Sunday, July 20, 2014

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Summary from the publisher

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan...

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?


Ever since I was emotionally destroyed by Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell has been one of my favorite authors.  I've had her second young adult novel, Fangirl, sitting on my shelf for a little while now.  I decided to pick it up a few weeks ago and see if I would like it as much as her first book.  Once again, I fell in love with Rowell's writing.  I couldn't put this one down.

Just like with Eleanor and Park, the characters in Fangirl are realistic, funny and easy to relate to.  In this book in particular, the main character, Cath, was basically me.  She was shy, anxious, completely absorbed in a literary fantasy world, and eager to shut herself up in her room and avoid social interaction.  Like Cath, I struggle a lot with anxiety in new situations.  For example, her worries about figuring out how the dining hall worked in her dorm were exactly the same worries I would have had in that situation:

"In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And you can't google.) Like, where does the line start?  What food can you take?  Where are you supposed to stand, then where are you supposed to sit?  Where do you go when you're done, and why is everyone watching you?"

Aside from Cath's personality traits, there were a lot of other details about her life that I could relate to.  She had a sister that was "the outgoing, fun one."  She grew up with one parent in a broken family.  She was an English major taking junior-level classes in her freshman year.  Honestly, this could have been the story of my life if I hadn't met the man who would become my husband in high school. 

This whole book read like a peek into my crazy brain.  With a main character that I could relate to so well, I was completely invested in the story.  The plot moved along at a good pace, the supporting characters were well developed and I was rooting for Cath the whole way.  The romance in the book was charming and awkward, just like romance often is in real life.  The moments with Cath's family were good too.  Not all of the hurt and the conflicts that came up were neatly solved, but I liked how Cath was eventually able to come to terms with most things, and build strong relationships with those that mattered the most in her life.

If I had to mention one thing I wasn't so crazy about in Fangirl, it would be the ending.  After maintaining a nearly day-to-day narration of events, the end skips around a lot and leaves a few big questions unanswered.  I know that the whole idea is for the reader to fill in the blanks themselves with what they think, but I would have liked a little more concreteness here.  It seemed to be a departure from the style of the rest of the book.  That's a small squabble though, and it didn't keep me from enjoying the ending.

Everything about Fangirl felt real.  I don't know how Rowell is able to write in a way that affects me so, but I hope she keeps doing it for a long time. She is amazing at capturing what being a teen/young adult is like, in all of its awkward, painful glory. She has two adult novels out that I have to check out, but I can't help but wait for her next young adult book.       

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Favorite Quotes:

"Cath pinched her key but didn't open the door.  She wasn't up for this.  She was already overdosing on new and other today."

"You're not a book person.  And now you're not an internet person.  What does that leave you?"
Levi laughed.  "Life.  Work.  Class.  The great outdoors.  Other people."
"Other people," Cath repeated, shaking her head . . . "There are other people on the Internet.  It's awesome.  You get all the benefits of  'other people' without the body odor and eye contact."

"Cath was pretty sure she was the only person in Pound Hall tonight.  She tried to tell herself that it was kind of cool to have a twelve-story building to herself.  Like being trapped in a library overnight.
This is why I can't be with Levi.  Because I'm the kind of girl that fantasizes about being trapped in a library overnight . . . "

To really be a nerd, she'd decided, you had to prefer fictional worlds to the real one.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sashiko Throw Pillow

Like many people who enjoy making things, I have a lot of craft books.  I love flipping through them for inspiration, staring at the pictures, and imagining myself making the projects within.  I especially like looking at books that give off that simple, rustic vibe.   

However, when I actually sit down and start on a new project, I end up printing off instructions from Ravelry or Pinterest.  I have a large collection of beautiful books at my finger tips, and I've never made a thing out of most of them.  I guess I get swept up in what's currently trendy in the yarn and fabric world and go online instead of to my shelves.  After absentmindedly looking through my book collection a few weeks ago, I decided to actually make something from one of them.

The Gentle Art of Stitching by Jane Brocket contains lots of different sewing projects, showcasing different techniques.  Her section on sashiko, a type of Japanese embroidery that uses running stitch exclusively, caught my eye.  She recommended ordering an authentic Japanese kit online to get started.

