Book Review: “Hitler’s Collaborators” by Philip Morgan

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In one of the darkest periods of European history, much of the European continent was under the direct control of the Nazi regime. Following its conquest and subjugation of nearly the whole of Europe, the Nazis sought to establish administrative rule over their vast territories. The problem facing them was that they did not have the man power or resources to effectively administer and police these newly conquered countries. The political leaders of the occupied countries also sought to adapt to their new circumstances. While a small percentage of the populations joined secret resistance groups, an equal part of the population turned to actively supporting their Nazi occupiers and acting as collaborators. The library’s new book, Hitler’s Collaborators, explains this part of history.

The collaborators joined with the Nazis for a variety of reasons; most just wanted some version of a say in their country’s future while under occupation. Others started puppet governments and actively sought to establish their own version of the Nazi party to curry favor with the Germans. In doing so, they gained a semblance of independent control over some areas of their countries. This freedom from direct German control came at an often terrible and unpopular price. Most, if not all, economic output was to be used to aid the German war machine. This would also mean that hundreds of thousands of men would be shipped to areas where they would be used as free labor for the Nazis. The worst to come were the collaborators who chose to aid the Nazis in turning over their own Jewish citizens in an attempt to appease the Gestapo.

In nearly every occupied nation, the Nazis were able to find thousands of volunteers to join the Waffen S.S. in its crusades to exterminate Jewish people and end Soviet Bolshevism. Many of these ardent volunteers were some of the last remaining soldiers defending Berlin in the final days of the war, as they knew they would be put on trial or executed as traitors to their own countries following the defeat of Germany. The day of reckoning for the collaborators would come at the end of the war, in which thousands were put on trial for aiding the Nazis. Many received prison sentences, and others had their citizenship stripped away. The guiltiest parties were tried for treason and executed.

Hitler’s Collaborators documents in stunning detail the motivations and degrees to which various collaborators sought to empower and/or retain some form of control over their countries while in service to the Nazi regime.  This book will be immensely useful for anyone interested in learning what life was like in Nazi-occupied Europe.

This book is available at the Union University Library in our New Books section.

*written by Matthew Beyer

Book Review: “Turtles All The Way Down” by John Green

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John Green is a household name in young adult literature- you may know his books The Fault in Our Stars or Looking for Alaska. Green’s books often have a teenage protagonist who is learning to grow and navigate new relationships. In Turtles All The Way Down, Green explores the inner thoughts of Aza, a sixteen-year-old with OCD who begins to search for a missing local billionaire.

What Turtles All The Way Down gets right: Aza is a sympathetic character with a frustrating illness. Her OCD and anxiety get in the way of her relationships sometimes, and while it’s hard to read about, it’s fairly realistic. She has to take care of herself first at times, and her friends learn to be understanding of this while Aza learns to focus on other people more.

The mysterious aspects of the story- where did the billionaire go?- are interesting if not a bit predictable towards the end. Turtles All The Way Down will pull at your heartstrings as you watch the two sons who were left behind deal with their father’s disappearance.

What Turtles All The Way Down gets wrong: There’s nothing particularly wrong with Turtles All The Way Down. I could see it being hard to read if you disagree with the way Green portrays OCD and anxiety. And if you’re looking for a happy ending, John Green is not your author.

Who should read Turtles All The Way Down: People who enjoy bittersweet stories. People with OCD or who have friends with OCD- Aza’s first romantic relationship deals with her OCD struggles well, and Aza’s best friend learns to see Aza apart from her compulsive tendencies.

Who shouldn’t read Turtles All The Way Down: People who may be triggered by Aza’s major OCD incident. Readers who want a happy ending.

 

Turtles All The Way Down is available in the library’s Family Room.

Book Review: “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

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Gone Girl was one of the top bestselling books when it debuted in 2012. In 2014, the novel was turned into a movie adaptation of the same name. For those few years it was a hot topic of conversation, but I remained clueless about what it was really about. So a few days ago, I picked up Gone Girl to see why this story hooked thousands of readers and viewers.

