Mini-Reviews: Reading, Between Shades of Gray and Thunderstruck

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How Reading Changed My Life
by Anna Quindlen

Those of us who have read since childhood understand that there are certain books that will always hold a nostalgic appeal for you. Those novels that you read over and over again before you worried about critics’ reviews, literary merit, etc. For me it was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM, Howliday Inn, The Mystery of the Cupboard, The Westing Game and Matilda, along with a few others. My grade school days were filled with those pages and I never tired of reading them. Later I went on to explore classics, mysteries, nonfiction, fantasy and so much more. Each new genre opened a world to me as I discovered the places it could take me.

Quindlen’s book is an ode to the joy of reading. She talks about reading as an escape or just for the pleasure of it. I never tire of hearing why others love reading as much as I do. It makes me feel connected to them in a powerful way.

BOTTOM LINE: The slim volume is a joy to read and the end is filled with lists of books to read, which is always a treat!

Between Shades of Gray
by Ruta Sepetys

When it comes to World War II books, both fiction and nonfiction, Hitler and Western Europe tend to get the majority of the attention. In recent years my knowledge has been widened to the WWII happenings in the Pacific and Russia through books like Unbroken and City of Thieves. This book delves into Lithuania’s role in the war, which is new ground for me.

Lina is a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl living a peaceful life in 1941 until the day she and the rest of her family are taken away by Soviet officers to a remote work camp in Siberia. Separated from her father, Lina tries to survive with her mother and younger brother despite their awful circumstances. Between a horrific ride in a cramped train car and the subzero environment of the camps, the three are hanging on by a thread.

Lina is an incredible heroine, both strong and vulnerable. Her relationship with one fellow Latvian prisoner was realistic in so many ways. This is not a cheerful book, but it’s an important look into the terror that Stalin reign inflicted upon the world.

Like all war stories, the most incredible aspects of the plot are those based on fact. Sepetys decided to write the book after traveling to Lithuania to meet her ancestors and hearing about the oppressive Soviet rule that held the entire country captive for decades. She knew nothing about it before her trip and she couldn’t believe that the country was still trying to hush it up.
“The eternal grayness in camp became a shade darker.”

A powerful story of WWII. The descriptions of war life are a bit graphic at times and it’s an intense read, but one that’s worth picking up.

by Erik Larson

Just as he did in The Devil in the White City, Larson blends the nonfiction story of a murder with the relevant scientific or cultural events happening at the time. When Belle Elmore mysteriously moves to America and then passes away, her friends and family members are more than suspicious. Her husband, Hawley Herbert Crippen, becomes the focus of the inquisition, but just as soon as the police focus their attention on him he disappears. Guglielmo Marconi’s timely invention of the wireless telegraph comes into play when the captain of the SS Montrose recognizes the fugitive aboard his ship.

I’m always intrigued by Larson’s books. He finds murders and happenings that might not be well-known but that are thrilling. I would say that this one is much slower than Devil, but it’s still interesting. A murder mystery and the political world of invention are intertwined in an amazing way. I often forget that advances in technology can affect our lives in unexpected ways.
If you loved Devil in the White City then don’t miss this one. In my opinion it’s not quite as enthralling, but I still love the mix of education and murder mystery.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I have read a couple of Anna Quindlen's books and I adore her. Sign me up to read her musings on books! And I loved Ruta as well (she has a new one out, and I'm very excited.) As far as Larson, Devil is one of my all-time favorite books, but I LOATHED the one he wrote about WWII.

Kat @ NoPageLeftBehind said...

Between Shades of Gray has been at the tippy top of my TBR list for a while now. Glad to see that you found it a worthwhile read! Hopefully I get to it shortly :)

annieb said...

I'm with you on Reading and all of Quindlen's writing, actually. She is one of my favorite authors. I have Thunderstruck on my TBR pile, which is, unfortunately, enormous.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - I didn't like the WWII Larson one either! It just did not work for me.

Kat - I knew very little about the Lithuanian experience during WWII, so I was glad to read Ruta's book to learn about it.

annieb - Thunderstruck sat in my TBR for a really long time too! I want to read more of Quindlen's fiction because I've really enjoyed it so far.

Jenners said...

Weirdly, I don't tend to enjoy books about the joy of reading. Not sure why exactly. And I want to check out Thunderstruck

Care said...

I thought Thunderstruck was fascinating but not quite as good as I had hoped. Reminds me that I still haven't visited the Marconi station/museum on Cape Cod. I will look for the other books you mention.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - That's funny, I'm always a sucker for book lover books.

Care - I would love to see the Marconi museum! If you go you'll have to tell me how it is.

Carrie K. said...

How Reading Changed My Life is one of my all-time favorites! And I really enjoyed Between Shades of Gray earlier this year. Great reads!

Amanda said...

I could not read Between Shades of Grey. I tried, and I wanted to, but within the first few pages, I was already so tense and terrified for the characters that I knew I couldn't handle the stress of reading that book. Maybe one day.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I've read How Reading Changed My Life two or three times and I just love it. I feel such a kinship with her and with all readers every time I pick it up. I need to snag a copy of my very own someday.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Carrie K - I will definitely be re-reading it. It's wonderful!

Amanda - I completely understand that. It was hard to read!

Carl V - You should definitely own a copy. It's perfect for re-reading!