Twenty dollars and a week later, I had everything I needed to get started.  The sashiko pre-printed fabric, special thread, special needles and a leather thimble.  The thimble isn't strictly necessary, but it is traditional and it made me feel like the Katniss Everdeen of sewing, so I used it.  

There were a lot of different sashiko patterns to choose from.  I chose one that reminded me of chevrons.  The pattern of the stitches is printed right onto the fabric in water soluble ink, so it washes out after you sew over it.  It's a good thing the diagram on the front of the kit was fairly easy to figure out, because there was no way I was going to be able to read the directions here.

This was a very easy project to get into and a simple technique to learn.  You basically just thread your needle, load it up with a bunch of stitches at once, and use the thimble as a base to push your needle all the way through the fabric.  You get big sections done at once this way.  This is perfect to do while watching TV and relaxing, making it an excellent summer craft project.  Brocket's book proved invaluable in helping me get my technique down pat, as those instructions were in English.  The only difficult bit was making sure your thread tension wasn't too tight, because all that running stitch really wants to pucker. 

Once all the stitching was done, which only took a few days, I decided to make this into a throw pillow.  I washed and ironed my embroidery and found a good set of instructions for making a pillow cover online (of course).  For the back I used a basic muslin, for some contrast.  I did my hem in some hot pink thread, to match the front.  I think I like that little detail the best. 

This project went remarkably well.  The cover fit right over the pillow form and everything.  This is the first successful sewing project I've ever completed using my sewing machine.  Progress!  I'm going to have to try making things from my craft books more often!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Book Review: The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master's Son is another book that I bought years ago that has sat on my shelves unread (I seem to have a lot of those).  This book appealed to me initially because it's very different from what I usually read.  It's a historical fiction novel set in North Korea.  The dust jacket promised me an epic story full of political intrigue, brutality and love.  To put things mildly, it delivered.

It's tough to give a succinct plot summary of The Orphan Master's Son because its structure is very complex and unique.  Essentially it follows the story of Pak Jun Do, an orphan growing up in North Korea.  As the title suggests, he is the orphan master's son, and this gives him status over the other children in the orphanage.  He is in charge of deciding who sleeps where and who eats what.  He also doles out work assignments and even names the new orphans that come in (as all orphans must be given a name from a list of Korean martyrs).  His talents at running the orphanage are recognized by the authorities and when he becomes an adult he is selected to take on a series of assignments for the government including being a tunnel soldier, a professional kidnapper and a radio operator.  Eventually he becomes a rival of Kim Jong Il and embarks on a dangerous plan to rescue North Korea's national actress, Sun Moon.  

What made this book complex was its unique combination of non-linear story telling and point of view shifts.  We hear Jun Do's story from a combination of Jun Do's own perspective, public announcements that come over the loudspeakers and the perspective of an interrogator questioning Jun Do. At times, the different POVs will discuss the same events, but they will be different from each other based on who is telling the story.  We can assume Jun Do's voice is close to the actual truth of what happened, the loudspeaker voice is the Korean propaganda version of what happened and the interrogator voice is the version that Jun Do tells other people.  One major theme that runs throughout the novel is the idea that the story you can create about something is more important than the actual truth of it.  All of the versions we hear have their own truth and significance.  It was interesting to note the similarities and differences between the different voices.  


Admittedly, I don't know anything about North Korea beyond the little bits I remember from school and the news.  Obviously I'm no expert in this area, but I feel like Johnson did his research.  North Korea is essentially a character in this book, and it is one that is beautifully developed.  Casual violence, human rights violations and oppressive government restrictions were shown to be commonplace and were written about with a detached acceptance that made them scary.  However, despite the general fear and suffering of the characters in the story, love and tenderness were still present.  At times, North Korea was shown to be a beautiful and pure country, which contrasted sharply with the brutality that regularly occurred.  Kindness still managed to emerge in the face of very grim living conditions.  This is one of the most complex and involved settings that I have ever read about, and the story is very strong because of this.

One aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the idea that anyone, even someone who comes from nothing, can make a difference.  Everyone can create change, even a lowly kid living in an orphanage.  The name Jun Do is meant to remind the reader of the American name John Doe- stressing the idea that the main character is unimportant or unknown.  By the end of the story, his true self is still unknown, but his actions have had wide ranging consequences, both good and bad.    

It took me a little while to get used to the structure and complexity of this novel, but once I did, I flew through the rest of the book.  Adam Johnson managed to put together a story that is complex enough to make you think while you read, but not so difficult that it becomes frustrating to understand.  This is a fantastic example of modern literary fiction and the Pulitzer it won in 2013 was well deserved.  I would encourage everyone to pick this up, even if it doesn't sound like something you'd normally read.  You'll like it anyway.  It's a unique and beautiful reading experience.

"A name isn't a person," Ga said.  "Don't ever remember someone by their name.  To keep someone alive, you put them inside you, you put their face on your heart.  Then, no matter where you are, they're always with you because they're a part of you."

My rating: 5 of 5 stars  
TBR 2014 Challenge 4/12 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Despite the massive popularity of this book, I waited a long time to read The Fault in Our Stars.  This book is number four on NPR's list of best teen novels, sandwiched in between To Kill a Mockingbird and The Hobbit.  It's gotten massive amounts of praise from critics and has even been made into a movie.  Why then, did I wait so long to pick it up?  Truthfully, I was scared.  I knew it was about teens with cancer.  I knew someone would probably die by the end.  I was scared it would be too sad.  I was scared it would remind me too much of that year where everyone thought I might have had cancer.  This week though, I felt ready.  Ready to see what all the fuss was about.  Ready to read what a lot of people are calling the greatest YA novel ever (and don't worry, no spoilers ahead).

The Fault in Our Stars follows Hazel Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old girl with stage IV thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs.  Her cancer is terminal, but a new drug has inhibited the growth of the tumors in her lungs, buying her a few more years.  She is facing her illness with a mixture of pessimism and pluck, but her outlook shifts when she meets seventeen-year-old Augustus Waters in her cancer support group.  They fall in love and through their relationship, both get to explore what living is all about.


There have been a myriad of positive reviews about this book, and to add another one on top seems redundant.  Yes, it was amazing and beautiful.  Yes, it was heartbreaking.  Yes, you should read it. 

So instead of spending time discussing the language (which was complex and thoughtful) or the characters (which were quirky and lovable), I'm going to write a little bit about my personal response to the book.

I wish I had had more courage and read this right in the thick of my cancer scare.  The Fault in Our Stars presents a refreshingly realistic perspective on the illness- one that I think would have been useful to hear back in those scary, uncertain days.  Gone are those oft-repeated platitudes about fighting valiant battles and being courageous and noble in the face of tragedy (which is a whole lot of heroism for a sick person to live up to, when you think about it).  Instead we have Hazel's beliefs that cancer sucks, dying sucks and the pressure to stay alive, not really for yourself, but out of a fear of letting down those who love you can sometimes be the worst part of it.  One of the phrases that keeps popping up in the story is, "the world is not a wish-granting factory."  I was struck by the fundamental truth of that idea.  We certainly don't get all that we want out of life, so accepting that and making the best of the hand you were dealt is pretty much the best we can do as human beings.  I don't mean to minimize the comfort that others have taken in the image of being brave and fighting against their illnesses, but the way this novel presented cancer, with sarcasm and dark humor is more fitting to my personality and resonated strongly with me.

Pretty much everything in this book resonated strongly with me.  It felt very emotionally honest.  Cancer is one of the scariest and saddest issues we have to face in this world, and no one really wants to talk about it because the very idea of it is so depressing.  Reading a story where the issue is explored head on in all of its heartbreaking unfairness was surprisingly liberating.  This didn't feel like a book where the goal is to emotionally blackmail readers with a topic guaranteed to make everyone cry.  It felt like a realistic look at a horrible illness that millions of people have faced.  I was impressed that I could feel both sad and uplifted at the same time.


In the end, I discovered that I had nothing to be afraid of.  The Fault in Our Stars deals with a scary topic, but it does so in a way that is refreshing, honest and made me feel less afraid.  I think this is an important book that everyone should read.  I wish I had read this one earlier.