Non-spoiler summary: Gone Girl is about Nick, a down-on-his-luck writer, and his wife, Amy, who goes missing at the beginning of the book. Throughout the story, we learn more about their dissolving marriage and the problems that follow.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What Gone Girl does right: It’s different, that’s for sure! Thankfully I went into this novel pretty spoiler-free, so it was a wild ride as each piece of the plot fell into place. I guessed a few things correctly, but I was also surprised a few times as I read. Gone Girl is one of those books that you don’t want to put down until you know just what happened. It’s definitely not boring!

What Gone Girl gets wrong: I think this book veers into the territory of being edgy for edgy’s sake. This isn’t always a bad thing, but I probably would have liked Gone Girl better when I was a much edgier teenager than the person I am now. The characters aren’t likable- which doesn’t necessitate a bad book- but they also aren’t relatable, and that’s more of a problem. There are multiple unreliable narrators in this book, which is creative but also frustrating at points since they are so narcissistic. It would be like if every Game of Thrones chapter was from Cersei’s point of view: neurotic, self-obsessed, and delusional. (I just finished A Dance With Dragons and the comparison had to be made.)

Spoilers right here, so skip this whole paragraph if you want: Essentially this book is about two antagonists. You don’t feel right rooting for either Nick or Amy, and ultimately Gone Girl left me disappointed because of this. People really need characters- even villains- that they can empathize with. This is what makes shows like Breaking Bad so popular. Even though Walter White isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, he has problems that people can understand: trying to keep his family together and provided for, working jobs he doesn’t enjoy, balancing his sense of morality with the shady business he’s getting in to. He’s at least interesting enough that you’ll stick with him through five seasons: what will Walter do next? How will he get out of this crazy problem he’s created? I didn’t feel this way about either of the main characters in Gone Girl. I wanted them both to fail, whereas when I watched Breaking Bad, I wanted Walter White to succeed in spite of the evil things he’d done. That’s the difference between a compelling antagonist/antihero and one who’s not.

*I know that this is kind of a hot take on Walter White and that some people can’t stand him, so take it with a grain of salt (I still find him fascinating several years and rewatches later).

Who should read Gone Girl: Readers who enjoy thrillers, dramatic twists, and trying to figure out mysteries.

Who shouldn’t read Gone Girl: Readers who want relatable or moral characters. People who only want one narrator to keep up with, or who dislike an excessive amount of language.

Gone Girl is available in the Recreational Reading section of the library.

 

*Content note: language, some suggestive scenes, some violence.

 

 

Book Review: “Before I Fall” by Lauren Oliver

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Have you seen the movie Groundhog Day? Even if you haven’t, you’re probably familiar with the basic thematic concept of living the same day over and over again- it’s been done in many movies and books. Sometimes this kind of storyline can get boring and repetitive. However, when it’s done right, it can be effective and even entertaining, and Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver is a great example of this.

Before I Fall  examines the life of a popular “mean girl,” Samantha Kingston, and what happens when she dies and then has to relive her last day multiple times.

 

What Before I Fall does right: Samantha (Sam) goes through the stages of grief when she realizes that she has died, has to relive her last day, and isn’t sure why or how to get out of it. One day shows her taking a nihilistic view- if she’s really dead, then nothing she does matters, right? On a different day, she’s so grateful to see her parents, friends, and town again that she practically beams the whole day. I find this take on the popular “Groundhog Day” theme to be pretty realistic.

The characters in Before I Fall dance off the page as if they were real. Hardly anyone is two dimensional, even though they may seem that way at first. Sam learns more and more about the people around her and how her actions have affected them for better or for worse. She seeks to make things right with those she has wronged- in particular, she wants to help a bullied girl named Juliet when Sam realizes that Juliet committed suicide on the same original day that Sam died.

