Category Archives: 3 stars

Victoria – Daisy Goodwin

Review (Amazon):

Drawing on Queen Victoria’s diaries, which she first started reading when she was a student at Cambridge University, Daisy Goodwin―creator and writer of the new PBS Masterpiece drama Victoriaand author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter―brings the young nineteenth-century monarch, who would go on to reign for 63 years, richly to life in this magnificent novel.

Early one morning, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria is roused from bed with the news that her uncle William IV has died and she is now Queen of England. The men who run the country have doubts about whether this sheltered young woman, who stands less than five feet tall, can rule the greatest nation in the world.

Despite her age, however, the young queen is no puppet. She has very definite ideas about the kind of queen she wants to be, and the first thing is to choose her name.

“I do not like the name Alexandrina,” she proclaims. “From now on I wish to be known only by my second name, Victoria.”

Next, people say she must choose a husband. Everyone keeps telling her she’s destined to marry her first cousin, Prince Albert, but Victoria found him dull and priggish when they met three years ago. She is quite happy being queen with the help of her prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who may be old enough to be her father but is the first person to take her seriously.

On June 19th, 1837, she was a teenager. On June 20th, 1837, she was a queen. Daisy Goodwin’s impeccably researched and vividly imagined new book brings readers Queen Victoria as they have never seen her before.

My Review:

Executive Summary: not worth reading

This book gets great reviews, and also there’s also the related PBS special, but I honestly thought it was quite boring. It basically took the reign of one of the greatest monarch’s of England, and condensed it down into a silly girl’s love story. I’m not really OK with that. The book basically covered ~2 years of Victoria’s life from right before when she became queen to when she proposed to Albert.

Victoria, whose name is Alexandrina Victoria, is about 17.5 years old when the book starts. Her father has died, her mother and her “friend” John Conroy look after her exceptionally closely, and her only real friends are her lady Lehzen and her dog Dash. She’s extremely sheltered and plays with dolls. She isn’t allowed to play with other children or even sleep in a room separate from her mother. Upon the death of her uncle, the previous king, she is just over 18 years old and is next in line to the throne. But no one believes that a young girl should be the queen (and frankly the portrayal in this book makes me agree).

Victoria  moves into the Buckingham house and starts to call it the Buckingham Palace. She sleeps in a room all to herself, essentially banning her mother and Conroy to the other end of the palace, and she develops a close relationship with “Lord M” aka the prime minister Lord Melbourne. Throughout the book, we don’t get to see Victoria develop into a leader who is competent and respected. We get to see her crushing on Lord M – a man 40 years her senior.

Shortly after she becomes queen, there’s quite a bit of drama as she becomes misguided by rumors and her hatred for Conroy. She orders the royal doctor to examine her mother’s lady-in-waiting, Lady Flora Hastings as she believes that she is pregnant to  Conroy. She’s not. She has an invasive tumor and dies shortly thereafter, and there is some sizable damage to Victoria’s reputation.

Everyone and their brother is working on trying to find Victoria a husband since she’s too unstable to rule without one. While Victoria thinks herself an independent queen like Queen Elizabeth, this book certainly paints her as someone who probably does need a husband. She can’t marry Lord M for a variety of reasons despite she supposedly wanting to, so we are introduced to a plethora of suitors – the soon-to-be Russian tsar (although this is also not a valid option for political reasons), her cousin George, and Leopold, Victoria’s mother’s brother, who is the King of the (newly formed) Belgians, insists on visiting with his sons Albert and Ernst.

It’s quickly apparent that Albert is the only viable option, despite Victoria loathing him and thinking he is such a bore until they sit down to play the piano together side by side, and the feel of him touching up against her is just electric. She soon proposes (is is customary for the Queen as she’s not just some ordinary lady), and he agrees, and the book ends leaving the rest of Victoria’s life for another story.

Verdict: 3 stars

I think I am either too old or just not the right target audience for this book. It felt very flighty and young adult to me, and according to other articles such as this one, a lot of it was untrue widely embellished. So I’d say skip the book, watch the PBS special because although I haven’t seen it, I am a big Doctor Who fan, and Jenna Coleman is quite impressive.

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The Girl from Everywhere – Heidi Heilig

Review (Amazon): As the daughter of a time traveler, Nix has spent sixteen years sweeping across the globe and through the centuries aboard her father’s ship. Modern-day New York City, nineteenth-century Hawaii, other lands seen only in myth and legend—Nix has been to them all.

But when her father gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. Rae Carson meets Outlander in this epic debut fantasy.

If there is a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place and any time. But now that he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, the year before Nix’s mother died in childbirth—Nix’s life, her entire existence, is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years.

