Quick Review: The Killer Angels

Title: The Killer Angels

Author: Michael Shaara

Published: 1974

The down low: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1975) and required reading for a lot of people in school (but somehow not for me). Eventually became #2 in a series that was later extended by Shaara’s son (Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure).

Summary in 2 sentences: The Killer Angels offers a well-informed fictional account of the Battle of Gettysburg, four of some of the bloodiest days in American history. Both armies fight for a cause – one side of righting for a way of life they believe in, the other for freedom.

Why should you read it: No matter what kind of person you are or what kinds of books you like to read, this story will move you. Literally this book makes you want to travel back in time, enlist in Chamberlain’s division, and fight for the cause. Shaara makes you feel like you’re on the actual battlefield. At a time when it feels not so hot to be an American, The Killer Angels is the perfect antidote.

How B&B categorizes this book: inspirational AF.

-M

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The Other Boleyn Girl

I have many opinions on The Other Boleyn Girl. I want to begin by discussing the sister dynamic that pervades the entire novel and is the central relationship throughout the book. As the older sister of two young women, I found the relationship between Ann Boleyn and her younger sister, Mary, equal parts unrealistic and true. In some passages, Mary describes how much she detests her older sister and can see her for what she really is, a power-hungry, selfish individual. In other parts of the novel, Mary describes how Ann will always be her sister and how Mary’s fate is completely twisted up into Ann’s quickly changing fate. Clearly, there are numerous reasons why I shouldn’t have been comparing my relationship with my sisters to Ann Boleyn’s relationship with her sister, but I couldn’t help myself.

Moving on to the plot of The Other Boleyn Girl, I loved the pacing of this novel. It started up immediately with the action. Before page 100, King Henry VIII has taken Mary Boleyn as his mistress, and the Boleyn family is thrust into the spotlight. There is no slow build towards action, which I appreciated from a rather large tome (661 pages). As usual with me and historical fiction, I found myself getting too caught up in what historically happened, leaving me slightly less time to focus on the storyline and how it unfolded.

For those unfamiliar with the historical Boleyn family (spoiler alert), Ann Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII. Good ole Henry is famous for having six wives, and nothing else, so that should tell you what a great ruler for England he was. It is rumored that two of King Henry’s illegitimate children were the children of Mary Boleyn, Ann’s younger sister. This is the only factual information included in The Other Boleyn Girl. Not including the ending.

I kept reminding myself not to get upset by the ending, because I knew how it would end, but I still got upset. What really surprised be about this book was the harshly negative light shed on Ann Boleyn and her character. I think Philippa Gregory was trying to show her readers that all decisions made in this time period were male centric, but when Ann becomes queen and stops listening to the head of her family, this design is shattered.

I would completely recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. It actually reminded me a lot of Outlander.

-A

Circling the Sun

I, too, recently joined Book of the Month Club. My first choice was Circling the Sun by Paula McLain. Circling the Sun is historical fiction about Beryl Markham, the first person to fly from Europe to North America. Not only that, but Beryl was the first woman to get her trainer’s license for horses, and she was only 19! While certainly an amazing role model for young women, Beryl was constantly annoying in McLain’s retelling.

I found very little depth in McLain’s Beryl. She seemed equally driven and confused by her mother’s abandonment. At a young age, Beryl and her family moved to Kenya. At five, Beryl’s mother and younger brother left to return to England, leaving Beryl to be raised by her father. Stereotypically, her father has a hard time raising Beryl, and the local Kipsigis Tribe end up being her true guardians throughout her childhood.

This unusual upbringing was cited by Beryl numerous times throughout the book for her wild side, and her refusal to obey class norms (she divorced twice and engaged in numerous affairs, as well as obviously having careers in man-dominated areas), but otherwise, her motivations and aspirations are surprisingly hidden from the reader.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the book, following her childhood and journey to become the youngest and first female trainer with her license to train horses. After that, however, I quickly lost interest.

At one point, McLain even hints at an affair with a young Prince Harry. These annoyingly vague details about Beryl’s sex life did not interest me at all, and I found myself wanting to skim these sections to get back to her adventures with horses or airplanes.

Perhaps the most exciting discovery that came from me reading this novel is that Beryl Markham was a writer and wrote her own memoir, West with the Sun. After reading West with the Sun, Hemingway himself said he was ashamed to be considered a writer as compared to Markham. I have West with the Sun on my “to read” list, and plan on getting to it this winter. I hope it’s more about horses and less about airplanes…

Outlander

I was obsessed with this book. Let me just begin by saying that I am super glad I am single right now, or I would probably find my current boyfriend very lacking when placed next to the strapping hero of Outlander, Jamie Fraser.

Outlander begins with Claire, a World War II nurse who is on her second honeymoon in Scotland. Her and her husband, Frank, are trying to reconnect after years apart in the war. Claire, however, accidently steps through a standing stone and gets transported back into eighteen-century Scotland, where she meets the ruggedly good-looking James Fraser (played by Sam Heughan in the Starz adaptation **heart-eyes emoji**), who she is forced to marry for her own safety. Thus begins one of the most romantic storylines I have ever read.

