Christina’s Review: The Monument’s Men by Robert M. Edsel

Christina’s Review: The Monument’s Men by Robert M. EdselThe Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel
Published by Center Street on 2009-09-03
Genres: History, Military, World War II
Pages: 496
Format: eBook
At the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Fuehrer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: "degenerate" works he despised.
In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Momuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture.
Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world's great art from the Nazis.

The Monument’s Men tells a story that is not-so-known to many people since the release of the book followed by the movie of the men in World War II who were part of the monuments division to find and protect stolen artifacts. These men sacrificed their lives in the war for the protection and recovery of priceless works of art. It is a different side to the War than one usually sees or hears about. For me, I was in awe of this side of war and the near loss of so many beautiful pieces of art that needed to be saved for the rest of the world to see and treasure.

I have not yet seen the movie, and don’t think I will (for now). The story told by Robert Edsel was a captivating one… it invoked emotions and provided a detailed history of the events. As Edsel noted, the theft, loss, and recovery of so many precious pieces of art is “one of the most important and unbelievable moments in art history” and its history is untold and unknown to so many, myself included, prior to reading this. (378) I was heartbroken at the near loss of so many works of art…

Edling continued to tug at my heartstrings and captured the impact of the war and the loss so many people suffered through. At one point, then men were going through a trove of lost items, including bags of wedding bands and gold teeth pulled from victims of the Holocaust. It was hard to read of the loss of so many, and the careless collection of these mementoes and items of people’s lives, just piled  away. (294) The story was hard to read at times, but it is a story worth reading and one that should be known. As for the art, to read about Rembrandt’s, Matisse’s, Durer’s and other painting yellowing and molding in caves… a Michelangelo statue just laying on an old mattress in hiding. I shuttered…

A couple of things I struggled with during the book:  We read this book for our December book club pick, and I am afraid it was a little long. The book is detailed, filled with historic information, dates, locations, and people. It will take a reader some time to get through (it definitely took me longer than I had anticipated!) So if you do plan to read this book, be sure to block out some time before your next read. Another issue I had with the book may be more due to the Kindle version I was reading… as I read through the book and the art pieces that were the focus of discussion in a chapter or “scene,” I wanted to see a picture of the object. I was hoping to come across the work of art in the middle of the discussion so I could relate to the object or make a new connection with an object. At the end of the Kindle addition, there were some photographs of the pieces, however, many of the major pieces discussed were not represented here (although a couple of the main ones were, including the Ghent altar piece and the Madonnas). One last note with this… I have never read a Kindle book with endnotes like this before. I would recommend reading a paperback/hardback copy of this book for this reason. I like to flip back and forth to read and compare the notes and sources. While you can click on the endnote and it bring up the resources on the Kindle, it did not allow me to easily compare resources across a chapter.

I studied art history some while I was an undergraduate at George Mason. I even went to Greece, Turkey and Ireland to study abroad and see the art and architecture of the regions. (Minored in classical studies) Because of this, as well as my American history background, I found the book to be a very interesting and unique read. On that note, I do love to read historical fiction. This book is one I would recommend for the history and art history lover.

pj - christina

Christina’s Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Christina’s Review: The Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Published by Alfred A. Knopf on 2005
Genres: Historical, Holocaust, Young Adult
Pages: 552
Format: eBook
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.
So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time

I am still trying to figure out exactly why The Book Thief was such a big hit and had so much hype surrounding it…

Was it because “Death” was the narrator?

Or because the book was about a girl surviving in Nazi Germany?

Was it because of the hope developed for the longevity of each character?

Or because the book was about a “book thief” and appealed to many readers who related their love for books?

Did the movie help push this hype?

I do not mean to be critical of the book… it was a good book. But I would not place this story on my “top” list.

For those who have not read the book or watched the movie (I’ve only read the book) – the story is about a young girl (aka the book thief aka Liesel) who discovers the power of words as she learns to read with her foster father (Papa) in the basement of their house in Nazi Germany. The book provoked many emotions: fear, hope, love… The author introduced a range of characters who all played a role in Liesel’s love for reading and stealing: Papa and Mama (Liesel’s foster parents), the Mayor’s wife (a silent agent), Rudy (the mischievous boy-next-door), and Max (the Jewish hide-away).