Sam herself undergoes a fair amount of character development, but it doesn’t seem rushed, forced, or overly moralistic. She changes slowly, with plenty of frustration about her situation and toward her friends when they don’t understand why she seems different with each relived day. It’s a believable amount of growth, but Before I Fall still leaves you with that glowing sense of redemption.

 

What Before I Fall gets wrong: There are parts of the book that seem a little long, and there are times when Sam makes choices that seem cringey or obviously wrong- doesn’t she know better by now? But all of this is leading to her ultimate redemption, and it’s worth it to keep reading.

 

Who should read Before I Fall: Older teenagers, college students, and adults alike may enjoy this realistic depiction of teenage life (played out through an unrealistic Groundhog Day theme). Before I Fall can be very sad at times, but the ultimate messages are of love, friendship, family, and redemption.

 

Who shouldn’t read Before I Fall: With its mature themes and language, Before I Fall is not marketed towards younger readers. However, older readers will probably enjoy and relate to this book. Please be warned, however, that this book contains heavy themes and intense depictions of teen and adult problems (think Thirteen Reasons Why and read the content note below).

 

Content note: language, suggestive content, heavy themes (including eating disorders, suicide, and inappropriate relationships).

 

Before I Fall is available in the library’s Family Room.

Book Review: “Empires Of The Word: A Language History Of The World” by Nicholas Ostler

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Empires Of The Word: A Language History Of The World is a fascinating book about the historical evolution of the world’s major languages. This book describes how and why certain languages persisted and became dominantly used in the world and why others fell out of use. This is as much a cultural anthropological history book as it is a dynamic linguistics book.

Empires Of The Word spans the historical antiquity of the first dominant languages, including Greek, Latin, and Ancient Chinese. As time goes on and empires collapse and expand, the book shows how different cultures begin to adopt or dominate different linguistic groups.

Author Nicholas Ostler describes what he calls the “Death of Latin” and the eventual emergence of the Romance languages from Germanic invaders. I found the development and spreading of Spanish and English to be particularly interesting. The section of the book dedicated to the evolution of the Semitic language groups of Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic are equally insightful.

Lastly, the book deals with the current top 20 languages of the earth and what the future may hold for them. Ostler then gives his hypothesis of which will become dominant and which will recede from use based on population trends and common usage.

Empires Of The Word is such a joy to read because it offers great insight into history from both social and cultural sources. It is remarkably in-depth and dense, but I found it to be an easy read for a layman with passing curiosity on the subject.  I can wholeheartedly recommend this book for anyone who has ever wondered how and why we came to speak the wide variety of languages that we do. It’s a fun travel through time and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

 

*written by Matthew Beyer

Book Review: “On Reading Well” by Karen Swallow Prior

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I took the English class “Literary Criticism” in 2012. This class taught me how people have interpreted literature over the years- whether they’re looking at what the author intended, how the text affects the reader, or how the text stands completely on its own. While diving into Derrida and other writer-philosophers like him could be confusing, I always appreciated learning why we read the way we do and how we figure out just what books are trying to tell us.

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books is about literary criticism, but it’s not just for English majors. The author, Karen Swallow Prior, makes classic books accessible to people who may not have read them before or only have a passing knowledge of them. Prior strives to teach us that it’s not enough to read widely- we have to read well. She examines the virtues present in different stories and how we can learn from them.

What On Reading Well gets right: Prior called me out on reading too quickly. Too often I fly through books because I’m trying to get to the next one on my list, when really I should slow down and engage with the text. On Reading Well reminds us how to read and actually learn from what we’re reading.

Prior does a great job of connecting virtues, such as temperance and prudence, with literary, historical, personal, and pop culture examples. She looks at popular and formative books such as Silence, The Road, and Persuasion. This makes On Reading Well a treasure trove of experience. Plus, Bible verses are frequently referenced to help the reader understand and place the virtues in context. You will definitely be encouraged to think by this book!

