Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Anzac Girls

I'm not sure how I ran across this mini-series.  I think I was looking at something on Amazon, and this was one of the recommended titles or something like that.  I thought it would be something a little different from the usual English period dramas that I watch.  With the centennial of the beginning of the first World War, there are several mini series and such that have been released--most are Australian or British productions.  Hollywood tends to focus more on World War II (there are always World War II movies coming out every year... hardly any about World War I with the recent exception of Spielberg's War Horse).  There is also the upcoming mini-series The Crimson Field which will air this summer on PBS about a British nurse (I think) serving in a military hospital in France during World War I.  It's based on a true story.  As it happens Anzac Girls is also based on a true story originally told by Peter Rees in his book, The Other ANZACS.  I haven't read the book, and it wasn't until I watched the mini-series that I realized it was adapted from a book.

Set first in Cairo, Egypt, and Lemnos Island, Greece, before shifting to the European theater, this six part mini-series follows a unit of nurses serving with the Australian Army during World War I.  The series focuses on five nurses as they serve in sometimes harsh conditions while tending to the wounded and ill soldiers under their care in the sometimes hastily set up, temporary hospitals.  In addition to tending to their patients and contending with being in a war zone far from home, the nurses must also struggle to prove that women do have a place in the Army.  We see the nurses' dedication to their work, their sense of duty to their country, their compassion for the patients under their care, and the care and friendship they have for one another.  The mini-series covers a lot of ground in just six episodes: it opens about a year into the war in 1915 and concludes three years later in 1918 with the end of the war.  This means that many months are covered in each episode and the time line can jump ahead months at a time every episode which can be very confusing.

Some thoughts I have [SPOILERS]:

--Sister Ross King has three suitors and almost as many proposals by the end of the first episode.  One of which comes from a soldier as she's tending his wounds in the hospital.  Her response is "what about my [nursing] work?!"  Girl, just say, 'dude, I'm just not that into you' (because you aren't!) or whatever the 1915 version of that is.

--Later Sister Ross King is all in for Lt. Moffitt, but I'm holding out hope that she ends up with Major Leopold by series end.  Something about the dialog during his second proposal reminds me of Mr. Darcy (from Pride and Prejudice), which I take as a sign that I may have finally watched one too many British period dramas, but I DON'T CARE.

--All Sister Cooke does is follow her wounded husband from hospital to hospital and back to Australia and then back again to war.  I'm over these shenanigans by about episode three, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised BECAUSE THAT'S WHY SHE JOINED UP IN THE FIRST PLACE.  Then she gets all bent out of shape when he expects her to take leave on a whim's notice to meet his parents in London with him.  Girl, you made your bed, now lie in it--this is what you've been doing all war long, so don't be surprised when he's come to expect it.

--Sad to see Sister Haynes go back to Australia with her husband, even though it is technically a happy ending for them because he can no longer serve in the Army due to injuries.  She was my favorite nurse, and I would totally watch the Sister Haynes Dooley show.

If you're a fan of war movies or mini-series, I recommend you try out this one.  Despite its shortcomings, it shares the stories of the capable women who served, and we don't often hear these stories.  Also if you're a die-hard fan of British period dramas, you may also like this mini-series.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Through The Woods by Emily Carroll

It's been a long, long time since I've read a graphic novel.  I found this one when I was perusing Amazon.  You know how that goes: you go on there to look up one book and then the next thing you know, it's two hours later,  you've got a long list of interesting titles you want to read and you've forgotten why you went on there in the first place.  Or maybe that only happens to me.

Through The Woods is a graphic novel.  Carroll is a graphic artist who publishes many short comics via her website and in other print anthologies.  She lives in Canada.  I like to read a graphic novel every once in a while, and this one seemed right up my alley because the stories looked spooky.

This is a collection of several tales told in the graphic novel/comic format--all of them twisted, all creepy, with endings bleak and dark as the tales themselves.  These are tales of monsters and murder, of things that hide in the dark of the shadows and the night.  The drawings are both stark and lush and Carroll is masterful at building suspense, atmosphere, and terror with both her words and her pictures.

I highly recommend this book--you will pore over the beautiful illustrations and the spooky tales.  This is a great book for graphic novel fans, or for people who enjoy gothic tales of darkness and suspense. If you want more tales from Emily Carroll, please visit her website where you read some tales that

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How To Be A Heroine: Or What I've Learned From Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis

I feel as if I could write a book subtitled "What I've Learned From Reading Too Much" except all my lessons would be culled from Greek mythology, the Babysitters' Club, the lives of British queens, crime mysteries, suspense thrillers and celebrity and entertainment gossip.  I first ran across How To Be A Heroine by Samantha Ellis in an ad in BookPage.  The title sounded intriguing and once I looked it up on Amazon, I was in for reading it.  It reminds me of the literacy autobiography writing assignment that I had in one of my English composition classes in college--except this is the literacy autobiography on steroids.

The premise of this book is that the author revisits the seminal texts that she read in her youth by examining the lessons and impressions of the novels that she had upon her first readings when she was younger.  Ellis has then re-read the novels as an adult specifically for the writing of her own book to see if the novels hold up to her original impressions and readings.  Each chapter is built around a theme and follows her life chronologically--starting with the novels and fairy tales that she read as a child and following through the novels and poetry she read as a teen and then a college student and so on.  In these early chapters Ellis' original reading of the novels is often through the lens of her childhood and the Iraqi Jewish cultural heritage of her community and upbringing.  More than once Ellis's identification with a particular heroine, character or story hinges on the otherness or outsider status of that character, which is often how Ellis felt growing up the daughter of Iraqi Jewish immigrants in London.

