Book Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch

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From Goodreads:
It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse — the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

It’s very hard to write this review without giving away the best thing about this short novel; the shock factor. It starts out as a simple story about the hassle of dining with another couple. It’s told by Paul, a regular guy with a regular family. The beginning premise of a simple dinner date and general dinner banter is relatable and somewhat humorous. Over the course of the dinner things start to get tense. There are glimpses of an underlying problem, fractures in the normalcy the characters are trying to convey. Paul isn’t the regular guy we thought he was.

Then, BAM! Dessert hits the table and it all turns south. The evening plummets downhill with such a surprising, horrific and tragic turn. As a parent of teenage boys I found the second half of the story disturbing. This, at least, kept me turning the pages. I’m not sure whose actions were more disturbing, the boys or their parents. I was most disturbed by Paul’s wife. Her acceptance of the circumstances and eagerness to take it into her own hands is, dare I say it, monstrous.

This is definitely a book you have to work to get through. The first half is drawn out and too much time is spent on descriptions of restaurant staff and food or lack there of. The second half, I thought was too vague. There wasn’t enough background on the couple’s sons to understand, if that’s possible, their behavior. I also felt that the ending was too abrupt.

This is a great book for discussion though. It opens up questions regarding how far parents are willing to go to protect their children, consequences, punishments and what out duty is to our own family and others.

Although a tad tedious in parts, the twist in this book makes it a story worth reading.

This book was provided for review by Netgalley.

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Attention Historical Fiction Lovers: Today’s Kindle Deal 1/20/13 – Wilderness by Lance Weller

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Today’s Kindle Deal is Wilderness: A Novel by Lance Weller. You can pick this wonderful book up for just $1.99!

Wilderness was my favorite book of 2012. I reviewed the book back in August. It’s a heartbreaking, deeply affecting civil war story like no other. Grab it at this great deal while you can!

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Book Review: The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

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From Goodreads:
Matthew King was once considered one of the most fortunate men in Hawaii. His missionary ancestors were financially and culturally progressive–one even married a Hawaiian princess, making Matt a royal descendant and one of the state’s largest landowners.

Now his luck has changed. His two daughters are out of control: Ten-year-old Scottie is a smart-ass with a desperate need for attention, and seventeen-year-old Alex, a former model, is a recovering drug addict. Matt’s charismatic, thrill-seeking, high-maintenance wife, Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat-racing accident and will soon be taken off life support. The Kings can hardly picture life without her, but as they come to terms with this tragedy, their sadness is mixed with a sense of freedom that shames them–and spurs them into surprising actions.

Before honoring Joanie’s living will, Matt must gather her friends and family to say their final goodbyes, a difficult situation made worse by the sudden discovery that there is one person who hasn’t been told: the man with whom Joanie had been having an affair, quite possibly the one man she ever truly loved. Forced to examine what he owes not only to the living but to the dead, Matt takes to the road with his daughters to find his wife’s lover, a memorable journey that leads to both painful revelations and unforeseen humor and growth.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to get out of this novel. It wasn’t funny but had a hint of humor. It wasn’t devastatingly sad but had heavy moments of sorrow. It was a menagerie of sorts.

Throughout pretty much the whole first half I wondered why I was even bothering to read it. The main character, Matthew, from whose POV the story takes place, is an unlikable, fairly nonexistent father figure. He freely admits his fatherly shortcomings. His voice comes through flat and monotone, barely giving any real emotion. His girls are no easier to like. They’re obnoxious, obstinate and disrespectful. They have been left to her own whims for far too long. I couldn’t really like Joanie either (terrible to say that about someone in a coma, I know), at least not from Matthew’s point of view.

But somewhere along the way something changed before I even knew what was happening. The extended loss and pressure of Joanie’s imminent death changed them. Matthew changed not only as a father but also as a husband and family successor. He’s forced to see things for what they are, forced into the position of reconciling things he has put off for far too long and has to face painful truths about his marriage and his family. I must say that I was impressed. He stepped up to the challenge and, although not perfect (who is?), meets it head. I liked that he was brave enough to take a hard look at himself, and, not liking what he saw, has the wherewithal to try to change it. Try is the key word here. We don’t get to glimpse into the future of this newly downsized family. I do wonder if what has linked them together in this time of sorrow can keep them close in the future. Will they prosper after Joanie or will they fall back into the existence of before?

There are lots of great quotes and reflections in this book in regards to death, love and parenthood and there is certainly something in the book everyone can relate to. We’ve all lost someone close to us, experienced those exasperating years of childrearing, been devastated by something a loved one has done or have had to deal deal with extended family that only like us when they want something from us. But, like this family of descendants, hopefully we can pull it together, forgive but not forget, learn from the past and be better in the future.

