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Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker       

Review of The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

Overview from www.barnesandnoble.comTess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she’s had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be her personal maid on the Titanic. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men—a kind sailor and an enigmatic Chicago businessman—who offer differing views of what lies ahead for her in America. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes, and amidst the chaos, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat.

The survivors are rescued and taken to New York, but when rumors begin to circulate about the choices they made, Tess is forced to confront a serious question.  Did Lady Duff Gordon save herself at the expense of others? Torn between loyalty to Lucile and her growing suspicion that the media’s charges might be true, Tess must decide whether to stay quiet and keep her fiery mentor’s good will or face what might be true and forever change her future.

My Review:

“Not another Titanic story,” was my first thought when I began to read this one. To me, the Titanic is only slightly behind the Holocaust as the most overdone topic among authors who write Historical Fiction.

The question is: How can the author do justice to yet another story about these horrible tragedies without seeming repetitious or trite? The answer in my opinion is that it is very difficult to do this and was the reason for my hesitation in reading this book. In fact, if I hadn’t paid for this one, I might not have continued.

Our main character is Tess Collins, a headstrong girl who, thanks to her mother’s encouragement, is determined to succeed in the world and rise above her “station” to something great with her life.

At the novel’s start, Tess makes a rather impulsive decision to leave her job as a mostly maid but part-time seamstress in some stuffy upper class English household to take a job on the Titanic. Unfortunately when she arrives at the docks, she finds out that all the positions have already been filled but knowing that she can’t go back to her old job (and doesn’t want to), she starts begging the families of passengers to take her on board with them as a nanny. Not surprisingly most of them want nothing to do with the haggard and desperate young women that they see in front of them.

But then fate intervenes when she spots the famous designer Lucille Duff Gordon saying goodbye to her sister and preparing to board the ship with her husband. Having admired her for years, Tess, of course, listens to her conversation where she laments the fact that the maid that was to accompany her on this trip has backed out at the last minute.

Tess immediately volunteers herself even though it means she is putting herself back into the servant business that she was trying to get herself out of. Hoping it will lead to a position as a worker in Lucille’s office stateside, she has no qualms about accepting; even when she finds out she will have to call Lucille “Madame.” But Madame’s temper and the sinking of the ship are only the beginning of her problems.

The verdict for me was that I liked it but I didn’t love it. What kept me from loving it was the love triangle situation. I am getting rather tired of those situations in stories and in this one in particular I really didn’t see why Tess had to choose at all. She was young and determined in the beginning and then it all seems to fall by the wayside when she meets these two guys.

Also, I didn’t really like the ending. It gives only a hint of what is to come. I like that it is not sappy at least but somehow I still felt it needed more. It seemed to be rather abrupt.

Positives were some of the characters. I liked Tess, though I liked her more in beginning. I also really liked the Pinky character who was one of the few female reporters of that day, working for the New York Times. She seemed exactly like the type of woman who had the guts to do what few women of her day would do and yet we see the heart beneath the persona as well even if we don’t always like her tactics. I think she was my favorite character in the whole book.

Contains: some language and violence

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)       

Review of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Overview from Perhaps the best-loved nineteenth-century American novel, Mark Twain’s tale of boyhood adventure overflows with comedy, warmth, and slapstick energy. It brings to life and array of irresistible characters—the awesomely self-confident Tom, his best buddy Huck Finn, indulgent Aunt Polly, and the lovely, beguiling Becky—as well as such unforgettable incidents as whitewashing a fence, swearing an oath in blood, and getting lost in a dark and labyrinthine cave. Below Tom Sawyer’s sunny surface lurk hints of a darker reality, of youthful innocence and naïveté confronting the cruelty, hypocrisy, and foolishness of the adult world—a theme that would become more pronounced in Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Despite such suggestions, Tom Sawyer remains Twain’s joyful ode to the endless possibilities of childhood.

My Review:

I decided this week it was time to return to a classic and one that I’d actually read before. It has been a while since I have read it however. I thought that I probably wouldn’t remember a thing. When I sat down to read it the only memory that came to mind was the episode of whitewashing the fence but as I read on I was amazed at the things that came back to me. The segment where Tom and Becky are trapped in the cave, for example.

On the other hand there were characters that I had forgotten about entirely such as Sid, Tom’s “half-brother.” I didn’t remember Tom having a half-brother let alone anyone named Sid. Of course he doesn’t play a huge role in the story but he is in there quite a bit.

The story itself is told in a more episodic way that reveals his character. He is a young boy, growing up in the South, who likes to have adventures and doesn’t mind getting into trouble to do it. Yet he also has a conscience.

Along the way Tom discovers “great law(s) about human action,” such as, “in order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.” (p. 18) And towards the end, his journey brings him to the brink of adulthood as Twain tells us he must end the tale hear least it become the tale of a man instead of that of a boy.

Other than forgotten characters, this pass through The Adventures of Tom Sawyer also brought to light the vast amount of superstitions that Tom and his friends placed great stock in. Some of them seemed downright silly but at the same time interesting. Although Twain tells at times that some of them are just childish beliefs, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps the South wasn’t more superstitious than I had previously guessed, especially in the past. Anyone from the South have any thoughts on this? Just wondering.

