In this video, I review Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield — A gripping contemporary gothic fiction novel that I really loved.
Anne Frank’s Diary is the only graphic novelization of Anne Frank’s diary that I’m aware of. The breathtaking, expressive artwork in this adaptation by David Polonsky as well as actual excerpts from her diary really brings this literary classic to life, while maintaining its original integrity.
There are so much humor and emotion in these illustrations, and they make Anne feel like a real person, someone we can relate to. We get a true sense of Anne as a frighted, confused and somewhat saucy teenaged girl.
It was such a treat to journey along with this visual guide to the historical events in Anne’s diary, and I felt that the images and text captured Anne Franks diary beautifully and emotionally. This was an exciting new perspective to an old classic that really resonated with me, especially the ingenious manner in which the artist rendered Anne’s emotions, thoughts and observations through the vivid illustrations.
From the drawings and text snippets, it’s easy to see Anne’s hope, despair, passion, vulnerability, introspection, courage, humor, and sarcasm, all of which render her all the more lifelike.
All in all, a beautifully moving adaptation with stunning illustrations that, while keeping to the… spirit, I guess… of the original material, helps us to see this young girl in a different light I loved how the illustrator expertly brought her thoughts and feeling into relatable art. The editor and arctic took Anne Franks diary and transformed it into a delicately told story, with stunning pictures and heartfelt scenes.
I can’t begin to imagine what a daunting project this must have turned out to be. But in my opinion, it was a successful one, exquisitely rendered in pen and ink and I’m so glad that I came across it.
This was a Book of the Month club selection for this month, and the synopsis sounded fascinating so I thought I’d pick it up. I was not disappointed.
The Far Field follows a young, fairly well-off Indian woman from Bangalore named Shalini, whose mother had recently passed away and Shalini is having a difficult time with her mother’s death. She recalls a Kashmiri clothes salesman named Bashir Ahmed who would visit her childhood home and with whom her misanthropic mother struck up a friendship, which in and of itself was unusual, given that her mother was hot-tempered, sarcastic, critical, brutal and mocking of pretty much everyone around her. She definitely was not a pleasant person to be around though Shalini was quite loyal to her. But regardless, Bashir would come to their house every couple of months and spend the afternoon with Shalini and her mother, and it was during those times that her mother appeared happy and joyful, something Shalini usually didn’t see in her mother. Bashir’s visits came to a sudden halt two decades earlier, however, and it was shortly after that when her mother’s mental health went downhill.
Shalini decides to head out to Kashmir find her mother’s long-lost friend, convinced that finding the man and telling him about her mother’s death will somehow bring her closure with her mother’s passing. It is a risky journey on her part given that Kashmir is wracked by war and unrest and that’s precisely what Shalini discovers in the remote Himalayan village where she finds herself. There, she’s immediately integrated into the lives of a generous family who not only offer her shelter and friendship but also protection. But the more her relationship with the local villagers and the family deepens, the more she unknowingly threatens their safety, especially when uncertainty and old hatreds resurface.
What I Liked
First off, I loved how real this story felt to me. I often forgot that I was reading fiction as it felt that I was hearing a memoir from the mouth of someone who had just gone through a challenging time in her life. The attention to detail and the rich descriptions of place in the story made me feel as though I were in the village right along with our protagonist.
I also enjoyed the manner in which the story slowly unfolded, in which the author switches, using alternating timelines, from Shalini’s childhood where we learn about her and her parents, to the present day where we are transported to her time in Kashmir. So we’re allowed to see how Shalini’s past shaped her into the person she is today, for both good and ill. I thought she was a fascinating character and I enjoyed getting to know her as her story evolved. I also loved seeing the evolution of her complicated and often heart-wrenching relationship with her mother and how that relationship — and Shalini herself — changed after Bashir’s final visit.
I loved the many themes that run throughout the story: loss of one’s parent, loss of one’s spouse, grief, family, privilege, suicide, depression, reconnecting with those we have lost, trust, empathy, and politics. Though it is a relatively slow-moving character-driven story, there is so much going on throughout Shalini’s narrative, including numerous twists and turns, which managed to hold my attention throughout the book.
Along with the evocative sense of place, I also adored the secondary characters, all of whom really came to life in this story. They were so vivid, so real even raw at times. Though the rich storytelling, we were able to see and understand the motivations of these characters, with each and every one of them adding essential elements to the story.
I loved the manner in which the culture, the political strife and the unrest of the region were explained to us through the opinions of the locals, also providing us a first-hand account of their challenging everyday lives. I liked how dark and frequently grim situations in the story are lightened by realistic dialogue and genuineness of feeling on the part of the characters. Character development is undoubtedly among the Far Field’s list of shining accomplishments.
What I Didn’t Like
For the most part, I found very little to dislike with this book. There are certain aspects of Shalini’s character, however, that I didn’t particularly care for such as her rudeness and self-centeredness, her sense of entitlement as well as her immaturity. I also felt that her excessive naïveté was a bit over the top for a woman of her age and I had a difficult time buying into it. Though she did mature in several ways by the end of the book, I felt that she didn’t quite reach the level of maturity and empathy for the plight of others that she should have by the story’s end.
