Tag Archives: drama

The Nightingale

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nightingale

When I first started reading The Nightingale I was immediately reminded of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. Both novels are very similar, in some respects. They both take place in France during WWII and deal with the German occupation of the country. Both are tragic tales about the courage of ordinary people who become extraordinary.

The Nightingale is a novel about family. Two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, have been torn apart by the tragic death of their mother and their father’s inability to take care of them. As they grow older the rift continues to deepen. Vianne marries early and starts a family as her way of coping with the loss, while Isabelle escapes from various boarding schools making her way back to their father in Paris before being sent out again.

The war brings the two sisters together again in their family home in Carriveau. Isabelle is determined to stand out and help the French Resistance, while Vianne is determine to hide in the background and take care of her young daughter. But naturally, nothing goes as planned in war.

The sisters soon find themselves doing things they never thought they would to protect those they love and find the glory they wish to achieve. They realize things about each other and themselves that they had refused to see before. And find out that maybe the other sisters’ way of thinking may not be so wrong after all.

Isabelle becomes further and further involved in the Resistance, earning the name The Nightingale. Vianne becomes a force herself trying to protect the children of Carriveau and surrounding areas.

I don’t want to say too much however. This is a novel that you must experience for yourself. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. I did indeed cry for about the last quarter of the novel. There is so much tragedy that is all the more heartbreaking because it happened. People’s capacity for hope is an amazing thing. Even in the bleakest of times there is something to strive for.

Rating: 5/5

Stay tuned for the next, and last, installment of Book Battle 2015. Happy reading!

 

Never Let Me Go

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ishiguro
All great love stories must end in tragedy. I’m not sure where this thought originated but Shakespeare definitely drove the point home in Romeo and Juliet. “For never was a story of more woe. Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Tragedy can make even the most ordinary love stories into epic ones. I think it’s the counterbalance of the idea that love is forever with the idea that life is fleeting. Never Let Me Go is definitely one of these tragic love stories.

The novel begins in the present with Cathy looking back on her life at the boarding school Halisham in England. She presents her memories, from her point of view, on her life and what shaped it. In the present, Cathy is known as a carer, a person who works in hospitals helping donors through their donation periods. But she spends a good portion of the time thinking about Halisham and her friendships with Ruth and Tommy.

The story takes awhile to get going and you do have to slog through a bit of the beginning but it’s worth it. The further you get into the story the more you realize how important the beginning is to set up the events that will unfold. The beginning is almost the ending in a way. It holds the key to the story that you don’t get to unlock until the end. It fills in the missing pieces so that you can see the big picture. And the big picture is terrifying. The author poses so many questions about science and humanity. Whether it’s better to have known something bad all along or only find out in the end. And the negative effects of scientific discovery.

The whole story becomes a lot more foreboding once you realize exactly what’s happening. Especially in contrast to the beautiful love story that begins to form. Again, it takes some time for the love triangle to truly show itself. There’s a lot of backstory to the triangle and the relationships between the three people, Ruth, Tommy, and Cathy. Tommy and Cathy have always had a special kind of relationship where they feel free to talk about whatever is troubling them. Yet, Tommy begins to date Ruth, a beautiful and manipulative person. Ruth represents the basis of Halisham for me. How people have come to form a facade of the real world that the kids take to heart. They then begin to form their own facades and backstories, especially Ruth.

The whole time I was really rooting for Cathy and Tommy. They just seem destined to be together. But Ruth stands in the way for a good portion of the novel. Yet, the caveat is true here. All good love stories must end in tragedy of some kind. And this one does. Perhaps a bit more tragic than most. Every outside force has come against them from birth. The love was doomed from the get go and perhaps that’s why it’s so touching. The greatest loves often involve the greatest sacrifices.

Rating: 4/5

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015. Happy reading!

