The Nightingale

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

An epic novel of love and war, spanning from the 1940s to the present day, and the secret lives of those who live in a small French town. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women.

My Review

I read this book at the wrong time. I should have loved it. It’s historical fiction, set in France, with romance. But it’s also heavy World War II terrible stuff and in the few months before picking up this one I had only read other heavy subject matter books.

It didn’t start out too heavy though. I actually first listened to the audio book and then switched to ebook. I was completely caught up throughout part 1 in the French language and culture and description of the scenery, the family relationships, and romance. I enjoyed the poetic language that was so fitting for the time and place. Though I did find the detailed descriptions of clothing and food a little too frequent and over the top.

Then the Nazi’s invaded France in the book and turmoil and trauma invaded my La Vie en Rose experience. I just wasn’t prepared for it like I thought. After having recently read so many books about our current and real world tribulation I realized that I really wanted a little “fluff” to read.

I was interested in the characters though so I kept pushing through until I could see the writing on the wall that things were only going to get more “real” and I wasn’t even halfway through the book. I just couldn’t do it; I didn’t have the emotional stamina.

But I still wanted to find out what would happen to these characters, and I had to know who the elderly lady narrator really was. So I skipped to the end and skimmed backwards until I felt like I had a pretty good idea of the major events. What I found out made me glad I stopped where I did, but I feel sad that at another time, in a little different mood, I could have really enjoyed the depth of character and plot.

Age Recommendation: 18 and older. This is a war story and also a romance. Readers should be mature enough and knowledgeable enough about WWII to follow characters through horrible trauma and deprivation,  but also find purpose and joy in love.

Appropriateness: There is sexual content, both between married and unmarried characters as well consensual and not. There is war related violence and injustice. I didn’t read the whole book, but from what I did read some of it was more graphically described than what I was up for at the time, but it may not bother other readers. Had I been in more of a mood for something deep and epic it may not have bothered me either.

This book would provide plenty of discussion material for book club in regards to are historical and cultural factors, family relationships, communication, how best to stand up for truth and morality, what is most important in war or where their is injustice.

Other Book Recommendations: If The Nightingale is of interest to you then you should also try The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, The Zion Covenant series by Bodie Thoene, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Armageddon Summer by Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville, The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski, Cash Valley by Ryan K. Nelson, or Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

 

 

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I am Malala

I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the TalibanI Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday.

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. At 15 years old she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.

Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

My Review

When I started listening to the audio book I think I was expecting a fairly short recap of a girls life leading up to how and why she got shot. I mean, she was just a teenager after all so how much of her life could there be to tell? I chose the book because it was readily available, and while I had heard about Malala I didn’t really know much about her, and she seems like the kind of person I should know about in order to be up on the current issues.

I was surprised when the book started right off with the day of the shooting. I realized this was not going to be the book I was expecting, but I was ok with that because I was only more intrigued by the “why” after hearing about the “how” of the shooting.

It was a pleasant surprise to learn about the history and culture of Pakistan and Islam. I’m not the most well-informed world citizen, but I ain’t totally ignorant either, so this was a great format for me to gain a broader perspective of the intricate and interconnected workings of our modern world. I was fascinated by the history of Malala’s family and how it connected to the broader national and religious history. The descriptions of the Swat Valley left me hoping I could someday visit Pakistan to see it for myself.

I watched “The Viceroy’s House” on Netflix after finishing the book; it is a movie about the time surrounding Pakistan’s birth. While it may not be the most accurate portrayal of history, it did teach me much more than I had known before about that time in history. It also furthered my interest in learning more about Pakistan and Afghanistan so I can better understand current events.

Malala’s teenage voice and perspective were fun and refreshing through a tale of hardship and danger. But she also has a maturity and wisdom beyond her years. It was joyful to hear that a girl who is willing to stand up to gangs and murderers for the right to go to school also was obsessed with Twilight and dreamed of being a vampire.

I respect Malala and her family not only for their work to provide educational opportunities for girls, even at the risk of their own lives, but also because they are good. They are devoted to their God and to each other. They show patience and understanding for differences in people. There is no self-righteousness nor self-deprecation when describing the wonders and problems in their country and religion. Malala’s voice keeps a neutrality even when describing the ways in which the Western world wronged or betrayed her country. There is acceptance of the good, the bad, and the ugly in all of us, but with a hope and striving for the best. More empathy in this world could make all the difference.

Age Recommendation: 16 and older. Malala is a teenager herself and is relatable as such, but the issues in the book and her experiences require some scope of world understanding.

Appropriateness: Some readers may be disturbed by the violent and unjust events in the book, but I didn’t find any of the description offensive.

I gained a lot of perspective of my place in the world and felt a bit humbled by it. This would be a perfect book club choice.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in I Am Malala then you might also enjoy When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen, and Without You there is No Us by Suki Kim.

