Historical

Book Review: Cry, the Beloved Country

Cry, the Beloved Country
Author: 
Paton, Alan
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

The mystery of unbelief and rebellion and the misery that flows flows from it, is a great theme in scriptures and is played out painfully and powerfully in this epic novel. The questions surrounding unbelief, the pain to all who witness lives unraveling, and the consequences that lead to death can never be expounded upon simply. They are mysteries without simple answers.

In this profound book, some are driven to evil and misery by poverty and social injustice. But others, particularly two of the main characters, choose dark paths when they have been given every opportunity out. Light and life are offered but they follow after death and darkness.

Although this is story set in South Africa, it bears meaning for all time.
All are offered living water. "Come to me all you who thirst, come buy and eat, without money and without price." But many will not come. The dog returns to his vomit and sow to wallowing in his mud. To those who have tasted of the everlasting water, to those who know life and light, this remains among life's greatest mysteries. Everyone is offered cleansing waters of forgiveness, they are offered an eternal pardon, they are offered everlasting joy, they are offered peace and hope, but they love the darkness.
And they suffer for their choice as their life unravels thread by thread, and they bring grief upon grief on everyone who loves them. But they do not care and they do not turn. And Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying: "How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood, but you were not willing."

A father weeps over a son and a sister, and as he weeps, he participates in the weeping of Jesus over Jerusalem. And yet, there is one in the story who flees corruption.

The ultimate crisis of this story takes place in the heart of the old priest who has led a faithful life. For darkness is predatory and never at rest, but it creeps and pursues and desires to consume and devour and distinguish all light. Will the priest be overtaken by hopelessness and despair and fear in his darkest hour? Will anger and perplexity and grief have the final word in his bereaved heart? Where will he turn to comfort? The darkness will not stop pursuing him and will not be content until he too has lost his joy in life.
How will he fight? What will he hold on to?

Highly recommend.

Reviewer's Name: 
Leslie Taylor

Book Review: A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities
Author: 
Dickens, Charles
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Profound human love and the most repugnant savagery, horror and redemption, a heroine and a grotesque revenger, two families with dark secrets, two cities, all in the backdrop of the bloodbath that was the French Revelation. In reading it, be prepared for the "Best of Times and the Worst of Times."

Like all great stories, the brilliance of this tale is its ability to not only intimately draw us into the tangled lives of these characters, battered by the historical tyrannies of their time, but to use their story as a parable to understand the human narrative as a whole. Perhaps this is why Dickens believed this book to be his magnam opus; perhaps he felt like it was his clearest statement of what he believed.

The struggles of a small family open the reader's eyes to understanding the larger struggles of humanity in general. We learn not only about the turmoil and violence plaguing France at the time of the French Revolution, but the sin and darkness plaguing our human race. Through this story, we understand principles which will prove true for all times and all places. Dickens writes that the evil cruelty of the French aristocracy gave birth to something according to its kind, the French Revolution, as all things since beginning of creation have produced according to their kind. Evil begets more evil.
This is the story of humanity.

But redemption and resurrection echo throughout the novel as well. Darnay had a mother, who, though an aristocrat, once sought to make restitution for the something incredibly cruel her heartless husband had done. This woman is mentioned only once briefly in the whole book, but her influence on her son Charles Darnay profoundly changed the course of Darnay's life and the whole book.

Even Dickens' style of writing is a reflection on the truth of real life. For instance, every single scene in the book is important to the story, although for the first half of the book, the reader can't figure out how it will come together. But at the end, as everything is revealed, the reader can think back and see the purpose for each scene. Similarly, as we walk through life, we rarely understand the purpose for the various scenes we find ourselves in.
Although we will never understand completely until heaven, there are times when it is all brought together and we see the purposes behind puzzling circumstances.

In typical Dickens style, this book is written to tug at your heart strings.
But this is not done in a manipulative or sentimental way, but in the most straightforward way possible: by giving an often newspaper-sounding account of the events that take place in each scene. Yet any reader with a pulse will be profoundly moved in numerous scenes. How does he do this? By focusing his accounts on the human element, the true purpose behind any story. Woven through every page in this book is the message that every human being counts.
Collectivism, sacrificing the individual for the group, is shown to be barbaric.

