would be cheesy, but Novik made me believe in a world where talking dragons exist, and I couldn’t get enough of Temeraire’s humorously innocent comments, his bold declarations of devotion to Laurence, and his insatiable desire for books and knowledge.

Novik created a world in which dragons are not magical creatures, but simply a species that possesses human-like intelligence and breed-specific powers.  Each dragon that trains and fights alongside Laurence and Temeraire, just like their captains, has a well-developed and distinct personality.  Novak also does a great job balancing world-building and character development with the action needed to propel the story forward, increasing tensions among the captains and dragons as Napoleon’s plans to invade England come to a head.  The idea of dragons being used as weapons in the Napoleonic Wars may sound silly, but Novik makes it seem plausible.

The book club generally thought His Majesty’s Dragon was a decent fantasy novel and better than many expected, though I think I loved it more than most.  In fact, I admit it made me want my own Temeraire to draw me under his wing while I read to him.  (I never expected to love/want a dragon, but I also never expected to encounter a dragon who loves books as much as I do!)

My experience with His Majesty’s Dragon serves as another argument in favor of reading outside your comfort zone.  I went from dreading this book to longing to drop everything and read the rest of the series right now.  (The eighth book was just released.)  Novik puts a unique spin on history with a believable story about a young dragon trying to find his place in the world and a man whose life was thrown into chaos and changed for the better, complete with enthralling characters and descriptions that made it impossible for me to put the book down.  If you’ve never given thought to reading a dragon book, I hope you’ll consider giving this one a try.  I’m glad I did, and now I can’t wait to devour the next book in the series!

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 29 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I borrowed His Majesty’s Dragon from the public library.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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do androids dream of electric sheep

Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★☆

For Rick Deckard an escaped humanoid robot, which had killed its master, which had been equipped with an intelligence greater than that of many human beings, which had no regard for animals, which possessed no ability to feel empathetic joy for another life form’s success or grief at its defeat — that, for him, epitomized The Killers.

(from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, page 32)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, published in 1968, is a post-apocalyptic, science fiction novel on which the movie Blade Runner (which I haven’t seen) was based.  Set in 2021, Philip K. Dick imagines a world in which war has decimated the human and animal populations, most people have emigrated to Mars to escape the toxic dust, and owning an animal of any kind is a status symbol.  Animals have become so rare, so coveted, and so expensive that many people purchase more affordable electric versions that are so similar their neighbors can’t tell the difference.

The novel covers a day in the life of Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter with the San Francisco police who makes most of his money “retiring” androids that have escaped their lives of servitude on Mars to live among the few remaining humans on Earth.  Deckard has been given the impossible task of retiring six androids in a single day, and he hopes to put the money he earns toward the purchase of a real animal to live alongside his electric sheep.  The biggest difference between a human and an android (which looks like, acts like, and thinks like a human) is empathy.  Deckard uses a test that gauges the level of empathy exhibited by the subject based on a series of questions, and he kills those that fail to pass it.  He has no problem killing androids…until he finds himself attracted to one.

While Deckard is out hunting androids, John Isidore lives a lonely existence in an empty apartment building.  He is a “chickenhead” barred from emigrating due to the effects of the toxic dust on his intelligence.  His life consists of his job as a driver for an electric-animal repair shop, a television tuned to a single channel, and an empathy box that lets the user be one with the Christ-like Mercer being pelted with rocks on his grueling uphill climb and share the thoughts and feelings of other Mercerites.  When a trio of androids takes up residence in the building, Isidore finally feels accepted.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was my book club’s June selection (read Serena’s review for a recap of our meeting) and a book I never would have read otherwise.  It’s difficult to describe since there is so much going on.  It’s a novel about a civilization in decay, but it doesn’t explain much about the war that occurred years before.  The world is technologically advanced, given the human-like androids, the ability to travel to Mars, and the use of hovercars, but I wanted more details about the empathy boxes and especially the “mood organ” that lets users dial up whatever mood they want to be in that day.  The parts about the religion of Mercerism are confusing and somewhat out of place, yet the story line about the bounty hunters and the androids overshadows everything else and is actually the most interesting.

I was surprised by how much I liked this book.  It was very readable, and despite wanting more details and world-building, I found it hard to put down.  There is one scene in a police station that had me on the edge of my seat; I was suddenly unsure of everything I thought I knew, and I like being kept on my toes like that.  It made a great book club selection, as it is very thought-provoking.  What does it mean to be human?  Does it really boil down to empathy?  When do humans cross the line into inhumanity?  Despite living in a far different world than Deckard and Isidore, Dick makes it possible to understand them to a certain extent.  Surely we can understand the characters’ love of animals and the desire to care for them; we see today how many people view their pets as part of the family.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? reminds me why I need to read outside my comfort zone every once in awhile.  I was fascinated by the various story lines, even when they confused me.  I felt Deckard’s exhaustion when I thought about how the whole book takes place in one day.  I was second-guessing every character (are they human or android?) and was more invested in the characters than I imagined I would be.  I didn’t care for the ending so much because it felt a bit rushed and almost like Dick didn’t know where to go with the story (and with so many plot lines, I wouldn’t be surprised if he confused himself), but I appreciated how much the book made me think about humanity and how I would act in these characters’ shoes.

Disclosure: I borrowed Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? from the public library.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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the last van gogh

Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★☆

And perhaps,when Vincent arrived that summer, he noticed that nascent stirring about me.  He saw that I was bursting to come to life again.  Twenty-one years of age, and for the first time since I was a young child, I wanted to dance in the garden and sing.

(from The Last Van Gogh, page 72)

The Last Van Gogh chronicles the last 70 days in the life of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, set in the French village of Auvers-sur-Oise during the summer of 1890.  It was my book club’s May pick.  (I wasn’t able to attend last month’s meeting, so I can’t include everyone’s thoughts this time around.)  I was especially excited about this book because Alyson Richman’s novel The Lost Wife made my “Best of 2011” list.  Richman tells this story through the eyes of Marguerite Gachet, the 21-year-old daughter of the homeopathic doctor treating 37-year-old Vincent for depression and anxiety.  Marguerite was the subject of two portraits painted in the days before his suicide.

Just like her late mother, Marguerite feels trapped.  She’s basically a maid to her father and younger brother, Paul, and has little contact with the world outside their home, except to go shopping or attend Mass.  When Dr. Gachet isn’t creating his questionable tinctures and treating his own melancholy, he fancies himself a painter and an art collector and drops the names of his artist friends Cézanne and Pissarro as often as he can.  He doesn’t approve when Vincent voices a desire to paint Marguerite — and neither does Paul, whose failed attempts to secure attention and praise from Vincent strain his relationship with his sister.

The attraction between Marguerite and Vincent is intense and makes Marguerite feel alive for the first time.  Though her father is not likely to approve, Louise-Josephine (the illegitimate daughter of Marguerite and Paul’s “governess” who has been hidden away in the Gachet home since she was 14) gives her reason to hope.  However, Louise-Josephine’s chances of a happily-ever-after are as impossible as her own.

The Last Van Gogh develops slowly, giving readers a good understanding of the Gachet family’s dynamics and the obstacles in the way of Marguerite’s happiness.  Readers know from the beginning that this will be a tragic love story, but that didn’t stop me from hoping for a different ending for Vincent.  Once Vincent decides he needs to paint Marguerite, the pace of the narrative picks up, as Vincent’s poor financial and mental condition and the jealousy and possessiveness pervading the Gachet home conspire against them.

The novel shines in Richman’s descriptions of Vincent’s paintings, from the vivid colors to the symbolism, from his frenzied brush strokes to his burning need to paint whatever inspired him.  She does a wonderful job portraying him as a troubled genius, and one can understand why Marguerite would be drawn to him.  I really felt for Marguerite; she was so isolated, stifled, lonely, and desperately in need of freedom.