SPOILER ALERT. In the end, Jamie is taken hostage by his British Rival, Jonathan Randell (great great great great grandfather to Claire’s first husband, Frank). Jamie is tortured at length, and I honestly had an upset stomach for the final 200 pages. I loved this book up until that point, and then it was just too much.

As depressingly honest as this is, I will not be continuing with this series for the sole reason that I am convinced that being obsessed with a love affair like Claire’s and Jamie’s is not good for my health. I would, however, highly recommend the first book in this series to all of my lady friends looking for a good romance to distract them from our modern day Tinder romances.

-A

The Book Thief

You can never go wrong with a book about books, and that is, in essence, what The Book Thief is about. Death plays the narrator in this unique young adult novel set during World War II in Germany. Liesel Meminger is nine the first time death finds her. He has come to collect her little brother. The two were traveling on a train with their mother to move to their foster parents house. In the end, Liesel is the only Meminger to move in with the Hubermann’s. The story expands as Liesel’s small world with her new parents becomes embroiled in the wider story of World War II. The Hubermann’s hide a 24-year old Jewish man in their basement when he has no one else to turn to. The man, Max, spends three years in their basement before fleeing, afraid of getting the Hubermann’s into trouble.

Behind this basic plot is another story. One about books, reading, and the power of words. At Liesel’s brother’s graveside, she found book 1: The Gravedigger’s Guidebook. Liesel picked the book out of the snow and thus stole her first book. The Book Thief steals more books throughout the novel as her love for reading grows. Max writes her two books about their friendship, and she finally writes her own autobiography of sorts.

Paralleled with Nazi Germany, Liesel’s love of words is dangerous. Hitler, too, loved words and the power they helped him achieve. “She [Liesel] had seen her brother die with one eye open, one still in a dream. She had said goodbye to her mother and imagined her lonely wait for a train back home to oblivion. A woman of wire had laid herself down, her scream traveling the street…And at the center of all of it, she saw the Fuhrer shouting his words and passing them around.

Those images were the world. and it stewed in her as she sat with the lovely books and their manicured titles. it brewed in her as she eyed the pages full to the brims of their bellies with paragraph and words.

You bastards, she thought.

You lovely bastards.

Don’t make me happy. Please don’t fill me up and let me think that something good can come of any of this.

She tore a page from the book and ripped it in half.” -520-521.

But in the end, some good does come of words. SPOILER ALERT. Words save two people’s lives in The Book Thief. First, they save the life of Max, the Jewish man living in the Hubermann’s basement. Once Max runs away, he is caught and brought to Dachau. One day, on a parade through the streets of town, Liesel sees Max in the middle of the group of Jewish prisoners. Liesel runs to him and recites the words to the story he wrote for her. “Somewhere inside her were the souls of words. They climbed out and stood beside her.

‘Max,’ she said. He turned and briefly closed his eyes as the girl continued. ‘There was once strange, small man,’ she said. Her arms were loose but her hands were fists at her side. ‘But there was a word shaker, too.'” -511-512. In this scene, Max’s story gives him and Liesel the strength to continue surviving.

The second person saved by words is Liesel. She is in the basement when a bomb strikes, leveling her entire block.

It truly speaks to the power of Markus Zusak as an author that he gives away the ending in the beginning of the book, yet I still bawled for a solid ten minutes when I finished.

The Book Thief just rocketed into my top twenty favorite books of all time. I highly recommend it.

-A

The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood

YAAAAS. Margaret Atwood is my queen. The Blind Assassin requires a lot of stamina as a reader (so I can’t even imagine what it was like writing it), and I read it slowly over the course of several months (with several breaks). I finished it last week and I am still completely stunned.

This book probably isn’t for everyone. It’s slow-paced historical fiction with a dystopian story-within-the-story. It’s bleak, full of despair, and it’s basically one big sad experience. But in the BEST WAY. Atwood is a brilliant writer, and every sentence is a treat.

There are about five narrative strings in this book, which constantly switch and overlap. I won’t say much, because I think it’s best to go into this book, um, blind. At its core it’s the story of two sisters, Iris and Laura Chase, who grow up in the vague opulence of a manufacturing family between world wars; they’re each grasping for lives of their own. The story-within-the-story is The Blind Assassin, a novel about ill-fated lovers.

The Blind Assassin is a massive, delightful puzzle. And it’ll make you feel things.

-M

Euphoria

Euphoria by Lily King

This is an intoxicating one, my friends. It’s short and perfect.

Nell Stone, King’s character who is based off of the 1930’s anthropologist Margaret Mead, describes euphoria as the “moment when you’ve finally got a handle on a place…that moment the place feels entirely yours.” The novel reimagines the 1933 collaboration in New Guinea involving Mead, her husband, Reo Fortune, and her future husband, Gregory Bateson. Reality and history are thinly veiled; King’s characters are Nell, Fen, and Bankson. They meet in an episode of romantic despair.

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Euphoria is about competition, desire, and scholarship. The triangle’s passion for their research and for each other is downright steamy. Love and desire blossoms through fieldwork, through working side-by-side at typewriters. At their most deliriously, euphorically ambitious, these scientists want to “rip the stars from the sky and write anew.”

Euphoria is DEVASTATING…ly beautiful. But also devastating. King is a queen. Her prose is on point and efficient. Please read.

-M