A Review of Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

Stingo is a young writer trying to make his print on the writing world. He comes from a decently wealthy family and his father has options for him to become a peanut farmer in Virginia but that lifestyle is not for him. He moves to Brooklyn into an apartment building run by a Yiddish woman and filled with a conglomeration of of interesting individuals. Two of these individuals are a couple that live across the hall from Stingo, named Nathan and Sophie. Nathan is a scientist and music lover and Sophie is a polish holocaust survivor plagued by tragedy. The trio meet and their lives become intrinsically linked and their lives are forever changed. This book is Stingo’s book about the events that happened in the few months he got to know the couple and their volatile relationship.

I started this book in January and I just finished it this morning. It was an incredibly grueling read for me. It is apparent that this author loves words and the written language because he uses an over abundance of them. His sentences drag on forever and he uses so many adjectives and so much description for everything that I found my mind wandering. Not only that, but he would begin a narrative about a certain past event which would then go off on a tangent into unrelated events and personal histories on characters that are only in the narrative for a few sentences. I felt there was a lot of unnecessary information, which the author, writing as Stingo, often talked about being unnecessary but he felt compelled to write it anyway. This doesn’t always translate to good writing. In this situation, I believe the less is more rule applies.

The biggest tragedy of this book is that a really greatly tragic story is hiding beneath all the drivel. Styron talks about Sophie’s time at Auschwitz and Birkenau and how it affected her and her family and it was incredibly heart breaking. The lengths she went to and the choices she had to make were things that would kill most people mentally. But just as I became emotionally invested in what was happening then suddenly the story went into something else and I never felt totally felt fully connected or invested in the characters. I feel it is sad that I never cried during such a tragic tale.

My overall thoughts on this book is that it was just okay. I would give it a 3 out of 5. This is because of the various reasons I already listed. A wonderful story was drowned in too many words. This booked was listed under books that have previously been banned in the United States and I can only guess that at the time this was first published it was because of the content and the strong sexual situations, which I found to be quite vulgar and over the top. I would recommend this book to people who enjoy history, especially the holocaust, as more than half the book is written about Sophie’s time there. But if you don’t like an overabundance of description than this book is definitely not for you. It can get almost painful to read at times.

A Review of In the Kingdom’s Name by Amy Jarecki

I was gifted this ebook from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. I received this one awhile back but upon finding it was a sequel, I purchased the first book in the series and read it first. You can find the review for that book in this blog as well.

In the Kingdom’s Name finds Eva still in medieval Scotland, during the war to free themselves from English rule. Andrew Murray is on the brink of death and William all but forces Eva to use her newfangled healing to save him, something time does not want her to interfere with. Because of this, she is spirited away back to modern day and is desperate to get back. Will fate let her go back? Can she change time to save William Wallace’s fate.

This was a really good follow up as it helped to further develop Eva and William’s relationship but aside from the historical aspects of where the story had to go in order to still be true, the rest was kind of a let down. Jarecki explains her decision in the author’s notes and it makes sense but it didn’t feel right to me. I thought there were many things that could’ve happened to make the outcome more enjoyable. The last chapter of the book felt very forced to me and I never gained any real emotional connection to the resolution.

Another thing that bothered me, is that William Wallace is an extremely pious man. He had decided that he was going to take his vows into the priesthood until he decided to take up arms to fight the cause of his country. That being said, he very quickly jumped into a sexual relationship with Eva from the very beginning. While men can change their minds, he continued to read his psalter and to quote scripture all while this is taking place. So for me, I don’t feel like his character stayed true to himself and the whole sexual relationship was contrived to help the story further along.

This was a decent read but I liked the first installment of this saga better. I give it a 3 out of 5. This decision was mainly based on the fact that the ending was completely lost for me. I felt the author couldn’t figure out a way to make her original ending work and so this was plan B and everyone, including Eva, got the second best option.  This book has strong sexual scenes so reader discretion is advised.

A Review of Death by Petticoat by Mary Miley Theobald

Death by Petticoat is a collection of myths that people have been led to believe over the years about our colonial ancestors. These myths, though one time thought true, have since been proven wrong. This book was put together with the help of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Its not categorized in subject matter or chapter, but rather, numbered by myth. There are 62 different ones. Some of them I remember learning, while some I thought were fairly obscure and may have only been known by history buffs. This book even goes so far as to explain where these myths may have originated.

I really enjoyed reading Death by Petticoat. It was a fairly quick read, only taking about an hour. It had some great photography to accompany each myth. I give this a 5 out of 5. Its a great little trivia book that you can use to impress your history loving friends. I definitely recommend it.

A Review of The Simpson’s Family History by Matt Groening

I am a huge Simpsons freak. This book came out last year some time and I had been eyeballing it at Barnes and Noble every since. But it was $35 and I just couldn’t justify spending that much at the time. Low and behold, I went browsing in the Barnes and Noble bargain section a few days ago and what should happen to be sitting their glowing as if calling me to buy it? You guessed it! It was now only $9.99 and I had to get it.

This is a visual history of 25 years of The Simpsons. With some explanatory text and the occasional bit of trivia, it is mostly screenshots pulled from the show. What I like about it, is that they’ve put it together in chronological order using the flashbacks from the series and current plots. It starts from Grandpa Abe simpson as a child moving to America and goes through how Homer and Marge meet, their early life together, how Homer got on at the Nuclear Power Plant, all the way to the birth of Maggie.

This is a must have for any true Simpsons fan. Going through the history and seeing the screen shots had me reliving some of my favorite episodes. It made me want to go back and start watching the series all over again. Good thing I have every season that is currently on DVD. I give this book an easy 5 out of 5. It isn’t any kind of profound reading but it will scratch that Simpsons itch in a very satisfactory way.