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I’d Rather Read a Book Than ………….. [5]

I’d Rather Read a Book Than …………..

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………….. grocery shopping. I go and spend tons of hard earned $$$ and then come home and wonder how I got so little. Having 3 grown men in the house eating everything that’s not nailed down and the cost of trying to keep up makes me feel bad every week. But, as quite a few books I’ve read lately have reminded me, I’m more than thankful for what I have. It’s amazing how a book about hardships can put things into perspective.


City of Thieves by David Benioff

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A moving tale of two boys who are brought together by circumstance and end up bound by so much more, City of Thieves is a journey well worth taking.

From Goodreads:
As wise and funny as it is thrilling and original – the story of two young men on an impossible adventure. A writer visits his retired grandparents in Florida to document their experience during the infamous siege of Leningrad. His grandmother won’t talk about it, but his grandfather reluctantly consents. The result is the captivating odyssey of two young men trying to survive against desperate odds. Lev Beniov considers himself built for deprivation. He’s small, smart, and insecure, a Jewish virgin too young for the army, who spends his nights working as a volunteer firefighter with friends from his building. When a dead German paratrooper lands in his street, Lev is caught looting the body and dragged to jail, fearing for his life. He shares his cell with the charismatic and grandiose Kolya, a handsome young soldier arrested on desertion charges. Instead of the standard bullet in the back of the head, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt to find the impossible. A search that takes them through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and the devastated surrounding countryside creates an unlikely bond between this earnest, lust-filled teenager and an endearing lothario with the gifts of a conman. Set within the monumental events of history, City of Thieves is an intimate coming-of-age tale with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.

This was such a moving story. Lev and Kolya are opposites in so many ways. Lev is the serious one, the poet’s son. A good heart, a sense of right and wrong, he’s a gentle soul at heart. Kolya, the ladies man, the sweet talker, is the negotiator. He’s the boy soldier with the big talk but a soft heart. Circumstance brings them together for a quest that sends them on an adventure like no other. The two work in tandem, each playing off the other and before they realize it, they become friends capable of loving each other like brothers.

Their adventures lead them to the brink of what will be their defining moments, the moments they find out what they are truly capable of and they are transformed into men right before our eyes. It’s such a compelling story. It felt like I was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee listening to Lev tell the story in his grandfatherly voice. After reading it, I can tell you with certainty that: I have never known real cold. I have never known real hunger or fear or loneliness. I really only have a semblance of what it would be like. A book like this puts all those things into perspective.

One of the things I loved was the humor that shined through the darkness of this harrowing story. It endeared Kolya to me and leant authenticity to the story. Even in the worst of predicaments, humans are still human. We need laughter to help quell our fears.

I’ve passed this one along to my teenage sons. I’m hoping it will leave as positive an impression on them as it has left with me. This one is going on my list of all time favorites.

If you enjoy historical fiction, WWII history, life changing adventures or love the inspiration that stories of friendship can give, you will LOVE this book.

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Siege of Leningrad – Wikipedia


All Hail the Return of Robert Langdon

Titans and other giants are imprisoned in Hell...

Today, Dan Brown announced his long-awaited new novel, Inferno, which will be published on May 14th. If you recall, back in May, I posted a link to an article which mentioned that Mr. Brown was hard at work on the then unnamed book.

Inferno will center around Dante’s Inferno and will again feature one of my most beloved characters of all time, Robert Langdon.

You can read the official press release on Dan Brown’s website. It’s also available for preorder on Amazon.com or iBooks.

Let the count down begin!


The Next Always by Nora Roberts

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From Goodreads:
The historic hotel in BoonsBoro, Maryland, has endured war and peace, changing hands, even rumored hauntings. Now it’s getting a major facelift from the Montgomery brothers and their eccentric mother. As the architect of the family, Beckett’s social life consists mostly of talking shop over pizza and beer. But there’s another project he’s got his eye on: the girl he’s been waiting to kiss since he was fifteen…

First things first; I am not a regular romance kind of girl. I must have something else in order to digest it. It could be something paranormal or a murder mystery but the story simply has to have something else going on. The Next Always just didn’t have that extra something.

I live very, very close to the real inn this book is based on so when it became this Month’s book club pick I was happy to give it a try. Ms. Roberts actually owns the Inn Boonsboro in Boonsboro, MD, which she and her husband restored. It serves as the backdrop for this book and the catalyst for the story’s budding romance. You can tell that the Inn was a true labor of love just by the descriptions. They are so detailed; you instantly fall in love with the idea of staying there. I’ve never had the privilege, but it sounds wonderfully tranquil. The book is like a vacation brochure.

