Friday, June 26, 2015

(Review) All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Publication Date: May 2014.
Publisher: Scribner. 
Genre: Historical fiction, France, World War II.
Pages: 544.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: 4 stars for very good.

A National Book Award finalist.
All The Light We Cannot See won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Barnes and Noble

Marie-Laure LeBlanc is blind. She is age 12 when the story begins. She and her father, a locksmith, leave Paris, France, when the Occupation of the Nazi's began. They travel to Saint-Malo, a port city in Brittany, France. Her father has a priceless and hidden jewel. They live with an eccentric uncle.
An orphaned German boy named Werner Pfennig becomes a cadet at a school in Germany. He has a gift for math and understanding radios.
Marie-Laure and Werner's paths will cross in 1944.

My Thoughts:
I loved the idea of the book more than the story itself.
I loved what I'd heard about the book more than reading it.
I've given the book 4 stars for very good. I did not feel it was a 5 star book for excellent.

  • The main reason is the jumping back and forth and in between with the time periods. I was able to keep up with the time periods, but the chapters are short, sometimes two pages. When I felt apart of one period in time (apart of the story, invested), it stopped, jumping to another time period. I needed a longer pause in one place to view the characters and the present story.  
  • The second reason for giving All The Light We Cannot See 4 stars is the story-line is not wrapped up in a way I always understood. I backed up and reread chapters asking myself, what is really going on and am I missing something.  
The story and characters are memorable and haunting. 
The characters are living during a historical event they have no voice or power to control or escape. 
There is symbolism in the story: 
  • Marie-Laure and Werner are teenagers in 1944. Youth is like spring. But war is a bleak, frozen, barren winter. 
  • The priceless gem reminds me of the priceless human life. 
  • The fortified city of Saint-Malo is liken to a city set apart, and Marie-Laure is like the princess of the city (a very unlikely princess) who is destined for a great task. On the other hand, the Nazi army is the dragon swooping in to devour.  
All The Light We Cannot See is a coming of age story. Two youths with all their lives before them, yet make significant choices. Life-altering choices. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Gone With The Wind, Read-a-Long, Week Four

Week Four:
"The Book Cover-What are your first impressions as you look at the cover of your copy of Gone With The Wind? Does the book cover have an aspect that reflects the character, setting, or plot of the novel? If you could have designed the book cover what would you have chosen?"

My first thought on the cover of the book is it's a romantic novel. Gone With The Wind has romantic elements, but it is much much more. The cover posted above is the book I own and am reading. I rate the cover a 4. An illustration on the front cover of Tara would please me more. Scarlett is so vividly described in the book that I don't need to see a picture of her on the cover. Tara is portrayed as well, but Tara is home and all that embodies life.
Milford Plantation, link provides attribution. 
Stratford Hall, link provides attribution.

Gone With The Wind Read-a-Long, Week Three

Gone With The Wind film song:

Week Three: 
"The House the Author Built-Choose a setting within Gone With The Wind that most intrigues you. Is it a house? A city? A bit of yard well-described by Margaret Mitchell? What about it intrigues you? Can you see this setting serving a function within the novel? Have you ever been to this setting?"

The setting I've been drawn to is the point where the driveway and the road meet in front of Tara.
I compared pages 44-45 and pages 386-399. I looked for parallelisms and symbolism.
This "resting spot" is under an arch in the cedar trees. From this point, Scarlett has a tunnel view of Tara. Tara is home and it is her greatest love. This is a place where she ponders the things in life she does not understand, it usually marks a place of change, it's a place of waiting, and it's a reminder of what matters most to her. Scarlett is not a deep-thinking person. However, at this vantage perch in the archway of the trees, she relaxes and contemplates life. 

Gone With The Wind Read-a-Long, Week Two

In my earlier posts on the Gone With The Wind Read-a-Long, I forgot to mention this book will count towards book challenges.
and also
and lastly,

I think that covers the challenges.
No pun intended!

As of June 3, I've read through chapter 25. There are 63 chapters.

For your listening pleasure, the Gone With The Wind film theme song:

Week One was on the author, Margaret Mitchell. Link for my post. 

