Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Book Opinion: Caroline Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller

My 1970’s era copy of Little House on the Prairie, a hardcover version bought for my daughter, and the new version, Caroline, bought recently.

As a long time Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, imagine my delight at discovering Caroline Little House, Revisted, a reimagining of Laura’s book Little House on the Prairie, told from the perspective of Caroline Ingalls, mother of the Ingalls brood. I was not disappointed.

This retelling of the tale delves into Caroline’s emotions, snippets of her history that Laura’s books didn’t address, her fears, her relationship with her husband, her love for her children, and the intestinal fortitude required of the pioneer generation. It includes stories that my fellow prairie-ties will recognize. The leaving of home and family, crossing the frozen Lake Pepin, fording a flooded river in the wagon, arriving in Independence, wolves, prairie fires, Indians, and best of all, MR. EDWARDS. It also clears up a few things, including the fact that the Osage war dance described by Laura didn’t happen. The Ingalls’ were likely frightened by the mourning songs sung by the Osage women after the Osage leaders met with federal Indian agents and agreed to peaceably sell their lands and relocate to Oklahoma. We also learn that the Ingalls family were not removed from their land by the government. Rather, Gustav Gustafson who bought the house in the Big Woods, reneged on the deal, the property reverted to the Ingalls and since they did not yet own their Kansas claim, they had to go back.

The emotions in Laura’s books were the emotions of a child, in this book, we get insight on what the pioneering experience must’ve been like to the women who gave up their entire lives to go west. The fear of giving birth alone, surviving sickness without family, worry for the children, long stretches of time alone on the claim with children while the husband went to town or went out hunting.

This book probably has a very specific audience, people like me who grew up on Laura’s books or the television show. Honestly though, anyone with interest in history or the pioneer era would enjoy this book. By the way, if you’ve never read Laura’s books, and your knowledge of the Little House universe is limited to the Micheal Landon show, I beg you to read the books, and read them to your kids. You’ll never look at that tv show the same way.

Have a great weekend everybody. Spend some of it with a good book, and spread kindness. ❤️

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Book Opinion: Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

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Adolph Hitler.

I was raised by parents and grandparents who lived through WWII and the Great Depression. I didn’t realize until about ten years ago, that the America I grew up in was very post war in its sensibilities. I was surrounded by the greatest generation and their independence and strength. I was raised on those values, and one thing that has always fascinated me because of its extremity is WWII era Germany. I couldn’t understand it, and Adolph Hitler was and is, the ultimate boogie man. One minute you see him smiling and petting his dog in what looked like a scene that anybody would be in, the next minute you see him screaming and shaking his fist, spittle flying, weird little bangs separating, thousands of sycophants Seig Heiling and snapping up that infamous salute.

The pageantry created by the Nazis was second to none. Red, black, and white go so well together after all. The uniforms were flashy and they made every effort to show mainly tall, well-built, handsome, blue-eyed blondes to reinforce their agenda. The parades, the bonfires, (hey, are those BOOKS in there?) the snappy flags and the shiny black cars. Then you find out about the beatings, murder, destruction, concentration camps and world domination ambitions, and the contradiction that was Nazi Germany becomes something that you try to figure out, but can’t.

When I saw this book at Jo-Beth Booksellers, I couldn’t resist. I read the book jacket, so I knew it was satire, but I had to see what Timur Vermes imagined the Furher (sorry, I don’t know how to do umlauts) would do if he came back. What I found was more an indictment of modern civilization than an indictment of Herr Hitler, although I guess you can’t really make him any worse than he already is.

So anyway, Adolph wakes up on a beautiful, blue sky, sunny day in a vacant lot somewhere in Berlin. At first, he looks around for signs of the war going on, but sees none. He is in full uniform, it’s a little smudged and smells like gasoline from a cleaning attempt, but overall, he’s in pretty good shape. He winds up being taken in by a newspaper kiosk guy who tells him the year and helps him out. He also hooks him up with tv producers because he thinks the Hitler thing is an act.

Hitler is a smart guy obviously and figures out really quickly that something strange has happened and he wants to get his political career going again. To make a long story short, he learns about modern technology and people and finds all of it ridiculous, still hates Jews etc., and becomes a big celebrity. And of course, nobody believes him. The entire country is furious that he won’t reveal his real name, because they don’t believe him, and he’s ready to call in the SS to take care of the people who keep asking. Just like vampires, werewolves, and witches, modern society doesn’t believe in the monster, and ultimately, it’ll cause them trouble.  By the end, you can see that if he remains persistent, the modern sheeple are going to end up following him.

