Sunday, February 28, 2016
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
I really want to write a review that will do this amazing historical fiction justice but it’s hard to put in to words what makes this story so incredible. At its core it is a story about occupied France and the course of war. But at its heart it is the story of two women who are forced to make incredibly devastating choices in order to survive World War II. Vianne is a married school teacher living with her husband and daughter in Carriveau, a town outside of Paris. Her younger sister Isabelle has just been kicked out of yet another finishing school and is currently living with their father, Julien. When the Germans invade, Isabelle must make her way to Vianne with the thousands of other refugees fleeing Paris, while bombs drop around her and machine gun fire leaves many dead in the road. But reaching Vianne is only the beginning of the occupation. Isabelle wants to rebel against the Germans that have taken over her home while Vianne only wants to survive until her husband, who has been called to war, can return to her.
Hannah produced an extremely well written, intense, moving, and emotional historical fiction novel. The sisters were both extremely dynamic and well thought out characters. They look at the world differently and those differences at their core determine the paths that they take. They each have to define what bravery means to them. While one chooses to rebel, the other chooses to protect her friends. Are they not both exhibiting bravery in their own way? It’s a complicated question that bears answering. All of the characters were so well developed but the differences between Vianne and Isabelle are the driving force of this novel and they bear it well.
Beyond the amazing character development, the world building was done extremely well. The minute details that added to the tension and landscape of 1940’s France, are so well executed that the reader becomes swept up in this horrifying reality. The landscape gave way to a beautifully revealed plot. The narrative had breaks within it where the reader goes from third person to first person of a woman in 1995. We aren’t sure who this character is or which sister this might be, but it’s obvious that her past still haunts her. These breaks were welcome and well timed. Hannah created a great rhythm where the unfolding plot never felt forced or rushed. The reader is simply swept up in the narrative and this courageous story of two women and how they fought to survive.
I feel the need to note that this historical fiction novel focuses more on Occupied France and the resistance then it does any other factor of World War II. I feel that most people assume that any novel having to do with World War II will automatically focus on Jews and the Holocaust. This novel definitely mentions the atrocity taking places throughout Europe and you can see how Jews were targeted and their everyday lives were affected. But this novel really looks at what it means to be a bystander in the time of war. Do you choose to be a passive bystander or an active bystander? Are you a part of the resistance of are you too afraid to take a stand? What will your turning point be? How far will you go to protect your family and your friends? It’s complicated and I love the way these questions are handled in this novel.
All in all I thought this book was incredible. It can be an all consuming experience. I was definitely emotional in many parts. The ending was beautifully done and the entire story was unpredictable. None of the characters ever felt safe. The tension was always palpable. This was just very well done. I give this 5 out of 5 stars.
Sunday, February 21, 2016
The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I went through an entire Nicholas Sparks phase where whenever I needed a lighthearted easy to read, romance novel I turned to him. The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, The Lucky One and countless others were quite enjoyable and great at passing the time. I was a Sparks fan. I bought The Best of Me earlier this year thinking I would give him a shot again. Then I did a quick browse through my Nook and realized that I already owned it. A look back at a prior reading list showed me that I had already read it too. Well, this didn’t look good at all. But I decided to pick up and read it anyway since I remembered absolutely nothing.
Here is what happened: A teenager from the wrong side of the tracks dated a girl on the right side of the tracks and her parents hated him. His family had a really bad history and you know, in a small town, family means everything. They break up because he knows she can do better. The teenage guy ends up in a jail after the teenage girl goes off to college. Over twenty years pass. She is married. He is not. His family is still horrible. Her family still dislikes his family. They are still in love. Drama ensues. Tragedy happens. The end.
Sparks isn’t a bad writer. He is actually a really good writer. He just has to weave together extravagant and unnecessary plot lines. This whole story was ridiculous and unnecessary. I didn’t care about any of the characters. He couldn’t forgive himself for his past mistakes. She was a grown woman still acting like a little girl scared of her mother. Then in the background you had his crazy cousins running around wanting to find him and kill him. I didn’t care at all about this novel. I read it because I was hoping to feel that spark (pun intended) that I used to feel when reading Sparks novels. I realized after reading this for a second time that I hadn’t read a Nicholas Sparks book since reading this one for the first time in 2012. This is November of 2015. I give this a 2 out of 5 stars.
