Hi there

I am Eva Seiler* and I read books** and I made this blog to have an outlet for my book-loving self.

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*ha ha, not really

**really really.

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Eva Reads About WWI, Installment #2

Welcome to post number two about World War One Books Eva Has Read!!!!!!! We’ll do three today.

(For installment #1, go here.)

Note on my star rating system:

5 stars=Amazing, have read more than once or definitely will read again, highly recommend.

4 stars=Excellent, may not ever re-read but the quality was superb and highly recommend.

3 stars=Good, a solid read.

2 stars= Just okay, not that impressed, but also not horrible, and probably I will forget all about it soon.

1 star=The only reason I finished reading this was so I could rant/snark/complain about it 100% fairly

 

The War That Ended Peace

(Margaret MacMillan) ★★★

This audiobook is 32 hours long and I had to check it out 3 times to get it finished. It was SO MUCH INFORMATION. But it was really well-presented and enjoyable. It covers the years from roughly 1900 through 1914, detailing the complex threads of political and cultural issues that eventually led to WWI.

War Horse

(Michael Morpurgo) ★★★

In true books-about-animals form, this story is abominably, unrelentingly sad with some sprinklings of joy. I liked it all right, but… seriously, authors, could we make an effort to write HAPPY animal stories? I’m looking at you, Rawlings, Sewell, Salten, and Knight, all of whom had devastating effects on my childhood (and adulthood) emotional well-being. I mean, War Horse (along with the abovementioned works of Rawlings, Sewell, Salten, and Knight) is well written, but but but but BUT

The Fledglings

(Howard E Adkins) ★

This was like reading bad fanfiction. If I had a dollar for every time a dude character made comments “in his nasal tone” or how many times the American MC was referred to as “the sandy-haired youth” instead of Luke, I could buy enough chocolate to self-medicate back to sanity. There was basically no real plot thread or point to this story. It was rambling, with lots of internal agonies from the three MCs (one British, one American, one Austrian, all young fighter pilots). The American agonises over his responsibility for the “blackened bloated corpses” (another phrase that gets used a million times) of the Germans he kills. The British dude agonises over whether he is gay. The Austrian, I honestly don’t know why he was even in the story at all, but I seem to recall he agonised a lot about flying. The romantic encounters of the young men with various females were all just awkward beyond words. The reader of the audiobook was also pretty terrible.

-Eva

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Eva Reads About WWI, Installment #1

I am currently writing a WWI novel, because it has bothered me for years how little quality fiction is out there set during WWI. In my quest for knowledge of the era – politically, socially, and so forth – I’ve been binge-reading whatever I can get my hands on that covers that time in history. Rather than bombard you with a Gigantically Comprehensive List All At Once, I will take this project in installments and talk about a few at a time. Let’s do four today!

Note on my star rating system:

5 stars=Amazing, have read more than once or definitely will read again, highly recommend.

4 stars=Excellent, may not ever re-read but the quality was superb and highly recommend.

3 stars=Good, a solid read.

2 stars= Just okay, not that impressed, but also not horrible, and probably I will forget all about it soon.

1 star=The only reason I finished reading this was so I could rant/snark/complain about it 100% fairly

 

All Quiet on the Western Front

(Erich Maria Remarque) ★★★★★

This one kind of goes without saying. It’s just about the only serious, well-known literary work out there that deals with WWI – or, at least, it’s the only one I had ever heard of before actively searching out others. I was super moved and impressed by it as a teenager (or early 20s, I honestly don’t remember when I first read it). The translation by Wheen is my preferred one.

Dead Wake

(Erik Larson) ★★★★

I had really known nothing about the Lusitania or its sinking’s impact on the world, aside from a vague “it happened and the US got mad or something”. Really engaging. I love Larson’s writing, and Scott Brick (the narrator of the audiobook) is a favourite reader of mine. There is a lot fascinating insight into U-Boats and what it was like to be on them. (I would not want to be on a U-Boat.)

 

In Flanders Fields

(Linda Granfield, illustrated by Janet Wilson) ★★★★

This was a beautifully illustrated version of the iconic poem, with historical information about the man who wrote the poem and the war itself. I got this one from my library, but one of these days I want to buy a copy for myself.