My Review:

Executive Summary: creative

We ended up selecting this book for our October 2017 bestseller (originally listed as TBD), and generally, I thought it was pretty good.

Unfortunately, my review on this is quite a few months late, so it’s going to be a bit limited on details, but if you like time travel and pirates, it’s definitely one to check out.

The ship, the Temptation, is captained by Slate. It isn’t obvious at first that this is the father of the main character, Nix. Nix and her father don’t really see eye to eye, and throughout the story we piece together why. The ship is controlled like the captain in a way similar to a normal ship, however, with the Temptation, if the captain has a map, he can not only find his way to the place, but also to the specific time in which the map was made. It’s not really explained (obviously because it isn’t a real thing), but it’s called Navigation, and only Slate can do it. He’s trying to get back to Hawai’i in 1868 where Nix’s mother died, awaiting Slate’s return.

The crew, including dreamy Kashmir, set off on various quests to acquire various items. Some are things like the bird who can allegedly cure any ailment, to things like tigers for bargaining for new maps. When they first arrive in Hawai’i, it’s 1884. They missed the year by a lot. Nix goes to speak to her mother’s friend Joss who still lives there in the opium den (now an “apothecary”) where Joss gives Nix her mother’s dragon and says she does have a map for them which they will get later. On her way back, she meets a white boy with a fancy family named Blake. He’s an artist and shows her some secret parts of the island and tells her about some of the legends of Hawai’i.

A sketchy sort of man named Mr D turns up to talk to Slate. He has an 1868 map to sell for $900k, and an additional catch is that the money has to be stolen from the Royal Hawaiian Treasury. It’s obvious through the discussion is the intention to replace the king with a new leader. Slate agrees to think about it, and he will give an answer at the upcoming ball where he’ll be able to see the map.

In the meantime, they investigate the treasury. Nix is being wooed by both Kashmir and Blake. She learns that Blake’s father, who is hosting the ball, has many important friends. Blake himself though loves Hawai’i and its history and culture.

Nix learns that the map which got them there was a back-dated map from Joss, so that the Temptation would arrive in the wrong time, and Joss provides Nix with a different map – one of the Qin dynasty of the tomb of the first emperor (the one with the terra cotta warriors)

They attend the ball, see the map, and Slate agrees to the terms. Blake explains later while dancing with Nix that the men are part of the Hawaiian League (the group wanting Hawaii to be annexed by America) and that Nix shouldn’t let her father get involved. Kashmir is found by Nix rolling around with Mrs. Hart and then is caught with the map which Nix stole which is unfortunate because Slate has made an agreement with Mr. Hart alone which is much better than the original plan, but the theft causes him to ever to the original.

Slate is furious, and Nix threatens to go to the police about the plan. He says if she helps him with the plan, he’ll teach her to Navigate…

They meet the Hawaiian League again to discuss the plan, and Nix goes back to visit Joss with this magical bird that they found at the start of the book. It can cure anything, and it cures Joss of her blindness. It is revealed that Joss can Navigate and she and Nix have a very intertwined life. Joss dies in the fire of 1886, but she also came to the exact location after 1886 to get her treasure and then returns to 1841 to live. She introduces Nix’s parents, and reveals that the reasons that none of the maps have worked thus far is that the same person cannot exist in the same place. In every attempt, Nix has been on board the Temptation, and she’s also been alive in the time they are trying to get to.

Blake draws them a map of the exact time they are in Hawai’i so they can return exactly to where they are, and they head off first to ancient China to obtain some terra cotta warriors. Not only did Qin bury the previous emperor with his warriors, but also with the tradesmen and women who made them. This is Nix’s first time to Navigate, and after some work and a few tries, she is successful. Nix and Kashmir use a crude canoe to get into the tomb where they leave the map of Chinatown in 1886 for Joss (she is trapped in the tomb, and apparently somehow escapes using that map) and to awaken some of the warriors to take back to Hawaii with them.

They return to Hawai’i and begin working on the plan. They will use to terra cotta warriors, who Nix has brought to “life” to convince the guards at the treasury that they are the Night Marchers (a legend in Hawai’i). Then they take the bottomless bag and fill it with the money. In a turn of events, Mr. Hart double crosses them and runs off with the money. In the meantime, Blake finds Nix at her post and realizes what is going on. They run to find Slate and Kashmir but no one knows where Mr. Hart is. Slate chased him for a while, and managed to get the bag of money back, but Mr. Hart still has the map. When they are about to bury the bag, they realize that Mr. Hart cleverly has hidden himself in the bag too.