Suddenly, Last Summer

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Suddenly, Last Summer

Suddenly, Last Summer is a play of predators and prey. Each circling the other trying to take stock of their surroundings and how best to play off and use the the other. The opening scene foreshadows perfectly how the rest of the play will unfold. In Sebastian Venable’s garden decorated with “massive tree flowers that suggest organs of a body, torn out, still glistening with undried blood.” Noises of screeching birds and hissing insects emanate form the garden, stirring up feelings of foreboding in the reader. That’s when we’re introduced to Mrs. Violet Venable, Sebastian’s mother. She’s talking to a Dr. Cukrowicz about a Miss Catherine Holly, the woman last seen with Sebastian before his death. Instead of taking his ill mother along on his travels, Sebastian took his cousin by marriage Catherine. While on vacation, Sebastian died mysteriously and Catherine has been spouting a damning story that Violet refuses to believe. She asks the doctor if a lobotomy will erase the story from her mind. He says that before he can decide he must interview Catherine and hear the story she has to tell.

This is when things get even hairier. The play is short but jam-packed with images and illusions. Nothing is quite as it seems and everything has a dual meaning. During Catherine’s story we learn a lot about cousin Sebastian and his mother that Violet would rather not have others know. Sebastian and his mother have a sort of Norma Norman Bates relationship. It’s symbiotic, each feeding off the other for something they need that’s definitely a tainted type of love. Even after his death, Violet wants to claim all of Sebastian and paints an image of him that she desires, no matter how truthful an image that is. She wants to believe he was a world class poet that did everything for his art. She’s created this image of Sebastian as more of a living art form than a mere human being.

Art plays a big part in the play. The art of deception and manipulation. In a way, Sebastian is devoured by his own art. He’s destroyed himself through his own ideas and proclivities. Sebastian uses those around him in whatever way suits him in the moment. He continually wants an entourage of adoring people around him but has a hard time acquiring them. That was what Catherine was for. She was there to acquire the people he wanted. She says in the play that Sebastian considered people to be treats. Some were delicious while other were vile.

I don’t want to spoil the play or the ending. This is a must read. It’s short but powerful. The scenes, just like the movie, will play around and around in your head while you try to piece together all of the images to form one cohesive whole. Just like Catherine is traumatized by the image of Sebastian’s death, I had a hard time putting the play out of my mind.

Rating: 5/5

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015.

The 19th Wife

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The 19th Wife

When I first picked out this book I had no idea how hard it would be to write a review of. While this book is a fiction work, it is based on a true story of the Mormon church and Ann Eliza Young’s marriage to Brigham Young and then her apostasy. Ebershoff said in his acknowledgements page that he did fill in a lot of gaps in the story with his own fictional elements but that much of it, the Ann Eliza Young section, is based on her memoir Wife No. 19. 

The novel is told in many different narrative styles and voices from an academic scholar’s paper, letters, diary entries, and even a Wikipedia page. I thought that adding so many different elements really spiced up the narrative and kept me thoroughly enticed. Not knowing very much about the Mormon church and it’s foundations, I found this book fascinating. Looking at a religions origins and how different people built it up to what we know it as today is captivating. Ebershoff does a wonderful job of taking each character and transporting them into his fictional world. Each characters has such a powerful and distinct voice, based largely on the author’s extensive research.

At the time this book came out it was extremely topical. A year before the novel was published the YFZ, or Yearning for Zion, Ranch was raided after the authorities received a call from a 16 year old girl claiming physical and sexual abuse. This ranch, run by the Jeffs, who are now imprisoned, was much like the Firsts in Ebershoffs novel. They were an off shoot of the Mormon church who left to pursue what they consider true Mormonism as preached by Brigham Young and Joseph Smith, mainly polygamy. In the novel, the Firsts broke off of the Mormon church in 1890 after anti-polygamy laws were passed. They believed that true Mormonism must include polygamy since it was passed down from the Prophet. Many believed that if this edict could be changed what else about the Mormon faith could be edited?

In the present day sections of the novel, Jordan Scott represents one of the Firsts who was excommunicated for holding a girls hand. He was banned from coming back and dropped on the highway to fend for himself. After Jordan hears that his mother is on trial for shooting his father, he travels back to Utah, a place he thought he would never see again, to find out if she did it or not. What ensues is an amazing battle of belief and truth, intertwined with Ann Eliza Young’s experiences as a plural wife.

