Friday, July 26, 2013

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

I don't read a lot of YA literature, but this book was recommended from a friend who had just read my Auschwitz post a few days ago. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is also a concentration camp story told from a different perspective, that of the son of the Commandant of Auschwitz. Bruno is a very naive and immature nine year old boy. He is angry about all the changes happening in his life and family, one of which is a move to a place he thinks is ugly and lonely. In his lone wanderings, he comes upon another lonely young boy who is trapped on the other side of a fence. These two boys (one German one Jew) strike up an unlikely friendship..... and thus the story proceeds.

I can see this as a good introduction to children regarding the atrocities of Nazi concentration camps, it is extremely surface level and always dancing around the terrible truths, which would be perfect for mid to late elementary age students. However this book is marketed to "grade 9 and above" and I just can't buy that. The writing style is as simple and immature as the coverage of the subject matter. The childishness of Bruno is almost beyond belief for his age. He has no idea what his father does or what is happening on the other side of the fence. He can't ever pronounce Auschwitz or Fuhrer correctly, calling them "out-with" and "fury" despite constantly being corrected by family (although neither term is ever stated/written in the text), but at the same time he's aware enough to keep his new friendship a secret.

I don't want to totally dismiss this book because I do think it would be great for the right audience, I just think they overshot their target. If you have a 4th-6th grade kid, this is a good read that would get them thinking and questioning. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Murder of the Century

by Paul Collins

I think this book was trying to be too many things and therefore couldn't be any of them very well. The Murder of the Century is a true crime murder mystery, a courtroom battle and the history and evolution of the newspaper in New York City all wrapped in one. Independently each of these stories could be a very good book in its own right, but all together it is too much information to do justice to any one of the subjects, but still it's pretty good.

The murder happened in the summer of 1897 when some boys discovered a torso floating in the river. Shortly afterward, the lower half of the body was found across town in a ditch and so begins a search for the head, the identification of the hacked-up person and capturing the person who committed this heinous crime.

At the time of the discovery of the dismembered body, William Randolph Hearst was breaking in to the newspaper business with his NY Journal and his fiercest competitor was the NY World headed by John Pulitzer. This was the battle that ushered in a new type of journalism known as "yellow journalism" where the headlines did all the talking and the articles themselves contained little factual information. It also produced a journalist who was out to MAKE news rather than report news.

Shortly after the identity of the body is discovered two suspects are named and brought to trial, Martin Thorn and Augusta Nack. Theirs is a love triangle gone wrong and now they will have to pay. But that is only if the prosecutor can do his job!

Overall, I liked this book. It has lots of interesting information and a writing style that captures your attention. The biggest problem is that it lacks focus because too much is being covered. I'd say this would appeal to you more if you like history than if you want a good true crime or murder mystery novel. The facts of each subject are well researched and Collins does make it interesting and readable.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

by C.W. Gortner

If you've followed me long you'll know my penchant for historical fiction, and particularly when it inclines me to do some digging on my own. The Confessions of Catherine de Medici was that kind of book for me and not only to get more facts on Catherine, but her husband, children allies and enemies. There are a lot of myths and misunderstandings surrounding this queen, but a few things are definite, she was passionate about power, she had exact ideas and did not tolerate those who might not align with her perspective, she was ruthless, she was controversial and as long as she was behind the scenes there was no peace in France.

Written from a first person narrative, this story covers the entire life of Catherine de Medici, which is unusual as her own death approaches. This perspective allows much sympathy toward her decisions, which cost the lives of thousands of Protestants, some of her friends and possibly her two eldest sons. She explains away her involvement in astrology, her close ties to Nostradamus, her dabbling in sorcery and uses of poison all as means of protecting the country and children that she loved. True history buffs may be frustrated at how glossed-over her schemes, betrayals, murders and massacres are in this book, but it is in keeping with the frame of reference (her own).

If you are a fan of Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Withe Queen, etc) you will like this read. The writing styles and approach is very similar. It leans a bit more to the romance than is my preference, but easy to read and interesting history. 

Monday, July 22, 2013


I am going to try something a little different for a while on my book postings, I'm going to drop the star ratings. I have had several of my followers mention they would only read a book that is rated 5-star because they don't read a lot and only want to read the good stuff. While I can appreciate that, I also have to say that I tend to be tough when rating. When I was participating in book club one of the things we each did was rate the book on a 1-10 scale and mine was invariably the lowest rating (except for Wicked, which I liked but none of the others did). 

The thing about books is that people are drawn to and enjoy so many different things in a story that the rating system really isn't an effective method of recommendation. I know plenty of books that weren't my favorites, but as I was reading knew people who would really enjoy it. What I will try to do is a better job of mentioning who might like the book based on others that may be similar. 

I'm not sure how this will work, but want to give it a try. If you have an opinion, please let me know though, because this isn't set in stone.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


by Miklos Nyiszli

On the face of it, Auschwitz is just another Nazi concentration camp story telling of the horrors, torture and massacre of thousands of innocent Jews. The thing that sets this book apart is the perspective from which it is told. Miklos Nyiszli was not only taken captive as a Jew, he was selected from among the prisoners because of his skills to serve among an "elite" group of commanders whose job was to assist Dr. Joseph Mengle in performing autopsies for Mengele's human research experiments.

Although the Sonderkommando were given certain authority and privileges beyond other prisoners, they were also informed of the mass executions of their fellow captives and were aware of their own impending death. These groups were routinely replaced every 3-4 months. Dr. Nyiszli was a special favorite of Mengele and therefore was spared death on a number of occasions.

Nyiszli raises an interesting question in his reflection: Why would thousands of men, women and children walk willingly to their deaths? Why was there no uprising against the Nazi guards when these people were being led into gas chambers? Even though the prisoners weren't told they were going to die, they had all seen the same thing happen to other groups of inmates, so subconsciously they knew their fate. Nyiszli believed that any resistance among the prisoners would have impaired the Nazi's, even if only temporarily. But of the 13 Sonderkommando units that were led to their death, only one put up a fight.

If you like reading these type books, you'll like this account. If you've never read books written about concentration camps, this is a good version that is a quick read. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Plague of Doves

by Louise Erdrich

What a disappointment. I went into this novel with high expectations after having read two previous novels by this author, but The Plague of Doves fell short for me. In general, the combined short stories within this novel tell the history of three generations of Indians living on reservation land in North Dakota and how a murder that occurred in 1911 intermingled the lives of all these families, as Mooshum tells his granddaughter, "nothing that happens, nothing, is not connected here by blood."
The book was just too disjointed with so many characters, who also had nicknames that made it difficult to keep up with and connect with them. There were also many different narrators, but it wasn't always clear who was telling or when a transition had been made. In addition, when the murderer is finally disclosed, it is very anti-climatic and leaves lots of unanswered questions.

On a side note, it seems that in order to publish a novel these days, you must include a homosexual encounter.... it's getting old, particularly when it serves no purpose in the development of the story.

I like the writing style of this author and I liked the previous books of hers I read: The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse  and The Master Butcher's Singing Club. Try one of those instead. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


by Rosamund Lupton

As my brothers would say, "meh." No new plot line, not really much of a mystery or thriller, overly dramatic characters but an idea that had promise. When Beatrice is told her sister, Tess has gone missing, she hurries home to help in the search.  Unfortunately, Tess turns up dead in a public restroom. The police quickly conclude she has committed suicide, but Bea knows better and begins her own investigation into the death.

Sister was okay.