Monday, February 15, 2016
Career of Evil by Robert Galbriath
Fan Girl moment and Disclaimer: I love JK Rowling. I always have. This series of hers written under the Robert Galbraith pseudonym is pretty damn good and it keeps getting better. This is the third book in a series of detective novels written about Cormoran Strike. You don’t have to read the preceding novels to enjoy this one. Career of Evil is an intense story and one that I immensely enjoyed. So now to the review.
The last thing Robin Ellacott was expecting to receive in a package on the way into the office was a woman’s severed leg and yet that is exactly what she got. The leg was cut in a way that reflected Cormoran Strike’s missing limb. Now Strike is not only worried about his assistant Robin’s safety but also about his business. After the other two high profile cases he had recently solved, the two had steady business, even if neither was making very much money. Now with the recent press from the leg, they were down to two clients. Strike has a feeling that whoever sent Robin the leg was trying to send him a message. The search is on and as much as he fears for Robin’s safety he trust her and her ability. As the body count rises around them the pressure to find the person behind this, before he can hurt someone else, mounts.
Let me start by saying that Cormoran and Robin are highly likeable, imperfect, struggling characters that are really well developed. Both of them are beautifully layered and full of depth. They feel so real. They have a certain chemistry that exists throughout the entire novel. There is also a sexual tension there but it is extremely subtle and adds a certain depth to their relationship. There is so much between them that is genuine and that comes from a strictly platonic place but there is also something else that Galbraith won’t let us put our finger on just yet but it is there lingering none of the less. Cormoran and Robin are great vehicles for these detective novels. They are average people trying to make a living with interesting details laced throughout their past. They are set against the back drop of London and the imagery created is masterful. I love vivid imagery and descriptions. This novel had all of that.
But let us not forget that this is a mystery novel and a hefty one at that. With the narrative changing from that of our Cormoran and Robin to that of the psychopath finding pleasure in hacking up women, the seriousness of the situation is palpable. Robin is in danger. This person has it out for Strike and this is personal. With a few guys to choose from the heat is on. I was kept on my toes throughout the pages. I was constantly going over the information provided to try and decipher who this man may be from the subjects being presented. It would suck to be hated so much that you had a list of people who wanted to harm you and those around you but Strike takes it all in stride.
All in all I give this novel 5 out of 5 stars. I have already fangirled out for you but I still will say that this was an incredible novel. I love the high intensity and the high stakes. I loved the personal lives that were trying to interfere so fervently with the case and dangers at hand. I loved the tension. Not only that but Galbraith can sew a story and leave breadcrumbs but yet shock you. This was well done. I am (im)patiently waiting for the next one.
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Is this survival? Living alone? Trusting no one? Trying to keep an impossible promise? Cassie is alone in the woods trying to get back to her brother. She lived through the first wave when the Others took the power away. She survived the second wave when the Earth shook and a wave took out billions of people. The third wave, the pestilence, took her mother but she still had her dad and Sammie. Now after the 4th wave, she is alone. Dad is dead. Sammie is with them. Now she fights to survive and make it to Sammie before the next wave comes.
Well color me surprised! I don’t know what I was expecting when I first heard about this book but it wasn’t this. I really enjoyed this novel. It was eerie, suspenseful, and really successfully executed. Let’s start with the setting. Yancey did an amazing job with creating this world where you can trust absolutely no one, there is a mothership circling the Earth and the Others are here slowly taking away our humanity while exterminating humans. I was swept away with the tide of emotions that flowed through these pages. It felt real. It felt believable. It seemed horrifying.
Then there were the main characters. Again, another slow clap for Rick Yancey here, I fell for Cassie and fell hard. She just had the right amount of fear, concern, angst and strength. This is an impossible situation and I could empathize with her through most of her emotions (there is a flaw but I’ll get to that later). Then there is Zombie who was on the other end of the spectrum but just as plausible and realistic as Cassie. The changing of their narratives throughout the novel was genius. It kept me on my toes. It kept me questioning everything. This change would not have been successful if either of these characters were lacking in depth. Thankfully they weren’t. Then there is Sammie. Oh little Sammie. If you can throw a little kid in the mix and then characters that genuinely care for the little kid and are fighting for them, it would be hard to get me to not root for them. It was simply done well.
