Friday, April 21, 2017

Night of Cake and Puppets (A Companion Novella to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy) by Laini Taylor (audiobook)

genre: fantasy

This novella is truly nearly perfect. It's about one night, the night when Zuzana and her violin boy finally are brave enough to Carpe Diem and not pretend any more that they aren't perfect for each other. It's just a love story - between two characters which, if you've already read the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, you already love. It's also a bit of a love story to Prague, where the magic all happens. Plus, it is told in first person from both of their points of view and it is tender and so funny and witty and magical. Laini is just a word goddess, she just has a way with the words that makes the world a more beautiful place. SIGH. Listen to the audio. I swooned.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (audiobook)

genre: young adult fantasy

Yes.

This is the third time I've read (listened) to this book since March of 2012.

You know why?

Because it's amazing.

Here's my first review.

Here's where I listened to it and the second book again.

Yes.  I am now going to listen to them ALL again, plus the novella that's new.

Because they are romantic and thoughtful and terrible and otherwordly and make me uncomfortable because the characters I root for do horrible things and then have to walk through the hard of making things right.  It's so hard to do that well.  They make me dig deep, they make me think, plus they are entertaining.

Plus, I am sort of obsessed with Prague right now and this first book is set in a lot of places but very much in Prague, and I love that.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 by Madeleine K. Albright

genre: memoir, history

Madeline Albright was born Marie Jana Korbelov√° in a Czechoslovakia that was still in its infancy. With a bright and politically active father, her family was heavily involved in both the embassies and government of her home country.  When Hitler's power overshadowed the autonomy of Czechoslovakia, her family was forced to flee to England, where her father began working with the government in exile.  With her own family story as the basic construct, what this book really is, is a history of the Czech Republic during this time period - centering often around President Edvard Benes and Jan Masaryk, the foreign minister.  As this beleaguered country goes from independent to invaded to independent (barely) to under the thumb of Moscow, decisions both big and small undermine the efforts of those who yearned for a democratic republic.

I liked this and yet it wasn't quite what I was expecting.  I really liked the family history part of her narrative, what she remembers, what she finds out from family and what her research tells her.  We spend time in Theresienstadt concentration camp, the "model"camp the Germans built in the town of Terezin outside of Prague.  All of this was news to me and it was heartbreaking and yet moving at the same time.  The rest, though, is a LOT of dense political history.  I do feel far more educated about that period of time.  She is an astute and capable writer -  while I wasn't ever dying to pick it up, I liked her style.  Yes, it is very Czech-centric, but I think she does try to make a point of acknowledging when the Czech people or their leaders acted racist or made unfortunate decisions.

I would read other books by this woman who has lived such an interesting and global life.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

For Lazlo, his imaginings of the forgotten city of Weep feel more real than his own actual life as an orphan librarian. All his studying and reading creates far more questions than answers and when his dream of Weep has the possibility of becoming a reality, Lazlo knows that he can never be satisfied unless he takes this one specific chance.  This chance will lead him to knowing not only what caused Weep to disappear from memory, but also to a place where his waking life will be full of blue skinned gods, god slayers and a kind of magic that might open his eyes to world of infinite possibles.

There are few authors that give a story life and soul way that Laini Taylor does. Her characters are so complex and they have to grapple with intense and tangled situations. Just like in real life, there are no easy answers or clear-cut distinctions when it comes to matters of the heart or of right and wrong. The magic and fantasy in this book was everything I hoped for and expected - it is densely gorgeous and painfully distinctive in its beauty within tragedy, she just does that so well.  It is such a pleasure to have my incredibly high expectations met once again and read by Steve West, no less? It's like a dream come true. I wait with the greatest anticipation to see what happens to Laszlo and to Weep.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Prague Counterpoint by Bodie Thoene (Zion Covenant 2)

genre: historical fiction series

This is book two of the series, so you need to read book one before reading this review!

We pick up right where we left off.  Murphy and Elisa have made it safe to her family in Prague and Leah and Shimon are left in the newly Nazi-ized Vienna.  One new and important piece of this story is a set five year old twin boys whose very existence is going to complicate matters for both Leah and Elisa.  In a world where looking different is a punishable offense and Hitler's plans are becoming more and more obvious, it is time for everyone to choose what side they are on, regardless of the consequences.

