2016 Reading Challenge

As my ‘To Be Read’ list is in storage until March, I’ve been looking for an easy challenge to start my year and one that, will most likely, have some new additions waiting to join my bookshelves when they arrive at the renovated farm house.  As I finish each category I will review the book here so you can all keep me in check 🙂

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Happy New Year 2016

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Thank you for all your support in 2015, and here’s to an even better 2016.

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Review: The Nightingale ~ Kristin Hannah

The NightingaleISBN ~ 978-0312577223
Publisher ~ St. Martin’s Press
No. Of Pages ~ 440 pages
Links ~ Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Macmillan

In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. 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

4 Thumbs-UpAfter reading the first two lines of the description above I knew this was a book I wanted to read, a book that would deliver great things and not disappoint, and a book that would bring 2015 to a five thumbs end on the review blog.  Unfortunately it was not to be; it really wasn’t the book’s fault as there really was nothing bad at all about it, it was me I just didn’t love it as I hoped I would.

The main protagonists of this novel are two sisters, which the book is centred around, and even though I don’t have any sisters I found them, up to a certain point to be very realistic; they had opposing views and opinions on most everything in their lives, and totally different personalities to each other which helped make them feel like more like siblings rather than two characters the Author had deemed must be related.  It was interesting to see how handled the circumstances they found themselves in, in their own way and this lent the feeling that although they were sisters they were still individuals in their own right.

Set in Nazi-occupied France, I found this novel to be full of good historical research, which the Author then included in the telling of the story.  This brought the reality of living under occupation to the front of the readers mind and helped them to live the experiences, to some degree that the characters were faced with.  It is easy to see why, after many days of seeing bodies hanging from trees in the village square one begins to not notice them anymore; it is a kind of self-preservation for the mind.

Why didn’t this make the much anticipated 5 thumbs review I was expecting to give it; I hate to say this but it was the romantic interludes  which seemed forced and unnatural, and the parts immediately following the end of the war  which, after considering everything I had read before, seemed a little anti-climatic.

I would highly recommend this novel to those who enjoy reading of this time period, but for me it didn’t make me want to read anything else written by this Author.

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Christmas Special: The Snowman ~ Raymond Briggs

As this week is Christmas week, I will be doing something special on the days I post.  Today we will begin with one of my favourites and, what better way to start, than with a few words from the Author himself:

“I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snows I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the whole world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day… and it was on that day I made the Snowman.” – Raymond Briggs

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Review: The Children’s Train: Escape on the Kindertransport ~ Jana Zinser

Children's trainISBN ~ 978-1939371850
Publisher ~BQB Publishing
No. Of Pages ~368 pages
Links ~ Netgalley, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

The Jewish children of Germany are frightened, and their parents are too. Hitler’s men have just broken their store windows, stolen and destroyed their belongings, and arrested many Jewish fathers and brothers. When England arranges to take the children out of Germany by train, the Kindertransport is organized. The train filled with Jewish children escaping the Nazis chugs over the border into Holland, where they are ferried across the English Channel to England and to freedom. But for Peter, the shy violin player, his sister Becca, and his friends Stephen and Hans, life in England holds challenges as well. Peter’s friend Eva, who did not get a seat on the Kindertransport, is left to the evil plans of Hitler. Peter, working his musician’s hands raw at a farm in Coventry, wonders if they should have stayed and fought back instead of escaping. That night the Coventry farm is bombed. The Nazis have reached England. Peter has nothing left. He decides it’s time to stand and fight Hitler. Peter returns to Germany to join the Jewish underground resistance, search for the mother and sister he left behind in Berlin, and rescue his childhood friend Eva.

5 Thumbs-Up I actually downloaded this novel for free from Netgalley, with the usual caveat I would provide an honest review, as if I write anything else, as it fit into my studies and was looking for a different fictional viewpoint for a paper I was writing.  Little did I know that once I started reading this I would find it very hard to put down.

There really aren’t any words I could write here that could make anyone read this book, particularly given the subject, but it surely is a book that needs to be read to ensure something as horrific and tragic as this never happens again. The Author writes mainly from the viewpoint of the children involved in the journey of the Kindertransport, but also takes time to bring to life on the page the awful decisions their parents had to make in letting them go.  As always with history, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at the time in which the novel is set many of these adults still did not believe their lives could possibly be in jeopardy, never mind the lives of their children.

Although there are few places in the book where the Author reminds us that this is truly a work of fiction, the novel is very informative and engrossing and I would highly recommend this book as reading for teenagers to help them understand another aspect of the Holocaust.  I am always indecisive when it comes to the issue of whether to read another novel on this subject, but I am glad I read this and will be looking out for more from this Author in the future.

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On The Road Again…..

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Beginning this week blog posts will be intermittent, if not downright absent, as we are on the move once again.

This move involves a cross country drive to the East Coast and, as such my access to the internet will be somewhat limited.  With this in mind, I just thought I would let you know that if there is nothing appearing for a while, don’t worry abandonment is not the issue.

Just in case I am not able to post on Thanksgiving, I am also going to take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and safe holiday season.

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Guest Article: Black Aggie ~ retold by S. E. Schlosser

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When Felix Agnus put up the life-sized shrouded bronze statue of a grieving angel, seated on a pedestal, in the Agnus family plot in the Druid Ridge Cemetery, he had no idea what he had started. The statue was a rather eerie figure by day, frozen in a moment of grief and terrible pain. At night, the figure was almost unbelievably creepy; the shroud over its head obscuring the face until you were up close to it. There was a living air about the grieving angel, as if its arms could really reach out and grab you if you weren’t careful.