The novel does an amazing job of exploring the tenacity of belief and the lengths people will go to retain and uphold their belief system. It poses many questions about the mysteries of faith and how it can both uplift and corrupt. For anyone interested in religions, heretics, and origins this is the novel for you.

Rating: 4/5

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015.

Nicholas and Alexandra: The story of the love that ended an empire

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Nicholas and Alexandra: The story of the love that ended an empire

“If there had been no Rasputin, there would have been no Lenin.” This quote from Kerensky really struck me from the beginning of the book. What an incredible what if in history to add to the list, and there are many in this novel alone. Massie did a fantastic job tracing the origins of the Russian Revolution throughout the book and chronicling the Revolutions devastating effects. Now this books is pretty old, published in 1967, so it doesn’t contain any current news about DNA testing on the remains found during the 1990s and 2000s, but it does thoroughly chronicle the history of the Romanov family from Ivan the Terrible all the way to Nicholas II.

The best part of the book for me was how real and relatable Massie made the royal family. Nicholas II was an unprepared Tsar who was never intended to be Tsar in the first place. The death of his elder brother to tuberculosis and the sudden death of his father forced him to take and uphold a position he had never been prepared for. To compound this, his wife Alexandra, or Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, was an overwhelming force on Nicholas and he often deferred to her when he shouldn’t have. Alix’s faith and belief in Holy Men, and her shy reticent nature, were the first big strike against the autocracy in Russia. But viewed through a different lens, Alexandra becomes a concerned mother willing to do anything to protect her son who was born with hemophilia, a genetic disease passed down from Queen Victoria, Alix’s aunt.

Massie, in my opinion, really drives home the point, almost too much at times, that Alexei’s hemophilia brought Rasputin to the palace which was the deadly blow to the autocracy. It was Alexei’s hemophilia that brought Rasputin to the Alexander Palace and, despite disbelief from the doctors there, whatever he did to help Alexei worked. The author suggests that it was part hypnotism and part confidence that Rasputin had himself that he transferred to the Tsarevich to calm the child enough so that his blood could then begin clotting. And seemingly miraculously, Alexei would then begin to get better after Rasputin’s visit causing Alexandra to believe in everything the Holy Man did and said.

Rasputin himself is such an overwhelming interesting character. He charmed nearly everyone he met and even when his lecherous ways got out of control he was able to slip out of bad situations immediately. Nothing ever really stuck to him until the end. While I was reading, Rasputin actually reminded me a lot of Charles Manson, perhaps the Rasputin of modern times. Both were able to establish followings of well educated and wealthy individuals and got them to do basically whatever they wanted. But more than that, each brought about the end of an era, and the end of innocence in their respective places. Rasputin took so much control of Alexandra that when Nicholas left for the front lines to coordinate the army, he left Alexandra in charge who did whatever Rasputin told her to do. Some of his ideas were actually on point but others were just to show his power over the royal. This is when Rasputin’s enemies began to chant that he be executed so that his power of the autocracy could be removed.

The one thing about Rasputin that really struck me was how crazy accurate some of his predictions were. He prophesied that if one of the royal family killed him the Tsar and all of his immediate family would be murdered within two years, and that’s exactly what happened. Perhaps just an accurate guess or could it have been something more? We’ll never know.

The further I got into the novel the more ominous the tone. We all know what happens at the end to the Romanovs but I was still hoping that somehow history could rewrite itself. The thing that shocked me most was the animosity Europe and America showed to the Romanovs. King George V of England refused to rescue the royal family because he didn’t want to become unpopular in the country, as did France. Even Woodrow Wilson was over the moon when the Tsar abdicated. Perhaps if some of the extended family of the Romanovs could have looked beyond themselves the family would have survived, and perhaps not.

For anyone interested in Russian history and the Romanov family I would definitely recommend this book. It was dense at times but always fascinating. Massie kept me turning the pages late into the night.