What On Reading Well gets wrong: It’s certainly not a crime for a book to contain academic references and notes. However, I think On Reading Well was marketed to appear as more of a fun, albeit educational, book than it truly is.  Prior quotes extensively from other authors and thinkers, especially when she’s defining each virtue, and the little notations by each quote can get distracting if you’re trying to read for pleasure rather than for research.

Who should read On Reading Well: Anyone who appreciates literature and, in particular, taking a moral lens to literature. People who are interested in connecting stories with biblical principles. English students looking for accessible literary research and references.

Who shouldn’t read On Reading Well: Scholars who reject taking a moral lens to literature (On Reading Well mentions other forms of literary criticism but does not espouse them; this book sticks strictly to Sir Philip Sidney’s views). People who would rather read a book with less of an academic tone.

 

You can check out On Reading Well from the library.

Book Review: “Amal Unbound” by Aisha Saeed

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This is what I now remember most about my last afternoon at school- the smell of the dusty chalkboard, the sound of the students lingering outside the door, and, mostly, how easily I took my ordinary life for granted.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed is the story of a bright Pakistani girl who has to make the most of unfortunate circumstances. When Amal’s mother begins to struggle with post-partum depression, Amal stays home from school to take care of her younger sisters. She dreams of a better future when she can go to college and become a teacher. When Amal accidentally offends a member of her village’s ruling family, she is forced into indentured servitude and her whole world turns upside down.

What Amal Unbound gets right: It’s refreshing to read a book that’s not set in the United States. Amal’s story is uniquely Pakistani, and reading about her culture helped me learn new words and customs. The injustice that Amal faces is heartrending, but we cheer for Amal as she learns how to navigate the world and still be herself. Aisha Saeed wrote the fictional story of Amal as a reflection of Malala Yousafzai and her fight for women’s education, and Saeed hopes that Amal Unbound and similar stories will inspire young girls all over the world to stand up for what is right.

What Amal Unbound gets wrong: Nothing, really. My only caveat is that this book is written for a younger audience than me, so there’s some repetition here and there. However, that’s not a reason to ignore this book! The story is compelling for both adults and children.

Who should read Amal Unbound: Middle-grade children, teens, and adults who want to learn about different cultures, customs, and global problems.

Who shouldn’t read Amal Unbound: Adults who prefer adult narratives.

Book Review: “Atonement” by Ian McEwan

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*This post contains mild spoilers for Atonement

First things first: Atonement is a controversial book, but there can be no doubt that it is well-written. Ian McEwan gets inside the minds of his characters with a precision that is almost uncanny- how can an adult man so accurately capture the motivations of a dreamy (and judgemental) thirteen-year-old girl? Yet the story unravels in flowing prose that compels you to read more, and you believe the characters, as dysfunctional as they are.

To summarize without spoiling, Atonement is mostly about the connection between a  young man and woman and how it is dangerously misunderstood by a thirteen-year-old girl. This leads to a great injustice, tearing apart the family at the story’s center. McEwan also throws in a lot about WWII in the second half of the story and how simply trying to survive can alter one’s reality.

What Atonement gets right: the writing. To me, Ian McEwan’s style is like a mixture of F. Scott Fitzgerald (modern) and Jane Austen (Regency era). That’s hard to pull off, but Ian McEwan succeeds. His story is all about the characters and their inner workings, so the plot revolves around their reactions and decisions. Thus, the different events in Atonement make sense to the reader because we know what’s really going on with the characters (even if they don’t), giving us the satisfaction of being “in on it.”

What Atonement gets wrong: In the #MeToo era, it’s hard to read about a rape that essentially goes unpunished. The main witness to the crime (who is not credible at all) takes control of the situation, which leads to the actual victim essentially not even having to give a testimony. This is an obstruction of justice, and McEwan’s attitude toward the young girls involved is detached at best and coldhearted at worst. In fact, most of the adults in the book are extremely neglectful of the children they are supposed to be taking care of, and McEwan writes as if this is normal and expected (instead of, you know, wrong).

Who should read Atonement: I’d recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys books about fictional crime, in-depth character analyses, WWII, nursing, literature in general, and very complicated romances.