I do recommend this one but I wonder how many people will need my recommendation since most have probably already read it. For whatever its worth though, here it is.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Don't Know Jack

Don't Know Jack (For Lee Child and John Grisham Fans)       

Review of Don't Know Jack by Diane Capri

Overview from It’s been a while since we first met Lee Child’s Jack Reacher in Killing Floor. Fifteen years and sixteen novels later, Reacher still lives off the grid, until trouble finds him, and then he does whatever it takes, much to the delight of readers and the dismay of villains. Now someone big is looking for him. Who? And why? Hunting Jack Reacher is a dangerous business, as FBI Special Agents Kim Otto and Carlos Gaspar are about to find out. Otto and Gaspar are by-the-book hunters who know when to break the rules; Reacher is a stone cold killer. Reacher is a wanted man, but is he their friend or their enemy? Only the secrets hidden in Margrave, Georgia will tell them.

My Review:

Don’t know Jack had me confused. I’d never read any of the Jack Reacher novels ever. I only heard of him through the recent movie that came out with Tom Cruise which I have not seen. After reading this one, I really didn’t want to see the movie either and not just because I am not a big Tom Cruise fan.

I thought, mistakenly as it turns out, that this was the first Reacher novel. According to the Barnes & Noble reviews that I read, that is not the case. No wonder I was disappointed. Guess I should have read them first.

The main characters, Kim Otto and Carlos Gaspar, are FBI agents who have been given the assignment to find Reacher. Their mysterious, and unnamed, boss says that is what he wants. Unfortunately, a local murder in the small town where they are sent gets in the way of all that. Or does it? Could Reacher be the culprit or is his connection with the town of Margrave, Georgia merely a coincidence?

But, spoiler alert here, they never find him. Sorry for that. I don’t usually like to give spoilers in my review but in my mind this was a major downfall of the story for me since I have not read any of the other Reacher novels. The story would probably have been more interesting to me if I had but I didn’t know that going into it.
As you might be able to guess from this, I am not a big reader of thrillers and I don’t believe that I have ever read a Lee Child story before so I guess this snafu was partly caused by my ignorance. Still it would have been nice to have some kind of forward or something that told me that I probably should read Mr. Child’s Reacher series before this one.

It turns out there is something in the parenthesis that says that it is written for Mr. Child and John Grisham fans but it is not exactly the same thing.
Anyway, that problem aside, the story is entertaining. There is something of mystery involved. The main characters are so engaging that we want to know if they will find out who killed a local Margrave cop and why. Was Reacher involved? I won’t spoil that part of the story for you in case you still want to read it but just know going in that it might help to have read at least some of the Reacher stories, or maybe even all of them, I am guessing.

The other plus for me was that although there is some foul language, it is not excessive, not like many other thrillers I have read. There are however some references to the sex trade.

Anyone out there with a different opinion? Any Reacher fans in particular? Let me know what you think.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Book Thief

The Book Thief 

Review of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Overview from 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:

I think it would be something of an understatement to say that The Book Thief is a book like no other. Yes, it covers the Holocaust to some extent and life in Nazi Germany but that life is portrayed from the point of view of the underbelly of that society.

We begin with a small girl who essentially becomes an orphan and loses her only sibling on the way to live at a new home. This is where our narrator starts to insert himself in the story. He sees the book thief when he comes for her brother and is captivated by her but not, I think, in a romantic way. As we soon discover our narrator is Death himself, aka The Grim Reaper.

As the years pass, he follows Liesel’s (the book thief) life in between soul collection and later is able to fill in the gaps of her story by reading some of the things she has written.

But when we begin, Liesel is mostly illiterate. She comes to the Hubermanns by car from the train station. Her first car ride ever and she stubbornly refuses to get out. Finally Hans Hubermann, her new foster father coxes her out. This would signal the life-long attachment that would later grow between them while getting close to the wife, Rosa, would be a bit more challenging.

Life would be hard but they would grow to love one another. Liesel would learn to read so that she could read her first stolen book. A tome called “The Gravedigger’s Handbook” that she had taken during her brother’s funeral for a memento; all that she had left of him.

As time goes on the story gets more complicated as we add more characters. There is a small blond boy who wants to be Jesse Owens. The mayor’s wife who provides the book thief with more books to steal. Then there is the man who arrives in the middle of the night putting all their lives at risk.

As the tide begins to turn for Nazi Germany, life at the Hubermann house gets even more and more difficult. Before the changes the book thief’s new family was more likely to die of malnutrition than bombs dropping. Now the man who was living in the basement will have to leave and fend for himself while Liesel and her family wonder how many air raids they can survive. When Death finds her, what will he say to Liesel and her to him? Can she even hope to survive?

The movie based on this book is now on video and I am anxious to finally see it now that I have finished the book. I wonder if they have changed any major plot points. I hope not. Perhaps I will post a review of it later, though I might have to reveal some spoilers in my comparison. In the meantime, I hope you will buy or check this book out at the library. Happy reading.

Contains: language, violence, and book burning