Friday, May 1, 2015

(Review) The Masque of a Murderer, Lucy Campion Mysteries Book Three by Susanna Calkins

Publication Date: April 14, 2015.
Publisher: Minotaur Books.
Genre: Historical fiction, 1600s, 17th Century, England, Murder Mystery, Quakers.
Pages: 336.
Source: Free copy from Susanna Calkins and Minotaur Books in exchange for a review.
Rating: 3 Stars for good.

Link @ Minotaur, Amazon, Barnes and Noble.

To read my review of A Murder at Rosamund's Gate.

 The Masque of a Murderer (Lucy Campion Mysteries, #3)

Book Two, From The Charred Remains
Book One, A Murder at Rosamund's Gate

The Masque of a Murderer is book three in the Lucy Campion series. A fourth book, A Death Along the River Fleet will be published in 2016.
Lucy Campion was a chambermaid in a magistrate's home. She is currently a printer's apprentice. The year is 1667, London, England.
When The Masque of a Murderer begins, Lucy and her former employer's daughter Sarah, meet by chance in a crowded street. Sarah shares with Lucy she is a new convert to the Quaker religion. Lucy accompanies Sarah to visit the bedside of a dying man, Jacob Whitby. Their mission is to document his last words. Jacob's death and a proceeding death are questionable. Lucy and the constable work to find answers to the suspicious deaths.

My Thoughts:
There are several points I loved about this story. However, the book did not catch hold of me as I'd liked. Midway through the story I began to feel apart of the story and I did like the ending.

What I loved:

  • The time period of 17th Century. The year of 1667 is one year after the Great Fire of London. And a few years after the Civil War. The king is Charles II. The Great Plague has just been "snuffed out," and the New World is being settled and developed. 
  • Lucy Campion is a likable character. She is independent during an era when single independent women are few. She is brave to both change careers and solve murder cases. 
  • A secondary character that sketches the dead. Now this was a very interesting person and occupation (would actually make an excellent stand-alone story.)
  • Quaker religion. I have ancestors who were Quakers in England before coming to the New World in 1690. 
  • Lucy does not seem ambitious to marry.    
What I did not like:
  • Lucy's two male admirers need to make up their mind. I'm wondering if the love interest part of the Lucy Campion stories are a tease for a later story-line?
  • The story began slow. 
I debated on whether to award a 3 or 4 to the story. I don't give 1/2's. I settled on a 3 because the story is good, but I did not feel it was very good. 

A Poetic Introduction to May

"Just remember-when you think all is lost, the future remains." Robert H. Goddard.

"Books maybe the only true magic." Alice Hoffman.

"Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly may alight upon you." Nathaniel Hawthorne.

"Just like a butterfly I too will awaken in my own time." Deborah Chaskin.

"Butterflies are self propelled flowers." R. A. Heinlein. 

"Sweet April Showers.
Do Spring May flowers." 
Thomas Tusser 1524-1580

The month of May was come, 
when every lusty heart beginneth
to blossom, and to bring forth fruit; 
for like as herbs and trees bring 
forth fruit and flourish in May, 
in likewise every lusty heart 
that is in any manner a lover, 
springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds.  
For it giveth unto all lovers courage, 
that lusty month of May.
Sir Thomas Malory 1405-1471
Poem from InfoPlease. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

(Review) Survival in the Shadows: Seven Jews Hidden in Hitler's Berlin by Barbara Lovenheim

Publication Date: April 7, 2015.
Publisher: Open Road Media.
Genre: Holocaust; Berlin, Germany, World War II, history, memoir.
Pages: 240.
Source: Free ebook copy from Open Road Media, through NetGalley, in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Links @ Amazon.
Barnes and Noble. 

The story began in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, Germany, December 1942. There were only 33,000 Jews left in Berlin. At one time there were 160,000 Jews in Berlin.
Dr. Arthur Arndt, wife Lina, and children Erich and Ruth are fearful they will be taken to a concentration camp. Restrictions and laws for Jews have become tighter. A decision to hide (or be transported to a death camp) must be made.
A mother and daughter, Charlotte and Ellen Lewinsky make the decision to hide.
Bruno Gumpel, a school friend of Erich's also decides to hide. 
The book describes the historical events in chronological order of the war and Holocaust. The emphasis of the book is on the seven people who hid from Nazi Germany.

My Thoughts:
There are several reasons that I gave this book 5 stars for excellent.