It’s also worth mentioning that this is a character-driven story, so there isn’t a lot of action going on in the beginning of the book. As such, the story does take a while to get going.
The Far Field is an extremely rich and moving coming of age story that deals with many loaded issues, including class prejudice, guilt, coming to terms with one’s identity, forgiving ourself, regret, taking a good hard look at our beliefs and choices and learning how to live with and accept the terrible decisions we make in life. The author also manages to humanize and provide compassionate insight into the conflict between India and Pakistan that’s plagued the area for so long and in so doing, manages to hit the reader right in the heart.
Though unsettling at times, I felt that this book was also an extraordinary story of a young woman’s passage to self-discovery as she tries to make sense of the chaos around her. This was a subtle blow-me-away kind of book on so many levels, and I’m still mulling it over many days later. I ended up loving this hauntingly beautiful novel and look forward to reading more by this author.
I’ve read a couple of David Baldacci thriller novels in the past, and The Christmas Train was completely different any from those. I listened to this in audiobook format and was delighted to discover that they added music and various sound effects during certain parts of the recording which really added to the experience. This book was also quite nostalgic for me as it brought back all the fun memories of the train trips I took while studying in France.
This story follows Tom Langdon, a disillusioned journalist and a former war correspondent Tom Langdon who finds himself on a train trip from Washington to Los Angeles during Christmas where he plans on spending the holidays with his girlfriend, a Hollywood voice-work celebrity.
We learn that Tom has been banned from flying for a year after an altercation with a TSA agent so deciding to make lemonade from his lemons, chooses to write a story about train travel.
So, Tom embarks on his journey across country and along the way, he meets all sorts of eclectic and colorful characters: there’s a young couple planning on eloping, a famous movie director who’s planning on creating a movie about trains, a retired priest, a former train engineer who lost his job due to budget cuts, a tarot card reader, several boisterous train personnel, a boys choir and even a reunion with someone from his past.
And there’s a mystery to solve as items begin disappearing from the passenger’s cabins, meaning there is a thief on board among them. But worst of all, the blizzard of the century is bearing down on them, and the passengers and crew are forced to come together if they want to survive the trip — and at one point in the novel, things don’t look too good for any of them.
This was really a fun and warm-hearted Christmas story about a man whose ride turns out to be quite an adventure — one he’ll likely never forget reminding us that it’s often the journey and not the destination that’s important. In fact, there was even a quote to that effect in the book:
“It’s not getting from A to B. It’s not the beginning or the destination that counts. It’s the ride in between”
This delightful tale has a little of everything…it has mystery, danger, thievery, setbacks, suspense, romance, relationship intrigue, unscheduled train stops, a wedding and of course, the miracles of Christmas, and with enough twists and surprises to prevent you from guessing the ending. It also provides an interesting history about trains and train travel that I found especially fascinating.
All in all, The Christmas Train is a sweet, magical story with memorable characters that just may give you the yearning to take a train trip yourself.
The Song of Achilles is a retelling of Homer’s the Iliad, focussing specifically on the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. But this book is told from the point of view of Patroclus, Achilles’s best friend who, in this story, is cast as the lover of Achilles. So in this way, the story takes the Greek legends and the works of Homer and expands on them, turning them into something wholly new and different.
Patroclus, a young prince who accidentally kills the son of a nobleman, is exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect golden-haired son Achilles, whom we learn is a demigod, his mother being the fierce sea goddess Thetis. Achilles develops a friendship with Patroclus which deepens and becomes something more, much to the displeasure of Achilles’ mother who feels he is unworthy of being the companion of a future god.
I liked the fact that the romantic relationship between Achilles and Patroclus wasn’t rushed or forced but instead built up slowly and powerfully throughout the years. It was definitely a slow burn as these two first grew up together, learned about life together and even fought together, their bond deepening as they matured into young men.
But their world comes crashing down when Helen of Sparta is kidnapped by Prince Paris, the son of the king of Troy and Achilles is strongly encouraged to fight for Sparta. So he and Patroclus journey to Troy to fight with the Spartan army in spite of prophecy that threatens to destroy everything they hold dear.
What I enjoyed is that often, Achilles is portrayed as an arrogant, unsympathetic character but in this novel, we get the see his human and vulnerable side — someone capable of deep love and loyalty. We see his tenderness and his insecurities. It was interesting to see Achilles attempt to balance his duty as a prince and warrior with his love for Patroclus. Though an admirable character, it’s easy to see his weaknesses, namely his ego, excessive pride and errors in judgment.
But it was Patroclus’ character that I especially loved; he was brave, loyal, wise beyond his years and compassionate to the plight of others around him. I loved seeing him transform from a clumsy, socially inept exiled prince to the self-assured and confident lover of Achilles. Though he wasn’t skilled in battle like his demigod lover, he is skilled in surgery, empathy and helping others.
I also loved his description of his epic love for Achilles in one passage:
“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”
I appreciated that fact that the author didn’t make their relationship perfect and without strife. Like all relationships, there was conflict. They quarreled, clashed at times, and even hurt each other, but most of the time, their disagreements were because of their deep love for the other — though Achilles’ god-like pride was often at fault.
It’s also interesting to note that Patroclus often played the role of Achilles’ conscience, causing him to consider his actions and evaluate his judgment. It also struck me that it was Patroclus who taught Achilles to be human, to be compassionate and most importantly, how to love. Patroclus cares deeply about people in an otherwise harsh and cruel world, and perhaps this caring for others rubbed off on Achilles, causing him to become more than just a cold-hearted warrior.
Now even though the romance between Achilles and Patroclus is an essential element in this story and helped to illustrate Achilles’ human side, this novel is not defined by that romance. Rather, this is also the story of a demigod driven by honor who grew to fulfill his destiny as a warrior and a hero — perhaps even someone who was tainted by war.
If you’ve read the Iliad or are familiar with the Trojan war, you know that the story has a tragic end; but in case you haven’t, I won’t tell you what happens. But even though I knew how it all turns out, the ending of this book still left me absolutely shattered and broke my heart into pieces. I was so invested in these characters that I couldn’t help but hope that they could somehow escape their fate, to somehow rise above it. So even though I thought I was prepared for how it would hit, it still wrecked me and left me breathless.
Though this ending was painful and heart-wrenching, it was also eloquent and beautiful, and I’m so glad that I read it. This is a book about joy, suffering, war, glory, violence, heroes and the cruelty of men. It’s about pride, hubris, and vanity. But it’s also about being loved and being remembered. The Song of Achilles is a beautifully written book with rich, lyrical prose and a captivating story with a lot of heart about a love so powerful it defies death and time.
The descriptions and settings were realistic and evocative, and because of the richness of detail, I felt at times that I was there with the characters, witnessing and experiencing the events right along with them. It probably helped that I listened to this on audiobook.
All in all, The Song of Achilles is a lush and expertly woven novel that fascinates from its opening words to its tender final scenes, and I ended up giving this five stars.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a historical novel that takes place in Brooklyn at the beginning of the 1900’s to about 1920 and chronicles the life of young, bookish Francie Nolan and the rest of the struggling, impoverished Nolan family. Francie’s father (whom she adores) is an alcoholic and works intermittently as a singing waiter, and her mother works as a scrubwoman cleaning local apartments.
Francie’s mother encourages her and her brother Neely to read and to study as much as possible because as she tells them, education is the only way they can lift themselves into a better life. That being said, Francie’s mother makes Francie read pages from Shakespeare and the Bible every night, and because of that, Francie develops a voracious reading habit. Her intelligence and her razor-sharp observation skills cause her to develop a maturity far beyond her years, and I found it fascinating to watch her mature as the story moved forward.
But It’s not always very easy going for Francie. Being sort of a misfit, she is bullied, mocked and often criticized by both her family and society. Yet she’s a resilient girl and is able to keep moving forward regardless of her hardships.
Actually, Francie’s world is pretty tough overall as her family has to struggle with finances, brutal work and unexpected death. The Nolan family is poor — very poor — but they manage to eke out a living for themselves with plenty of hard work and sacrifice. In spite of being so impoverished, I found it interesting how Francie’s mother was entirely against any form of charity even if it meant some hungry nights for all of them. She was determined to get by on her own hard work and not on handouts.
Though at first glance, the novel seems to be a series of snapshots anecdotes portraying the family’s hardships and Francie’s growing pains, we also see an evolution of the Nolan family as the years pass and the children mature and become more and more educated. And despite the hardships and challenges of daily life, there is also a great deal of happiness. Happiness resulting from the love of family. Happiness coming from successes and triumphs here and there that provide not only hope but a desired to strive to better our circumstances.
This is a captivating story of a girl’s coming of age under more than challenging circumstances. I felt that Francie’s story is still surprisingly captivating and relevant today in spite of taking place over a century ago. The reasons for this, I think, is that Francie and her family experience the same things we all do: love, birth, death, difficult circumstances, marriage, struggle and striving to better ourselves. It’s an inspiring story about the resilience of the human spirit and how determination, self-awareness, and sacrifice can help us improve our circumstances.
The book is bleak in some parts, heartfelt and hopeful in others. It’s tragic and funny, heart-wrenching and heart-warming. It does deal with some serious topics such as poverty, alcoholism, exploitation, sexual abuse, child abuse, grief, and death but there is also success, aspiration and ultimately hope.
All in all, it’s a heartfelt, well-written story about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the 20th century and I thoroughly enjoyed being transported to another time to catch a glimpse of what life was like for the Nolan family. The lyricism in this book flowed beautifully, and I’m so glad that I read this classic.
Now I will say that this book wasn’t heavy on plot or action and it took me a while to get into this story. I was about 40 pages in and considered DNFing it. But I’m happy I stuck it out as I found it to be a compelling, moving story full of rich, interesting characters.
This review originally posted on my book review blog at rogersreads.com.