The Boys in the Boat

16158542.jpgThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1939 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

Rating: ★★★★★ // History lesson that reads like fiction

Favorite Line: “All were merged into one smoothly working machine; they were, in fact, a poem of motion, a symphony of swinging blades.”

Review:

During the years which stood on the eve of WWII, a group of young men thought not of going off to war, or even of making their everlasting mark on history, instead their thoughts were on a narrow long boat in the cold waters at Washington University. This boat became an extension of their bodies,  their most treasured possession, and before they knew it, their ticket to the 1939 Olympic Games to represent their country in Berlin.

GoodReads Summary 

Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled  by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Drawing on the boys’ own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant. It will appeal to readers of Erik Larson, Timothy Egan, James Bradley, and David Halberstam’s The Amateurs.

I would have never thought a book about a rowing team could be so amazing. While the story is very different, this book feels like Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. This story is non-fiction, yet it reads like a historical fiction novel…a very detailed and well written historical fiction. By the middle I was soaking up all the information about the rowing team, and by the end I felt like the biggest rowing team in the world, and felt very invested in the collegiate rowing rivalries.

The best parts of the story follow Joe Rantz, a hard-working boy who had fallen on the wrong side of luck many times. He was an unlikely hero of the rowing team, but the amazing thing is that his crew mates were all untraditional rowers. They were all blue collar kids, barely making it into college, barely staying in college, but yet somehow made it on the country’s best rowing team.

“Harmony, balance, and rhythm. They’re the three things that stay with you your whole life. Without them civilization is out of whack. And that’s why an oarsman, when he goes out in life, he can fight it, he can handle life. That’s what he gets from rowing.”

This story is very detailed and precise, which makes it seem like you are watching it as a movie and not reading it. The narrative is beautiful and it fills you with pride for these boys. The characters are so real and alive, you feel as if you were one of the fans watching their races in live time, or the ones all over the country listening to their races on the radio. You feel pain with them, you struggle with their doubts and their anxieties, and you feel elevated with their triumphs and joys.

It’s hard to pinpoint who is really the most important character of the story, because, like rowing, the book relies on so many different characters to make the story work. Any one character could not impact the end as they did without any of the others. They boys work off each other, and they thrive from their mentors, coaches, loved ones, and countrymen.

“Rowing is perhaps the toughest of sports. Once the race starts, there are no time-outs, no substitutions. It calls upon the limits of human endurance. The coach must therefore impart the secrets of the special kind of endurance that comes from mind, heart, and body.

—George Yeoman Pocock”

This is not like many WWII books, because it really does not speak much of the upcoming war. It addresses it, and of course the Olympic games take place at the beginning of the Nazi era, but the lack of the war was so important to the message of the book. These boys were normal, everyday kids. They had pains and troubles, joys and amazements. They had dreams like any other, and like many boys of that age, they had the small bit of dread in their stomach that all their hopes and dreams could be crushed with the impending war.

“The wood…taught us about survival, about overcoming difficulty, about prevailing over adversity, but it also taught us something about the underlying reason for surviving in the first place. Something about infinite beauty, about undying grace, about things larger and greater than ourselves. About the reasons we were all here.”

This reality was worldwide. Millions of people were impacted by the war, but first, before it all began, 9 boys in a boat, backed by their entire country, were able to grasp their dreams and ensure their spot in history.

“Standing there, watching them, it occurred to me that when Hitler watched Joe and the boys fight their way back from the rear of the field to sweep ahead of Italy and Germany seventy-five years ago, he saw, but did not recognize, heralds of his doom. He could not have known that one day hundreds of thousands of boys just like them, boys who shared their essential natures—decent and unassuming, not privileged or favored by anything in particular, just loyal, committed, and perseverant—would return to Germany dressed in olive drab, hunting him down.”

Speak to Me, Neil Gaiman


I just discovered Neil Gaiman this year, and I have become obsessed, and yet, I haven’t read a word ;).  I’m sure others have done this already, but I am officially declaring Gaiman the king of Audiobooks.

I first listened to Stardust, published in 1999, while I was waiting for another book to become available. I didn’t expect much, but I thought it sounded amusing…I became entranced. Gaiman’s voice and style of reading demands attention, and you can’t help but become fully emerged in the story.

Next I listened to The Ocean at the End of the Lane, published in 2013, and I was a little more weary of this one, just because the description didn’t appeal to me as much. Turns out, it’s an amazing book and Gaiman’s narration is as good as ever. I really can’t describe his reading style, but it almost feels like he writes his books to be read aloud, rather than silently. 

