Tuesday, January 1, 2013

December 2012 Books

The Final Storm: A Novel of the War in the Pacific by Jeff Shaara
Published: 2011
Rating: 5

This book focuses on the brave marines who fought in the Pacific Theatre, specifically the Battle of Okinawa.  Lasting over two grueling months, this battle resulted in the highest number of casualties in the Pacific.

WOW - is what I wrote in my book journal.  In particular, the last chapters were gripping as the reader sees, hears and smells the battle from a marine's point of view.  It was a brutal and bloody fight for a key island only 400 miles from Japan.  Shaara writes vividly of the napalm used in flamethrowers, primarily to kill the Japanese soldiers hiding in caves.

The fight against Japan was different than in Europe as all rules of modern warfare were thrown out the window.  Additionally, the Japanese soldier was unlike any seen before; fanatical where death, either of himself or his enemy was the end game.  In contrast, US Marines saw the war as a duty or job and wanted to go home when it was finished.

There was also a suicidal culture within the Japanese army that went from the highest commander to the lowliest soldier.  They felt death was preferable to being captured.  Thus Japanese snipers were around, not to kill marines, but to kill fellow soldiers who were surrendering.

One gets a real sense of not only the physical challenges of this battle but also the psychological and emotional effect on the marines.

After reading this book, I began watching the HBO series, The Pacific.   I am also reading the book written by Hugh Ambrose, son of Stephen Ambrose who wrote Band of Brothers.  Both series and book are excellent.

Audiocourse: World War II: A Military and Social History by Professor Thomas Childers from The Great Courses
Rating: 5
Great Courses link

I would highly recommend this audio course as Professor Childers delivers the material in a very organized yet interesting and engaging way.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen  (audio book)
Published: 1817 posthumously
Rating: 4

While not my favorite Austen novel, I did enjoy it.  I listened to the audio book while driving in the car and found myself laughing at Austen's witty, sarcastic and ironic scenes.

It was interesting to hear Austen insert herself as the author in the work - giving commentary on fiction writers, on her heroine, Catherine Moreland and on the reader.

I liked seeing how much Catherine was affected by the books she read, in particular, The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, a contemporary author to Austen and founder of the Gothic genre, which Austen parodies in this work.

Clever first and last sentences:
No one who had ever seen Catherine Moreland in her infancy, would have supposed her to be a heroine.
...I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny or reward filial disobedience. 
I have now read all of Austen's six main works.  The order of preference is:

  • Tied for first: Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion
  • Tied of second:  Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility
  • Third:  Emma
  • Fourth:  Northanger Abbey
This is my least favorite Austen book as at the end of the day,  I was not invested in Catherine's fate - certainly not like other Austen heroines: Elizabeth Bennett, Anne Elliott, Elinor Dashwood or Fanny Price.  Also, I did not find Henry Tilney a likable hero; he seemed superficial, misogynistic and unattractively sarcastic, quite unlike Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, Edward Ferras or Edmund Bertram. 

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Lord of the Rings #2)
Published: 1954

My review of the trilogy is below.

The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings #3)
Published: 1955
Rating: 5

This epic, high-fantasy series was written over a dozen years, during the tumultuous backdrop of WWII and after.  Many have tried to read it as an allegory of the war which Tolkien vehemently denies in the forward of The Fellowship of the Ring as he very much disliked that particular literary device.  Instead, his primary motive was to try his hand "at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them."   I would say he hit a grand slam.

It is the ultimate heroes quest whose main characters exhibit such honorable traits as courage, sacrifice, perseverance, and faith, even in the darkest hour.  It is a story of an unlikely fellowship, a band, or an alliance on a quest to rescue their world from evil, tyranny and domination (does sound a lot like the fight against Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan).  True victory lay in the hands of two most unusual and improbably heroes - a hobbit by the name of Frodo Baggins and his loyal friend, Samwise Gamgee who is the definition of an unsung hero.

One of my daughter's friends, and avid LOTR fan, suggested The Silmarillion, published posthumously by Tolkien's son, Christopher.  It is an account of the world prior to the LOTR.  I may tackle this book next year.

Heracles by Euripides
Published: 420 BC
Translated by Philip Vellacott/Penguin Classics publ. 1963
Rating: 5

Tragedy of tragedies - another account of Hera's jealousy, her evil meddling and resulting mayham and death.  It is also a surprising story of the value of a loyal and true friend.

Medea by Euripides
Published: 431 BC
Translated by Philip Vellacott/Penguin Classics publ. 1963
Rating: 5

Tragic play in which events are once again, initiated by Hera.  This time, however,  it is  because of favoritism.

Extreme and brutal violence, at the hands of a woman, Medea, is peppered throughout the play.  Gifted in magic, emotions (love and hate) drive her actions and no one is spared.  She is the epitome of the "woman spurned." I cannot think of another woman in literature that is driven so mad with jealousy, hatred and grief that she becomes abhorrent, inhuman and truly evil in her revenge.  Dumb Jason.