Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Book of Secrets (Elizabeth Joy Arnold)

I seem to be on a completely unintentional kick of reading novels with the word "book" in the title.  My "currently reading" list includes Charlie Lovett's The Bookman's Tale and Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. There is something about the word "book" that is just so comforting...curling up and going into another world for a little while.  The closing of so many bookstores lately is really alarming to me.  I've gone kicking and screaming into the e-Reader age, but I'm certainly not happy about it.  Elizabeth Joy Arnold's The Book of Secrets seems to be written for people like me, those who love nothing better than to take a book off the bookstore or library shelf and lose themselves in its pages.

Chloe and Nate grew up together in a small town.  Almost every day, Chloe would go over to Nate's house, where the two of them, along with Nate's two sisters, would put on plays based on books.  The children were homeschooled by Nate's mother, Mrs. Sinclair, until she became severely ill.  Chloe hardly ever saw Mr. Sinclair, but when he surprisingly came home early one day, it wasn't hard to see why the children seemed afraid of him.  The Sinclair house had a lot of dark secrets, some of which do not come to light until Chloe and Nate have a son, get married, and open a bookstore together.  When Nate disappears one day, Chloe discovers that he's gone back to their small town to see his family for answers.  Chloe goes after him, of course, and finds the answer to the biggest secret of all.

The final mystery is fairly simple to figure out; however, don't let that stop you from reading this wonderful book.  Arnold imbues the novel with tons of literary references, codes, and dark secrets, making this far from a "fluff" book about a bookstore.


Friday, June 7, 2013

In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson)

It’s not always the easiest task to review a work of nonfiction. While with fiction, the reviewer can concentrate on how interesting the characters and plot developments are, she can’t do that with nonfiction. Every word Larson writes is true and well researched using a plethora of sources. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin tells the story of an American ambassador who was one of the only ones who recognized the unprecedented danger of the Fuhrer. When he tried to tell his colleagues back home as well as President Roosevelt, he wasn’t taken seriously enough for the terrible damage to be contained.

Ask almost anyone if they have ever heard of William Dodd, and chances are, they will look at you with a blank stare. But he was a very important historical figure, acting as the American ambassador to Germany during the rise of the Nazi regime. Larson tells the story of Dodd’s surprising ascent to the role, like a fish out of water, and the family’s eventual move to Berlin. Once there, the reader is taken deeply into the terrifying regime, where names like Hitler, Goebbels, Goring, Himmler, and Diels made their unfathomable marks in history. Today in the modern day, one cannot understand why things weren’t done to overthrow the government and deal with the unimaginable injustices, but Larson explores why many German people and foreign leaders just accepted the status quo…some even going so far as to glorify Hitler.

The best nonfiction books delve thoroughly into the subject matter without disrespecting their subjects. Larson does a masterful job at this, never spoon feeding his readers or mincing words. This is a story that deserves to be told, and the author does a masterful job at it.