I just finished listening to Norse Mythology last week, and I think it’s my favorite of his to listen thus far.  These stories, being short retelling of myths, are really meant to be listened to. Even with the few myths that weren’t my favorite, he makes them interesting in his captivating storytelling.

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”

I’ve said before that the narrator of the audiobook either makes or breaks the book. I’ve listened to a few books that I really disliked because the narrator was so awful and then I went back and physically read found they were actually good books. For all I know, Gaiman’s books may not be as good on paper as they are read aloud, but I don’t know if I want to risk it ruining them ;). 

I keep adding his books to my TBR list, and unless the audiobook doesn’t exist, I can almost guarantee that’s the medium I will use. So here’s to you, Neil Gaiman, keep writing and please please please keep speaking.

Life Lessons from the Musketeers

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I wrote this review a few years ago on my old blog, but I thought I’d repost it because I really loved this book. 

After years and years of trying to convince myself I didn’t need to read this book because I already knew the storyline, I finally buckled and picked up this timeless classic….I was blown away.

I do admit, it took me a long time to finish this The Three Musketeers. It’s a story I knew so well before I picked it up, so I thought it would be a piece of cake, but this book is so long and is has so much more depth than the “main” story.

I went in waves while reading, I had periods of being completely hooked for days, using every spare moment to read another paragraph, page, or chapter, only to then slump into a dry spell of not wanting to pick up the book and having no interest at all of what happens to our four bold protagonists. When this happens to me, it’s usually because the author goes off the plot and gives long explanations of history and background of the area and I loose my motivation to continue, but here it was different because Dumas does not do that often, and when he doesn’t it’s not for an extended amount of time–for the most part, he stays on plot. The only logical reason I can think of for my on-again, off-again, relationship with this book, is that since it is such a long book, and it has a very complex plot with many different crucial players, it takes a long time to read it right, and after going a couple of weeks with the same story, and then realizing I had only made a small dent in the book, I needed to give my brain different type of entertainment for a couple days before getting sucked into the book again.

Now I can proudly say I have conquered this book, and I am so happy that I can honestly say that I love the story of The Three Musketeers. 

I will not go through and bore you with a critic over the whole book, and frankly, I don’t think I could give it a proper critic after only reading it once, especially since I read it leisurely and not educationally. There is so much going on that it would take a couple reads to analyze all the different moving parts and how Dumas weaves them perfectly together. However, what I will do it take a few of my favorites quotes from the book and tell you briefly why they stood out to me.

1.

“Oh, I see you prefer peregrination. That’s well madame; and there is an old proverb that says, ‘Traveling trains youth.’ My faith! you are not wrong after all, and life is sweet. That’s the reason why I take such care you shall not deprive me of mine.”

This quote is said by Lord de Winters to the infamous lady known throughout the story simply as Milady. She is truly evil. Lord de Winters says this as he is holding Milady captive in England and giving her the choice of exile or a trial. Now, she has quite a past, so a trial would mean the worst for her, so if she has the choice, she would choose exile, even if the thought of that is as bad as death to her.

I like this quote because it could have been said by a number of characters in the book and still be relevant. All the characters either grow tremendously in the storyline or we learn of their past growth that led them to where they are when we meet them, and they all hold true to the proverb Lord de Winters speaks of, “traveling trains youth.” Furthermore, this book is all about self-preservation in the most direr of situations, so the second part of the quote rings true to most of the characters, “That’s the reason why I take such care you should not deprive me of mine.”

Putting the plot of the book aside, I felt personally attached to this quote the moment I read it, because I saw it as a justification of the life I’m living now. “‘Traveling trains youth.” I’m constantly asked why I took a year in Europe, why I travel so much, what I’m planning on doing with my life, and why I made the “unorthodox” decision not to get a career right out of college, and more often than not my answer is rewarded with a sigh or an eye role. Even when in Europe or on my travels, I find many people who think my year as an Au Pair or my job as a nanny, as a waste of time. What I wish people would understand is that I’m still young–I look young, I think young, I act young…I’m young. I didn’t take a year in Europe to run away from a career, I went there to take advantage of my youth, to do things that I can’t do when my youth leaves me, and as Dumas puts it, I went there to train, and I continue to train in my travels. Train for the rest of my life, give me experiences that I could never have unless I put myself out there, on a limb, in a place I had only dreamed of going before.

2.

“Within six months, if I am not dead, I shall have seen you again, madam–even if I have to overturn the world.”