Mr. Hart says he needs to get away from his wife who spends all the money and sleeps around. He wants Nix to take the Temptation and take him far away. Obviously everyone disagrees and are trying to convince Mr. Hart otherwise to no avail. And he has a gun and they do not. A shot rings out and they realize that Blake had been hiding  nearby, and hearing his father confess to shooting Blake’s uncle, the mapmaker of the map they are trying to make, he shoots his father in the arm. Mr. Hart then shoots his own son, and then Kashmir who is luckily wearing a Kevlar vest. Nix jumps on him, digging into his wounded shoulder and he grabs her by the hair, and also the gold all while holding a gun, and then the mystical Hawaiian warriors come and take Mr. Hart never to be seen again, and Blake is healed by the mystical healing spring. He shows them he has the map, and they head to the ship.

Nix approaches her father and tells her she has the map, but he can’t use it if she’s with him. She will have to go her own route if he wants to make it back to her mother. He tells her that Blake has asked to come along on the ship and he has agreed. He tells her that he is no longer going to try going back to Hawai’i because he can’t leave her. The book ends with Slate asking her where they should go.

Verdict: 3 stars

I really liked the idea of this book, but I didn’t like the specific plot. Think of all the various places and things that you could do with maps and time traveling, especially in the age of the Internet, and yet the majority of the book was spent in Hawai’i. I found the ending to be too convoluted and confusing, and I just wanted a bit more.

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What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – Marshall Goldsmith

Review (Amazon): Whether you are near the top of the ladder or still have a ways to climb, this book serves as an essential guide to help you eliminate your dysfunctions and move to where you want to go.

Marshall Goldsmith is an expert at helping global leaders overcome their sometimes unconscious annoying habits and attain a higher level of success. His one-on-one coaching comes with a six-figure price tag. But, in this book, you get Marshall’s great advice without the hefty fee!

My Review:

Executive Summary: Skip all the chapters and just read the last one

This was my book for the year as part of my development plan at work. It was suggested to me by another book club member to choose as she had found it to be one of the best self-improvement sort of books. Unfortunately, I didn’t really feel the same. Last year I read How to Win Friends and Influence People which I thought was pretty good, and really simple, but this book seemed to reiterate a lot of the stuff from the much older Carnegie book, and I didn’t feel like I was at a point in my career where I really was at the point of needing this book. For instance, the intro page says “To all successful leaders who want to ‘take it to the next level’ and get even better”. Maybe I’m being cynical, but I don’t think that anyone at work considers me a “successful leader”, so I just felt like the book was meant for people at a different stage in their career.

The book is divided into four sections:

Section One – The Trouble with Success – which discusses where you are in your career, why the author is qualified to help you, and why psychologically we as humans are opposed to change. Pretty basic.

Section Two – The Twenty Habits That Hold You Back from the Top – so this section lists out not twenty, but twenty-one bad habits you have that are holding you back. These are things like “passing judgment” or “speaking when angry”. All incredibly basic, and very similar to my previous read. The twenty-first habit is “goal obsession”. Unfortunately this is the chapter that hit me that this book wasn’t really for me. I’m not goal obsessed. In fact, I don’t actually have any goals at work because I have a corporate job and setting goals, to me, is just a way to be disappointed. I used to have goals, but I stopped setting them pretty early in my career after a shitty manager who never gave me a performance review…three years in a row.

Section Three – How We Can Change for the Better – discusses seven different ways of how you can improve. Again, it’s incredibly basic stuff. Like the stuff you leaned in kindergarten but somehow becoming a CEO makes you forget how to do the basics like apologizing, thanking, and listening. Seriously, those are three of the chapters. I mean, I get it. Sometimes people need to be reminded of those sort of things, but I don’t think that the people who are awful at listening realize that they are awful at listening. There are a few better sections in here which relate to feedback, follow up, and what he calls “feedforward”. This chapter actually could have some use if you are honest with yourself about what it is that you would want to change, and then have a good team of people in your life to help you stick with it.

Section Four – Pulling Out the Stops – these last thirty pages are really all you need. They go over how to maximize how to make any change in your life. A lot of the examples are compared to losing weight – something relatable that requires diligence and attention – and explains how a behavioral change is similar. There are a lot of good and relevant examples in this section, but not enough to make the book great overall.

Verdict: 3 stars

I’m assuming I’m going to have to pick another book for next year for my development plan, and I’m going to have to do a better job. Maybe if I had read this book without previously having read the Carnegie book, I would have liked it more. I just felt like it wasn’t telling me much that was new. I have a couple options already for books for next year. I’d love for anyone to weigh in on good ones.

