Wilderness: A tale of tragedy and redemption

WildernessAs I’ve mentioned before, I tend to gravitate toward historical fiction, and Wilderness by Lance Weller takes place in alternating times during and 30 years after the Civil War, so this was right up my alley.

The story features Abel Truman, a man who has gone through unimaginable loss and pain in his lifetime living alone (well, with his dog) in a rustic old shack as a sick, old man in Washington State. Abel is clearly on his last legs, but is felt compelled to leave his shack and begin traveling on a mission of redemption – this journey is also filled with pain, perhaps, to me, the most troublesome of the story.

Older Abel’s tale is interlaced with his younger self experiencing the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, where he fought with the Confederates (though he was of northern descent). Abel, having gone through many trials and nearly losing his arm in fighting is nursed by an unlikely source – two escaped slaves. He develops a bond with his saviours, however there was suffering here as well, which eventually lead to him leaving for his life of solitude, and ultimately trying to return for his mission of redemption.

My biggest issue with the book was the flowery and descriptive prose that Weller used. At times it was fine, but other times I found it a bigger distraction, and felt like the book was dragging on.

Aside from the writing style, Wilderness is a story that is filled with quite a bit of pain and loss, but also some bright spots like the compassion people can have for one another, even under trying circumstances. If you’re a fan of this style, you’ll enjoy it, but it was too hard to get past for me. I give Wilderness a 2/5.

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The Yellow Birds: A glimpse into the Iraq war

The Yellow Birds

For whatever reason, books taking place outside the first or second world war generally haven’t been able to interest me that much. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, however, was an exception, and I decided to read it on a whim.

The main character is 21 year old Private Bartle, who is fighting in the Iraq war and his experience looking out for 18 year old Private Murphy, who latches on quite early from their basic-training days, but through their experiences becomes a friend.

Powers draws on his personal experiences as a gunner in Iraq, specifically in Al Tafar, and his background in poetry, which clearly comes through in his writing. At first it was tough for me to get into, as I much prefer a story with more dialogue versus this very descriptive style, but as I became aware of the type of story being told, it made a lot more sense.

If you look at the reviews on Goodreads,  you’ll see mixed opinions on Powers’ writing, as well as his non-linear style of storytelling. From chapter-to-chapter, we jump back-and-forth from Bartle’s experiences in Iraq, to his post-war attempted re-acclimation to society. Like his writing style, I found this to be difficult at first, but as the story progressed, I found each chapter fed into the next, intertwining the two timelines and giving the reader a better understanding of Bartle’s conflicts, post-war.

In the end I was happy I took a chance on this one and though the book was small, and the story wasn’t terribly flashy, it got the point of what a soldier goes through during and after a war, and the tough decisions they must face in a chaotic environment where the wrong decision or a mistake means death, and survival is the goal of each day. I give The Yellow Birds a 4/5.

Winter of the World – the century-long tale that keeps getting better

Winter of the World - Ken FollettFittingly, shortly after winter began, I decided to start reading Winter of the World, the second book in Ken Follett’s The Century Trilogy.

This tome is the follow up to Follett’s Fall of Giants which made my Top Five Books of 2011 and takes place during the events of The Second World War. The characters from the first novel have become secondary, and their children now have the spotlight as they deal with the uprising and reign of Hitler, Stalin, Franco and the Empire of Japan.

Compared to the first book, Follett continues his marvelous intertwining of real life historical events with fictional characters who are often present to give a unique perspective of Pearl Harbor, A-bomb testing, or war in Spain, Germany and Russa to name a few examples. Through his incredible knowledge and research, I ended up feeling like these people really existed in these times and played active roles in many aspects of the war.

It might have been that I knew what to expect, but this book was much easier to read, though with the amount of characters we have to follow it can get a bit confusing at times, especially since I hadn’t read the first in two years. Once I got around that, the characters all have a lot of depth to them, and I cared what happened in each of their stories, which is of course very important if you want to get invested in a book.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction you’ll want to pick up this series, just be prepared to be reading for quite a while if you’re a slow reader like me. I give Winter of the World a 4/5.

