review: winter garden

winter gardenTitle: Winter Garden
Author: Kristin Hannah
Published in 2010
Genre: contemporary/historical fiction
Rating: ★★★★★ – a new favorite

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard: the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night.

On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time – and all the way to the end. 

my thoughts on june 19

I have put off writing this review for months now, because I’m not sure how to explain my love for Winter Garden. However, I’ve realized that not talking about it at all is not an option either. I’ll try to sort out my thoughts today, and hope that the resulting review is at least somewhat coherent.

When the novel kicks off, Meredith and Nina’s father is dying and the family has to come to terms with losing the linchpin of their household. Their mother has always been standoffish and cold, which is why the sisters have a much deeper connection with their father. Aside from dealing with the grief of losing a loved one, they also have to find a way to connect with their mother now that their dad isn’t there to mediate anymore.

The two sisters couldn’t be more different, really. Meredith is the “responsible” one. She’s the oldest, has a husband and two adult children, and works for the family company. When their father passes away, she takes over the family business. Nina is the “free” one. She’s a photojournalist, and travels around the world capturing photos of heartbreaking scenes. One is portrayed as uptight, strict, and a creature of routine while the other is free and following her dreams.

At first, I disliked Meredith and loved Nina. As someone who loves to travel and consider themselves independent and free, her character spoke to me more. Whereas Meredith spent a lot of time judging her sister’s choices at the start of the book. About halfway through the story, my perspective on the sisters changed. I started to see Nina as not only free, but also more of a selfish person than Meredith (which is not always a bad thing, people). Meredith is the one who shoulders the responsibility to make life for her loved ones easier, and that’s not an easy role to take.

There’s this weight of guilt and responsibility that comes with taking care of your family. How do you find a balance between taking care of them enough, yet not losing yourself in the process? Meredith reminded me of my mom, in a way, since she is the one who is always working for others and always ready to help, yet never seems to receive any thanks in return. It’s something I’ve been trying to work more on, to say thank you more often, because I don’t want people’s efforts to go unappreciated.

The main plotline of the story is related to the fairy tale their mother tells. I don’t want to give much away here because that would take away from the impact of this story, but just know that it is absolutely heartbreaking. I wanted to hug this woman so badly.

If you’re interested in adult contemporary fiction or adult historical fiction, I would highly recommend this story. While it isn’t my favorite Kristin Hannah novel, it still had the emotional impact I expected from her stories.

Have you read Winter Garden?

review: his majesty’s dragon | Napoleonic war + dragons

his majesty's dragonTitle: His Majesty’s Dragon
Series: Temeraire #1
Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: historical fantasy (adult)
Published in 2006 by Del Rey
Rating: ★★★★ – really liked it

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

my thoughts on - review black (1)

His Majesty’s Dragon is the story of Laurence, a captain in the marines, and Temeraire, his dragon. Laurence’s crew captures a French ship and discover that it has an unhatched dragon egg on board. They’re months away from reaching land, however, and the egg might hatch at any moment. It’s crucial that the dragon bonds with someone as soon as it hatches so they can strengthen the British Aerial Corps. Some unexpected things happen, and Laurence ends up bonding with the dragon, Temeraire.

This book is set during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s. I like how Naomi Novik managed to fully immerse the reader in the time period itself, through different tactics.

First is the writing. As I was reading this book, it occurred to me that the writing style reminded me of Jane Eyre. It has that same sentence structure and feeling to it. After looking it up, I realized that Jane Eyre was published in 1847. I don’t think I’ve ever read a fantasy novel in which I could tell the era it’s set in from the writing itself.

There’s also the obvious difference placed between men and women. It shows in little things, like how surprised Laurence was when a woman wore pants, or in the “proper” way he felt like he needed to interact with them, or in the way he would not give a female trainee the same privileges as the male ones because he needed to “protect” her. Is it annoying that this happens? Yes. However, Naomi Novik managed to show both history and present here. She added those things to the novel for historical reference, but challenges them as well. Either it’s someone else pointing his discrimination out to Laurence, or it’s him realizing how unfair it is.

