Serious Reads

Title/Author: “IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS”, by Erik Larson

Overall Rating: 4/5

Read it, or save your time:   I feel about this book how I often feel about Oscar Nominated Films…excellent, but secretly I felt it didn’t quite live up to the hype.

This book was on the New York Times Besteller List.  It was Oprah’s “Most Important Book of 2011”.  The author, Larson, wrote the ever popular “Devil in the White City”.  So not surprisingly, I expected big things from this book.  It came just shy of meeting my lofty expectations.

The book is inarguably well written; Larson’s style is flawless,  and most events and conversations are based on original documents from the period; telegraphs, official government reports from the state, personal letters, diary entries, and other forms of written correspondence he somehow got his hands on.

The subject is fascinating and quite rare from what I have seen – Germany, 1933.  BEFORE the war, at the time when Hitler and the Nazi party had just gained power.  It helps (at least a little) answer the seemingly impossible questions of how on earth did the world allow the Holocaust to happen and why was Hitler not stopped immediately?

However, on the other hand, it was a TAD dry at times.  Lots of detail.  While reading it, I continually teetered between being totally engrossed and a little bored.

What’s it about?  The story focuses on William Dodd, who along with his family, is brought to Berlin in 1933 to be the first American Ambassador to Germany under Hiter’s rule.  At first, the Dodd family, like many tourists at the time, perceives Germany as a peaceful and exciting place.  Dodd’s daughter Martha, is especially taken in by the glamour and enthusiasm of the Nazi party in their quest to restore Germany to its pre-WW1 state of power.  However, as people are beaten in the streets for not giving the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute and laws are passed barring the freedoms of Jews, the ruthlessness of the new regime slowly reveals itself.  Dodd consistenty alerts the state department back home, but his telegraphs are met with skepticism and a seemingly laissez faire attitude.

Due to their position, the Dodd’s often hung out with the likes of Goebbels, Goring, Himmler, and other infamous Nazis, so you learn a lot about them as well.  If you have never heard of them, spoiler alert: they are NOT nice people.

Read it, or save your time?  If you are interested at all in the topic, definitely read it.  You can learn a lot.  However, if you aren’t sure if this is your cup of tea, it probably isn’t, so skip it.  And don’t feel bad about yourself for thinking it sounds boring.  This novel, albeit wonderful, is certainly not for everybody.

Title/Author: “ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS”, by Ronald H. Balson

Overall Rating: 5/5

Read it, or save your time?  If you don’t love this book, you may want to go see the Wizard and ask him for a new heart…

What’s it about?  An elderly man, Ben Solomon, accuses  well-respected billionaire philanthropist Elliott Rosensweig of being a Nazi SS officer during WWII.  He claims Rosensweig, who he once considered a brother,  betrayed his entire family and committed atrocious crimes.   Although Solomon’s accusations are largely dismissed as the rantings of a crazy old man, Solomon gets a lawyer and sets out to expose Rosensweig.  The question remains throughout the book…is Ronsesweig guilty, or not?

The story flips between present-day Chicago and Nazi occupied Poland, as told through Solomon’s recollections.   The best parts of the book are by far the flashbacks, where you really get a vividly haunting look into Jewish life under Hitler’s regime.

The story is told in a fluid, easy manner that sucks you in and engulfs you.  Be prepared to shed a few tears – some happy, some sad.  I liked this book so much that I pretty much did nothing all week except read.  My husband felt neglected but now he is reading it and is equally engrossed!


Title/Author: “THE GREAT ALONE”, by Kristin Hannah

Read it, or save your time? Wow. One of the best books I have read in a long time.  Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most noted and applauded books of 2018.  When I originally read the description I thought “eh, this is NOT for me”, but I was wrong.  And when I am wrong, I say I am wrong (stole that line from Baby’s Dad in Dirty Dancing, sorry).

What’s it about?  1974. Ernst Albright is a Vietnam vet with a slew of mental issues who can’t seem to hold down a job or control his temper.  When he inherits a small cabin in a remote part of Alaska, he thinks it is the answer to all of his problems, and picks and moves with his wife Cora and 13 year old daughter, Leni.  Cora, blindly in love with her husband despite his glaring flaws, and Leni, a good kid who is desperate for a permanent home and place to belong, are happy to follow.  Upon arrival, they find a small, tight-knit community of strong-willed, hard-working men and women.  With 18 hours of sunlight every waking moment dedicated to preparing for winter and simply surviving in the wild, both of which they are decidedly unprepared for, Ernst’s demons are seemingly held at bay and they are happy.

However, when winter comes and darkness sets in, both literally and figuratively, dangers lurk from both outside and inside their small cabin.  As Ernst becomes increasingly violent and volatile, Leni and Cora realize they are on their own, in the middle of nowhere, and must fight to survive.  Leni is the true heroin of this story.  A beautiful, determined character who just wants a normal, loving family, but instead is forced to grow up in unimaginable circumstances and forge her own path, and make decisions no teenager should ever have to.

Reviewer’s Note:

Beautifully written, Hannah’s depiction is so real and vivid you will become emotionally invested early on.  Even if you don’t think this book is for you, trust me, it is.




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