Week Two is on a character:
"Write about a character you find interesting so far in Gone with the Wind. This character doesn't have to be your favorite character. Perhaps your least favorite or a minor one. Can you create a visual description of this character in your own words? Or a description of this character's hopes, wishes, flaws, fears, and strengths? If you have seen the movie version of Gone with the Wind, does the character in the film match the character in the book in your view? If they were going to remake the film today who would you choose to play this character?"

It would be easy to chose Scarlett O'Hara to write about in regards to her character, because she is a strong and robust character. But don't think that I like her! I don't even care about liking her. She is one of those women I avoid because they are superficial. On the other hand, she just might be more complex than I care to admit. She is selfish, needy, vain, arrogant, unloving, non-maternal (to the point of abuse.) But I'm also seeing a tiny thread of transformation in her character. Enough about Scarlett, I'd rather elaborate on her mother Ellen.

What stands out to me the most in Ellen and Scarlett is their polar opposite natures.
Scarlett is all about herself. Ellen is all about other people.  
Scarlett is brazen, calculating, defiant. Ellen is humble, gracious, lady-like.
Scarlett is non-maternal. Ellen is maternal.
Scarlett is mouthy and emotional driven. Ellen is unassuming and wise.

I love strong characters in stories. I always have. I don't have to like them. I don't like Scarlett. But I do find her interesting. Without Ellen's opposite character, I don't think Scarlett would be as defined. In addition, I don't believe it is enough to have secondary characters react to the "naughty" main character, but to have a secondary character who is opposite in nature, makes the story dimensional, complex, and engaging.

While reading Gone With The Wind, I thought about how well Vivian Leigh portrayed Scarlett. She was a perfect actor for the role. I feel the same way about Clark Gable portraying Rhett Butler.
I cannot picture in my mind any current actors doing justice to the roles. I'm afraid if there was a sequel or remake, people would spend time comparing the films and actors.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Poetic Introduction to June

"A Poetic Introduction" is posted early in a new month. The collection is not necessarily poetry, but quotes and other sayings that I've collected over the years.  

"What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us: what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal." Albert Pike. 

"My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams."
Abram L. Urban

"The vocation for you is the one in which your deep gladness and the world's deepest need meet." Frederick Buechner

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and a lightening bug." Mark Twain

"It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading." Katherine Patterson

"I never want to see anyone, and I never want to go anywhere or do anything. I just want to write." P.G. Wodehouse

"I was a very odd little child, with the shadows of all my books in my head." Charles Dickens

"Without words, without writing and without books, there would be no history; there would be no concept of humanity." Hermann Hesse

"Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure, only death can stop it." Ernest Hemingway

"If you want to write for yourself, get a diary. If you want to write for your friends, get a blog. If you want to write for others...become an author." James Patterson

"If the word has the potency to revive and make us free, it also has the power to blind, imprison, and destroy." Ralph Ellison

"The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn't require any." Russell Baker

"Writing is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to those who have none." Jules Renard

Friday, May 29, 2015

(Review) The Holy Lance: Book One of the English Templars Series by Andrew Latham

Publication Date: March 24, 2015.
Publisher: Knox Robinson Publishing.
Genre: Historical fiction, Crusades, Middle Ages, 12th century, English Templars.
Pages: 360.
Source: Free copy from Knox Robinson Publishing in exchange for a review.
Rating: 4 stars for very good.

Website for The Holy Lance. 

An interview from Mac Weekly.
Book spotlight from The Real Crusades History blog.

UK Barnes and Noble
Book Depository

The year is 1191. A daring counterattack against the Saracens’ last-ditch effort to relieve the besieged city of Acre has not only saved the Christian host from a fatal defeat; it has also brought the leader of that counterattack, English Templar Michael Fitz Alan, to the attention of King Richard the Lionheart.
In the days that follow, the king charges Fitz Alan with a life-or-death mission – to recover the Holy Lance, a long-lost religious relic widely believed to be responsible for the near-miraculous success of the First Crusade.
The ensuing quest leads Fitz Alan and a hand-picked band of Templars on a journey deep into enemy territory, where they battle Saracens, Assassins, hostile Christians and even a traitor within their own ranks as they seek to return the Holy Lance to Christian hands and thereby ensure the success of the crusade.