This is said by the Duke of Buckingham to Anne of Austria, the Queen of France. This love affair was one of the saddest because it was doomed from the start, yet the Duke, truly infatuated with the Queen, never abandoned his love for her, nor did he ever do anything intentional to harm her, politically or emotionally. Yet, this quote,  like my first one, could be said by many different characters in the book and no one would doubt it’s sincerity. This book continues to go back to the theme of doing anything and everything for the one you love. If nothing else remains true in this novel, the truth of undying love remains solid through the entire thing.

When I started reading this, I didn’t think it would be as focused on love as it was. I mean, I knew it had romantic sub-plots, but I did not think the plot would focus primarily on the love affairs of the Musketeers and their close companions. I think it can be argued that love is as great of a theme as friendship, even though I believe most would categorize this book in the “power of friends” category quicker than the “power of love” category, especially with the whole “all for one and one for all” thing the Musketeers have going on.

While many of the relationships in this novel revolved around an affair of some sort, the love remained beautiful to the reader because of the way the characters truly still believed in love, and the purity of love. It was clearly a different time and culture when this story was placed, and in the novel marriage was definitely more of a political and social relationship then a romantic one, but the the idea of love was still strong and Dumas did a beautiful job of portraying the power that stands behind it.

3.

“You are young,” replied Athos; “and your bitter recollections have time to change themselves into sweet remembrances.”

This is the last line in the book, before the epilogue, and I found it to be a beautiful ending to this tragic story. I don’t want to ruin any of the details, but this book doesn’t have the happiest of endings–it’s not completely sad, but it’s also not a Disney ending. But this quote, spoken by the always wise Athos, pushes away the sadness and allows room for the reader to see the potential of a happy future–what a beautiful thing to do for your readers.

I guess I can add this to my reasons for holding onto my youth: giving myself time to change bitter moments into happy memories. As Athos says this, the reader understands how much he desires to have this time back–time to change all the hurt he suffered into, at least, a memory less painful. But we, as readers, also understand that Athos is unable to do this, and even though the cause of his unhappiness is gone, he will never fully recover from the hurt and pain put upon him. He is unmendable. His friend, however, one he views as a brother and life-long companion, still has time to put all that has happened behind him and forgive, and Athos, being the eldest of the group, wants to make sure his brother does not fall onto the same bitter path that he chose many years prior to the story.

The theme of forgiveness is not as visible as the theme of vengeance in the book, but the final advice from Athos seems to lean more towards it than towards anything else. He is a man who held onto his hatred and his pain as tightly as he held onto his bottles of Spanish wine. He was unable to let go of the events in his past and they tore him apart emotionally, spiritually, and physically. He understands this pain eats him alive, but unwilling to forgive, he allows it to consume him. While, on the outside, he is the strongest (mentally) of the musketeers and their unofficial leader, he knows he is too weak to fight his own pain.  Nevertheless, his final advice, his final warning, gives the reader a shed of hope that his younger, fresher companion will not follow in his footsteps of living in the past, but step forward, forgiving and refreshing his past, so it becomes a power to push him forward, instead of a weight keeping him in behind.

All of us, young and old, can benefit from this final quote from Athos, remembering that life keeps moving and we can either stay bitter and angry or we can move forward with “sweet remembrances.”

The Three Musketeers is timeless. While not as fast paced as most modern day novels, it packs a punch that is full of every theme a reader could ask for. Dumas adds humor to a drama, and romance to a sword fight, and while there are many new adventurers to admire in literature, there aren’t many who compare to the classic characters of Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan.

 

*This is not technically apart of my Classics Club challenge, but it definitely works with the theme. If you want to see the other books on my challenge list, click here. If you want to learn more about the classics club, click here

A Gentleman in Moscow

29430012.jpgA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Rating: ★★★★★ // Instant Classic

Favorite Line: “If a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.”

Reveiw:

Oh boy this book is amazing. I could read this book all day, and I did not want it to end.

“A king fortifies himself with a castle,” observed the Count, “a gentleman with a desk.”

Summary (From GoodReads)

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

This book has depth, like bottom of the ocean depth. It spans about 30 years, never leaves the Metropol hotel, except in stories told by outside characters, and yet makes you feel like you were brought all over Russia, and even all over the world. Having such a secluded setting sets up for a boring book–I mean who wants to read a book where the character literally never goes anywhere? But instead Towles is able to amplify the setting and use it to expand the ideas and the characters in the book. By the end the Metropol seems like a home and a safeguard, and not a luxury hotel.

Count Rostov is an amazing character. As said in the description above, he is isolated for being an aristocrat, in particular an aristocrat who does not want to conform to the Bolshevik ideals, and even in isolation, he attempts to maintain the way of life he has always known. Rostov is extremely intelligent, witty and well-educated. His education shines in his discussions with the guests of the Metropol, and his intelligence shines while dealing with the staff of the Metropol, which changes dramatically throughout his time there.

