Recently Read: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I read Still Alice last week in 2 sittings – it was a very very moving read. At first I thought the writing was a little simplistic, almost like a fiction story you’d read in a women’s magazine, but once the story gets going, I was so engrossed in the characters that I didn’t notice anything else. Alice is a professor at Harvard who thinks she is suffering from menopausal memory lapses/distraction before getting a diagnosis of early on-set Alzheimer’s. The book is written from Alice’s perspective, and as her disease progresses, her POV is altered, too – making the reader feel as if they too are descending into the hole with her.

That quote up in the photo is a great little wrap up of the book – uncomfortable, terrifying… it’s an emotional read! I’m glad I checked it out from the library, I feel like I have more insight into Alzheimer’s – a disease we hear so much about but probably don’t know much about.

This is a very quick read – not a very uplifting one, although it ends on a fairly positive note. Worth checking out and reading one weekend!


Still invested in Outlander

I read the 5th book in the Outlander series last week, The Fiery Cross.

I am now over 5,000 pages into Claire and Jamie’s story, and I’m still trucking along. I haven’t experienced any Outlander fatigue, although sometimes I do laugh at the story lines that go on for 100 pages only for the outcome to have no actual import on the big picture. If I didn’t love the characters so much, it would drive me crazy.

Things that I enjoy:

  • Claire and Jamie’s relationship is just as engaging as it was at the start.
  • Bree and Roger are more fully fleshed out, which makes their story lines more interesting – in the last few books I wanted to rush through their chapters to get back to Claire and Jamie.
  • The historical detail – I love it!! Especially the medicine – some reviewers say they are tired of all the attention bestowed on Claire’s medical practice, but I think it’s fascinating, and fairly well done!

Things I don’t like:

  • Bree was breastfeeding for the majority of this book, and hearing about her leaking breast milk and wet splotches on her bodice was tiresome after the first 100 times
  • Like I mentioned before, the plot lines that go nowhere. At one point, the militia is mustered, on the march, they find an abandoned cabin, adopt some orphans, find a weird medical emergency that Claire needs to solve, have a run in with a panther (??), and then get a note that calls off the whole thing. So the militia goes back home, after 250 pages of trekking around.
  • The pacing – the book opens at a Gathering, where all the displaced Scottish settlers in North Carolina gather for a 3 day festival. Specifically, it opens on the last day, and the first 200 pages take place all between dawn and noon? SO MUCH HAPPENS, and I keep assuming that the afternoon has gone by, and we’re getting close to the evening’s activities but no, it’s still “mid-morning” and they haven’t had breakfast yet. Very disconcerting.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this. I spent a day off reading all day! I barely touched the internet! I was 100% in the early 1770s with Claire and Jamie and the rest of the gang at Fraser’s Ridge. That being said, I do need to take a break between each book in the series, I don’t think I’ll be ready for #6 until next month, or maybe even the end of summer.

Favorite World War II Novels

I was so excited thinking about other novels of WWII that I had to dedicate a whole post to it..

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer – try not to become entranced as a young German soldier and French teenage girl’s fates become more and more entwined.

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

  • Charlotte Grey by Sebastian Faulks – a Scotswoman joins the French resistance – but is it to help the cause or to find the MIA airman who she loves? I love Sebastian Faulks! Birdsong is another great war novel, but set during WWI.

In blacked-out, wartime London, Charlotte Gray develops a dangerous passion for a battle-weary RAF pilot, and when he fails to return from a daring flight into France she is determined to find him. In the service of the Resistance, she travels to the village of Lavaurette, dyeing her hair and changing her name to conceal her identity. Here she will come face-to-face with the harrowing truth of what took place during Europe’s darkest years, and will confront a terrifying secret that threatens to cast its shadow over the remainder of her days. Vividly rendered, tremendously moving, and with a narrative sweep and power reminiscent of his novel Birdsong, Charlotte Gray confirms Sebastian Faulks as one of the finest novelists working today.

  • Suite Française by Irene NemirovskyConsidered Nemirovsky’s unfinished masterpiece, Suite Francaise is about the fall of Paris from the perspective of various characters in part 1, and then life in a small village outside of Paris under Nazi occupation in part 2 – this book is unfinished because Nemirovsky was deported and sent to Auschwitz where she died during the war. Her daughters discovered the manuscript in the 1990s and it was published in 2004.

Beginning in Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation in 1940. Suite Française tells the remarkable story of men and women thrown together in circumstances beyond their control. As Parisians flee the city, human folly surfaces in every imaginable way: a wealthy mother searches for sweets in a town without food; a couple is terrified at the thought of losing their jobs, even as their world begins to fall apart. Moving on to a provincial village now occupied by German soldiers, the locals must learn to coexist with the enemy—in their town, their homes, even in their hearts.When Irène Némirovsky began working on Suite Française, she was already a highly successful writer living in Paris. But she was also a Jew, and in 1942 she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where she died. For sixty-four years, this novel remained hidden and unknown.

  • THE CAZALET CHRONICLES by Elizabeth Jane Howard – Read these 5 amazing books immediately. The story starts in 1937, and continues through the war and after it, chronicling the life of a large English family through the generations. My mom turned me onto this series, and it is beautiful and engaging and sad and inspiring. Ugh! One of my favorite favorite series ever. While it is set during WWII, the story takes place on the home front.