My Thoughts:
The history of the Crusades is an interesting topic. It has been on my list of subjects to read. I believe it is a controversial history. Their are people who believe the Crusades were only political and not religious. Their are those who believe it was only religious and not political. Their are people who favor the Christians. Their are those who are sympathetic to Muslims. To find a balance is difficult. The Holy Lance focuses on one particular group in the English Templars. They are Christians, warriors, devoted and committed to the cause.
I'm pleased Andrew Latham sent his book to a retired professor for historical accuracy. In historical fiction, a little freedom in the story is expected, but Latham placed an emphasis on as accurate as possible for his story. Included in the book is the "Historical Note." Andrew Latham explains his reading and research. I read books cover to cover and an author's research is fascinating to me. It is also important to understand how and why the book was written.
The Holy Lance is not a lengthy book. The book does not waste time but moves quickly through the theme of searching for the relic.
There is no love story. The Holy Lance is a war story, a historical Crusade story. The focus is on the brave men who fought, thoughts and feelings are expressed, but the emphasis is on the operations and movement of war.
There is a variety of voices in the story. One of the voices is a Muslim youth. The Muslims are referred to as Saracens. I believe his addition was significant. He gave a brief but solid view of why he was fighting, how he felt about the infidels, and his training.
The main character is Brother Michael Fitz Alan. He is a decisive and resolute man. He is brutal to the enemy. He has engaged in numerous battles and is hardened. However, he is not hardened to the Christian cause.
I've been introduced in story to the attire worn and instruments used in battle.
There are several words that I did not know the meaning of and looked them up in a separate dictionary. The words are Saracen, Nubians, Hospitallernaphtha bombs, and Turcomen. I believe it would help to have a small dictionary in the book for words unknown to modern society.
Two additional points I would like to see in the future books in this series:

  1. Internal struggles within the English Templars. Internal struggles make characters human. They give dimension. I don't want to see my heroes "fall into sin." Although this is a possibility in humanity. We all have our weaknesses, and a point where we cannot go on in a battle, whether in a war battle, or in a life experience period.
  2. Grow the story line of other Crusaders who do not have the right intentions. Immoral characters make moral characters illuminate.   

Praise for The Holy Lance:
“A timely and compelling novel. The Crusades inform and often infect our understanding of the contemporary Middle East, and while this book is fiction it reveals much of the truth about that misunderstood era. Outstanding reading.” – Michael Coren, award-winning television host, radio personality, syndicated columnist, and best-selling author of fourteen books, including most recently The Future of Catholicism
“A fascinating and thrilling story played out under the boiling heat of Palestine at a time when two cultures clashed violently over the ultimate prize of Jerusalem. Andrew Latham has created a believable and sympathetic lead character in the Templar Fitz Alan as well as providing us with a thrilling insight into the mysteries of the Templar order. A most enjoyable tale, like that of an experienced jongleur, set against the personal conflict between Richard of England and Saladin. It vividly resurrects the life and death struggle between Saracen and Crusader.” –Dr. Paul Doherty, OBE, historian and critically acclaimed author of dozens of works of historical fiction, including The Templar, The Templar Magician and most recently The Last of Days
“Grizzled warriors, an epic conflict, a fabled quest: Latham’s engrossing tale of violence and faith careens savagely through the Third Crusade and its legendary clash of wills – ‘Coeur de Lion’ versus ‘Saladin’, ‘Frank’ versus ‘Saracen’. The splendid English Templar, Michael Fitz Alan – flawed, fearless, lethal – here joins the front rank of historical fiction’s greatest warriors.”- Dr. Dean F. Oliver, award-winning author, director of research at the Canadian Museum of History, and Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau
“Violent and visceral…. meticulously researched… superbly plotted…. The Holy Lance is historical fiction at its best!” – Steven A. McKay, bestselling author of Wolf’s Head and The Wolf and the Raven
“If you’re looking for an historical adventure soaked in blood… The Holy Lance delivers…. Latham shows a welcome attention to the complexities of the Crusader world and to the details of Templar life. A satisfying amount of blood is shed as Michael Fitz Alan and his Templar troops battle their way towards their goal. And the book offers a rousing conclusion, with the promise of more to come. Bring it on!” – Jack Hight, author of The Saladin Trilogy