We also see a soft side of Rostov in his friendship with Nina, a young Russian girl who also lived in the Metropol with her family, and later with Sofia, Nina’s daughter. He turns into a father/grandfather figure to these girls and we see a proud man buckle and soften at the hands of two young girls. Towles makes the change gradual, and therefore believable, but he also rightly keeps some sense of pride in the count, which allows him to maintain his world view and his way-of-life. The count never ceases to be a gentlemen, even under house arrest.

“Manners are not like bonbons, Nina. You may not choose the ones that suit you best; and you certainly cannot put the half-bitten ones back in the box. . . .”

Through his hotel window the count sees his beloved Russia change into something unrecognizable to his eyes. He discusses philosophy and politics with the guests and staff of the Metropol and we, the readers, get a rare glance into how the aristocrats (at least those that survived) saw the Russian revolution. Despite what one might thing, Rostov did not seem entirely against the revolution, although he was not a firm supporter, but he did have philosophical arguments about many of the changes it brought in.

One particularly humorous disagreement he had about “new Russia” was brought on by the belief in Soviet Russia that all must be equal. One night while dining he ordered a bottle of wine that he thought would be especially good with his meal. The Maitre d’ then informed him that he could not choose different types of wine based off name, but he could only choose white or red. Outraged that he wasn’t getting the wine he asked for (his aristocracy never really wore off) he demanded to see the cellar. There he found, to his disgust, that all the labels had been taken off of the wine, making all the wine equal, and therefore could only be served as white or red. The count was not amused.

“A bottle of wine was the ultimate distillation of time and place; a poetic expression of individuality itself.”

I cannot praise Towles enough for his writing in this book. His characters and setting are phenomenal; everything he describes is precise, accurate, and said with importance. There never seems to be a bit of information out of place and every scene is built to play a larger role.

This book has humor, philosophy, politics, love, romance, adventure, suspense, and lots of informations about good food and wine.  Out of all the books I have read this year, this one ranks the highest. Not only does it fully capture the culture and ideals of a time period, but it brings in everlasting themes that all humanity can relate to.

“After all, what can a first impression tell us about someone we’ve just met for a minute in the lobby of a hotel? For that matter, what can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven, or a brushstroke about Botticelli. By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration—and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.”

*buy it here on Book Depository on my affiliate page for a discounted price!

Greek Gods Book Tag

I was tagged by Angelica @ The Book Cover Girls to do this brand new tag, The Greek Gods Book Tag, made by the fabulous Zuky the BookBum.

Rules:

  • Pingback to Zuky’s post
  • You can use Zuky’s graphics if you like, but you don’t have to if you don’t want
  • Tag as many people as you want, but please, share the love

 

ZEUS: KING OF THE GODS – YOUR FAVORITE BOOK

4934.jpgThe Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I will argue, and I have, that no greater fiction book has ever been written. It’s 800 pages of pure genius, and the story is just amazing. It’s not light reading at all; it’s hard work, and you can’t just read it casually–no you need to sit down, book and drink in hand, and read with focus and purpose.

This is the type of novel where I really wonder how the heck someone wrote something like this. Everything is so real in this book, and reading it makes you feel more alive yourself. // Buy Here

“Above all, avoid lies, all lies, especially the lie to yourself. Keep watch on your own lie and examine it every hour, every minute. And avoid contempt, both of others and of yourself: what seems bad to you in yourself is purified by the very fact that you have noticed it in yourself. And avoid fear, though fear is simply the consequence of every lie. Never be frightened at your own faintheartedness in attaining love, and meanwhile do not even be very frightened by your own bad acts.”

HERA: QUEEN OF THE GODS – A BADASS FEMALE CHARACTER

70286248.jpgThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

How can you not love Liesel Meminger, the main character of The Book Thief? She’s bold, she’s courageous, she’s loyal, she’s smart, and she has a kind heart. She may not be bad-ass in the traditional sense of the phrase (she fight’s no pirates, nor does she lead an army), but she stands up to most evil of enemies and stays brave in the face of perilous danger. She is a true bad-ass. // Buy Here

“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

JANUS: GOD OF BEGINNINGS – YOUR FAVORITE DEBUT(S)

ncThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I fell in love with this book, and I was shocked when I heard it was her debut novel. The magic is beautiful, the setting is fantastic, and the characters are highly memorable. A fun little fact about this book, Morgenstern wrote it while participating in NaNoWriMo…so keep your heads up future writers, you can do it!  // Buy Here // Review

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

ATHENA: GODDESS OF WISDOM – YOUR FAVORITE NON-FICTION BOOK

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Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This story is amazing and it had me hooked from start to finish. This harrowing story of a pilot captured in the Pacific during WWII will pull at all your heartstrings, and make you hope and pray that it is actually only fiction. It’s a tremendous read. // Buy Here

 

“In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation. Softly, he wept.”

