Happy 4th of July! [America]

source

Independence Day is a pretty awesome holiday in my opinion. America isn’t perfect, but compared to a lot of places, it is pretty nice. And there is so much to love about it, including the fact that we can keep striving to make it so much better.

When I was little, my town always had a fireworks display at the football stadium (I’m pretty sure they might still have it, but I don’t live there anymore!) and I loved them, without totally understanding what Independence was. As I grew up and learned more about the American Revolution, I had a lot of different feelings, but let’s face it, fireworks are pretty. I know they scare animals (I’m actually dog-sitting for some dogs that hate them right now!) and veterans have problems with them, which sucks. I wish there was a way to make quieter ones.

This year, I’m all alone on the 4th, which is kind of sad. I love big things on the 4th. One time my grandpa took us out on his boat and we watched lake fireworks right under them – it was AMAZING. Last year I watched some in Minnesota with the niecelets. There are tons of fireworks things around OKC, but I’m slightly iffy on navigating the traffic on my own, especially when people might be partying. SO I might just hang out and watch The Twilight Zone marathon! Annnnd look for awesome tacky patriotic and slightly mocking tumblr posts with eagles and flags and such.

Anyway, here are some of my favorite Independence Day related things:

Movies:

Independence Day – not surprising considering the gif (I made that gif, btw). Aliens, America, that speech. We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight! AND the dog doesn’t die.

The Patriot – Militia and Heath Ledger. Bam.

update: A mini-series I need to watch: John Adams a gifset to show you its lure is here.

Books:

I haven’t read enough Revolution era books, that I can think of anyway. I do appreciate America and the Revolution but I read a lot more historical fiction and non about other countries. The two I can think of are for younger readers:

Time Enough for Drums by Ann Rinaldi – I was never a huge Rinaldi fan as  a whole, but I did love this book.

The American Girl Felicity series

Music

This playlist on Spotify has a lot of awesome songs that about America. I found out about it thanks to @thatsostelle.

Anti-fourth:

I also saw this Anti-4th movie article link, which goes hand-in-hand with feeling fed up with the country. Sometimes it helps to rage at the problem before you try to steer positive. I can think of more spec fics and dystopians that add to the negative, but I won’t go into that at the moment!

What movies and books about America do you love? Do you enjoy reading/watching about the American Revolution? Do you have any recommendations for me? OR do you have any negative/subversive recs you want to share? 

Or if you’re not American (or are and have an interest in other countries) is there a book/movie about your country/country’s revolution/etc that you want to rec me?

I’m sure there have been and will be plenty of posts similar to this (probably better) with recs, and if you happen to see one and think of it, can you link me/tweet it at me? 

ALSO: tell me your plans/traditions/the best 4th of July you’ve ever had! Even if you get to this post late!

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis [thoughts on time traveling historians]

 

Blackout and All Clear cover

Blackout  and All Clear 
 by Connie Willis
February 2010 and  October  2010
Publisher: Spectra

Blackout’s Goodreads description: In her first novel since 2002, Nebula and Hugo award-winning author Connie Willis returns with a stunning, enormously entertaining novel of time travel, war, and the deeds—great and small—of ordinary people who shape history. In the hands of this acclaimed storyteller, the past and future collide—and the result is at once intriguing, elusive, and frightening.

Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place. Scores of time-traveling historians are being sent into the past, to destinations including the American Civil War and the attack on the World Trade Center. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser, Mr. Dunworthy, into letting her go to VE Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz. And seventeen-year-old Colin Templer, who has a major crush on Polly, is determined to go to the Crusades so that he can “catch up” to her in age.

But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments for no apparent reason and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, unexploded bombs, dive-bombing Stukas, rationing, shrapnel, V-1s, and two of the most incorrigible children in all of history—to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past.

From the people sheltering in the tube stations of London to the retired sailors who set off across the Channel to rescue the stranded British Army from Dunkirk, from shopgirls to ambulance drivers, from spies to hospital nurses to Shakespearean actors, Blackout reveals a side of World War II seldom seen before: a dangerous, desperate world in which there are no civilians and in which everybody—from the Queen down to the lowliest barmaid—is determined to do their bit to help a beleaguered nation survive.

I found Blackout randomly on Overdrive. I think the cover and title just seemed interesting. When I read what it was about, it definitely seemed like a me type of read. History, WWII, and time travel are things I really enjoy reading about!

About the story: In 2060, Historians go back in time to observe history. This series focuses on three and they each go back to Great Britain during World War Two. There are a lot of complications with the process and they have to figure things out.