The Last Van Gogh is a lovely historical novel about art and inspiration, love and freedom, and loyalty and obligation.  I enjoyed reading about Richman’s inspiration for the book in the author’s note, and I couldn’t help but do some research of my own, searching for information about the Gachets and looking up the paintings Van Gogh painted in Auvers, particularly his portraits of Marguerite.  This is a novel that requires a bit of patience, but readers will be rewarded with rich descriptions of the artistic process and a heartfelt tale of first love.

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 18 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I borrowed The Last Van Gogh from the public library.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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winter's end

Source: My daughter
Rating: ★★★☆☆

“The barbarians weren’t going to silence her. … While she still sang, the Resistance wasn’t giving up.  You’d have thought that hope depended on her voice.”

(from Winter’s End, page 207)

Winter’s End is a young adult dystopian novel by Jean-Claude Mourlevat, translated from the French by Anthea Bell, and our book club’s April pick, nominated by The Girl (age 12).  It focuses on four teenagers who reside in prison-like boarding schools in a country ruled by the tyrannical Phalange.  Their only respite is an occasional visit to their consolers, villagers who serve as confidants and are pretty much the only parents they’ve ever known.

When the novel opens, Helen is feeling particularly low and desperate to meet with her consoler.  She takes her best friend, Milena, with her to the village, and on the way, they meet Bartolomeo and Milos from the boys’ school.  This chance meeting changes their lives, igniting a desire to be free and to fight against the government that destroyed their families.  They also get a taste of what it feels like to be in love.  Bart and Milena run away despite the fact that two of their fellow classmates will be punished in their place.  They are immediately drawn to one another, their shared pasts sparking a journey in which Milena’s beautiful singing voice could be their saving grace and something pure to unite the masses.  Meanwhile, Helen and Milos go off in search of their friends, who are being tracked by an evil police chief and a pack of bloodthirsty dog-men.

In Winter’s End, Mourlevat takes readers on an adventure complete with barbaric games, giant horse-men, and a back story of obsession and revenge.  It’s a fast-paced, very readable book, but The Girl and I longed for more.  Who were the Phalange, and why did they feel a need to take over the government?  It was difficult to feel completely invested in their fight for freedom without knowing exactly what they were fighting against.  It was also hard to connect with the main characters because they were pretty flat, with the exception of Milos.  The Girl and I both loved Milos; he was not only strong and fearless but also a romantic and gentle soul.  As for the others, Helen is likeable but seems to act only when she has to and is absent from the major action.  We’re supposed to view Bart as a leader, but he seems to be pretty weak in that regard, simply benefiting from his father’s reputation as a Resistance leader.  And Milena…The Girl couldn’t stand her because she was portrayed as perfect, with everyone fawning over her and her voice, and it got annoying after awhile.

However, there was plenty to like about this novel as well.  I love that it’s a standalone book, not part of a series or trilogy.  (The Girl disagrees with me on that point; she thinks it would have made a great trilogy if there were more details about the Phalange, the political coup, and the teens’ parents and a better build up to the revolution.)  Despite our issues with the character development, they seemed to be realistic teens in their impulsive decisions and the intense feelings of first love.  And we liked that these characters had the courage to stand up for what they believe is right, even though it could cost them their lives.

Overall, Winter’s End was an enjoyable novel.  The writing wasn’t spectacular, but the story was intriguing.  There were some exciting, edge-of-your-seat scenes, and while there was a lot of violence, it wasn’t overly graphic.  The Girl liked it more than I did, but she’s also the target audience for this book.

