5.06.2015

Mini Book Reviews // April Library Reads

Hello there!  I am here today to briefly review the four books I read from the library last month.  I've tried to organize these in the order I read them, and since I've got lots of thoughts on all of these, I'd better quit the chatter and get to the books!
Clara by Kurt Palka - I read this book at the end of March, really, but finished it in April.  It's a book about a young woman living in Germany during WWII.  She is married to a German soldier, and the book follows her entire life, jumping around from the past to the present (when she is an old woman) and ends with her death.  First off, I'll say that I enjoyed the perspective of a young German woman during the war.  I'd never read from that viewpoint before and I found it very interesting and I was able to empathize with her.  Her husband wasn't a Nazi, really, he was one who was in the Wehrmacht, I believe, and wasn't a radical Hitler-lover or anything like that.  I'll talk about the writing a little.  This is a fairly detailed story - the author highlights lots of things that aren't really critical or necessary to the story, but which enrich the overall atmosphere of the story.  Other than that, the writing style wasn't super remarkable, but it was nice regardless and I didn't have issues with it.  Clara's character seemed rather distant and I found it difficult to relate to her or connect with her.  The author didn't really flesh her out or give her a very distinct personality.  She just seemed a little colorless to me.  She was very interested in philosophy in school and throughout her life, and there were fairly heavy themes early in the story of atheism and Marxist thought, and I even got some anti-Christian themes in the early part of her life.  I'm not averse to reading criticism of Christianity or totally turned off by that in a book, but for some reason, here it felt a little forced and distinctly purposeful, which I didn't appreciate both as a reader and as a Christian.  I did appreciate the author's direct look at war and the damage it inflicts especially on women and children and in this case, women and children who have husbands and fathers serving in the war.  War was hard on everyone.  Period.  Overall, while I appreciated this book's new-to-me perspective and realistic look at war, I ultimately did not enjoy it very much.  For that reason, I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck - Being the book lover that I am, I was inevitably going to have to read Steinbeck at some point, and so last month, when I was on a classics kick, but was also on the lookout for shorter books, I picked up Cannery Row from my library.  This book is less than two hundred pages, and it's about the small cannery district of Monterey, California in the mid-twentieth century.  It's a humorous, but very real look at the loneliness of the individual but the vibrance and enthusiasm of community.  I want to talk about the writing style and format of the book first.  To me, this book really seemed like a series of short stories - some of the chapters were loosely connected while others were completely unrelated except through characters.  I really enjoyed that and it kept the pace moving as well as added to the nature of the story.  Also, I understand now why Steinbeck's books are so classic.  Apart from the relatable characters and universal themes of Steinbeck's stories, his writing is amazing.  That was definitely my favorite part of this book.  His writing style is very poetic and metaphorical and quite frankly literary, but is still able to maintain the reality of the story and never seems forced or out of place.  He is such a master of words and metaphor and creates descriptions and characters that seem real and believable.  I'm going to switch now and talk about the story itself.  Some of the chapters or stories are a little disturbing.  The characters are weird, strange stuff happens, etc.  But there's a theme throughout the book of the beauty of human connection and character and love.  At the same time, though, there's an underlying theme of individual loneliness, sadness at times and depravity.  But that's real life sometimes.  And to be honest, I really enjoyed the unexpected juxtaposition of those things.  It was humorous and beautiful and sad all at once.  I enjoyed this book and rated it 4 out of 5 stars.  I certainly plan on picking up more of Steinbeck's work.
Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King - I'm slowly making my way through the Mary Russell series, albeit out of order, and last month I read the eighth book, Locked Rooms.  I love that each book in the series has a different format, a different feel, a different location, and this one was no exception.  Locked Rooms takes place mostly in California, where Russell's childhood home is located.  She inherited the house, and she has come to the United States with Holmes to check on it and perhaps sell it.  Russell has been having a series of three strange dreams ever since she and Holmes were in Japan (where they were before coming to America) and each one is linked to a piece of her past which she cannot remember (she experienced slight amnesia as a child and can't remember parts of her childhood).  She is greatly affected by these dreams and is not her usual self for most of the book.  I really enjoyed this book, which is no surprise by now, but I wasn't sure what to expect since the mystery this time surrounded Russell and her forgotten childhood.  My favorite thing about this book was the way it was set up.  In part two of the book, the narrative switches back and forth a couple times between Holmes and Russell.  At this point it will be helpful to add that Holmes and Russell are also split up for much of this book.  Russell's a little touchy and doesn't want Holmes around asking questions and poking around with her, and so she goes and spends some time with her cousin and her boyfriend for much of the later part.  A large portion of the story is focused on Holmes, which I absolutely loved.  King's Holmes is one of my favorites, and I loved that we get to spend more time with him in this book.  And I especially appreciated that because Russell was not herself and got a little irritating at times.  Holmes trying to figure out the mystery of her father and what she forgot about her childhood behind her back when she wasn't around, like the bachelor we know and love was just perfect.  That guy.  I also noted that this book seemed to be more of a page-turner than the others.  I'm not sure why, perhaps because the mystery was more front and center and because Holmes was leading the narrative - I'm not sure.  But it was fast-paced and I enjoyed the look into Russell's past.  It was also awesome to see how much Holmes was truly concerned for Russell during the book - he's the best.  Also, it was fun to see him do his detecting and deducing alone - we see a lot of Sherlock Holmes doing Sherlock Holmes stuff in this book, and that was so much fun.  Locked Rooms was a fantastic book and I gave it 5 out of 5 stars.