I have forgotten so much of what happens!  I totally forgot about the twins, which really make this installment interesting and upsetting. I wish that Elisa and Murphy spent more time together, since I like their romance, but it moves along nicely and while some horrible and violent things happen, I love to see how the pieces interconnect. There is so much history here, while there is some western-European bias, obviously, the books really do a good job of getting the sequence of things straight in your head.



Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie J. Davis

genre: memoir, Christian

Let me first state the the efforts Katie is making to provide relief from suffering in Uganda deserves five stars.  Hands down.  I am sincerely impressed by how she is choosing to live her life. When Katie graduated from high school, she chose to go to Africa to not only serve those in need with the basics of food, water, shelter and medical care, but she also is on fire to share her love of Jesus Christ with everyone.  Her faith sustains her through things that are upsetting and overwhelming.  I respect all of this a lot.

My issues with this book stem with not only with the unbelievable repetition throughout the book but also the sense that as a white Christian person she is superior somehow, although she does, over and over, give all the credit to God.  I especially had a hard time with all the talk about her daughter's brown faces, "chocolate" faces, why do we always have to talk about how they, the recipients of her charity, are black skinned?  I don't know why that rubbed me so wrong but it did.

The audio was really hard to listen to.  The reader has a very strong Chicago accent that accentuated Katie's otherness instead of bringing me with her to Africa.  She also sounds so YOUNG.  And yes, Katie is young, which is another thing that makes the story grate on me a little bit.  She is so inexperienced and yet she somehow raises hundreds of thousands of dollars to put so many children in school without that much seeming effort.  Again, not downplaying what she's trying to do.

What I wanted was more stories.  Stories of the people she helped, changes she saw.  Mostly I was told over and over that God is good, He helps us when we're broken and He heals our wounds. Please know I AM NOT MOCKING THESE STATEMENTS.  I believe them myself, deeply - I have a strong testimony of Jesus Christ and How he can change lives.  It's just that I wanted a different kind of book, I guess.  Not fair to Katie, maybe, but there you go.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Vienna Prelude by Bodie Thoene

genre: Christian historical fiction

I first read this series of books twenty years ago (literally within a month of twenty years, I just looked it up!) and when I saw three of the middle books on the shelf at the thrift store, I snatched them up.  Back then, I fell in love with this set of stories for their multidimensional characters, the thorough historical setting and for the romantic interplay between our main character, the German violinist Elisa and John, the American journalist.  I also liked that faith is a part of the story, that people choose to use their faith to give them the strength to stand up, in whatever way they can, to the evil that they are surrounded by.

In this first book, we learn Elisa is Jewish but her appearance allows her to have an Aryan stage name.  This allows her some safety within the growing cloud of Nazi power but, living in Vienna and playing in the orchestra there means that she is not far from a violent that is nearly boiling over into her beloved adopted homeland of Austria.  John Murphy, meanwhile, is abreast of all political developments and he can see the writing on the wall.  Elisa's best friend is openly Jewish and sees Palestine as an option but Elisa knows that her heart remains in Europe - but at what cost?  And what of the danger she can't help but see?

I like that the authors are certainly Christian but see all faith as important.  I like that they do not shy away from the violence - if they did, I couldn't believe their story - but they aren't trying to shock me.  There is a lot of political stuff in here, straight up history that these characters are a part of.   They aren't perfect - sometimes a little repetitive, sometimes the romance is a bit to romance-novely-flip-floppy but I just kind of love it anyway.  I am going to read this whole dang series again, I think.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (audiobook)

genre: historical fiction

Three women.  Three countries.  One war.

Caroline Ferriday lives a glittering New York City life, volunteering at the French Consulate and supporting whatever other charities catch her fancy.

In Lublin, Poland, Kasia Kuzmerick is a typical teenager when Nazi forces invade her homeland and her heart forces her to take a stand.

Herta Oberheuser is trying to make a place for herself as a doctor and a female in an increasingly hostile Germany.  When she sees a job opening at a reeducation camp, it seems like the perfect place to begin to get some real medical experience.

