I picked up Prague Winter because I am interested in Czechoslovakia. This is a well-told story of one Czech who later became a very influential American. If it is a curse to have been born in interesting times, Dr. Albright was certainly well and truly cursed. But, as in the best fairy tales, the curse was balanced by having been blessed with wonderfully prescient parents who stayed one step ahead of events and kept their little daughter safe. The nation of their birth, Czechoslovakia, did not fare as well during the twentieth century. The author has woven a nuanced tale of her own childhood place within the story of the fate of her homeland from 1937 to 1948.
Her father's career as a diplomat gave the family some agility which others in those years probably lacked. Thus, the family spent the years of World War II with the exiled Czech government in London. After the war, with her father assigned to the Czech embassy in Yugoslavia, they were once again able to keep a step ahead of the communist takeover in Czechoslovakia and seek asylum in the U.S. By such roundabout paths is a future secretary of state made!
This book is rich with detail and, because of the personal aspects of the story, you feel as if you were there. I think most people are familiar with the outline of the history of World War II, but Dr. Albright includes many accounts of the heroism of ordinary people about which we have not previously heard. There are stories of the famous and of the unsung, and I was struck yet again at the absolute horror of those years. Dr. Albright says it so much better than I ever could in some of the concluding remarks to her book:
"Given the events described in this book, we cannot help but acknowledge the capacity within us for unspeakable cruelty or--to give the virtuous their due--at least some degree of moral cowardice. There is a piece of the traitor within most of us, a slice of the collaborator, an aptitude for appeasement, a touch of the unfeeling prison guard. Who among us has not dehumanized others, if not by word or action, then at least in thought? From the maternity ward to the deathbed, all that goes on within our breasts is not sweetness and light." (p. 413-414)
She then goes on to quote Vaclav Havel's perception of this human quandary:
"...Amid the repression of those [Cold War] years, he discerned two varieties of hope. The first he compared to the longing for 'some kind of salvation from the outside.'...'On the other end of the spectrum', said Havel, there are those who insist on 'speaking the truth simply because it [is] the right thing to do....' " (p. 414)
She then closes her book with these powerful lines:
"I have spent a lifetime looking for remedies to all manner of life's problems--personal, social, political, global. I am deeply suspicious of those who offer simple solutions and statements of absolute certainty or who claim full possession of the truth. Yet I have grown equally skeptical of those who suggest that all is too nuanced and complex for us to learn any lessons, that there are so many sides to everything that we can pursue knowledge every day of our lives and still know nothing for sure. I believe we can recognize truth when we see it, just not at first and not without ever relenting in our efforts to learn more. This is because the goal we seek, and the good we hope for, comes not as some final reward but as the hidden companion to our quest. It is not what we find, but the reason we cannot stop looking and striving, that tells us why we are here." ( 415-416)
This is so well said, and is the reason I love reading. How else could I ever learn the thoughts of this wise, experienced woman? Through books such as this, our journey is enhanced, our life experience enlarged, as we all seek after our purpose on this earth.
[ add comment ] ( 15712 views )
Every June, the UK’s Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals awards the Carnegie Medal to the best British book for children and young adults for the past year. This medal is the equivalent of the Newbery Medal in the USA. Its sister medal, the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustrations, corresponds to our Caldecott award. This year, the 75th anniversary of the Carnegie Medal, one special book won both the Carnegie and Greenaway medals, which is unprecedented in the history of the awards.
When I saw that A Monster Calls was a merger of two enormous talents, I had to put everything else aside to read it. Siobhan Dowd, the first author to posthumously be awarded the Carnegie Medal in 2009 for Bog Child, and Patrick Ness, winner of last year's Carnegie Medal for Monsters of Men, are an explosive combination. Dowd died at age 47 of cancer after having written just four absolute gems for young adults but she left notes for an unfinished fifth book. Ness, who says he never met Dowd, was approached to write her last book. He says he took her ideas, but added his own thoughts and wrote in his own voice.
He commands the reader to make the necessary circle of input and to take the story and run with it, to "make trouble." And how could a reader not do so? Ness draws you in from the start. The pitch-perfect illustrations only add to the mood of the story. Incredibly, this was just the illustrator’s second book commission.
Conor is the thirteen year old protagonist of the story. His mother has cancer. Conor and his Mum are on their own since his father remarried and moved to America. His maternal grandmother lives nearby but she is a career woman and a source of friction, not comfort, to Conor. Although he hasn't consciously admitted it to himself, his mother is dying. Conor has a recurring nightmare that is his subconscious mind's admission of that fact. He is bullied at school, and even those who don't bully him have left him alone once they have heard of his sorrow. He is just very, very alone.
Into the void comes another monster. It is not the monster of his nightmares, but is a yew tree, growing in a churchyard, which he and his mother have watched from their window. The yew monster comes to him at 12:07, just after midnight. Here, Ness pulls in the Green Man themes of British/Celtic folklore. The yew, which can live over a thousand years, is symbolic of life and death and reincarnation. Many churchyards in Britain have yews that predate the Christian church and are indicative of ancient sacred sites. The yew is also the Green Man, who is viewed as both monster and mentor in ancient pagan religions.