Neverhome by Laird Hunt - I got this book hoping that it would be similar to Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, one of my top favorite books from last year, and it was a really big let down.  Like seriously disappointing.  It's basically about a young woman who chooses to become a soldier instead of her husband enlisting mostly because she's the more masculine one and because she doesn't want him to go.  First sign that it was going to be disappointing right there.  I actually enjoyed the first half of the book or so.  I was able to follow the (very sparse) storyline and really liked the really literary (imagery based) writing style.  But I really disliked the second half of the book.  The woman, whose name is Ash gets super weird, almost insane, and the story just takes a dark turn.  This story is not plot-driven, the story is not strong, and is mostly character-based.  And this time, I didn't like the character.  Ash seems really unrelatable, especially later in the book.  We never find out why she really went to war, we never really get a whole lot of the war at all - all the sudden it's over and she's heading home, and we barely got started.  Her journey home is filled with weird and disturbing people and events.  She's thrown in a madhouse for a while, and by then it seemed like she actually belonged there, and then she continues home.  There is no hurry to get back, it seems, and I began to wonder if she really wanted to.  And when she finally arrives back home at the end of the novel, she walks into town and hears that there have been men on her property trying to take it from her husband or something, and she vows to get rid of them.  She goes back, greets her husband and then clears her land of the squatters (there are 5 or so) with her gun.  Except when it's all said and done, she realizes she killed one too many.  Her husband's dead too.  And then, she doesn't mourn him, she simply buries him with the others.  She was quite possibly the strangest character I have ever had the displeasure of reading about.  So yeah, this book was NOTHING like Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, and I'm disappointed I ever hoped it would be.  This story lacked conviction, the character wasn't relatable or believable, and I didn't feel like it was about the Civil War at all.  In fact, I got some vibes of A Red Badge of Courage in this book, and I am totally not a fan of that.  Blech.  Finally, I want to talk about the writing style real quick.  The writing style in this book is really literary, which I don't mind.  I don't mind literary writing styles.  In Steinbeck's book I talked about earlier, it worked brilliantly.  But here, it made the whole story seem really unrealistic and surreal.  And that is not what I want when I read historical fiction.  I want to learn something about the war or the people who fought in the war, even if the character itself is fictional.  That is totally possible in historical fiction!  Unfortunately, this book has turned me off of historical fiction for a while, even though I know there is a lot of good historical fiction out there.  For now, though, I'm going to stick with nonfiction books when I want to read about the Civil War.  In my opinion, when you choose to write about a historical event, you should not take all the history out of it.  This book was super disappointing, and I rated it 1 out of 5 stars.    

And those are my thoughts on the books I read from the library last month!  A couple hits, one miss, and one major disappointment.  Thanks for reading and I will be back later this week!  xo, Ella

*These were books I picked up for the Snagged @ The Library Reading Challenge this year.  Find out more about that challenge here.

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