APHRODITE: GODDESS OF LOVE – A BOOK YOU ADORE AND RECOMMEND EVERYONE READ (OTHER THAN YOUR FAVORITE BOOK!)

JA-P.jpgJoan of Arc by Mark Twain

I recommend this book to EVERYONE! I’ve read it twice, both times while I was in France, and it has brought me to tears both time.

The oddest thing about this book is that it was written by Mark Twain. He is probably the last author I would pick to write a book about Joan of Arc, but I’m so happy he did. He claimed this is his best book, and it is his favorite of any he wrote. He spent 12 years researching for this book and 7 years writing it…it’s truly amazing. // Buy Here

“Consider this unique and imposing distinction. Since the writing of human history began, Joan of Arc is the only person, of either sex, who has ever held supreme command of the military forces of a nation at the age of seventeen.”

HADES: GOD OF THE UNDERWORLD – AN EVIL BOOK YOU WISH DIDN’T EXIST

12898.jpgDeath of a Salesman by Author Miller

Ugh. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to read this play, and every time it has driven me crazy. There is really nothing I like about this play, but for some reason every American Literature professor believes we have to suffer again and again and again by reading it. I’ve had people explain to me over and over again why it’s a classic play, but I still cannot understand. // Buy Here

“Be loving to him. Because he’s only a little boat looking for a harbor.”

POSEIDON: GOD OF THE SEA & EARTHQUAKES – A BEAUTIFUL & GROUND-BREAKING BOOK

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Night by Elie Wiesel

While this book is groundbreaking as a personal story of a holocaust survivor, it was also groundbreaking for me because it was the first WWII book I had ever read. It opened my eyes and my heart to these stories–since then I’ve devoured every WWII book I’ve come across (as you can probably tell since there are 3 on this list). This was the first book that made me cry, and I really believe it changed my life.  // Buy Here

 

“I am not so naïve as to believe that this slim volume will change the course of history or shake the conscience of the world. Books no longer have the power they once did. Those who kept silent yesterday will remain silent tomorrow.”

APOLLO: GOD OF THE ARTS – A BEAUTIFUL BOOK COVER

18143977.jpgAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Mesmerizing cover, enchanting book. The cover got me reading this book, but by the first chapter the words had hooked me. I found this book so wonderful, and honestly who can resist that beautiful blue cover?!? //Buy Here // Review

 

 

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

HYPNOS: GOD OF SLEEP – A BOOK SO BORING YOU ALMOST FELL ASLEEP

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Yes, this book is ground-breaking and everyone should read it. However, it was really hard for me to get through. I’ve said this many times, I have a hard times with memoirs, and that apparently doesn’t change even when it is a culturally important memoir like this one. // Buy Here // Review

 

“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill,
of things unknown, but longed for still,
and his tune is heard on the distant hill,
for the caged bird sings of freedom.”

HERMES: MESSENGER OF THE GODS – A BOOK YOU SPED THROUGH

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The Hawk and the Dove Trilogy by Penelope Wilcock

I actually didn’t know this book was a trilogy until I was reading it because all the editions have all 3 books in 1. Regardless, I sped through this book(s). It’s close to 600 pages, but the story is so intriguing and captivating, I couldn’t put it down. It follows a group of monks in an English monastery, which sounds like an extremely boring topic, but it really is good. Just writing about it makes me want to pick it up again! // Buy Here

“As he rested in the great hollow shell of tranquility and light, listening to its silence, it dawned upon him that ‘empty’ was the wrong word for this place. It was as full as could be: full of silence, full of light, full of peace.”

I tag: alwaystrustinbooks // bookescapadeblog // bently @ bookbastion // Lyndsey’s Book Blog // sydneysshelves // readinaflash // bookloversblog

Thanks again to Angelica for the tag and to Zuky for creating this awesome tag! It was a fun one to do!!

A Star Wars Book Tag

Happy May the 4th Be With You Day!!

Well, I decided to make a book tag today in honor of Star Wars Day. I don’t think this tag has been made before, I’ve seen some other Star Wars tags, but not any like this one.

