Friday, February 19, 2021

19. Blackout


Blackout. Connie Willis. 2010. 610 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Colin tried the door, but it was locked.

I thought I'd start with a word of warning. When you get to the end of Blackout, you're going to NEED to have a copy of All Clear ready to go. Because, chances are, you're going to want to pick it up right away. There is no 'real' ending in Blackout. There is no resolution. There's no peace to be had. Usually I might say that's not such a positive thing in a book, but in this case, I'm forgiving.

You might also find it helpful to know that Blackout can be read as part of a series of time travel books by Connie Willis.  

Premise/plot: Several time travelers find themselves TRAPPED in the past in Connie Willis' thrilling novel Blackout. Time travel has its dangers--of course--but the net is supposed to have safety features built in to protect time and time travelers. But the 'logic' of the net is changing, and, the systems seem to be failing. Though it seems like a few people are aware of this calamity-in-the-making (Mr. Dunworthy surely has his suspicions? Why else would he be rearranging all the scheduled comings and goings of the historians?) The historians themselves are being kept in the dark, out of the loop. 

There are three main characters--three main narrators--in Blackout. Each is a historian, a time traveler. Each has plans for multiple assignments in the twentieth century. Each is experiencing frustration as these drops are rearranged and rescheduled. The historians are Merope who is 'observing' the evacuation of children from London to the country. She 'becomes' Eileen O'Reilly and works as a nurse or maid in one of the homes. Under her care are two very, very wild children. Of course, she's responsible for more than two children. Her employer has taken in many children--over a dozen, I think? But those two are the ones that make her life more than a little unpleasant. Her assignment is for the spring of 1940. Polly "Sebastian" is a historian observing the London Blitz in the fall of 1940. Her assignment has her working in a shop on Oxford Street. She is curious in observing how the Blitz effects people. How they are able to cope with the bombs falling over their heads. How they are able to cope with the terror of it all--knowing each and every night that they could die. The third historian is Michael Davies. Since he was supposed to observe Pearl Harbor first, he's got an implant to give him an American accent. But with the shuffling of assignments, he's now observing the Dunkirk evacuation in June 1940. His research has him observing heroes. He's looking to observe the qualities that make someone brave and heroic, what makes a person risk their lives to save others.

If all went according to plan, these three would NOT have met--in the past. Their assignments in 1940 would not have overlapped in time or place. But not all went according to plan...and now these three are going to need each very, very much if they're going to survive...

My thoughts: I really love Connie Willis' time travel novels. Blackout and All Clear perhaps would have perhaps been better as one CHUNKY book. The two are essentially one book with one story. These two can be read on their own without previously reading the other two books. (Again each of those two could be read as stand alone novels.)  

I love historical fiction. I love historical fiction set during the second world war. I love historical fiction set in England.

I love time travel stories. This one is INTENSE.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Student Prince


The Student Prince (1954) starring Edmund Purdom and Ann Blyth and directed by Richard Thorpe. The Student Prince was an operetta by Sigmund Romberg and Dorothy Donnelly written/composed in 1924. 

According to Wikipedia it was based on a German play, Old Heidelberg, by Wilhelm Meyer-Forster which was first performed in 1901. (According to yet another Wikipedia article the play was based on an 1898 novel Karl Heinrich also by Meyer-Forster.) 

There were several silent films--in both German and English--of Old Heidelberg and/or The Student Prince. The operetta was--again according to Wikipedia--the longest running Broadway show in the 1920s--608 performances to Show Boat's 572 performances. 

It was adapted into a musical film in 1954. Mario Lanza provided the voice for the student prince.

I found *some* similarities between The Student Prince and Cinderella. Though I will say The Student Prince is more of an anti-Cinderella tale. Prince Karl Franz, our "hero" is the heir to the throne of Karlsberg (fictional German kingdom). He's all set for an arranged marriage, but his intended bride finds him a bit robotic, cold, uncaring. Deemed to be lacking the important virtue of CHARM, he's sent to attend university/college in Heidelberg. He'll live in an inn, attend classes, and generally mingle with the commoners for however long it takes for him to gain some perspective. Of course, this proves slightly problematic. He falls madly, deeply, passionately in love with the innkeeper's niece, Kathie, who waits on him--and others--primarily serving round after round after round after round after round of beer. (Most of the musical numbers are about drinking, drinking, drinking, and more drinking.) Since their love affair literally can't go anywhere--she's a commoner, he's the heir to the throne--and since he's already engaged to be married--it's a bit "There's No Tomorrow" or "It's Now or Never." When his grandfather (the current king) dies, he assumes the throne, leaves Kathie forever, and is on his way to his wedding. The End.

