Sunday, May 29, 2011

In the Garden of Beasts

by Erik Larson

This work of non-fiction tells the story of William Dodd's service as US ambassador to Germany beginning in 1933, the year Hitler was appointed chancellor to the country.  In the Garden of Beasts shifts between the perspective of the ambassador and his socialite daughter as they experience life in a changing country.  From early on, Dodd is apprehensive about Hitler and his regime and expresses his concerns to many in the US. However because of Dodd's unpopularity, these men ignore his warnings, which ultimately comes at a great cost to millions.

Dodd's daughter Martha goes to Germany looking for escape and excitement. She likes to party and she likes men. She gets involved romantically with several Nazi officers, including Rudolf Diels, as well as the Soviet intelligence officer Boris Vinogradov. Martha's sympathies seem to be guided by her romances causing her to ignore or overlook several horrendous eye-witness beatings perpetrated by SS officers.

Larson does a great job relating these lives and circumstances in world history without making the history dull. Readers can perhaps see how this evil fascist ruler was able to slowly enforce his plan and gain the trust of many Germans, confirming Edmund Burke's famous quote, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

This book meets the challenge for evil in the title.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book Challenge

I have finally succumbed to the "challenge" although I am starting very simply. I've been looking at reading challenges for a few years now and never actually joined any, until now. The What's in a Name Challenge 4 is really an easy one to select because only six books are required before the end of the year to complete the task. Here is all I have to read:
1. A book with a number in the title
2. A book with a gem or jewelry in the title
3. A book with a size in the title
4. A book with travel or movement in the title
5. A book with evil in the title
6. A book with a life stage in the title

You also are not required to select the titles in advance, which provides a little more flexibility in finding something to fit your current mood. As I review my books I will identify those that meet one of the above criteria.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Peach Keeper

by Sarah Addison Allen

In a nutshell, this book was nothing special. The storyline is cliched, the characters were one dimensional and the dialogue was contrived, especially that between the love interests. I kept reading The Peach Keeper believing it would get better, because there was a hint of potential, but it just never really succeeded in taking off. One of the better threads revolved around friendships between women, how they tend to take a back seat after marriage and how women should learn to maintain those connections, but even that concept was forced and unbelievable in this story.

If you like quick, pre-teen romance type books (think Twilight) you may want to pick this up. However,  I am not likely to risk another of her novels that have also been highly rated and recommended on Amazon. Definitely not my style.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The House at Riverton

by Kate Morton

I am always skeptical when books are compared to Rebecca or Jane Eyre so that was how I approached reading The House at Riverton, and my skepticism was well-founded. While Riverton gets off to a good start, it loses pace quickly before reaching it's climactic ending, which was somewhat predictable given the abundant clues throughout the story. Although the end contained a slight twist, it wasn't really a surprise.

The storyline itself is fairly familiar: an elderly woman reliving her past and revealing her secrets, and is a quick read with an easy plot to follow. Much attention is given to the changing attitudes and castes in post-WWI England, in particular relating to house maids and other servants. The story flips from present-day to past and presents those in the past with greater detail to those character's concerns than the present day parts.

I'd recommend this book as a good summer beach read. It keeps your interest without taking much effort.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul

by Michael David Lukas

From the start, Lukas does a great job of presenting and portraying the characters in The Oracle of Stamboul. Each person is well developed, interesting and colorful. He also manages to offer compelling descriptions of this ancient Turkish city. Lukas does lean very heavily upon the use of similes and metaphors, which often distract from the flow of the text as the reader tries to make the same association.

This story is set during the end of the Ottoman Empire and does touch on several of the conflicts faced by Sultan Abdulhamid II as his empire is struggling to survive. Sadly, there are some historical inaccuracies, which although they don't take away from the book, could easily have been correct and not impacted the storyline either. So, why not get it right?? Like who is the father of Abdulhamid II.

The story had potential that ultimately was not met, but was given a good effort. It was a quick and easy read but personally I think this book would fare much better being marketed as adolescent fiction. I would recommend this to some of my book club friends to read with their kids over the summer; there are some good topics for discussion.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Tiger's Wife

by Tea Obreht

After reading this book, I've realized I tend to like books that are a bit quirky, yet well written. The Tiger's Wife fits that bill perfectly. Tea Obreht is very skilled in crafting sentences and language usage, which seems to be becoming a lost art. At times I think she gets a bit carried away with wording and description taking readers down some unnecessarily long paths, but for the most part enjoyable.

This is the story of a young woman, Natalia coming to terms with the death of her beloved grandfather through some lessons and fables he shared with her as she grew up in his household. One of the tales is of the tiger's wife, a deaf-mute married to an abusive butcher in a small town. The other is the tale of the deathless man. These inner-stories were fresh and creative and were cleverly interwoven into Natalia's present-day life. I found it a bit perplexing though that Obreht delved into the minute details of so many characters of these fables but seemed to neglect giving such thorough accounts of those in the present. Another puzzling aspect of this book was the lack of passion or opinion given to some of the more tragic events in the story, for example the horrid abuse perpetrated on the tiger's wife or the ravaging of towns during the war.  I think this indifferent approach makes it hard for readers to connect with the story.

Overall, I liked the book and in particular the writing.