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The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly

Review (Amazon):

High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother. He is angry and alone, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness, and as he takes refuge in his imagination, he finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a land that is a strange reflection of his own world, populated by heroes and monsters, and ruled over by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book… The Book of Lost Things.

An imaginative tale about navigating the journey into adulthood, while doing your best to hang on to your childhood.

My Review (Spoilers):

Executive Summary: Mediocre

I really wanted to like this book, but I just could not get into it. It felt overdone and slow, and I really started to dislike how all the good people were men and all the evil people were women, which is really odd for a boy who is missing his mother.

We are introduced in the most cliche “Once upon a time” way to the main character, David, who had lost his mother. She had been slowly dying for a while, and David thought that his OCD activities could keep her alive. When she died, he took it as a personal failure, and in his bad dreams, the Crooked Man started appearing to him in his dreams.

Five months, three weeks and four days after his mother died, a new woman named Rose started joining David and his dad for things. Once David put 2 and 2 together, he started having panic attacks and was sent to a psychiatrist. Things get even worse when he finds out that Rose is pregnant. She has the baby, a boy, and the combined family moves out to the country (it’s WW2 time in England). The house is a family home of Rose’s and while he hates the whole situation, he loves the old fairy tale books in his room.

He eventually finds out that they were the books of Jonathan Tulvey, who was Rose’s uncle. He disappeared at age 14 with another little girl Anna, who Rose’s grandparents had taken in when her parents had died in an unfortunate fire. They were never found.

The tension between David and Rose continues to grow, and there’s a big fight at dinner which David takes that it’s his fault. He storms off, and walks out of his house. When he looks back at the house from the edge of the yard, he sees a figure in his room–the Crooked Man. He races back inside, gets his father, and they investigate–to find a magpie in there instead. That night, he dreams of his mother’s voice calling him from the sunken garden in the back of the yard.

The next day, David and Rose have a huge fight which causes David’s father to be very upset with David too. Because of this, he goes back to the sunken garden and enters a different world. When he gets inside, he encounters the Woodsman. The Woodsman helps David tie a string to the tree which he came in from so he can find it again. The Woodsman tells David that the king has a book of lost things so they must find the king so that he can help David return home. But to do so, they must escape the wolves and the Loups (wolves who have evolved into more human-like form) who are very hungry. They make it to the Woodsman’s house where David wonders why his mother is luring him here with the voices that he’s hearing in his dreams, and what the role of the Crooked Man (who the Woodsman tells him is a very bad man who steals children) is.

The Woodsman tries to help David with his OCD. He explains that he has rules too. Every day he cleans his ax. He checks the house is secure, etc. etc. David begins to think this over as the Woodsman tells him that they must go back and try to get the hole in the tree to reappear because he fears he can’t keep David safe. When they return, every tree has a string on it. So the Woodsman decides to continue the original thought of taking David to the king. When they get to the bridge, with the wolves and Loups hot on their trail, there are trolls guarding the bridges. One of the bridges is fake, but they have to determine which by solving the riddle. He solves it correctly, but the wolves are right there. They chase after David, some falling on the fake bridge, but the Woodsman stays to fight them off so that David can get away.

Next David meets the dwarves who then introduce him to Snow White, who they tried to poison with an apple because she’s so unbearable. She’s morbidly obese and bosses the dwarves around making them cook and clean for her. They lead him on his way.

As he’s walking, he sees an unusual sight–a centaur of sorts. Half human girl, and half deer. She’s panicking and he realizes why. She’s being hunted, and is killed in front of him. The hunter threatens him and then hog ties him and takes him back with her. She’s a maniac who uses a special magic salve to reattach and reanimate animals together, including human children. Then she releases them and hunts them for sport. Obviously she’s saving David for an experiment, but he manages to outsmart her by convincing her to become a centaur and then killing her and then managing to get out of there.

Next he meets the soldier Roland, who is nice to him like the Woodsman. Roland keeps him company and helps him get along more quickly on horseback. They come upon a terrible scene where many have died. David meets the Crooked Man there who shows him an image of his dad, Rose, and Georgie happy and not missing him one bit. David is furious and Roland calms him, teaching him strength and how to defend himself. Roland is on a mission to find out what happened to his “friend” (it’s the 40s) Raphael. In the process, he saves a village from a Beast, but then the Crooked Man catches up to David. He shows David the snout of the wolf that had been sent to track him. He tells David more in detail what he is doing. He will make David a deal that his father will love him alone. David suspects there is more to the story. The Crooked Man wants to know what David’s brother’s name is, but David won’t tell him. The Crooked Man is furious and David goes back to Roland and they continue their quest.