Another stroke of genius is Dickens uncanny way of portraying evil. Madame DeFarge becomes in the book everything that she hates. The reason she got to be the way she is, was because of something terrible that was done to her sister and brother by the aristocracy when she was still young. And yet, at the end of the novel, it is said of her that as she puts men and women to death, she cares nothing that they may be innocent, or that they may leave behind a bereft sister or brother or wife. She only cares that more and more people die, and she is never satisfied.

In a pre-Flannery O'Connor style, Dickens leaves the reader no room for false hopes in the goodness of humanity. He wants to take your false hopes and hit them out of the ballpark never to be seen again. If there's one thing that this story was supposed to shatter, it is the myth that man is getting better and better, and the solutions to his sin is minor. Redemption is possible, but the price is higher than any of us imagined.

Reviewer's Name: 
Leslie Taylor

Book Review: Lila

Lila
Author: 
Robinson, Marilynne
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

"Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer." Ruth 3:9

What happens when an old man, broken from years of suffering, looks into the face of a feral woman who has wandered into his church for shelter? In this moving story, he sees humanity in her face. He sees her loneliness and her sin-ravaged state, but he can see beyond that to a human being, near ruined, yet not beyond the hope of a redeemer. She is a person in need of compassion and comfort. He offers her a home for her world-weary frame. He marries her.

The story of Lila finds its poetic power in Robinson's unmatched ability to empathize with the human condition. Each page of this story is dripping with compassion and sympathy. The genius lies in how the very fabric of the story weaves a picture of the deepest desires of every human heart.

Lila, at her core, is a person in desperate need of protection and affection.
Here Robinson proves herself to be a master of symbolism. When a shawl was spread over the sickly, neglected, and dying toddler Lila, by a wretched woman overcome by compassion for an unloved child, this shawl and this memory become the defining features of Lila's life. And later, as a forsaken, hopeless, and forlorn grown woman, who has now lost the one person in the world who ever cared for her, Lila finds again someone spreading his dark suit jacket, the one he preaches in, over her freezing shoulders as they walk along the road. Lila says, looking back on that moment: "She thought it was nothing she had known to hope for and something she had wanted too much all the same." A covering, a home, protection. And again: "But if she had prayed in all the years of her old life, it might have been for just that, that gentleness. And if she prayed now, it was really remembering the comfort he put around her, the warmth of his body still in that coat. It was a shock to her, a need she only discovered when it was satisfied, for those few minutes." This story brings to life the theme that we often don't even know what to pray for and that mercy is so much bigger than our imagination.

Robinson is an author who truly understands how to express suffering, estrangement, loneliness, and courage in a breath-taking and lovely story of grace and redemption. She has a deep perceptiveness in the way she portrays the various motives that control the human heart and she writes with forthrightness and blazing accuracy. Read an be changed.

Reviewer's Name: 
Leslie Taylor

Book Review: How Green Was My Valley

How Green Was My Valley
Author: 
Llewellyn, Richard
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

