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Historical

Book Review: Anna and the Swallow Man

Anna and the Swallow Man
Author: 
Savit, Gavriel
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

In Poland in 1939, seven year old Anna's father went to work one day, never to return. As such, she finds herself learning to survive under the care of a stranger that she knows only as "the swallow man". Together, they escape Russian and German soldiers and travel the Eastern European countryside as they try to survive and make sense of the world that seems to be crumbling around them.

As this won the Odyssey Award (excellence in audio production) last year, I decided to give it a listen and I'm so glad that I did. The narration was excellent, but it would've been great even with a lesser narrator. This is a brilliantly written book that covers so much ground physically, metaphysically and metaphorically. Many things the Swallow man says or that Anna thinks are steeped in rich allegory and open for interpretation. Some of the things said are merely simple truths. Almost all of it feels somehow important and relevant. For example:

“The world as it exists is a very, very dangerous place.”

and

“Human beings are the best hope in the world of other human beings to survive.”

and

“Normally, her mind was like a busy beach - all day long she would run back and forth, leaving footprints, building small mounds and castles, writing out ideas and diagrams with her fingers in the sand, but when the night tide came in, she would close her eyes and allow each wave of rhythmic breath to wash in and out over her day's accumulation, and before long the beach would be clear and empty, and she would drift off to sleep.”

That, folks, is how you write prose. Insert clapping emoji here.

Plotting takes the background as this book is all about character development and parables and life lessons. It's about the importance of language, and people, and what it takes to stay alive when there's a war on. It's about being human and growing up. It's about family and love and necessity. It's about war. It's brutal and human and tender all at same time. And it's very, very good. 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: 
Britt

Book Review: Atonement

atonement
Author: 
McEwan, Ian
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

A metafiction novel documenting the struggles of a young misinformed thirteen year old, Atonement by Ian McEwan provides an intense glimpse into the power of lying and the consequences resulting from deception. Briony, a British girl in the early twentieth century witnesses a crime she twists in order to fuel her intense jealousy. Her eagerness to fulfill her own desires corrupts and destroys her sister Cecilia and Robbie’s romantic life and Robbie is whisked away into World War II. Within the last chapter of the book, current Briony reveals the truth about her manipulation of the book in order to immortalize the love between Cecilia and Robbie, both who die as a direct result of Briony’s lies. I would recommend the book to anyone willing to read deeper and not take everything written on page as the truth.

Those who enjoy deep, complex, twisted plots would be captivated by Atonement. The seriousness of the crime and depiction of the same scene from multiple perspectives limits the prospective audience to those high school and older. Despite the book’s intriguing start, the ending infuriates many as Briony lifts the curtain to reveal her distorted depiction in order to repent for her guilt. Atonement fortifies the pang of a guilty conscious and the powerful repercussions that result from lying.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: 
Alex K.

Book Review: Shadow

Shadow
Author: 
Morpurgo, Michael
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Shadow was a very good book that I thought had essentials to make into a review. Shadow was about an eight-year-old named Aman and him telling his entire story of how he met Shadow, and why he wanted to get out of Afghanistan. Taliban (people who didn't like Aman's people) invaded his part of Afghanistan, so him and his mother needed to get out of his town after his grandmother died. Right before he left, a dog he named Shadow accompanied him. Throughout their journey, they needed to walk many miles to get to Turkey, a place where an airport is. However, cruel people started robbing the family of all of their belongings, and even their grandmother's jewels she left behind just in case they lost all of their money, which they just did. Even through all of the struggles, the family still pushed on.

Eventually, Shadow gets picked up by the military, who claimed it was their dog. Aman eventually got to England. I thought that this book was good because it gave an accurate demonstration of a loving relationship between a boy and a dog.

Reviewer's Name: 
Logan L.

Book Review: Little Women

little women
Author: 
Alcott, Louisa May
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Little Women, a classic novel by Louisa May Alcott invites the reader into the world of the four March sisters in 1861 during the Civil war, who were living in Concord, Massachusetts. The Marches were poor, but happy, and their father was fighting in the war against the South. Meg, the oldest, was the most typical woman of her sisters (at the time). A lover of luxury and good society, she was the most proper. Jo, the second oldest was a free spirit and loved to read and write. She was a complete tomboy. Beth was the second youngest and very sweet. She had a plethora of pet cats and loved music. Amy was the youngest, and she loved art of all kinds. Like her sister, Meg, she also loved luxury. Little Women follows their story for about 15 years.
Overall, the book was very interesting, but at some points, it became extremely long-winded and sometimes even boring. However, most of the parts were very interesting and entertaining. You grow attached to all the characters in the book. Little Women was a wonderful book, and I hope to read it again soon.

Reviewer's Name: 
Nicole B.

Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

the boy in the striped pajamas
Author: 
Boyne, John
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a historical fiction novel by John Boyne, invites the reader into the world of nine-year-old Bruno as he and his family move to a house near a Nazi concentration camp. The book starts off with Bruno discovering that he and his family are going to move so that his father, a Nazi, can work at a concentration camp. Reluctantly, Bruno travels to an old, small house in a neighborhood with no children. While exploring, Bruno finds a fence enclosing the concentration camp and meets a boy the same age as him named Shmuel who lives on the other side. Over the next year, they become best friends, realizing they have a lot in common. One day, Bruno decides to go with Shmuel inside the concentration camp where his father worked to see what it was like. Sadly, on that day, everyone in the camp was marched to a chamber where they were gassed, Bruno and Shmuel holding hands until the end.

