Brooklyn

Brooklyn

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Originally published: April 29, 2009 (my birthday)

I was at a train station, serious delays in every direction and I would not be leaving anytime soon. To top off my bad luck, my kindle had run out of battery. It was time to purchase a real, paper book.

I perused the bestsellers in WHSmiths and found Brooklyn. I had seen the film advertised and as always I prefer to read the book before watching the motion picture. The blurb on the back wasn’t exactly captivating, but it had won the Costa novel award in 2009 and had been short and long listed for a few other awards since. It seemed like an easy read that would help me pass the time.

It is set in 1950’s Ireland and is the story of a young girl, Ellis,  who has grown up in a small rural town with her mum and sister (and a few brothers who have since moved away). She has no real prospects until an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor her in New York where she will be able to live, work and study for a better future.

She travels to New York by ship, and has a bumpy ride. She finds a lodging with some other similar minded women, a job in a department store, an evening course and eventually love. But, as with all soppy stories there is also another man, this one all the way back in Ireland.

It is basically the story of Ellis growing up and having to choose between two boys. I would say it is half interesting and a very tame read. There was one dramatic plot twist which I didn’t see coming and actually upset me a little. But I soon go over it and realized I was back in the monotony of this read. This book is exactly the reason why I tend to avoid the WHSmiths bestsellers.

If you want an easy holiday read about young love, dances and courting then please…be my guest!

3 star

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Hausfrau

Hausfrau

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Recommended by Stylist magazine and hailed as the modern day Madam Bovary.  As the title (‘House Wife’ in German) suggests it is the story of bored house wife Anna, her meetings with a psychiatrist and the lovers she has taken to pass the time.  I probably should mention that it highlights her lack of parenting skills and her complete disregard for the feelings of those around her.  The story jumps back and forth between the past and present with interludes of shrink conversations.  Each element to the story seems unimportant, yet together I suppose it built upon her mental state.

I found this book tedious,  I guessed her fate from the outset, because it was the only way she was going to be released from her constant narcissistic drivel.  None of her woes made any sense, the book contradicted itself so much.  She proclaimed to have no one around her and yet right there was a loving family.  Perhaps that example is too obvious but I can assure you Anna makes many mistakes.

Now, I understand that all this could very well be deliberate, showcasing the writer’s talent in aligning and developing her writing according to the mental state of the protagonist. But I turned to my husband at some points and said “I simply can’t read this anymore”…I did but that isnt the point.

 

3 star

Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the madding crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

I love Thomas Hardy. I always thoroughly enjoy his books, knowing full well that my mind will easily produce a beautiful image thanks to his skill at elongating even the tiniest of details.  I revel in the depths of each character, enjoy looking at the landscapes he creates so expertly and his social conventions are insightful. I wish more modern authors would allow themselves to be influenced by late 19th Century writers…

Not my first time reading Far From the Madding Crowd, and it is by no means my favourite Hardy novel but I love his heroine characters. I read Bathsheba as strong and confident (whereas I am sure that my Husband would take her as fickle with a lack of life skills), she creates such a dynamic twist to the plot, almost as if Hardy struggles to keep up with her choices. The story is set in a rural town, with Bathesheba as the new owner of a farm after her Uncle died and left it to her. The story follows the relationship between her and her 3 very differing suitors; the first is simple but steadfast Gabriel Oak. The second a wealthy William Boldwood who owns the farm adjacent and finally there is the lustful Sergeant Troy. 

Bathesheba is a real woman, who has enough determination in life to run her farm, but simultaneously enough love in her heart to be wooed by a strapping young soldier. She makes mistakes and retributions. She is gossiped about yet highly respected. She has the brains to ensure the success of the farm and it’s workers yet she has the faith in God to see her through turbulent times.  I would like to think that she is one of the earliest fiesty characters in literature.

Like the first time I read Far from the Madding Crowd, I loved it.  I have a couple of favourite quotes; the first is Oak’s proclamation of love very early in the book;

“And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you.
-Gabriel Oak”

I particularly like this as later on in the book, when Bathsheba is in turmoil she glances into Oak’s house to see him sitting by the fire, suggesting that his simple and constant love remains as steadfast and true as the day he revealed it.