As I mentioned before this is an anti-Cinderella story as far as I'm concerned. He's an UNcharming prince who does NOT marry a commoner who's in service. Though he may love her, he always must leave her in the end. 

I found him insufferable. I yelled at the screen quite a bit. Mainly because he's very hand-sy and trying to force himself on Kathie for the first half of the movie. He doesn't really change what he wants--but she eventually falls for his act after a few love songs where he "croons" in her ear. (Ouch!!!) Perhaps she was attracted to him all along? Maybe she thought she didn't have a choice and she might as well accept her fate? Maybe because her uncle was unsupportive? Maybe because she had nowhere else to go or way to earn a living? 

Regardless, I was not swept up into this love story. I thought he was a JERK. It was clearly insta-lust presented as insta-love (well, maybe???). Sees a girl swinging beer around and singing, thinks I must grab her and kiss her as soon as possible. WHAT?!?! Who is she to reject my kisses. I must try again and again and again. I will not take NO for an answer. I am A PRINCE. She will be mine! I will pursue her until she quits this job, goes across the river, follow her to her new place of work, and pester her until she's fired, and then follow her after she's fired and SING, SING, SING, SING until she will willingly accepts my kisses. 

Apparently kissing a commoner and drinking beer (lots of beer) with commoners does the trick and he is a forever changed man? (But is he really???? It's not like we know how he is once he's King and married). 

I do think it shows how Cinderella might have gone if there had not been magic and a fairy godmother. 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, February 15, 2021

18. Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel


Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel. Andrea Grosso Ciponte. 2021. [February] 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.

Premise/plot: Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel is a nonfiction graphic novel set in Germany circa 1942/1943. It tells the story of the White Rose resistance group--within Germany, mind you--led by young Germans who opposed Hitler. Primarily it is story of a handful of people: Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, and Willi Graf. (There may have been others? But this is the core group who sacrificed everything--yes, everything--to use their newly found voices to make a stand for what they believed was right.) This is a story about the power of words--or the potential power of words. It is the story of a publication--the White Rose--of pamphlets distributed within Germany challenging the status quo. This graphic novel includes--in English, thank goodness--those six leaflets. The graphic novel focuses on their story and its impact. 

My thoughts: The story of Sophie and Hans felt a little familiar to me; perhaps I've read a little bit about them before? But I was so happy and pleased to have the opportunity to review this title and learn more about these (mostly) student resisters. 

Whether intentional or not this graphic novel felt timely and relevant. And it made for a lovely read on a very cold wintry day.

At the same time, this one feels sparse. The story isn't presented in a straight-forward, education-friendly way. It is, well, sparse and a bit all over the place as to what it shares and when it shares it within the text. Which is certainly okay--more than okay--if you see the book as say a piece of art. 

But if you genuinely are wanting more narrative to tell the whole story, or more of the whole story, then it's...sparse. One reviewer (on Goodreads) noted that you learn more reading wikipedia articles about the founding members than you do reading this book. That reviewer wasn't wrong. It's a little light on facts and the illustrations have to do the heavy lifting.

As long-time blog readers know I don't *usually* review many graphic novels a year. But this one appealed to me because of the World War II setting. I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys (or should that be "enjoys"???) learning more about the Second World War.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, February 11, 2021

17. We Also Served


We Also Served: The Forgotten Women of the First World War. Vivien Newman. 2014/2021. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I have always known about my grandfathers’ First World War service. Her father’s photograph was on my mother's bedside table, his eyes, haunted by all he had seen, staring into the middle distance. He was a Royal Army Medical Corps surgeon, specialising in abdominal wounds, and he served in France from November 1914. Like so many who returned, he spoke little about his war service, although post-war he worked with those still suffering from shell shock–teaching my mother to drive in the grounds of one of the ‘lunatic asylums’ he visited weekly. 