While I did connect with the character of Papa, I found it hard to become emotionally attached to the other characters in the story (including Liesel). I’m not sure if this is because I felt the book dragged out at times, or if it was because the character development in general could have used more support. Having the story narrated by Death was a unique aspect to the book, however, I found Death’s voice was lost at times. It felt as though the author would get so into the story, the narrator was drowned out and then all of a sudden remembered and thrown back in. I understand it was probably hard to keep up with the constant voice and perspective of Death… maybe this was another aspect of the book that kept me from connecting with the characters (or maybe because having a narrator like Death causes me to anticipate the worst and, therefore, not want to connect with a character who may meet Death sooner than later).

A couple of questions I had and would love others’ insights:

  1. Why did Liesel’s mother leave her with foster parents? At one point in the book the author noted Liesel had the “wrong color eyes” to be living in Nazi Germany at the time, but this never came back into play in the book… was this meant to infer her mother was Jewish?
  2. Was there any significance to Death noting the color of the skies whenever a soul passed? While this helped the reader identify Death as the narrator, I found it distracting from the story since I could not identify a purpose for the color references…

Overall, I found the book to be an easy read (one that I could pick up or put down whenever, which made it ideal for my metro commute). The author was clear in his writing style, and again, I loved the unique approach to the narrator of the story. The concept of a girl stealing books was well thought out and carried on throughout the book (although she could have stolen at least one or two more books to be worthy of the name “book thief”). The book, however, was not a quick read and did take me some time to finish. I would recommend this book for those interested in historical fiction or looking for a book club read. However, I was not sold on the hype and “must read list” others have placed this book in.

One last note on the book’s genres: definitely historical fiction; young adult; and a great book club selection. We read this for our November Virginia Wine and Book Club pick… some good conversations developed and questions left unanswered for the pondering.

Be sure to check out Michelle’s previous review on The Book Thief (much different than mine!) and tell us what you think!

pj - christina

Christina’s Review: The Marketplace of Revolution by T. H. Breen

Christina’s Review: The Marketplace of Revolution by T. H. BreenThe Marketplace of Revolution : How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence by T. H. Breen William Smith Mason Professor of American History Northwestern University
Published by Oxford University Press on 2004-02-26
Genres: Business & Economics, Economic History, History, Revolutionary Period (1775-1800)
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
The Marketplace of Revolution offers a boldly innovative interpretation of the mobilization of ordinary Americans on the eve of independence. Breen explores how colonists who came from very different ethnic and religious backgrounds managed to overcome difference and create a common cause capable of galvanizing resistance. In a richly interdisciplinary narrative that weaves insights into a changing material culture with analysis of popular political protests, Breen shows how virtual strangers managed to communicate a sense of trust that effectively united men and women long before they had established a nation of their own. The Marketplace of Revolution argues that the colonists' shared experience as consumers in a new imperial economy afforded them the cultural resources that they needed to develop a radical strategy of political protest--the consumer boycott. Never before had a mass political movement organized itself around disruption of the marketplace. As Breen demonstrates, often through anecdotes about obscure Americans, communal rituals of shared sacrifice provided an effective means to educate and energize a dispersed populace. The boycott movement--the signature of American resistance--invited colonists traditionally excluded from formal political processes to voice their opinions about liberty and rights within a revolutionary marketplace, an open, raucous public forum that defined itself around subscription lists passed door-to-door, voluntary associations, street protests, destruction of imported British goods, and incendiary newspaper exchanges. Within these exchanges was born a new form of politics in which ordinary man and women--precisely the people most often overlooked in traditional accounts of revolution--experienced an exhilarating surge of empowerment. Breen recreates an

The American Revolution was not only a political revolution that engaged the elite members of the American colonies. It was a revolution that empowered colonists from all classes and across gender to stand together against the tyrannical mother country of England and their oppressive rule. This is what T. H. Breen focuses on in his book: The Marketplace of Revolution. The American Revolution was possible due to the mobilization of colonists who were brought together under the common cause of consumer oppression. These colonists developed strategies of collaborative resistance and communication that took consumer goods and politicized them across the Atlantic. They spoke through their actions against British control, including the British taxation of goods without the representation and consent of the American colonists. Breen focused on consumerism across the colonies and the development of the marketplace and colonial unification over the course of a decade prior to the outbreak of war.