It would be extravagant for one to expect to come across such a book more than a handful of times in a lifetime. It is while reading a book like this that I am suddenly overcome with a desire to read less books, and to read only quality books and to read them more carefully. I would trade many stacks of books for this one pearl. I wonder that I have wasted so much of my time on so much drivel, when something so compelling was waiting to be read. I wonder that libraries and book stores are so crammed with piles of worthless pages, and stacks of pages, when buried beneath them all is a such a forgotten gem.
For every now and again comes along a writer who pulls back the veil from mundane life and reveals the mysteries and the wonder that we had forgotten were lurking all along. We are children again, humming along through the pages of this book, who see afresh the every day grandeur of a small mountain village, a loving family wading through pain and brokenness, sifting through the ideas of Marxism and socialism, trying to cling to tradition and faith.
We see a father and and his sons who love each other dearly but disagree fiercely; we long to live amongst the quaintness of tight-knit village living, but are revolted at the devastation caused by gossip and bitterness.
We become the young boy who is subject to grotesque treatment at an English school on account of the differences of dialect between the English and the Welsh. (This is so perplexing to Americans! Furthermore, the English treat the Welsh as though they are uneducated, uncouth barbarians, when in fact, the young boy taught himself advanced trigonometry while recovering from an illness, with the help from his older brother, a coal minor and an advanced mathematician himself.) But everywhere is beauty and freshness: the loveliness of the Welsh valley, the spirit of home and happiness, of merry-making and festivities. Not only does the Welsh valley echo with the clear song of joy and rejoicing, but the pages themselves ring with the notes of celebration that draw our eyes upwards from our shuffling feet, from looking at the day in and day out, to see brightness, clearness, the dawning of warmth, the tender meeting of souls, the sweetness of unbreakable family loyalties. These soul-swelling scenes are contrasted by the gruesome discovery of the ways of the world.
Only a few writers are given the vision to see and portray reality in all its starkness and splendor. Only a few know how to paint the picture only as they really see it, without any pretense or agenda. Only a few have the courage to detail all they see: the gruesome, the lovely, the perplexing; to look and to keep looking, and to record what they see in all its fullness.
Llewellyn blazes a trail for us all, to not only see, but to say; to not only know, but to tell. And in the telling, one comes to know more. We enter a small Welsh village 100 years ago, but we leave understanding our own spot on the planet a little better. We meet the Morgans but after having met them, we know our own friends, family, and neighbors, yes, even our own selves, a little better.

Reviewer's Name: 
Leslie Taylor

Book Review: Avis Dolphin

Avis Dolphin
Author: 
Frieda Wishinsky
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

This book is about the sinking of the Lusitania. If you’re looking for major action of the sinking, this isn’t the right book for you. It takes about two pages for the ship to be under water. The majority of the book talks about the main character’s mild drama and doesn’t focus on the ship itself. It’s a good book, but when I read it, I was disappointed in the lack of focus on the sinking since I knew little about the Lusitania. If you’re a fan of Titanic, you’ll be pleased to know there are quite a few references to the ship. Although the book is short, the characters are easy to enjoy. I personally liked the professor. The imagination can run wild because the author does a great job describing the book’s events. I recommend this book for ages 11+ because it is a more serious topic. I rate Avis Dolphin a 3-star because it was a good read, but I don’t think I’ll ever choose to read it again.

Reviewer's Name: 
Kaitlyn S

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See
Author: 
Doeer, Anthony
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

If All the Light We Cannot See were a movie, I would consider it “Oscar bait.” Set during the most romantic of World Wars: check. Main character with disability: check. Drama, tragedy, and suspense: check, check, and check. It’s then no wonder that All the Light We Cannot See ended up winning a Pulitzer. Sure, it’s filled with plenty of the “award” tropes that we tend to see repeated over and over again—but it works. What helps this book stand out from the rest of the books and movies that try too hard to earn awards is twofold: its characters and its plot.

Before I get too far into my praise for this book, I have to mention that the narrator for the audiobook version seemed to mispronounce a few words early on, which threw me for a loop and made me wonder if I’ve been mispronouncing them myself. Similarly, it was a little challenging to track the timeframes for some of the subplots, but the impact of the book was still the same. The author was able to paint a vivid set of lives set on opposite sides of a global conflict. From the blind French girl forced to survive on her own to the prodigious German boy with a penchant for radios and STEM, their internal and external conflicts were prime examples of gripping and engaging storytelling.

While there didn’t seem to be one primary driving plot in this book, the addition of the handful of subplots worked in concert to create a gem of a story (har har). These subplots were natural to the characters that embodied them, which helped to produce an amount of realism that held everything together. Everything just made sense, and even the semi-tragic ending was a satisfying end that left no subplot or loose end untied.

A beautiful piece of prose worthy of its Pulitzer, I give All the Light We Cannot See 5.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin

Book Review: The Essex Serpent

The Essex Serpent
Author: 
Perry, Sarah
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY***

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book as profound as The Essex Serpent. Perhaps it’s because they don’t write books like this anymore.
While written in the last few years, the style of The Essex Serpent is distinctly Victorian. It holds callbacks to the greats of gothic literature, including the physiological studies of Frankenstein and the back-and-forth letter writing of Dracula . All the while, the ever-present gloom of the muddy and foggy Essex shoreline hides the eponymous serpent just outside the reader’s view, providing anticipation of its reveal. Is the Essex Serpent real or is it a figment of so much imagination?