Here is a summary of Book 1, The Light Years:

In 1937, the coming war is only a distant cloud on Britain’s horizon. As the Cazalet households prepare for their summer pilgrimage to the family estate in Sussex, readers meet Edward, in love with but by no means faithful to his wife Villy; Hugh, wounded in the Great War; Rupert, who worships his lovely child-bride Zoe; and Rachel, the spinster sister.

This family will become your own. I have laughed and cried with these characters, oh I just love them.

  • Fortunes of War by Olivia Manning – this series became my life – I read these SIX novels as 2 trilogies The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy, which I believe is how they are published now. When Manning first published them in the 1960s, I think they came individually.

The Balkan Trilogy is the story of a marriage and of a war, a vast, teeming, and complex masterpiece in which Olivia Manning brings the uncertainty and adventure of civilian existence under political and military siege to vibrant life. Manning’s focus is not the battlefield but the café and kitchen, the bedroom and street, the fabric of the everyday world that has been irrevocably changed by war, yet remains unchanged.

At the heart of the trilogy are newlyweds Guy and Harriet Pringle, who arrive in Bucharest—the so-called Paris of the East—in the fall of 1939, just weeks after the German invasion of Poland. Guy, an Englishman teaching at the university, is as wantonly gregarious as his wife is introverted, and Harriet is shocked to discover that she must share her adored husband with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Other surprises follow: Romania joins the Axis, and before long German soldiers overrun the capital. The Pringles flee south to Greece, part of a group of refugees made up of White Russians, journalists, con artists, and dignitaries. In Athens, however, the couple will face a new challenge of their own, as great in its way as the still-expanding theater of war.

Not only is this about the war, but it is totally a book about marriage. I need to reread these, I think I was 18 or 19 when I first read them. Now I’m 26 and about to be married… isn’t it funny how differently you connect with a book when you read it at different ages?

And in part 2, The Levant Trilogy:

In The Levant Trilogy Olivia Manning returns to the story of the young English couple Guy and Harriet Pringle, last seen, at the end of The Balkan Trilogy, departing from Athens ahead of the invading Nazi army. Now, in the spring of 1941, they arrive in Egypt as Rommel’s forces slowly but surely approach Cairo across the Sahara from the west. Will the city fall? In the streets the people contemplate welcoming a new set of occupiers, while European refugees and well-heeled Anglo-Egyptians prepare to pack their bags. And at night, everyone who is anyone flocks to the city’s famed hotels and seedy cabarets, seeking one last dance before the tanks roll in.

Manning describes the Pringles’ ever complicated marriage and their motley group of friends and foes with the same sharp eye that earned The Balkan Trilogy a devoted following. And she also traces the fortunes of a marvelously drawn new character, Simon Boulderstone, a twenty-year-old recruit who must grapple with the boredom, chaos, and fleeting exhilaration of war.

Whew! What a post! But I just had to share these amazing novels. Some of these reads were (dare I say?) life changing for me. They are all very tied up in my sense of self, I think because I read most of them for the first time between the ages of 17 and 21. I have reread The Cazalet Chronicles many times, the books are like visiting old friends, or returning to a favorite vacation spot. The Fortunes of War I need to reread. All the Light We Cannot See has a lot of hype surrounding it, but it is completely deserved.

Someone, please read some of these so I have a friend to talk about them with.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

I went into the Nightingale very skeptical. #1, I don’t trust people with 2 first names…. #2, I am VERY skeptical by a book with almost unanimous 5 star reviews.

Exhibit A – Amazon

nightingalereviews 4.8 rating from almost 8,000 readers?! I better have my socks knocked all the way off. Seriously?! The Nightingale was recommended to me by Amazon because I liked All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer. Anthony Doer won the Pulitzer Prize for that novel, and I don’t think it has this many good reviews.

Exhibit B – Goodreads

nightingalereviews2Whoa, 23,000 5 star rating on Goodreads – I get it, I get it, this book is good.

So did The Nightingale live up to my expectations? Yes and no. I did stay up until 2 am on a work night finishing this story. I looked forward to reading every day. I was invested in all the characters. I was a little sad to reach the end.

But was it the BEST WWII book I’ve ever read? No. In fact, it felt like coming home to the genre. It was predictable in all the right ways. Emotional in the right ways. Covered every aspect of the war – French resistance, occupied France, concentration camps, life in Paris,  new love and love lost, deaths, separation of Jewish families, I could go on! It was doing too much – like Kristin Hannah said to herself “I am going to write a WWII epic” and tried to include all the hits.

Here is the Amazon summary:

thenightingalesummary“A novel for a lifetime” – I don’t think so. It was a good read. Thrilling, romantic, awful, engaging, but not the best novel ever. I enjoyed reading it. It does not make my list of best WWII novels by a long shot. I think that the majority of its good reviews are from people who haven’t done much reading in the genre. My hope is that the Nightingale serves as a starting point to a rewarding journey.

I will make a short post with a list of much better WWII novels – I was inspired to think about my favorites and got so excited thinking about all these good stories that I need to share them. Expect an update soon!