In his book, Breen argued the American colonists shared in an imagined community of collective experiences through consumerism found in the marketplace. Despite being spread out across a long distance of land, the American colonists came together and took a stance against the “political oppression” of the British.(xiii, xiv-xv) Breen focused primarily on the decade leading up to the outbreak of the Revolution and the ability of ordinary men and women to play a role in the “politicizing” of imported goods. The shared experience and the actions taken by the colonists, including the boycotting of British goods, were a new form of public protest that transformed the Revolution into both a political and economic one. (21) To approach the development of this political and economic revolution that brought together the masses, including women, Breen focused on the development of choice that emerged in the marketplace during the 1760s and how this became the foundation for political resistance through the declaration of natural rights.

Breen laid out the sources he used succinctly in his book, including letters, colonial newspapers and customs records. He also looked at museum artifacts, archeologists’ findings, and probate records, amongst other sources.(35) (I personally found his look at artifacts to be intriguing) He utilized these sources to show the development of consumerism over time and how this brought colonists together and later contributed to their actions against the British. He also looked at advertisements in newspapers especially to demonstrate the growing number of consumer choices in the marketplace and how this choice developed into natural rights. As this concept grew, newspapers helped spread messages of discontent and actions to be taken against the British across the colonies. (examples on this can be found throughout Breen’s book, particularly pages 134, 290-293)

Breen focused on numerous colonial locations, ranging from port cities to wholesalers, merchants, peddlers, country stores and other consumer marketplaces. His focus was not limited to one part of the colonies but stretched from the New England colonies to the southern colonies, and included marketplace insights from cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, and market-centers in the Chesapeake region further south.

His book was a dense history on how colonists politicized consumer goods and took a unified stance against British oppression. I personally enjoyed the book because it took readers away from the typical studies of the political elite and beyond the Constitutional Convention, “give me liberty or give me death” speeches, and the “we hold these truths to be self evident…” Declaration of Independence readings. I read this book for my Revolutionary America class and actually did a comparative review for the class between this book and Benjamin Carp’s Defiance of the Patriots. Taken together, these two books complimented each other. I read Breen’s first, which helped develop and further my understanding of consumerism in the colonies and the events that led to the Boston Tea Party (the primary focus of Carp’s book).

Overall, a good book and one I recommend reading for those interested in the period of the American Revolution. Breen helped to open my eyes to the complexities behind the causes of the revolution through the colonial marketplace through this reading. I have found his arguments in this book and other articles to be intriguing, and ones I have related back to as I have read other works on the revolutionary period, the transatlantic nature of the revolution, and the point at which the colonists no longer saw themselves as “British” and the revolution avoidable.

pj - christina

Michelle’s Review: We’re All Infected edited by Dawn Keetley

I received this book for free from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Michelle’s Review: We’re All Infected edited by Dawn KeetleyWe're All Infected: Essays on AMC's the Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human by Dawn Keetley
Published by McFarland on 2014-01-29
Genres: General, Performing Arts, Television
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Source: LibraryThing
This edited collection brings together an introduction and 13 original scholarly essays on AMC's The Walking Dead. The essays in the first section address the pervasive bloodletting of the series: What are the consequences of the series' unremitting violence? Essays explore violence committed in self-defense, racist violence, mass lawlessness, the violence of law enforcement, the violence of mourning, and the violence of history.

The essays in the second section explore an equally urgent question: What does it mean to be human? Several argue that notions of the human must acknowledge the centrality of the body--the fact that we share a

If I’m being honest, I quit even though I was so, so close to finishing. I just couldn’t stomach it anymore.

No, I’m not talking about gorey details or facing the implications of humanity raised by its authors.

Unfortunately, I’m talking about the inaccessibility of this collections of essays to the common reader.

The cover, the title, and even perhaps the synopsis made me think that I was in for another one of my strange enjoyments of learning more about a series that I enjoy and discussing the various issues and wider implications that can be made by it. What does it mean to be zombie? Are the zombies in the series really zombies? What does it mean to say that we’re all infected?