I enjoyed the book overall. It made me think about how ridiculous modern society is. It pointed out yet again, that even though a threat, or a negative anomaly can be as plain as the nose on your face, we often, in our enlightened modernity, deny it, even as it’s taking over our lives. I’d kind of like Vermes to write a sequel, where the monster really comes roaring back, in all of his muderous, evil, mastermind glory, not funny this time.  It would be the most successful horror story of all time.

If you enjoy satire, you might want to give this one a look. It really did have a number of LOL moments, and the way the speeches he makes are laid out in the book, you can almost hear that old black and white boogie man screaming, and shaking his fist, spittle flying, and weird little bangs separating.

Have a great day, and spend part of it with a great book. 😊

 

Book Opinion: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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I have an English degree and I have been reading intensely since I was a small child.  I used to just read whatever was put in front of me without regard for the actual writing.  As I’ve gotten older however, unless a book just hooks me with an entertaining story, I tend to put poorly written books in the donate box.  All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, will NOT end up at Goodwill, but will stay front and center on my bookshelf.

I am fascinated by WWII.  My parents were children during it, my grandfather was an air raid warden, and growing up in the 1970’s I was bombarded by stories from that time.  It has only been recently that I’ve realized what a post-war world I actually grew up in.  All The Light We Cannot See offers a unique perspective on the war and a unique way of representing the thin red thread that connects us all.

The heroine of the story is Marie-Laure, a young girl living with her father in Paris.  At the age of six, she loses her sight and her father creates a three dimensional model of their neighborhood so that Marie-Laure can memorize where everything is so she can get around.  He takes her out with her cane and has her lead them home.  He also takes her with him to the Museum of Natural History where he is the key master.  She spends her time exploring the space and all of it’s treasures which end up informing her future.

At the same time, young Werner is growing up with his sister Jutta in an orphanage in a mining town in Germany.  Werner is brilliant, and his quick mind causes him to live in dread of the day he will be forced into the mines.  They find an old radio, which Werner works on and makes funtional.  The children listen to it at night and hear broadcasts from France (they can all speak and understand French because the house mother is from France) about science. His mind continues to expand and he becomes an expert in radios.

When the Nazis approach Paris, Marie-Laure and her father leave the city, possibly carrying a priceless treasure from the museum and go to Saint-Malo to stay with her great-uncle Etienne.  Simultaneously, Werner’s brilliance with radios is noticed and he is chosen to attend a school run by the Nazis.  We are taken on a back and forth journey between Marie-Laure’s life in France, with glimpses of the French Resistance, the constant threat of sudden arrest, and the general quest to just survive the Nazi assaults; and Werner’s life in Germany as he struggles with things that happen at school, the pressure he feels from his beloved sister to resist what she is afraid the Nazis will turn him into, and HIS general quest to just survive the maze of treachery and horror that follows Nazi bureaucracy wherever it goes.

Eventually, the teenage Werner is thrust into the fighting by way of his magical radio skills and his life intersects with Marie-Laure’s life during the siege of Saint-Malo.  Although they part, the story of their intersection continues into the next generation and for the next many years.

This story makes you ponder so many things with regard to war, and people being forced to fight for things they don’t necessarily believe in or agree with.  It causes you to marvel at the strength of human beings and their spirit.  It really reinforces the notion that we are all connected in ways we cannot imagine, and the things we do have impacts far beyond our immediate sphere of influence.

If you are in search of a beautifully written, multi-level story, give All The Light We Cannot See a try.  I think you’ll like it.

Have a beautiful day 🙂

Book Opinion: Prince Lestat by Anne Rice

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What to say, what to say…

When I was a teenager, I found Interview With a Vampire. I liked it and proceeded to read the rest of the books, along with the ones about the Mayfair Witches and all the rest. I was excited to see she was writing another vampire story. Then I read it.

The thing people who have not read these books don’t realize, is that Lestat is kind of the chorus girl who breaks out and eclipses the star. Interview With a Vampire is Louis’ story, not Lestat’s. He figures strongly in it of course, but the book is about Louis. After that one, Lestat became the focus. Such a mythology has built up around him and he has such a strong voice in her writing, that it’s almost like he’s real. In fact, go to New Orleans on a regular Tuesday, and I guarantee you that within an hour of wandering the French Quarter, you will find some guy dressed up like him, purply glasses, long blonde hair, velvet frock coat and all. Just walking down a dusky street. This new book does none of that justice.