Rating: 4/5

Stay tuned for the next installment in Book Battle 2015. Happy reading!

The House of Romanov

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The House of Romanov

After some technical difficulties with my aged MacBook, I can finally continue Book Battle 2015! I’m so happy to have my trusty computer companion back with me. We’ve written a lot of papers together. So now that I have it let’s get to the next book in the Battle.

Winter Garden inspired me to change my nonfiction book category pick to Nicholas and Alexandra: The story of the love that ended an empire written by Robert K. Massie, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel about Peter the Great. I’ll be honest, I did already start reading the book since I was experiencing technical difficulties over the last week. And I have to say that so far this novel is utterly compelling. History has always held great interest for me. I was that kid that was glued to the History Channel wanting to take everything in. In particular, the Romanov dynasty and Russia have always fascinated me. I suppose it’s because so little is known about the country as a whole. And the fact that it has spans 11 time zones!

Russia has always been a country that’s veiled in mystery. Not much gets out or goes in. We only know what the country has chosen to release. Not to mention the contentious relationship between the US and Russia. Whenever you watch a US made movie or TV show it seems that the bad guy is always Russian, and, when I was younger, I desperately wanted to know why.

It wasn’t until I did a project in high school about Anastasia that I was totally hooked. The whole story of the Romanovs is almost something only an author could cook up. It doesn’t seem real that an entire dynasty could be toppled in just a little over a decade. Not to mention the whole Anastasia/Anna Anderson mystery. Did she escape or not? Science has proven that she hasn’t but the conspiracy theorist and romantic in me wishes that she had.

Stay tuned to hear about the mystic monk, the royal family shrouded in grief, and the vast country on the brink of revolution. Happy reading!

Winter Garden

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Where do I begin? This book was masterful. The story building in the beginning was a little slow but once that was established the book took off. Told in both the past and the present, the novel describes the relationships and hardships between family members amid the scars of war. The depth of strength, resilience, and compassion in people is amazing. 

 The novel begins with the death of Evan, the Whitson family patriarch and the glue that holds the tenuous bonds of family together. His dying wish is for his two daughters, Meredith the oldest and Nina, to take care of their mother Anya and listen to the fairy tale she has told them since they were children but in full this time. At first both are so overwhelmed by the task of trying to crack their mother’s cold exterior that they just retreat and protect themselves the only way they know how. For Meredith it’s working until everything else becomes and blur, and for Nina it’s running away to hide behind the lens of her camera. But it quickly becomes apparent that both sisters can no longer deny their father’s wish. Nina returns to listen to the fairy tale and prompt her mother to tell her more about her past. It’s through this fairy tale that the sisters learn the truth of their mother’s Russian past and begin to reestablish bonds that were broken by Evan’s death. 

 I won’t give anything away because this is a novel that you must experience first hand. The beauty and the tragedy of it are both heart breaking and breath taking. I honestly cried throughout the last 100 pages of the book. I was so mesmerized by the tale the author was weaving of war torn Leningrad and the reign of Stalin. Russia is a country with so many secrets. There are stories presented in this book that I’ve never heard about or learned in any history class. The deprivation and fear of the Russian people under Stalin was horrifying to read. The most heartbreaking scenes are the ones in Leningrad during WWII where the people had to scrounge for whatever food they could find, even boiling their own wall paper and leather belts. The human spirit and will to survive even the harshest environments is incredible. 

This book really affected me in a way I didn’t anticipate. I think the older we get and the more experiences we have under our belt gives us more emotions to carry with us. The older I get the more emotional I become and perhaps this is the reason. You have a bigger well to draw empathy from than you do as a child.

Rating: 5/5 Go read this book immediately!

Stay tuned for the next installment in Book Battle 2015. Happy reading!



Going In Another Direction

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Going In Another Direction

I’m going in the complete opposite direction from my last book selection and am now reading a book that I think will make me cry. For me this was a hard book to choose, like the last category, a book that will make you laugh, because how do you know it will make you cry if you haven’t read it yet? So I chose to go with a novel by an author I’ve read before that made me cry.