And while, yes, it’s safe to say that I -think- these questions were answered this anthology of academic essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead seris, I cannot tell you for certain. I literally have no idea what most of the essays were about, despite taking my time with them. I had to use the comment feature of Goodreads just to document what each essay was sort of about so I could understand that I was making some amount of progress.

I am in my first semester of graduate studies. Okay, it’s no PHD program and I’m no genius. But I’d like to think that I am fairly smart and well-read and can understand most things. But I had the hardest time with this book, as each essay went into theories and philosophical depths of thought that I simply could not follow. Perhaps if I had more of a background in some of the theories that were mentioned I would have had an easier time reaching the same conclusions as the authors. Instead, I found myself locked out.

Perhaps I wasn’t the intended audience for this anthology. But I’m disappointed because I really would like to debate some of the larger issues presented in The Walking Dead.

pj - michelle

Christina’s Review: Sensibility and the American Revolution by Sarah Knott

Christina’s Review: Sensibility and the American Revolution by Sarah KnottSensibility and the American Revolution by Sarah Knott
Published by Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia on 2009
Genres: Colonial Period (1600-1775), History, Revolutionary Period (1775-1800), United States
Pages: 338
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
In the wake of American independence, it was clear that the new United States required novel political forms. Less obvious but no less revolutionary was the idea that the American people needed a new understanding of the self. Sensibility was a cultural movement that celebrated the human capacity for sympathy and sensitivity to the world. For individuals, it offered a means of self-transformation. For a nation lacking a monarch, state religion, or standing army, sensibility provided a means of cohesion. National independence and social interdependence facilitated one another. What Sarah Knott calls "the sentimental project" helped a new kind of citizen create a new kind of government.
Knott paints sensibility as a political project whose fortunes rose and fell with the broader tides of the Revolutionary Atlantic world. Moving beyond traditional accounts of social unrest, republican and liberal ideology, and the rise of the autonomous individual, she offers an original interpretation of the American Revolution as a transformation of self and society.

In Sarah Knott’s words, sensibility was perceived “as a distinctive mode of self” that takes into account feelings and sympathy to connect the self with society. (5) This definition helped to understand Knott’s use of the word in her cultural history, Sensibility and the American Revolution. According to Knott, sensibility was “the fundamental link to self and society.” (1) She followed the transformation of sensibility through the period surrounding the American Revolution and the writing of the Constitution in her “sentimental project.” This term consisted of the transformation of sensibility as the self and society were reconstructed together during this period. (2-3) Looking at this sentimental project, Knott argued the American Revolution was not just about the fight for independence from British tyranny; the Revolution was also part of a key period in the development of the American people, society and politics together. (4) The American colonists had the opportunity to transform society and their selves into a utopian form through social revolution as they fought to separate themselves from British control and write their own Constitution.

To support her argument, Knott focused primarily on the latter half of the eighteenth century in the cosmopolitan city of Philadelphia. While Knott had a number of strengths in her research through her unique use of sources and approach to the period not typically taken by other historians (particularly her research on booksellers and physicians) there were weaknesses that could have used further elaboration: She focused on nervous disease and mentioned the disease did not arrive in the colonies until the decades prior to the Revolution, and when it did arrive, “it flooded.” (92) The reader was left to presume there may have been an influx of British at this time and the monarch asserting control or perhaps the effects of the Seven Year’s War may have led to the arrival of nervous disease. Knott also touched on the use of cognomens. She focused on the private use of cognomens and their significance in journals, but she did not explain the difference in these private cognomens and public aliases found in the Federalist Papers or other political pieces published for mass audiences. These aliases were covered by historians more often than Knott’s journal cognomens. It would have been helpful to understand the difference of the more popular use of masking names over the private use and why these had a stronger effect and reflection on sensibility. Finally, at times Knott presented some cynical assumptions that read more like her opinion than supported her argument. For example, in her depiction of Peggy Arnold following the capture of Benedict Arnold as a traitor, Knott described the theatrical performance put on by Peggy as the officers visited her, noting “she needed to ensure” her innocence through a public display.(177) Perhaps it was theatrics that prompted Peggy to behave the way she did, however, Knott’s mentioning of this event read more cynical and assumptious and was more of a distraction than support for her argument and understanding of sensibility. (92, 110, 177)