As the book goes on, more and more Ellis tries to use the lessons of these heroines as a map to the happiness and peace she seeks for her own life.  At first she is convinced that this happiness is dependent on finding Love (with a capital 'L') with The One.  In each chapter she tries on different heroines' lives, ever searching for the perfect fit and never quite finding it nor the answers for which she searches.  As her journey goes on, she comes to several realizations, the best of which is that she must be the heroine of her own story of which she alone is the writer.

If you are someone who reads too much who enjoys reading about other people reading too much (as I do sometimes), then this book is for you.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Lives In Ruins: Archaeologists And The Seductive Lure Of Human Rubble by Marilyn Johnson

Lives In Ruins is Marilyn Johnson's third book.  It was initially the book that first caught my interest, but since my library had a copy of This Book Is Overdue, I read that one first.  Then we got a copy of The Dead Beat, which I also read.  In the hierarchy of Marilyn Johnson books, Lives In Ruins is at the top with This Book Is Overdue, and The Dead Beat is at the bottom.  For some reason, The Dead Beat just never caught fire for me like the other two did.  In Lives In Ruins (I love the title!), Johnson turns her sights on the field of archaeology and the passionate professionals who work in it.  It is a field about which you have to be passionate to work in it because it is not an easy life, you will never have career stability, and you won't get rich working as an archaeologist (far from it in fact).

The book begins at the beginning: at field school where archaeology students go for practical experience in the field on an actual dig.  Johnson also explores the many specialties available in archaeology, such as marine archaeology (the study of underwater ruins), paleoarchaeology and North American colonial archaeology.  She interviews the archaeologists who work in the field, attends an archaeology field school and another archaeology dig, takes college level classes in archaeology (including one in forensic archaeology that trains law enforcement agents in the principles and practices of archaeology and how to apply them to crime scenes), and attends quite a few archaeology conferences.  Along the way Johnson shares some interesting historical tidbits such as a lead on the search for the fate of  British explorer, Robert Cooke's ship Endeavor as well as the most important cemetery in U.S. history: the burying ground of Fishkill Supply Depot, a Revolutionary War era military supplies headquarters.  This last item continues to remain to this day a largely unknown piece of American history.  Johnson also writes about the archaeologists who work for the military, specifically the U.S. Army, as well as the important discoveries and sites for which they are responsible for identifying, studying and preserving.  These archaeologists are also responsible for educating soldiers in how to identify and preserve archaeological sites and artifacts in their theater of operations when on deployments.

This is a fascinating and easily accessible read that illuminates this often hard scrabble, always challenging, but deeply rewarding profession.  You will learn about the struggles and challenges that today's archaeologists face from the nature of the work to ever shrinking budgets and funding to the oblivious and sometimes even callous disregard on the part of others of the importance of preserving our history and culture before it is too late.  The latter two items go hand in hand sometimes, and it is heart breaking and outrageous what has been lost and what will be lost because of it.  You will also learn about history, including interesting and often little known aspects of historical events.  Truthfully, the history was just as interesting as the parts about the archaeologists, and I highly recommend this book.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Dead Beat by Marilyn Johnson

The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries is Marilyn Johnson's first book.  It is the second book by Marilyn Johnson that I have read and reviewed here on the blog.  I previously read and reviewed This Book Is Overdue.  Her research for The Dead Beat and the interesting obituaries of librarians that she found led her to the subject of her follow up book, which was This Book Is Overdue.

This book was a little slow to start, but it sucked me in around the part about how the New York Times dealt with 9/11 and its resultant obituaries or "portraits" as the paper dubbed its articles about the myriad missing but not yet confirmed dead.  Indeed this particular section was rather poignant.  Johnson is a fan of obituaries--she reads obits from several newspapers, including some from Great Britain.  She has even attended an international obituarists conference, an eclectic gathering of both obituary writers and the fans who faithfully, obsessively read them; though it isn't clear if her attendance was solely as a fan, for a research for her book, or a little bit of both.

The book starts with an account of the conference and those she meets there and an analysis of the obituary as a writing form.  This is followed by chapters in which she interviews obituary editors from several American newspapers followed by interviews with editors and writers of British obituaries and the differences between the American tradition versus the British tradition in obituaries (yes, there is a difference in style, structure and tone).

Reading this book, I've realized that Johnson's obituaries differ widely from those with which I'm familiar.  For example, the paid obituaries that run in the Lebanon Daily News are that which Johnson terms "paid death notices" (although, my definition of "death notice" differs from hers as well...).  In fact Johnson finds the rote details, such as the survivors list or the deceased's birth and death dates, shared in these obits tedious.  Meanwhile, this is the information I find most valuable.  However, my reading perspective differs from Johnson's in that I often read obits from the genealogist's perspective for the genealogical information that can be gleaned from such items, while Johnson is reading obits more for the pleasure of reading and for the news.

This was an interesting, eye opening book.  However, I enjoyed This Book Is Overdue more than I enjoyed this one.  I'm looking forward to reading Johnson's latest book, Lives In Ruins.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie