In Review – January 2017

2017-january

 

I’m not entirely sure how we’re already at the end of January (obviously, I know it’s the cycle of days but there must have been a few missing?)

January started the year well but it is also the month I started reading Anna Karenina and I have a feeling not much more will be read until mid to late February. I knew that reading classic literature and histories would slow me down this year and I’ve adjusted my Goodreads goal accordingly.

What can I say about this group of books?

Bleak House is simply superb. I adore Miss Summerson. Lady Deadlock is intriguing. Mr Guppy is a fawning fool and Mr Tulkinghorn is delightfully wicked. I know he’s essentially ‘the bad guy’ but I can’t help but like him. Dickens is a master of the craft – a book of this length, without all our modcons and phone apps, created entirely from his enormous brain and more than likely, copious notes. I am in awe of him that he managed to keep the narrative flowing and interesting and didn’t give the reader any information or instruction that wasn’t one hundred percent necessary.

One Day in France was interesting in a different way. Partly, I think, because it didn’t need to be an entire book. Jean-Marie Borzeix has written a fascinating family history of a town during WWII, however, it could really have been a slightly better edited essay in a history magazine or a journal. It felt like a stretch needing to have it produced as a book. This is in no way meant to detract from the story he tells. Those of us who are also keen on family history will share his excitement at meeting individuals connected to our own tree and also individuals connected to other trees you’ve been distracted by. It is truly a fascinating read.

The Simple Act of Reading is also falls into the ‘not necessarily an entire book’ category. The book is a series of short essays by Australian authors and describes the way they remember becoming a reader. Individually, their stories are fascinating. As a whole book, they’re a little monotonous. Had they appeared in a national magazine, newspaper or international blog site, it would have made more sense. I would recommend this book but it is one to dip in and out of, rather than consume in one sitting.

The Yellow Wallpaper is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. I still think about it now, nearly two or three weeks later. If you haven’t read it and want something a little creepy before bedtime, this is my recommendation.

Magna Carter by David Starkey was a random selection one weekend at the library. I had only gone in to return a couple of books but as usually happens, left with a few more finds in my bag. For anyone who doesn’t know much about Magna Carter, this is a great starting point. Starkey breaks the history of the document down to focus only on the period it was written in. He introduces you to King John and the rebel barons and links them to the Pope and France and makes the relevance of the document clear. I’m not convinced it’s as important as some historians make out but the world would be a very different place if we didn’t have it. The only problem with the book is that it feels as though the editing was rushed. There are sentences that suffer from strange structuring and a lack of punctuation. If you ignore this though, which on some pages is easier said than done, you’ll understand a period of English history a little better.

Average rating for the month 3.6

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Best Translation – Fiction & Non-Fiction 2016

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WOW! I am so impressed with this book that I desperately need Archer to push for the second and third in this series to be released in English. Beatrice Kaspary is one of my new favourite women in fiction. She is a divorced mother of two children who is actively involved in one of the biggest cases of her career and while others around her might think she isn’t coping with all of the demands placed on her, it is clear in the writing, this is not the case. I think she is fantastic!

The characters in this book are all so familiar from the first page even though the reader has never met them. Bea and her police partner, Florin are identifiable as a well paired team and the only duo I can say they remind me of is Anya Lipska’s Janusz Kiszka and Natalie Kershaw. The reader is enveloped in the novel and it is incredibly hard to pull yourself out of the text to do anything else life demands.

It was also nice to not know who the murderer is and remain fooled right up to the big reveal. I made so many mistakes in guessing before the halfway point, I stopped trying.

Congratulations must also go to Jamie Lee Searle for the fantastic translation.

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From the looks and stares and the “what’s a nice girl like you reading a book about him” comments, it would seem that this book is going to make an impact on an immediate, visual level. The cover really is the first challenge a reader faces, especially, if like me, you find only a few other people from history as terrifying as Hitler. The second is fighting your reaction to disbelieve a situation like this could have been a real thing.

Some of the people I’ve discussed this book with have been worried Ohler’s work is an apologists history of the Nazi regime. A few of them, no matter how much I tried to explain, refused to believe that this could be a condemnation of Hitler because “the author’s German.” Honestly, I could unpack that statement but we only need to look at the world we live in to know that this is an enormous conversation. What is abundantly clear from the beginning is that Ohler is not apologising for the crimes of Hitler and Nazi’s. Anyone who reads Blitzed and draws this conclusion has completely missed the point.

What proof can I offer to back up this statement? I can offer the following;

On this tranquillizing painkiller (Eukodal) the Fuhrer was fully in command of himself: this was the true Hitler, and that was how he had always been. The overestimation of his own significance and misjudgement of his opponents were both captured in his blueprint, Mein Kampf, published in 1925. His opioid addiction only cemented an already existing rigidification, a tendency to delegate violence and contributed to the fact that in the last phase of the war and in the genocide of the Jews he never once thought of relenting.

