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all the light we cannot seeSerena and I are hosting a readalong in March for the 2017 WWII Reading Challenge on War Through the Generations. Even if you are not participating in the challenge (and even if you’ve already read the book), we encourage you to join us for our group discussions of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. The discussions will be posted on War Through the Generations each Friday through April 7, with our first discussion coming this Friday, March 3.

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

Here is the read-a-long schedule, with discussions here on each Friday.

  • Discussion of Sections Zero and One on Friday, March 3
  • Discussion of Sections Two and Three on Friday, March 10
  • Discussion of Sections Four and Five on Friday, March 17
  • Discussion of Sections Six and Seven on Friday, March 24
  • Discussion of Sections Eight and Nine on Friday, March 31
  • Discussion of Final Sections on Friday, April 7

I have already completed the first sections and like what I’ve read so far, so I’m looking forward to continuing the book, and I really hope some of you will join us for a thoughtful discussion!

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monuments menFor the October readalong for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist at War Through the Generations, Serena and I are turning our attention to World War II, which began 75 years ago on Sept. 1, 1939.

As Hitler was attempting to conquer the Western world, his armies were methodically pillaging the finest art in Europe, from Michelangelos and da Vincis to van Eycks and Vermeers, all stolen for the Führer.

The Monuments Men had a mandate from President Roosevelt and the support of General Eisenhower, but no vehicles, gasoline, typewriters, or authority.  In a race against time to save the world’s greatest cultural treasures from destruction at the hands of Nazi fanatics, each man gathered scraps and hints to construct his own treasure map using records recovered from bombed cathedrals and museums, the notes and journals of Rose Valland, a French museum employee who secretly tracked Nazi plunder through the rail yards of Paris, and even a tip from a dentist during a root canal.

These unlikely heroes, mostly middle-aged family men, walked away from successful careers into the epicenter of the war, risking — and some losing — their lives.  Like other members of the Greatest Generation, they embodied the courageous spirit that enabled the best of humanity to defeat the worst.

This is their story.  (publisher’s summary)

Here’s the schedule for the discussions, which will be held on War Through the Generations:

Friday, Oct. 10: Chapters 1-14

Friday, Oct. 17: Chapters 15-28

Friday, Oct. 24: Chapters 29-42

Friday, Oct. 31: Chapters 43-the 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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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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Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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: A Farewell to Arms is from my personal library.

© 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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