Roland and David eventually find the Enchantress who has lured so many men, including Raphael, to their deaths. Roland goes in ahead, and he, like the others does not make it out alive. The Crooked Man tries to keep David from going in after him using his mom’s voice, but David persists. He doesn’t get lured by the temptations, and when he sees Roland impaled, he becomes enraged and lures out the Enchantress and impales her.

David continues alone to find the King, and when he gets there, he finds the King is expecting him. He has a luxurious room, and eats well and goes to sleep. He awakes suddenly for no reason, and finds that the guards have left his room. He sneaks out and overhears the Crooked Man speaking to the King. The King is dying. The Crooked Man says that the book of lost things has no value, but the King says that it has value to him. David opens it and realizes that it’s all from “his” world and is a book of mementos and diary entries. The king as a younger boy had a young girl arrive in his life, and he was enraged. David can relate to the story, and then at the end realizes that the King is Jonathan Tulvey.

David finds a secret passageway to where the Crooked Man goes, and finds all sorts of horrors. In one of the last rooms, he finds a large hourglass nearing its end as well as a little girl in a jar. Her name is Anna. David realizes that Jonathan brought Anna there as part of the bargain. In return, Jonathan became king and the old Queen was allowed to die. Anna was killed and the Crooked Man ate her heart. She’s been trapped in the jar since. The Crooked Man grows weaker by the day, and David realizes that the hourglass is the Crooked Man’s life. He’s waiting for David to make the deal with him for Georgie so that he can continue to live.

This is where the book should have ended. It doesn’t. It goes on for another quarter to a third of the book with a wolf/Loup attack on the castle. The main Loup kills the King. The Crooked Man dies as he runs out of time, and the King’s death causes the disappearance of the Loups as they were created by the King’s nightmares. And then, just for good measure, the Woodsman, who wasn’t dead, reappears to take David home. -_-

David returns home. It turns out he’s in the Wizard of Oz and this whole thing was a dream while he was in a coma after being hit with some debris from the downed German bomber which crashed near him just as he entered the woods. When he awakes, he goes on to be a model citizen, but nothing ever fully goes right for him. His eventual wife and son die, so he becomes a writer. He writes beloved children stories until he’s old and gray, and eventually he goes back to where he first entered the forest and the Woodsman is waiting for him.

Verdict: 3 stars

Too cliché for my tastes. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be a young adult book, but it felt like one for very young adults if anything. As someone who solidly counts as an adult these days (sigh), I found it too overdone, too dramatic (I have a new brother, woe is me), and just not fun or enchanting in any way.

 

 

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And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie

Review (Amazon): 

“Ten . . .”
Ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion off the Devon coast by a mysterious “U. N. Owen.”

“Nine . . .”
At dinner a recorded message accuses each of them in turn of having a guilty secret, and by the end of the night one of the guests is dead.

“Eight . . .”
Stranded by a violent storm, and haunted by a nursery rhyme counting down one by one . . . as one by one . . . they begin to die.

“Seven . . .”
Which among them is the killer and will any of them survive?

My Review (spoilers):

Executive Summary: creative

Whoa. It’s been almost 2 months since I posted a review. O_O Part of that is because I tried reading One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest for book club and failed dramatically. I tried multiple times, but just couldn’t get into it. So I skipped that and moved onto this one which I read in a weekend!

I’m not sure why, but the book made me think of the board game Clue. I guess because there were so many people who were all suspects.

An island recently changed ownership and there was lots of gossip and speculation of who bought it. Was it a Mr. Owen or a Hollywood film star? It has previously been owned by an American millionaire who had the most lavish parties. So naturally when people get invites to Soldier Island, no matter how obscure the invite is, they go! Specifically Justice Wargrave from his acquaintance Constance Culmington, who he hadn’t seen in 7 or 8 years. Or Vera Claythorne who was offered a holiday secretarial post, or Phillip Lombard who was offered 100 guineas to keep an eye on things on the island. Or Emily Brent, who was offered a stay at a formal guest house (not one of those modern places with gramophones). She couldn’t even determine who the letter had come from, but it was so appealing, she went anyway. General Macarthur was invited to have a chat with some buddies from old times. Dr. Armstrong was invited by Mr. Owen who worried about his wife’s health and offered a large check to ensure the best. Tony Marston was invited out for a party. Mr. Blore…

They arrive to the island and find that Mr. and Mrs. Owen are nowhere to be found, but Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, the servants, have already arrived in advance for preparations. The house is very nice, and each room has a framed copy of “Ten Little Soldiers” (much more racist in previous versions of the book) as well as a series of ten figurines on the dining room table.