Some personal notes: This was a dense book. Knott defined sensibility in Jane Austin’s terms… at times, I am not going to lie (and this is harsh), I felt like I was reading gibberish. My brain was mush and I had to go back and read, and re-read paragraphs and still could not grasp the full content. In addition, I recommend keeping a dictionary close by. This book was a unique turn from the usual Revolutionary histories typically published. I had to read this book for my Revolutionary era class and appreciated the discussion that followed with the group to help iron out the content in relation to the argument and this significance for the time period.

Overall, I felt Knott took a unique approach to the transformation of self and society and its contributions to the historical studies that further the understanding of the period around the American Revolution. However, I would not recommend this book to someone looking for a casual read or for a book to help further their understanding about the revolutionary period in America without further background and in-depth knowledge of the subject. This book was more for those who have a background in literature studies or for those interested in cultural histories and a deeper intellectual understanding of the Revolution. If you do decide to read, I recommend reading with another so you can talk it out and discuss the thesis.

pj - christina

Michelle’s Review: Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night by Barbara J. Taylor

I received this book for free from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Michelle’s Review: Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night by Barbara J. TaylorSing in the Morning, Cry at Night by Barbara Taylor
Published by Akashic Books on 2014-07-01
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, Historical, Literary
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Source: LibraryThing
Almost everyone in town blames eight-year-old Violet Morgan for the death of her nine-year-old sister, Daisy. Sing in the Morning, Cry at Nightopens on September 4, 1913, two months after the Fourth of July tragedy. Owen, the girls' father, "turns to drink" and abandons his family. Their mother Grace falls victim to the seductive powers of Grief, an imagined figure who has seduced her off-and-on since childhood. Violet forms an unlikely friendship with Stanley Adamski, a motherless outcast who works in the mines as a breaker boy. During an unexpected blizzard, Grace goes into premature labor at home and is forced to rely on Violet, while Owen is "off being saved" at a Billy Sunday Revival. Inspired by a haunting family story, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night blends real life incidents with fiction to show how grace can be found in the midst of tragedy.

Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night treaded water to avoid becoming too dark but never broke the surface of being completely happy. True to its title, it remained balanced precariously above that water level that makes a sad symphony into complete darkness. Yes, I am calling this book a sad symphony.

And I mean that in a good way! The book follows a family that is surely being plagued by some bad luck, between the recent loss of their eldest daughter, the mother descending not just into a depression, but what could easily be called more than a little mentally disturbed, the father taking to the drink, which essentially leaves the remaining daughter an orphan. I don’t even have to try to defend how this book could be sad.

But what I can state is how the book stopped itself from descending too far down that depressive hole and instead managed to tell a story about the resiliency of people and the town. There were a lot of delicate layers in this book: the town’s preparations for Billy Sunday and religion in general, the mining industry, addiction, mental health, and family. These were all layered in such a way that it at no point felt preachy, or overdone. I think it benefited from a third person narrative with different chapters or sections from different characters’ perspectives.

So yes, the title could not have been a better fit for this book.

pj - michelle

One Month’s End is Another Month’s Beginning: September/October 2014


It’s officially the Halloween season! Right? I’m sporting some awesome Halloween Jamberry nails:

Pretty cool, right? I am still learning exactly how to put them on, but I’ve got a few more sheets to try out.

In other news, I’m officially more than a month through my first month of graduate school. It’s a mixed bag of a lot of work, a lot of non-work, and definitely a lot of time in class (5.5 hours every Wednesday after a full day of work). It’s definitely reiterated that I am not destined for a life in academia forever. Maybe when I’m older, my mind will change…

We posted the following reviews in September:

And we posted the following non-reviews:

That said, I did pretty good with reading this month, until I started reading Disunion, the anthology of articles on the Civil War. It’s very good, but it’s not exactly a book you can speed through. Of the books I had wanted to read for September:

  • I finished: Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night and Wonder Show. I definitely enjoyed both and they took place within 30 years of each other, so that was sort of fun to have that type of continuity.
  • I finally gave up on We’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human. I just couldn’t stomach anymore of it, particularly when dealing with scholarly essays for school.
  • As I mentioned above, I’m in the thick of Disunion. It’s definitely very interesting and I am enjoying it. But despite being made up of lots of digestible essays on various aspects of the Civil War, it isn’t something that I can race through.
  • I haven’t even started Lucky Us or Salt & Storm. Both of those are books from Netgalley for review, so those are definitely next on my queue!

