January 2017 books

January 2017 books

Beyond the Call: The True Story of One World War II Pilot's Covert Mission to Rescue POWs on the Eastern FrontBeyond the Call: The True Story of One World War II Pilot's Covert Mission to Rescue POWs on the Eastern Front by Lee Trimble
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a way to start off the year - reading about a good person doing noble things in the face of adversity and horror in the final months of World War II. If I had any quibble with this book, it's that it sometimes comes off as a bit amateur. But I'm not even willing to call it that - how about earnest, instead? This is a story that wants and needs to be told, so I'm willing to forgive its liberal interpretation of some of the sources, particularly where they touch on (or don't, as the case is more likely to be) individuals' inner thoughts and feelings during times of crisis. It's a common failing of narrative nonfiction and this book is no exception.

But this book is a gem. Go read it and then be inspired to help others within your circle of influence, even if you don't have to dodge any NKVD minders to do so.

Edited to add: I've since read a couple of reviews that question the truth of the story told in this book. I agree that there are some parts of the book that seem to fudge a bit on the details, but I chalked that up to memories getting fuzzy after 60 years rather than intentional deception. I think the book's introduction addresses this issue well enough and it is clear that the sources that exist support the story. Plus, I mean, he DID get medals from France and Russia.

Still, if you ever find out this story is not true, don't tell me.

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The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World WarThe Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War by Ben Shephard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book to fact-check Beyond the Call a bit, and from what I can tell, that story checks out. As a bonus, I ended up really enjoying this book on its own merits. It was SO topical, despite being published six years ago (before the recent refugee crisis). This book is all about the refugee crisis that happened after World War II, and it does not shy away from investigating its impact on any nationality, age, or situation. It is about ALL of the "displaced persons" after the war, and there were millions of them all over Europe, trying to get home...or avoiding it at all costs.

Is it weird that one of my favorite things about this book was its structure? Clearly titled chapters, with explanatory subheadings and date ranges - SWOON.

And there is even more to love. Shephard relies heavily on primary sources for this book, and hearing the voices of the DPs themselves, as well as the workers (both military and civilian) tasked with helping them, was so valuable. Of course, that meant that I was left with not a dreamy, feel-good story where noble "people like me" helped tragic "others," but with a bureaucratic mess of imperfect, kinda racist (and misogynist), semi-capable people doing their sometimes-best to help refugees who sometimes didn't seem to want to be helped. Nothing was sugar-coated.

Some chapters, or parts of chapters, made me laugh. Chapter nine is a standout in that respect. Turns out refugee camps sometimes are a bit zanier than you might imagine! But most of the other chapters are sobering.

Just beneath the surface of this book lurks another book about some truly amazing women, by the way. You don't always get a clear picture of them because their important work was often being obscured and interrupted by some jerkface men who couldn't seem to understand the need to git'r'done. But many women came over to do work they were in all respects not really qualified for, but they did an awesome job of caring for these traumatized people. Bravo to them.

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The ChemistThe Chemist by Stephenie Meyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book reminds me a lot of The Actor and the Housewife in that my review goes something like "i do not usually read books like this but i read this book and it has some things that happen and i enjoyed it and stayed up late but i am also kind of puzzled by it ok that is my opinion bye."

Let's round that out with a negative and a positive. Negative: it takes waaaay too long to get going. I almost stopped reading it. (But when it picks up, it picks up.) Positive: there are lots of dogs in this book and every one of those dogs is awesome. Dogs are the best.

Look, we both know it's just impossible to review a book by this author these days, which is a shame. I liked the Twilight series and I really liked The Host. I accept that a lot of people don't agree. That's fine. But I don't understand the hatred that spews forth from some quarters anytime her name is mentioned. (Maybe it's like me and Mitch Albom? I'm just trying to understand.) This is an author, and she wrote a book, and I liked the book, but not tremendously so, but I'm not the best judge since this is one of like five spy thrillers I've read in my lifetime, so just go for it and read it if you want to, or don't, it's not my business, and now I'm rambling again like I did at the start of this review. JUST WHATEVER, OK?

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Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)Illuminae by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh I was delighted by this book! I only wish I could have had the audiobook - I suspect it's an amazing production. If you can't get the audiobook, try to get a physical copy - this "book" is actually a dossier of files in all kinds of formats. It was difficult to read on the Kindle, to be honest, but I persevered because it was awesome.

Well, mostly. I give the first 70% five stars and the remainder about three, simply because the story took a turn in a direction I wasn't as invested in. But weaknesses aside, I applaud these authors for trying something so daring, and for pulling it off in spectacular fashion!

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The Beauty of Darkness (The Remnant Chronicles, #3)The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What a hot mess! (Do the kids still use that phrase?) I think I read this book almost completely through side-eyes. Lia was a brat again and that weird old book that I thought I could get away with ignoring throughout this series suddenly became maddeningly essential in all its vagaries.

There are things written in italics in this book. Sometimes it's things people are actually saying. Sometimes it's things people are only imagining (I THINK). Sometimes it's remembrances of things people said a long time ago. Sometimes it's excerpts from that dang book again. But you're never quite sure which one at any given time.

Also, in this book people give paraphrased speeches. The dialogue takes you right up to the action and then shifts into "I told them x, y, and z." It zaps all the immediacy from a scene.

So sorry, but not a fan of this book.

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The cafeteria

The cafeteria

EO