 

Ella Enchanted

Ella EnchantedElla Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

At Ella’s birth, an imprudent young fairy bestows on her the “gift” of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. But instead of making her docile, the fairy’s curse makes Ella a bit of a rebel. When her beloved mother dies, Ella must keep herself safe from her selfish and greedy father, her mean-spirited stepsisters, and the things the curse could make her do. Ella sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery which includes fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you’ll ever read.

My Review

I had a lot of time in a car last week so I brought one of my all time favorite books to keep me entertained. I hadn’t read Ella Enchanted for probably 10 years and it was definitely time for a reread.

I loved it once again. I was wrapped up in the characters and the story just as much as the first time I read it. It’s an easy read without complicated language so my 5, 7, and 9 year old daughters loved listening to me read it aloud, but it’s written intelligently and beautifully so that I was engaged just as much as the kids.

I love the way the elements of the Cinderella story are presented in a way that they fit together better and make a more fulfilling story than the original fairytale. Even though it’s a retelling it’s fresh and feels completely new. The romance between Ella and the prince is developed well, is believable, and brings such warm fuzzies.

This wasn’t my first reading of this book and it definitely won’t be the last.
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Age Recommendation: This is an award-winning children’s book and will be enjoyed by all ages. As I said, even my 5 year old enjoyed it as a read aloud, though I think my 9 year old certainly understood the themes better. So I would say this book is best for 9 and older.

Appropriateness: This one is squeaky clean. Nothing crass or crude, though some younger readers may feel emotional over the death of Ella’s mother and the injustices that she is subjected to.

Other Book Recommendations: If you liked Ella Enchanted you should also read Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, The Storyteller’s Daughter by Cameron Dokey, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen, Goose Girl and The Princess Academy both by Shannon Hale, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, and Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt.

 

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. The Fault in Our Stars attempts to explore the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

My Review

After all of the praise I had heard and read for The Fault in Our Stars I expected to cry, laugh, and love the characters, and be wrapped up in the story. I expected smart prose and to have some greater insight about life, love, and terminal illness. I was expecting one of those books that you think about for days and ponder on the wisdom, one of those books that you never forget and that you tell everyone they just “have to read it.”

So my expectations were pretty high. Did the book meet them? The short answer – Nope. It wasn’t a horrible book. I gave it 2 stars and actually debated giving it 3, so I even kind of liked it. I settled on 2 stars because while I liked aspects of it, as a whole it left me unfulfilled. The fact that it got so much hype, undeserved hyped in my opinion, probably affected my rating too. If I had just been expecting an average purely entertaining young adult romance book rather than a life-changer it may have made it to 3 stars.

I can kind of understand where the hype comes from for this book. Having the story told from the perspective of a 17 year old with cancer provides the opportunity to give some personal and unique insight into what it is “really” like for those with cancer and for their family and friends.
It’s a kinda cute romance with characters that are kinda funny…. but also kind of annoying and inconsistent.

I did not like all of the swearing. Here are these teenage kids that are definitely more mature than their peers and who appear to be above average intelligence as well. And yet they can’t think of any more intelligent ways to express themselves than through profanities. For me it made their likability take a nose dive. Such harsh language just made them prickly, not people I wanted to open my heart and mind to. At one point the teens are faced with a self-indulgent, crass, and outright rude adult, and they are shocked and offended. I, on the other hand, thought the teenagers’ language throughout the book was just as crude, making them just as unlikable as the rude guy. It made their dialogue inconsistent too. One minute they are quoting Shakespeare and eloquently discussing the meaning of life, and then next minute they can’t think of any better way to express themselves than to use the same swear word they had used a zillion times already. Ugh.

Where the book really failed me though was in trying too hard. Reading blog posts from my friends as they have battled with disease and terminal illness themselves or with family members is WAY more inspiring, sincere, realistic, and impactful than reading the several hundred pages of metaphor and philosophical rambling for which John Green is getting paid insane amounts of money. There are a lot of ponderings and discussions from the characters about the purpose of life and their place in it. They wonder what the best way is in which to live life especially when it’s full of so much suffering for you and those around you? Is it better to live big and die big? To leave a heroic legacy? Or is the quiet life, trying to minimize the damage and pain you cause to others the better legacy? What is required to “matter” in the universe? I would say these are all pretty natural concerns for anyone and especially for those who live with the pain of disease and the knowledge that death is close. But as the title of the book indicates, this book is not really about answering these questions. It’s about showcasing “the fault in our stars,” or in other words, “life isn’t fair.”

It’s true – life isn’t fair, and a story of two kids with cancer falling in love definitely gives an effective situation in which to drive that point home. I have read several reviews of the book that praise how uplifting and inspiring it is to see the characters still choose to live and love despite the unfair fate that they know awaits. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the characters’ actions and choices in the same light.