2012 Entertainment Year in Review

I haven’t blogged much this year, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to share my Top picks for 2012. Instead of sharing a few posts, I’ve combined all into one action-packed review post <images coming>. Share your thoughts!

Top Movie: The Hunger Games

hungergames-1I’ll probably receive some criticism for this one, but I’d read the trilogy in anticipation of the movie,  at the

beginning of the year, and since the story was so fresh in my mind, I was excited for this one to come out. Thankfully, compared to the book, this one did not disappoint. Of course there were some parts that were taken out that I believe should have been left in, but overall it was exciting, well acted/written and visually appealing. A must see if you haven’t already (but read the books first).

Runners up: Comedies come close to taking the top title this year with 21 Jump Street and Ted. If you haven’t seen these, prepare to be in pain from laughing as they are ridiculously hilarious.

Top Book: The Glass Castle

The Glass CastleLike I note every year, my top books aren’t necessarily books that came out this year. As I wrote in my review, I didn’t have any expectations when I started reading this one, but it eventually pulled me in and became a book I didn’t want to put down. Jeannette Walls has a great writing style and I’m excited to read more from her in the future.

Runners up: This hasn’t been a great year for picking good books, and the bulk of my favourites happened at the start of the year. My #2 book was The Hunger Games Trilogy and ROOM.

Top Album: The Killers – Battleborn

Killers- BattlebornThis album felt like it was a long-time coming – four years in fact, since Day & Age was released. From the moment I started listening to it, I couldn’t stop. As a group, these guys are consistent and put out music they know their fans will love. It’s a solid album that I’ll probably be listening to years down the road.

Runners up: This was a tough year as the two runners up – Metric – Synthetica and Dragonette – Bodyparts – could have easily taken the #1 spot.

The Book Thief and the power of words

The Book ThiefWhen you start a book and the narrator is the voice of Death, you know you won’t be reading a happy book.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak definitely wasn’t the happiest of tales – it takes place in a small German town during the heart of the Second World War after all. Through Death’s eyes, we’re introduced to Liesel Meminger, a young girl who is seeing her young brother die as she rides on a train with him and her mother. At the next stop they find a grave yard to bury him, and this is where Liesel finds her first book,The Grave Digger’s Handbook.

We find out that Liesel and her brother were being sent to foster parents as her mother escaped persecution for her and her husband’s alleged Communist leanings. Liesel, alone, is raised by Rosa and Hans Hubermann who appear to be the most opposite of people. Rosa is crass, loud and always calling everyone a Saukerl or “Pig” and Hans is a gentle painter who plays the accordion and has a personality that draws Liesel in and helps her open up to her new surroundings.

Throughout the rest of the story, Death, though admittedly busy during those years, takes a keen interest in Liesel’s life as she attends school and grows into her teen years, stealing more books along the way and learning to read them through the help of her foster father.

What I found interesting about much of the book was that Zusak focuses on the lives of the characters as war is happening around them, but since it’s through the lens of a young girl (as relayed by Death), it doesn’t go into too much detail about explaining the politics of the time. We find out that Hans doesn’t support the Nazi party, but still hangs a flag whenever a parade passes through; Liesel and her friend Rudy Steiner are forced to steal food because of rationing throughout the country; And, Rosa’s laundry businesses that she runs from home begins to suffer as the wealthier neihbours become unable to afford her services.

It’s not until Hans answers a promise made long ago by taking in a Jewish man by the name of Max Vandenburg that the story becomes truly serious. Max is extremely malnourished when he arrives, but soon he establishes a close bond with Liesel. The two have frequent nightmares about losing loved ones and also enjoy storytelling. Their bond grows as Max shares his stories with her.

One of the stories spoke of how Hitler rose to power, not with his fists or guns, but with words. Zusak often brings up the power of words and what they can do to people, both good and bad. When bomb raids began approaching their town, they congregated in a local basement and Liesel began reading to everyone there. The words calmed everyone and made them briefly forget that at any moment, they could die.

We have to remind ourselves that words matter. They can persuade you to do anything from buying a product to persecuting an entire race of people. The Book Thief does an excellent job of getting this point across and as a communicator for a living, I can appreciate his message. If you’re a lover of words, then I recommend reading this one. I give The Book Thief a 4/5.

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