Quantcast

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook; 14 CDs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, Kathleen Gati, and Kathrin Kana — which was our September book club selection — is an expertly woven tale of Caroline Ferriday’s lilac girls, or the Ravensbrück rabbits, who were experimented on in a German WWII camp.  Ferriday, who was a real woman, is a socialite who soon realizes that her work with French nationals is more about helping others than it is about her social status, even as she falls for a married French actor and considers a different life for herself.  Told in alternate points of view — Ferriday, polish teen Kasia Kuzmerick, and a young ambitious German Dr. Herta Oberheuser — Kelly’s trifecta pushes readers deep into the emotional baggage of WWII and the relationships that carry each woman through.  Clearly well researched, Ferriday comes to life as a woman with little else to do but mourn her father and help those in need, while Kasia has a lot to learn even as she plunges headlong into the resistance to impress a boy.  Meanwhile, Herta — the most educated of the three — seems to have learned little compassion for others, instead remaining focused on how to get ahead as a medical professional, no matter the cost.

Even the German doctor appears sympathetic at first, until we see how camp life hardens her against humanity.  Kasia wears her camp damage on her at all times, pushing even her family away when it is clear she needs them most.  Meanwhile, Ferriday’s romantic troubles seem trivial in comparison, though it is clear they will push her into something that will become her life’s work — a search for justice for those who need it most.

It will be hard to look away from these women as they deal with the harsh experiments perpetrated by the Nazis, and they are set on their own paths and learn how best to move on with their lives after the war is over.  Kelly has lived with these women for some time, and it shows in her deeply dynamic characterization of the real-life Ferriday and Oberheuser; Kasia and her sister also are clearly based on real life accounts as their sisterly bond becomes a rock on which they can rely in even the toughest moments.  Even if you think you’ve read everything about WWII, this is not to be missed.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, Kathleen Gati, and Kathrin Kana – is a harrowing look at guilt — misplaced or not — and the affects of bonds between siblings, mothers and daughters, and even strangers during wartime.  Nurturing supportive relationships with other women can ensure survival.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Martha Hall Kelly is a native New Englander who lives in Connecticut and Martha’s Vineyard. She worked as an advertising copywriter for many years, raised three wonderful children who are now mostly out of the nest and Lilac Girls is her first novel. She is hard at work on the prequel to Lilac Girls.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Source: Public Library
Audio, 3 CDs
Hardcover, 152 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which was our May book club selection, is a no-holds-barred look at the construct of race in America.  Through letters to his 15-year-old son, Coates attempts to demonstrate how his views on race changed over time, from the hard streets of Baltimore where posturing and violence against other blacks was expected to the intellectual and spiritual questioning he experienced at Howard University.

I first listened to the audio as read by Coates, but it became clear to me that I was missing some of what he was saying.  My second read in print was much more in-depth, allowing me the additional time to reflect on what I had read as I went along and re-read certain passages.

This is not a book providing solutions to a son or the world, but it is a call to action.  It’s a plea for everyone to be more mindful of our actions and the societal norms that allow certain people to do even the most mundane things without fear, such as listening to their music loud.  What’s most prominent here is the failure of our education system to help those who need it most and to raise up those heroes in all communities, regardless of the violence they met or didn’t meet head on.  While we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., there is often little talk about the violence endured by those in the civil rights movement and the perpetrators of that violence who were allowed to get away with it.

“America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization.”

Like Coates discusses, the American myth of exceptionalism does not allow for mistakes, though many were made in the birth of this nation, from the reliance and continued use of slaves to the ravaging of entire Native American populations in the name of progress.  Becoming successful through struggle, however, should not be taken so far as to mean we purposefully make it harder for certain groups to achieve success of any kind and that we have the right to bulldoze others in order to achieve a goal.

While Coates is very negative toward the world (and has a right to be), this book should probably be read in spurts so readers have time to sit with what each letter is and how it plays out on the whole.  Reading it in one sitting without time for reflection can become a heavy endeavor, as any great work that requires empathy can do.  Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates explores one man’s individual struggle growing up black in America against the backdrop of an America that continues to bury its dark past and make excuses for the perpetual prioritization of perceived “safety” above justice in which all are held to the same standards.