The Boy in The Striped Pajamas, while sad, is a story worth reading. It inspires the reader to think about the Nazis and how terribly wrong they were. A bond is formed with both of the boys, demonstrating the heartbreak the Jews must have felt when their own friends and family were mercilessly killed. Fluffy and light at the beginning and heart-wrenching at the end, it is perfectly balanced. However, I would definitely not recommend this novel to anybody who does not like tragedies or anyone under the age of ten.

Reviewer's Name: 
Nicole B.

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: 
Arden, Katherine
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

The Bear and the Nightingale is a Russian fairy tale(s) retelling that follows Vasilisa (Vasya) as she comes of age in the harshly beautiful Russian countryside. After her mother dies in childbirth, Vasya develops a kinship with the house spirits that protect her home, village and the surrounding countryside from any evils that lurk in the woods. All is well until her father decides to remarry. Her new stepmother is deeply religious and sees the house spirits as demons; a newly arrived monk further enforces these believes. The townsfolk become afraid, and stop minding the house spirits. This leads to disaster and death as the evil lurking in the woods begins to creep ever closer. Vasya must work with the spirits to restore balance to her town, lest her town be completely consumed by evil.

As someone who grew up on a steady diet of Disney and fantasy books, I am a sucker for a good fairytale and this one hits the mark. It's very much a fairy tale for adult(ish) readers and the writing was so lovely and hauntingly atmospheric that it sometimes felt like I was the one traipsing through the Russian countryside. Vasya was a very likable character - headstrong and intelligent in a time where women were still viewed as a commodity, Vasya is not ok with her lot in life. She wants more than to just pop out babies for some lord; she wants to live her own life on her own terms. That struggle, set against the wintry backdrop of a magical Russian countryside, made for a very entertaining read.

While the writing and most of the characters were fantastic, I did have a few issues with the book. I loved the beginning and ending, but struggled mightily with the middle. Many side plots that barely had anything to do with the story were introduced and never resolved. This is explained by the fact that this book is the first in a series, but I feel like the story would've been better served to focus on the main plot.

Meandering middle aside, this was a great read. This book demands to be read under blankets or near a fireplace on a cold day. Pick it up and prepare to be transported to the snowy fields of the Russia of yore. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: 
Britt

Book Review: Grapes of Wrath

Grapes of Wrath
Author: 
Steinbeck, John
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Many readers are immediately turned off by the immense depth and length of this classic (450+ pages). However, within the hundreds of pages, Steinbeck is able to create a realistic world with dynamic characters and an immersive story line. The book takes place during the Great Depression era, and the story follows the Joad family as they travel to California after losing their family farm. The story begins with the main character, Tom Joad, returning home from his time in prison. He quickly finds out that the Joad family farm has been repossessed, partly due to the Dust Bowl, and the entire family must travel to California in search of work. Along the way, the family meets and interacts with many characters facing the same difficulties of the Great Depression. Throughout the book, we see the hardships faced by these characters, which accurately correspond to the struggles of those during the 1930's. As an avid history nerd, I found myself quite intrigued by the story, since I was able to feel more connected to this tragic time in American history. Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading this book, and would strongly recommend it to someone who has an interest in history and enough free time to tackle this classic title.
Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: 
Alex K.

Book Review: Castaways of the Flying Dutchman

Castaways of the Flying Dutchman
Author: 
Jacques, Brian
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

To be honest, I wasn't sure I was going to finish this book. It was hovering around a 2 (Meh) when all of a sudden the author gave it a left turn and I found myself in a good old fashion treasure hunt story. Like the 'Gold Bug' by Poe, it's full of great and cryptic clues to unravel. Fantastic!! The author gives us a taste of the 'Flying Dutchman' legend and then joins us with a young boy and his dog who are traveling a strange road through life. There's three books in this series so if you like the adventure - enjoy.

Reviewer's Name: 
Bruce

Book Review: The Snow Child

The Snow Child
Author: 
Ivey, Eowyn
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Set in the 1920’s, this is the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless couple homesteading on the Alaskan frontier. The workload is never-ending, and without children to help with plowing, planting and harvest, they struggle not only to survive, but to avoid losing themselves to despair and disappointment. It is a story not only of survival and grit, but also of the kindness found in a community of like-minded individuals and families. This theme is typical of much historical fiction about western expansion and pioneer life, but this story holds an unexpected and delightful twist, where magic, reality and fairytales intersect. The first snow of the year is met with a playfulness that is not typical of Mabel and Jack. They end their snowball fight by building a snow-child near their cabin, complete with mittens, a hat, and arms made from twigs. The next day, they discover that their snow child was destroyed during the night – likely by wild animals. Their journey from that point is full of hope and expectation. The story has a dream-like, ethereal quality, yet the author maintains the sense of solidity that is required for historical fiction to work. The pace is slow, but fits well with the time and place. I sincerely enjoyed this author’s first novel. It made me think about the importance of accepting others as they are – always an important consideration. I have Eowyn Ivey’s second book in my “to read” stack right now, and will eagerly read her future offerings.

Reviewer's Name: 
Laura F.

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