After dinner, a record is put on by Mrs. Rogers, as instructed by the owners, and it goes around to accuse each and every guest, including the Rogerses of murder. Everyone is shocked and aghast (some are in denial). They compare stories and realize that none of them know who the Owenses are. In fact, the name itself suggests from various letters to be U. N. Owen or Unkown. After the reading, Tony Marsten finishes his drink and collapses on the floor dead. One of the ten figurines is broken.

It then follows quickly that the next morning Mrs. Rogers does not awake due to an overdose, and later that day, General MacArthur is found dead from a blow to the head. The deaths follow the nursery rhyme, and each time someone dies, a figurine is broken from the table. It is decided that some of the men should go out on a search party to find the killer, but they come back empty handed. There’s no one on the island but themselves.

The following morning, Mr. Rogers is found dead out where he was chopping wood to start the fire for breakfast. Later that afternoon, Mrs. Brent is dead from a hypodermic needle (to resemble a bee sting) to the neck. The men then decide that they ought to round up all weaponry and lock it up so to do so, they search everyone’s rooms as well. Later when Vera goes up to take a bath, she finds that someone has hung seaweed from the ceiling in her room. She screams and then men run up to see the commotion. When they return downstairs, they find that Judge Wargrave has been dressed like a judge and shot, presumably using Lombard’s revolver. Again, like with the other deaths, Dr. Armstrong confirms death.

When they go to bed that evening, Lombard is surprised to see his gun back in his nightstand. Blore awakes that evening to hear steps outside. He sneaks out to see a retreating figure, and when Blore and Lombard find that Armstrong is not in his room, they and Vera assume that he is the killer (particularly because that part of the rhyme says that the soldier was eaten by a red herring). The remaining three stay together the next day, even trying to send out an SOS to the mainland, until Blore separates from the other two to go back into the house for some food, and he is killed by a large clock being pushed out of the window from Vera’s room (but Vera is outside with Lombard. Vera and Lombard assume that the missing Armstrong is who killed Blore until they find Armstrong well decomposed washed up on the beach.

At this point, they both assume that each other is the killer. Vera manages to get Lombard’s gun from him and shoots him. Then in a state of shock, she returns to her room and in a delusion, her former love entices her to hang herself with the seaweed on her ceiling.

The epilogue follows that Scotland Yard is investigating the homicides, and they are going through the records of each person. The Rogerses were thought to have let a previous employer die from neglect. Justice Wargrave convicted a likable man who most thought was innocent although after the hanging, information came out to prove that he had been guilty. Vera was the governess for a family whose child had drowned. She had swam out to save him but it was too late. Dr Armstrong had had a patient die in his care due to clumsiness. Miss Brent had a servant who had gotten pregnant. Because of the stigma, Miss Brent fired her and the girl drowned herself. And Marston hit and killed two children due to reckless driving, but they were poor and he was let off with just a fine. Lombard, MacArthur, and Blore, they weren’t too sure about. The order of deaths is recorded in the diaries and notes of various people on the island. It is confusing though that when the police found the murder scene, the chair under Vera’s body had been placed back upright. They have no idea who was the killer.

The book ends with a note in a bottle which was sent to Scotland Yard from the island from Justice Wargrave admitting his guilt. His time on the bench made him hunger for justice, and even murder. He himself being sick allowed him to create an elaborate murder and then kill himself in the process. Through talks with various people, he found 9 people who were guilty of crimes that the result was too difficult to prove. And then he killed them one by one, rigging an elaborate system to shoot himself in the end.

Verdict: 3 stars

I liked the idea of this book, but I found the ending to be a bit weird. It seems odd that the Justice sent a message in a bottle instead of just leaving a note, and also if one is going to fake a murder, I’d think killing by poison rather than an elaborate use of rigging up a way to fire a gun at yourself makes a lot more sense. It also didn’t make sense that Armstrong had agreed to tell the remaining others that Justice Wargrave had died when he hadn’t. I didn’t understand that at all. I also found the death of Vera to be very unrealistic and bizarre. I have read one other Agatha Christie book which I liked much better. My mom has read every one of Christie’s books which are still available, and she mentioned that she thought this one was kind of mediocre in comparison.

 

 

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The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

Review (Amazon):  It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: blah

This book has been on my To Read list for ages, but boy did it not live up to the expectations! A month after reading it (I’m getting caught up from my vacation!) and I can barely remember what the book was about or what the point was. I feel sometimes like you could set any book in Nazi Germany and it will somehow be a winner.

