Posts tagged ‘historical’

April 2nd, 2011

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Revolution

Author: Jennifer Donnelly

Published: October 12th, 2010

Number of Pages: 496

Rating: 5/5


BROOKLYN: Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And she’s about to be expelled from Brooklyn Heights’ most prestigious private school when her father intervenes. Now Andi must accompany him to Paris for winter break.

PARIS: Alexandrine Paradis lived over two centuries ago. She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn’t want—and couldn’t escape.

Two girls, two centuries apart. One never knowing the other. But when Andi finds Alexandrine’s diary, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There’s comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal’s antique pages—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine’s words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present.

Jennifer Donnelly, author of the award-winning novel A Northern Light, artfully weaves two girls’ stories into one unforgettable account of life, loss, and enduring love. Revolution spans centuries and vividly depicts the eternal struggles of the human heart. [From Goodreads]

Quote (and because I can’t resist, you get three quotes!):

I don’t like hope very much. In fact, I hate it. It’s the crystal meth of emotions. It hooks you fast and kills you hard. It’s bad news. The worst. It’s sharp sticks and cherry bombs. When hope shows up, it’s only a matter of time until someone gets hurt.

There is only one thing I fear now-love. For I have seen it and I have felt it and I know that it is love, not death, that undoes us.

Cry your grief to God. Howl to the heavens. Tear your shirt. Your hair. Your flesh. Gouge out your eyes. Carve out your heart. And what will you get from Him? Only silence. Indifference. But merely stand looking at the playbills, sighing because your name is not on them, and the devil himself appears at your elbow full of sympathy and suggestions. And that’s why I did it….Because God loves us, but the devil takes an interest.

Review (which I encourage you to read, though the quotes above are evidence enough that you should read the book):

I received a copy of this beautiful book last October, just days before the release date. You’d think I would have read it already – after all, who can resist something so obviously focused on France? – but the size of this thing! It was daunting. However, after all the fabulous things I’ve heard about Revolution in the past few months, I couldn’t pass it on my way into my room without stopping, picking it up, and apparently, devouring it.

Revolution is a striking book. It exceeds expectations in almost every imaginable way. The setting, the premise, the mystery, the characters, the complex relationships and wild range of emotions – every aspect of a good book is magnified, improved, steroidal.

First of all: FRANCE.

Yes, in all caps. FRANCE.

This book has a lot of it. Not the language, really, but the feel, the atmosphere, the setting, foods, and history – it’s all so very French. I learned so much from this book without feeling like I was being taught. I eagerly looked forward to every bit of historical information. This book gives you the French Revolution so up close and personal you can see the blood staining the guillotine.

The main character, Andi, is phenomenal. I loved that her deep misery and biting attitude took root in something worthy of such terrible aftershock. Once I understood what she and her family had gone through, I could comprehend and sympathize with her general instability and the different ways her family members grieve. Her past literally haunts her, but that terrible past also does just what it was meant to – it molds her. She might be desperate and miserable at the beginning of the book, but it soon became evident that the horrors she struggles through have a purpose. Andi’s such an intricate person, and I found she’s incredibly likable for someone so rugged.

Relationships are the core of Revolution. All sorts of them. Father-daughter, siblings, friendship. There’s reluctant love, dutiful love, lack of love, romantic love, and just about every other type you can come up with. It’s such a dark and mysterious book, so I was surprised to think back and realize that it really does revolve around love. Andi’s relationships are so strained you’re waiting for them to reach their limit and snap – heck, you’re waiting for her to snap. There’s such contrast between, say, her relationship with her father and that with her little brother, but both of them play crucial roles.

Honestly, though, it wouldn’t be fair to focus solely on Andi, her story, and her relationships because this book is as much about Alex, the doomed teenage girl of the eighteenth century, as it is about Andi. Alex’s story begins with the end. You know instantly that she’s walking a tight rope while wind is crashing against her. She doesn’t have much time left, yet she’s bursting with the need to write down all that she’s gone through, particularly her relationship with Louis-Charles, or the lost prince of France. Alex is Louis-Charles’ companion and is charged with keeping his spirits up by the queen herself. Alex’s story takes place during the French Revolution, so clearly being charged with the happiness of the prince isn’t in her best interests.

Though Alex’s story is the more suspenseful of the two and I’m sure I was meant to be completely enthralled, her story is actually the only thing I had trouble with. I was definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY interested. Her diary is stuffed with gloriously fascinating bits of French history, retellings of horrific events, cunning people, and a beautifully told love story (not a romantic one). I wish I could tell you what it was that simply didn’t cut it for me, but I can’t. Alas, all I know for sure is that I found myself occasionally waiting her entries out, excited to get back to Andi. I have no idea why this was the case, but it was.

(I’m looking at the word count of this review now and freaking out. How on earth can I include everything I want to? A super long book requires a long review! Bear with me, please.)

The most delectable thing about Revolution is the way it’s all done. This book would have amounted to so much less in the hands of someone else. Jennifer Donnelly’s prose and style transform this book from an interesting story to a magnificent one. There are lines that I couldn’t resist reading to my mother. There are lines that made me stop and reread. I love it when I come across a book that just wows me and reminds me why I love words with the passion that I do. They have impact. They have force. They can make you feel and experience things you’d never have felt or experienced otherwise.