**My one qualm with the style is that it seems very academic, which may limit its audience and that would be sad because more ‘Dreamers’ need to wake up.**

RATING: Quatrain

What the book club thought:

Most of the book club found the biographical parts of the book the most interesting.  Some suggested that his arguments vacillated from one side to the other over the course of the book, and often got muddled with internal arguments that he seemed to have with himself.  There was a debate about the point of the book and whether it was supposed to be solutions provided by the end.  There didn’t seem to be any solutions presented.  There were debates about whether he focused too much of the text on anger toward the police and whites, while others thought some of the examples may not have been the best ones to prove his points about racism.  Many agreed that the book was eye-opening if not well organized.

About the Author:

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor for The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues for TheAtlantic.com and the magazine. He is the author of the 2008 memoir The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. His book Between the World and Me, released in 2015, won the National Book Award for Nonfiction. Coates received the MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” in 2015.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 371 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which was our April book club selection, is a novel that satirizes the aftermath of the Vietnam war, but it also is a serious examination of identity from the point of view of someone who is a subversive and a mole within the South Vietnamese military at the time of the war. The Captain, who remains unnamed, is in the South Vietnamese military but feeding information to the People’s Army of Vietnam (communists) through his childhood friend, Man. Meanwhile, their third childhood friend, Bon, has been trained as an assassin by the CIA. Balancing his friendship with his duty to the communists becomes a balance that the Captain often loses, but as he has so few real connections with others, it is his friend Bon who pays the highest cost.

“I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess.” (pg. 1)

In many ways the opening of the novel will signal to the reader that everything told by the Captain may be untrue or at least partly. But he also seeks to set himself up as a sympathetic character who is torn not only by his heritage — the son of a Vietnamese mother and French priest — but also by his knowledge of America from being abroad at school and his communist leanings. After fleeing Vietnam with the General when the Americans lost the war to the communists, the Captain longs to return, but he is repeatedly told that he must remain a mole among those exiled to America to ensure they are not planning a return. He is forced to swallow more of the bitter pill that his life is not his own, even in America.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen provides a deep look at issues of mixed cultures and races, how they are treated in Vietnam and America during this time period, and how difficult it was to reconcile defeat on either side. It also asks the bigger questions about revolution and the disillusionment of passionate idealists. Corruption of any revolution can occur, and that can be the most devastating for the passionate idealist, but how does it affect those who can see both sides of the equation? And is the real crime to have done nothing or to not have truly chosen a side to be on — right or wrong?

RATING: Cinquain

What the Book Club Thought:

The discussion compared the novel to 1984 and to Catch-22 for its satire, but mostly, we were engrossed in the plight of the Captain and his identity issues. We found it hard for him as a European-Vietnamese man with communist and American-leaning tendencies to reconcile all that he was and commit himself to one cause. Overall, most of the members at the meeting “enjoyed” the book, though one or two members were less than thrilled by the disembodied scenes in the interrogation room, which they felt took them out of the story.

About the Author:

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer is a New York Times best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Other honors include the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, a Gold Medal in First Fiction from the California Book Awards, and the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award from the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association. His other books are Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction) and Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. His next book is a short story collection, The Refugees, forthcoming in February 2017 from Grove Press.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 341 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a black-and-white comic strip-like memoir of the author’s childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, her time in Austria as a student, as well as her return to Iran following a disastrous time in Europe. Her panels are nuanced and the dialogue is fantastic, depicting the emotion of her as a child during a tumultuous time in her country’s history. While the political climate is frightening, her parents attempt to shelter her as much as they can, but the revolution comes and hits close to home. Her more liberal upbringing has provided her with a divergent outlook from those imposing Islamic law on the people of Iran, and she struggles to feel at home in her own country.

Beyond the political and religious climate, Satrapi depicts a typical childhood of teasing other kids in class and trying to fit in with others, as well as the transition to adolescence and the rebellion that comes with it. Her graphics are done in a monochrome style, but emotion is clear in the nuanced work from the use of darker backgrounds for angry mobs to the lighter backgrounds for loving moments with friends and family. As an adolescent she wants to spread her wings and explore new things, but when her parents call and check on her, it’s clear that even the things she’s exploring don’t seem right to her, as guilt washes over her joy at hearing from them.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a multi-layered look at immigration, politics, religion, and identity. As Satrapi struggled to hide her heritage and her culture in Europe, she found that she also tried to hide her beliefs and convictions when back home in Iran. In many ways, she was unsure of her own identity and where she belonged. The struggle is beyond the simple right and wrong of a given regime or interference from other nations, it is a struggle of finding oneself amidst the chaos that is often beyond our control.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian-born French contemporary graphic novellist, illustrator, animated film director, and children’s book author. Apart from her native tongue Persian, she speaks English, Swedish, German, French and Italian.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 153 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, which was our February book club selection, takes its name from an old Persian city, also called Pārsa, that was destroyed by Alexander the Great around 330 BC and is located in present day Iran. Because of the nation’s geographic location and, later, its oil riches, Iran became a prime target for invaders of all types, including Iraq and the West.