Of course, in staying with the Victorian style, the book does suffer somewhat in readability. The vocabulary and description are certainly more voluminous than modern volumes, but my biggest qualm seems to be more along the lines of the seemingly endless talk that occurs in the first half of the book—perhaps trying to mimic one of Jane Austen's romances—that only seems to be present for character exposition. There are also a few sub-plots that sound incredibly important, but don’t end up having much sway on the outcome of the plot.

Still, despite having to get used to the style, the characters and their drama is expertly crafted. In particular, the “friendship” between the widow Cora and the married clergyman Will was positively heart-pounding.
Cora’s son was delightfully peculiar, as was Will’s wife. If The Essex Serpent was more predictable, I’m sure the ending would have been different. I’ll have to settle for the conclusion as written, instead of having to read a more serious version of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters . At least, the plot surrounding the Essex Serpent is exciting and was what kept me reading through the muddy first half.

A modern book expertly written in the Victorian style, I give The Essex Serpent 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. Weilert

Book Review: On Stranger Tides

On Stranger Tides
Author: 
Powers, Tim
Rating: 
2 stars = Meh
Review: 

Since I knew the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie was based on this book, I decided to give it a read to see if it was any better than the so-so extension of the Pirates franchise. Let's just say that this book was a loose inspiration for the film. About the only elements that survived the transition were Blackbeard and the Fountain of Youth. Of course, even the movie version vastly improved the Fountain. In fact, I think I prefer the Pirates movie of the same name, even if the two don't share much in common.

I will say that On Stranger Tides does excel in its action sequences. The fights and battles are choreographed and described in such a way that is entertaining to read and comprehensible to understand. Unfortunately, a book full of fight sequences does not a good story make. Events in this book just seemed to happen, almost at random, and with no foreshadowing of what was to come. This made it difficult to follow, especially as the story seemed to jump from character to character, so I had to remember what was happening in each of the plotlines all at once.

I got the sense that this book didn't know what it wanted to be, mostly because it had so many main characters that it never had enough time to devote to any of them. Some of these characters never had clear motivations,
or if they did have goals and ambitions, they weren't revealed until much later in the book. The magic system could have been a little better fleshed out, as there didn't seem to be any consistent rules or reasoning behind the effects the magic created. Overall, I was mostly disappointed with what this book could have been.

Some good action sequences drowning in too many subplots, I give On Stranger Tides 2.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. Weilert

Book Review: Snow Falling on Cedars

Snow Falling on Cedars
Author: 
Guterson, David
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This was an amazingly written book with a centralized focus on a piece of history that is rarely paid much attention to. Focusing on the false trial of Kabuo Hiyamoto for murder, a Japanese-American man living on San Piedro Island, the book discusses prejudices harbored against Japanese people after WW2 and internment camps and tackles the idea of what is socially acceptable vs. what is morally correct. Guterson's writing style flows well and reads like an easygoing narrative, leaving most of the inferences and questioning to be made about morals to the reader. It questions human nature and the role of justice in vengeance, and leaves us wondering ourselves about humanity, with mixed feelings of both disgust at some of the characters and hope for the future.

Reviewer's Name: 
Gia D.

Book Review: I was Anastasia

I was Anastasia
Author: 
Lawhon, Ariel
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This dual-timeline story novel twists and turns until you are racing to the finish line. It tells the story of the Romanov family from the point of view of Anastasia. You travel with her from the revolution in 1917 to the family's assassination in July 1918. At the same time, you meet an elderly Anna Anderson, who is still trying to prove that she is the surviving Grand Duchess Anastasia. Anna's story is in reverse so as you are reading, she is moving back through her travels, various sponsors, lawsuits, and incarceration. The two stories meet at the end, solving the mystery as to what exactly happened to Grand Duchess Anastasia. The author is a beautiful writer and you will be transfixed by the story, no matter how well you know history! Another great title from Ariel Lawhon (if you haven't read her previous title, Flight of Dreams which is about the Hindenburg, I highly recommend it!).

Reviewer's Name: 
Krista

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