There aren’t really any rules of you want to do this tag, just pingback to me so I can read your answers!

So, without further ado:

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away….


I. The Phantom Menance: A book (or series) you pretend not to like but secretly do (guilty pleasure). 

Percy Jackson and The Olympians by Rick Riodan. I’m an adult, these book are for children, I’m an adult, these books are for children…maybe if I keep telling myself that, I’ll one day believe it 😉

II. The Clone Wars: An emotionally powered YA novel.

Kissed by an Angel by Elizabeth Chandler. I read this series in high school, and I finished it in 3 days, which is shocking for me because it’s close to 700 pages–I was totally captivated! I reread some of it a few years ago and I was cracking up because it was so emotional and drama filled, not at all like something I would like now.

III. The Revenge of the Sith: A Trilogy with a tragic end.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I really had a hard time with Mockingjay and the ending just devastated me.

IV. A New Hope: Your favorite classic.

I have so many favorite classics it’s really hard to choose, but for this one I’m going to say A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

V. The Empire Stikes Back: An action packed adventure.

The Shades of Magic Series by V.E. Schwab. I haven’t yet read the third one, so this might be premature, but the first two are non-stop action!

VI. The Return of the Jedi: A trilogy with a wonderfully satisfying ending. 
I’m gunna have to go with my favorite trilogy, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. This ending just feels right. You’ve gone on a long, hard journey full of suffering and doubt, but at the end there is peace.

VII. The Force Awakins: A new book that feels like an old friend. 

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Oh this book warmed my soul. It really felt like I was sitting down with a friend and having a nice long chat.

VIII. The Last Jedi: A sequel you can’t wait to read.

I don’t think she has a title for it yet, but I can’t wait to read the next book in the Ember in the Ashes series. I was delightfully surprised by how much I enjoyed this series.

Bonus: Rogue One: your favorite spinoff

I don’t read a lot of spinoffs, but I did read Finn by Jon Clinch, and I really enjoyed it. It is about Huckleberry Finn’s father and it is very interesting.
There you have it, kids, my first ever book tag!  If you love Star Wars and love books, I would love for you to do this tag! Just remember to pingback to me or this post so I can see your answers!!


The Joy Luck Club

7763.jpgThe Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Rating: ★★★★ // Surprising and charming 

Favorite Line: “We are lost, she and I, unseen and not seeing, unheard and not hearing, unknown by others.”

Review:

What a beautiful book. Honestly, I was not expecting to like this book, I don’t really know why I had low expectations, perhaps it was because I remember not being impressed by one of it’s excerpts I read in an American Lit. classe–who knows, but I really was expecting to be bored. I was not bored…it was precious.

The Joy Luck Club begins with a young Chinese-American woman, who takes her mother’s place at the mahjong table after her mother passes away. With her are three elderly chinese woman, all immigrants to America, and they reveal a secret about her mother that she never knew. It was then she realized she knew very little of her mother, and her realization made the other three woman reflect on their own relationships with their daughters. What follows are short stories in the voices of the daughters about their mothers and their relationships.

This book shows the difficulty of immigrating to a new country. The successes, the failures, the joys, and the false hopes. We see the older generation trying to maintain their culture, all while hoping their children are fully emerged in the American culture. This is a struggle many cultures see and many immigrants go through, but rarely is this struggle put into words as wonderfully as Amy Tan manages to do.

The stories are charming and thoughtful, and while they show the Chinese culture (something I’m not very familiar with) they also show the connection all humans have–we all have stupid fights with our mother, we all have times when our families embarrass us, and we all have people who mean the absolute world to us. It shows connection while showing differences; it shows the individual while showing humanity as a whole.

This book takes only a few hours to read, and I highly recommend it.

You can buy it here on Book Depository at a discounted price!

*I read this book for the Classics Club Reading Challenge. Check out their page to find out more! To see my full list, click here!

See-ya, April

I guess I blinked and April disappeared…yikes!

It was a pretty busy month for me, so I relied heavily on audiobooks to get my book fix (they especially helped on my two 12 hour road trips I had to take).

 

Books Finished:

*All books link up to my affiliate Book Depository page where you can find the book at a discounted price!

Month review: This month I really went big with the series: I started 3 and finished 1. The one I finished, The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Attwood, was very good, but the last book wasn’t my favorite. The three other series I started were all very good. They were all exciting and addictive. My favorite out of the three was The Century Trilogy by Ken Follett. I don’t like doing reviews until I’m done with the series, but I would just like to say how much I admire Follett for the amount of work he puts into his novels. They are the kind of historical fiction where you forget over and over again that they are fiction–he’s an excellent writer. My favorite standalone novel this month was the Screwtape Letters. It’s fab.