My Rating - 4.5 stars

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

One of the categories in the Back to the Classics book challenge I am participating in this year is "an American Classic."  Nothing seems more American to me than a novel by Mark Twain.  I read Tom Sawyer last year as part of the same challenge, so it seemed right to read Huckleberry Finn this time around.  Beware, there are spoilers in this review. 

 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is technically a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but this is one of those rare cases where the second book in a series completely overshadows the first.  Huckleberry Finn deals with more sophisticated themes than Tom Sawyer and is generally considered to be Mark Twain's finest novel.  Told from Huck's perspective and set immediately after the events of Tom Sawyer, the plot of the book follows Huck as he tries to escape life with his violent, drunkard father.  During his elaborate getaway, in which he stages his own murder, he meets up with a runaway slave named Jim and together they drift down the Mississippi River on a raft, trying to get to a place of freedom.  The story is episodic in nature, as Huck and Jim quite literally drift from one little adventure to another on their raft.  The main conflict of the novel comes when Jim is betrayed by a pair of con men who sell him back into slavery.  In the most memorable scene in the novel, Huck decides that he's going to go rescue his friend, even though it means he will "go to hell" for helping a slave escape. 

One of the biggest themes running throughout the work is the idea that slavery and racial inequality are inherently unjust, but the way this theme is presented in the story isn't as obvious as you might expect.  Throughout the novel, Huck struggles with his role in Jim's escape.  He lives in 1840's Missouri- in a world where slaves are the property of their owners and to assist a runaway slave is against the laws of God and of man.  Huck steadfastly believes that what he is doing to help Jim is wrong through the very last pages of the book.  At first, I couldn't wrap my mind around how this translated into being an anti-slavery lesson, because the main character of the novel didn't seem to learn anything. Huck never states a belief about Jim being equal to himself or about slavery being wrong.  The book didn't seem to be making a strong statement like I thought it would.  After reading the introduction to the work and seeking out some other reviews, I understand the message a little bit better.  Readers shouldn't dwell on Huck's beliefs about how his actions are wrong, they should dwell on the fact that he believed his actions to be wrong and he helped his friend anyway.

It is in this way that two characters on the very bottom of the Missouri social hierarchy, a runaway slave and a poor country boy, become the most pure and noble characters in the book.  Their hearts pull them in the direction of what is right and what is human, despite what the politics of the time were.  Even though Huck himself doesn't understand or try to justify his actions, he makes a statement through his friendship and loyalty to a man he is supposed to consider as beneath him.  His tacit acceptance that he is doing wrong by helping Jim only serves to shine a light on how horribly wrong the laws and policies of the time were.

The writing of the novel is done in Mark Twain's signature style.  Simple language, colloquialisms, and witty anecdotes are plentiful, just as in Tom Sawyer.  What I found to be pretty neat here is that so much meaning and thought is conveyed in such lighthearted, humorous writing.  What may seem like fairly one-dimensional episodes upon a first reading are actually pretty deep when given a second look.  There is more here than meets the eye when you delve into the text and look under the surface.  The simplicity of Huck's thoughts convey complicated ideas.  Where Tom Sawyer was truly a book for kids, Huckleberry Finn has a lot more going on, and is a better novel for it.

Much has been said about the use of the n-word in this book.  This is the reason that Huckleberry Finn is a frequent flyer on banned book lists.  The word does appear very frequently throughout the story, and to be honest, I definitely felt uncomfortable reading it.  However, the word is used in a manner that is authentic to the setting of the novel.  The fact that it might make readers uncomfortable is a good thing; the juxtaposition of such harsh language against the lighthearted innocence of Huck's storytelling makes a statement about the casual cruelty of the time. While the use of the word is disturbing, it shouldn't be a reason to "avoid" the book; it's a great opportunity for thought and learning.

