It’s a wet morning out there for those of you also in the northeast and I’m hoping everyone stays warm and dry today! It’s the perfect day to curl up with a book, so I thought I’d do my first “a look in my Nook” feature and review the last 3 books I’ve read and what I’m reading on my Nook now. I’m certainly no literary genius, but I do love to read and devour books quickly these days, so feel free to take any of my thoughts on these books with a grain of salt. Let’s dive in, shall we?
1. A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
Like many others I know, I came across the “Game of Thrones” series when HBO debuted their new show based on these books last spring. I read the first in the series, titled “A Game of Thrones” quickly, wanting to finish the book before the TV series ended so that the ending of the book would not be ruined for me by the show. I always made sure to read just far enough to cover the upcoming episode’s plot, and it was a fun way to read the story and watch the show together.
I began the second book, A Clash of Kings, soon after finishing the first, but studying for the bar exam over the summer got in the way. It took me a while to pick it back up, and by the time I did I had forgotten most of the plot and restarted from the beginning despite the fact that I had been halfway through. Bottom line: It was totally worth it to read all 1000 pages over again. I couldn’t put it down.
If you aren’t traditionally into “fantasy” novels (as I certainly claimed I wasn’t), you shouldn’t shy away from the series. Although there are fantastical elements, most of the plot gives a medieval feel, with kingdoms, wars, sex, violence and all the other elements that make movies, books, and television amazing. By dumbing it down this much, I’m certainly not giving the book enough credit. George R. R. Martin is a great writer, and the characters really come alive on multiple levels in his books. In “A Clash of Kings”, the once untied Westeros realm has now been divided into separate kingdoms, each with their own “king” vying for power and control over the whole. Certainly, some of these “kings” don’t make it to the end of this book, but everything is left unresolved. The Kings aren’t the only important characters in the story, but rather a pair of sisters, one of which everyone believes is already dead, play very important roles.
Talking with others about the series, some have told me they thought the first one was too slow, and it deterred them from reading the second book. I do agree, the first one is very slow until the ending, but after reading the second book (which has a much faster pace), I now understand why it had to be that way. Because this is a long series of books, the first one naturally had to develop a lot of character stories and set the plot for the rest. I’d recommend reading the second book of the series first, before deciding whether or not to continue on. I can’t wait to pick up the third in the series, “A Storm of Swords”, which I’m geared up to read next!
2. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
In the Garden of Beasts is the second book I’ve read by Erik Larson, the first being “Devil in the White City”. If you haven’t read his books, allow me to give you a little information. Both of the books are completely historical and he uses real sources such as diaries, transcripts, letters, and other documents to create a narrative. He’s an amazing writer, and has the ability to create an entirely non-fiction book that reads like fiction. His character development and creation of real emotion are what make his books so popular. I certainly recommend Devil in the White City, as well.
As a quick plot summary: In the Garden of Beasts focuses on the Dodd family in 1932 Berlin. William Dodd, an unlikely choice for the American Ambassador to Germany, along with his wife and two adult children attempt to navigate the delicate social and political climate in place during Hitler’s rise to power. As the story progresses, it is clear he is on a failing mission to “keep the peace” and form a relationship between Hitler’s militaristic Germany and America at this time.
Although these events take place almost an entire decade before America joined WWII, the atrocities that were already quietly occurring in Germany at this time are astounding. I came away from this book with a richer knowledge about Hitler’s rise to power, and both German and American politics in the early 1930s. If you’re interested in the time period at all, I certainly recommend this book.
3. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
The Paris Wife is told through the eyes of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, during their tumultuous few years of marriage while the two were living in Paris. She is more than just a sympathetic character, and I found myself with a lump in my throat and even brought to tears as I navigated through the ups and downs of her marriage to a “literary genius”.
Having not known much about Hemingway, I wasn’t aware that “The Sun Also Rises” focused on events true to his life and experiences. There was certainly a lot I learned about the author in this story. However the book was about him, and not about him at the same time… does that even make sense? Adding to the rich plot were their ever changing circle of “friends” in Paris, including a “who’s who” of the famous authors and poets of the era. When reading about their lavish vacations, glittering but depraved personalities, and the hurtful games they play with each other, I suddenly understood F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book “Tender is the Night” in a new light. (Yes, he’s part of the fast crowd of friends as well).
Paula McLain creates a plot that seamlessly weaves together many themes. The book is about a famous author and his struggle both internally and externally to be true to himself and appeal to others. It’s also about a simple woman from the midwest with a troubled childhood, who loves her husband with her whole heart. It explores the trust and slight naivety that exists when you’re head over heels in love, and the book is also about how strong a marriage must be to withstand everything outside the marriage trying to pull it apart. I certainly recommend it as one of the best books I’ve read this year.
4. The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman
I just started The Visible Man and have really enjoyed the first 80 pages or so that I’ve read. The plot focuses on the relationship between a psychologist and the most bizarre patient she’s ever had. The patient, a man, is obviously highly intelligent, but she is having trouble diagnosing whether the incredible experiences and stories he tells actually happened, or are imagined and internalized. The story thus far is told through her transcripts and recordings of their sessions, and her professional notes and evaluations she makes to herself. I’m interested to see where this story will lead, but am liking it thus far.