Monday, December 30, 2013

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Book:  The Goldfinch 

Author:  Donna Tartt 

Grade:  B - 

Recommended To:  Artists, Mystery Fans, Bird Watchers. 

The Goldfinch was a Kindle Deal in the middle of December when Amazon put a bunch of great books from 2013 on a deep discount.  It was a good book and although it was 700 pages, and an unknown number of Kindle swipes, I finished it in four days.

The Goldfinch is a rambling sort of novel that follows Theo, the main character, from 13-30 and follows his life after the loss of his mother in a terrorist attack that Theo survives.  When Theo escapes the art museum that was attacked he takes a very small and very famous painting, The Goldfinch.  The painting nearly becomes a character in the book and as the story develops the painting is a recurring theme and presence in the novel.  The book follow Theo's life through Manhattan, Las Vegas, and then back to New York over approximately 15 years of his life.

I could not give this book a higher rating than a B- despite all of the five star and A+ review that this book got.  The book is good.  It is entertaining for the first 3/4 and then in the last 100 pages or so becomes more of an art lesson and a lesson about life than a fictional novel.  Those last 100 swipes made it impossible for me to give the book a higher than average grade.

The writing by Donna Tartt is without question, very beautiful.  She creates imagery with her writing that is nearly impossible to find.  She also has an incredible grasp of dialogue, she can write as an upper class Manhattanite, a Ukrainian teenager, and an antique collector.  But, although Ms. Tartt was born and raised in Mississippi and her story largely takes place in New York City, she writes as though her story takes place in Europe.  She calls the bathroom the loo, stores are shops, and the language generally feels like something J.K. Rowling would write.   This bothered me because it felt disingenuous from the lead character and gritty New York feel of the novel.

Also, the last 100 pages.  Oof.  I didn't take an art history class, but at least half of those pages are a description of The Goldfinch painting (boring, although I do like birds and would like a copy of the painting for my house) and the other 50% of the pages are a summary of the lessons that Theo learned over the course of the novel.  These pages were such a sharp contrast from the author's ability to show instead of tell that the pages felt tacked on and I found myself rolling my eyes a bit.
Otherwise, this book was very good.  The story had a lot of twists and turns that kept coming and it kept my attention for the first 3/4 of the book.  Plus, I keep thinking about some of the things that happened.  That's the real sign of a good read.

I was also able to finish it in record time because the story kept moving and it brought my books read to 75 for the year!  This surpasses my old record of 73 books and it trounced my goal of 65 books.  I have one more book in the works for this year and it is going very quickly, so I hope that I am able to finish it before the new year.   I'll post a New Year 2014 update in the coming days.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

We Band of Angels by Elizabeth Norman

Book:  We Band of Angels 

Author:  Elizabeth Norman 

Grade:  B+ 

Recommended To:  Historians.  

I got this book for free on Goodreads as a giveaway.  That, of course, does not influence the grade or the review that I give this book.  But, publishers who give away books on Goodreads do encourage reviews.

I also can't believe that I still have a full day off from work.  This four-day Thanksgiving weekend had done wonders for my life outlook.

I really liked this book.  This book tells the story of a group of Army and Navy nurses stationed in the Philippines during World War II.  This was a cushy assignment until the Japaneses bombed Pearl Harbor and began attacking the Philippines.  The Army and Navy nurses retreated to the Bataan Peninsula and then provided care to the wounded and sick in deplorable conditions.   Soon, the women were captured along with their units and sent to an interment camp for the duration of the war where they endured starvation, boredom, illness, and fear.

This book was interesting because I've read almost nothing about the Pacific Theater during WWII, with the exception of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, which tells a very different story about a POW camp.

We Band of Angels is excellent because it is told from the perspective of many different nurses and includes lots of detail about the conditions of the camp and hospitals and includes excerpts from interviews and journals of the woman that served.   It is also excellent because it follows the women after they leave the Philippines and shows how they were used by the American government for propaganda purposes and then dropped when they were no longer needed.   Interestingly, the last surviving nurse died early in 2013 and the final chapter memorializes her life after her return from war.

I liked this book because it kept my attention.  I don't read a lot of historical books because they often taken me a long time to get into and they push my reading goals off schedule.  I didn't notice that in We Band of Angels, this book was well-paced, never boring, and provided very interesting insight into a part of history that I had never considered.

I absolutely recommend this book to anyone looking for a fairly quick historical read on a topic that is little explored.

Happy Reading!!