Thursday, April 23, 2015

(Review) Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm

Publication Date: March 31, 2015. First published in January 2014 under another title: If This is a Woman.
Publisher: Nan A. Talese.
Genre: Nonfiction, Holocaust, Germany, Nazi, World War II.
Pages: 768.
Source: Free copy from Netgalley and Nan A. Talese in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 Stars for excellent.

Summary:
Ravensbruck was a concentration camp in northern Germany. It was located in a forest near a lake. The location seemed ideal, tranquil, and private. Ravensbruck was built in 1939 in order to house women imprisoned by Nazi Germany. The reasons for imprisonment were: political, social outcasts, Gypsies, Jews, mentally sick, handicapped, or any women who were considered an enemy of Nazi Germany.
The number of women murdered at Ravensbruck is a guess. Upwards of 90,000 women died at Ravensbruck. The files were burned in the last days of the war and a solid count is obscure.
Sarah Helm has written a chronological history of Ravensbruck, from the beginning plans of the camp, to the last days of its torturous rule.
Helm interviewed women who had been imprisoned there, or had worked as a guard. Many of these women had not shared what had happened with their families.

My Thoughts:
This is a lengthy book to read. It is exhausting. Not because of the amount of pages, but because of its content. I was only able to read a few pages and then pause.
The first time I'd heard of Ravensbruck was while reading The Hiding Place. Corrie Ten Boom and her sister were prisoners there.
I believe Ravensbruck is a necessary book to read on the history of the Holocaust. I've not read another book on this concentration camp. Nor have I read another Holocaust book that is as in-depth in detail.
When writing a review on Holocaust topic books, I am not comfortable using words like wonderful story, or excellent portrayal; those descriptions seem too cheerful and insignificant. I stumble with adequate words to express how I feel and am left feeling depleted and dumbstruck.
It is important to share the stories contained in Ravensbruck. Their stories affect the humane world and may prevent another event like the Holocaust.

There are several points that led me to give Ravensbruck 5 stars for excellent.
  • Chronological detailed history of the concentration camp.
  • Biographies of historical people that were apart of the creation and running of the camp. For example: Heinrich Himmler. 
  • Interviews from women who were prisoners and women who were guards. 
  • Detailed information pertaining to: medical experiments, history of the poisonous gas, torture practices, and the increase of children born at Ravensbruck. 
  • Lastly, Ravensbruck showed the breakdown of what human attributes were left of the prisoners. Many of the women became ghosts of their former selves. I cannot imagine the strength it took to move forward with life afterwards.  
On a final note, there is an interesting follow-up on the Siemens Company in Germany on their historical role at Ravensbruck. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

(Review) War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Publication Date: July 2, 1999. First published 1869.
Publisher: Modern Library.
Genre: Historical fiction, Napoleonic Wars, Russia, France.
Pages: 1424.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: 3 stars for good.

Translation by Constance Garnett
Introduction by A.N. Wilson

Amazon (Kindle copy is .99)
Modern Library

Leo Tolstoy 1828-1910.


The Battle of Borodino. 
I've heard of people who read War and Peace every year. I can't imagine reading this book every year. I'm glad I read the book, but don't plan to read it again.

Summary:
Sometimes a book summary can go on and on too much, especially in an epic book such as War and Peace. The following summary is going to be just the facts.
Several aristocratic Russian families make up the principal characters in War and Peace. 
The story moves back and forth between the Napoleonic War of the early 1800s and civilians living in Moscow.
The civilian parts of the book are filled with parties, soirees, love interests, marriage and children, marital difficulties, infidelities, sickness, and death.
The war parts of the book are filled with battle planning, offense and defense strategies, maiming and death, prisoners, defeat, and victory.
For both civilians and those in the military, the after-affects of suffering and rebuilding a life are shown.
Leo Tolstoy at several points in the book will take a detour in order to give philosophical thoughts on war, historians, and people (for example Napoleon.)