I will say that my knowledge on the Napoleonic Wars is very limited, and it showed. I was quite confused at times, because you’re thrown in the middle of the war and have to figure out what’s happening by yourself. The sheer amount of places mentioned as well as the tactics and strategy behind the battles went over my head at times.

The story itself is a good mix between battle, training, and character exploration. The pacing never felt off, and it made for a pretty quick read even though the writing is not as easy to digest as most contemporary writing is.

First, Laurence and Temeraire have to get to know one another after the hatching. While I love both the main characters, my heart goes to Temeraire. I love that dragon! He made me laugh out loud multiple times, and I wish to protect him from all evil. As their bond deepens, their affection towards another is so sweet.

I do have a question though. The dragons all talk out loud in this book. In most books I’ve read, it’s more of a telepathy thing. How odd must it look when a dragon talks out loud? How do their mouths form the necessary shapes?

Laurence was an interesting character for me because I usually read about thieves, assassins, mercenaries, etc. when it comes to fantasy novels. Here, we follow a guy who is devoted to his country and duty, and prides himself on being a gentleman. It is so fascinating to read about someone focused on doing his duty and being a good citizen, even if it makes you want to push him into some mischief at times.

The one downside to this book, I would say, is that it’s clearly a set-up for a long series. You have the main characters meet, get to know one another, and train together, so that they can become a well-oiled machine for the battles to come.


I’m glad I finally picked this book up. It sat on my shelf, unread, for years… A few days after finishing it, I went to a used bookstore I love and discovered the next 3 books in the series there! I can’t wait to discover more of Laurence and Temeraire’s adventures. I would highly recommend this series, if the premise sounds at all appealing to you. 

review: the tattooist of Auschwitz | nonfiction, a screenplay, or a novel?

the tattooist of AuschwitzTitle: The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Author: Heather Morris
Published in 2018 by Zaffre
Genre: historical fiction
Rating: ★★★ – it was okay

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

my thoughts on - review black (1)

This is the first instance in which I’m glad I waited a while before writing my review. After I finished The Tattooist of Auschwitz, I thought it was pretty great. Looking back on it, I rated it while thinking about it as a nonfiction book. However, it isn’t. And if I look at it as a historical fiction novel, it’s just okay to me.

This is a novel based on the story of Lale Sokolov, who was imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau for 3 years. He was put to work as the Tätowierer, which means he tattooed the numbers on the wrists of other prisoners. It was “better” work than most others had to do, and allowed Lale some privileges, which he used to help others. He traded jewels and valuables the women found in new arrivals’ clothing for food, medicine, and treats, and handed them out to others.

We follow Lale from the moment he is taken to Auschwitz, through his years at the camp and beyond. We see him fall in love with Gita, who was also imprisoned in the concentration camp, and dream of a life together after the war.

It’s a really touching story, especially because the majority of this book is taken directly from Lale’s memories. The author interviewed him often, and built up a personal relationship with him. She tried her best to tell his story in a way that is both hopeful yet realistic. It gets hard to read about the gruesome and horrible things that happened in the camps, which is to be expected. But there’s always that strand of hope, for people like Lale and Gita, who have fallen in love and hope to live and see a better time.

The reason I can’t give this more than 3 stars, however, is because of the writing. The author explained that she originally meant for this book to be a screenplay. It shows. It’s like they couldn’t decide between a nonfiction book, a screenplay, or a novel and left it somewhere in between. The entire time, I had to remind myself that I was reading a historical fiction book. I began to take everything as facts, because that’s how it was written to be. It felt like reading a memoir. Yet distant in a way, because of the screenplay factor.

If you would look at this book as a nonfiction one, it would be pretty good. Obviously, then the author would have to take out some exaggerations she made and events she changed. If you’d look at it as a screenplay, it could also be pretty good. You’d have to make slight adjustments, sure, but the material is there. As a historical fiction novel, however, it doesn’t really work. There’s too little distance between the reality and fiction, and it makes for a confusing reading experience.

When you’re reading a biography, you don’t really rely on character building or a plot. After all, that’s not what a biography or memoir is about. You’re simply observing someone’s story. A historical fiction novel, on the other hand, does require those aspects. It’s still a work of fiction, and needs to engage its reader. Because those were lacking in The Tattooist, it made it seem like you were reading a biography instead.