In these pages, Satrapi recounts her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution in which the Shah who supported the United States was overthrown by student, fundamentalist, and Islamic groups and replaced by Ayatollah Khomeini and later created the Islamic Republic.  As a child, Satrapi is quick to passionate responses and, yet, is confused about what it means to be a revolutionary.  She tries to outdo her classmates with her own stories of family heroism, but she soon realizes that it is not the kind of competition you want to win, even on just the school yard.  There are dire consequences to opposing a fundamentalist regime.

This memoir, however, focuses less on the politics and more on the human aspects of this revolution.  The confusion of coups and the realization that war is devastating can touch each person in unexpected ways.  Whether it is an elevation in status, fear of being singled out by others who are afraid, or even the death of loved ones, neighbors, and friends.  Satrapi was a young girl who loved school, found reading to be a solace, and strove to fit in.  These are individuals, their country’s policies and actions may not reflect each person’s desires.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi should serve as a reminder of what revolution can lead to, how it affects everyone differently, and how the consequences cannot be ignored.  It must have been unimaginably hard to raise a young girl at this time, especially one as outspoken as Satrapi was.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Marjane Satrapi was born in 1969 in Rasht, Iran. She grew up in Tehran, where she studied at the French school, before leaving for Vienna and Strasbourg to study decorative arts. She currently lives in Paris, where she is at work on the sequel to Persepolis. She is also the author of several children’s books.

What the Book Club Said:

The book club all seemed to have enjoyed this graphic memoir. And the discussion was rather animated about the politics of the time and the religious fanaticism that took over Iran’s government. There were also interesting discussions about how her parents allowed her certain liberties even when they knew that neighbors informed on others and some were even in charge of ensuring women dressed and acted according to the new laws of the land. This was probably the most animated discussion in a long while, and some of us cannot wait to read the rest of the series.

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 337 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy, which was the January book club selection, is based on historical events along the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s involving the Glanton Gang that scalped many, engaged in mercenary acts, and sought their fortunes. Led by John Glanton, who fought for Texas independence during the Mexican-American War, the gang murdered Indians and Mexicans alike. Readers should expect this book to be brutal and violent. There is no way around it with this subject matter, and much of the violence has little to no purpose other than to garner wealth and property for the gang members.

“The judge watched him. He began to point out various men in the room and to ask if these men were here for a good time or if inded they knew why they were here at all.

Everybody dont have to have a reason to be someplace.

That’s so, said the judge. They do not have to have a reason. But order is not set aside because of their indifference.” (pg. 341-2)

The kid is the main protagonist here, and he stumbles into the gang after wandering for some time. Readers will not view him as a hero, and in many ways he is an anti-hero because he is morally ambiguous like many characters in westerns. The focus on the bloodshed and the meanderings of this gang through the desert and mountains is a surface reading of the novel, the central character and theme is related to “God”, “destiny,” and the order of the universe, which the judge clearly says encompasses more than can be understood by the human mind. Some mysteries are perpetual, but he reminds us to never forget that there is an order and a reason behind even the most chaotic and mundane events.

Like the kid, the readers is forced into a world where violence is the norm and it just is, without any moments of morality or kindness present. In this world, how can the kid strive to understand a wider picture, learn to review his role in that violence, and come to any other conclusion than human kind is animal-like in its brutality?

While there are allusions to Christian traditions, such as the burning bush, there seems to be a subtext about relying too heavily on the stories/tales of “leaders” — whether they are religious or otherwise — because they oftentimes are lies (like the early tales told by the judge). The judge even keeps a ledger, which makes readers reflect on who is keeping that ledger and why? Is it God, Satan, or someone else, and does it really matter who? Moreover, the final scenes of the book call to mind Shiva’s Tandava, a violent and dangerous dance related to the destruction of the world in order for creation to flourish. It seems McCarthy is using a mesh of myths and religions to bring his points across about the violent birth of America.

The narrative is distant on purpose, but following the kid throughout gets difficult, and the number of bloody events could have been pared down significantly to demonstrate the points the author wanted to bring across. The strongest character in the novel is not the antihero but the judge, his antagonist. Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy could have been a much stronger novel with some editing.

Book Club Discussion:

As I was more than halfway through this one, I attended the discussion and planned to finish it after the meeting. Many liked the book well enough, though some said the narrative had their eyes/brains glazing over if read too quickly. Others found a bunch of theories to postulate on, including one where the Judge Holden appeared to be Satan or Satan-like because he was very good at a great many things.

Upon further discussion and review, it seems as though McCarthy took a lot of his events from those in My Confession by Samuel Chamberlain, who claimed to be a member of the Glanton Gang. Some scholars have said that the Kid in McCarthy’s book could be Chamberlain. Judge Holden is supposed to be a historical figure, but the only references to him are in Chamberlain’s book.

RATING: Tercet

Other Reviews:

The Road

About the Author:

Cormac McCarthy is an American novelist and playwright. He has written ten novels in the Southern Gothic, western, and post-apocalyptic genres and has also written plays and screenplays. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for The Road, and his 2005 novel No Country for Old Men was adapted as a 2007 film of the same name, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

His earlier Blood Meridian (1985) was among Time Magazine’s poll of 100 best English-language books published between 1925 and 2005 and he placed joint runner-up for a similar title in a poll taken in 2006 by The New York Times of the best American fiction published in the last 25 years. Literary critic Harold Bloom named him as one of the four major American novelists of his time, along with Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and Philip Roth. He is frequently compared by modern reviewers to William Faulkner.

In 2009, Cormac McCarthy won the PEN/Saul Bellow Award, a lifetime achievement award given by the PEN American Center.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 8 CDs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

***Leviathan was a book club selection and I’ve finally been able to get back to the series, though this book is our book club selection for June. You’ll need to read the first to read this book.***

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, is the second book in a young adult trilogy that is an alternate WWI history rife with steampunk elements. The German Clankers who rely on machines are advancing their war against the British Darwinists, using secretive technology and subversive tactics. Deryn, a young man in the British Air Service, has divided loyalties as he tries to continue hiding his identity from his closest friend, Alek, who is the heir to the empire. The Leviathan’s peace mission has hit a snag, and Alek stumbles upon a resistance in Constantinople even as they find themselves in enemy territory.

Alan Cumming is a stunning narrator; it’s clear that he enjoyed this book and narrating the heart-stopping action of Westerfeld’s alternate history. As the Clankers connive to garner support from Istanbul, the Darwinists seek to appease the government with gifts only to find they are too late. Deryn is quick-witted and eager to prove himself a dedicated soldier, even as he feels a bit of camaraderie and loyalty to Alek and his plight to escape the Clankers. Alek comes into his own away from his guardian, as he is forced to seek out people to trust and to devise his own plans to prevent an all-encompassing war between the Clankers and the Darwinists and get revenge on the Germans.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, is a stunning middle book in the series, providing Alek and Deryn with ample opportunity to prove themselves brave. Even as secrets continue between them, they remain friends. Westerfeld has a vivid imagination and it comes alive in the prose, especially as read by Cumming. Readers will fall into this world of unbelievable animal creations and giant machines of war.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Scott Westerfeld‘s teen novels include the Uglies series, the Midnighters trilogy, The Last Days, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and the sequel to Peeps. Scott was born in Texas, and alternates summers between Sydney, Australia, and New York City.

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audio, 9+ hours
I am an Amazon Affiliate

*** Spoilers included ***

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais, narrated by Neil Shah, is a coming-of-age story that traverses India, London, and France as Hassan Haji comes into his own as a chef. Told from Hassan’s point of view, the novel almost takes on the feel of a memoir. He speaks of his past in India and the culture and food that shaped him, but he also speaks about the death of his mother with a sense of detachment, even though the character claims it is a defining moment.

As the family moves abroad, Hassan is exposed to different foods and cultures, but he’s also shackled to the life of his father’s making. As a rivalry blooms between his father and another restaurateur in Lumière, Madame Mallory, Hassan begins to see glimmers of a world he could master and enjoy. The 100-foot distance between his father’s restaurant and that of Mallory is short, but seems to be worlds away, especially as she makes it her mission to destroy their business.