I posted earlier in September that I was craving a good series. I highlighted some ways that I hope to start satiating that craving. So I’m going to switching up a bit my TBR for October.

  • I will finish Disunion…eventually.
  • As listed above, Lucky Us and Salt & Storm need to be read next.
  • The Walled City is yet another Netgalley book that I need to read. I always feel so guilty when I get excited about a book, request it, and then let it sit for too long. One day I’ll get on top of that.
  • The Swap is another review copy I received, this time from Goodreads. Once I knock out these review copies, I think I’ll be happier in my reading life.
  • As a non-series book that has been on my Goodreads’ TBR the longest (yes, that’s a lot of qualifiers), September Girls is the final book on my month’s TBR. I bought it and had it signed over a year ago. It is probably a more appropriate pick for this past month, but oh well!

I keep listing fewer and fewer books for a month, but I’m okay with that. So for October, my goal is 6 books. I keep getting ahead, being on track and falling behind on my annual reading goal. I have a feeling that I will be making that goal by just an inch!

What are you planning on reading this month? Do you have anything exciting happening?

pj - michelle

Michelle’s Review: Captain Alatriste by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Michelle’s Review: Captain Alatriste by Arturo Pérez-ReverteCaptain Alatriste by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Published by Penguin Group on 2005
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 284
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
The novels of Arturo Pérez-Reverte have captivated readers around the world and earned him a reputation as “the master of the intellectual thriller” (Chicago Tribune). His books have been published in fifty countries. Now, beginning with Captain Alatriste, comes Pérez-Reverte's most stunning creation to date: a riveting series featuring the adventures of an iconic hero. Captain Alatriste is the story of a fictional seventeenth-century Spanish soldier who lives as a swordsman-for-hire in Madrid. Needing gold to pay off his debts, Alatriste and another hired blade are paid to ambush two travelers, stage a robbery, and give the travelers a fright. “No blood,” they are told. Then a mysterious stranger enters to clarify the job: he increases the pay, and tells Alatriste that, instead, he must murder the two travelers. When the attack unfolds, Alatriste realizes that these aren't ordinary travelers, and what happens next is only the first in a riveting series of twists and turns, with implications that will reverberate throughout the courts of Europe.

Another from my days of browsing the shelves of a used bookstore, Captain Alatriste tells the story of an ex-soldier mercenary in seventeenth century Spain. Translated from its original form of Spanish, Captain Alatriste tells the story of its title character through the eyes of his protégé and of the state of Spain through snippets of action and pieces of literature.

I didn’t enjoy this book though. I was under the impression that I was in for some swashbuckling tale and high adventure. Or perhaps a story that serves as an allegory for the state of Spain then and now. Instead, I found my translation a bit rough at times (I had a hard time getting into the flow of the language) and too much introspection woven into what was just a ludicrous action plot.

I wanted to like it. I liked the idea of reading something that was popular in Spain. But I fear that I am part of that audience that it just didn’t translate into a hit for. If it had just stuck to the action parts, I would have liked it a lot more. Even if it had stuck to the introspection, the pessimism about the state of Spain and the national pride of its people, I would have at least known what I was reading. Instead I got pieces of both that ended up making the book not feel very cohesive or maintain enough enthusiasm for me.

It’s a real shame because I think there is promise here. But it just wasn’t realized for me.

pj - michelle

Christina’s Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Christina’s Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian FlynnSharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Published by Crown Publishing Group on 2006-09-26
Genres: Fiction, Mystery & Detective, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 272
Format: Hardcover
FROM THE #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF GONE GIRLFresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family's Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.