It didn’t take long for rumors to sweep through the town and surrounding countryside. They said that the statue – nicknamed Black Aggie – was haunted by the spirit of a mistreated wife who lay beneath her feet. The statue’s eyes would glow red at the stroke of midnight, and any living person who returned the statues gaze would instantly be struck blind. Any pregnant woman who passed through her shadow would miscarry. If you sat on her lap at night, the statue would come to life and crush you to death in her dark embrace. If you spoke Black Aggie’s name three times at midnight in front of a dark mirror, the evil angel would appear and pull you down to hell. They also said that spirits of the dead would rise from their graves on dark nights to gather around the statue at night.

People began visiting the cemetery just to see the statue, and it was then that the local fraternity decided to make the statue of Grief part of their initiation rites. “Black Aggie” sitting, where candidates for membership had to spend the night crouched beneath the statue with their backs to the grave of General Agnus, became popular.

One dark night, two fraternity members accompanied new hopeful to the cemetery and watched while he took his place underneath the creepy statue. The clouds had obscured the moon that night, and the whole area surrounding the dark statue was filled with a sense of anger and malice. It felt as if a storm were brewing in that part of the cemetery, and to their chagrin, the two fraternity members noticed that gray shadows seemed to be clustering around the body of the frightened fraternity candidate crouching in front of the statue.

What had been a funny initiation rite suddenly took on an air of danger. One of the fraternity brothers stepped forward in alarm to call out to the initiate. As he did, the statue above the boy stirred ominously. The two fraternity brothers froze in shock as the shrouded head turned toward the new candidate. They saw the gleam of glowing red eyes beneath the concealing hood as the statue’s arms reached out toward the cowering boy.

With shouts of alarm, the fraternity brothers leapt forward to rescue the new initiate. But it was too late. The initiate gave one horrified yell, and then his body disappeared into the embrace of the dark angel. The fraternity brothers skidded to a halt as the statue thoughtfully rested its glowing eyes upon them. With gasps of terror, the boys fled from the cemetery before the statue could grab them too.

Hearing the screams, a night watchman hurried to the Agnus plot. To his chagrin, he discovered the body of a young man lying at the foot of the statue. The young man had apparently died of fright.

The disruption caused by the statue grew so acute that the Agnus family finally donated it to the Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C.. The grieving angel sat for many years in storage there, never again to plague the citizens visiting the Druid Hill Park Cemetery.

You can read more Maryland folktales and ghost stories in Spooky Maryland by S.E. Schlosser.

Wednesday Poem: Her Kind ~ Anne Sexton

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Her Kind

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

ANNE SEXTON

Review: Skippy Dies ~ Paul Murray

skippy diesISBN ~ 978-0141009957
Publisher ~Penguin Books Ltd
No. Of Pages ~660 pages
Links ~ Barnes & Noble, Amazon

Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies is a tragicomic masterpiece about a Dublin boarding school.  Long listed for the Man Booker Prize 2010 Ruprecht Van Doren is an overweight genius whose hobbies include very difficult maths and the Search of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Daniel ‘Skippy’ Juster is his roommate. In the grand old Dublin institution that is Seabrook College for Boys, nobody pays either of them much attention. But when Skippy falls for Lori, the frisbee-playing siren from the girls’ school next door, suddenly all kinds of people take an interest – including Carl, part-time drug-dealer and official school psychopath. . . A tragic comedy of epic sweep and dimension, Skippy Dies scours the corners of the human heart and wrings every drop of pathos, humour and hopelessness out of life, love, Robert Graves, mermaids, M-theory, and everything in between.

4 Thumbs-UpThis is the first book I’ve read written by this Author and, I’ll say this upfront, I’ll probably be hunting down some more of his books to read.

The whole book is centred on a group of teenage boys, one of whom dies within the first few pages.  However, this is not the last we read about this character as the book covers events leading up to the moment of his death.  Teenage boys are a totally different species to any walking the earth and the Author manages to catch their peculiarities perfectly in his character building.  He covers all those one would meet at a boarding school from the bookish to priests to parents, bullies and beyond; he then brings them to life and throws them into a story that grabs the reader from the very first.  The Author is able to capture their adolescent humour, their obvious obsession with anything remotely female (this being an all boy’s school) and set it down in a way that appeals to all readers.  Each of the characters is written skilfully, pulling on the different personality and traits that can be found in a variety of guises in this age group.  As a parent myself I remember my own son going through his teenage years and I picked him out of the crowd with no difficulty, along with a bevy of his ‘associates’.  The Author has managed to capture the classroom antics, attitude towards the teachers and classmate banter so well that there is no character that stands out from the others as the main protagonist; not even ‘Skippy’

This is by no means a ‘Lord of the Flies’ type book, and I would defy anyone not to be caught up in the humour of everything in this easy read.  Despite there being a huge number of characters, major themes and plot points the Author is able to juggle them all seamlessly and well.  I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for a light and humourous read.

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Wednesday Poem: Tree of Life ~ Erin Hanson

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This is the tree of life
And this is how it goes:
No one gets to choose the way in which the cold wind blows.

We can say our branch is strongest
That it’s highest and it’s best,
but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s connected to the rest.

So instead of ripping leaves off
Perhaps we ought to stop,
To ask ourselves why we’re convinced we belong right at the top.

And in this storm that we’re creating?
Well, the best view will be worst,
For when the lightning finally strikes

It strikes the top branch first.

Erin Hanson

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