The gist of the story is that one of the original vamps has inhabited the body of another ancient vamp, but in spirit form and he is physically telling older vamps to burn fledglings. They are all scared and are looking for a gathering of the older vamps and begging for a leader, guess who? The story is pretty good, and definitely do-able, the problem with this book is the mechanics of it. Without going too deeply into details about glossaries and appendices etc, because it may take you two weeks to read this post like it took me two weeks to read this book, I’ll sum it up. Because it’s been so long, and because the author wants to add to her audience, we are treated to a dictionary of sorts of vampire terminology as it’s used in the Vampire Chronicles. Then, we get a big fat commercial for about a third of the book for the EARLIER books. The Vampire Chronicles and/or names of individual books are mentioned four thousand, three hundred and fifty seven times in the space of the first section of the book. I exaggerate of course, but you get my drift. We then get a different vampiric author for each chapter, giving back stories, world history, etc, etc. I am yawning just remembering it. Then suddenly, we get a Lestat chapter. It flows well, you can hear his voice, especially if you are a long-time fan, you get in a reading groove because it’s well written, then it switches back to someone else, and it takes you a day and a half to read one chapter. Then at the end of the book, we have an appendix of Anne Rice supernatural characters with a little blurb about each one, and then another appendix of Anne Rice supernatural themed books with a short paragraph describing each one. Again, it’s a commercial for the entire cannon of vampire stuff.

There are a couple of interesting surprises involving a young man named Victor, and a young woman named Rose, which set us up for more vampire stories, which if they are done properly could be enjoyable. Now that the commercial that is this book is finished, I can only hope that whatever creepy spirit possesses her when she is writing in Lestat’s voice, will show up and spare us glossaries, dictionaries, appendices, further mention by name of the earlier books, long flowery descriptions of clothing and overuse of the word “bespoke,” as well as an absence of long drawn out, boring world and vampire histories. You made me a little sad Anne, but I’ll chalk it up to the fact that it’s been something like ten or eleven years since you wrote a book and clearly your publisher/editor person didn’t really care what you wrote because they knew it would sell a lot and make a butt-ton of money regardless of the content. It probably won’t work out so great along those lines next time, so tighten it up girl; and if you are surrounded by yes men, get somebody who will tell you the truth and actually WORK with you. I still love you though, and I look forward to being able to give you another chance.

Have a great day everybody, stay warm and be nice 🙂

Book Opinion: My Mother’s Secret by J.L. Witterick

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I was in elementary school in the 1970’s, and it has only been in the last few years that I have realized that the world I grew up in was very much a post WWII place. John Wayne won the war in the Pacific every weekend on television in old black and white movies. The old people (grandparents) talked incessantly about the Depression and the war. My mother told me stories of her parents planning to cut her hair and dress her like a boy if the Germans invaded the country. She also told me stories of drilling with fake wooden rifles at school as a matter of course. My Mammaw told me about the families with the stars commemorating their service people in the window, and how the whole neighborhood heard the mother next-door scream when she got word that her son had been killed. My Grandfather was an air raid warden and when my Mammaw died, we found ration books in her things. There was also a plethora of books about the war and the Holocaust and the Nazis. I became interested in the stories when I was very young. I remember reading Anne Frank’s story, and I remember a book called Marta and the Nazis about a young girl in WWII Germany.

I still like to read about the Second World War. I am completely fascinated by the fact that an entire country full of intelligent, normal, people could fall for the charisma and promises of Hitler. I understand what post WWI Germany was like. I understand the desperation, and the longing for a leader to make it all better. I am unable to understand what I call, for lack of a better word, mass hypnosis that allowed such hideous atrocities to be perpetrated against so many innocents. I don’t understand why more people couldn’t see it coming, when it is so obvious what was happening. I don’t understand how people can do those things to other people.

My Mother’s Secret, by J.L. Witterick, is a fictionalized representation of the true story of Franciszka Halamajowa, and her daughter Helena, and peripherally, her son, Damian. Franciszka was Polish and married to a Ukrainian man. They moved to Germany because there were more opportunities for a better life there than in Poland. Franciszka eventually left her abusive husband, who had fallen hook line and sinker for the Nazis, and returned to Poland with her children. They were able to make a new life for themselves, and were living fairly well considering the level of poverty in Sokal, Poland when the Nazis invaded and the war broke out.