Feelings: I really like these books as a whole. The first book ends in a completely ridiculous spot, and it almost doesn’t feel like a complete book at all. However, I enjoyed the whole story. Luckily the second book was available when I finished the first one! In the first book, you get to know the main characters and get familiar with the setting and what is happening. They are time traveling historians. TIME TRAVELING HISTORIANS. I love time travel stories and I love history. This story happens during the Blackout in London during World War II. I also love learning about World War II, because even though horrible things happened, people did try to work together and make it better, and I think this book does a good job of showing that.

The three main characters of the books are all student historians. There’s Polly, who is studying how Londoners kept heart during the Blitz, Merope/Eileen (mostly known as Eileen in the story because it was a common name in WWII, especially since she was “playing” an Irish maid) who is observing the evacuations of children to country manors and Michael/Mike who is supposed to be at a battle at Dover, researching heroes that came on their own accord to save downed sailors. The story starts out in Oxford 2060, with all three of them talking and learning that the lab that’s in charge of sending them on assignments has been in an upheaval and switching orders of assignments, including Mike’s. They’re all sent to separate locations and months in 1940, but they each begin to face unexpected problems with their assignments.

Time travel stories almost always have some issues and this story is no exception:

  • I don’t understand how the future has time traveling technology but they’re letting history students use it? That is like the most ridiculous idea ever. There’s no way governments would just be like “Oh, time traveling technology? Let’s let young people gallivant around through important historical events, no big deal.” Unless the future just has a drastically different government, which is very possible. Maybe they think it’s fine. But even with “slippage,” it still seems crazy to me.
    • There is supposed to be a paradox-safe sort of padding called “slippage”  and the instructors and scientists in charge of the technology and students mostly (there are some that disagree) believe it’s impossible for them to affect history at all.

 

Slippage is basically the cause of a lot of the problems, it’s normal and it causes travelers to get there a few hours after they’re supposed to or maybe in a different place. The team at the lab is supposed to research drop sites so nobody will see anything suspicious. In the prep stage for the main characters, something is obviously starting to go down with slippage, but they don’t know much about it. They only know some things have changed. When they don’t really know what is going on, they begin to wonder if they can really affect history or not. They have implants of some important details, such as certain places hit in the blitz, but they don’t know every single detail. When they take actions and see results, they start to wonder if they might have changed the complete course of the war.

Overall, the book really focuses on small interactions and how little things might have unexpected results. I loved seeing the characters puzzle it out and worry about what was happening.

I loved that the three main characters were dealing with WWII situations with all the knowledge of the future, because it added to the reading experience. Two of many:

  • Londoners had a superstition about the ravens of the Tower of London and when some died during the war, they brought in more so people wouldn’t be alarmed. I had no idea about that before I read this book.
  • Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot and others were on Hitler’s lists and he planned to put them in camps. I am pretty sure I knew this at some point and had not thought about it in a while.

There were a few other issues with the actual story and not just time travel stuff. The main one has to do with Eileen and how I didn’t really like the transition of her character from book one to two. I think the ending makes up for a little bit of it, but not all of it. I don’t want to spoil anything, but she kind of gets pushed to the side a bit and I didn’t think it was fair. There were some time related tiffs I had that weren’t actually about the time travel: some chapters were in the past during the blitz, some were in 2060, some were in other times. It could have actually been my fault because I wasn’t paying attention, but some of the other time chapters really confused me because they either didn’t tie the characters together or I missed the names completely. It took me a few of these chapters to figure out what was going on and once I did I was fine.

I kind of surprisingly fell in love with these books and characters, and became overwhelmingly  invested in their story. It made me cry (not just sad crying), and the kind of crying that I was sort of like “Oh, I love this” because I didn’t expect to like it so much. Also, I love that romance wasn’t driving the story but it was there in different parts of the story and it was heartfelt and lovely. Plus, there was so much other love and just community that it was just great. I think maybe I don’t even love the ending, or “answer” I guess, but I love the story overall and I wanted to know more about the characters, I didn’t feel ready to leave them. I knew Willis had written several other books, but I just now, while writing this review, realized there are other books with historians traveling in time set before these, and I am going to be reading them at some point!  I definitely plan on looking into the rest of her work, also!

Basically: If you’re willing to get through a bit of slowness and you love reading about survivors in World War II and Time Travel, I think these books are worth your time.

If you have happened to have read them, tell me your thoughts! Or, have you read anything else by Willis? Anything similar or comparable? Let me know!

Connie Willis’s website

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova [book review]

The Historian coverThe Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon
Release Date: September 1st 2009
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Series: n/a

Goodreads description: For centuries, the story of Dracula has captured the imagination of readers and storytellers alike. Kostova’s breathtaking first novel, ten years in the writing, is an accomplished retelling of this ancient tale. “The story that follows is one I never intended to commit to paper.. As an historian, I have learned that, in fact, not everyone who reaches back into history can survive it.” With these words, a nameless narrator unfolds a story that began 30 years earlier.

