The Great Alone can be awfully lonely
Spoilers throughout this review please be aware!
It's been a couple of years since our book club last read a Kristin Hannah novel. We loved her work The Nightingale and at the time our groups favorite reading fare was historical fiction or biography at and around WWII. Stories that lifted the spirits through tragedy, determination, and in the end heroism such as The Book Thief, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, The Hiding Place, and Unbroken. So here we are again visiting Kristin Hannah's new novel that takes place decades after WWII with similar heart-rending emotions but turned up to 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Great Alone begins in 1974 when the Vietnam War has come to an end and many of the soldiers that returned home are broken emotionally and physically to a country that turned their backs on them. Leni is a typical preteen an only child of a young mother and a father struggling with PTSD from the war. Their life is not financially stable and is nomadic never settling in one place for too long at any given time. When Leni's father is given an opportunity to homestead in a remote part of Alaska he grabs the adventurous chance to start a whole new life one in which Leni dreams will be a brighter future for her family, healing for her Dad, and a fresh new start in the wilds of Alaska.
"All this time, Dad had taught Leni how dangerous the outside world was. The truth was that the biggest danger of all was in her own home.”
A book club opinion or two
A picture is worth a thousand words. Several in my book club didn't even give The Great Alone a fighting reading chance but they still came to book club anyway and on top of it had a lot to say and why was that? Book reviews (such as the ones on Amazon.com or Goodreads) have sway in the reader world and if some book friends take a peek at the one or two star reviews and read only the negative ones than it becomes a 'not gonna read it' sadly. All it took was a few bad comments on how depressing the novel was and that pretty much sunk this book club for this time around. I truly believe that The Great Alone deserves to be read (Kristin Hannah is an amazing writer) but it will not be everyone's cup of tea.
Our book discussion of The Great Alone was animated and nothing about it was optimistic much like the story our conversation was as cold as an Alasakan winter. We agreed Leni's Dads struggle with PTSD would of made a gripping and necessary story alone but compounding the added feeling of The Shining by Stephen King took this novel off in a whole other direction that is filled with violence and utter gloom.
If you prefer your books with tragedy on top of tragedy and a dollop of more tragedy with no room to breathe or even coming up for air then this is the book for you. Like I said this book might not be everyone's cup of tea but we do give huge props to Hannah's fast page turning writing style and beautifully descriptive scenes of life in the remote parts of Alaska. This authors well written characters (Large Marge is fantastic) as well as the townspeople that come in all descriptive shapes and sizes was the best part for our on thin ice reading emotions. In the end, we agreed to wait a wee bit longer to read more of her novels until we've fully recovered from The Great Alone because it was a dark and lonely place to be.
For our last read of the summer we chose The Little Paris Bookshop. We were told it is a sweet and uplifting novel. Something that is much needed at this time. Read along with us!
“Books are the mile markers of my life. Some people have family photos or home movies to record their past. I’ve got books. Characters. For as long as I can remember, books have been my safe place.”
Leni's journey through her novels
Leni loved reading and photography. Here are a list of all of the books she read throughout the novel. Like an 80's mixed tape the titles and or descriptions of the books chronicles Leni's life and survival in Alaska perfectly. Links take you to Amazon.com
Watership Down - There is trouble and a new homeland must be found
The Lord of the Rings - A friend that stays with you to the end. Leni described Matthew has her Sam to Frodo
Go Ask Alice - Possibly Leni's young mother's sacrificial addiction to her father
The Outsiders - A poor family with nothing moving to a new town and unprepared
The Thornbirds - A love that must not be discovered
Childhoods End - To those that resist it could be the end of humanity
The Stand - It's a fight between good and evil
Wild Wild West Summer Read
I have no shame in saying I am a judge a book by it's cover kind of gal. Usually before I click on the 'buy' button I will peruse through several copies of the same novel until I find that one perfect cover that will inspire my imagination and launch me into my reading journey. My copy of News of the World has that old west painting kind of feel with the look of a bygone age but with vibrant colors that gets you reading ready. As of now there is only one edition and it's a lovely cover to hold. Do you share my affinity for book cover culture as well?
Now onto the book! News of the World a novel takes place in 1870 Dallas, Texas making its way south near San Antonio. Seventy year old civil war soldier Captain Jefferson Kidd and ten year old Johanna Leonberger are unexpectedly thrown together and sent on a dangerous journey to reunite the troubled young girl back with her relatives. Johanna, kidnapped by the Kiowa Indians four years earlier yearns to be back with her people and struggles with readjustment into her previous life while learning to trust in her reluctant guardian Captain Kidd. As they travel from town to town Kidd makes his living by being a 'reader' charging a dime to hear the newspaper articles he chooses to read to the townsfolk. The insight the author writes into Captain Kidd's readings are fascinating as he knows what articles to read and how to read them to a crowd that could either revolt or be calmed by what he reads. This books ending tops my all time favorite finales and gives you that happy, satiated feeling after eating a heavy meal. You will not be disappointed.
News of the World received a five bookmark rating from our reading group for its wild west adventure, a heart stopping shoot out and a sweet friendship that builds over a journey's time. This book is just under 200 pages and our group wished it could of gone another one hundred more!
Paulette Jiles's writing style was new to our book club. The author writes with minimal punctuation and no quotes from character to character. It may take a few pages in to get use to the lyrical format but when you do you will be quickly immersed into the story so much that you won't be able to put it down.
Included in the first few pages is a map that was used excessively by my book club as it was very handy when envisioning the route our characters used to get home. Also included is a P.S. Insights, interviews and more... which kept our book club on track and enhanced our discussion.
Maybe life is just carrying news. Surviving to carry the news. Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed.
A Book Club Dessert
When your read is a top novel (and now a book club favorite) it shows in your book party with a southwestern dinner theme and my side dish contribution... a Texas Sheet Cake! This was a much requested birthday cake in my home growing up so I was excited to combine News of the World and its Texas location. Interestingly enough, this cake shares similar ingredients with a German chocolate cake as ex-captive Johanna of German heritage is being returned to her relatives in a German American town near San Antonio, Texas. I'm all about connecting our book club meal with our novel no matter how big or small the reference!
Recipe to maker your own chocolate sheet cake on The Pioneer Woman and one more News of the World fun treat on Book Party Ideas
Happy reading book friends~
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I love books, book club and book friends.