my challenges

Monday, May 27, 2013

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler, by Trudi Kanter.

This book tells the true story of a jewish, Viennese milliner from just before the Anchluss through the end of the war, with flashbacks to earlier years and an epilogue that fills in the remainder of her life.  This book captivated me right from the beginning.  Unusually for nonfiction, there was nothing about this book that detracted from the story itself.  There were no long passages about the history of hat making, or the nazi rise to power.  There was just enough background given to allow the reader to follow the story, but not a detail extra to bog one down.  The author did an admirable job of building and keeping the tension at a boil throughout this book, making you feel as if you were right there with her, experiencing the terror of potentially being trapped within Hitler's nightmare with no escape and enemies all around.  I found myself sighing with relief, literally, as good events happened, and feeling almost sick to my stomach as potentially bad events happened.  In short, I was transported back to Europe in the period just before the first world war, and plonked down to share the characters' fates.  I found this to be most effective, so much so that it was hard for me to put this book down.  The fact that the story ends up showing the better side of humanity ultimately, and has a happy ending, just improved on an already enjoyable read.  4.5

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher.  This did not affect my review in any way.
Yesterday's Sun, by Amanda Brooke.

In this unusual book with a touch of the supernatural, a young woman, through the intercession -- or interference -- of an ancient sundial, is given a glimpse of her own future, and finds herself forced to choose between her own life and the life of her long-desired child.

At first I found the whole sundial bit a little hokey and unbelievable.  The story itself, however, was so compelling, and the lives of the characters so interesting, that I found myself unable to stop reading despite being out of my comfort level, and soon it no longer seemed hokey, but perfectly believable.  I also loved the fact that there was very much a mystery within a mystery, as the main characters learned about the history of the sundial and also about each others' pasts.  Ultimately, I could never have guessed the ending, and I absolutely loved it.  I could not have imagined -- and had not imagined -- a more perfect and satisfying ending to this story.  This was a very well done tale, and one that was immensely enjoyable.  I highly recommend this book to readers of all genres.  You won't be disappointed if you give this book a try.  5.0.

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher.  This did not affect my review in any way. 
Where the Light Falls, by Katherine Keenum.

This book follows the adventures of a young American artist in Paris in the late ninetheenth century.  It also tells the story of her older, science-minded,  American civil war-damaged love interest and eventual husband.  In a dual plot line, we first follow the young artist, then the veteran, then the young artist again, until the two meet, and then again we follow the one and then the other alternately until we reach the end of the book.

Overall, this was a really interesting book.  I found the dual plot line method a little confusing, particularly at first, as we were plunged from one plot line into the other without any introduction or warning, leaving you wondering what the heck the one group of people had to do with the other.  There did not appear to be any real rhyme or reason to why the switch occurred at the point it did, either.  But once I got used to the changes in storyline, I really began to enjoy this book.  Each of the characters were interesting, the plot had enough twists to keep you interested, and the period detail and detail about the artistic process itself were very well done without going overboard and losing the reader in inane facts.  The only thing I didn't like about this book is that it ended very abruptly, and with a major change from the ending indicated by the characters themselves, without any explanation why they decided to do things differently, or information as to what happened to them in later years.  It seemed that both could be successful in their chosen careers in France, while possibly only the male protagonist could be successful back in Ohio, yet we were never given any information why they decided to go back to Ohio or how their careers turned out.  I was very disappointed by that.  Otherwise, however, I did not want this book to end and enjoyed it thoroughly.  4.5.

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher.  This did not affect my review.
The Aviator's Wife, by Melanie Benjamin.

Not knowing much about Charles Lindburgh, beyond the fact that he and his wife had their baby boy kidnapped and killed, and of course that he had been the first to fly over the Atlantic, I was excited to read this book, and it did not disappoint.

Ultimately, I very much disliked Lindy -- he was not a nice man, and he resembled someone I know a little too closely for comfort -- but I adored this story.  The characters were memorable and well-fleshed-out, and it was easy to get into this story and stay stuck in until the end.  I learned a lot about Lindy and about this era in American history from this book, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.  And then when I finished the book I realized it was written by one of my favorite authors, which I had somehow not noticed until that time.  Bonus!  4.5 out of 5.0.

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher.  This did not affect my review. 
1356, by Bernard Cornwell.

This book focuses on the lead-up to the battle of Poitiers, culminating with the battle itself.  This was an odd book.  As is usual for Cornwell books, I got drawn right into the story.  Unusual for books by this author, we were dropped into the middle of historical events with no explanation of the background history to guide us, or the personages involved.  As a result, although I found the story itself rather compelling, I never really got a sense of where these events fit in history.  Another interesting thing, I found the subplots much more enjoyable and interesting than the main plot.  Over all I enjoyed this book.  It could have used with a bit more context, however, to allow me to enjoy it fully.  Recommended, particularly to those interested in English or French history, and to Cornwell fans.  3.5

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher.  This did not affect this review.  

Heart of a Champion, by Kim Washburn.

Dominique Dawes is a true inspiration for young women everywhere.  She faced down adversity, including the divorce of her parents, moving away from home to train at a young age, and repeated disappointments in her gymnastics career, before ultimately achieving the ultimate success:  Olympic champion.  This book chronicles her rise from young, talented gymnast through hardship after hardship, and ultimately to the point where she realizes her dream of becoming an Olympic champion.

I had a few problems with this book.  It was a bit stilted in its writing style, and I absolutely hated that the author used commentary from television broadcasts as part of the narrative.  In addition, I found the religious comments a bit over the top.  I realize this is published by a religious press, but still I found it a little overdone and preachy.  Nonetheless, this is an excellent book for young girls interested in sports and looking for a role model.  3.5.

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher.  This did not affect this review. 
Victoria Rebels, by Carolyn Meyer.

Life is difficult for young Victoria.  Her mother's friend and confidant, Sir John Conroy, rules her mother and her world with an iron fist.  All Victoria wants is a bit of freedom, but it is not to be.  This book covers the period from when Victoria is around 11 years old and the heir to nothing, through becoming the heir to the English throne, then Queen, and ending with her marriage to Prince Albert.

I found this book very difficult to enjoy.  The characters for the most part were nasty creatures and unenjoyable to read about.  The continual complaining about the same things over and over again became increasingly tedious, until I began to lose patience and compassion for Victoria.  The style of writing in which this was written I found to be a bit annoying, although I recognize that it was done by the author in an attempt to emulate Victoria's own style in her diary.  Unfortunately, the result was that it came out stilted in many instances.  Finally, the book ended very abruptly at an odd place in Victoria's life.  Over all this book was very disappointing.  2.0

 I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher.  This did not affect this review.