The below quote I think is very poignant,

“It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.”
 Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

 

5 star

Atonement

 

Atonement

Published: 2001

Author: Ian McEwan

This book has been on my radar since the film release in 2007, but I never felt an overwhelming urge to read it so although I had it on my kindle it wasn’t until I bought the hard copy a few weeks ago that I decided now would be as good a time as any.

For those of you living under a rock, the story goes that a young girl commits a crime that allegedly has disastrous consequences for her sister and their long term family friend; it sees lovers torn apart and a family in turmoil. The film trailer and even the book synopsis created this illusion that I was about to read something terrible, awful. This young girl unwittingly commits a crime and the whole world turns upside down because of it. The problem I had with this book is that the crime wasn’t drastic enough for me; the lives after the said crime were not substantially decimated.

Setting the scene for this lie was the most interesting part of the book; it was most of the book in fact! Everything after just seemed to fall out of the authors mouth like word vomit. I didn’t think enough emphasis went on any character so how a reader can feel that lives have been turned upside down is beyond me. Example, the elder sister stops speaking to her family (apologies for a reveal), but how did this impact her or the family? It doesn’t say.

It might seem that I am being harsh and I suppose I have my own high expectations to contend with, I did enjoy the book. Maybe it is because I like period literature, or maybe it is because I have a black heart and wanted to read about the ruining of lives!

On that note, there was one poignant scene in the book, set on the beaches of Dunkirk in WWII after the retreat had been ordered; it saw a fight ensue between army soldiers and a weak member of the RAF. This spat tore at my heart strings, and I thought McEwan successfully captured the absolute carnage of human mentality and body on those beaches over 70 years ago.

 Although my review has the pretence of snubbing the literary efforts of McEwan, I would recommend the book.  I would always recommend the book over a film.  The setting of the scene was beautifully done, and the descriptiveness of the war efforts were also very good.

 

4 star

Sycamore Row

Sycamore_Row_by_John-Grisham

Sycamore Row

Published: October 22, 2013, paperback July 2014

Author: John Grisham

A few months before reading this I read The Confession for the second time within less than 12 months. I never re-read books (unless it is Harry Potter).  So when I discovered Grisham had a new book out I was stomach butterfly excited!

I downloaded Sycamore Row as soon as I could and completely devoured the book like a lioness who has gone without zebra for weeks.  The book followed Jake Brigance, a solicitor introduced in an earlier book ‘A Time to Kill’.  I haven’t yet read A Time to Kill, however I happened upon the film one evening and was emotionally gripped, one of the best films I ever seen due to a dramatic storyline and a brilliant acting.

Back to Sycamore Row, it follows the aftermath of the death of a wealthy cancer stricken Southern man, Seth Hubbard,  leaving his estate to his black house cleaner and naming Jake Brigance as the estate’s solicitor.   Big sparks fly as Seth’s children and Grand children contest the decision made in his last, hand written Will claiming he was under duress or that he was too poorly to be in his right mind.

What is so superb about this story, is the way that Grisham can have you gripped to every word on the page as you eagerly urge the characters to discover just a thread of information.  A truely captivating read that once again draws on the racial segregation of Southern America.

I think the ending is the best part, you must read it!

5 star

Bite: the most gripping thriller you will ever read

Bite

 

Bite: the most gripping thriller you will ever read by Nick Louth

…Yeah right!!!

I read this a while ago, and every time I reflect on the story I roll my eyes. I hope whoever came up with the strap line “the most gripping thriller you will ever read” received a decent pay cheque because unfortunately…it worked.  The book doesn’t need to be fantastic if you have convinced people to make the initial purchase.

This book is about a missing scientist, her short term boyfriend caught up in the hunt and a whole lot of medical terminology with the added extra of a countdown to the release of a deadly weapon that has the potential to kill millions. It is all very rushed, with chases and amazing feats of survival. The boyfriend goes from zero to hero overnight and relies on some rather tedious friendship ties to help him….not to mention some healing powers to rival Superman.

