Milkweed book review

Milkweed

Jerry Spinelli

Historical Fiction/War/Coming-of-Age

230 Pages

 

My mom gave me this book and I had no idea what it was going to be like. I ended up really enjoying it! First of all, I usually enjoy books relating to Nazis, because I think it is usually a very interesting subject. This book takes place in Warsaw during WWII. The Nazis were steadily taking control of everything and and doing whatever they could to control and overrule the Jewish people.

 

The story begins with a young boy who thinks that his own name is “Stopthief,” as this is what he is used to people yelling at him. He has no memory of life other than being on his own and fending for himself, which he does, of course, by stealing to survive. Stopthief meets a group of misfits and other orphan boys who take him in so they can all survive toghether, and they rename him “Misha.” For a while, things are great, with new clothes to wear and plenty of food to eat, until the Nazis decide to force all the Jews to move into the Ghetto.

 

Misha and his friends continue to sneak out and smuggle food, trying to feed themselves and help others. Misha is taken in by another family and lives with them through their own hardships, while trying to help. They give Misha part of the family life he’s never known, and he does the best he can to sneak out and provide extra food for them. Then the Nazis begin the “relocation” of the Jewish people. His adopted family warns him to take his new “sister” and fun away from the Nazis and keep her safe. Misha struggles with issues of his own and the book follows his own coming-of-age and maturation. I really enjoyed this book, I thought it was very entertaining, while heartbreaking. If you are interested in books of this nature or during this time period, I think you will really like this novel.

Lunch-Box Dream book review

 

Lunch-Box Dream

Tony Abbott

Race/Historical Fiction

173 pages

This novel follows two different families; one White, one Black. This is seemingly no reason for their paths to ever cross, but destiny leads them to. They are each facing their own problems and challenges; both dealing with their race and family relations. The White family goes on a road trip across the country to help their grandma relocate to Florida. The mother of this family is having obvious marriage problems that she tries to keep hidden from her two boys. The boys have problems of their own and are struggling with their won issues.

The Black family sends their boy to stay with relatives, and then they find out that he has gone missing and no one knows where he is. The family is in a panic and sets off to find him, which eventually leads the paths of the two families to cross. The end of the story remains open, but leaves the reader with a hopeful tone that everything will work out in the end.

I didn’t really love this book. I think that it carried with it a good message, and that was the intent of the author, but it just wasn’t for me. There wasn’t a whole lot of suspense, and I never even felt myself really caring about the characters in the book; I just couldn’t connect with them. For me, it wasn’t a great book, but I’m sure there are those that would enjoy it.

The Secret Life of Bees book review

The Secret Life of Bees

Sue Monk Kidd

Race/Coming-of-Age

302 pages

 

I had to read this novel for a class, but I ended up liking I more than I thought I would. The novel is set to take place in 1964. I always think books based on this time period that deal with race relations are interesting to read and learn more about. There is a movie based on this book too, and I thought that it followed the book pretty well, but as all of you know, the movie is never as good as the book.

 

Lily Owens lives alone with her dad, her mother having died when Lily was still very young. She carries unhappiness, loneliness, and guilt with her through her 14 years. Her dad is terrible to live with and Lily doesn’t feel like her loves her or cares about her at all. She decides to run away from her dad and home with Rosaleen, a Black woman who works at her dad’s house and helps take care of her. Rosaleen gets into trouble with the law, simply because she is Black, and Lily fears for her life, so together they escape to what they hope will be freedom for both of them. They make their way to a place Lily believes her mother has been and Lily finds herself alone in a house full of Black sisters.

 

Lily is forced to grow up fast as she searches to find who she is and where she came from. She finds new friends and a new life living with August Boatwright and her two sisters. She learns about the secret life of bees and the art of beekeeping. There she encounters additional problems of race but sees them in a new light. Her dad is searching for her, and when he finds her, will she be forced to leave the life she is making for herself and return home, or be allowed to stay?

 

This wasn’t my favorite book I have ever read, but I thought that it carried with it a good message. I think that if you are interested in this time period or race relations you would enjoy this book. Or, if you have seen the movie and enjoyed it, I’m sure you would like the book better because they always are better.

