Here are a few more reviews for books I’ve read in the last couple of months. Unfortunately there are no “hidden gems” but I did find worthwhile parts of each book below so I’m glad I read them. From now on, I am going to rate all of my books, movies and TV shows on a scale of 1-5 ♦
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly – ♦♦♦◊◊
Ms. Kelly spent 10 years researching this story of the “Rabbits” of Ravensbruck and the American philanthropist, Caroline Ferriday who helped bring the survivors to the US for medical treatment. I was unfamiliar with the story of young Polish women who were surgically experimented on in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp during WWII. Kelly has written a novel from the point of view of three different women. Two of the characters are real individuals (Caroline Ferriday and Herta Oberheuser (the doctor who performed the surgeries) and the third, Kasha, is based on two real-life sisters who were in the camp.
I was unfamiliar with Ravensbruck and the rabbits or with Ms. Ferriday’s contributions. Both of these stories need to be told and I applaud the author for the amount of research and diligence shown in describing the horrors of the camp and the amazing life of Ms. Ferriday. Unfortunately, I found the character development lacking and some of the fictional storylines a lacking in credulity. Most problematic was a male character created to have a relationship with Caroline. It was a really messy and unnecessary plot line that detracted from her overall story. Herta’s character development was bizarre. She started out as a perfectly fine person and with no explanation, became a monster exhibiting stereotypical characteristics that seemingly came out of nowhere. Kasha surprisingly became part of the Polish underground which didn’t seem to fit her character, was arrested and placed into Ravensbruck. After the war, her emotions and reactions did not seem to align with the character as previously developed.
The portion of the book devoted to the post WWII years was the most problematic as the plot lines were poorly developed. Both Ms. Ferriday and Kasha came off as self-absorbed and petty. The last few chapters (Kasha focused) while wrapping up a couple of the mysteries, didn’t seem to play out in a realistic way. I’m not sure why the Goodread’s readers rate this book so highly. I give it 3 out of 5 stars solely for telling this amazing story but what happened in Ravensbruck along with Ms Ferriday’s humanitarian efforts deserve better.
Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps that Explain Everything About the World by Tim Marshall ♦♦♦◊◊
This 2015 book attempts to explain the past, present and future of the world on the basis of geographical influences. The author divides the book into 10 regions (Russia, China, United States, Western Europe, Africa, the Middle-East, India/Pakistan, Korea/Japan, Latin America and the Arctic) and provides a history and forecast for each through the lens of mountains, rivers, natural resources etc. For a book that utilizes the words “Ten Maps” in the title, I found the maps in the paperback edition to be of very poor quality and I constantly had to refer to the internet.
Overall I found the book to be simplistic with broad generalizations that weren’t backed up by factual data. This isn’t to say that I didn’t find the book to be interesting and an easy read with a couple of chapters that I think he did quite well with. Specifically, the chapter on Russia aligns with all of the historical knowledge I have about the culture, politics and deep-seated fear of attacks through the nation’s Western Front as described by the author. I also found the chapter on the Arctic very relevant and educational. If anyone comes away from this without fearing for the future of the world due to climate change I don’t think they can be educated.
The biggest omission (and he gives it short shrift in the conclusion) is the disregard of other contributing factors to history and the “state of the world”. Specifically, the role of great men/great leaders as well as the technological advances taking down borders. The former is well documented and for the latter, I recommend that people read Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” for a far superior analysis of the state of World affairs and where we are going. There is a reason Friedman is a Pulitzer prize winner (and Marshall is not!) despite the fact Friedman’s book was last updated in 2007 so is a bit dated.
We are all aware of and living through the impact of Western nations dividing up the Middle East into unatural borders or the US’s ill-fated invasion of Iraq but there is so much more to understanding the complexities of world affairs than geography alone. Nonetheless, any educated person should be aware of all factors; geography, history, religion, culture and technology to grasp the intricacies of the world politic of today. This book targets a specific area to be understood but is certainly not the definitive work to understanding our world today. Despite this, I found it a worthwhile read.
Fire and Blood by George RR Martin ♦♦♦◊◊
At first I was going to boycott this book given that Mr. Martin has been so long in delivering the next “Thrones” novel but I was given the audio book for Christmas so I dove into this very lengthy (and only the first installment of a two book series) history of the Targaryen dynasty. Had the author covered the entire history of the Targaryen dynasty in one book and limited it to about 500 pages, the result would likely be fantastic and an indispensable addition to the history of the world Martin has created. Unfortunately, we have to tread through 719 pages just to get a portion of that history.
I found the first half of the book to be fascinating and move very quickly. I could draw parallels with British history as well as the Game of Thrones series. What isn’t to like about lots of dragons, the history of Westeros, war and incest? The characters are rich and well developed in typical George RR Martin fashion. The second half of the book moved more slowly and could have done with a lot of editing which is certainly a characteristic of Mr. Martin’s last few books. I am a fan I have read the Game of Thrones books several times and seen the HBO series multiple times. I am not a rabid fan nor am I on Reddit analyzing each and every theory and I think only those types of fans will “love” the book. Followers of the TV series only will likely not enjoy or appreciate this latest edition to the Martin collection.