Books Still Reading: 

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
    • I’ve been working on this beast for a few months now, but I’m not being very aggressive with it. Despite moving very slowly through it, it is fantastic and I’m really enjoying it.
  • ‘Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
    • A myth retold by C.S. Lewis. This book is very different from the rest of Lewis’ works, and at first it kind of threw me off. Honestly, it feels a lot like a book we would have published today, which isn’t always the case with classic literature.
  • Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker
    • I’m moving in waves with this one. I like it, but I don’t love it, and I’m finding that the further I go the more problems I have with it, so we’ll see how I feel when it ends.
  • We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
    • This WWII Novel is setting up to be a real tear-jerker and I don’t think I’m ready for it. It was hard at first to keep all the family members straight, and to remember who did what, but once I got everyone straight, I really started to enjoy it. Tears will come, I’m sure of it.
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
    • I’m starting to like Hercule Poirot the more I read his cases. This one is really fun, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job making informed descisions about who the killer is…but in the end Christie will probably throw in some curveball that will ruin all my guesses.
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
    • I’ve read this book several times, but we are reading it for my book club and so I decided to start the audiobook on one of my long drives. I’ll probably switch back and forth between the book and the cd, with will make the whole thing go faster, but I am really enjoying the narrator.
Books Coming Up:
  • The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
  • Path of the Assassin by Brad Thor
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  • Winter of the World (The Century Trilogy #2) by Ken Follett
  • The Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3) by V.E. Schwab
  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  • Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

 

Looks like I’ve got some reading to do 🙂 Happy May, everyone!

 

The Confessions of X

 

25331320.jpgThe Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe

Rating: ★★★★ // Historical fiction with an interesting point of view. 

Favorite Line: “I am the living heart of a tree uncovered by the ax, still pliable, still green and full of sap.”

Review:

Since reading St. Augustine’s famous work Confessions, I’ve wondered about the mystery woman who had his heart before his conversion, and before he became the the famous Theologian that the world knows him to be today. Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe tells her story.

GoodReads Description:

Before he became the sainted church father of Christianity, Augustine of Hippo began a love affair with a young woman whose name has been lost to history. They were together for over thirteen years, and she bore him a son. This is her story.

She met Augustine in Carthage when she was just seventeen years old. She was the daughter of a tile-layer. He was a student and the heir to a fortune. They fell in love, despite her lower station and Augustine’s dreams of greatness. Their passion was strong, but the only position in his life that was available to her was as his concubine. When Augustine’s ambition and family compelled him to disown his relationship with the her, X was thrust into a devastating reality as she was torn from her son and sent away to her native Africa.

A reflection of what it means to love and lose, this novel paints a gripping and raw portrait of ancient culture, appealing to historical fiction fans while deftly exploring one woman’s search for identity and happiness within very limited circumstances.

I really enjoyed this book. It is very strange to put yourself in the place of “the woman”, but the way it is written, it is very easy to do and it seems very natural to view things from her point of view.

I was a little hesitant about reading this book because I am a huge fan of St. Augustine’s writing. He presents a beautiful narrative about his love of God and about the beauty of humanity. Therefore I was worried this book would make him look like a scoundrel and I didn’t want to read a book basically defaming one of my favorite writers. This was a very stupid mindset to have for multiple reasons:

  1. St. Augustine himself tells us over and over and over and over again, in Confessions, that he was a scoundrel. The whole book his about his failings and his mistakes. He wrote about how unworthy he was to be considered good or holy because of his past. He owned up for his mistakes and he wrote them all down for the world to see, and he spent the rest of his life trying to make up for his wrongdoings.
  2. Any mention of “X” by Augustine is with the deepest love by Augustine. It was clear that he loved her and she loved him. Their love seemed more like one of the forbidden loves in a Shakespeare play.
  3. She went through a huge conversion before he did, as he mentioned in Confessions. She must have urged or at least influenced him to change his life.

“She was stronger than I…and made her sacrifice with a courage and generosity which I was not strong enough to imitate.”

-St. Augustine, Confessions

So once I got over my petty mindset, I picked up this book and found it to be a wonderful book. Yes, sometimes I got very angry at Augustine, and yes, sometimes I got very angry at X, but mostly I just felt the love between them, and I felt sad for their situation.

Their situation was this: they were in love, he wanted to marry her, the law would not allow it. They had a decision to make, either they go their own ways or she moves into his home as his concubine. She chose to stay. For us this sounds like an awful situation because we see it basically as a role as a prostitute, while in fact he held her in the position of his wife, and he raised her to a much higher status than would have been granted her before their relationship. He remained faithful to her (even though it would not be looked down upon to have relations with other women) and she remained faithful to him.