This book was far too long with characters that were so dull, you forgot about them before you even closed the book. Oh, and the narrator of the book? It’s death. Like grim reaper death. -_- I hated that.

The main character, Liesel Meminger, is 10 years old and lives with Hans and Rosa Hubermann. The Hubermanns have a few older (out of the house) children, and to make a little extra money, they agreed to take in Liesel. They were supposed to also take his brother but unfortunately he died on the trip to their house. Liesel and her mother bury her brother, and Liesel “steals” her first book–one she finds about grave digging. Liesel’s parents are communists so it’s not a safe time for them to live in Germany. Luckily Liesel has blonde hair and “looks German” so she can blend in. Her best friend is named Rudy, and he is a bit of a troublemaker. They play soccer in the streets and Liesel works hard to catch up in school.

Her father realizes that she is behind and also that she wants to be able to read her books so he has late night sessions with her to learn to read her books. Hans was a soldier in WW1 but he can’t seem to figure out where to stand on the Hitler movement despite his son being quite involved. Hans had a great friend in the war who was Jewish so he has a hard time prejudicing them.

Rosa helps out Hans’s painting jobs by doing laundry for some wealthy families in town. As times get tougher in Germany with the war efforts, she sends Liesel to drop off and collect the laundry assuming that people would be less able to cancel on a little girl. Liesel befriends the mayor’s wife who has a giant library. Ilsa gives Liesel books to read, including the journal which she writes her story (which Death is narrating), but eventually Ilsa has to stop her laundry service. This upsets Liesel who starts breaking into the library with Rudy’s help to “steal” books.

One day, a strange man shows up at the Hubermann’s and it turns out to be the son of Hans’s WW1 Jewish friend. The Hubermanns decide to shelter him in their basement where he and Liesel become great friends. She reads to him, and Max paints and writes stories for her.

The war progresses and the times to go to a bomb shelter become more frequent. The Hubermanns have to go to a neighbor’s as their own basement is not deep enough. While in the shelter, Liesel reads to the group of neighbors to keep their minds occupied. “Parades” of Jews are also brought through the town. It is during one of these that Hans makes a huge error and shows sympathy to one of the Jews. He knows then that he, and especially not Max, are no longer safe. Max leaves their house to find a different place to hide. Shortly thereafter, both Hans and Rudy’s father are drafted into the army. Hans ends up with a broken leg and is sent home.

One evening, Liesel is writing in her journal in the basement, and bombs strike her town leveling her house. For some miraculous reason (in her not-bomb-proof basement), she survives but neither the Hubermanns nor Rudy do. Ilsa picks her up from the officers and she then lives there. When Rudy’s father returns from the war, he also takes Liesel under his wing. Eventually once the war is over, Max returns and finds Liesel at Rudy’s father’s shop. This just seemed really awkward to me.

The book then ends with Liesel living in Australia with her husband, children and grandchildren, and finally Death finds her.

Verdict: 3 stars

I felt like this book could have been easily condensed to about 2/3 of the final product. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the book per se, but there also wasn’t anything about it that I was totally smitten about. I thought the characters were very vanilla which made me not care very much about them. It is rare that you read a story set in one of the worst wars in the history of humanity and you don’t really care whether the characters live or die. Or maybe you only care if they live because you don’t want to hear Death’s narration of them dying. I expected so much more based on everything I had heard about this book, and I came up sorely lacking.

 

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The Art of Hearing Heartbeats – Jan-Philipp Sendker

Review (Amazon):  A poignant and inspirational love story set in Burma, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats spans the decades between the 1950s and the present.  When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be…until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never heard of. Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father’s past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion that will reaffirm the reader’s belief in the power of love to move mountains.

My Review (Spoilers!): This review has some big spoilers at the end, so if you do want to read the book, you might refrain from reading my review!!! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Executive Summary: Odd

So this was our romance/love story for this year’s book club, and I really thought it had a lot of potential. It’s a lot different than the standard story from this genre, and it had an unfamiliar setting. However, at the end of the book, I was left scratching my head about things.

Julia, a young professional lawyer, decides to take a sabbatical from her job to figure out what happened to her father. She grew up in New York City like her mother, but her father grew up in Burma. One day he up and left his family, his trail running cold in Bangkok. Her mother didn’t know anything of her father’s childhood, and Julia decides to see what she can find out. Her father was a lawyer, and by the time he disappeared, he and Julia’s mother did not get along well.

