Book Review No. 1: Three Recent Reads
Good morning! Today I'm doing my very first book review and I find I'm way more nervous than I ever thought I would be discussing books haha! But, I did an Instagram poll (I know, so official) and the vast majority of you all said you were into the idea so here goes!
I've always been a big reader from a young age and I really love reading all different kinds of books, as you can probably guess from the range of titles I'm reviewing today. Put me on a beach or an airplane with a Grisham page turner and I'm a happy camper. My Francophile-traveler-history-nerd side loves a good historical fiction novel. And then there's the dramatic, character-driven novels we all love to read. When I find books that blend two of these genres together I get super duper excited!
I say all of that because today's round-up of reads includes a book from each of those categories. I love alternating between books that pack an emotional punch with a suspenseful page-turner. As much as I wish I could read the serious, heavier stuff more I have to give my heart and nerves a break! Like I'm the kind of person who thought The Kite Runner was too depressing to read anymore of that author's novels. On the other hand, I love the Game of Thrones (ASOIAF) series and it's not like that's light reading...sooooo...who knows?
Anyways, let's start this inaugural book review with....
This book follows the lives of three women during World War II and each chapter alternates between their points of view. One is Caroline, a real-life New York socialite who volunteers at the French embassy and finds herself head over heels for a married Frenchman who goes back to Paris as war is breaking out. Another is Kasia, a Polish teenager whose impetuous decision-making gets her and her family rounded up and sent to the only all-female concentration camp in Germany. And the last one is Herta, a German medical student who falls hook, line, and sinker for Hitler's nationalist rhetoric and finds employment at the Ravensbruck camp. Herta's character made this book so much different than the other WWII novels I've read because she's super pro-German from start to finish. There are some major dents in her armor; she's a dark character and easy to hate, yet there's still a lot to unpack in her character. I found myself asking "how can you do this or feel this way?" during all of her chapters, but obviously real people did during that time in history...it's just impossible to wrap my mind around.
The story bouncing around between the grim confines of the camp and the glittering lives of New York's monied society provided such interesting contrast. One chapter you'd read all about women fighting for their lives, and the next you'd read about a woman fighting for the women who are fighting for their lives. The book references America's isolationist attitudes coming off of WWI, and when you pair that with the controlled, censured reports coming out of Germany, you see Americans hesitant to get involved in a way that feels so strange to us today because now we know all of the horrors that were happening and being covered up.
I also want to mention that this book was inspired by the author's discovery of the "Rabbits" while touring Caroline's family home in Connecticut. The Rabbits were a sub-group of women at Ravensbruck who were subjected to the notorious sulfonamide experiments. I will admit, when I found out that's where the plot was going I wasn't sure I could move forward; it just sounded too upsetting. But I did and while it was certainly uncomfortable, the author did not go into such gruesome detail as to make it unreadable. In hindsight, I realized that part of the reason I got through the hard parts were because they were told from the POV of Kasia who shows such incredible strength while trying to survive.
The White Princess
(Note: The title of this book is not related to race but rather the white rose sigil of the House of York.)
I bought this book after having watched the Starz series based on this novel. I've read a few of Philippa Gregory's historical fiction books in the past and enjoyed them, and since I loved the TV show I thought I'd read the book, too, to get a better sense of the York and Tudor families and factions.
Total. Bust. The show was so good and kept me on the edge of my seat as it delved into the "is he/isn't he?" question surrounding the mysterious boy claiming to be the lost prince Richard. The book, on the other hand, advanced the plot with the speed and redundancy of a hamster wheel. The beginning wasn't so bad as Elizabeth is forced to go through with her betrothal to the new king who slew and overthrew her lover, King Richard. (Everybody's named Richard and Elizabeth up in this piece.) It's pretty entertaining as her mother, the former queen, shrewdly outmaneuvers the new ruling house of Tudor.
And then it reached a point where literally every chapter was the same. King Henry VII finds he's falling for Elizabeth, then something goes wrong and somebody shows support for the House of York, Henry freaks out, blames Elizabeth for being a plotting hussy, and alienates everyone around him because he's awkward and fearful and weak. Once "the boy" (prince Richard) enters the plot it's the same thing. He's been captured, oh wait he got away, why does everyone love him, he's not real, or maybe he is....every. Single. Chapter.
So disappointed. Recommended? No. The show is good though!
Another author whose work I've enjoyed in the past is Dan Brown, famously of The Da Vinci Code. I always love following along as his characters race around Italy and see if I can figure out the bad guy before they're revealed.
In Origins, Robert Langdon (the protagonist of The Da Vinci Code, Inferno, and others) finds himself at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain attending the presentation of a genius billionaire techie who claims to have discovered the answers to humanity's two most pressing questions: where do we come from, and where are we going? Of course nothing goes according to plan, Langdon is swept up in the chaos, and begins racing around Spain with a brilliant, beautiful woman trying to release the revelatory presentation before the bad guys succeed in burying it forever. It's formulaic Brown.
As always with Brown's books, I enjoy reading about beautiful European cities and famous art and architecture more than anything. I've always wanted to go to Barcelona and Brown's descriptions of Gaudi's works relit that fire for sure! The plot was...okay. Brown always seems to want to chip away at religion, never more so than in this novel when the central conflict revolves around the age-old science versus religion debate. You do finally learn what's in the game-changing presentation at the end, and while it was certainly thought provoking, it didn't do anything for me as far as make me question my own beliefs. Do novels ever get you thinking on that deep of a level, or do you just take them for pure entertainment?
Recommended? Yes...for a beach read or if you're a fan of Brown's work.
That wraps it up for now! Was it a little too wordy? Y'all know I like to write...and write...and write ;)
I've already got my next round of books coming in the mail! One takes place in Charleston and the other in France so I'm reallllly excited about them! Fingers crossed they're as good as I think they'll be!
Thanks for coming by The Tony Townie! See y'all soon!