It always seems strange to criticize a novel largely considered to be a timeless masterpiece, but there was an element I didn't enjoy.  The beginning and the end of the novel feature Tom Sawyer pretty heavily, and he is not the same lovable scamp that he was in his own novel. The Tom that appears here is bossy and demanding; a perpetual child whose ideas about "helping" Huck rescue Jim are dangerous and bordering on insane.  Once Tom comes back into the picture (through a coincidence so amazing that it feels like Twain is cheating), Huck immediately becomes his sidekick and blindly goes along with everything he says.  The book goes from being thoughtful to being "fun," and the transition is jarring.  It feels like some chapters from Tom Sawyer were randomly tacked onto the end of the story.  I felt like the momentum stopped dead when Tom came onto the scene and made the end of the book slow-moving and frustrating.  It was a disappointing way to end my reading experience, but the middle section of the novel, featuring Huck and Jim, were good enough to forgive this.

Huckleberry Finn is considered by some to be the Great American Novel.  I don't know if I would go that far, but it certainly is a triumph of American realism and one of the most iconic books in the cannon of American literature.  This is one classic that everyone should read. The language is simple, but the themes and ideas it contains are complex.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a read that manages to be lighthearted and important at the same time- an impressive feat for a book about the wanderings of a poor kid from the rural south.  

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Back to the Classics Challenge: 4 of 11         

Friday, June 20, 2014

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

 I bought Ready Player One back in 2011, when it first came out.  It was one of those Amazon Best Books of the Month, and its dust jacket promised loads of 80s pop culture nostalgia and geeky references.  It sounded perfect for me, so I promptly ordered it and then just as promptly forgot all about it.  It sat on my shelf collecting dust for a few years.  When searching for books to add to my TBR Pile Challenge, this one fit the bill.  June was the perfect month to give it a try.  After struggling through the very serious Red Badge of Courage, I needed something light.  Ready Player One not only provided the laughs I was looking for, it was one of the best books I've read so far this year.  I loved it.

The book follows high school senior Wade Watts.  He lives in the year 2044, and the world has become a depressing place due to a recession, an energy crisis, and the ensuing poverty and violence that followed those events.  He finds his escape in the OASIS, a virtual world where people chat, shop and play games with their avatars (it's basically a super-upgraded version of the internet).  Wade is participating in a sort of quest- James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS, has passed away and set up a series of puzzles hidden around the sprawling virtual world that lead to a major prize- ownership of the OASIS and his personal fortune of billions of dollars.  Halliday was a major fan of the 1980s, so the puzzles all involve tons of references to movies, video games and music from that period.  Millions of people have been trying to win the game for years, but no one even comes close until Wade stumbles upon the first clue and his life changes forever.

The first thing that really struck me about Ready Player One was how imaginative the story was.  Everything in it, from Cline's vision of what the world might become to the elaborate way the OASIS worked had me turning pages.  The virtual world Wade explores has limitless possibilities.  Users can travel to places from their favorites books, wield magic and fight with their favorite science fiction weapons.  They can own their own spaceships, buy their own planets and become actors in their favorite movies.  The whole idea of it was just so cool, it warmed my geeky little heart.  I found myself wishing fervently it was real.  The environment was very engaging and definitely one of the book's high points.

The characters were also interesting.  Wade is likable and I was definitely rooting for him throughout my reading.  He is your typical socially awkward nerd- an underdog that you want to see succeed.  The supporting characters here were unique because the OASIS has eliminated the need for face to face contact with people. For most of the novel, Wade didn't know what his friends were really like.  Users create avatars that represent them in the OASIS, and they can design them any way they want.  You could be a different gender, a different ethnicity or even a different species.  As Wade interacts with others in the virtual space, he doesn't know the real them- only their representatives.  This leaves the reader wondering what these other characters are like in their "real lives."

While this book is a fun read, it does also provide some food for thought on contemporary issues.  Reading this made me think about whether too many advances in technology could be harmful to human relationships.  Is virtual contact an acceptable stand-in for real physical contact?  This is a criticism I have seen leveled at Facebook now, making this point a relevant one.  Will too much "escape" from reality into a virtual world make us become less human somehow?  The balance between time spent on electronic devices and time spent interacting with people is a tricky one for many people to manage now.  How will the newer technology of the future affect this balance?  It's an interesting topic to think about.  