A Review of Rise of a Legend by Amy Jarecki

Eva MacKay is an archeological journalist fascinated by the legend of William Wallace. After he husband is brutally murdered she takes a job on a historical dig at the battleground of Loudoun Hill. One early morning, her professor gives her a necklace without telling her much about it. She falls asleep at Fail Monastery only to wake up amidst a historical battle in 1297 Scotland. Right as she thinks she’s going to die, she is rescued by a man of great size. After introductions, she realizes her savior is none other than William Wallace himself. Their chemistry is instant and so begins a tumultuous relationship during some of Scotland’s greatest massacres and battles.

This book caught my attention from the very first pages. Eva has known a lot of tragedy in her 27 years and you begin to feel for her right away. There is a lot of history in these pages the author went to great lengths researching the history of William Wallace that we know, while still injecting her own twist to what happens. This era in Scotland’s histories has quite a few holes so the author used multiple sources to weave her tale. William was a battle hardened man with a chip on his shoulder about the English monarchy. Jarecki gave a nice contrast between a man bent on taking back Scotland for his people and a  softer man falling in love with a woman he doesn’t completely understand.

My one criticism is the numerous sex scenes. I, personally, don’t enjoy reading about extremely graphic sex. I would have enjoyed something a little more subtle to characterize their budding romance instead of gratuitous sex. The relationship between Eva and William starts out very carnal and this is shown throughout the book. I did, however, greatly enjoy the slow transition between lovers blowing off the steam of tragedy and the deeper love their grew to have for one another.

I give this book a 5 out of 5. Despite the graphic sexual content, the history and character development was amazing. I love time travel of any kind and historical romance is one of my favorite sub genres of this. There’s something so intriguing about someone from our own time finding themselves in way earlier time periods and falling in love with icons I’ve only read about in history books. To be front and center to histories battles would be incredible. I recommend this book to fans of historical romances. Definitely keep in mind that there is a lot of sex and very graphic depictions of death and battle of the period.

A Review of The Watchmaker’s Hell: The Pit by LA Barnes

The Pit is book one in a series of four books. It begins with a group of people dropped randomly in hell. This story is told through the perspective of many different characters so I won’t get into one specific character as being the protagonist. Also, many characters are not what they seem so in order to not give anything away I won’t get into it much. The main conflict is a a war in hell some are trying to avoid while others are trying to figure out why they are in hell.

The character development in this book is exceptional. Each profile is given an extensive history and backstory. With that said, I feel like some of it is too much. This is an extremely long narrative and would serve its purpose better by cutting out some of it. As we navigate through perspectives there is a lot of rehashing of events both past and present and sometimes it becomes too redundant. This book shows there can be too much of a good thing. But honestly, this was my only complaint.

The story was told well and was always leaving me wanting more. There are a few twists that I wasn’t expecting and I was left wondering if what I was reading was the truth just like the characters. It’s fascinating to be left feeling betrayed because I often times felt very immersed in the plot.

Without giving too much away, my favorite sub plot was the reconnection of two characters, one who was the reincarnated lover of another. For most of the story I felt very drawn to them and their connection. I was rooting for them and vicariously living through their rekindling romance.

There is lots of foul language as well as sexual content both being discussed and implied acts. There are also a lot of religious overtones. The author goes into doctrines of many different belief systems. Besides being a bit too wordy in parts I did enjoy the book. I give it a 4 out of 5 stars and I think I would’ve given it a 5 if it had been edited more.

A Review of The Book Thief by Mark Zusak

Liesel Meminger is a half Jewish girl living in Nazi Germany. Her mother is Jewish but her father is German. Thankfully, she has her father’s blonde hair. Her mother takes her and her brother to foster care so they won’t be put into concentration camps because she is Jewish. On the train ride to the foster agency, her little brother dies of what seems to be pneumonia. They stop and bury him and by his grave she sees that the gravedigger has dropped a book. She later learns that the book is called The Gravedigger’s Handbook. It is the beginning of a lucrative career of book stealing. She takes this one in particular, because it reminds her of the last day she saw her mother and brother.

Shortly after that, Liesel is dropped off at the Hubermann’s. She says goodbye to her mother, not wanting her to leave, and never sees her again. What follows, is the story of a little girl who grows into a woman during Nazi Germany. She deals with all the issues that young adults during that time period dealt with: school, boys, hunger, sports, and finding your place in a world that seems to be falling apart at the seams.

This story is told through the eyes of death, a kind of jaded observer of humankind. He’s seen it all so nothing surprises or moves him until he meets Liesel. He follows Liesel and her story closer because I think she brings to him some sense of what humanity still could be amongst all this death and chaos. We see a lot more of the world when with death as the narrator but I felt like I was never fully immersed into the story like I would’ve been had it been narrated by Liesel. For one, Death never shows a whole lot of emotion and I’m drawn into a book more when I am made to feel what the characters feel.

Death also had a bad habit of revealing to the reader what was going to happen to the characters before it happened which I felt stole some of the raw emotion. I think that part of the trauma of a tragic story is the surprise that comes with a death you weren’t expecting. Also, the book tended to jump into a different time period right when I was being drawn into a scene. Then in the next chapter it might go back to the middle of that scene and it was just very disjointed to me. I think this book would’ve been more impactful with a linear story line.

Overall it is a good book. I would recommend it and it is interesting to see how the Nazi Party affected the other side. I found out that the Germans were poor and starving too. They may not have had to go through the concentration camps but the youth had to go to meetings for the Nazi Youth where they were treated very poorly and it was a lot like boot camp. Life was not easy during that time for anyone. Even the wealthy seem to be plagued with horrors of their own, like loss of loved ones in the war. I would give this book a 3.5 out of 5.