The book is undeniably well written by a seasoned author. The descriptions and detail that went into recreating the small town feel is well done. The characters banter and play off each other, which make them seem real and more like someone you know. The kids in the book add a little fun and spontaneity. No need to eat that candy bar, this book is super sweet with enough sugar to cover you for a couple of days.

But….

The characters are likable, but regular. These are just regular people doing their regular thing. I’m a regular person (my kids may disagree) who does regular things. It’s boring. I read to escape my boring life, not relive it. Halfway through it got to be a little tedious. It just wasn’t much fun reading about someone’s monotonous days, even with a little romance thrown in. Go to work, do laundry, cook, clean, run errands, help with homework, go to bed, wake up and do it all over again. I don’t need to read it, I live it and it’s exhausting.

If you enjoy romance as the main event in a story and don’t need anything extra, you’ll probably enjoy this one. It’s sweet and pleasant. It’s well written and the Inn will put you in the mood to decorate. But, if you’re like me and prefer your romance as a perk instead of the main event, this one may not be the best fit.

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Movie Cameos by Authors You Know

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It’s surprising how many authors have done cameos in the movie adaptations of their books. We can all probably name at least one and I bet most of you have spotted Stephanie Meyer in Twilight.

Head over to Mental Floss to see 14 cameos, some of which may surprise you. I’ve watched most of these movies and missed the cameos. Good thing there’s video!


Historic Misconceptions

We’re all history buff’s here in the Lonely Owl’s nest and we always enjoy history lessons that are made more enjoyable by someone’s awesome creativity no matter the outlet. Here’s a creative take on 5 of history’s misconceptions.

 


Book Review: The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

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Melanie Benjamin captures Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s extraordinary years of marriage to Lucky Lindy and brings them to life through the pages of this captivating story.

From Goodreads:

For much of her life, Anne Morrow, the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has stood in the shadows of those around her, including her millionaire father and vibrant older sister, who often steals the spotlight. Then Anne, a college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family. There she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the celebrated aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong.

Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. Hounded by adoring crowds and hunted by an insatiable press, Charles shields himself and his new bride from prying eyes, leaving Anne to feel her life falling back into the shadows. In the years that follow, despite her own major achievements—she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States—Anne is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The Aviator’s Wife is the story of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a wife, mother, seasoned pilot, accomplished writer and most famously, Lucky Lindy’s co-pilot through life. The book spans 46 years of a very eventful marriage. It’s written in an engaging way, sometimes glimpsing into the future before continuing with the past.

The story opens to a fresh young Anne who, visiting family on break from college, meets, quite starry-eyed, a young, dashing Charles Lindbergh back from his famous flight to Paris. She’s instantly smitten with him, or the idea of him, and grabs the chance to come out of the shadow of her older sister and the normal housewife life she thought she was destined to have and let Charles sweep her off to soaring heights, as she becomes his wife.

Anne soon finds that life is certainly exciting as her and Charles embark on flying adventures and she accomplishes some surprising feats including becoming a pilot herself. Life isn’t always easy with the brooding self-centered, sometimes manipulative man she married. Early on she is awakened to the fact that Charles has certain expectations and, following suit of young impressionistic women of that age, she does everything she can to please him and measure up to the high standards he’s set.

Throughout their marriage, Charles remains a driving force, getting her to do things she never would have done without his insistent drive to make her what he wanted her to be. Charles is a huge presence in the book, which is fitting; he was the presence in Anne’s life.

Charles is deified by the world and Anne is thrown into a whirlwind and constantly hounded by the press and “fans”. This star power makes her feel privileged that he chose her over all others. She’s self-deprecating and she excuses his bad behaviors and controlling ways because of fleeting moments when he acts like the adoring man the public is so taken with. This makes her come across as weak, but if we keep in mind the time period, a wife didn’t question her husband like we do today; it’s easier to understand her behavior.

Anne mirrors many women’s lives, those who marry and find themselves in their husband’s shadows, behind the scenes, swept along with time. She questions whether she’s even gotten the chance to decide for herself who she wants to be or what she wants to become. She freely admits that she allowed Charles to shape her in this way.

Their marriage is marred by an inconceivable sadness which changes both of them; the loss of their first-born son. Anne is guilt ridden over having been away from him during much of his short life. Her grief lasts the rest of her life and remains a constant cloud of contention over their marriage.

The book continues as Anne regretfully helps her husband in his stand against war with Germany, as she raises her children practically on her own, as she finds herself alone finally becomes enabled to live her own life on her terms, at least in part.

I found Anne’s life to quite privileged and extraordinary. The author does a wonderful job telling it. She does what she sets out to do; her historical fiction inspires us to dig deeper into the Lindbergh’s story and into this time in history.

If you liked The Paris Wife, you will LOVE The Aviator’s Wife.

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This book was provided for review by Netgalley.


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