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How Did I Find This Book?

A few weeks ago me and the future hubster went to a movie, “Ides of March”.  SIDERANT:  Which by the way I suggest that you not waste your time seeing unless you’re a Ryan Gosling fan.  The movie ended with no conclusion and my synopsis was “well, at least Ryan Gosling is hot or I would be pissed about spending 1.5 hours of my life and $10 to see this”.

The highlight of the movie was actually a preview called “War Horse”.  I saw that it was based on a book so of course I had to pick it up when I got home on the Kindle.

War Horse Movie Poster

About The Author and Book

There is more to tell than just about the book since it’s actually been made from a novel, into a musical and now into a Steven Spielberg directed movie.  SIDERANT: The last five years have been VERY nice to Michael Morpurgo and his family financially if I had to take a guess.

The book was originally written by Michael Morpurgo in 1982 and was inspired from a variety of places.

  1. From a WWI veteran that hung out at a local bar and a fellow villager that had been assigned in cavalry
  2.  His experience working with a charity group called “Farms for Children” where inner city kids work on a farm for a week.  During this time he met a boy who has an unspoken connection with a horse that was inspiring to him
  3. Lastly, a disturbing painting that he had seen done by F.W. Reed in 1917 that showed horses in WWI charging into no-man’s land through barbed wire.  He said that the sight haunted him but that he wanted to show the war through the eyes of the horse
Then the book was picked up by Nick Stafford and written into a play that was also called “War Horse” that was performed at the National Theater in London.  It opened in 2007 and was critically acclaimed because of it’s extremely life-life horse puppets that were manned by more than three people per horse.  After winning numerous awards the show was then transferred to 2010 to Broadway…and already has stacked up five Tony Awards including “Best Play”.

War Horse Play: Credit of Paul Kolnik of Lincoln Center Theater Production

In 2010 as well, Steven Spielberg decided to adapt the book and play into a full length movie.  And as you know, Steven Spielberg rarely disappoints so I had to read the book after seeing a few of the scenes in the trailer and after reading the novel, I have high hopes that the movie will actually be better than the book which is rare but in this case could be executed depending on how he interprets the relationships and emotions of the horses.

War Horse Play: Joey the Plow Horse

“War Horse” is a children’s book that teaches them about the trials of WWI through the eyes of a horse…which is probably the only way to teach children about war while they are in 5th or 6th grade since it’s just an all too horrible thing to fathom or grasp through a “Saving Private Ryan” type of format or human interpretation.

Overview of Book

A beautiful Bay foal with a white cross on his nose named Joey is purchased from an auction and dragged back home to become an English plow horse.  But no one could have prepared him or his loving master, Albert, for what was about to come next or how close WWI was about to hit home.
From a plow horse to a cavalry war horse within one afternoon, Joey is forced to endure multiple years of running into machine gun fire, being handed off between multiple owners crossing enemy lines numerous times and lose many people and horses that he grows close to.  But will he ever be back where he really belongs and somehow find his way back to Albert on the farm?

Review

It’s a kid’s book so you have to be prepared for the fact that you will read it in two sittings but all in all I found the book very moving, touching and interesting since it was from a horse’s point of view instead of a human’s.  SIDERANT: But I might be biased since I’m an ex-horse owner as well as a horse freak.  I’m the girl that always wants to go and pet the riot squad horses that are in downtown Minneapolis or Madison…even though I know better and that they are trained to be bad a**es that plow down hippies and gang bangers, not pets.

Albert and Joey

I’m very excited to see the movie as I’m pretty sure that they will be able to add details in that weren’t entirely spelled out (romance that Albert has and some of the specifics in the closing that seemed rushed).
Lastly If you get to read the book or see the movie you’ll have to let me know what you thought in the comment section below!
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Ah, where do I begin?

About the Author

Since I’ve already introduced you to Mr. Follett in my post another one of his novels, “Fall of Giants”, I will spare myself the space (and you the time it takes to read it) and just dive right into the novel.