Premise/plot: We Also Served is a nonfiction book about the many women--who served in many different ways--their countries during the First World War. (The book mainly--though not exclusively--focuses on the British Empire, so women from Great Britain, Canada, Australia. I believe a handful of Americans are mentioned but in very small numbers proportionally speaking.) The book is arranged/organized by the ways women served. 

For example, the first chapter is about the women being brave enough to send their boys/men off to war; the campaigning that went on to make sure mothers and wives WOULD strongly encourage/support their men to go. But that isn't all it's about. It has a lot of KNITTING as well. In addition to knitting, women could WRITE LETTERS to boost morale and be supportive during the war.

But the book goes on in its chapters to focus on nurses, ambulance drivers, and the occasional doctor or surgeon. Not to mention the factory workers--especially in munitions but not only in munitions. Then, of course, there were the land girls--women involved in farming/harvesting. And then there was the occasional spy behind the enemy lines...

Some who served were involved in private enterprises--not forbidden by the government but not necessarily supported by the government and run by the government. There were private nursing units and more official government-sponsored nursing units for example. 

The last two chapters focuses on women who died serving their country AND the women who mourned losses from the war. There were memorials and monuments to men who served and died--less honor was given to the women who died. They weren't exactly forgotten and dismissed altogether. But less was done to commemorate, recognize, and pay tribute to their service. Perhaps the least recognized of all were the women who died working in munitions. These deaths were purposefully not recorded or published. 

ALL OF THE CHAPTERS were wonderful in that all are drawn from primary sources. Diaries. Letters. Journals. Memoirs. Oral Histories. Each chapter has at least one--if not dozens--of personal stories giving readers a behind the scenes glimpse of what it was like--their actual experiences. 

My thoughts: I really found this one fascinating and well-researched. I read one chapter a day and enjoyed (if enjoyed is the right word???) each day's reading. I love it when nonfiction relies primarily on primary sources. I love hearing these stories, these experiences from firsthand sources--the women who were actually there. I would definitely recommend this one. 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

16. The Children's Blizzard


The Children's Blizzard. Melanie Benjamin. 2021. [January] 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: They came on boats, on trains, great unceasing waves of them—the poor, the disenfranchised, the seekers, the dreamers. Second and third generations of farmers eking out an existence on scraps of farms divided up among too many sons. Political agitators no longer welcome in their homelands. Young men fleeing conscription in a king’s army. Married couples starting out. Bachelors from towns with few women. The poor from tenements with air so stifling and foul there was no room to breathe, let alone dream.

Premise/plot: Melanie Benjamin's newest historical novel is about the blizzard of January 12, 1888 nicknamed the children's blizzard. It was a deadly storm--a heartbreaking one. Her novel is told from multiple points of view--so, so, so,  so many points of view. The first half focuses on the day of the storm...and perhaps the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. The second half focuses on the aftermath of the storm and its effect on survivors. 

My thoughts: What you see is what you get. I like that when it comes to books. I *need* that when it comes to books. And I think sometimes this goes unappreciated. I'd rather have a TITLE and COVER together tell me everything I need to know about what to expect in a book than to have a cover that gives little to nothing away and a "clever" title. Add in jacket flap where it's just "superb" "outstanding" "one of a kind" "will blow you away" "phenomenal" "ground-breaking" "unforgettable" with no hint of what is in between the pages and you've lost me. 

If you have an interest in pioneers, school teachers, natural/weather disasters, journalism, immigrants, or if you just really love historical fiction, then this one may be a good fit for you.

It may not be a good fit for you if you are a sensitive reader who has never read about the children's blizzard before. (Hint: The children's blizzard was DEADLY. Not everyone survived; those who did survive didn't always survive whole--physically, mentally, emotionally. It devastated whole communities.) If you are a sensitive reader but are more familiar with this time in history--and this particular storm--I would recommend the book. This book isn't more brutal/intense than the nonfiction books on the topic.

I have read David Laskin's excellent The Children's Blizzard. (I believe Melanie Benjamin has as well in her research.)

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews