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review 2016-09-05 19:37
Prince of Fire
Prince Of Fire - Daniel Silva

I went to a conference with a coworker where, along with the number of other people, we scored over 2,700 student essays. My coworker loaned me this on day one of the conference because Silva is one of her husband's favorite authors, and we have similar taste in books. I didn't think I'd want to read anything in the evenings after spending all day reading on a computer screen and straining my eyes, but once I started this, I had a hard time putting it down so that I could let my eyes rest. Much of what I read in here seemed familiar to me, so much so that I was wondering if perhaps I'd read previous books in this series but forgotten about them. It turns out that I hadn't, but Prince of Fire is inspired by actual historical events that I was familiar with, hence my confusion regarding the feeling of familiarity. I'm now a fan of Silva's Gabriel Allon series and will be adding the rest of the titles to my ever growing to-be-read pile. This is a fast paced thriller of high intensity and suspense.

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review 2016-07-17 19:43
War and Turpentine
War and Turpentine: A novel - Stefan Hertmans,David H. McKay

War and Turpentine is separated into three parts: the first about Urbain's childhood and family; the second recounts his experiences during World War I; the third focuses on his life after the war.


The writing is elegant, if a bit too alliterative at times, but quite beautiful are the author's descriptions of his great-grandparents' love and the tenderness with which great-grandmother Celine treats her husband, Franciscus, despite their poverty, cramped quarters, five children, and Franciscus's fragile health. Hertmans presents his grandfather's impoverished childhood in terms that show how the beautiful, the ugly, and the mundane intertwined to create the man Urbain would grow to be. Hertmans captures the great love Urbain had for his mother, Celine, and the tenderness of her love toward both her husband and her son.


Before he was even old enough to shave, Urbain had already seen a great deal of the painful side of life. He was barely a teenager when he witnessed a horrific accident at an iron smith/mechanic's shop, and, as was the custom at the time, nobody talked about what happened; everyone kept to himself while things and people fell apart. Urbain also spent time working in a foundry at the age of thirteen, and the reader can feel the intense heat of liquid metal and see young Urbain's muscles tremble as he struggles to steady the basin of molten iron.


I was also particularly moved by a scene from the Great War, describing animals swimming across a river in a flood during a lull between battles, "fleeing an unimaginable Armageddon . . . fleeing blindly like lemmings." One can only begin to imagine how tempting it must have been to want to flee with them, to swim away to a distant shore, to a place where one can look in any given direction and not see insurmountable death and destruction. Urbain describes war as being "like the wrath of God, minus God." Powerful and poignant.


My only real point of contention with the novel is that I felt the author's presence more than I wanted to. At times, images and sounds flowed over me in cascades; at other times, I was only too aware of the author's presence. Outside of that, I really enjoyed reading War and Turpentine and found the prose both fluid-like and soothing, even when describing some of the darkest moments of Urbain's difficult life.


I received access to the galley for free through the First to Read program, but all opinions are MY OWN.

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review 2016-07-08 05:49
Strange History, indeed!
Strange History - Bathroom Readers' Institute

I learned a lot of interesting and crazy tidbits reading this, and a few pretty awful things too, but I had a blast doing it! People have done some ridiculous things with poop, including using it as a contraceptive. History is full of crazy facts like that, and this book is jam packed with them.


I was in a pretty foul mood today till I started reading this; then the old time insults made me grin, and the story of an Egyptian general's traitorous fart had me cracking up!


This is a book for those who love history and for those who don't yet know they do. It doesn't need to be read in any particular order, so readers can go from cover to cover or peck around and see where they land. I enjoyed this! (PS: If trepanning makes yet another comeback, count me out! I need a hole in the head like I need a...well, you know.)