About the Novel

“Pillars of the Earth” is a historical novel that was written in 1989, but, not made popular until word-of-mouth and popularity in Europe made it’s way across the Atlantic.  In fact, it wasn’t until 2007 that a lady named Oprah decided to put it on her book club list.  While I’m usually not a fan of her recommendations and didn’t know that it was on the list until after I had read it, she done good.  The woman done realllll good in this case.

The setting is primarily in a fictional English city, Kingsbridge, during the 12th century and centers around the building of a cathedral over multiple decades.  While a book about building cathedrals might sound lame…it’s not!  There is murder, adultery, romance, tension, women’s rights issues, corrupt Lords, royalty, beautiful duchesses, monks, political struggles, and most importantly….vivid characters.

Ken Follett has a gift that many other authors attempt and fail at, character development.  While he does have over 1000 pages to work with…he does such a phenomenal job of introducing you to them on every level.  Whether it be first person, second person, professionally or personally.  By the end of the book you are so familiar with the characters that you know what their reaction will be to a situation, which is something that few books and authors can claim (unless you read Nicholas Sparks and they all start to blend together).

My Favorite Characters

Since the story is too extensive to get into and I didn’t want to spoil it, I thought a good idea would be to give a bio of my favorite characters:

The story begins with Tom Builder, a father that finds him and his family fighting from starving after being let go after the building of a castle is cancelled.  Without giving away too much, Tom eventually finds himself running into Prior Phillip.

Prior Phillip is a 20 something devote monk that gave himself to God at the age of 4 after he was adopted by a monk after watching his parents being brutally murdered by soldiers.  Prior Phillip is a constant character that all others center around in the novel and was one of my favorites.  SIDERANT: It’s good to note that the book does a wonderful job of not making this into a religious book or giving it a “down with old world Catholics” type of message. 

Yes, it's so good that Starz made it a mini series!

Aliena is the daughter of the Earl of Shiring and the intended bride of the evil William Hamleigh.  Aliena has the world on a string as a responsible 17-year-old that will eventually reign the earldom beside her brother.  That is until the unspeakable happens and her future is ripped from beneath her, making her completely powerless and left standing in the ashes with her brother who is still a child.

Review

I LOVED it and have now begun to dive into the sequel, “World Without End” which is about descendants of the characters from “Pillars of the Earth” and takes place in the same location, about 200 years later.

If you’re a person that is looking for something different from the norm…but that has simple vocabulary and a page turning plots, this is your book. I 110% recommend it.

*****/5 stars!

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How Did I Find This Book?

I found this book after I was on a war novel kick after reading a novel about WWI by Ken Follett and had seen this one on my list of recommended reads by audible and was also the winner of an “Audible Book of the Year” award in 2010 with the narrator, Bronson Pinchot, also winning narrator of the year.

Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes

About the Author

Karl Marlantes grew up in a small town in the Northwest and eventually went to Yale and Oxford post high school.  Karl then went to Vietnam where he served as a Marine lieutenant in within the remote mountains.  Marlanta actually wrote this novel in 1977 only to be shot down throughout the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s by numerous publishers encouraging him to change the war from Vietnam to the Gulf or Afghanistan.  Finally in 2010, Atlantic Monthly Press/El Leon Literary Arts, picked up the book and the Cinderella story about a Vietnam veteran’s tale finally got to the part where the they lived happily ever after.

Karl Marlantes, author and decorated vetran

About the Book

I am so behind on my blog that I’m going to use someone else’s summary:

Matterhorn is a marvel–a living, breathing book with Lieutenant Waino Mellas and the men of Bravo Company at its raw and battered heart. Karl Marlantes doesn’t introduce you to Vietnam in his brilliant war epic–he unceremoniously drops you into the jungle, disoriented and dripping with leeches, with only the newbie lieutenant as your guide. Mellas is a bundle of anxiety and ambition, a college kid who never imagined being part of a “war that none of his friends thought was worth fighting,” who realized too late that “because of his desire to look good coming home from a war, he might never come home at all.” A highly decorated Vietnam veteran himself, Marlantes brings the horrors and heroism of war to life with the finesse of a seasoned writer, exposing not just the things they carry, but the fears they bury, the friends they lose, and the men they follow. Matterhorn is as much about the development of Mellas from boy to man, from the kind of man you fight beside to the man you fight for, as it is about the war itself. Through his untrained eyes, readers gain a new perspective on the ravages of war, the politics and bureaucracy of the military, and the peculiar beauty of brotherhood.” –Daphne Durham 