I’ve decided on Kristin Hannah’s Winter Garden. I read Firefly Lane, also by Hannah, and am not ashamed to say that I cried like a baby towards the end. It has a similar plot to Beaches, the movie with Bette Midler, which also made me cry. Though I do find that the older I get the easier I cry. As a child, my brother and I used to make fun of my mom for crying in movies. But now I’m just as bad. Once I start crying during commercials there will be no turning back.

On another note, I’m excited about the plot of this book. it’s a bit like a Kate Morton novel, where one of the characters has a mysterious past. In this case, it’s the mother who I think is going to be from Leningrad. The novel, according to the back, will intertwine fairy tales and real history to create a spellbinding story. I honestly can’t wait to delve in.

Are you an easy cryer? What books have made you cry?

Stay tuned for the verdict and happy reading!

Something New, Something Blue

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Something New, Something Blue

Next up in the Battle is Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. This is the author’s first novel and it has received some seriously spectacular reviews. I came across the novel while looking at the NPR book page, they have some amazing recommendations, and was so intrigued by the short summary I read there.

In essence, the novel is about the disappearance and murder of 16 year old Lydia Lee and the ways her family subsequently copes with their tragic loss. The Lee’s are a mixed race family, half white and half Chinese, who live in the 1970s in small town Ohio. With the death of their beloved daughter, the Lee family secrets come to the surface and need to be confronted.

I’m intrigued as to what these secrets could be and how it will affect this family and their community. I also like that this novel is different than most murder mysteries in the fact that it focuses on the family instead of the murder itself, much like The Lovely Bones and Songs For The Missing. I think it creates a much deeper connection between the reader and the characters when they can see the different coping mechanisms the characters employ and trudge through those feelings alongside the characters. While I do like murder mysteries and police procedurals, I’m also drawn to novels where the murder takes a seat behind a family’s attempt to come to terms with the loss.

I can’t wait to get started and delve into the secrets of mysteries of the Lee family. Stay tuned for the review. Happy reading!

The Power of Memory

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The Power of Memory

Everything Is Illuminated is a novel about the power of memory and the fine line between fiction and reality. I didn’t really know what to expect when I opened the pages of this novel. I hadn’t really heard all that much about it and know no one who has read it before. All I knew was that it was made into a movie, which I still have yet to see.

The novel unfolds slowly peeling back layers and layers of protection from each character until their ultimate truth can be revealed. The first few chapters had me laughing out loud. Alex plays the lovable, bumbling idiot to perfection. The Ukrainian family is full of delightful quirks, like a grandfather who believes he is blind and must have a seeing eye bitch named Sammy Davis Junior Junior. But it’s not until you delve further into the novel that you realize those quirks are guards each characters puts up to present a chosen image of themselves to the world so that they may remain protected.

The theme that hit me the most throughout the novel was one of fiction vs. reality. You never really know what’s true and what the character has invented based on their facade. Every character is unreliable and creates an illusion of the way they see things or the way they want others to perceive them. Beginning with Brod and continuing on through, each character manufactures and invents a history for themselves to blur the lines between fiction and reality. Brod often confuses the books she reads with her real life events to the point where she doesn’t know what is true and what is make believe. Jonathan creates a whole history for his ancestors that is in part truth and in part added embellishment in the exchange of letters between him and Alex. Even Alex creates a persona for himself that is more fantasy than it is reality. The whole book itself is also a blur of fiction and reality. Upon some research, I found out that the actual author did go to Ukraine in search for family connections, just as in the book, but didn’t find what he was looking for so he decided to invent this alternative history in narrative form.

Everything Is Illuminated is a powerful book about memory and loss and the ways we as humans cope and struggle to make sense of things.

Rating: 4/5

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in reading literary fiction that you have to analyze and read between the lines to figure out. Now I must find the movie so I can watch it! Fingers crossed it’s on Netflix.

Stay tuned for the next book in Book Battle 2015. I’m oscillating between two categories so hopefully I will be able to make up my mine soon. Happy reading!