Monday, 26 July 2021

Books I read in 2021: Part 2

I haven't been in a blogging mood lately. It seems I've lost my mojo. I will, obviously, blame the heat. But it also has to do with the seasonal laziness that comes with summer - even though I managed to keep to a schedule last year it's another story this time round.  Anyway, here's an overview of the books that I read between April and June 2021. Hopefully my inspiration will return in the coming weeks.


Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

A plane crashes on its way from New York to Los Angeles with 192 passengers on board. Edward Adler, 12 years old, is the only survivor. This book is his coming of age story.

Sincerely Loree: Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

To be honest, I don't know why I decided I wanted to read this book as I found it quite depressing and although we are offered glimpses into the lives of several passengers on board the plane, I kept myself emotionally detached from them because I knew from the start how things would end end. I also found the technical details about why the plane crashed unnecessary and leaving them out would not have detracted from the story.

My rating: 3.0 ⭐


The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

You may read my full review of The Enchanted April here
My rating: 4.0⭐

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Two murders, four memorable septuagenarians, a few far-fetched situations, several shifty characters with a questionable past and links to the criminal underworld, and a very patient and understanding detective chief inspector made for an easy-going murder mystery that I totally enjoyed reading.
Sincerely Loree: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
This book is funny in places and poignant in others but it's definitely never boring. I thought that The Thursday Murder Club was a very entertaining read.
My rating: 3.9 ⭐

Guernica by Dave Boling

This debut novel tells the story of two families before and during the Spanish Civil War.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It introduced me to the horrific bombing of the Basque city of Guernica in April 1937 by the Germans and the Italians that, I am embarrassed to admit, I had never heard about. Guernica is a work of historical fiction that I thought was very well written. One of its strongpoints is the cast of colourful characters, some of which, like Justo Ansotegui and his beautiful and charismatic daughter, Miren, are hard to forget. The ending reads a bit like a fairy-tale but it didn't mar my enjoyment of this story in any way.
My rating: 4.0⭐

Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

I am sure that the story of Captain Antonio Corelli and the beautiful Pelagia, that was turned into a highly popular movie in 2001, needs no introduction. In a nutshell it is a story about a young woman who falls in  love with one of the Italian soldiers who is posted to the island of Cephallonia during WW2 as part of the occupying forces.
Sincerely Loree: Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
Having seen the movie I thought that reading the book might be a bit superfluous. How wrong I was. The book is so much better than the film. There is so much emotion packed in its pages that I was completely blown away. To be honest, I wasn't sure where it was going in the beginning as there were a number of characters that were introduced that did not seem to fit in to the story. But it is these diverse characters which give the story its humour and tragedy. It's beautiful. Read it.
My rating: 4.5⭐

Lord Robert by Jean Plaidy

This work of historical fiction aims to recount the love that existed between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

Although I've read several books by Jean Plaidy over the years and always enjoyed them a great deal, Lord Robert is not one of those books. The whole story seemed like a frivolous exercise in self-indulgence. Both Elizabeth and Robert Dudley come across as conceited and annoying. Poor Amy Robsart (Robert's wife) is made to look like a simpering fool and even some of the queen's most respected courtiers, like Cecil and Walsingham, seem to be part of the story to pander to the queen's wishes, flirt with her and assure her of their love and loyalty. I have always had the impression that, historically, Elizabeth Tudor was a strong and capable ruler. She is not portrayed in this way in this book - except on very rare occasions - and I found this to be very disappointing.
My rating: 1.8⭐

The Bull From The Sea by Mary Renault

In The Bull From The Sea, Mary Renault skilfully recounts the story of Theseus from his victorious return to Athens after slaying the Minotaur until his death on the island of Skyros.
Sincerely Loree: The Bull From The Sea by Mary Renault
In this retelling of the ancient myth, Renault left enough things unsaid to hint at deeper-rooted mysteries that make these stories so intriguing to read. I would say that this book is only for serious Greek mythology geeks. Unfortunately, I only found  out after I bought it  from a book sale that it is the second of two books. So now I am on the hunt for The King Must Die, which is the first in this short series.
My rating: 3.9⭐

The Girl From Berlin by Ronald H. Balson

In 1930s Berlin, Ada Baumgarten is an accomplished violinist in the Berlin Junior Orchestra. But Ada is Jewish and Nazism is rearing it's ugly head. She flees to Italy with her mother to continue playing her beloved violin but fate eventually overtakes her.

This is the fifth book by Balson that I've read. Like all his books there is an element of mystery that kept me reading but I felt the narrative was somewhat marred by some impossible situations and the many lucky and improbable escapes that Ada had. I felt that some of the characters were not well developed and Ada's stubbornness and insistence on not letting down the orchestra she formed part of when faced with mortal danger became a bit repetitive and mildly annoying at the end.
My rating: 2.9⭐

The Fall by Bethany Griffin

This is a novel based on Edgar Allan Poe's classic short story The Fall Of The House Of Usher. In The Fall the highly unreliable narrator is Madeline Usher - the one who, in Poe's story is buried alive and, in a fit of rage, attacks her brother and brings the house of Usher down on their heads.
Sincerely Loree: The Fall by Bethany Griffin
I had read an abridged version of Poe's story when I was around 10 years old and I was terrified half to death. In The Fall I expected the Gothic undertones and horrific sequence of events in the original story to be amplified and, yes, I expected to be terrified. Instead, Bethany Griffin gives us such a watered-down version of the original tale of horror that it wouldn't even scare a ten-year old. Bottom line: don't bother.
My rating: 2.0⭐