Source: http://www.amazon.com/Matterhorn-Novel-Vietnam-Karl-Marlantes/dp/0979528534

Review

So while I would love to tell you how much I liked it, I don’t lie.  I listened to it on audio book and I couldn’t wait until it was over.  It had many great descriptions of how Vietnam really was and how messed up it was but I just couldn’t get into it.  I think that it’s because I’m female and because this is so far from of the kind of books that I usually like.  I have read very little non-fiction and this is what I would categorize as mix of autobiography mixed with fiction and non-fiction.

For me it was 2/5 stars but I do believe that it had to do with the fact that this just isn’t something that I usually would read and I picked it up anyways.

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How Did I Find This Book?

I found this one, again, paroozing around the Kindle bestsellers list while I was looking for cheap games…and ended up getting hooked on the preview sample.  It’s been awhile since I read a good mystery novel so I decided to just go with.

About the Author

Lisa Gardner is living the American dream.  She’s a hardworking woman who used to be in the grinds of corporate America putting in her duty as a consultant.  Traveling to manufacturing companies in Podunkville, USA and working weekends.

Source: Was from a random radio station but probably from a press release or website

Lisa started writing when she was 18 and finished her first novel her Junior year in college.  “Walking After Midnight” is a romance novel that a romance publishing house picked up.  She ended up doing a few of those novels and upon arriving home and being extremely upset about work one night…she wrote her first dark crime novel.  And the rest is history.

About the Novel

Tessa Leoni is a tough state trooper that has pulled her way out of the gutter and onto the straight and narrow with her sweet husband, Brian, and her little girl and whole world, Sophie.  But one day this happy family has to cross paths with D.D. Warren, a Boston investigator who is assigned to a case that seems like domestic abuse wrong – where Brian ends up dead with Tessa’s confessing to the murder.

It all seems so simple…but where is six-year-old Sophie?  Why are there so many things wrong with this picture when it seems so simple?

Review

This crime novel is the fifth in the D.D. Warren series (which I didn’t know existed before reading it) and takes us on a high paced adventure with a great female lead characters and supporting cast.  My favorite supporting character was her partner, who was also her ex-lover.  Made for very interesting moments and conversations within the book.

I found it to be a very gripping book that I didn’t want to put down once I hit the 75% mark.  Always the sign of a good book…and it actually had an ending which is a LOT more than I can say for my next review.  I didn’t give it full marks because it’s just not dynamic enough for me, but, good none-the-less and probably great if you’re a crime reader.

Star Review:

3.5/5 stars

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How Did I Hear About This Book?

I heard about this book while cruising the Kindle bestseller’s list and since I usually enjoy novels about India and Africa (for the most part), I decided to take the plunge.

About the Author

Abraham was born in India and had parents that taught in Ethiopia, where he grew up in Addis Ababa.  he attended medical training there and eventually joined his parents in the United States and then completed his medical schooling at Madras Medical College.  After his schooling he moved back to America where he practiced at lower-income hospitals and eventually ended up specializing in AIDS and helping terminally ill patients and their families.

Abraham Verghese

Today Verghese’s focus is on the patient/doctor relationship and how medicine is something many doctors should take more personally versus it being a sterilized process done from behind a computer screen.  Here is a quote from him that addresses one of the topics that he wrote into the story line of “Cutting for Stone“:

“I wanted the reader to see how entering medicine was a passionate quest, a romantic pursuit, a spiritual calling, a privileged yet hazardous undertaking. It’s a view of medicine I don’t think too many young people see in the West because, frankly, in the sterile hallways of modern medical-industrial complexes, where physicians and nurses are hunkered down behind computer monitors, and patients are whisked off here and there for this and that test, that side of medicine gets lost.”