Knox Robinson author Andrew A. Latham is an award-winning professor of International Relations who regularly teaches courses in medieval political thought, international relations, and war. Trained as a Political Scientist, Latham has spent the last decade-and-a-half researching political violence in the Middle Ages. He has written scholarly articles on medieval war, the crusades, jihad, and the political thought of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas. His most recent book is a work of non-fiction entitled Theorizing Medieval Geopolitics: War and World Order in the Age of the Crusades.
Latham was born in England, raised in Canada and currently lives in the United States. He graduated from York University in Toronto with a BA (Honours) in Political Science, later earned an MA from Queen’s University in Kingston and, later yet, a PhD from his alma mater, York.
Latham is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Historical Writers’ Association and De Re Militari: The Society For Medieval Military History.
Since 1997 Latham has been a member of the Political Science Department at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he where he lives with his wife Wendy, daughter Bernadette and son Michael.
For more information and updates, please visit Andrew Latham’s website. You can also find him on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Tour Schedule at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours:
Monday, May 4
Guest Post and Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Thursday, May 7
Guest Post and Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More
Friday, May 8
Guest Post at The Writing Desk
Sunday, May 10
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Monday, May 11
Review at A Book Geek
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation
Tuesday, May 12
Spotlight at Just One More Chapter
Wednesday, May 13
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Thursday, May 14
Guest Post at Book Lovers Paradise
Friday, May 15
Review at Bookramblings
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review and Giveaway at Words and Peace

Thursday, May 28, 2015

(Review) Reconnaissance by Anne Higgins

Publication Date: September 26, 2014.
Publisher: Texture Press.
Genre: Poetry.
Pages: 104.
Source: Free copy from Anne Higgins in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Anne Higgin's takes the ordinary things in life and creates the extraordinary. The sole of her shoe, an insect's eyes, weeds, and a song played on the radio many years ago. I believe this is what a poet does, takes the ordinary, what we see every day, and creates a movement of words drawing our attention to what becomes remarkable.
Higgin's poems are arranged in six chapters. A chapter on nature, nostalgia, items she sees everyday, the artist Magritte, reconciling, and what lay beneath.
The poems do not rhyme. They are free verse poems. Free to go with the author's thoughts and feelings.  

My Thoughts:
I've read through the book twice. Each time I've read the book I have picked up on hidden gems.
For example: "Be That As It May." May is spring, it is youth and blossoming. The poem begins with "confessing" and moves to being set free from "under twenty years of leaves." This is one of my favorite poems. I'm amazed at how a poem can speak one message of emotion to one reader, and a different message to another reader. In this particular poem, I was reminded of young love and the excitement of sensual awakening.
A second poem that stirred my heart: "Apology Poem."
sorry for all the times it was too late.
I'm sorry for selfish reasons,
for words that got me in trouble,
for words held back.
I can relate. I've often wondered, am I more sorry for the words I've said, or the words unsaid?

Anne Higgins teaches at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. She is a member of the Daughters of Charity. Her poems have appeared in Commonweal, Yankee, Spirituality and Health, The Centrifugal Eye, and a variety of small magazines. Garrison Keillor has read two of her poems on “The Writers Almanac” – on 10/8/01 and 8/8/10. She is the author of six previous collections of poetry.  Check out an interview with her by Susan Smith Nash.  Author photo by Michael Hoover.

To read other reviews: Create-With-Joy and Peeking Between The Pages. 

Link for the tour: Poetic Book Tours,
and on Facebook. 