Eye-Deep in Hell: Trench Warfare in World War I

(John Ellis) ★★★

This is full of fantastic, practical-life information about life in the trenches. Among other things, it answers such questions as: How long did it take to get mail? (The mail system was very efficient.) What kinds of food did the men get? (Tinned beef and plum-apple jam and super hard biscuit were staples.) Did anyone ever wake up with rats sitting on them? (Yes.) The many pictures are not very well-reproduced, a bit like bad photocopies at times, but fun to look at all the same, and invaluable to my research for my own novel.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Alternatively, recommend me a WWI book you enjoy!

-Eva

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Summer of My German Soldier/Morning Is a Long Time Coming

For the last two years, my friend and I have been somewhat obsessively reading books to one another over the phone. It’s been a great way to share books with each other that the other person doesn’t have access to. So far we are up to 34 books, not counting reading through the Bible to each other (we’re almost through Jeremiah), or short stories, or our re-reading of A Childhood in Scotland.

The latest two she has read to me have been Bette Greene’s Summer of My German Soldier and Morning Is a Long Time Coming. There will be some spoilers in what I have to say, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading now.

 

My mom had a copy of Summer of My German Soldier, and I know she liked it (although I never saw her reading it). It was up on the shelf with other books that I kind of understood to be off-limits to me. Whether it actually was or not is another story, but whatever. Anyway, my friend has told me multiple times that she wanted to read it to me, and we finally got to it a few weeks ago. BOY what a story. I loved it. It was so beautiful while also being so painfully sad. Such a dysfunctional family, I tell you. I adored the diversity and liveliness of the characters, if not the characters themselves (PATTY’S PARENTS ARRRRGGGHHHH). I was super touched by the way Anton Reiker was so kind to Patty and helped her feel worthwhile.

Last night we finished the sequel, Morning Is a Long Time Coming, and we have mixed feelings about it. It takes up the story six years after the first book and chronicles Patty Bergen’s Quest for Closure (or something?), which involves going to Europe, Göttingen particularly, to find Anton’s mother, whom she daydreams near the close of Book 1 as becoming a mother to her, Patty, as well.

There’s a lot going on in MIaLTC, and a lot of it is great.

It’s realistic in its portrayal of an 18 year old girl setting out on her own and dealing with how messed up she is from her childhood and her parents’ treatment of her: she’s confused, she’s irrational, sometimes kind of dumb, but it all was believable to me. One of the themes (which I think carries over from SoMGS) is her longing for a mother, and it deals (somewhat unsatisfactorily) with the fact that Ruth was, for all practical purposes, Patty’s mother, but for some reason or other Patty can’t seem to come to grips with this. Is it because Ruth is black, and she can’t quite get over her prejudice? It’s obvious Patty loves Ruth with all her heart, and she wants to tell her this, but doesn’t have a way. I hope that at some post-canonical point Patty was able to convey her feelings to Ruth, to let her know how much she meant to her.

I was a little thrown by the friendships Patty forges with people on her ocean crossing. One is a potential love interest, who is temperamental and rude (like her father); the other is a girl who seems to want to remain friends after arriving in Paris. But both of these characters vapourise from view afterwards, despite having been developed enough that it felt weird that they just no longer existed after that.

Then there’s Patty’s relationship with Roger Auberon, which starts basically the moment she arrives in Paris. It happened overnight (quite literally) and he’s a good guy, if a bit impractical. Patty has a hard time reconciling that it’s okay for a man to not treat her like trash.

Where the book started to fall apart for me was the last few chapters, when Patty, fresh out of hospital from treatment for severe ulcers, goes to Göttingen against Roger’s wishes (they have a fight about it) and doctor’s orders, to follow her obsession with Anton’s family to whatever end it comes.

So we spend several chapters in Göttingen with a Sense of Impending Doom, and after a lot of waffling about and being terrified of the telephone, Patty learns that Anton’s mother is dead, and she leaves the city without telling Anton’s father or sister (whom she meets) any of the things she had planned to say to Mrs Reiker. It felt like a lot of wasted time somehow, although that section did have one of the best lines in the book:

I submitted my body to the telephone with the same sense of impending oblivion that a condemned man must experience at the moment of submission to the electric chair.

Oh, Patty. SO DRAMATIC. I love you.

Anyway, the book does have a hopeful ending despite the abovementioned Sense of Impending Doom.

I think I would have enjoyed the story more if it had dealt less with the Anton Reiker Incident, and more with just Patty’s growth as a person. It could have been a super strong standalone book; it felt a little strained trying to connect the two plots. Still, I was glad to read it and I think that, as sequels go, it was very good.