  • Information on the German Jewish woman named Stella Goldschlag. She was a Greiferin-Catcher in Berlin. She worked with the Gestapo to hunt and lure Jews that were in hiding. 
  • The detailed plans needed to accomplish living in hiding. 
  • The Gentile Germans that risked their lives to hide Jews.
  • Brazenness at leaving their "den" of hiding and taking part in the outside world.
  • Surviving after the war and rebuilding a new life. 

Survival in the Shadows is an astonishing story showing the courage of seven people. I am amazed at their tenacity and strength. Their savvy understanding of the grave situation they were in, yet they took a brave stand to live-on.

It was not long ago that I reviewed the book The Last Jews in Berlin, this book was also published by Open Road Media. The book shared several stories of Jewish men and women who survived both Nazi Germany's murder of the Jews, Bombing of Berlin, and the advancing Soviet Army. 

Youtube has several videos on the Bombing of Berlin.
The following video is from "The Winds of War" and it is of the Battle of Berlin.

Berlin, Germany 1945

Thursday, April 23, 2015

(Review) Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm

Publication Date: March 31, 2015. First published in January 2014 under another title: If This is a Woman.
Publisher: Nan A. Talese.
Genre: Nonfiction, Holocaust, Germany, Nazi, World War II.
Pages: 768.
Source: Free copy from Netgalley and Nan A. Talese in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 Stars for excellent.

Ravensbruck was a concentration camp in northern Germany. It was located in a forest near a lake. The location seemed ideal, tranquil, and private. Ravensbruck was built in 1939 in order to house women imprisoned by Nazi Germany. The reasons for imprisonment were: political, social outcasts, Gypsies, Jews, mentally sick, handicapped, or any women who were considered an enemy of Nazi Germany.
The number of women murdered at Ravensbruck is a guess. Upwards of 90,000 women died at Ravensbruck. The files were burned in the last days of the war and a solid count is obscure.
Sarah Helm has written a chronological history of Ravensbruck, from the beginning plans of the camp, to the last days of its torturous rule.
Helm interviewed women who had been imprisoned there, or had worked as a guard. Many of these women had not shared what had happened with their families.

My Thoughts:
This is a lengthy book to read. It is exhausting. Not because of the amount of pages, but because of its content. I was only able to read a few pages and then pause.
The first time I'd heard of Ravensbruck was while reading The Hiding Place. Corrie Ten Boom and her sister were prisoners there.
I believe Ravensbruck is a necessary book to read on the history of the Holocaust. I've not read another book on this concentration camp. Nor have I read another Holocaust book that is as in-depth in detail.
When writing a review on Holocaust topic books, I am not comfortable using words like wonderful story, or excellent portrayal; those descriptions seem too cheerful and insignificant. I stumble with adequate words to express how I feel and am left feeling depleted and dumbstruck.
It is important to share the stories contained in Ravensbruck. Their stories affect the humane world and may prevent another event like the Holocaust.

There are several points that led me to give Ravensbruck 5 stars for excellent.
  • Chronological detailed history of the concentration camp.
  • Biographies of historical people that were apart of the creation and running of the camp. For example: Heinrich Himmler. 
  • Interviews from women who were prisoners and women who were guards. 
  • Detailed information pertaining to: medical experiments, history of the poisonous gas, torture practices, and the increase of children born at Ravensbruck. 
  • Lastly, Ravensbruck showed the breakdown of what human attributes were left of the prisoners. Many of the women became ghosts of their former selves. I cannot imagine the strength it took to move forward with life afterwards.  
On a final note, there is an interesting follow-up on the Siemens Company in Germany on their historical role at Ravensbruck. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

(Review) War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Publication Date: July 2, 1999. First published 1869.
Publisher: Modern Library.
Genre: Historical fiction, Napoleonic Wars, Russia, France.
Pages: 1424.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: 3 stars for good.

Translation by Constance Garnett
Introduction by A.N. Wilson

Amazon (Kindle copy is .99)
Modern Library

Leo Tolstoy 1828-1910.

The Battle of Borodino. 
I've heard of people who read War and Peace every year. I can't imagine reading this book every year. I'm glad I read the book, but don't plan to read it again.

