BOOK REVIEW: Afterwards by Rachel Seiffert

Afterwards by Rachel SeiffertAfterwards
By Rachel Seiffert
Completed January 6, 2012

I first became acquainted with Rachel Seiffert when I read her first book, The Dark Room. I was moved by her gentle narrative style, and I was eager to read her second book, Afterwards. Thankfully, Orange January gave me the opportunity to be immersed – once again – in  Seiffert’s writing.

Afterwards is the story of Alice, her grandfather and her boyfriend, Joseph. At the heart of the story, though, is the effect of post-traumatic stress on veterans. Alice’s grandfather flew a bomber in Kenya, dropping bombs on dense forests where faceless people and animals were killed. Joseph was a British soldier who served in North Ireland and carried a deep guilt about his service. While Alice’s grandfather had his wife (now deceased) to talk to, Joseph couldn’t utter a word – not to Alice or anyone in his family. His silence was deafening, and Alice had to decide on living with the silence or living without Joseph.

I admire Seiffert for keeping the story real, including the ending, and touching on this important subject. The trauma of war on soldiers can’t be ignored, and Seiffert does an admirable job showing that, especially with Joseph. The guilt was eating him alive, turning him into a different man. It was sad to watch his transformation as the book progressed.

Afterwards won’t be for everyone. You have to become comfortable with Seiffert’s writing style and presentation. Similar to Helen Humphreys, Seiffert packs a zillion punches into each word. Sparse but powerful, Afterwards is a story I won’t soon forget. (  )

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BOOK REVIEW: Untold Story by Monica Ali

Untold Story by Monica AliUntold Story
By Monica Ali
Completed August 15, 2011

Princess Diana may be the most recognizable face of the 20th century, and her untimely death shortened a life plagued by international attention, betrayal and personal angst. Monica Ali, in Untold Story, considers this scenario: What if Princess Diana staged her death, to escape the constant scrutiny and insurmountable pressure? Could she truly escape her past life – or would it manage to follow her around like an unwanted ghost?

In the book, Diana becomes Lydia – a dark-haired English woman who settles in a small town, where she makes new friends, finds a love interest and works at a local dog rescue. Then, as fate would have it, a member of the English paparazzi, John Grabowski, ends up in the same town and meets Lydia. Something about Lydia’s eyes reminds John of his once-favorite photographic subject, Princess Diana. Is John on to Lydia’s secret?

Where Untold Story worked well for me were the chapters where the reader can see Lydia interacting with her friends and her rising paranoia about John’s presence in her new hometown. Lydia could be impulsive and obsessive, especially when nervous, and her actions after John’s arrival marked a woman who wanted to protect her new identity – no matter the cost. She already gave up her life once; she didn’t want to do it again. The reckless Lydia made good reading – and added a sense of realism to Lydia’s character.

Untold Story would be a great book club selection, and I think fans of Princess Diana would find this novel to be interesting. I liked the book overall, though I think Ali could have made the side characters more believable. I do have to wonder: What would the Queen think about this book? (  )

BOOK REVIEW: Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma DonoghueRoom
By Emma Donoghue
Completed June 21, 2011

This book has been well reviewed and analyzed by literary critics and book bloggers alike. It’s a hard book to summarize because I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. So, for this review, I will just share some thoughts on this story:

1) Room is narrated by a five-year-old boy who only knows an 11×11-foot room as his home. He doesn’t understand that rain falls from the sky, that cars stay in their lane and that bees can sting you. All the things we understand to be true in our lives would be new experiences to a boy who never spent a day outside.  Donoghue did a good job writing about these new experiences – and coming up with all the “little things” that seem to be common knowledge, but not for a boy who lived in seclusion.

2) The American media’s treatment of Jack and his mother’s story was spot on. Their insistence to not grant this family any privacy reminded me of true media coverage in other heart-wrenching stories. Equally compelling (and so aligned with what happens) is how the media digs at the story from all angles in an attempt to “outscoop” each other. There is little regard for what’s best for Jack or his mother.

3) This book was a real page turner. During one section of the book, I did not move from my seat. I was worried that something bad was going to happen, and the suspense was jarring. Few books have that effect on me.

This isn’t my typical review, but I hope reading it helps persuade you to give Room a try. It’s a compelling, provocative book that makes you think about your life and what you would do in a similar situation. It’s worthy of its literary accolades, and I predict that it would make a good movie with the right director and actors. What do you think? (  )

Want to win a copy of Room? This book and others will be part of the Orange July book giveaways.  Click here to learn more.

REVIEW: Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca HuntMr. Chartwell
By Rebecca Hunt
Completed April 28, 2011

We all have our demons, and for Winston Churchill, his was depression. It plagued Churchill his entire life – so much so that he named it “Black Dog.” Churchill’s battle with his Black Dog has been documented and written about, but not like how Rebecca Hunt does in her extraordinary book, Mr. Chartwell.

Esther Hammerhans is a widowed librarian with a room to rent. When a knock comes to her door from her would-be boarder, imagine Esther’s surprise when she finds it’s a large black dog who calls himself Mr. Chartwell. Mr. Chartwell is all dog – furry, smelly, hungry – but also quite human with eloquent speech and a convincing manner. He somehow persuades the reluctant Esther to take him in as a boarder.

For Mr. Chartwell, or Black Pat as he becomes, staying at Esther’s has two advantages. First, it puts him near Winston Churchill, who is about to retire from Parliament. It also puts him near Esther, who is grieving over the loss of her husband. Black Pat can only be seen by people he’s after – people who are depressed, grieving and maybe a little lonely. Winston and Esther are perfect for him.

Hunt’s characterization is marvelous. Personifying depression as a big, clumsy, humorous and opportunistic dog was nothing short of remarkable. While Winston may have named it, Hunt gives Black Pat his character. Through Black Pat’s actions, you can see how depression isolates people, offering them a sense of security in a world of otherwise happy people. Hunt’s depictions of Winston Churchill and the meek Esther also add greatly to this novel. You root for them both, hoping they can kick the proverbial dog to the curb.

Thankfully, I’ve never suffered from depression, so I can’t say if Hunt’s depiction of this disease is correct or not. I can say, though, that Hunt delivers an inventive and compelling story that gives readers a view of this disease – perhaps one no one has considered. Despite the darkness of depression, after finishing Mr. Chartwell, I was left with a sense of hope that people can overcome this condition – and move on to brighter points in their lives. (  )

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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