Over the next four years, nothing turns up of her father. Her mother one day sends a package of some remaining items of her father’s. Julia looks through them, and finds an envelope addressed to Mi Mi, in Kalaw, Burma from 1955. It’s a love letter, and the first key to the puzzle. When she tells her mother she is leaving, her mother is annoyed. She doesn’t understand what Julia expects to find, and she is bitter. She tells Julia that her father never wanted to marry her, and that he left her (and them) long before he physically did. Julia decided to go anyway.

When Julia gets to Kalaw (a very long and difficult journey), she meets an old man named U Ba at the tea house. He claims to know her father and begins to tell Julia his tale.

Tin Win (Julia’s father) was born to very superstitious parents. His mother had watched her brother die as a child and went to the astrologer regularly to seek guidance. Tin Win was born on a very superstitious day. Following his birth, bad things began to happen, and eventually, his parents sought the astrologer. The astrologer told them that the child will bring great sorrow to his parents. Not long after, Tin Win’s father died in a work accident, and his mother, knowing that she could not handle any more sorrow, left the boy. Eventually a neighbor, Su Kyi, comes to rescue him and moves into his house to look after him. He’s a strange boy, not having any friends, but spending most of his time playing outside. But over time, his eyesight begins to deteriorate.

Su Kyi takes him to the monks as she has a good friendship with the head monk, U May. She asks him what to do, and he suggests that Tin Win stay for a few weeks with the monks. During that time, he learns to deal with his blindness, letting his other senses develop so that he can manage in the world. He’s a good student but has no friends. He begins to develop extraordinary hearing, but he cannot identify the sounds he hears. He asks Su Kyi to investigate, but she can never get him the info he wants. And then one day at the monastery, he hears something new–a heart beat. He goes to identify the source, and he finds a girl. He speaks to her briefly, and then her mother calls her away. Her name is Mi Mi.

Eventually he finds her again at the town market, and he asks her to help him identify a sound. She agrees but she needs his help to put her on his back to investigate that the sound he is hearing is of an unhatched chick still in its shell. Mi Mi needs help because she cannot stand, nor walk, on her own due to a birth defect. Tin Win continues to meet her every market day, and they develop a symbiotic relationship–he is her legs, and she is his eyes. Over the years, it developed into the most intense love that Mi Mi’s parents and Su Kyi could even imagine.

But one day, Tin Win’s uncle, U Saw arrives from Rangoon. He volunteers to take Tin Win to a doctor in Rangoon to help restore his sight. He goes to see Mi Mi before he leaves, and they have a romantic encounter. He leaves with his uncle, who is only helping Tin Win because he believes it will help his own luck in business. Tin Win’s sight is repaired relatively easily as he had cataracts. He writes to Mi Mi every day, and she writes about the same, but his uncle intercepts both sets of letters before they reach their rightful owner. The surgery has helped U Saw’s luck, so he wonders what else he can do to boost his luck, and he doesn’t want this juvenile love to get in his way. He enrolls Tin Win in school where he excels. Following that, U Saw sends Tin Win to New York for college.

He then continues on to law school, and then is pressured into marriage by Julia’s mother. They have two children–Julia and her brother. Mi Mi continued her life in Kalaw, becoming a sort of astrologer herself. Julia doesn’t understand U Ba and his decision to quit university and return home to his mother who was growing old. She doesn’t understand why her father didn’t just disregard U Saw and go back to Kalaw for Mi Mi. U Ba claims that it is just a different culture. She learns that U Saw died in 1958, a chance for her father to come back, but by then, her father, for reasons unknown on his end, was already married, and her brother was about to be born.

U Ba tells her that her father returned there, to find Mi Mi, and when he arrives at her house, she is on her death bed. She has been waiting for him. He crawls into bed with her, and when the doctor finds them the following morning, they are both dead. Per the time and culture, the two lovers were burned side by side on separate pyres. Julia is not prepared for the news, but she still wants to see where her father and Mi Mi grew up and where they died. They happen to arrive on the anniversary of her father’s death, which has become a sort of celebration in Kalaw for the two long lost lovers. She learns that U Ba is her half-brother–the product of the romantic night that her father and Mi Mi had before he left for Rangoon. They attend the celebration together and the book ends.

Verdict: 3 stars

I wanted to read this book because Burma is a country which has been so shut off for so long. I thought it would be an interesting glimpse into a place that would be unfamiliar. It was, but in a way that I didn’t understand. The timeline of the book is very unusual as well because at the time when Julia would have supposedly been visiting, Burma was under fierce military rule which most likely would have deterred her from going, but this aspect wasn’t mentioned in the book whatsoever. Also, I just hated how weirdly fairy tale it was. Tin Win and Mi Mi–a love story so strong that he married another but yet they die together and their story is celebrated each year with a holiday. It’s baffling.

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