Who shouldn’t read Atonement: People who like books where they can escape and be happy in that escape. This book isn’t light or positive.

 

Ian McEwan’s new science fiction book, Machines Like Me, is due out this year. You can find two of McEwan’s books, including Atonement, here at the library. 

 

Book Review: “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card


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*mild spoilers for Ender’s Game are in this review

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card was recommended to me by my husband and two of my student assistants. Unfortunately, as this review will reveal, I didn’t like it.

Here’s a brief, spoiler-free summary: Ender’s Game is about a young boy, Ender Wiggins, who is chosen to train at Battle School. His teachers hope that he will be the missing link in the fight between aliens and humans. Orson Scott Card wrote several books after Ender’s Game and has made different series that correspond with the Ender’s Game universe.

What Ender’s Game gets right: The beginning really pulls you in and sets the stage for the rest of the book. We witness a moment in Ender’s life that turns out to be an important test, and Ender remembers this moment throughout his training.

I find Ender easy to sympathize with. He seems like an Enneagram type 9 (“peacemaker”) in a world that is forcing him to act like an 8 (“boss”). (I could also see Ender as a 5- he enjoys games, strategies, and alone time to figure things out.) Ender is constantly trying to end conflict once and for all- he does not enjoy hurting others or commanding them, he simply wants everything to work out for the best of all involved.

What Ender’s Game does wrong: Where are all of the women? There are only three woman characters in the whole book, and only one of them gets a point of view narration.

Another qualm that I have with Ender’s Game is Card’s writing style. He switches between third person, third person omniscient, and first person narratives without much transition at all. It’s like he decided to have every kind of point of view possible in his story- which is fine, if it makes sense within the context (it doesn’t).

Who should read Ender’s Game: People who enjoy reading political commentaries, arguments on Facebook, and/or deterministic plots. Alternately, people who will read it for the science fiction aspects and won’t dig much deeper than that.

Who shouldn’t read Ender’s Game: Parents who are already worried about their children growing up in a scary world and don’t like reading about the abuse and manipulation of children. People who don’t enjoy constant social conflict (me). I can read about crazy, militant societies, but only if it’s clear that it’s a satire and that it’s not a good thing (like 1984 or Brave New World). Ender’s Game doesn’t convince me that the book is actually against the fanatical survival-of-the-fittest messages that are preached. Ender as a character certainly does not condone this kind of society (even though he enables it), but the book’s overall tone and destruction of free will points to total annihilation as the only means of human survival- and that’s not fun to read about.

Ender’s Game is available in the library’s Recreational Reading section.

Book Review: “Encyclopedia of Garden Plants for Every Location”

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I have around 15 different house plants in my apartment. Most of them are succulents of some kind, but 2 are specifically cacti, 1 is a hosta, 1 is a prayer plant, 1 is a snake plant, and 1 is a poinsettia that someone gave to the library last Christmas (I couldn’t bear to throw it away). All of my plants have names, and I love all of them as equally as possible.

When the Encyclopedia of Garden Plants for Every Location arrived at the library, I immediately checked it out (for obvious reasons). This book is big, brand new, and bursting with breathtaking photos of every kind of plant you can think of. While I don’t have a yard to garden in, I still love learning about plants and how to care for them. This may be the same for you- if you’re living in a dorm, then your growing space is limited. However, this book can teach you techniques for your future yard, or for that next big Campus & Community landscaping project.

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The sheer volume of this book could be intimidating at first look. Thankfully, the book begins with a helpful “About this book” section, where key terms and symbols are defined. The book is divided into two sections: Plant Locations and Plants for Special Effects. Within these sections, you can learn about the best plants for shady and sunny gardens, plants for garden problems, and even plants for color and scent. The specific plants are pictured in vibrant colors and their scientific names in bold.

This book is for anyone who enjoys flowers, succulents, trees, and plants of all kinds. You can pick it up from the library today!