However, I will give the book some credit, where credit is due, and that is because of the flashbacks to Africa and a guerilla terrorist group. I thought that bit was interesting. Mainly because it opened my eyes to some atrocities that swept through the continent.

Not worth my review time to be honest….best for holiday reads I think. Then don’t bother bringing the book home with you.

3 star

 

Daughter

Daughter

Daughter by Jane Shemilt

It has taken me a while to type thoughts to blog. This is a hard hitting book and I think to provide a review half heartedly would somehow dishonor the story.  Plus, when a book leaves a lingering feeling of emptiness, how can one find the words to put into a review?

The book is centred around a missing girl and the subsequent deteriation of her whole family. It infuses past and present narrative to create a seamless flow of thoughts and memories, all from the mothers perspective.  When I bought this book, I didn’t realise the strength of the story I was about to unfold, it opens the door to an otherwise locked life, that of a parent with a missing child.  The way in which each character intereacts with each other is chilling, shocking, yet so real.

I could never have guessed the ending, but the way in which I got there was predictable. But not in a negative way. It was more Shemilt luring out my understanding of grief. We all know, have all seen tears on the TV news, in films and we all think we know what goes through peoples’ minds.  But to read it in such a raw and obvious way makes you realise that you know nothing. That you pray to God this will never happen to you.

In terms of the pace of the story, it is slow.  But you don’t need it to go any faster as the perfectly dovetails that of the trauma, fast in the beginning, slow and agonising in the middle, then normal and reluctant towards the end.

This book has a 3.6 on Goodreads. I think the problem lies in the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of action, just memories and anguish. People also don’t recognise the book as belonging to a typical genre, something Shemilt exaplins so well:

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Psychological suspense, (thriller/drama) is the nearest that I can get to placing the book, not a very  meaningful label  as so many books within this capacious scope are completely different from each other. My background is medical, I’m an ex- GP, my husband is a neurosurgeon. It was helpful to use this known world to create the back drop to both books, and some issues from that world become important. In Daughter: the dangers of labelling, of short cuts, doctors playing God.  But Daughter isn’t a medical drama; it’s a story about a missing girl and the themes of grief, loss, harmful secrets, betrayal and fear do resonate with others in this genre.

An extract from her website.

I am giving this book 5 stars because I think it is brilliantly written, it demonstrates a real talent from Shemilt and I can’t believe this is only her debut.

5 star

Dear Daughter

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Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

A few weeks ago Stylist magazine published an article on the best books that have fallen below the radar in 2014, of which I instantaneously ripped out and stuffed it into my handbag. I couple of weeks later I then perused the page again with a smug, self congratulatory air and named Dear Daughter as the first book I would devour.

 Consumed within a couple of days, I could not put this book down. I revelled in the re-awakening of an addiction, which hadn’t flared up for some time.  It was such an unusual read, as though I were watching an interview on E-Entertainment with the same digression and memories a person would have if they were sat in front you.  There was also supporting evidence thrown in for weight such as Twitter feeds, news articles and texts which entertained the E-news similarity.  Elizabeth Little is an artist when it comes to setting up and delivering cliff hangers, I thought I predicted the climax. But I was wrong, and that felt so good!

It is the story of a wealthy American-Swiss Socialite who is jailed for murdering her philanthropist Mother.  It starts with her release 10 years later.

An excellent read, written in a modern, swearing way which usually I would have steered clear from. I will say this, missing words occur regularly.

5 star

Elephant Moon

Elephant moon

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Elephant Moon by John Sweeney

I usually ask those around me for any book recommendations, or do some research online as to which one I should pursue next.  However I finished Daughter late a couple of evenings ago and needed a read for the daily commute in the morning.  So, I saw the cover of Elephant moon, and judged that I would enjoy this animal inspired story.  From the get go, the very first sentence, I was captivated, I fell down the history rabbit hole into the middle of the Burmese town of Rangoon in 1941.