"The subject of history is the life of peoples and of humanity. To catch and pin down in words-that is, to describe directly the life, not only of humanity, but even of a single people, appears to be impossible." Page 1344. Part Two of Epilogue. 

My Thoughts:
Over-all I think the book is a solid good rating.
I did not fall in the love with the book. However, I do believe it is a memorable book.
The length and content of the story is haunting. However, I did not feel an investment in any of the characters.
I am still surprised that I read the book in a couple of months. I feel an accomplishment in reading War and Peace
I loved Tolstoy's description of scenery. His description gave me a panoramic view.
Early in the story, there is a dialogue between a husband and wife. The dialogue was realistic and I felt uncomfortable, as if I was in the room with them and over-hearing a couple's argument. I felt this was a significant writing ability, to bring the reader into the room of the characters during a sensitive and uncomfortable scene.
Tolstoy's strong ability to write about a battle scene is significant. The intense nature of a battle is not easy to capture, but my heart raced during these moments.
If I had to choose one thing about this story that I felt was of most importance: I would choose the after-affects of war for the soldiers. Tolstoy shows the weariness, suffering, physical pain, loneliness, yearning for home, readjusting to civilian life, regret, loss, sadness; and the exhaustion of mind, body, and spirit.
I find it ironic that a book I'm currently reading, A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael, mentions War and Peace. Carmichael is quoted as stating she did not like the book.
"Bad rhymes in parts, bad writing all through." The quote is taken from her book, From Sunrise Land. 

Links of interest:
Shmoop
The Guardian, War and Peace: many stories, many lives. 
Biography of Leo Tolstoy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

War and Peace Read-a-Long: Week Eleven


Week 11 is over Books 14 and 15.

1) Do you think the book ended in a funny place or did it seem like a logical place for the story to end?
The story didn't really end because the author wrote two more parts in an epilogue. However, chapter fifteen ends with two women who had been through much in this story moving on with their lives. 

2) How do you see the characters five years on from now? Will everybody get a happy ever after? 
I don't know about happy ever after, but I do see them as moving on from the pain and suffering of war. I do not mean they will not carry with them the memories of what happened, nor miss loved ones who've died. But they move on with life. 

3) Do you think Tolstoy is a biased narrator? If so, in what way?
No I do not. 

4) Are you still enjoying this book or are you honestly just waiting for the damn thing to stop talking?
I finished reading the book on April 16. I'm ready to move on from this chunkster story. 


War and Peace Read-a-Long: Week Ten


Week ten is over Book 13.

1)  The only bit of this week's war-themed escapades that I really took in was a small section where it got interesting and the Russians started getting ready to attack the French but then got confused because they couldn't find somebody or other so they did it the next day and botched it again because they went crazy and just started trying to beat on some French people.  Does anybody feel as though they're learning?
I did not know that the French had occupation of Moscow for a time. I know little about this period of history in regards to Russian history or Napoleon. I found it interesting. I also enjoyed reading Tolstoy's philosophical explanation of historians who have written on the war. 

2)  Clearly Tolstoy's not a Napoleon fan - as far as Tolstoy's concerned, he's lucky at best. Thoughts?
I would be shocked if Tolstoy had been a fan of Napoleon. 

3)  According to Shmoop, Pierre's only been in prison for four weeks.  And in four weeks he's decided to completely re-write his personality while shedding some pounds.  I've been surprised by how well Tolstoy has portrayed the French's treatment of their prisoners.  Maybe he's not so biased after all? [I realize that's not technically a question but I'm late so we're going with it]
I believe Tolstoy handled his "bias" well. He has written as fair and balanced of a story (of his country and history) as can be portrayed. 

4)  This might be a ridiculous question given that some of you may not be flying by the seat of your pants and only just staying caught up (like nobody around here, obviously) but is anybody else worried that the final two books are going to be all about Napoleon trudging back across Russia and that we're only going to get back to the characters we actually care about in retrospect when we hit the Epilogues?!
I am tired of reading about war. I'm hoping to have closure with the characters 

War and Peace Read-a-Long: Week Nine


Week nine is over Book 12.

