Reading Round Up: March
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
War books are difficult to read. There is rarely a good side to war, no matter how well the story is written. With this knowledge then, with some reluctance, I began reading Salt to the Sea as I knew a WWII story would have tragedy and travail. Yet, the story starts with a strong hook and its hypnotic four person viewpoint narrative continues throughout, making it a compelling read about the worst maritime disaster in history. Surprisingly, good manages to surface in the horror that pervades in this aspect of war.
The story centers on the evacuation efforts of those fleeing Russian soldiers. Thousands escape with barely any belongings in hope of finding refuge on ships. The main focus is on the Wilhelm Gustloff, which carried 10,000 refugees on board. It’s amazing that a loss of over 9,000 lives has not had more attention. Almost half of those lost were children. This is a story of four lives and their perspective. Riveting to the end. The historical detail is commendable. A solid five star read.
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
At times the book had the feel of a PBS series, the detail and characterization being so colorful and descriptive, ready for adaptation. This is not a complaint; however, a book of nearly 500 pages does contain a bit of hefty plot making and detail. It’s as if it wants to become a series. The book is not so much a war story as it is a study of England and its people before war irrevocably altered a way of life.
Told from various character experiences, a reader senses the summer before the Great War to be one never seen again in England. The warmth of friendships, the comfort of routine, and the pace of English country life is laid before the reader in welcome detail, so when war does arrive the shock is truly felt.
Beatrice, Hugh, Aunt Agatha, Mr Tillingham and the other characters of Helen Simonson’s second novel are admirably portrayed, as is the setting and the various subplots. Sometimes it felt a bit much, as in a bit too much detail. The over-length of the story contributed to the four and a half star rating–a hundred pages of exposition trimming would have helped to keep attention on the story instead of on the extra particulars. Colorful details, while appreciated, can become distracting if overdone.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Told from two perspectives, All American Boys, tells the story of police brutality, from that of the victim and of a witness. And it gets complicated. White cop, black teenage kid. White witness, friends with the cop and his younger brother. Loyalties are tested. Lines drawn at school. Choices are made.
The authors provide a realistic account of a situation happening too often across the country. What could have added to the story, ends up watering down the impact, as there is also a weak account of the police officer’s viewpoint, although it seems added in to only offset the difficulty of the situation. Being a police officer is difficult. Another character emphasizes the tough split-second decisions officers must make that can result in permanent consequences. The interjection of the police officer in question inadvertently comes off as him being menacing. It might have been better to hear his full his viewpoint to add the perspective of the police officer along with the victim and the witness.
Overall, an important, timely story told with realism and an ear for true dialogue. A four star read.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Having avoided this book because how can any book about the Holocaust be different from the other ones I’ve read? There is an inevitable sadness and horror to the truth of the events.
John Boyne does manage to bring a different perspective to his Holocaust tale, in that his story is told as a fable. Bruno, a nine year old German son of a high ranking Nazi official, must move with his family to Out-With because the Fury deems Bruno’s father capable enough to run the death camp. Bruno, however, does not know it is a death camp. He also does not know why there are so many people wearing grey-striped pajamas. He hates this place. He hates it until while exploringone day he discovers a boy on the other side of the fence. A nine year old boy named Shmuel who is wearing striped pajamas. The story is about their friendship.
On a literal level, the story is annoying with its purposeful euphemisms and the veiled naïveté of Bruno. Yet, reading the story as a fable, as a story that could never happen in a world so advanced as ours, it deserves the acclaim it has received. A four star as sometimes the fable aspect is somewhat overdone.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Warning: Only those with a serious crush on the 80’s are advised to saunter forth to experience Ernest Cline’s whopping tome of this romanticized era. And it helps to be a gamer. Not being a fan of either, I really didn’t appreciate the story. Plus, I couldn’t figure out if the audience was meant to be YA or adult. All this contributed to the three star rating. I did like the Willy Wonka mash up with Tron aspect.
The Man He Never Was: A Midern Reimagining of Jekyll and Hyde by James Rubart
The story provides much promise as it starts out: a man waking alone in a strange room with no memory. Amnesia stories can be intriguing mysteries as pieces are put back together. Unfortunately, there are too many plot holes to sustain the premise that a person can easily disappear for almost a year without more repercussions than indicated.
At times the message of how a person can overcome weaknesses through the strength of relying on the Lord is inspiring. It is confusing, even dismaying, that this truth gets garbled with New Age aspects of meditation centers, Eastern teas, and cosmic rooms. At times there is a Ted Dekker feel of spiritual mysticism to the plot. Robert Whitlow provides the same blending of spiritual and inspirational, but with more of a faith-based storyline. Rubart’s mixture is confusing, if not disturbing, in its approach to the idea of the dark side, the Hyde, within a person. A three star read.
The publisher provided a copy in exchange for a fair review.