Based loosely on a true account of an Elephant regiment of 53 beasts, rescuing a school mistress and her band of merry orphans from the terrors of the Japanese invasion during the second world war. Altogether, men, elephants, children and one woman trekked through the Jungle up to the safety of India, witnessing unimaginable horrors as well as beautiful animal relationships and experiencing love and loss. A truly remarkable tale that had my mind racing back to the great war as well as having me in tears on the tube,

Since finishing it earlier today I have done a little background reading on the book and have come across some great reviews, but I have also read some which are very negative. I understand and recognise the flaws frequently mentioned, such as weak characters and a loose writing style, and I certainly didn’t miss the pathetic love references.  This book is certainly not written with the same kind of depth you experience from the likes of the more seasoned author, but in my opinion the story outshines anything Sweeney could have written.

I don’t think that you should rush out and read Elephant Moon, but I do feel that if you don’t read it at some point you will be missing out on something special.

4 star

An Officer and a Spy

An officer and a spy

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An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

Last year I read The Ice King and it wasn’t until I had finished the book that I realised the target audience was the male reader. Now that I can recognise the traits, I immediately cogitated this book as for men. Well, in all honesty it must be fairly obvious considering the first chapter was completely dominated by a military situation which involved a lot of military terms and phrases. I contemplated throwing in the towel and moving onto something more appealing to my female mind (feminists please don’t attack me).

I am glad I continued and endured the first few chapters of words that flew completely over my head, thinking to myself, “I am sure it will all come together”. And come together it did. The story then became fascinating, and I fell whole heartedly into Harris’ mindset, timeframe and location. Thinking about the characters whilst reading and then each time I put the book down I simply couldn’t get enough of when the next crucial revelation was arriving and from where.

The story is set on the Dreyfus Affaire, a true story about a Jew punished for allegedly being a traitor in the French army passing secret information to the Germans by being sent to live in squalid conditions on a remote island near the Faulklands.  If you google the story you will discover that Dreyfus was in fact innocent and the story details the discovery of his guiltlessness and the extremes people went to both punish and save him and those around him.

A truly fascinating read that both shocked and taught me about this infamous scandal.  I highly recommend this book.

5 star

Starting Over

Starting over

 

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Starting Over by Evan Grace

The book opens with a cutesy just turned 18 year old girl named Bellamy, dressing herself in preparation for losing her virginity with the guy she has been in love with like forever *yawn*. On reading the first couple of pages I did not have high expectations, especially after being introduced to other characters such as  ‘Lola’.  Just another trashy book that has somehow managed to claw itself onto the kindle most downloaded list.

In every sense I was correct, always follow your instincts. It was rubbish, a terrible story line which produced so many more questions than it could answer, but I was addicted and couldn’t put the book down! Yeah it was a trashy love story which could be predicted from the outset and yeah the names were terrible and the discourse appalling……but my god it’s addictive.

I would also like to mention that the book digresses on several occasions into a more intimate scenario. Perhaps not a book for the pure?

Four stars simply for being addictive

4 star

Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant

divergent-series

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Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth

When you run, you aim to run negative times, always trying to beat your previous lap. So why can this concept not be applied to literature…we should all endeavour to be better the next time, shouldn’t we?  There are so many book series that seem to get worse as you read; Twilight, Hunger Games, Divergent….

I enjoyed Divergent, the concept wasn’t unfamiliar with a very Hunger Games vibe; society sectioned off and conforming to set standards and expectations. It was also definitely a young adult read with the standard strong female lead, action, betrayal and secret love, so nothing new basically.  Having said that, a great read which I finished quickly.

Insurgent was a little odd for me but I kept reading simply to know more, although I wasn’t addicted to it like I was the first. It was pretty much the same as Divergent but with an added twist of some killed off characters returning.

Allegiant, well, it is a means to an end I guess. It reminded me of the Hunger Games trilogy in that the first two books were strong, exciting and addictive and then along came the third which saw the protagonist as a quivering mess doing odd things to save everyone but themselves. Starting strong then gradually getting worse.

I sound like I am being too harsh, I did mention that it is aimed at young adults so maybe I am being too critical. I read all 3 after all.  Actually, the books made me feel like I was watching some dystopian Barbie world come to life, dolls being controlled by humans……ooo that is a spoiler by the way!

4 star

 

 

There is a film, the reason for my reading the books in the first place. It doesn’t look that bad actually…

The Fault in our Stars

The fault in our stars

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The Fault in our Stars by John Green

Bought this on a whim somewhat foolishly after seeing that it was doing well in the charts and although I read it to the conclusion, I was disappointed.

The book follows two pretentious teenagers that seem to take great pleasure in the fact that they are so intelligent. The way that the characters interact with each other and the world merely stands to make them thoroughly unbelievable as characters as they simply do not behave like real life people do. It makes it seem as if the author is trying to show off how intelligent and brilliant he is by throwing in these deep meaningful and analytical conversations between the two main characters.

The book also deliberately throws in these ‘heart breaking’ occurrences that merely irritate the reader as oppose to cause them to well up with sadness. It actually eventually made me dislike both parties by the end of the novel. What was the most ‘throw up in your mouth’ cringeworthy was the sex scene where the author appears to have neglected to acknowledge that a string of chemo and radiotherapy is likely to have rendered both characters infertile and mentions ‘awkward condomy moments’ which feels like he is trying to keep parents happy as he promotes safe sex. It again, completely detracted from any realism with this book. The fact that she attempts to use the word ‘condomy’ is completely at odds with her usual poetic self.

My advice is to see that this book is aimed at a mainly female young teen audience and to avoid it if you do not fit into that category.

Ben

2 star

Divergent

Divergent

 

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Another young adult fiction that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is Suzanne Collins meets George Orwell with a hint of dystopia (a la Margaret Atwood).

Part of a trilogy, of which I am on the 2nd now (Insurgent). I began reading it as the film has recently been released and I always prefer reading before watching a book.

I think I will provide a fuller review upon finishing the whole series :-), so for now it is a 4 star.

4 star

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The perks of being a wallflower

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Me: “I need a new book to read”

Him: “I’m reading the Perks of Being a Wallflower, it is really good”

Me: “How?”

Him: “Don’t know, just is, read it”

 Not the best sales pitch I have to admit, and no matter how hard I tried to squeeze out information, he simply couldn’t articulate why he liked this book so much, which is saying something as he is naturally verbose! I didn’t have any other ideas as to what to pursue next so I downloaded and began reading then also became addicted.

The book is written in the first person, a teenager writing to a friend at regular intervals. We never find out who the friend is nor why he writes but he uses the letters as a way of externalising his thoughts and feelings, something he struggles to do in daily life.

 What is fascinating about this book is that we are only privy to a segment of his life, and yet we learn so much about him and his life, embark on a journey together. Discovering things about him just as he discovers them himself, I am sure the friend he writes to is the reader and it made me feel almost special knowing that I understand him in a way his friends and family struggle to.

The letters finish when he realises and remembers everything, I won’t elaborate in case you want to read it, and I strongly suggest you do!

5 star

 

The End of the Affair

The end of the affair

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The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

This book was bugging me. Well not the book but my boyfriend, constantly telling me I should read it.  I asked him why? He couldn’t say, but assured me it was a great read. So thanks to his clear hidden talent for sales I downloaded it (Ha, there used to be a time one would buy or borrow a book).

I was blown away, Greene is no author. He is an artist! The story seamlessly flitters between the present and various stages in the past.  It is really hard to review this book without revealing anything about the plot, it also has a bizarre ending that leaves so much to the reader to attain closure.

I know it may seem like a strange review, with no substance. But this book blew me away with it’s sheer brilliance. Talent.

5 star

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

GONE_GIRL

Gone girl

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 Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I began reading this book a few months ago, but a stream of good literature came along so I ditched it without hesitation. When it comes to books, I can be fickle like that.

When I think back to my first thoughts, there was no chemistry, hence why I found it so easy to just cast aside. But I was recently left high and dry after finishing A Respectable Trade  as I didn’t have any new downloads to choose from and being on the tube I couldn’t even use my 3G! My heart started to pound, a little sweat formed above my brow and my face was I imagine quite panic stricken. Frantically tapping through my library to find anything I hadn’t read yet, Gone Girl saved the day.  A little rusty at first but after a few days I got into a nice rhythm, it is a hefty book don’t you know?!

If you are a regular visitor to my blog you will know two things, the first my love of historical fiction and the second being my hatred for modern literature (juxtaposed I know!). So I didn’t have high expectations, I expected even less some form of actual writing skill. The story plods along and just when you feel like dropping off Gillian drops a bombshell. She uses this method frequently and after a few I realised just how much of a clever ploy this is.  I won’t divulge said bombshells as you may not have read it yet, and there is a film coming out this October. But take it from me, they are big news!

The book is in 2 parts, the second half got really interesting! I almost couldn’t put it down. She turned the whole story on it’s head and aside from a few snore-y parts, which I admittedly skimmed, I was genuinely hooked.

This book could be a five star, for many it probably is considering the amount of people I saw reading this on my daily commute…and the awards;

  • New York Times Janet Maslin’s 10 Favorite Books of 2012
  • Entertainment Weekly’s Entertainer of the Year
  • People Magazine Best books of the year
  • Edgar Award nominee for Best Novel
  • Amazon and Barnes & Noble Best of the Year
  • Macavity Award nominee for Best Mystery Novel
  • Anthony Award nominee for Best Novel
  • The Women’s Prize nominee for Fiction
  • Strand Critics Award nominee

But for now, it is a 4.

4 star

4 stars

A Respectable Trade

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A Respectable Trade by Philippa Gregory

I think this must be one of Gregory’s heftier books, perhaps even a novel. I mention this as most of her books are fairly short and easy to digest.  In a way this is one of her best, mostly down to her encapsulating method of description. I could really picture myself standing along side the protagonists, watching their story unfold thanks to all the details Gregory inserted. But, this was long! Such a long read, at first I struggled to really want to continue to read, then it got sort of interesting, but then it returned to borderline dull and dramatic.  Perhaps I could better describe this book with an oxymoron, interestingly dull or dramatically plain  (is that one?!)?

I really enjoyed the slave perspective, it was clear that Gregory had worked really hard to get traditions and history correct.  The western characters were much more vulgar, exaggerated and on reflection I believe this was done deliberately. A way for me to empathize with the African natives…….thinking about it more I love that she did this.  Historical fiction can be so biased, that is what they say isn’t it, history is only written by the winner!

I award this 4 stars, for her efforts and details.

4 star

12 years a slave

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12 years a slave by Solomon Northup

The whole world is talking about 12 years a slave, the film not the book. Pestered to go and see the film I thought I would read the book beforehand, so as to appreciate the full narrative in my own time before being subject to someone else’s vision. I thought the book was compelling, there were moments when I couldn’t put the kindle down. It was the type of story that resounded in my thoughts all day long after having read during my morning commute.

I had heard that there are scenes in the film that are perhaps a little too brutally honest.  Although the story was hard to digest, it wasn’t because of the graphic scenes the narrator depicts. I have read a few historical fictions, autobiographies and memories on the ‘slave trade’ and no matter what scene unfolds within the words what disgusts me most is that I don’t believe I see guilt in the American population today. I completely understand that Britain had a part but we did not follow in their inhumane footsteps and we realised far sooner the wrong.

How many slavery films have been made? Wikipedia says 29, yet how many films on war? Hundreds. And now Hollywood have made a multi million dollar production with a no doubt more conservative approach to the story and all of sudden the world remembers? But, if a visual representation is what is needed to bring this level of inflicted suffering to the forefront of history…..

What a rant! I just hate it when truth gets glossed over in nice rose tinted glasses.

5 star

A good book should…..

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