So the goals and motives, and ideological fantasy world, were not the result of drugs, but established much earlier. Hitler did not murder because he was living in a haze – quite the contrary: he remained sane until the end. His drug use did not impinge on his freedom to make decisions. Hitler was always the master of his senses and he knew exactly what he was doing. He acted always in an alert and cold-blooded way. Within his system, based from the beginning on intoxication and a flight from reality, he acted systematically and with terrible consistency to the end. He was anything but insane. A classic case of actio libera in causa: he could go on taking as many drugs as he liked to keep himself in a state in which he could commit his crimes. It does not diminish his monstrous guilt (Ohler, 230-231).

I’m not a historian of WWII. In fact, up until very recently, I wasn’t interested in the era and for this I blame incredibly boring high school history teachers. Followers of this blog will also know that this month is being devoted to non-fiction (with one exception) and while Blitzed wasn’t on my original list, the podcast by Dan Snow and Ohler on the History Hit network got my attention. You can listen to the podcast here – and you really should. It’s mind boggling.

This book will re-write what we know and what we accept as fact. Ohler has turned my understanding of the period and Hitler, on its head. Honestly, all of the upper echelons of the Nazi party and the SS, who were popping the same pills as Hitler can be held equally accountable. The whole period seems to have been a perfect storm of horrible people doing obscene things and believing the entire time that they would always get away with it. If you’re looking for a reading challenge, try Blitzed and Sarah Helm’s If this is a woman. They’re a powerful combination and serve as a warning to us still today.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
― Edmund Burke

Blitzed – Norman Ohler

blitzed-norman-ohler
Title:
 Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany
Author: Norman Ohler
Publisher:  Penguin
Date of Publication:  06 October 2016
Number of Pages: 368

Rating: stars

Summary: The Nazis presented themselves as warriors against moral degeneracy. Yet, as Norman Ohler’s gripping bestseller reveals, the entire Third Reich was permeated with drugs: cocaine, heroin, morphine and, most of all, methamphetamines, or crystal meth, used by everyone from factory workers to housewives, and crucial to troops’ resilience – even partly explaining German victory in 1940.

The promiscuous use of drugs at the very highest levels also impaired and confused decision-making, with Hitler and his entourage taking refuge in potentially lethal cocktails of stimulants administered by the physician Dr Morell as the war turned against Germany. While drugs cannot on their own explain the events of the Second World War or its outcome, Ohler shows, they change our understanding of it. Blitzed forms a crucial missing piece of the story.

Review: From the looks and stares and the “what’s a nice girl like you reading a book about him” comments, it would seem that this book is going to make an impact on an immediate, visual level. The cover really is the first challenge a reader faces, especially, if like me, you find only a few other people from history as terrifying as Hitler. The second is fighting your reaction to disbelieve a situation like this could have been a real thing.

Some of the people I’ve discussed this book with have been worried Ohler’s work is an apologists history of the Nazi regime. A few of them, no matter how much I tried to explain, refused to believe that this could be a condemnation of Hitler because “the author’s German.” Honestly, I could unpack that statement but we only need to look at the world we live in to know that this is an enormous conversation. What is abundantly clear from the beginning is that Ohler is not apologising for the crimes of Hitler and Nazi’s. Anyone who reads Blitzed and draws this conclusion has completely missed the point.

What proof can I offer to back up this statement? I can offer the following;

On this tranquillizing painkiller (Eukodal) the Fuhrer was fully in command of himself: this was the true Hitler, and that was how he had always been. The overestimation of his own significance and misjudgement of his opponents were both captured in his blueprint, Mein Kampf, published in 1925. His opioid addiction only cemented an already existing rigidification, a tendency to delegate violence and contributed to the fact that in the last phase of the war and in the genocide of the Jews he never once thought of relenting.

So the goals and motives, and ideological fantasy world, were not the result of drugs, but established much earlier. Hitler did not murder because he was living in a haze – quite the contrary: he remained sane until the end. His drug use did not impinge on his freedom to make decisions. Hitler was always the master of his senses and he knew exactly what he was doing. He acted always in an alert and cold-blooded way. Within his system, based from the beginning on intoxication and a flight from reality, he acted systematically and with terrible consistency to the end. He was anything but insane. A classic case of actio libera in causa: he could go on taking as many drugs as he liked to keep himself in a state in which he could commit his crimes. It does not diminish his monstrous guilt (Ohler, 230-231).

I’m not a historian of WWII. In fact, up until very recently, I wasn’t interested in the era and for this I blame incredibly boring high school history teachers. Followers of this blog will also know that this month is being devoted to non-fiction (with one exception) and while Blitzed wasn’t on my original list, the podcast by Dan Snow and Ohler on the History Hit network got my attention. You can listen to the podcast here – and you really should. It’s mind boggling.