The book is humorous and the characters are not totally bleak and depressing despite the tragedy they live with. They do have their moments of honest and understandable misery, and also their moments of bravery, selflessness, and of course love. Yet, somehow overall they came across as flat and kind of boring. I never could figure the teenagers out. They were exceptionally wise and yet exceptionally full of attitude. They pondered all kinds of deep “life” questions and yet they never could make commitment to the type of person they wanted to be or the life they wanted to lead. They were uninteresting fence-sitters and the events of the story didn’t bring out any new facets to them or develop their character in any way. The author makes it a point to neither glorify or vilify cancer patients in the book, so I guess it makes sense that the characters are unremarkable. Some reviewers call this portraying the characters as “normal,” but without character development I just call it dull.

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Age Recommendation: 16 and older.  The theme of cancer, the language, and the sexual content is definitely not for young readers.

Appropriateness: There was a very noticeable amount of profanity which deterred from the book.  Teenage characters have sex and while it is not graphic in description it happens.  Sex is discussed a few times by teenagers. The open way in which cancer and death are discussed may be disturbing to some. It also could lead to some interesting discussion in a book club setting about life, death, love, and suffering; pretty much all of the important stuff.

Book Recommendations: Obviously I didn’t love this book, but whether you agreed with me or not I do think you might like these books (or at least find them interesting): The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak, Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, and Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath

Sisterhood Everlasting (Sisterhood #5)

I reviewed this book on Goodreads in May 2012 and just this week had someone respond to it. I enjoyed hearing another perspective and then considering what I agreed and disagreed with. So I thought I’d share my original review, the response I received, and my thoughts that it inspired.

Sisterhood Everlasting (Sisterhood, #5)Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I really liked the first book in this series. Thought it was insightful, funny, and emotionally cathartic while being a great teen romance/drama entertaining read. The second book was good. The third had enough redeeming qualities to be ok. Didn’t like the fourth because of the “adult situations” that these teens I had connected with were in and the drama was getting old.

Now there is a fifth. The characters really are adults now, my age, but they are still acting as immature and childish as in the first book. The crisis they are faced with would certainly be a difficult one but wow the drama dragged on and on. just a little communication eventually solved everything and it was hard for me to believe that capable, intelligent, human beings would have taken so long to realize that and then act on it.

Most frustrating was that the same character flaws just keep reappearing to cause all the drama. Supposedly the characters learn so much about themselves in each book. They vow to do better. And then the next book they are making themselves suffer all over again because of the same flaw they supposedly repented of before. Now I admit that my flaws don’t disappear completely after one learning experience. They do rear their ugly heads again, but I believe I handle it better each time and the flaw disappears little by little. Don’t see that in this series. In fact, their responses get worse as it goes on because they get older, the problems are more “adult” but the characters responses stay consistent with 13 year old girls.

And I might add that I don’t write about my constant battle with my flaws and invite people to read it as entertainment. Just too immature for me which i should expect I guess from something that started as a teenage fiction series, but it is frustrating because these are characters that I cared about at one point in time. Totally ruined for me. No respect or care for them after this read. I was interested in reading about the wrap up of their adult lives. If only they could have been portrayed as decent, functioning adults, especially after all the growing I already saw them through in the other books.

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Age Recommendation: Well, I wouldn’t really recommend this book in the series to any age, but the first 3 are better and I think girls 12 and older would enjoy them.

Appropriateness: In books 4 and 5 of the series there are “adult” situations that I thought detracted from my liking the characters.

Other Book Recommendations: I obviously recommend a lot of books over this one including the first book in the series, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. It was my favorite of all of them. If you like that one I recommend Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli,  Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved both by Katherine Patterson.

Here is the response I received from Katelyn: 

While I see where you are coming from, and know that each person interprets a book differently (which is the beauty of books and our imaginations), have you thought about what drove the women to respond the way they did? I encountered some similar frustrations as I read, but then I remembered the main premise of the book, which is their sisterhood. Their intensely strong and almost unexplainable bond was really all they every knew. When one piece of this bond was suddenly taken from them, their world turned upside down. Tibby may have been the strongest piece of this sisterhood, and it wasn’t until she was gone that they realized it. I think Brashares did a wonderful job of capturing the passion that these women had for each other, and their unbreakable bond, even after one had passed. It’s a beautiful message of true friendship, and how so much of yourself can be found in the ones you love the most.

More of my thoughts:

Thanks for sharing your point of view Katelyn! I definitely can appreciate a message about true friendship. I still have a great bond with several friends from my elementary school days and there is something special about that kind of connection, knowing someone through all the growing up and finding yourself years. That was why I connected with the other books (particulary 1-3) in this series. I could relate to the adventures and dramas of those formative years, of turning to friends for comfort and help, that bond of sisterhood that comes with sharing so much time and experience together.