While food is central to this story and Hassan does grow into a stupendous chef, according to those around him, readers may find he develops little, especially in terms of his relationships with women. Hassan has been unable to commit to anyone, and while it is hinted at the end that this might change, it is almost like an afterthought by the author. There are other deaths in the novel, as well, and given the closeness of Hassan to his father and Mallory, it is hard to believe that the author would gloss over these and their impacts on Hassan, but he does.

Shah is a good narrator, though some of the accents seemed over the top at times and the language a bit forced. The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais, narrated by Neil Shah, is an interesting take on a man outside his culture learning to cook with greater skill but learning little else about himself. Although he becomes a famous chef, it seems that his relationships are only on the surface, and his character stagnates, especially as the trials of his early days in the Paris kitchens are glossed over.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Richard C. Morais is a Canadian American novelist and journalist. He is the author of three books, including The Hundred-Foot Journey, which is an international bestseller and has been adapted as a film by Dreamworks.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 463 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, which was our banned book selection for book club, was a re-read for me. The book was initially banned in Ohio because the language was considered indecent and considered objectionable. While there is objectionable language and graphic sexual situations, this is a book about the absurdity of war and it is a satire about World War II.

Catch-22: a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.

Yossarian is a bombardier who is an excellent shot, who achieves a second pass and earns a medal, but Colonel Cathcart has plans and continues to raise the number of missions his crew must fly. This bombardier and the colonel are in a silent battle, as Yossarian seeks out any number of reasons to get admitted to the hospital, or be declared insane, anything that will get him out of flying more dangerous missions. He’s almost like a clown bumbling around to disguise his strategy for escape.

“Colonel Cathcart cracked his knuckles violently. Colonel Korn, a stocky, dark, flaccid man with a shapeless paunch, sat completely relaxed on one of the benches in the front row, his hands clasped comfortably over the top of his bald and swarthy head. His eyes were amused behind his glinting rimless spectacles.” (pg. 148)

The shifting nature of this book mirrors the chaos of war on a smaller scale, leaving the reader in a whirlwind of activity and nonsense. Despite the horrors of war and the deaths around them, there’s a levity to these characters and their interactions. Frustration with superiors and bureaucracy is typical of many war novels, but Heller carefully demonstrates the back-stabbing, the all-for-myself moves of men in power, and the utter disbelief of soldiers at the very bottom of the power structure when the rug is pulled from beneath them. As in war, readers are unlikely to form strong attachments for the characters interacting in Heller’s novel — despite the incident with Snowden — making the war seem even more distant even more ridiculous.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is a fun ride that never disappoints. From Yossarian’s struggles within the system to Milo’s triumph outside the hierarchy of military power, Heller has created a novel that speaks to the overall chaos and disharmony of war, the futile attempts to make life for soldiers seem normal by the military through order and discipline, and the machinations of those with their own agendas and how they can place everyone in jeopardy.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Joseph Heller was born in Brooklyn in 1923. In 1961, he published Catch-22, which became a bestseller and, in 1970, a film. He went on to write such novels as Good as Gold, God Knows, Picture This, Closing Time (the sequel to Catch-22), and Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man. Heller died in December 1999.

banned2016

The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 240 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman, which was our October book club selection, contains eight comics that were issued once per month. Gaiman admits that the writing is not as good upon reading them long after they were issued, and on this readers might agree. The dialogue is often choppy and the comics feel as though they do not have a focus or story arc. In many ways they are vignettes.

“There was a definite effort on my part, in the stories in this volume, to explore genres available: “The Sleep of the Just” was intended to be a classical English horror story; “Imperfect Hosts” plays with some of the conventions of the old DC and E.C. horror comics (and the hosts thereof); “Dream a Little Dream of Me” is slightly more contemporary British horror story … ” (From Gaiman’s Afterword)

Having read other graphic novels by Gaiman, this seems like a freshman effort at comics. The drawings themselves are dark and haphazard at times, making it hard for readers to follow the story in a cohesive way. I had to re-read a few pages to fully capture what was happening. Even after doing so, it seemed as though I was missing some backstory and even some explanation as to why this “order” would trap Sandman if he was not the one they wanted in the first place. However, I did like Sandman’s cloak…the flames were a nice touch.