The writing style is stuck somewhere between nonfiction book and screenplay, while the changes the author made to the facts make it a historical fiction novel. I think this should have gone through another round of edits, because now it felt like the author didn’t really have a voice. It seemed more like she was telling Lale’s story, like in a biography, but altered some things to serve a more dramatic purpose.


In itself, Lale’s story is very moving. I never even thought about who tattooed the prisoners until I read about the Tätowierer, and it was illuminating to read about his “job” in the camp. However, the writing made this into a confusing read. It’s like the author couldn’t decide which direction to take this story in, so she left it somewhere in the middle instead.

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think of it?

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy review | were my expectations met?

the lady's guide to petticoats and piracyTitle: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy
Series: Montague Siblings #1
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Published in October 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
Genre: historical fiction, fantasy (YA)
Rating: 3/5 – I enjoyed it

A year after an accidentally whirlwind grand tour with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a window of opportunity opens—a doctor she idolizes is marrying an old friend of hers in Germany. Felicity believes if she could meet this man he could change her future, but she has no money of her own to make the trip. Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid.

In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.

my thoughts on - review black (1)

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy was one of my most anticipated reads of 2018, because I absolutely adored the first installment in the Montague Siblings duology. The first book follows Monty, Felicity and Percy as they make a Grand Tour around Europe. The second book focuses on Felicity as she tries to make her dream of enrolling in medical school reality.

STORY

At the start of the novel Felicity works in a bakery in Edinburgh. Surely, in this hub of medical schools and knowledge someone would allow her to study medicine. Her boss (and friend) proposes, after which Felicity deems it high time to leave and return to England. She contacts her brother to ask whether she can stay with him, and leaves immediately. In London she once again tries to gain entry to medical school, to no avail. Who could ever trust a girl to do such work, after all? We women are way to delicate for that.

The story takes off when Felicity finds someone who is willing to take her to a doctor she’s always looked up to, and who is looking for an assistant. Yet things are never as they seem…

All in all, I liked the story. Watching Felicity battle for a place in this all-male profession is empowering yet infuriating. It makes me so angry to see women get invalidated, and to witness the condescension of men. I was rooting for her, and wanted her to be the first female doctor/surgeon. That aspect of the story was one I was very invested in, and is what kept me reading.

Just like the first book in this duology, The Lady’s Guide is a story of travels. Felicity travels through several countries chasing her dream, and takes us with her on this adventure. Unlike in the previous book, I didn’t truly love this aspect of the novel. I felt like instead of being with the characters on their travels, I was getting snapshots – parts of a movie in which someone went ham with jump cuts. The characters decided to go to a certain city or country at the end of one chapter, and have arrived by the start of the next. Since you don’t get to see that much of their actual journey, it takes the fun out of the whole road-trip/tour for me.

While I really enjoyed the story in general, I wasn’t a true fan of the weird fantastical turn it took at the end. I know that the first book did the exact same, but somehow that progression seemed more reasonable/believable than this one.

I think I would have loved the book more if the author had chosen one genre instead of mixing the two. Either we would have gotten the historical fiction novel where Felicity travels the continents to gain entry to medical school, or the fantasy book filled with pirates.

CHARACTERS

Felicity, Felicity, Felicity… I absolutely loved your sarcastic sense of humor and communication in the first book. Granted, that didn’t change in The Lady’s Guide. You were as witty as ever, and I greatly appreciate it. You made me laugh out loud and even snort at times. I find your passion for medicine inspiring, and applaud you for not letting go of your dreams.

But I have some things I’d like to discuss with you as well. Why are you so judgmental? Feminism does not mean only supporting women who want to break through in all-male professions and change the world by themselves. It does not encourage you to look down on other women for making choices you wouldn’t make. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Feminism is all about equality, and having a choice. You want to become a doctor? Sure, go for it! You want to create a loving home and find a partner who adores you? EQUALLY AS VALID. Stop thinking you’re so much better than others because you don’t like to wear makeup, and/or don’t want to get married. Thanks.

Also, can you stop treating everyone so horribly? Johanna did not deserve what you did to her. At all. While Monty is a bit of an idiot, he’s a good and kind guy. You shouldn’t talk about him in the way you do.