Book Club Discussion (beware of possible spoilers)

The Eclectic Bookworms seemed to enjoy the book, with most of us rating it 3 out of 5 stars.  We thought it was the best written of the YA novels we’ve read as a group so far, particularly better than Ashes and Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick.  Some of us found it hard to believe that one girl’s voice could spark a revolution, but it made more sense to others if the book was indeed set in France.  (I’m not up on my French history, so not exactly sure why they thought that.)  We talked about the numerous coincidences, particularly Bart and Milena’s chance meeting given their entwined pasts, and the many scenes where we had to suspend disbelief, like when the police chief (who’s supposed to be an expert hunter) makes an obnoxiously stupid mistake and gets himself killed early on in the book.  With that scene in particular, some of us thought it seemed like the author didn’t know how to get Helen and Milos out of the impossible situation they were in on the mountain.

Some of us were disappointed by the anticlimactic ending and the unnecessary epilogue, and some of us also wanted a more developed and detailed back story.  Some of us even saw some similarities to The Hunger Games when it came to the scenes with the gladiator games.  I was especially surprised that some members wished it had been a trilogy, with the first book focusing on the boarding school, the second on the gladiator games, and the third on the revolution.  I seemed to be in the minority in wanting maybe a longer book, but just one book.

Our book for May is The Last Van Gogh by Alyson Richman.  I’m really excited about this one because Richman’s The Lost Wife made my Best of 2011 list!  The Girl and I are only about seven chapters in, but we’re enjoying it so far.

If you’ve read Winter’s End, what did you think?  Please let me know in the comments!

Disclosure: I borrowed Winter’s End from my daughter.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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every man dies alone hans fallada

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

There was something so bleak, so gloomy, so determined in the words Otto had just spoken.  At that instant she grasped that this very first sentence was Otto’s absolute and irrevocable declaration of war, and also what that meant: war between, on the one side, the two of them, poor, small, insignificant workers who could be extinguished for just a word or two, and on the other, the Führer, the Party, the whole apparatus in all its power and glory, with three-fourths or even four-fifths of the German people behind it.  And the two of them in this little room in Jablonski Strasse!

(from Every Man Dies Alone, page 133)

Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada, first published in 1947, is a novel loosely based on a true story about the German resistance to the Nazis during World War II.  It was my book club’s March pick, my nomination.  Fallada’s novel is epic in scope, covering an assortment of characters on different sides of the fence all connected in some way to one couple, Otto and Anna Quangel.   The death of their son in the war and a remark made by Anna to her husband in the throes of grief prompt Otto, a simple carpenter and factory foreman, to fight back against the Nazis, under whom the German people live in fear and spy on one another.

The Quangels write their hatred for the Nazis on postcards and drop them in public places, believing that they will prompt others to see the truth and take a stand.  But this seemingly simple act takes on deadly importance for everyone who comes in contact with the cards — from Inspector Escherich, the Gestapo agent tasked with hunting down the “hobgoblin” behind the postcards to Enno Kluge, a lowlife who deserted his wife, feigns illness to avoid having to work, and steals from the various women in his life.  Fallada peppers the story with an assortment of intriguing characters, including an overzealous Hitler Youth leader, a postwoman intent on leaving the Party and living a simpler life after learning what her son has been up to in the SS, and a young couple pondering whether to resist or live a quiet, normal life.

Although I was hooked from the first page, Fallada takes his time in the first half of the novel to develop the characters and their connections and build the tension that propels readers through the remainder of the book.  The second half was edge-of-your-seat exciting, despite the darkness and the exhaustion of following these characters on a journey that you know from the very beginning will not bring you to a happy place.  Fallada shows how the Gestapo messed with people’s heads and wore them down, and he drives home the point that the psychological torture was just as bad, if not worse, than the physical abuse.  With a mix of both respectable and truly loathsome characters, Fallada takes readers on an emotional roller coaster ride that made me feel tired, sad, angry, and helpless and had me contemplating whether anyone actually deserved what they got at the hands of the Gestapo and whether I could die an honorable, stoic death if I had been in their shoes.