Late one night in 1972, as a 16-year-old girl, she discovers a mysterious book and a sheaf of letters in her father’s library — a discovery that will have dreadful and far-reaching consequences, and will send her on a journey of mind-boggling danger. While seeking clues to the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s puzzling disappearance, she follows a trail from London to Istanbul to Budapest and beyond, and learns that the letters in her possession provide a link to one of the world’s darkest and most intoxicating figures. Generation after generation, the legend of Dracula has enticed and eluded both historians and opportunists alike. Now a young girl undertakes the same search that ended in the death and defilement of so many others — in an attempt to save her father from an unspeakable fate.

The Historian was on my Top Ten Summer TBR. I found it randomly at Barnes and Noble a few years ago. It was on sale for about $5 and I didn’t even see that it was about vampires and Dracula. I just like history and I think I saw something about a young woman and her family’s secrets. When I looked at it again, I knew it was about Dracula but was really interested because a lot of bloggers seem to like this book!

I read this in July and I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts because I don’t know how to explain how I feel about this book. It’s difficult because there’s just so much to it. It’s long and it felt longer. Obviously, all long books have a lot to them, but this one has a lot of facts and information and stories along with the plot. There was so much to absorb. It took me longer to read than I expected. I enjoyed reading it, but it was a lot more work than I expected. 

The main character of this book isn’t named. Somewhere it’s explained that she’s named after her grandmother, but I don’t think her name is shared either. I tried to Google this to check my facts, but I didn’t have much luck. Expect the word “she” to be used a lot! The story is told in the daughter’s POV. Her father is always gone because he travels for work and her mother is dead. She goes to school and lives with the housekeeper when her father is away. She is very smart and works hard, but she wants to know about her mother and wants to spend time with her father. She discovers a strange book and some notes in her father’s study and when she asks him about it, things begin to change. He starts to tell her a story, a long and complex story that he tells in pieces. He only tells her a piece of the story when they go on trips.

The story is about how he came to the book, a book with a dragon, blank pages, and the word Drakulya. It was given to him randomly. It began an investigation into Dracula and the person the myth was based on, Vlad the Impaler. He mentions it to a mentor and discovers the mentor received the same book and also investigated the origins of Dracula, Vlad, and vampires. He believes that Vlad is still alive today. He used to research to try prove it, but people started dying or getting injured so he stopped.

The story is long and Paul (her father) includes some kind of weird details sometimes considering it was going to his daughter. The way he tells the story is kind of weird because he skirts around details, and it works for the story and how things are revealed, but I’m not completely sure it works for a father telling a daughter a story. Maybe it’s just the type of person he is, but I think if I were the daughter, it would have been extremely frustrating to me. The story is a mystery and he explains their investigation but the book is filled with many stories. There’s Paul’s story which intersects so many stories, Helen’s story, his mentor Rossi’s story, Dracula’s story, the narrator’s own story, and many others. There’s a lot of story going on.

The stories withing stories are all engaging and interesting. I definitely felt emotionally involved with the characters. There are three romances and I liked them all. There were family aspects that were heartbreaking and frustrating. There were tons of side characters that had important roles and a lot of them were really entertaining.

I really enjoyed that the setting, the story takes place all over Europe during the Cold War. There was a lot of traveling in Europe and trouble with governments and talks of effects of WWII. It was all fascinating. There’s a map of Cold War Europe in the front and it was immensely helpful to follow the journeys on the it. I liked reading about all the places they visited and all the different cultures. There’s a lot of actual history and some obviously fake history, too. It was all really interesting to me. Real and fake, Vlad was creepy and it’s easy to be horrified and fascinated by things he did. When it turns into a vampire story, things got a little weird for me. The vampire aspect of this story wasn’t very satisfying for me. Vlad’s motivations as a vampire seemed off.

For there to be so much explanation and setup, I felt like the end was very rushed. I was a bit disappointed. The storytelling is engaging and thick, so I expected more from the action filled ending. For everything that happens in this book, and like I said a LOT happens, it seemed really easy. Really easy. I don’t exactly know how else it could have ended but it just felt weak to me.

3 star rating

I enjoyed so much about this book and was extremely interested and invested in the story. I did think it was a bit bogged down by information, but I loved the relationships, the traveling and descriptions of countries and cultures, and the history both real and fake. I seriously doubt I would ever want to read it again, even though I enjoyed a lot about it. I would recommend The Historian if you’re interested in complex stories with some surprises, heavy information, enjoyable characters, and a vampire story that almost doesn’t feel like a vampire story.

Check out Elizabeth Kostova‘s website!