Before the war, Sokal, Poland was home to 6,000 Jews. After the war, 30 were left and half of them were saved by Franciszka. This little, sparely written book, that almost made me feel as if I were reading poetry, recounts the perils of hiding Jews just outside the Jewish ghetto, surrounded by German troops with itchy trigger fingers. The story is told without great gobs of gross, excruciating, explicit details of atrocities, which may seem to some people as if that aspect is being played down, but in reality, it makes the menace more real because you are less overwhelmed by the horror. These are people going about their regular lives, when all of a sudden, they are placed in a situation where doing the right thing could end their lives any minute.

We are also told the stories of the people who had to hide. One day, they were working in factories, or as doctors in hospitals, respected and respectable, and in the blink of an eye, they had to abandon everything and hide like animals in a burrow, just to survive. There is also a surprise “hider” that I won’t tell you about, but his life was hanging by the same thin thread as the Jews.

This book is a VERY quick read. Some of the chapters are only a paragraph long, and it is this unique way of breaking up the story that makes it sometimes feel like poetry. I think this would be a great book to teach just about any student seventh grade or above. It could be used in language arts or history, even ethics or government. If you are looking for historical fiction that illustrates the good in human beings even in the midst of horror, this might be the book for you. I felt so uplifted at the end; I think you would too.

Have a great day, and spend part of it with a good book.

Book Opinion: There’s More to Life Than This by Theresa Caputo

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Okie dokie friends, I told you that you never know what you’ll get here because I read lots of different things and this one is different.

The night after my father died, I was laying in bed in the dark trying to sleep. My eyes were closed and my mind was calming down, but I still couldn’t sleep. Suddenly, on the inside of my closed eyelids, I saw an old photograph. It was perfectly square with narrow white borders and the photo showed a sepia toned forest. There were no people, just the woods as they look in Ohio. Very suddenly, to the left of the photograph, a tall, slim, young man with short,thick, wavy black hair, wearing jeans with a rolled cuff at the ankles, an argyle sweater, and some kind of heavy dark shoes walked into the scene. He was carrying a shotgun. The butt of the gun was in his right hand, and the barrel was leaning on his shoulder. I could see him at about a 3/4 view, so I could see the pattern on his sweater, but only kind of the side of his face. He was about two thirds of the way back in the photo, so I could see his whole body. Just as suddenly, a large dog, a little shaggy, with a flag tail held straight up behind him, bounded into the picture, also from the left and ran up behind the young man. The dog was so happy. It was bounding around the man, obviously excited to see him. The man looked down, rubbed the top of the dog’s head, stood up straight, turned his face directly to me, and smiled a dazzling white smile directly into my eyes, turned and snapped his fingers at the dog and walked away into the woods, with his dog happily bounding around behind him. They disappeared into the trees and were gone. The photograph faded and I opened my eyes. The young man was my Father. He was in Heaven with Red, the dog he loved as a young man, and they were going hunting. He came to say goodbye to me because I didn’t get to see him before he left. It made me feel better and I can close my eyes and still see the scene, but tears are running down my face as I write this.

A couple of years ago, Theresa Caputo, better known as the Long Island Medium, caught my attention on her TV show. I watch it all the time and am fascinated by it. She seems legitimate to me and that’s saying something, because I am very suspicious of any flavor of psychic or medium because so many of them are charlatans, but Theresa seems to be the real thing. I like her. She seems normal. I think we could be really good friends, so my opinion of her and her book may be biased a little. Full disclosure here.

The book was written with ghost (lol) writer Kristina Grish. They obviously had a really good working relationship because Theresa’s voice is evident throughout. It sounds like her. I can almost picture her face and hear her talking through most of the book. She tells us about her life in addition to what goes on in Spirit. We learn that she had night terrors and terrible anxiety as a child and young woman, because she didn’t know what was happening. Eventually, she found a woman named Pat who was able to help and guide her and teach her how to protect herself from the Spirits who just wouldn’t stop communicating with her. Theresa talks about meeting and marrying her husband Larry and talks a lot about her children and her large extended Italian family. There is a lot of love there, and it was nice to hear about it.

Theresa also talks about God, angels, Heaven, guides and Jesus. She hits on what seems to be the major high points of the extensive knowledge of the whole deal that she has. There is no way it could all be laid out in one book, but what she gives us is very interesting and validates a lot of the thoughts I’ve had about God and Heaven and spirituality. She talks extensively about the lessons our souls are sent here by God to learn. She also acknowledges that it was very difficult for her to reconcile some of the things she now knows with the Catholicism she was raised in. I’m paraphrasing here, but she says that being raised Catholic, she was taught that you die, you go to heaven and you stay there with God; it took a little time for her to accept that there is so much more to it than we are taught.