Every Man Dies Alone is a powerful book, one I won’t easily forget.  It was easy to see where the story was headed, but there were plenty of twists and turns to keep it from being too predictable.  It’s one of only a few books that have affected me so deeply that, after turning the last page, I could do nothing but sit and stare and ponder what it all meant.  Reading the bonus features about Fallada’s difficult life, especially how the Nazis stifled his creativity, and the true story behind the book made for a richer reading experience.  Every Man Dies Alone is an important novel, and I fear I didn’t do it justice here.  I urge you to give this one a try, so long as you don’t mind a story that plunges you into the depths of evil and despair but also leaves you with a better understanding of what it was like to live in Nazi Germany.

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 9 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: Every Man Dies Alone is from my personal library. A big thanks to Sandy for telling me I needed to read it, though I can’t believe it took me so long!

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

But every second I’m alive is one more moment I still have a chance to do something.

(from Shadows, page 33)

Shadows is the second book in The Ashes Trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick, centered on the survivors of an electromagnetic pulse that killed all the middle aged, revived the elderly, and changed most children and teens into crazed, animalistic, zombie-like creatures.  Shadows picks up right where Ashes left off, and it’s definitely not a standalone novel.  Please note that this review may contain spoilers from the first novel, but not from this one.

Whereas Ashes focuses on Alex, a 17-year-old girl with a brain tumor whose sense of smell is returned and magnified by the EMP, and how she and the people she meets along the way struggle to survive and adapt to the post-EMP world, Shadows follows so many people and so many subplots that it is hard to keep everything straight.  While Alex fights to keep from becoming the next meal for a group of Changed, there is a struggle for power in Rule, the cult-like town that took Alex in during the latter half of the first book.  At the same time, the various characters also must contend with bounty hunters and a militia led by a sadist.

With lots of blood and gore, and even some nauseating sex scenes, Shadows is a YA novel definitely meant for older teens.  The Girl (age 12) really enjoyed Ashes, which was far tamer in terms of sex and violence, so I was glad that Jill informed me of the more adult scenes in this book.  Because The Girl was so attached to the characters and wanted to know what happened after the cliffhanger ending of Ashes — and because it was our book club’s February pick — we read this one together, me reading it aloud and paraphrasing the more graphic parts.

Shadows is an improvement over Ashes in terms of pacing, and it definitely is an exciting dystopian novel.  However, there are just way too many characters, and the overuse of certain adjectives (“ashen,” “shadowy,” and “coppery,” to name a few) made for some tedious reading at times.  Bick made me curious about what’s going on with the people of Rule, but I’m craving more of an explanation about the EMP and its impact on more than just this town, which seems like it was kind of crazy even before the “Zap.”  There also were a lot of short chapters and swiftly changing points of view between them, which I assume was to increase tension but got on my nerves after awhile, and many scenes that just seemed to be about the violence and the action but didn’t really further the plot.

Even so, I liked it enough to read the third book, Monsters, which is slated for release in September.  And The Girl liked it way more than I did, but she’s always been a fan of horror and unrealistic gore.  I wanted her to write up her own thoughts, but she’s been too busy with homework, soccer practice, and play rehearsals to write reviews.  (At least she’s plugging along in her reading!)  She says that even while she only cared about the main characters, Alex and Tom, and thought the book was kind of slow in the middle, she enjoyed it because it was full of action and suspense.

Serena has a comprehensive wrap-up of what our book club thought, along with her review, on Savvy Verse & Wit.  I will be leading the March book club discussion on Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada…stay tuned for my thoughts!

Disclosure: I borrowed Shadows from the public library.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Hope you’re all having a great weekend!  We’ve been going through a brutal cold spell here, and there’s finally some snow on the ground.  I’m hoping to be able to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book, but it’s been busy, busy, busy as usual.  Here are my random thoughts this weekend:

*First, I’d like to give a shout out to The Girl, who recently won 1st place in the Biology category at the school science fair.  I’m so proud, and also glad that this was the last science fair until at least high school.  Her project was about peppermint and reaction times.