Of course, the best thing about Ready Player One are all the 80s pop culture references.  I was born in 1986, so I was a little worried that I wouldn't understand a lot of the jokes.  I'm sure that I didn't catch everything, but I understood enough to be delighted with what I was reading.  If you consider yourself to be a little bit on the geeky side, chances are that you know a lot of references made, even if you weren't an 80s kid.  Cline is careful to fully explain any reference that is important to the plot, so no reader should feel like they just "wouldn't get" the book.  The rush of nostalgia that I got from reading little references to things like Back to the Future and Star Trek made the book so much fun.

Ready Player One was a great reading experience.  The blend of futuristic science fiction and nostalgia was just perfect for a light, fun read that still raised some interesting questions.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who identifies as a nerd or anyone who looks back with fondness on the 80s.  This book has earned a place on my "favorites" shelf for sure.    

My rating: 4 of 5 stars  
TBR 2014 Challenge 3/12

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Review: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

War is not a topic I usually choose to read about, but the past several months seem to have thrown a lot of war books my way.  Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire, Ender's Game and now, The Red Badge of Courage have all discussed different military actions.  It's a different kind of genre for me, but that's a good thing, right?  Good readers should challenge themselves with a variety of texts.  While I have generally liked the war books I have read recently, The Red Badge of Courage wasn't a favorite of mine.  I feel immature saying this, but I found it to be . . . boring.

The plot follows Henry Flemming, a young soldier in the Civil War.  He is fighting for the Union in the battle of Chancellorsville.  The novel opens with a brief explanation of why Henry chose to enlist in the army, then focuses exclusively on what happens in the battle for the rest of the book.  We read the story through Henry's perspective, which means that we don't get a lot of specifics about what is going on in the battle because Henry doesn't know.  What we do get to read about are Henry's feelings throughout the fighting, which range from fear to shame to bravery to pride to anger and back again.  This story is a look at the psychological effects of war on a soldier.  It is not a plot-driven narrative.


I didn't exactly enjoy reading this novel, but I do fully acknowledge its literary merit.  Published in 1895, this book has received an abundant amount of praise for its beautiful writing and level of accuracy.  It is generally considered to be one of the best examinations of the psychology of a soldier ever written.  That becomes even more impressive once you consider that Stephen Crane was only 24 when he wrote The Red Badge of Courage and had never been in any kind of war before.  He wasn't even alive during the Civil War.  To achieve such acclaim at such a young age is an amazing thing.

While I did appreciate the language and could recognize that I was reading something that was very sophisticated and true, I struggled with the pace of the book.  Henry drifts from one part of the battle to the next, experiencing a jumble of emotions each step of the way, but not a whole lot actually happens.  It all started to sound the same after a while.  Since military fiction isn't exactly one of my interests, I struggled to stay engaged with the text.  This was a book I had to make myself finish.  I didn't hate it, but I wasn't excited to read it either.


On a positive note, I did learn some very interesting things about the Civil War.  For example, I learned that most of the soldiers doing the fighting could barely see what they were shooting at, due to the amount of musket smoke filling the battlefield.  Crane describes a lot of the action as appearing faintly through a haze.  I also learned that communication was so poor during the battles that most soldiers had no idea how the battle was going, what the plan was, or even if they had won or lost when the fighting was over.  It makes sense when you think about it.  A lot of the battlefields were vast and they had no radios at that time.  People were literally passing orders around by riding horses from regiment to regiment.  I had to look up the Battle of Chancellorsville after I finished reading, because at the end of the story, Henry isn't entirely sure how it turned out (and my history was rusty).  Not only did Henry's side (the Union) lose, they suffered an astounding defeat.  The Union Army lost over 17,000 soldiers in that battle.  The talk around Henry at the novel's conclusion indicates that many men felt like they lost, but no one was sure.

The Red Badge of Courage didn't end up being a favorite of mine, but I can still say that I'm glad I read it.  The explanation of the psychology of a soldier was interesting and I gained a new perspective on what the fighting was actually like in the Civil War.  Anything that broadens your literary horizons is time well spent, in my opinion.

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Back to the Classics Challenge: 3 of 11