I recommend this book for a number of reasons, not the least of which is it’s fascinating; the book really gives a lot of insight to a topic that not a lot of people know anything about. It’s also entertaining and a well written, quick read. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, it is also very helpful and comforting. It validated for me, that the vision I had of my Dad after his death, was sent to me by him to let me know that he was healthy and whole, with his dog, hunting in Heaven. As Theresa would say, I know that at that exact moment his soul was with me. I’m also starting to suspect that when my son was about two years old and told me that he knew my daughter when they were in baby Heaven, he was probably right.

Have a great day and read a good book 🙂

Book Opinion: Innocence by Dean Koontz

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I am a big reader. I love books. I have so many of them, that some of them are stored in tubs in the basement, which is really a bad place for books, but what can I do? I’m out of space. I have an English degree and half of a Master’s degree, so I’ve been expensively and thoroughly trained to analyze literature. The problem is, I’ve found that no one really knows what an author’s intentions were unless they left notes that say the cigar in chapter six is a metaphor for something else. It’s all subjective and opinion based and if you can pull quotes from the text to back your assertions, you can say just about anything you want and no one can prove that you are wrong. As I have matured, that seems to be a waste of time. When it comes right down to it in a practical sense, sometimes people want to know what other people think about books and movies and tv shows etc before they waste their time. I’m going to call these “reviews” opinions, because that is all they are. My opinion.

I love Dean Koontz. I’ve read and own all of his books. I wait with great excitement when one of his books is due to come out because I find them so entertaining; wonderful escapism, a day spent in another world. Generally, his books are a really fast read for me because he doesn’t tend to waste time going off on tangents (vintage Stephen King? HIGH Stephen King?) or being artsy fartsy and losing my attention with unnecessary details about clouds and sky and snow. This book took me, waaaaaait for iiiitttt… three freaking weeks to read. I generally read one of his novels in a day.

We meet a young man who’s name turns out to be Addison Goodheart. Goodheart? Really? Bit ‘o foreshadowing there. Anyway, Addison lives in the tunnels deep under a large city that I’m pretty sure isn’t named, but everyone knows is NYC. He lives there because he was born a freak of nature, who’s appearance inspires violence in anyone who looks at him and because it is impossible to live with him, his mother turns him out into the forest (Hansel and Gretel) at eight years old. He makes his way to the city, meets with peril, meets another freak of nature who takes him under his wing and becomes his adoptive father. They live happily in their Phantom of the Opera-esque hideaway until the father is murdered because of his freakishness. Addison then lives alone for six years until the fateful night the Beast meets his Beauty in what is obviously the New York Public Library. She is beautiful, but also flawed by severe social phobia. Addison is not allowed to touch Gwyneth, Gwyneth is not allowed to look at Addison.

Drama and mystery ensue as the two work through people chasing Gwyneth, hiding Addison’s face, rescuing a girl in a coma, creepy marionettes, a cabal of evil doers who are destroying famous works of western art and driving around in a blizzard. There is a lot of waxing poetic, a lot of “I can’t tell you now” intrigue, with an impending Armageddon thrown in for good measure toward the end. “Who we of the hidden were, what we were, why we ever existed, explained the mystery of music issuing out of the ether.” This quote is on page 287. So after almost three hundred pages of prose along these lines, we still don’t know if this kid is a werewolf, burned, two headed, covered with tumors, possessing extra features or what. NO FREAKING CLUE WHAT’S WRONG WITH HIM THIS FAR IN! For me, it was terribly frustrating, irritating even. The vague intrigue goes on till page 295, (give or take depending on your opinion) of a 338 page book. Those last 43 pages are really good and very Dean Koontz. Finished that part in about ten minutes. Those 43 pages made me wish for a sequel believe it or not, but a faster paced, more tightly written one.

Because I love Dean Koontz so much, I’m blaming this on editing. I have never seen one of his books that felt disjointed and kept making me feel like I missed something. I’ll admit it, the blah, blah, blah got so bad I skimmed. I don’t skim. The story has great bones, but the body of the book is so purposely “dreamy” that it almost lost me. My recommendation for this one is to borrow it from a friend or the library, read the last 43 pages and let it go. Find one his oldies like /The Watchers/ or one of the Odd Thomas stories and enjoy Koontz at his best. And DK? I love you, I hope you’re not mad at me; please let me edit your next book, because whoever did this one is not your friend.