Me Before You

by Jojo Moyes, 2012, Audiobook narrated by Susan Lyons, Anna Bentink, Steven Crossley, Alex Tregear, and Owen Lindsey, Penguin Audio

An interesting story about a young lady who doesn’t have much going for her in her life takes on a caregiver job for a paraplegic who is intent on committing suicide.

The characters in this novel are interesting although sometimes a bit stereotyped. The primary character has qualities that far exceed her background and upbringing, allowing her to do amazing things.  Her sister is much more sophisticated and smarter, but she has made bad choices in her life.  The patient’s mother is unemotional in her dealings with others.  The father is a womanizer.

The story is interesting, the writing is good, the reading is excellent.  Altogether, not a bad experience.

3 1/2 stars

The Daughters of Mars: A Novel

by Thomas Keneally, Audible Audio Edition narrated by Jane Nolan,  Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd

This book, about two sisters from Australia who were military nurses in WWI, was interesting as they were in a hospital ship that was sunk off the coast of Gallipoli.  We had just visited Gallipoli on our cruise in 2014 so the book tied in very well to our own experience.

The two sisters are then reassigned to France. The later part of the book seems to focus more on their personal relationships than their war experiences which detracts somewhat from the book.  The ending of this book is very unusual.3 1/2 stars

The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War

by Stephen Kinzer, 2014, St. Martin’s Griffin

This book traces the lives and careers of John Foster Dulles and his brother, Allen.  It is interesting in that the author contrasts the personalities of each of them and shows how they reacted to various events during their careers.

In the case of John Foster Dulles, the book illustrated to me how someone who is so certain about his beliefs that he doesn’t seem to be able to synthesize information that runs counter to those beliefs. This level of certitude can lead to significant errors in judgment and, in the case of John Foster Dulles, to complicity in the deaths of 57,000 young American men and many, many more Asians.  After painting the impact of this man, the author does indicate that the environment that John Foster Dulles lived and worked in may have had an impact on his decision making.  I, on the other hand, would tend to find him fully accountable for his actions.

Does this mean that individuals like John Foster Dulles are evil?  I don’t think so.  It’s just a sad commentary on the state of human affairs that someone with his psychological makeup can exert such an influence and create such disastrous results.

The personality of Allen Dulles, on the other hand, seems to be just about the complete opposite of John Foster as he was a much more social person.  Kinzer describes in detail how Allen’s personality and predispositions affected his decisions as head of the CIA.

The net result of reading this book was to make me angry that these individuals, through there mistaken assumptions, caused so many deaths and so much destruction.  Their intentions were mostly honorable so they can’t be classified as evil individuals, but it is a testament to the power of ideology and certitude that can produce so much havoc in our world. 4 stars

Fall on Your Knees

by Ann-Marie MacDonald, 1996, Touchstone Books, New York

This book had great potential as it was set in a remote town in Nova Scotia at the beginning of the twentieth century.  This is an area about which I have no knowledge.

The story is about a young man who elopes with a very young girl and then fathers two girls.  The two girls couldn’t be any more different in personality and talent.  What transpires after that I will leave to other readers.

The author’s writing style is extremely good, but she quickly wanders into “Oprah Land” as the family members become weirder and weirder.  The plot line never quite comes together.  After I put the book down, I thought to myself that the characters never really had an impact on me.  For this reason I have a much lower opinion of the book than I would otherwise. 2 1/2 stars

A Traveller’s History of Turkey

by Richard Stoneman, Fifth Edition, 2009, Interlink Books, Northampton, MA

We bought this book before we took our trip to Greece and Turkey last year, thinking that I would read the book prior to going to Turkey.  I never had the time to read it before, but I thought I would catch up and read it afterwards.

The book did provide what I was looking for, primarily a connection between the ancient sites we visited and present-day Turkey.  What I didn’t anticipate was the high level and number of civilizations that have come and gone in this region.  I was also overwhelmed by the amount and level of atrocities and violence that have occurred over time.  I came away from reading this wondering if Turkey can ever be considered “civilized” given its very checkered and criminal past.  The book was written in 2009 so the last five years of Turkish politics and events are not included, but it gave a sense of where the country might be headed.  It would appear to me that the political situation in Turkey remains a powder keg that can explode at any time either in the near or distant future.

The book itself isn’t very well written.  It was basically a chore to wade through it.  The author seemed to have a very good grasp of the history of the region, but he failed to provide interesting embellishments to his very dry narrative.  There were numerous references to historical names and places with very little context or reference points.  I am happy that I got through it, but it wasn’t an enjoyable read at all.

Finally, my spell check caught an error in the spelling of the book’s title, seeming to prefer “Traveler’s over “Traveller’s.”  2 stars

One Summer: America, 1927

by Bill Bryson, 2014, Anchor Paperbacks

This book is a collection of things that happened in 1927.  It starts with a murder trial in the early part of the year, then describes some of the incidents leading up to Lindberg’s flight over the Atlantic, and includes a great deal of information on Babe Ruth’s and Lou Gehrig’s home run quest.