1)  With the multiple deaths, this week started to feel a little more like Tolstoy was starting to wrap up some of his characters' stories. How do you feel about the way Helene's death was dealt with compared to Andrew's?
In Helene's (Elena's) death, her circumstances were "talked around" and never in an honest telling of what had happened. She lived an unconventional life. She was described as an "ornament" and "charming." 
Andrey was a hero, an important part of War and Peace. Whereas Helene was just an "ornament" in the story. 

2)  I certainly wouldn't go so far as to call myself a Pierre fan but his experiences as a prisoner were quite moving. How do you think Pierre is going to fare as we approach the end of the novel?
Pierre's experience as a prisoner changed his life. His inward thought life, to his priorities, and future decisions. He becomes a changed person. 

3)  Now the competition's opened back up, who are you backing for Nicholas Rostov's future wife, rich heiress Mary or devoted Sonya? 
Marya. 

4)   The Rostovs have always been my favourite family in War and Peace and seeing them from Mary's perspective was a little bit sad.  How is everyone feeling about how things are going for them?
I'm not sure how to answer this question... The Rostov family is not my favorite. I feel sorry for the things that have happened to them. The war has affected all of the characters; and the taking of Moscow for a time by the French, all has had difficult affects on the characters. 


Friday, April 17, 2015

(Review) Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella

Publication Date: April 1, 2015
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Formats: Available in eBook, Paperback

Reviewed Format: Paperback
ISBN-10: 1477821384

Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Free copy from Amalia Carosella and Lake Union Publishing in exchange for a review. 
Rating: 4 stars for very good. I was torn between giving it a 3 or 4.   
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Summary: 
Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods.
A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.

My Thoughts: 
I had never been interested in Greek Mythology until a couple of years ago when I read: The Odyssey, Troilus and Cressida, and The Oracles of Troy.   I now have a strong interest in this type of story and was delighted to read Helen of Sparta. 
Helen of Sparta is the type of book where I have likes and dislikes, I'll use bullet points to address my thoughts. 

Likes:

  • Helen has a voice and a tangible personality. Even in the movie Troy. Helen had a role but did not show her true character. In Helen of Sparta she is a person with insecurities and fears, but she can also be bold and decisive. She is intelligent and passionate. She is both strong and weak (just as all humans are.) However, she is a demi-god. She is the daughter of a god and a human. Her "gifts" are beauty and dreams or visions. 
  • Helen of Sparta kept my attention and I read the story in 48 hours. Helen is a character that I felt an investment in her outcome. Even though there were elements I did not like in the story, Helen held my interest until the last page. 
  • The odd relationship between gods and humans. Zeus, Poseidon, Athena make appearances or they are talked about in conversation. The offerings and sacrifices to the gods are done with the hope of answered prayers and gifts or blessings. The gods "give" depending on what they receive in return or what kind of mood they are in. I liked this point because it was eye-opening to the religious belief system of this era. I was also saddened by this point, because it showed me their gods were unmerciful, vengeful, and not trustworthy. 
  • Helen's beauty is a theme that runs through the story. People are either drawn to her beauty, or they hate her beauty. It is her beauty that people notice first, and it maybe the only thing they notice, because many of the characters do not care about Helen, they care only for what they can benefit. I wondered if any other readers picked up on this "teaching lesson" in the story?
  • Helen of Sparta is a story where people are polar opposite: either good or bad, beautiful or ugly, masculine or feminine, violent or sensual (and sometimes it's hard to distinguish.) It is a larger than "earthly life" type of story.   
Dislikes: 
  • Helen's age. She had just began the monthly flow 6 months previously, this would place her in the 12 to 14 range of age. In this era it was common for girls to marry young. But, this does not mean they are mature physically, mentally, and emotionally. Some girls will be more knowledgeable and wise than others. But I don't care what era it is, a young girl is a young girl, because of the lack of life experiences and life skills not acquired yet. Plus, their brain and body is not an adult. Further, there may be a curiosity about sex, but not the maturity to fully have sexual intercourse as a mature and enjoyable act. I wondered. If Helen let's say is 13, how tall would she be and how much would she weigh? Pair her with a grizzly, machismo, battle-hardened man. A sex scene between a child and an adult is just bad. I believe it would have been better to make Helen's age at least 17 or 18. This point is difficult to review because I'm torn between my moral beliefs and reviewing a story on its own merit. However, it is distracting to read a story where abuse happens. After all I do have an opinion. Some questions I asked myself: Is the scene believable? Was it well-written? Did it contribute to the whole of the story? No, yes, and yes. My no answer is that I did not feel the sex scene in the early part of the story was believable, because it was unclear. Did she dislike it or did she like it? This is a question I'd rather not elaborate on anymore. 
  • Several immoral comments are made in the book in regards to women. I especially disliked one reference in regards to an innuendo about siblings. Yuck. 
  • The ending alludes to a sequel. I caught this. It seems several reviewers have not. I think it would be good to state this in the book. 
Overall I liked the book. Yes, there were certain places that I disliked, which I hope I've answered in the above review. 