The Tristan Betrayal book review

The Tristan Betrayal

Robert Ludlum

Spy/Thriller

505 pages

 

I’ve always been a Robert Ludlum fan; his books were some of the first that rekindled my love for reading. I’ve read several of his novels, some amazing, and some I didn’t really like at all. For me, this one fell in between those two extremes. For the past several years, I’ve almost started this book several time, but never quite did, so this time, I finally set out to read it and get it off my “to-read” shelf.

 

It took a long time, over 150 pages, for me to really get grabbed by this book. The story just dragged on at the beginning without an adequate amount of excitement for me. The story predominantly takes place during 1940, and is about an intricate network of spies that is determined to bring down Hitler and the Nazis. It follows Stephen Metcalfe, an undercover USA agent through various parts of Europe that he is called to work in. At the beginning of the novel, he is based in Paris, but the operation there gets exposed and destroyed, and Metcalfe is sent to an extremely sensitive and important mission to Moscow.

 

Here he finds and rekindles his love with an old flame, and secretly they set in motion plans to overthrow the Third Reich. The plan they proceed with has the potential to decide the outcome of the war, and Hitler’s fate. It accounts for the decisions that Hitler made during WWII to attempt to invade Russia. Many of Ludlum’s novels seem to revolve around these times, or Nazis, as this one did. There were times of great action and suspense in the novel, but for me, more obvious were the times of almost complacency, were not much was happening.

 

One thing I disliked about his book was some of the language. Occasionally Ludlum will, in his novels, use a lot of foreign language, as he did in this one. I don’t mind it when the words are defined afterwords, but many of them were not in this one. I feel using foreign words can lend authenticity to a novel like this, but without a translation, sometimes I was left to guess, which may or may not have been accurate.

 

There was very little crude language in this book, and no details of sex, which I found surprising because the main character was known as a wandering playboy. All in all, it wasn’t the worst Ludlum that I have read, but not close to stealing top spot as my favorite either. It was an OK story, just one that I felt dragged on and could have been better if it had been more concise. I found that I was forcing myself to just push through it once I started it. If you are unfamiliar with Ludlum’s works, I could recommend other novels that I found much better.

The Things They Carried book review

The Things They Carried

Tim O’Brien

Realistic Fiction/War

233 Pages

 

The Things They Carried is a collection of war stories from the Vietnam War. O’Brien points out more than once in the book that it is a work of fiction, and not real; however, the stories certainly have a ring of truth. I’m sure that they are altered, but I would imagine that there is a lot of truth to many of the stories in this novel. It tells of O’Brien’s own experiences in the war, and over the course of the book, you get to know him and some other members of his platoon.

 

This novel begins by talking about what the soldiers carried, both by necessity and by choice. There is a lot of information and specifics here, but I found none of it boring. It was very interesting to learn about the specific weights of weapons, supplies, and other things that they carried. I imagined myself in their shoes, and thought about how hard it would be to lug everything around in the middle of a war that they were required to carry. I have never been to war, and I respect those that have. This novel brings to light some of the unimaginable things that those in war have to deal with. It shows the skills they pick up in order to cope with what becomes everyday life to them, things many of us might find savage and unable to understand.

 

O’Brien had a lot of thoughts in this book that I really liked. One thing he said was, “But the thing about remembering is that you don’t forget” (33). He writes because he was there. He writes because he can’t forget and this is his way of dealing with it, almost like a therapy, it seems. He goes on to talk about war stories and they purpose they serve. “That’s what war stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night where you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story” (36). O’Brien isn’t able to forget, and he doesn’t want us to forget.

 

I can understand why this book might be hard for some to read. I imagine that for those who have been to war, this might bring back some memories that had been repressed. I imagine that for those who have been affected by relatives who have come home from war different, it could be a hard thing to read. I also think that it is an important book that could lend some understand to those of us who haven’t been to war. One other quote from the novel that I liked is this: “War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead” (76).

 

My one complaint with the novel was that the timeline was a little messy. He jumped back and forth a bit to before the war, during the war, later in the war, earlier in the war, etc. That aspect of it made parts of it harder for me to follow. However, I think that most of the chapters in the book would have worked standing alone on their own, so it wasn’t that big of a deal, I just prefer things in chronological order. I think that anyone interested in war or learning about the Vietnam War experiences in particular would like this novel. As I said, it is a work of fiction, but I wouldn’t be surprised if much of it was true, or at least derived from true events. I enjoyed reading this book, and will look at more of O’Brien’s works in the future. I wouldn’t recommend this book to younger readers, because of some of the content included. I mean, it is war, so there are going to be things disturbing inside. There is also some course language, but I felt like it was purely in context with the soldiers and lifestyles they were in. However, if it would bother you, beware, because it is in there.

The Jester book review

The Jester

James Patterson

Historical Fiction/Adventure

470 Pages

 

I’ve read a lot of James Patterson books, but none quite like this one. This one had almost a The DaVinci Code or The Last Templar feel to it. It takes place during the Crusades, and begins in 1096 A.D. It follows the life of a simple bondsman, Hugh, who finds the desire to leave his wife and go fight in the Crusades. He promises he that he will return no matter what. He leaves and fights hard, learning to be a soldier and doing things he never imagined himself doing. Finally, one day, he decides that he can’t be away from his wife any longer fighting for a cause he’s not even sure he believes in, and he deserts his army.

 

He makes his way home, excited to see his wife again and show her the souvenirs he has brought back with him. However, upon arriving home, he discovers the terrible truth that his wife has been taken captive and everything he loves destroyed. Everyone in his town fears that she is certainly dead, but Hugh cannot accept this and sets off to find her and return her safely home. With the help of new friends he meets, he devises a plan to implant himself close to where he believe he will find her, and bring justice to those who have destroyed his life.

 

This book was exciting to read about, because although it is fiction, it was fun to learn about how things could have been during this time. These is a lot – and I mean a lot – of violence, and very descriptive acts of torture and murder. There was also a surprising amount of sex and sexually related content included, which I had not expected, so I would certainly not recommend this for younger readers. There was a lot of humor strung throughout the novel as well, which is not surprising considering the title. Overall, I found it to be a very entertaining book, although it isn’t my favorite of the work that Patterson has put out. Especially if you are interested in this time period, I think you will enjoy it!

The Kite Runner book review

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini

Historical Fiction/Coming-of-Age

371 Pages

 

I picked this book up because I had seen a lot of people reading it which made me curious. It was not what I expected. The book is largely about a boy growing up in Afghanistan shortly before the invasion by Russian forces. His name is Amir and he lives in a house with his father, as his mother has passed away. The novel gets its name from an activity very popular at this time, a kite tournament. Amir’s closest companion is a boy named Hassan, who is actually the son of his father’s servant, and thereby the younger servant of the family as well. Although Hassan considers Amir his best friend and would do anything for him, Amir doesn’t even consider them friends. He is very aware of him importance and “rank” above Hassan.

 

When Amir enters the kite tournament, he desires to win to hopefully make his dad proud so that the awkwardness between them can end. His loyal companion Hassan is running kites for him and promises to bring the last kite back. As he is running to find it, his path is intercepted by some old rivals who have vowed revenge. The boys are abusing Hassan, and Amir finds him just in time to be able to intercede and stop them, but he is frozen with fear and does nothing. When Hassan finally returns with the kite, Amir is so ashamed with himself that he cannot even look at Hassan, and things between them are never the same.

 

This novel then follows the course of Amir’s life as he grows up and his life changes in ways he never could have imagined. He comes to America and his father, who was once a successful businessman struggles to make ends meet. He finds some happiness, but Hassan in always there in the back of his mind. He can’t help but wonder how things could have been different if he had found the courage to stand up for the boy that would have done anything for him that day. This is a sad story filled with drama and despair, but it is a good book. In the end, Amir is presented with a dangerous opportunity to possibly redeem himself, and it will take all the courage he can muster to face it.

 

There are definitely some situations and content that might not be acceptable for younger readers. This novel is a sad tale of things that you hope aren’t true as you’re reading it. It addresses topics such as bullies, courage, and standing up for others, with an overall good message in a powerful book that you will remember.