Overview

“Cutting for Stone” is a novel that begins with a nun named Sister Mary Joseph Praise, boarding a ship leaving India in 1947 for her missionary post in Yemen.  But along the way, she meets someone who will change her life forever…Thomas Stone.  After taking her post in Yemen, things happen to Sister Mary Joseph Praise that bring her to Ethiopia to work under Thomas Stone.  Years later, Sister Praise tragically passes while giving a surprise birth to twin boys name Shiva and Marion.

Cutting for Stone

Then we meet Marion, the narrator, who begins his journey as a little boy in Emperor Haile Selaisse’s Ethiopia.  The central part their childhood takes place in the city of Addis Ababa and specifically across the street from Missing Hospital.  The twins are surrounded by love from their adopted parents, both of whom are doctors at Missing.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

It’s about spectacular consequences to actions, unconventional love with multiple flavors, an Ethiopia that many of us have never know and wouldn’t ever learn about outside this novel, and characters that you get to know on a level that few authors can bring you to.

Review

If you like the Kite Runner than you should put this book in the “must read” pile.  I thought that the characters were extremely well thought through and described throughout the novel.  While it has extremely serious topics throughout it, it is meant to be about how these people rebound from these horrific events and how actions lead to consequences…no matter how minor they might seem initially.

The only thing that I wasn’t that thrilled with was the amount of medical jargon.  I listened to this on an audio book so I think it was more manageable but I had a coworker that said when she was reading it on her Kindle, she had a difficult time following along and being engaged in the book due to the fact that there were so many descriptive surgery scenes that went over her head (and anyone without a medical degree’s head).

**** /5 stars

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How Did I Find This Book?

While cruising the Kindle bestsellers list this stuck out to me since it was a true story.  And since I’ve been on a medical kick lately I picked it up.

About the Author

Rebecca Skloot is an award winning science writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Discover; and many other publications. She specializes in narrative science writing and has explored a wide range of topics, including goldfish surgery, tissue ownership rights, race and medicine, food politics, and packs of wild dogs in Manhattan. She has worked as a correspondent for WNYC’s Radiolab and PBS’s Nova ScienceNOW. She and her father, Floyd Skloot, are co-editors of The Best American Science Writing 2011. You can read a selection of Rebecca Skloot’s magazine writing on the Articles page of this site.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Skloot’s debut book, took more than a decade to research and write, and instantly became a New York Times best-seller.  (source: http://rebeccaskloot.com/about/bio/)

About The Book

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance.

Review

It is unbelievable that such unjust can be done to one family.  The true story of Henrietta’s childhood, family, demise, and then the rebirth and undying cells was a moving story to say the least.  While I found the novel to get quite scientific at times, I understood why it needed to be that way.  In order to appreciate the contributions that Henrietta’s cervical cancer cells have done for science, it had to be in there.

While some of the family trees and back stories can get kind of confusing I found Rebecca’s commitment to getting to know Henrietta’s family chalked of integrity and the best part of reading this was knowing that some of the proceeds went to the Henrietta Lacks Foundation that helps the Lacks descendants with educational and healthcare needs.

***/5 stars

The only reason that I gave it 3 stars is because there were very slow parts and it got bogged down in medical terminology so parts were quite challenging to get through.

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Why Did I Pick it Up?

I was looking for something that was a little more serious than the teeny bopper book series that I had just read and wanted to take my first try at a historically based fiction novel.

I had been hearing about “Pillars of the Earth” (by the same author) and decided to read this one first since it was based on WWI, which is a time period that I’ve had a hankerin’ to learn more about it anyways.

SIDE RANT: Isn’t that funny how in 13 years of eduction that our education system (for the most part) completely fails to teach us about WWI, WWII, and Vietnam?  To top it off, even in college the only place you learn about it is if you elect to take those specialized courses.  While I understand that the Spanish Revolution and George Washington are part of our history, is there really a need for us to learn about that same crap four different times in our curriculum and completely miss the last 100 years of history?  Well, who ever is writing the guidelines must think so….

About the Author

Ken Follett was born in Cardiff, Wales and did not “hit it big” until his11th novel, “Eye of the Needle”, in 1978.  After that Follett continued to write four more best selling thrillers.  But then in 1989 he decided to change course and wrote a novel entitled “Pillars of the Earth”, a novel about building a cathedral in the Middle Ages which you have either read or inevitably heard of if you are a book worm.

While a 1000+ page book about building a church might sounds super lame, I assure you that it can’t be. Oprah’s Book Club, the New York Times Bestsellers List, and millions of readers across Britain, USA, and Germany have told us so.  The sequel, “World Without End’ also hit the best sellers list and featured descendants of the original characters 200 years later in the same town.  They have even adapted the book series into a mini-series that I’ll have to check out after reading the novel.

After those critically acclaimed books Ken published a few more thrillers but eventually came back to historical fiction to being a new challenge, the Century Trilogy. 

This triology kicked off with “Fall of Giants”, focused on the First World War and the Russian Revolution.

About the Book

This books falls just short of 1000 pages packed with historical events with equal parts of secret romances, revenge, affairs, illegitimate children, spies, bootlegging, and anything else that you can think of that actually makes learning about history fun weaved throughout.

The novel begins in the year 1911 and brings us up to 1924 and includes a cast of 124, yes, 124 characters throughout the novel and apparently has six pages in the book that are solely dedicated to the list of characters.

 The Century Trilogy will eventually tell the entire history of the twentieth century, seen through the eyes of five linked families: one American, one English, one German, one Russian, and one Welsh.  Along with their varying origin, the group has all arrays of gender, background, political motivations, and class.  But for now, we start off with our 124 to start in “Fall of Giants”!

Some of key characters include:

  • Billy Williams: A Welsh miner with a union elected father
  • Ethel Williams: Billy’s sister, a housemaid at the Earl Fitzherbert’s country home
  • “Fitz” Earl Fitzherbet: English mine profiteer and part of the aristocratic English government
  • Lady Maud Fitzherbert: Socialite and suffragette sister to Fritz
  • Grigori and Lev Peshkov: Russian brothers, one a hard working and one a crook
  • Walter von Ulrich: Handsome and politically “middle” military figure
  • Gus Dewar: 20-something New York Senator’s son and aid President Woodrow Wilson
SIDE RANT: I heart Gus Dewar even though he started out as a real dummy.

Review

I listened to this for over 30 hours on audio book and still can’t believe how the narrator was able to do American, German, Russian, English and Welsh accents throughout the novel.  Give that guy an Emmy or something already!  It was absolutely amazing how one moment he could be a tough German spy and the next he could be a 20 something Welsh suffragette.

I found the book extremely interesting and educational, with plenty of drama that helped to keep the pages turning.  After finishing the novel, I realized that I learned more about WWI, the Russian Revolution, English politics in the 20th century, the origin of the League of Nations,  communism, and Leninism than I had in the last 25 years, within a 30 hour novel.

So while it’s by no means a history book about WWI, it’s a book that takes fictional characters through the 20th century to real places, through real events, and they even have relationships with real characters.  Ken Follett’s comments on his historical accuracy is as follows, “I do not violate history. Where real people appear in my story, the things they do and say are usually things they really did do or say, or something very similar. For example, the fictional Fitz meets the real-life Lloyd George, and they argue about whether Zinoviev and Kamenev should be deported from Great Britain. In that scene Lloyd George uses words that are taken almost verbatim from a memo he wrote on the subject at the time.”.  

But since there are so many characters and backdrops, I would only recommend this book to anyone that is a committed enough reader to finish this within a month or so.  If you’re not…than I probably would stay away from this one since there are so many different story lines and characters.

****/5 stars

I can’t wait for the next book to come out in 2012 so that I can see what happened with all of my favorite characters next generation!

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