This book will re-write what we know and what we accept as fact. Ohler has turned my understanding of the period and Hitler, on its head. Honestly, all of the upper echelons of the Nazi party and the SS, who were popping the same pills as Hitler can be held equally accountable. The whole period seems to have been a perfect storm of horrible people doing obscene things and believing the entire time that they would always get away with it. If you’re looking for a reading challenge, try Blitzed and Sarah Helm’s If this is a woman. They’re a powerful combination and serve as a warning to us still today.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
― Edmund Burke

A Sparrow in Terezin – Kristy Cambron

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Title: A Sparrow in Terezin
Author: Kristy Cambron
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Date of Publication: 07 April 2015
Number of Pages: 368

Rating: stars

Summary: Bound together across time, two women will discover a powerful connection through one survivor’s story of hope in the darkest days of a war-torn world.

Present Day: With the grand opening of her new art gallery and a fairy tale wedding just around the corner, Sera James feels like she’s stumbled into a charmed life until a brutal legal battle against fiance William Hanover threatens to destroy their future before it even begins.

Now, after an eleventh-hour wedding ceremony and a callous arrest, William faces a decade in prison for a crime he never committed, and Sera must battle the scathing accusations that threaten her family and any hope for a future with the man she loves.

1942: Kaja Makovsky narrowly escaped Nazi-occupied Prague in 1939 and was forced to leave behind her half-Jewish family. Now a reporter for The Daily Telegraph in England, Kaja discovers the terror has followed her across the Channel in the shadowy form of the London Blitz. When she learns Jews are being exterminated by the thousands on the continent, she has no choice but to return to her mother city, risking her life to smuggle her family to freedom and peace.

Connecting across a century through one little girl, a Holocaust survivor with a foot in each world, these two women will discover a kinship that springs even in the darkest of times. In this tale of hope and survival, Sera and Kaja must cling to the faith that sustains them and fight to protect all they hold dear even if it means placing their own futures on the line

Review: Kristy Cambron is a story teller. You can’t help but love her stories.

I have a rule for reading books supplied via Netgalley and it’s simple. I sort the list by publication date and read the earliest result. For weeks I could see Sparrow moving up the list but never quite becoming the next read. I knew it was going to be worth the wait to hang out with Sera and William again but it didn’t ease the frustration. I knew though that because I was going on annual leave, I would be able to read it uninterrupted.

The first page of Sparrow was read the afternoon I reached Krakow, Poland and all the pieces fell into place. Terezin, or Theresienstadt in German, was another of the Nazi concentration camps and on 7 August I was going to pay my respects at Auschwitz. Suddenly, it all made sense – at least to me, why I would have waited until now to open this book.

Immediately I was lost in the world of Kaja and the Blitz. Immediately I was back with friends, Sera and William.

I can’t really think what to write as a constructive and useful review though. I got so much out of the book and seems too personal to share on the web that I hesitate to write the words.

Are there a few niggles with the overall book? Yes. Are they too numerous to ruin the overall impact? No way! Not even close.

When I reviewed The Butterfly and the Violin I mentioned that the book wouldn’t be for anyone with an aversion to a Christian message and I will re-state that here. BUT if you are looking for a book that speaks of the beauty I like to hope all souls have, then you need to pick Sparrow up, lock your door, ignore the world and read.

For me, A Sparrow in Terezin was a cleansing experience, it gave me hope and it left me with a cathartic period of ugly crying and after only a single day at Auschwitz, it was exactly what was needed.

I said on Instagram that if Kristy was happy to keep writing I was happy to keep reading and I stand by this. I can’t wait to read The Ringmaster’s Wife and The Illusionist’s Apprentice.

Thank you, Kristy. Thanks you, Thomas Nelson. Thanks you, Netgalley.

Read Between: 06-07 August 2016

 

The Night Watch – Sarah Waters

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Title: The Night Watch
Author: Sarah Waters
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Date of Publication: 27 September 2006
Number of Pages: 560

Rating: 

Summary: Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked out streets, illicit liaisons, sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch is the work of a truly brilliant and compelling storyteller.

This is the story of four Londoners – three women and a young man with a past, drawn with absolute truth and intimacy. Kay, who drove an ambulance during the war and lived life at full throttle, now dresses in mannish clothes and wanders the streets with a restless hunger, searching. Helen, clever, sweet, much-loved, harbours a painful secret. Viv, glamour girl, is stubbornly, even foolishly loyal, to her soldier lover. Duncan, an apparent innocent, has had his own demons to fight during the war. Their lives, and their secrets connect in sometimes startling ways. War leads to strange alliances…

Review: Dull.
Dreary.
One dimensional.
Partially formed characters.
Glad I didn’t read this as my first Waters novel because I wouldn’t go back to another. The Night Watch, compared to Tipping the Velvet or The Little Stranger or even The Paying Guestsis weak and underdeveloped. I felt for a large part of this book, I was reading a soap opera script. It was believable, but in a way, completely false.

The Night Watch is worth reading, it’s just not the best of the Waters bunch.

 

 

May in Review

May In Review

The Lake House written by Kate Morton – 4 stars
If This Is A Woman written by Sarah Helm – 5 stars
Elizabeth is Missing written by Emma Healey – 3 stars
The Three written by Sarah Lotz – 3 stars

Average Star Rating – 3.75