Sometimes a book summary can go on and on too much, especially in an epic book such as War and Peace. The following summary is going to be just the facts.
Several aristocratic Russian families make up the principal characters in War and Peace. 
The story moves back and forth between the Napoleonic War of the early 1800s and civilians living in Moscow.
The civilian parts of the book are filled with parties, soirees, love interests, marriage and children, marital difficulties, infidelities, sickness, and death.
The war parts of the book are filled with battle planning, offense and defense strategies, maiming and death, prisoners, defeat, and victory.
For both civilians and those in the military, the after-affects of suffering and rebuilding a life are shown.
Leo Tolstoy at several points in the book will take a detour in order to give philosophical thoughts on war, historians, and people (for example Napoleon.)

"The subject of history is the life of peoples and of humanity. To catch and pin down in words-that is, to describe directly the life, not only of humanity, but even of a single people, appears to be impossible." Page 1344. Part Two of Epilogue. 

My Thoughts:
Over-all I think the book is a solid good rating.
I did not fall in the love with the book. However, I do believe it is a memorable book.
The length and content of the story is haunting. However, I did not feel an investment in any of the characters.
I am still surprised that I read the book in a couple of months. I feel an accomplishment in reading War and Peace
I loved Tolstoy's description of scenery. His description gave me a panoramic view.
Early in the story, there is a dialogue between a husband and wife. The dialogue was realistic and I felt uncomfortable, as if I was in the room with them and over-hearing a couple's argument. I felt this was a significant writing ability, to bring the reader into the room of the characters during a sensitive and uncomfortable scene.
Tolstoy's strong ability to write about a battle scene is significant. The intense nature of a battle is not easy to capture, but my heart raced during these moments.
If I had to choose one thing about this story that I felt was of most importance: I would choose the after-affects of war for the soldiers. Tolstoy shows the weariness, suffering, physical pain, loneliness, yearning for home, readjusting to civilian life, regret, loss, sadness; and the exhaustion of mind, body, and spirit.
I find it ironic that a book I'm currently reading, A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael, mentions War and Peace. Carmichael is quoted as stating she did not like the book.
"Bad rhymes in parts, bad writing all through." The quote is taken from her book, From Sunrise Land. 

Links of interest:
The Guardian, War and Peace: many stories, many lives. 
Biography of Leo Tolstoy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

War and Peace Read-a-Long: Week Eleven

Week 11 is over Books 14 and 15.

1) Do you think the book ended in a funny place or did it seem like a logical place for the story to end?
The story didn't really end because the author wrote two more parts in an epilogue. However, chapter fifteen ends with two women who had been through much in this story moving on with their lives. 

2) How do you see the characters five years on from now? Will everybody get a happy ever after? 
I don't know about happy ever after, but I do see them as moving on from the pain and suffering of war. I do not mean they will not carry with them the memories of what happened, nor miss loved ones who've died. But they move on with life. 

3) Do you think Tolstoy is a biased narrator? If so, in what way?
No I do not. 

4) Are you still enjoying this book or are you honestly just waiting for the damn thing to stop talking?
I finished reading the book on April 16. I'm ready to move on from this chunkster story. 

War and Peace Read-a-Long: Week Ten

Week ten is over Book 13.

1)  The only bit of this week's war-themed escapades that I really took in was a small section where it got interesting and the Russians started getting ready to attack the French but then got confused because they couldn't find somebody or other so they did it the next day and botched it again because they went crazy and just started trying to beat on some French people.  Does anybody feel as though they're learning?
I did not know that the French had occupation of Moscow for a time. I know little about this period of history in regards to Russian history or Napoleon. I found it interesting. I also enjoyed reading Tolstoy's philosophical explanation of historians who have written on the war. 

2)  Clearly Tolstoy's not a Napoleon fan - as far as Tolstoy's concerned, he's lucky at best. Thoughts?
I would be shocked if Tolstoy had been a fan of Napoleon. 

3)  According to Shmoop, Pierre's only been in prison for four weeks.  And in four weeks he's decided to completely re-write his personality while shedding some pounds.  I've been surprised by how well Tolstoy has portrayed the French's treatment of their prisoners.  Maybe he's not so biased after all? [I realize that's not technically a question but I'm late so we're going with it]
I believe Tolstoy handled his "bias" well. He has written as fair and balanced of a story (of his country and history) as can be portrayed. 

4)  This might be a ridiculous question given that some of you may not be flying by the seat of your pants and only just staying caught up (like nobody around here, obviously) but is anybody else worried that the final two books are going to be all about Napoleon trudging back across Russia and that we're only going to get back to the characters we actually care about in retrospect when we hit the Epilogues?!
I am tired of reading about war. I'm hoping to have closure with the characters