Throughout this novel the intensity was there, the suspense was palpable and the tone was just shy of total chaos and destruction. I flew through the pages of this novel because I was so swept up in this story. So many questions from the very beginning and the slow but timely unfolding of answers. Yancey got me with an “Aha” moment that I can’t believe I didn’t see coming but actually enjoyed. I did have one issue and it was some of Cassie’s crazy decisions when it came to events going on. It all worked out in the end but I had some serious face-palm moments that I just had to shake my head and press through.
I can’t take much away from The 5th Wave. This was a really enjoyable, fun, suspenseful read. I am giving this 4.5 out of 5 stars. It was an extremely original take on an alien attack. If you like science fiction give it a shot. It is part of a series that hasn’t finished yet. While part of me wants to grab this by the horns and jump into the next one, I think I am going to wait until the last book comes out. This ending was pretty satisfying so I’ll see.
Monday, February 1, 2016
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
If you like historical fiction novels set around World War II that include a subtle but intriguing fantasy element, then more than likely you’ll enjoy this novel. If you enjoy well done transitions and point of views that add to the story but never become overwhelming then you’ll more than likely enjoy this novel. If you enjoy vivid detail and depth in your historical fiction then you will enjoy this novel. I can appreciate all these things and I was sucked into this novel from the very beginning.
When Marie-Laure was six, before she went blind, she was told the story of the Sea of Flames at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. The Sea of Flames is a blue diamond with dancing flames in the center with a weight of 133 carats, whose possessor can never die. Marie-Laure’s father doesn’t believe the diamond has any bearing whatsoever on life. When she goes blind he builds an exact replica of the town for her to memorize, teaches her braille and continues to challenge her mind with puzzles. They flee Paris in 1940 and head to Saint-Malo, to leave with his Uncle Etienne. Here he builds another exact replica of the town, with a gift hidden that may save her life. Meanwhile, young Werner and his sister Jutta, live as orphans in the mining town where their father died. Werner’s prowess with technology and trigonometry gets him recruited into the National Political Institute of Education at Schulpforta. Eventually he is placed in the middle of the war, hunting those illegally sending radio transmissions. Two different stories that intertwine with that of a man searching for a cure, in the shape of a blue diamond.
When I first heard of this novel I was fascinated but not intrigued enough to pursue it. My TBR pile is long enough, this one could wait. But a friend of mine insisted I read it, to the point of giving me her copy and I figured why not. It’s a Pulitzer Prize winner. I had seen some really great reviews from people whose opinion I really valued so I opened it up and got immediately sucked in. Doerr’s writing style is amazingly vivid and detailed. From the very first page, he had my attention. I love when a writer can drop you right in the middle of situation and instead of confusing you, he intrigues you. Done. I was so caught up in the mystery of the story that I didn’t want to put it down.
The novel alternates not only between the main characters in third person, but Doerr switched back and forth in time as well. Each part of the chapter is only a few pages, so you aren’t overwhelmed with the changes in one character’s life, before moving on. By doing this Doerr created a certain rhythm in his storytelling that really moved the plot along well. The lapses in time only added to the suspense. The book starts in 1944, and then backtracks, then comes back to 1944. Again this never got confusing to me. I rather enjoyed it. I was being fed little tidbits at a time that all lead to a pretty satisfying result. Even with this method of writing, all of the characters were very well developed and full of depth. The world was built beautifully and destroyed just as beautifully. Overall this was a well done novel.
I did have one small problem, which is why this is getting 4.5 out of 5 stars. The ending of the novel wasn’t my favorite. The result of the three different storylines merging was great but then Doerr just kept going and luckily there wasn’t many pages left because that’s when my interest started to wane. I still highly recommend this book. Doerr’s way with words and how he weaved this story makes this novel worth it.