But perhaps my most burning question is WHAT HAPPENED TO ANTON’S RING BECAUSE THE SEQUEL NEVER SAYS SHE STILL WORE IT AND THIS TROUBLES ME A GREAT DEAL.

If you’ve read these, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them!

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The Monarch of the Glen

This book is absolutely **ridiculous**.

It came to my attention courtesy of Elizabeth Wein, who saw a stage production involving a hot shirtless dude* somersaulting onto stage in a a kilt, so I acquired a used copy and read it over the phone with my reading-books-over-the-phone bestie.

(click on the pic to go to the full article)

Anyway, I laughed many times at this farce of a book while simultaneously wanting to chuck it out the window. (Basically the same feelings I have about the majority of 1930s screwball comedies.) MacKenzie has a way with descriptors that is wonderful. Sometimes I found the sentence structure confusing. These are a few of the lines I loved best.

(okay, I admit it, I just liked “edible fungus club” and may have spontaneously burst into singing FORTY-TWO POUNDS OF EDIBLE FUNGUS whilst reading)

“I’m not English,” said the red and yellow kilt hotly.

(The entire first scene where the two Scottish Nationalists spend a lot of time bickering about tartans is rather priceless, but I am going to make you read the book yourself if you want to giggle over it too.)

Good English milk gone sour, that’s what Americans are.

Massive figures in kilts and vests whose muscles stood out like bumps in the mattresses of remote Highland inns were tossing the caber and throwing the hammer.

In the fashionably unemotional voice of a barrister reading a love-letter in a breach of promise suit Kilwhillie read.

(THIS DID NOT MAKE ME THINK OF THE PEARL THIEF **AT ALL**.)

Seventeen hikers and twelve hikeresses were expected to join the party.

You’re not going to marry my kilt. You’re going to marry what’s inside the kilt.

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*James Rottger, @JamesRottger on Twitter. Behold the dishiness:

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Audiobooks

I didn’t used to like audiobooks at all. But in the past couple of years, I have gotten really hooked on them. I have two children and I teach them and I cook a lot of food and am just constantly very busy, and audiobooks have been a wonderful way to get my reading fix and also be productive in other ways. It helps motivate me through hated tasks (like washing the millions of dishes I generate).

Audiobooks are a totally legitimate form of reading, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. For the blind or visually impaired, for example, you either have to know Braille or be read to. Braille books are a big and expensive investment, whereas audiobooks are readily available from libraries for free.

If audio is an option, I will always pick audio these days over a physical book. It is so freeing. If I’m taking a long car trip, I’ll pick out books on CD from the library; generally speaking, though, I prefer a digital download over CD, because CDs are only convenient in my car and not so much in the house. Ask your library if they have electronic checkouts via Overdrive or a similar format. Mine uses Overdrive. It’s easy to download the app and add books to it. It saves your place, too, even if you have to return a book unfinished and re-check it out. My mom, on the other hand, prefers CDs because she spends so much time in her car for work, and the digital downloads aren’t convenient for her.

Audible can get pricey, although I have ten books from them. (For some reason I got multiple free downloads. I don’t know how that happened, but who’s complaining? And I also got in on some good deals for the others.) I do really like the Audible app, though. It is excellent, and if you have any Audible books at all, I highly recommend the app.

Another favourite resource of mine is Audiobooksync. (@audiobookSYNC on Twitter) It’s a summer reading program geared towards young people, with two new audiobooks to download for free each week over the summer. Not all of them are of interest to me, but I’ve gotten quite a few that way. You can look at the lists from past years to get an idea of what types of books they offer. There’s quite a variety. You will need to have the Overdrive app on your computer to download these, and then you can transfer them to your device or burn to a CD. (I assume it is possible to download them via Overdrive on a phone or tablet, but I haven’t tried that personally, so don’t quote me on that.) Here are some of the ones I downloaded this year:

 

And, of course, there’s LibriVox! (@librivox on Twitter) There are, as of today, 11,201 books to choose from, with many new ones catalogued each month. They are all free, public-domain works (at this point, that means pre-1923), and read by volunteers. Sometime I’ll probably do a roundup post of LibriVox listens that I’ve particularly enjoyed. The quality is mixed – volunteers, not professionals, remember! – but for the most part all the readers I’ve listened to have been pretty decent, and some are truly outstanding. Yes, I’m definitely going to be doing a dedicated LibriVox post soon.

Tell me your favourite place to download audiobooks, your favourite audiobook(s)/narrator(s), or whether you prefer CDs or digital downloads! Or just tell me anything you want to say about audiobooks!