Even once that episode is done and Sandman is free, the attempts to take back his “tools” are so easily accomplished that they fell flat. It was more of a detective story in that way — follow the clues and obtain the objects. Even the major battle with the demon was only mildly entertaining, and forget the battle with Dr. Dee. Overall, The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman fell a little flat for me in terms of substance, even the interactions between Sandman and Death were less than stellar.

RATING: Couplet

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Neil Gaiman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, and is the recipient of numerous literary honors. Originally from England, he now lives in America.

Find out more about Neil at his website, find all his books at his online bookstore, and follow him on Facebook, tumblr, and his blog.

The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 6 hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie, our August book club selection, is narrated by Hugh Fraser and is the 13th book in the series.  Despite being so far into the series, it was refreshing to read a murder-mystery that was more intellectual in nature. Hercule Poirot is being taunted by the serial killer working his way through victims based on the alphabet, and beside his victims, he leaves the ABC Railway Guide open at the name of the town where the murder has taken place. Arthur Hastings, a longtime friend of Poirot, is excited to be working with his friend after a long time, and this book is told from Hastings’ point of view for the most part. The other narration is a third-person narrative created by Hastings’ reconstructions of other eye-witness accounts. Christie creates another mysterious layer this way because readers will always partially doubt the validity of those recollections.

The first three murders occur with little evidence of who the killer is, but once the killer decides to make an enemy of Poirot, he is bound to make mistakes. There also is a certain complexity of motive here, in which it is obscured again and again by other events and things that occur. While Hastings is in awe of his friend’s ability to solve cases, Inspector Crome is less than a fan. It’s interesting to see these two opinions face off, and it forces the reader to wonder is Poirot a super-detective or is he a man that gets lucky. Like many mysteries, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The camaraderie between Poirot and Hastings is great, and the pace is spot on, even as the murders seem as though they will never be solved. A careful reader or listener can see the clues and figure out who the killer is, but Christie is adept at throwing in obstacles to obscure the truth. Hugh Fraser was a good narrator for Hastings, though at times some of the other characters got a bit muddled in the reading. The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie is a well written mystery that will have readers guessing and re-assessing.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Agatha Christie is the best-selling author of all time. She wrote eighty crime novels and story collections, fourteen plays, and several other books. Her books have sold roughly four billion copies and have been translated into 45 languages. She is the creator of the two most enduring figures in crime literature-Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple-and author of The Mousetrap, the longest-running play in the history of modern theatre.

Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede

Source: Purchased
Kindle, 288 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede, which was our July book club pick, is a retelling of a fairy tale.  In this rendition, the tale is set in England, and the characters are a bit modified.  Wrede says in the afterword that the original fairy tale had gaps and characters appeared and disappeared, leaving their motivations out of sight for the most part.  Here, Wrede contrives to make motivations fit the story, which mirrors the original very closely.

The language used here to mimic Elizabethan times but, in so doing, the dialogue was very stilted and hard to engage with for a good portion of the book.  While the language may have been to authenticate the time period, some of it was off in terms of usage and slowed the pace of the tale considerably.  However, her use of John Dee and Edward Kelly as the wizards in the town of Mortlak, who cause harm to the world of Faerie, was inspired, though even just Kelly would have been enough here.

Rosamund (Rose Red) and Blanche (Snow White) are the daughters of the Widow Arden (forest) who live on the outskirts of town near the land of Faerie, and while they tend to stay outside the forest and only use the herbs found within its borders for good, they have skills that other townsfolk only speculate about.  It is there in the woods that they find all manner of plants, including elecampane, which is native to central Asia.  Is this the work of the fay?  Or a miscalculation on Wrede’s part?  It’s unclear.

Wrede also relies on the continuation of “work” over several dayson more than one occasion without going into depth about the failed experiments, etc. This also slows the pace of the fairy tale down.  Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede is a satisfactory retelling of a well-known fairy tale, but what is unclear still is the motivations of one set of evildoers — the fay.  While the mortals clearly seek fame and fortune in their magic renderings, the fay involved in the spell-casting seem to have muddy reasoning for their part in it.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Patricia C. Wrede was born in Chicago, Ill., and is the eldest of five children. She started writing in seventh grade. She attended Carleton College in Minnesota, where she majored in Biology and managed to avoid taking any English courses at all. She began work on her first novel, Shadow Magic, just after graduating from college in 1974. Patricia received her M.B.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1977.  Patricia finished her first novel in late 1978, and she has since published 12 books.