Here’s a look at some of the books I’ve read over the past couple of months. My reading tastes are widely eclectic but I mainly enjoy historical fiction and non-fiction, and the occasional gripping fiction work.
The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
Ever since I read my first Chris Bohjalian novel, I’ve been hooked on his books. So when I first learned about his latest work, The Guest Room, naturally I added it to my reading list. While I still prefer his historical fiction to his regular fiction, his writing, regardless of the genre, is gripping and enthralling. The Guest Room is about the horrible events at a bachelor party one night and how it forever changes the lives of all those involved. You will be sucked in from almost the get go, and immediately get caught up in the lives of your standard American husband and dad and the Eastern European sex worker who because of that one night, becomes inextricably linked to him. Ending sex trafficking is a personal cause of Bohjalian’s and through this work of fiction, you learn so much about this horrific industry. If you’re looking for a fast paced and spell-binding tale, this is it.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
I knew a couple of people who had read this and enjoyed it, so I wanted to try it myself. Like many other people, my knowledge of the Lusitania is on the basic side (a German U-boat sunk this major passenger liner during World War I in which most of the victims were civilians). But I didn’t know much of the back story-the events leading up to the sinking, why the German Navy ultimately did such an atrocious thing, and what the immediate ramifications were, considering that after the sinking the United States still didn’t enter the fighting even though many of the casualties were Americans. Well, you find out all of this in a 430 page book. Unfortunately, I wasn’t 100% taken with it as I found it slow and tedious at times (not at all like the gripping historical non-fiction work In the Kingdom of Ice that I read last year). I did find it interesting and sad to realize, like many horrific events in modern history, the sinking could have been avoided or the ship have a different fate (i.e. the liner departed late from New York, coal was conserved which prolonged the voyage, the ship sailed in waters known to have U-boats, the captain believed and said that “upon entering the war zone, the ship would be enveloped by British Navy protection” which was not the case). I’m actually currently reading another work of Larson’s, The Devil in the White City, and am enjoying that more.
Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War by Madeline Albright
I should have known that a memoir written by a former Secretary of State and daughter of a diplomat would end up being more of an international affairs/history kind of read. I remember back in the 1990s when Madeline Albright first learned of her Jewish heritage and that close relatives of hers had perished in the Holocaust. That, combined with my interest in the Czech Republic, made me want to check out her memoir about her childhood. The parts that were specifically about her (i.e. not Czech history) I enjoyed. (Due to her father being a diplomat, Madeline spent her early years in Belgrade where her father worked until war broke out. The family ended up moving to London and living there in exile until the war’s end.) It was heartbreaking to read about the fate met by her grandparents and other family members like so many other Holocaust stories. However, much of the memoir focuses on more modern Czech history (the 19th to the 20th centuries) and I feel unless you’re working towards your master’s in International Affairs, it is just too dry to read.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
While I never read Gone Girl (I only saw the film version), I decided that since the screen adaptation of The Girl on the Train comes out this fall, I wanted to read the book before then. The Girl on the Train is one of those books where if I had had a full day to do nothing but read (i.e. no other commitments), I could have read it in its entirety. You will literally be spellbound from just the first few pages. The Girl on the Train is told through the voices of three female characters: Rachel, the main character; Anna, who’s married to Rachel’s ex-husband; and Megan, the woman Rachel watches as she rides on the train and imagines the life she leads. It’s a gripping thriller in which the timeless question is constantly lurking-“how well do you think you know someone?” It also features a suspenseful surprise towards the end. I always enjoy when authors do that.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
This is a novel I had heard about for years now and knew countless people who read it, so when I saw it on the shelves at the library looking me straight in the eye, I finally decided to borrow it. The thing about The Historian is that it’s long, 720 pages long. But thankfully Kostova has done an incredible job of weaving the most intriguing of tales, set against the most magnificent of locations (everywhere from Amsterdam to Budapest to Istanbul and more). I’m someone whose knowledge of the Romanian leader Vlad the Impaler is somewhat limited so I enjoyed learning about this rather “unsavory” (i.e. blood hungry) character in history. I also like how the book alternates between being told by the historian’s daughter and the historian himself some years before. It’s a work of fiction that will undoubtedly make you want to visit all of the settings featured in the book.