–Eva

Really Long Old Book Titles #2

MATTHEW HENRY’S

COMMENTARY

ON THE WHOLE BIBLE

Wherein each chapter is summed up in its contents: the sacred text

inserted at large in distinct paragraphs; each paragraph

reduced to its proper heads: the sense given,

and largely illustrated

with

PRACTICAL REMARKS AND OBSERVATIONS

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The Boys in the Boat, in Which Eva Is a Sentimental Moron and Spams You With Lots of Pictures

I had an unusual upbringing. Sports were of so little importance to my family that I, at 34, still do not know even the most rudimentary rules to any sportsball games (and don’t bother trying to educate me, because I flatly DO NOT CARE). Nor did I do any track and field stuff.

But when I was growing up, the artier sports were intriguing to me. I read a lot about skaters and ballerinas and equestrians and gymnasts, even though I have never done any of those things at any point in my life either.

The Olympic Games were also not a big part of my growing up years (we had no TV or movies in our house from the time I was 7 to about 18), but my mom became quite the film buff/amateur film historian after that, and I went along for the ride. It was a lot of fun. Along the way my mom, also a WWII buff, started watching Leni Riefenstahl films. It was a very interesting side trip. We watched Triumph of the Will as well as several of her earlier “mountain pictures”, but it was (and for me still is) Olympia that fascinated us most. We watched it a number of times. There is something so majestic about it, so perfectly crafted as it is to make you feel as though you are being lifted up above the common world, or at the very least it will make your heart thrill and your eyes fill with tears. (If you are interested, there is a low-res version uploaded on YouTube, or you can buy it on Amazon and enjoy it in its full glory.)

Anyway, one of my friends, Ruth, recommended The Boys in the Boat some time ago, and I put in a request for it as an audio book on Overdrive and the waiting list was so long I almost forgot about it. Finally it was my turn, and I began to listen.

I repeat, sportsball is so dull to me I would literally rather lick the pavement than watch them. But the context of this particular narrative being Riefenstahl’s Olympics made all the difference.

There is so much talked about in this book. It touches on the effects of the Great Depression on America, the history of rowing, the growth of crew on the West Coast from nothing to stardom, pre-WWII events in Germany as the country prepared to host the Olympics, and also the lives of the rowers themselves, specifically Joe Rantz and his unusual upbringing.

People, I was so strangely moved by this book I felt like I was on the verge of tears many times. I watched clips of the rowing on YouTube and that made it even more emotional for me.

And then this past Sunday I was on the way to Seattle with a friend and a thought popped into my head and I asked her, “HOW FAR IS THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON FROM YOUR PLACE?” and she said “MAYBE 20 MINUTES” and she said “WHY” and I said “THE 1936 CREW SHELL IS HANGING ON DISPLAY IN THE SHELLHOUSE CAN WE GO” and she was all “YAAASSS” so we WENT.

Here’s the photo they have right near the door of the shellhouse. You can see the USA crew crossing the finish line. (They won by SIX-TENTHS OF A SECOND, GUYS.)
Specs on the shell and the names of all the crew members.
Here’s the area where they launch the shells now. Just out of the frame are the boats the coaches follow the shells in.
NerdyEva(tm). The shell is hanging in the cafeteria in the shellhouse. Bet the 1936 crew would have loved such a wonderful shellhouse at their disposal.
In a display case downstairs they have a chunk of real estate set aside for the 1936 Olympic team: photographs and Bobby Moch’s bullhorn.
This was Don Hume’s seat. He set the pace for all the rowers behind him. He was very ill the day of the race, but the crew insisted he, and not a replacement, be the one to go out.
Bobby Moch, the coxswain, faced Hume in this seat.
Another photo of crossing the finish line with the group photo of the crew.
The fine craftsmanship of this shell was obvious even viewed from the floor. The modern shells in the shellhouse today are also Pocock shells (his company continues to make them, but they aren’t out of wood these days) – I didn’t get a picture, but you can see the racks where the modern ones are kept and they are sleek and likely fine work, but they lack the character and beauty this one has. Here’s a page about Pocock cedar shells.
My friend took this photo of me taking a photo of the Husky Clipper.

 

Jim McMillan holding his medal (click image for article)

There is also an American Experience film called The Boys of ’36. I haven’t watched it yet, but it’s on my to-do list. You should read this book, because it is amazing.

–Eva