Available @ Amazon: Reconnaissance. 
and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, May 22, 2015

(Review) The Grip of God: The Tiger and The Dove Book One by Rebecca Hazell

Publication Date: July 23, 2013.
Publisher: Create Space Independent Publishing Platform.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mongol Empire, Kievan Rus' (Eastern European Slavic Tribes), Genghis Khan family, military battles, 13th century.
Pages: 380.
Source: Free copy from Rebecca Hazell in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Barnes and Noble

About the Author
Rebecca Hazell is a an award winning artist, author and educator. She has written, illustrated and published four non-fiction children’s books, created best selling educational filmstrips, designed educational craft kits for children and even created award winning needlepoint canvases. She is a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, and she holds an honours BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz in Russian and Chinese history.

Rebecca lived for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1988 she and her family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in 2006 she and her husband moved to Vancouver Island. They live near their two adult children in the beautiful Cowichan Valley.

Visit Rebecca:

The Grip of God is the first novel in an epic historical trilogy, The Tiger and the Dove. Set in the thirteenth century, its heroine, Sofia, is a young princess of Kievan Rus. She begins her story by recounting her capture in battle and life of slavery to a young army captain in the Mongol armies that are flooding Europe. Not only is her life shattered, it is threatened by the bitter rivalries in her new master's powerful family, and shadowed by the leader of the Mongol invasion, Batu Khan, Genghis Khan's grandson. How will she learn to survive in a world of total war, much less rediscover the love she once took for granted? Always seeking to escape and menaced by outer enemies and inner turmoil, where can she find safe haven even if she can break free? Clear eyed and intelligent, Sofia could be a character from The Game of Thrones, but she refuses to believe that life is solely about the strong dominating the weak or about taking endless revenge. Her story is based on actual historical events, which haunt her destiny. Like an intelligent Forrest Gump, she reflects her times. But as she matures, she learns to reflect on them as well, and to transcend their fetters. In doing so, she recreates a lost era for us, her readers.
My Thoughts:
The Grip of God is one of the most fascinating historical fiction books I've read. The main reason is I was unacquainted with Chinese, Mongol, and Genghis/Chinggis Khan history. Reading The Grip of God has led me to read several articles online about the Genghis Khan, his family, and the Mongol Empire. The Grip of God is a historical history that has rarely been written about. Further, I know of no other historical fiction books on this history. Most people are loosely aware of Genghis Khan, but they do not know about the military campaigns, nor the people groups and countries destroyed and eliminated. Becoming aware through a fiction story of this period in history is the first reason I've given The Grip of God 5 stars for excellent. 
Further reasons are:

  • The main character and voice in the story is Sofia. When the story begins she is age 12. She is an only child, the precious jewel of her father. She is precocious, intelligent, strong-willed, determined, observant, and intuitive. The other characters in the story felt drawn to Sofia and this was infectious to me. I felt an investment in the story from the first page, because I felt Sofia was a unique character and was destined for a unique life journey.
  • Sofia is a character that has internal struggles with her belief system. Her belief system is the religion and culture and society of her people group. She also struggles with finding a balanced attitude with the Mongol people group. In the beginning her attitude is hate and mistrust. But as the story progresses she wrestles with positive feelings for these "dog speech" people.  
  • The Mongol society and culture was absorbing. I've read many stories of people living in western society during the Middle Ages, but reading about eastern Asian people during the Middle Ages felt foreign and exotic. 
  • The ending of The Grip of God left me wondering what Sofia's next life journey will bring. 
I've read other reviewer's remark they did not like the abuse of women in the story. I don't either. I cannot imagine any reader liking it. But, this is a strong point in accurately depicting the Mongol Empire and how the Khan warriors treated women. I don't consider 12 years of age to be a woman. However, Henry VII's mother, Margaret Beaufort, was barely 14 when he was born. I also thought about the women and girls who were raped when the Russians moved into Germany at the end of World War II. My point is throughout the centuries of history invading armies have abused the female population. It is horrid and frightening.

I struggled with whether to give The Grip of God 4 or 5 stars. What pushed up the rank to 5 stars is I cannot stop thinking about nor wondering what is in store for Sofia in book two.

Links of interest:
National Geographic magazine article.