These Lines Across My Face

Schools mandate history classes with the justification that they help prevent mistakes that became the downfalls of previous generations and eras. Don’t adults owe society the same proactive mindset as the prominent decision-makers? In a world as politically charged as ours in 2018, history couldn’t be more important, and fiction gives it the most interesting depiction. Literature not only reminds us of past tragedy but also of how to build from the rubble.

I’ve read a lot of World War II fiction, and that’s because this time period gives us some of the most intriguing, confusing, emotional, and heartbreaking stories of human existence. The hatred that was spread and also the love and kindness that were borne from this pain are incredibly relevant today. Books like Jessica Shattuck’s 2017 smash, The Women in the Castle, are of course tragic, beautiful, and complete page-turners, but they are also critical if we ever want to better our society and avoid repeating our darkest days.

The Women in the Castle

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Thanks for the Memories

  • What: Warlight
  • Who: Michael Ondaatje
  • Pages: 285, hard cover
  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • Published: 2018
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

Everybody loves a good plot twist, myself included. In my review of Rich People Problems, in fact, I praised author Kevin Kwan for his ability to keep you guessing with one curveball after the next, which ensured the book was never dull (among other wonderful qualities). In retrospect, clues had been leading up to these revelations since book one, and nothing felt out of place.

I can’t quite say the same thing about Michael Ondaatje’s 2018 hit, Warlight. What saddens me about this conclusion is that I loved this book up to the ending. Ondaatje’s writing is beautiful and poetic, and it evokes the exact sadness and curiosity the characters feel. Ondaatje paints a mystery yearning to be told. But when he finally reveals the secrets, he does so with a twist too far out of left field that leaves you with a bad impression. Warlight, though exquisite, couldn’t quite close the deal, which is why I can’t quite give it more than three flames.

Warlight

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You’ve Got Me Feeling Emotions

  • What: My Dear Hamilton
  • Who: Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
  • Pages: 621, soft cover (637 if you count the must-read “Note from the Authors” section)
  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • Published: 2018
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

Remember my post about July 4th reads? It’s time to add one more.

What can I say about this book besides it was a roller coaster of emotions? Oy vey. I actually think my body and mind morphed into Eliza Hamilton’s. At one moment, I was praising Alexander Hamilton as the greatest American who ever lived — oh how we should bow down.

The next, he was the scum of the earth.

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Then, he was OK. A typical man. Nobody’s perfect after all.

Then came the existential depression.

And just as Monroe was ushering in the Era of Good Feelings to our country, I was starting to balance out again too.

The capricious emotions this book evoked are nothing new; in fact, they symbolize America’s complicated relationship with Hamilton. We want to love him, but his many faults don’t always make it easy. I’m sure the Mrs. would testify to that.

My Dear Hamilton

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Independence Day Reads

You know that horrible question that comes up during ice breakers, “Tell us something people would be surprised to know about you.”

Dammit, Brenda, I don’t know. My life is not that interesting.

Well, two years ago I finally figured out my answer: I like war. Not in the gruesome way. More like I have an affinity for war themes in pop culture. The PatriotSaving Private RyanLone Survivor, Glory, Top Gun (OK, maybe this last one is a stretch). I love them all. Now maybe this won’t surprise many people, but let’s consider my love for rom coms and chick lit. There’s a sharp contrast there. When you think about how much I love nonfiction, it starts to click a bit.

Now let’s combine that passion for my obsession with colonial America and the Revolutionary War. Every year in the days leading up to my country’s birthday, I pray The Patriot will be on TV, as well as PBS’ Liberty’s Kids series (don’t judge; it’s an excellent show). Anything and everything that has to do with the Revolutionary War and our country’s independence has me jumping for joy.

Crossing the Delaware

Source: A&E.

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Back to the Tuscan Sun

Give me some historical fiction, a strong heroine, and some Italia, and, really, nothing can go wrong. Am I right? Or am I right?

Although being in Italy this past February was the best nine days of my life, it had some consequences: a serious post-vacation funk. Yes, my vacation to this beautiful country was so fabulous that it left me feeling depressed that I ever left. My friend Dana knew the cure.

Thank goodness she brought Sarah Dunant’s 2003 hit, The Birth of Venus, into my life three months after returning to the States. I might still be in a post-Italy funk (honestly, it’ll never end), but this novel allowed me to indulge in a few of my favorite things. Now that’s amore.

The Birth of Venus

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Sad, Beautiful, Tragic

Writing about religion takes a certain gall (not to mention talent to really nail it). It has such an impact on some people’s lives that it’s hard to capture its enormous weight as well as the life it bears to those who practice it. Alice McDermott doesn’t shy away from this challenge in her novel, The Ninth Hour, another top contender in 2017. She exquisitely hits the aura that religion provides with just the right amount of suspense, weariness, and hope. The foreboding, though, that her writing evokes fails to come to fruition in the plot, which ultimately knocks down some stellar language to three flames.

The Ninth Hour

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Big Reputation

As a book blogger, you’d think that I thrive on book reviews. Quite the opposite. I know this sounds backward (and doesn’t exactly promote Big Little Literature), but I try to avoid spoilers and/or getting my hopes up when possible. But I struggled to stay away from one book in particular this year. Manhattan Beach hit me like a bang. From the mind of a best seller, this historical fiction novel made a huge impact on the reading scene in 2017. New York even included it on its anticipation index multiple times before it was released (probably because it took 13 years to finish), and I’ve seen it on many best-of-2017 lists so far. Let’s just say, it made some big conversation.

Of course, I made sure I put it on my library holds as soon as it was released. My favorite genre, a bad-ass author, and praise all over. I came home beaming the day I got it. I can’t say the smile stayed on my face for the book’s entirety. So here’s the truth from my red lips: A top contender for the best of 2017 didn’t make my list.

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Somebody read my gift guide–thanks, Honey Bee!

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