While the book’s content was somewhat interesting, it wasn’t a page turner for me.  I found that I could easily put the book down and then pick it up again later without any urgency to read on.  The book lacked the edgy humor that Bryson applied to some of his former books (A Walk in the Woods, for example), but it may also be less objectionable to some readers than his other books.  It seems that, by toning his biting humor down somewhat, he has produced a book that is much more bland but less controversial.

As I read the book I was looking for some insight into American history and culture that would give me some clues as to how the present came to be.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find much.

I guess I would best sum up this book as “The whole is less than the sum of its parts.”

The Castaways: A Novel

by Elin Hilderbrand, Audiobook 2009, Read by Katie Hale, Hatchett Audio

We got this book from the Narragansett Library and listened to it on the way down from Rhode Island to Florida this year.  We ordinarily drive two cars but this year we drove only the one so both of us listened to it.

I picked this selection as it looked interesting with the plot surrounding a death on a boat near Nantucket Island.  I was expecting a good murder mystery.  Instead we got a bunch of stuff about three couples and their relationships over the years.  There were multiple flashback passages that revisited the past history of the relationships such as how they came to be friends, etc.

All of the three couples were somewhat dysfunctional and, at times, not very likable.

The book is probably best summed up as something that should have been avoided as it was not only boring, but, at times, very annoying.  All in all, very painful. 1 1/2 stars

Sweet Tooth

by Ian McEwen, Audiobook version released 2012, Narrated by Juliet Stevenson, Random House Audiobooks

This was an okay book to listen to, about a young lady whose boyfriend gets her a job with MI-6, the British Secret Service.  It is well-written and easy to follow, but I was disappointed in that it wasn’t a lot more exciting.  The book has more to do with the main character’s relationship with her boyfriend, her successor boyfriend, and her boss than with the mission she is on.  As a result, it’s a lot less exciting that it could have been. 2 1/2 stars

Fall of Giants

by Ken Follett, 2010, Dutton, published by the Penguin Group, New York

This book was a disappointment.  Follett has attempted to create a great historical trilogy and this is the first book in this effort.  The book is written in a similar fashion as his previous novels, Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, in that he picks out individuals in various walks of life and traces their lives through various historical events.  But, unlike the previous novels which were set in much earlier times, Fall of Giants takes place at the beginning of the twentieth century and extends through World War I.  Perhaps it’s because the timeframe is much more recent that Follett’s historical novel becomes so much more trite.

Follett’s characters are extremely one-dimensional.  It seems that once they get identified with a particular cause or philosophy, they remain totally rigid and unable to be at all flexible in their perspectives.  They seem to be stick figures in a gigantic soap opera and they very quickly become tiresome.  One of the main characters is an English earl, Lord Fitzherbert, who is mired in his conservative view of the world.  His German counterpart is Otto von Ulrich who is even more of a conservative dinosaur in his views.  Lord Fitzherbert reminded me very much of the Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey, except for the fact that the Earl of Grantham, while clinging to his old ways, really cares about other individuals and can sometimes be persuaded to alter his views.  In so doing, he becomes someone that is at least interesting.  Lord Fitzherbert in Fall of Giants has no such endearing qualities, however.  As I progressed through the book, I found that I was losing interest in the other characters as well because of the same reason.

Follett uses very short sentences in his books in order to make it fairly easy to read.  This helps to keep it going, but after a while it becomes a bit tedious as there is no variety.

The historical backdrop of the novel, the start of World War I and it’s subsequent impact on the characters, had a lot of potential but it somehow wasn’t connected as well as it could have been.  An example is the depiction of the war’s ending.  The scene was a battle at a bridge in France and the Germans’ defeat in that battle.  In the next few pages the Germans were suing for peace.  The reasons for the war ending were left very vague.

Also, Winston Churchill was depicted throughout the novel as a warmongering Conservative who was fighting the franchisement of women and all labor reforms.  No mention was given of Churchill sponsoring the bills to provide national health insurance and a minimum wage for the workers when he was a member of the Liberal Party.

Finally, Follett, in an attempt, I suppose, to pander to the reading public these days, includes many awkward sex scenes throughout the novel.  These scenes altogether seem to detract from the novel versus adding any real value.

The book was okay to read, but long, long, long.  I would suggest that Herman Wouk’s Winds of War and War and Remembrance are some excellent examples of this type of novel where ordinary individuals are swept up by the events associated with war.  The unsurpassed novel in this genre, however, has to be Boris Pasternak’s masterpiece, Doctor Zhivago.

Ken Follett has apparently stepped beyond his capabilities when he bit off this novel.  I would suggest that he return to writing suspense novels where his talents can readily be applied.

2 1/2 stars

Dreams of Joy: A Novel

by Lisa See, Audiobook, 2011, Read by Janet Song, Random House Audiobooks

This novel was fairly pleasant to listen to, but the plot and characters were pretty light weight.  The book is about a young girl of Chinese descent who, through being enthralled by the promise of Chinese communism and her own idealism, decides that she will run away from home and go back to China.  She ends up in a commune and reality is much harsher than her dreams.

The story slogs along and towards the end the part which should be the most exciting is given very little attention.  It’s over.

The reading was okay but not inspiring.  Other than that, I don’t have much to say about this run of the mill effort.

2 stars