*Our book club met last weekend at Serena‘s to discuss Eyes, Stones, a poetry collection by Elana Bell about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  I thought it was an interesting discussion overall.  Only one member mentioned not understanding the poems, and it was great to see Serena in her element emphasizing the importance of reading poetry aloud and knowing how and where to pause.  Most of us weren’t strangers to poetry, but we agreed that this collection wouldn’t be the place for a newbie to start.  Visit Serena’s blog for a more in-depth recap of our discussion.

*I also have a giveaway winner!

lucky bookworms 3

Melissa, who won a copy of The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James.  Congratulations and happy reading!!

Stop by on Wednesday for another Austenesque giveaway!

*Lastly, I want to know: what are you reading this weekend?  I’m hoping to start Circles of Time by Phillip Rock and Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick (our February book club pick) and maybe finish The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke (which is a re-read for me to refresh my memory before reading the sequel, Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen).

Have a great weekend!!

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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eyes, stones

Source: Borrowed from Serena
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Eyes, Stones is my book club’s first poetry selection, and I can’t wait for our discussion on Jan. 19.  Poet Elana Bell is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, so it’s not surprising that the poems in this collection touch upon the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The poems are grounded in history and human suffering, and Bell gives voice to both sides of the conflict.

Bell uses narrators to tell stories in verse, and she manages to convey a significant amount of pain and emotion in so few lines.  I was most affected by the poems featuring Zosha, a Holocaust survivor, particularly “God,” in which she arrives home to find that her mother and everyone else have been taken away and questions her faith.

You sit put. So that’s how
I survive. What do I know

from God? … (page 21)

There are poems about survival, like “Visiting Auschwitz,” which considers the randomness of how one person survived and another did not.

what glint willed the breath
what saw her and said live. (page 28)

Some hit you immediately with their descriptions of violence and feelings of hopelessness and despair, like “Kishinev,” which is about a three-day pogrom that occurred in 1903.

We are inside the dream of a God who’s forgotten us. There is no other way to say it. Through the stippled glass I watched the neighbors hammer nails into the Jewish babies’ eyes. (page 16)

But Bell goes beyond the persecution of the Jews and tenderly writes of the Arab connection to their homes and land. “On a Hilltop at the Nassar Farm,” focuses on Amal, a Palestinian whose family has farmed their land for generations, and her love for this land, juxtaposing her life with that of someone who moves around and has no connection to the earth. I was struck by the beauty of these lines:

…Amal loves this land
and when I say land I mean this
exact dirt and the fruit of it
and the sheep who graze it and the children
who eat from it and the dogs who protect it
and the tiny white blossoms it scatters in spring. (pages 36-37)

The Girl (age 12) read the poems aloud with me, and though we both know little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we appreciated the stories told here about people who are divided yet have a common understanding of what it means to suffer. My daughter’s favorite poem was “Refugee,” about the Arab-Israeli War in 1948, in which the Arabs of Ramla were displaced by Jewish immigrants.

Who lived here? The doors swing
like slabs of meat on their hinges.
Inside, the cupboards gaped
to reveal their goods, stacked tight,
except a few cans rolling on the floor,
a pot on the stove still steaming.
Who lived here? I tiptoed
into the smallest room and crouched
by the foot of the bed. Mama
pulled me up and cupped my face.
Tonight you’ll sleep in a proper bed
she crooned. (page 9)

While content to merely listen to me read the other poems, The Girl wanted to spend time with this one. She was struck by how it described the end of a certain way of life for one family and a new beginning for another.

Eyes, Stones is a slim volume of poetry that can be read fairly quickly, but it begs to be pondered in more depth. My husband (who is new to reading poetry) loved it and wants to buy his own copy so he can spend more time with these poems. Bell is skilled in her ability to tell both sides of the story in a compassionate, respectful way, exploring the gray issues of a contentious conflict.

dive into poetry challenge

Book 1 for Dive Into Poetry Challenge

Disclosure: I borrowed Eyes, Stones from Serena.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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