This story follows her struggles, her joys, her thoughts, and her pains. While this story is fictional and we have no way of knowing much about X, the personality of the woman is reflected in the little evidence we do have of her.

This is a great read for historical fiction readers, especially those who like Roman era stories.

*All links are connected to my affiliate Book Depository page if you are interested in purchasing any of the books mentioned in this post!

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

51FP5gnZ4EL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgSPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

Rating: ★★★★ // History that is read like a novel

Favorite Line: “It is a dangerous myth that we are better historians than our predecessors. We are not.”

Review:

GoodReads Description:

In SPQR, an instant classic, Mary Beard narrates the history of Rome “with passion and without technical jargon” and demonstrates how “a slightly shabby Iron Age village” rose to become the “undisputed hegemon of the Mediterranean” (Wall Street Journal). Hailed by critics as animating “the grand sweep and the intimate details that bring the distant past vividly to life” (Economist) in a way that makes “your hair stand on end” (Christian Science Monitor) and spanning nearly a thousand years of history, this “highly informative, highly readable” (Dallas Morning News) work examines not just how we think of ancient Rome but challenges the comfortable historical perspectives that have existed for centuries. With its nuanced attention to class, democratic struggles, and the lives of entire groups of people omitted from the historical narrative for centuries, SPQR will to shape our view of Roman history for decades to come.

dscn2584.jpg

SPQR: Senatus Populusque Romanus (“The Roman Senate and People”)

I am by no means qualified to review a non-fiction book on the history of Ancient Rome. I studied Ancient Rome in high school and college, and I have read multiple books from that time period. I have a strong interest in Roman myths and in the Roman Empire, but my knowledge does not go past that of an intrigued lay person. Therefore I cannot attest to the accuracy of the statements nor the legitimacy of Mary Beard’s assumptions or speculations. I can, however, say that this book absolutely fascinated me.

I have not read a book by Beard before this one, but now I want to go back and read her earlier ones. The details are incredible, and they are told in a lighthearted way that gives the book a conversational tone. Truly, while reading it I felt as if I was sitting across from her in a pub or at dinner, and she was telling me these things as if she had seen them all happen first hand.

“Vespasian continued his down-to-earth line in self-deprecating wit right up until his last words: ‘Oh dear, I think I’m becoming a god …”

SOQR covers early early early Rome (which is why it says “Ancient” in the title), and it is not at all about how Rome fell, a topic widely covered in school, but rather how it rose to glory. It talks about the myth of Romulus and Remus (one of my personal favorites), it talks about separation of classes and how it changed over the years, it talks about the thought processes behind the forming of government and political philosophy, and it talks about the military changes and how Rome became the ultimate power in the world.

“There is little point in asking how ‘democratic’ the politics of Republican Rome were: Romans fought for, and about, liberty, not democracy.”

Most of the book is straight fact, but as with most ancient civilizations, there are gaps in history and Beard seamlessly tells the reader how she believes those gabs are to be filled in, but she also tells of how others believe they should be filled in, and how she came to her conclusion. This aspect of her writing really impressed me because while she is an expert in her field, she was able to recognize other expert’s ideas and she gave them credit for their differences of opinion.

It amazed me how often I found similarities to our own government, here in the United States and that of Ancient Rome. It became clear that our founding fathers were well versed in the beliefs of the Roman Empire and many aspects of the ancient government (but by no means all of the aspects) found their way into the building of our government here.

“He divided the people in this way to ensure that voting power was under the control not of the rabble but of the wealthy, and he saw to it that the greatest number did not have the greatest power – a principle that we should always stand by in politics.”

As I previously stated I am not qualified to properly review this, so I decided to go through and read reviews of this book of people who may be a little more qualified than myself. Most of the reviews were very positive, there were some, however who were less than enthused about her take on Roman history. These reviews mostly stated that her book was a great outline of the times, but lacked the depth needed for this kind of study. I think this is a fair critique as a proper and fully in-depth book would be 5 times as long as this book (it’s over 500 pages already) and I would have never ever ever picked it up to read. Some people disagreed on her personal opinions, which is again fair, and some of the reviews started with statements that went something like “I don’t like history books,” which makes me wonder why they picked up this book in the first place.

I would love to talk to someone who knows a little more about this subject to see what I missed or how their views differ from Beards, but for now I am sticking to my opinion that this is an excellent book on Ancient Rome.

You can buy the book here on Book Depository!