Buy the Book


About the Author

Amalia Carosella graduated from the University of North Dakota with a bachelors degree in Classical Studies and English. An avid reader and former bookseller, she writes about old heroes and older gods. She lives with her husband in upstate New York and dreams of the day she will own goats (and maybe even a horse, too). For more information, visit her blog at www.amaliacarosella.com. She also writes fantasy and paranormal romance as Amalia Dillin.
You can also connect with Amalia on FacebookGoodreads, and Twitter here and here.

Helen of Sparta Blog Tour Schedule

Wednesday, April 1
Review at Unshelfish
Review at Let Them Read Books
Thursday, April 2
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, April 3
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Saturday, April 4
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
Monday, April 6
Review at Curling Up By the Fire
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation
Tuesday, April 7
Review at leeanna.com
Wednesday, April 8
Review at Historical Reads and Views
Thursday, April 9
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book!
Friday, April 10
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Monday, April 13
Interview at Book Babe
Spotlight at Historical Fiction Obsession
Tuesday, April 14
Review at Forever Ashley
Wednesday, April 15
Review at Just One More Chapter
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Thursday, April 16
Review at 100 Pages a Day
Friday, April 17
Review at Impressions in Ink
Saturday, April 18
Spotlight at Passages to the Past
Monday, April 20
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Interview at The Maiden’s Court
Tuesday, April 21
Review at Broken Teepee
Wednesday, April 22
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

To enter to win a $40 Amazon Gift Card, please complete the giveaway form below. RULES Giveaway starts on April 1st at 12:01am EST and ends at 11:59pm EST on April 22nd. Giveaway is open to residents in the US only and you must be 18 or older to enter. Winners will be chosen via GLEAM on April 23rd and notified via email. Winners have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen. Please email Amy @ hfvirtualbooktours@gmail.com with any questions. Embed Code: Helen of Sparta

Thursday, April 9, 2015

War and Peace Read-a-Long: Week Eight

Week eight is over book ten (chapters 31-39) and book eleven.



1) What's the first thing you're going to read when you've finished War & Peace?
I plan to finish reading Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. 

2) Do you think the Russians were right in abandoning Moscow or should they have stayed and fought?
I'm not sure what the right answer is, I was not there, I did not go through the fighting that the Russians had endured. This is a question that can be truly answered by those who were there.

3) What about Andrew/Andrey/Whoever? Do you think he's changed as a character?
Yes, he has changed as a character. One of my favorite points in a novel is characters who evolve because of the circumstances in life. To remain the same type of person/the same character, is to have wasted life. 


4) Let's talk dream casting. Which actor/actress would you envision playing Pierre and Natasha if they made a new film version of War & Peace? 

I'm not very good at this sort of thing because I watch little television and I rarely go to the theater. (I hope that didn't seem flippant or arrogant, I just don't watch television often.)
Natasha---Kirsten Dunst
Pierre---Jonathan Rhys Meyers