I’ll admit that the fact there’s some time-travel in the book escaped me. I suppose I knew it at one point, but I was definitely taken by surprise when Andi suddenly wound up in 1795. Not the sort of thing you expect after four-fifths of the book has passed with her snug in the twenty-first century. However, it was a sweet surprise to have the book take an unexpected turn so late in the game. My favorite character was suddenly in my favorite era! It was a little odd, but definitely a fun little romp. (That was the understatement of the week.)

Oh my goodness! Have I not yet mentioned there’s a love story (a romantic one this time)? What? No! My bad. Those of you who were losing interest due to the lack of mushiness, come back! There is indeed a love story, and it is, indeed, awesome. It’s simple, relatively smooth, and is everything you’d want it to be. The romantic plotline does include the only super predictable and cliché moment, but I think every book should be allowed one. The boy also has a really neat name (bonus!).

Revolution is, well, revolutionary. I reveled in every moment. Beautiful passage on top of beautiful passage, heart-wrenching moment on heart-wrenching moment, Jennifer Donnelly has constructed a story – wait, no, two stories – so captivating that 472 pages feels like 150.

August 14th, 2010

Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Crossing the Tracks

Author: Barbara Stuber

Published: July 6th, 2o10

Number of Pages: 272

Rating: 3/5


Read this excerpt as opposed to a quote. It really got me interested in the book.


At fifteen, Iris is a hobo of sorts – no home, no family, no plan. After her mother’s early death, Iris’s father focuses on big plans for his new shoe stores and his latest girlfriend, and has no time for his daughter. Unbeknownst to her, he hires Iris out as housekeeper and companion for a country doctor’s elderly mother. Suddenly Iris is alone, stuck in gritty rural Missouri, too far from her only friend Leroy and too close to a tenant farmer Cecil Deets, who menaces the neighbors, and Iris suspects, his own daughter.

Iris is buoyed by the warmth and understanding the doctor and his mother show her, but just as she starts to break out of her shell tragedy strikes. Iris must find the guts and cunning to take aim at the devil incarnate and discover if she is really as helpless, hopeless, and homeless – as she once believed.


I can’t remember how I heard about Crossing the Tracks, but for whatever reason, I looked up Barbara Stuber’s website and read the excerpt. I knew this was a book I wanted to read, and Barbara was kind enough to send me a hardcover copy the second it was published. It took me terribly long to get to reading it, as I’ve been on family vacations, to camps, and have had had ARCs to review since then. I’m very happy I finally read this book!

One of the things I always want to hear about first in reviews is the main character, so I must say: Iris is really fun to “live in.” She was smart, sensitive, and I loved that she was often surprising herself. I could always sympathize with her, and there’s a particular scene near the beginning of the book that made me ache to help her. She was never irritating, and I think a lot of that had to do with one thing: She’s kind. A lot of everything has to do with whether or not someone is kind, and the entire book was better off because of it.

I think there was a lot to love about almost every character, excepting the characters we really weren’t meant to love – namely Cecil Deets. However, I did find that my first impression of him wasn’t the same as Iris’s. She seemed to think he was no-good from the start, and I really didn’t get that feeling. I’m actually usually good at detecting things of that sort, but I think that he was a bit too vague to begin with. As the story developed, I could join Iris in her increasingly low opinion of him. He’s not the sort of person you respect, and that did come across eventually, just not as quickly as it seemed to for the characters.

Dr. Nesbitt is a character I think people will like immediately, and his mother, Mrs. Nesbitt, is the sort of elderly woman we all like reading about – the slightly spunky kind. She’s opinionated, witty, and surprising. It’s apparent from the start that Dr. and Mrs. Nesbitt are going to greatly affect Iris.

And those of you who are reading this and despairing because I haven’t mentioned romance, you need not worry. Leroy is here to save the day. Though the love story is definitely a subplot, it seemed to me that it played a large role in the character development – or Leroy did, at least. I’m fairly sure that everyone will like him and want to see more of him. At times, I thought things he did were… a little over-the-top, but overall, he was a likable character and a fantastic friend.

But, on the subject of things being over-the-top: The plot kind of struck me as contrived at times. It wasn’t necessarily the idea. I understood it, thought the idea interesting (though disturbing), and I enjoyed reading about it. However, some of the time, things played out in a way I thought a tad unrealistic or simply unlikely. Now, that doesn’t make for a bad reading experience, of course, and I still liked the book.

The novel deals with a few disturbing topics, such as physical and sexual abuse. I think Stuber did a great job making me feel greatly for the characters, but never uncomfortable. This book will strike you at times, but it’s heartening and sweet, in the end.

The prose was beautiful, and the thoughts portrayed so intricately, the messages astute and understandable. I loved the silent times, when I was in the midst of Iris’s mind.

I’d recommend the book to book clubs especially because I think many interesting conversations could sprout from the various topics. I can easily see a lot of people enjoying Iris’s story, her voice, and rooting her on. Barbara Stuber’s debut novel surprised me, and I’m eager to see what she’ll write next.

Overall, Crossing the Tracks is a fascinating book about justice, family, and love – about being needed, belonging, and having people to live for.