I read Gone Girl with the book club about a year ago, and let’s just say I slammed the book down when I reached the end and went into a huffy fit for a little while. It was sick, twisted, but good…real good. The book kept me thinking long after I finished it and carried the book club through such a great discussion. Because of this, I decided to nominate Gillian Flynn’s debut book Sharp Objects for our October read a year later.

First, I must say I was unexpectedly surprised when this book was not checked out from my library, so there was no wait, and I was able to dive right in! I started the book on a Sunday and finished it by Monday evening… once I got going, knowing how hooked I was with Gone Girl, I kept reading and was not disappointed. Sharp Objects follows a reporter, Camille, who travels back to her small, quiet home town to write a story on the murder of one little girl and a missing second. Flynn does a beautiful job allowing the reader to understand the emotions going through the reporter as she is forced to revisit the past she left behind and the family she had not been home to see in years. Diving deeper into the book, the reader learns the reporter has her own secrets from her past she still hides. From the outside looking in, what can appear to be the perfect family – millionaire factory owners in a big house, with beautiful daughters, a pristinely dressed and regarded mother, and a quiet father-figure – can have their secrets that will leave one squirming in their seats.

The way Flynn laid out Sharp Objects was brilliant to me. She gradually introduced new turns in events and insights into Camille’s past and relationship with her parents and self. She left breadcrumbs that built up suspense and anticipation throughout the book. The characters all seemed to have their own secrets waiting to be uncovered… In my opinion, Camille’s sister was a piece of work, as was her mother. Her father was a mysterious character..a man of few words. I kept wondering if they would have a roll in the turn of events. Reading, I was filled with hate, disgust, sorrow, skepticism, hope… I was cheering for some characters (Camille and her potential romantic encounters) and I was hoping others would “get what they deserved”…

I am excited to talk about this book with the book club and learn their reactions. I found these discussion questions online through Gillian Flynn’s site to review: And this is the perfect time to read Sharp Objects and Gone Girl as we anticipate the release of the Gone Girl movie coming out in early October!

I recommend diving into this twisted world of Gillian Flynn, starting with Sharp Objects… her writing-style is unique, captivating, and leaves the reader cringing amongst a slew of emotions in the end. Her style is unique and gives the brain and heart a good workout!

pj - christina

Michelle’s Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Michelle’s Review: Landline by Rainbow RowellLandline by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Macmillan on 2014-07-08
Genres: Contemporary Women, Family Life, Fiction, General, Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Audiobook
From New York Times bestselling author of Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell, comes a hilarious, heart-wrenching take on love, marriage, and magic phones. Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply—but that almost seems beside the point now.Maybe that was always beside the point.Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her—Neal is always a little upset with Georgie—but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go without her.When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts. . . .Is that what she’s supposed to do?Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

Everyone and their mother raves about Rainbow Rowell’s books. I have only ever read (or in this case, listened to) Landline, but even I can name more Rowell titles than I could for other authors (Attachments, Eleanor and Park, and Fangirl, right?).

Landline was perhaps both a scary and a relatable read for someone who has just gotten engaged in the past year. Marital boredom and disintegration is perhaps a theme most commonly seen on television, but Landline made it very real. The dialogue was very realistic and done well. Georgie decides not to go to Omaha for Christmas to work on a potential big break for her television idea. While separated from her family, she reflects on the beginning of her relationship with Neal and how they got to where they are today.

And then of course, there’s the magical phone.

That’s not a spoiler. The book is called Landline, there’s a picture of the phone, and the synopsis says that there is a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out.

Was it an effective narrative tool? Perhaps. It was good that it made Georgie realize some things and remember some things. It definitely throws your mind through the time travel/continuum loop. But I think for me, it seemed just a little out of place. Everything else about the book was so realistic that something paranormal asked for a suspension of disbelief.

I appreciated its realism, despite the paranormal aspect. And while the end has bothered some, it didn’t bother me. It did just sort of end, but I was okay with that. By that point, I was glad that there was a conclusion. It was enjoyable and I understand both the negative and the positive reviews. My opinion is somewhere in the middle.

Edit: I was contacted by Macmillan Audio with the chance to give you a clip from the audiobook! This was how I read Landline, so it’s perfect for you to listen to! 

pj - michelle