The Tigress of Forli: The Life of Caterina Sforza by Elizabeth Lev

This biography of Caterina Sforza, the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Sforza Duke of Milan, is skilfully crafted to almost read like a novel. In it, Lev brings to life one of the Italian Renaissance's most formidable women. Although she served as a pawn to increase her father's wealth and territories, Caterina Riario Sforza was a force to be reckoned with. Courageous and politically astute she navigated the shifting allegiances that characterised early 16th century Italy admirably. In her lifetime, Caterina mingled with popes and princes. She greatly admired Lorenzo de Medici (the Magnificent), was captured and raped by Cesare Borgia, led armies into battle and gave birth to eight children. She even had time to verbally spar with Machiavelli. This book has awakened an interest in Renaissance Italy in me and I will try to read more about this tumultuous period in the future.
My rating: 4.0⭐

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

When Alice Love wakes up in hospital after a fall at the gym she realises that she has forgotten the last 10 years of her life. Slowly, she starts putting the pieces together again and realises just how much she has changed during the last decade of her life.
Sincerely Loree: What Alice  Forgot by Liane Moriarty
What Alice Forgot is not a book about summer, but it is definitely a book that can easily be read at the beach or by a pool. It's an easy read and doesn't require too much concentration. It certainly didn't elicit too many deep thoughts even though I felt that the author wanted us to reflect on the things we sometimes choose to forget. This is the third book by Liane Moriarty that I've read over the years and I wouldn't say it's her best.
My rating: 2.9⭐

Strangely enough, or perhaps not, it seems that I've read the same amount of books  these past three months (11)  as I did between January and March. I'm now running out of shelf space and am trying to come up with ideas how to make this magically increase. My problem is that I hate giving books away even if I didn't enjoy reading them so much. Does anybody else have this strange dilemma or is it  just me?

I hope you enjoyed these reviews and that they'll inspire you to read something. And if you have a good book to share, let me know in the comments. I'm always looking for new ones to read.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

The Malta At War Museum

Sincerely Loree: Malta  At War Museum, Birgu

Last week I had a few days off and my son and I paid a visit to the Malta At War Museum. The Malta At War Museum is located in Birgu's Couvre Porte (countergaurd), which forms part of the line of defence on the landward side of town and was built in 1722. The impressive 18th century fortifications were designed by military engineer Charles de Mondion and are worth exploring for their own merit (but preferably on a day when it doesn't feel like you're walking around in a furnace).

The Malta At War museum is dedicated to what I think of as the war on the home front. It is pretty compact and isn't very big on exhibits and artefacts. But there is a wealth of information about life in Malta during WW2 and the daily trials and tribulations of a population that was under constant bombardment from June 1940 until November 1942 and intermittently until the surrender of Italy on September 8th 1943. Coincidentally, Malta had emerged victorious against the armies of Emperor Sulieman on the very same day in 1565. Henceforth, this day became known as Victory Day and is still celebrated as a national holiday.

Many people wonder why such a small island with a total area that is less than 100 square miles was the target of a combined effort by the Regia Aeronautica and the Luftwaffe to bomb or starve it into submission. The answer lies in Malta's strategic position in the centre of the Mediterranean and its proximity to North Africa. From Malta the British air and sea forces could disrupt Axis supplies to North Africa. In fact, the brilliant German general, Erwin Rommel, had warned Hitler that without Malta the Axis powers would lose control of North Africa. It is for this reason that between 16 000 to 17 000 tonnes of bombs were liberally dropped on the island, its inhabitants and its defenders.


But apart from the facts about the battles, the casualties and the military strategies, what I found equally interesting was the information about the daily life of the Maltese: the rations allotted to each person, the diseases they battled, their fear at the sound of an air raid siren and their frantic rush to get to an air raid shelter on time.

During the worse of the bombardments, between 1940 and 1942, the Maltese passed a lot of their time underground in air raid shelters hewn out of the limestone. At the Malta At War Museum there is a large communal air raid shelter situated several metres underground. Although it felt eerie to be walking in the deserted passageways and through the tiny 'rooms' (each one could not be bigger than 6'x6'x6') where people huddled for shelter, I have to say that this was the highlight of my visit to the museum as I had never been inside an air-raid shelter before. I can only imagine how claustrophobic it must have felt for hundreds of people to be sheltered underground, sometimes for hours on end. 



These underground shelters existed in all the major towns of Malta and there was usually an air-raid warden dedicated to each one. Most people used the communal passageways to shelter in but those that cold afford it dug their own little rooms for more privacy - although doors were not allowed so people installed slatted wooden gates instead. In the one we visited at Birgu the air-raid warden and the parish priest had their own little area and there was even a special area that was designated as the 'birthing room'. I couldn't imagine what it must have felt like for women to give birth under such circumstances and I immediately thought of my two grandmothers who both had two babies each during this time (although, thankfully, they were able to give birth at home). 


For anybody interested in WW2 both the Malta At War Museum and the National War Museum in Valletta are definitely worth a visit.  

I had written about the National War Museum on my old blog here

Please check each museum's website for the current opening hours.

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