The yew monster tells him three stories and these stories do not at all turn out as Conor expects. By the time the monster reaches the fourth story, a story he commands Conor to tell him, the reader has traversed the sorrow of life, the sorrow inherent in the knowledge that this is (in the words of my father), "not a permanent arrangement." The judges for the prestigious Carnegie Medal said, "We'd go so far as to say that this is one of the defining books of its generation.” Read it for yourself and see why.
[ add comment ] ( 24456 views )
A lot of people have an abundance of friends that they can count on. Friends that will help you through anything, do anything for you, if only you would ask. But can you say the same thing about family? Family is supposed to stick by you through thick and thin. They stand by you whether you are rich or poor. They will also do things for and with you that can cause you to question, how loyal are you. That’s the kind of family you will meet in the book The Family Business by Carl Weber and Eric Pete.
Meet the Duncans. The Duncans are one of the richest and most influential families in the state of New York. The family business is Duncan Motors and their product is high class motor vehicles.
The patriarch of the family is LC. The mother, Charlotte, is known to her family as Chippy. There are also two daughters, London and Paris, and four sons, Junior, Vegas, Orlando, and Rio. Their mother named them after all of the cities that she would like to visit around the world.
The eldest daughter, London, is married to a lawyer named Harris, who also happens to be the family’s attorney. Paris and Rio are twins who are frequently mentioned in the society section of the newspaper. Orlando is all about the family business. Junior seems to be really laid back and likes to work on the cars that have made his family so lucrative. And then there is Vegas; he has a strong presence in the book but is not present.
LC has built his family’s empire so that the family will never want for anything and will stop at nothing to make sure that they have the best of everything. When tragedy strikes the family, closely-held information begins to leak out about just how far he will go for family. There’s much more to this family’s business than cars!
I’m always drawn to Carl Weber’s works. They are always filled with drama, intrigue, and just enough intimacy to wet your whistle. He has a way of weaving a tale around something so small and then catching your breath when that item becomes larger than life. Mr. Weber mentions places from previous books (for example, the First Jamaica Ministries church) to let you know that each tale is tied together in a common world.
You will not be disappointed when reading this novel. In fact, once you pick it up, you may not want to put it down until it’s finished. If you wind up wanting more, don’t worry. This is only the first book in the series.
[ add comment ] ( 7949 views )
At the brink of World War II, Kurt Raeder and a team of Nazi mountaineers are sent to Tibet by Heinrich Himmler to search for the legendary city of Shambhala. Years earlier, Raeder had shared leadership of an expedition to the Himalayas with Benjamin Hood, an American zoologist and adventurer. When the United States government learns of the Nazi expedition, Benjamin Hood is recruited to return to Tibet to learn what Raeder is seeking and to stop him if necessary.
In the present day, Rominy Pickett, a descendant of Benjamin Hood, is pulled into her own adventure after she is saved from a car bomb by Jack Barrow, a reporter investigating the neo-Nazi group that set the bomb. Jack manages to convince Rominy that she must assist him in stopping the neo-Nazis' devious plans. The two stories run parallel before colliding at the CERN superconductor facility in Switzerland.
William Dietrich, known for his Ethan Gage series of historical thrillers (Napoleon’s Pyramids, etc.), has crafted a rousing tale based on historical fact, mythological lore, Nazi occult obsessions, and modern physics. Blood of the Reich has mystery, intrigue, and plenty of cliff-hanging moments, all of which keep the adrenaline high as the story rockets to its conclusion.
[ add comment ] ( 4939 views )
There are those among the adult population who may feel that novels written originally for the young adult would not make for particularly entertaining or thoughtful reading, a sentiment that I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically disagree with. Quite the contrary, I have found many to be incredibly insightful and captivating, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak epitomizes such a work. An intense tale, the focus is a young girl, a mere nine years of age when we first meet her, named Liesel Miminger and her experiences during World War II in Molching, a small town in the environs of Munich, Germany, and while this may seem a bit overdone, there are several aspects of this story that set it apart.
The narration, firstly, is held by none other than Death itself, and I found myself taken completely by surprise by how congenial Death was. To demonstrate:
“Here is a fact. You are going to die. I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic…Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s just the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.”
Death seems to be a narrator the reader can trust, which is certainly not always the case, both with the character of Death and the narrator in general throughout literature, and Death maintains a constant tone throughout the book that creates a sense of comfort.
In terms of observations, Death ranks among the finest of observers. When, for example, ruminating on war and the battlefield, Death says of the soldiers:
“I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men. They are not. They’re running at me.”
And it is through Death’s observations that the reader is given a sense that Death is actually gentle in the execution of its duties and has a much gentler nature than is generally portrayed.
Finally, in the realm of adult literature, war stories tend to be related by soldiers or other adult civilians. With the primary figure of this war novel being a young girl, the effect is decidedly different. When children are involved, war quickly loses whatever romance it might have been able to conjure with concepts such as valor, honor, and victory, and when the violence of war boils over and results in such “collateral damage,” one begins to lose a certain sense of who is in the right and who is in the wrong.
The Book Thief is only one example of the sort of young adult literature that successfully spans the gulf between the adult and younger reader. Other titles in this category include:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Eli the Good by Silas House
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Looking for Alaska by John Green
[ add comment ] ( 10765 views ) | related link