But in life and in friendships change is necessary. If I still went to my girlfriends at age 31 with all of my problems like I did at age 16 my relationship with my husband and my children would suffer. And while I treasure my friendships, my marriage and children must and should take precedence. It means the same kind of closeness in other friendships is just impossible, but I wouldn’t trade my family relationships for anything. It’s the way it is supposed to be.

It’s always great when my closest girl friends and I do have that rare opportunity to come together from across the country. I love that no matter how much time has passed and no matter the distance between all of us we can still find that comfort and love. We still get each other in a way that no one else can. We have a history and connection that nothing could ever change.

In addition to seeing how so much stays the same between us we also get to see how much changes. We get to celebrate our successes, hear about our different and separate experiences, relate in new ways, and get used to our unique quirks and various lifestyles. Because of our special bond we accept our differences just as easily as our similarities. We communicate and love each other better than we did all those years ago despite interacting with each other so much less, all because we have grown, changed, and matured. That’s what an unbreakable bond looks like.

I just didn’t see that the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants ever got to this level of true friendship. Their friendship actually appeared toxic; this powerful bond they all had was actually destroying their lives because they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) grow up and allow the friendship to grow as well. In addition, as individual they were lost and dysfunctional, still trying to “find” themselves and using the same ineffective methods from the teenage years, and therefore making the same mistakes.

If I had friends with their inability to take communicate or think rationally or have any healthy relationship with anyone, I wouldn’t work very hard to keep the friendship together. There’s too much good to do in the world and too little time to be caught up in all of that drama at 30 years old. That kind of angst was understandable, even entertaining and sometimes enlightening when these characters were teenagers; their behavior was age appropriate then, but in adults I just find it all tiring, especially since I had read it all before in the 3 previous books.

You said, “Their intensely strong and almost unexplainable bond was really all they ever knew.” I did see that in the book and in 30 year old characters I see that as a problem. The bond of friendship from babyhood is great and all, but if that bond is still the glue sticking your life and identity together you probably should see a professional who can help you find happiness and peace within yourself rather than it being based on other people. Our relationships can and should bring us joy, but relying on them for our self-worth and purpose in life will smother and destroy the relationship and won’t bring us the happiness we were seeking. I don’t see true friendship as “how so much of yourself can be found in the ones you love most,” but about how much of yourself you can bring to a friendship and how much of yourself you are willing to sacrifice to build up the ones you love most.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

The movie just came out and I haven’t seen it yet. But I will. I don’t doubt that it is fantastic given the source material, but I am certain that the book is even better, which is probably true for most book to movie adaptations.

For those of you unfamiliar with both the book and the movie here is the description from Goodreads (I edited some because it seemed like it gave quite a bit away):

“On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Corps bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini. He started out as a cunning delinquent boy but channeled his defiance into running, which took him to the Berlin Olympics. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman which lead to his crash into the ocean. 

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit. “

That sums it up pretty well, but if you want to know what I thought here is my review.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am humbled by the lives presented in this book, amazed at their strength, fortitude, and ability to forgive. They have spurred some self-reflection. Louis Zamperini and so many others endured indescribable pains and tortures both physically and mentally. They survived years of cruelty. They did not come out unscathed, but they came out. And over time they made themselves better because of their experience. My personal struggles look like mole-hills when contrasted with the mountains they faced. But they never stopped climbing and so the message I found in the book was not one of darkness despite the horrors that occurred. Instead I was inspired and motivated.

I want to respond to the events and difficulties in my life with the same dignity, courage, and tenacity I read about. These amazing people lived through hell and came out the other side willing to teach and help others, and if they can do that then I can be a force for good in my life that is pretty much heaven compared to the atrocities of war. I am so grateful for the sacrifices of others that make my heaven possible.

The author is a great storyteller, mixing in the biographical with little known facts and statistics. I had no idea how risky being in the air corps was, and while I knew that physical treatment of POW’s was beyond horrific, my eyes were opened to the mental and emotional manipulation that also went on. Hillenbrand brings out the information that makes this story about more than just one man’s experience. And she does it entertainingly. The book reads much more like a thriller than a biography.

As a runner myself I completely connected with Zamperini and the role running played in his development and survival. He is a true olympian and hero.

This is one of those books that you finish reading but then think about for days. It is a life-changer and a person-changer.

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Age Recommendation: 16 or older. This is not one for the faint of heart. Some 16 year olds may not be able to handle the stark realities presented, but it’s all worth it to become acquainted with the greatness in people.

Appropriateness: There is some swearing, soldier talk. It didn’t bother me. The story needs to be told and strong language is necessary to get the point across. There is description of war and cruel treatment which was the reality of the events. With that in mind consider carefully the members of your group before selecting it for book club or for the classroom. Some readers may be bothered by such harshness, but you can probably guess my opinion. This really happened and when you get to know the man that it happened too you will be better for it.