After two different friends from very different parts of my life recommended this book to me over a short period, I decided to make it be my next audiobook.  I was hooked from the start.  The three distinct voices (all very well performed) helped me to immerse myself in this World War II story of destruction and unthinkable evil that somehow produces stories of hope, courage and kindness.   I have to say that our author did well having Herta as one of the narrators.  It is HARD to read the point of view of the enemy - it humanizes them in a way that makes swift judgements complicated.  I feel like it made the story far deeper and more powerful to have some sense of her side of the story - not that it frees her from blame but that it gives us a sense of how complicated it was to be a German, especially a woman trying to practice medicine, at that time.

It took a while for me to figure out how all three of these women would come together but I really was engaged in how it did and I especially like that it is based on true events. I appreciated that our story went far beyond the end of the war, not shying from the emotional implications of experiencing the kind of trauma that concentration camp survivors endured even though they were freed. Sometimes the big jumps in time felt a tiny bit discombobulating but it didn't ever take long for me to feel settled again.. I wept at the end, amazed at the power that truth and knowledge can give to us.

If you enjoy World War II literature as I do, I'd suspect you'll find this a unique addition to the genre. I thought the audio was excellently done.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

genre: historical fiction

Moth's life in the slums of New York City is harsh and, alone with her mother, both lonely and joyless.  Set just post Civil-War, there few opportunities available for girls on the dirty streets of the Lower East Side.  When Moth is left to fend for herself she manages to find her way to food, shelter and safety - but the price will be so hard to pay.

I chose this because I enjoy stories of early New York and it was on sale for a dollar on my Kindle - I didn't really read very closely what it was about and so I didn't know what to expect.  Here's what I liked: the historical setting and the world that Moth lives in, I liked that I learned some things and whenever I Googled something, the author was spot on, so I felt like it was pretty historically accurate.  I liked one of the secondary characters, a female doctor, a lot.

Do I LOVE to read books about prostitution, especially involving young girls?  I don't so much, so people should know ahead of time that's much of the story.  You'd THINK I'd have guessed it from the title but I just totally didn't even pay attention to that. Although it's not particularly graphic, it's still hard to read about such heartbreaking decisions and, truthfully, as much I felt sad for Moth, the writing style just didn't help me get completely attached to her.  It's told with a lot of stops and starts as we have some journal entries from other characters and newspaper articles and advertisements.  I liked the information and the overall flow of the story but the ending wrapped up really quickly with at least one serious loose end, I felt rushed out the door.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to http://ratedreads.com

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Twelve Little Cakes by Dominika Dery

genre: memoir

When Dominika is born, her country of Czechoslovakia is under the iron fist of Communism.  Her parents, however, are dissidents which makes Dominika's life a struggle, to say the least.  In a world where her neighbors are ready to report any movement her family makes, where every project requires bribery of some kind and there is only ever money to barely get by, Dominika somehow ends up with a loving and, strangely enough, charming childhood.  Beginning in her very early years, Dominika's memoir of living in the outskirts of Prague during the late 70s and 80s paints a unique picture.  She is a clever and naughty one, sometimes her antics made me cringe or laugh out loud!

Especially as she gets older, I truly got a sense of what life must've been like living in Prague during that time period.  The clear juxtaposition between party elite and those who do not support the regime.  It's almost comical, how her father had to finagle everything because he refused to give in to the pressure.  When I put it together that she's only about 18 months older than me, I had to wrap my brain around how different our two upbringings were, despite the fact that we were going through it all at the same time.  Sometimes it even felt nearly dystopian, like 1984, the way you were watched, interrogated, fired from your employment.  I can't imagine the relief when the Velvet Revolution finally created a more open government - little Dominika's entire childhood was a shifting and growing awareness of how different she was because of her family's decision to not support the Communist government.

I really liked this - it's an incredibly readable story and while I always have a hard time with memoirs that are so descriptive when one was so very young that you can't possibly remember EVERYTHING, even the tone of the book, Dominika's experiences at school and with her family, they just were good reading whether they were perfectly accurate or not. She a refreshing little heroine and despite her family's hardships, she seems to have been given an incredibly solid foundation.
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