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review 2016-07-07 18:09
Daughters of the Dragon
Daughters of the Dragon: A Comfort Woman's Story - William Andrews

Twenty years ago, Anna was born in Korea and adopted by an American couple. Upon the death of her adoptive mother, Anna travels to Korea to meet her birth mother. Instead, she meets her maternal grandmother, who tells Anna her own difficult story as well as the story of Anna's birth mother's life and death.


When the book starts, Anna is the narrator, and she speaks to the audience in a young, conversational tone. Then the flashback begins, and the past is revealed through Anna's grandmother's voice, which gives the writing a smoother, more formal tone that made it easier for me to lose myself in the story.


This isn't a book for the faint of heart. These girls were called "comfort women"--a euphemism for sex slaves, and they suffered horribly at the hands of their captors. I felt my stomach knot up at times, and I wanted to reach into the book and pull them out of their pain. However, I do think the author was a bit heavy-handed at times when it just wasn't necessary to be that detailed. Truly, though, it's amazing how cruel humans can be, but also what humans can survive, as well.


At any rate, if you're looking for a book that's going to make you feel strong emotions, Daughters of the Dragon definitely will. This is a terrible piece of history being repeated right now in lands under ISIS control, and as hard as it to read about, it must be unimaginable to survive. Rape is still a weapon of war. I guess, no matter how terrible they are, some things never change.


(ARC, views my own)

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review 2016-07-04 02:44
Every Falling Star
Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea - Susan Elizabeth McClelland,Sungju Lee

This is a powerful true story that needs to be told. Sungju's father is in the North Korean army, and Sungju is being raised to follow in his father's footsteps. Because of his dad's position, the family lives in luxury, having a three-bedroom apartment in Pyongyang, a refrigerator full of meat and vegetables, and even a baby grand piano. Life for them is perfect--until one day when it isn't, and the Le family is forced to learn the hard way that the North Korea they think they know and love is an illusion.


Because of an unspecified trespass (blamed, of course, on Japan and the "evil Americans") Sungju's father loses his position, and the family is exiled to the northern part of the country. Most of their belongings are taken away from them, even their dog, and Sungju's dream life quickly becomes a nightmare. He awakens to a North Korea with people "unlike any I’d seen in Pyongyang. Their skin sagged, their eyes were sinking into their faces, and their skin color was bluish, almost gray, like the clouds that rolled off the East Sea in February."


Welcome to the North Korea most North Koreans know, a place where food is scarce, electricity is limited, people disappear, citizens don't trust one another, children die and no one cares, and school kids take field trips to public executions. Le's days of studying, playing, and being with family are replaced by days and nights of stealing, fighting, leading a gang, doing drugs, and barely holding on to life. Struggling to survive becomes a part of daily life.


Because of their oppressive environment, many North Koreans have the ultimate victim mentality, but they see the West as their oppressors, and they believe the propaganda that says the world is out to get them. Completely dependent on the government for their livelihoods, they view their leader as their savior and their only true protector. With no access to the outside world, and nothing but state-run media, the people of North Korea have no way of knowing that the Kim family they worship and depend on are the people who hurt them more than the outside world ever could. The authors describe North Korea as "indeed a Hermit Kingdom: a true-to-life dystopian nation." How tragic, yet how true.


My heart goes out to the people of North Korea. I can't imagine living under a harsh totalitarian government that controls every aspect of its people's lives, along with a state-run media engineered to make the people worship the very leader who keeps them starving and repressed. Sungju and several others in the book eventually learned the truth about their country, but knowing the truth and being able to change it are two different things.


Fortunately Le was able to make the harrowing journey out of North Korea and now works to help other people in similar situations. Ultimately, he says, "My story is about friendship, love, and hope in terrible circumstances. Hope is never lost. No one can take it away. Only you can give it. I refuse to ever give up hope to anyone." God bless this young man. His story serves as a reminder of why we should appreciate the freedoms we have and pray for the people of North Korea.


This book would be great to use in class as a way of introducing students to life behind the bamboo curtain.


A brief video of Sungju Le can be found here:


(ARC, views my own)


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