To be honest, I fell out of love with Felicity in this book. While I still enjoy reading about her character, she managed to make me incredibly mad at times. Especially when she apologized to Johanna for being such a judgmental bitch, but still went on to judge others anyway. Don’t even get me started on how she jumped to conclusions so quickly. 0 to 100 real quick.

I did, however, fall in love with Johanna. This girl who loves makeup and pretty dresses, and is incredibly smart. I would love a book focused on her life!

Lastly, I have to admit that I lived for the Percy and Monty cameos in this book. I just love them so much!

FINAL IMPRESSION

I was a tad disappointed by The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. I was expecting an epic journey from a sarcastic woman determined to break through a male-dominated field. That’s only partly what I got. I still enjoyed my time with the novel (and characters), but I didn’t like how judgmental and rude Felicity was, and how we seemed to skip the actual travel through jumps in time.


Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

Review: Pachinko | a heartbreaking yet beautiful read

pachinkoPachinko by Min Jin Lee
Published in 2017 by Apollo
Genre: historical fiction (adult)
Rating: 4/5 stars – would definitely recommend

A victorian epic transplanted to Japan, following a Korean family of immigrants through eight decades and four generations.

Yeongdo, Korea 1911.

In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then Isak, a Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.

Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country in which she has no friends, no home, and whose language she cannot speak, Sunja’s salvation is just the beginning of her story.

Through eight decades and four generations, Pachinko is an epic tale of family, identity, love, death and survival.

my review

I should have written this review months ago because I read Pachinko in May of this year, and loved it. Although I gave it 4/5 stars, it has become one of my most memorable reads so far. It’s one that will end up on a lot of favorites lists from now on: books that made me cry, emotional reads, favorite historical fiction books, and so on. It deserves a spot on all of those.

Plot

This story follows multiple generations of one family, as well as some of the people they encounter throughout their lives. We start the book off with Hoonie, who was born with a cleft palate and twisted foot. He is the only one of his siblings strong enough to survive. We get a quick overview of his life and marriage to Yangjin. Together they have a daughter called Sunja. She is pretty much the focus of this book. For the majority of the novel, we follow Sunja as she grows older. Aside from Sunja and her parents, we also follow her children, and grandchild.

As you can probably tell, this isn’t a fast-paced book filled with action scenes. It’s a character driven novel, and focuses far more on the people than the plot. I tend to love books that focus on the characters as I end up far more attached to them this way, so this novel was right up my alley.

There’s so much I loved about this story. It taught me quite a lot about Korea in the 20th century, as well as the annexation of the country by Japan and the treatment of Koreans who lived in Japan. Don’t worry, reading this book doesn’t feel like attending a history lecture. Instead, the nuggets of history are interwoven in the characters’ lives. It’s also very obvious that Korea and Japan (just like the rest of the world) were extremely sexist during those times. I’m not going to comment on the world and sexism today, because that’s a rant for another day. While I know that the sexism and troubles of woman are historically accurate, that doesn’t make it any easier to read.

The only downside of this book is that it can be so difficult to read because it’s incredibly sad. This novel is heartbreaking. I honestly felt like nothing good ever happened to this family, and was ready to leap into the book and rescue them all.

Characters

I grew so attached to Sunja. My heart still aches for her, months after finishing this book. She has such a tough life but she never gives up. She keeps going, so she can provide for her family as best she can. I honestly admire her, although I wouldn’t want her life at all. She just couldn’t catch a break!

I don’t know whether I can truly talk about the characters of this book, because it may be a bit of a spoiler? This is the kind of story you have to discover by yourself, and I don’t want to give too much away.

I will say that this book makes you empathize with the characters. The author manages to stir up such strong feelings in you as a reader. There were people I loved and wanted to protect and others I wanted to hurt.

All in all, this is a gorgeous novel about people making the best of terrible situations.


I genuinely don’t know how to convey my feelings on this book properly. I want everyone to read it, but I can’t properly express how I feel about it. If the premise sounds at all interesting to you, please give it a chance.

Video Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue |A New Favorite

I thought I’d take a different approach to my reviews today. Usually I write out my thoughts on the books I read here. Today, I actually just wanted to talk. So I made a review video! I know it seems like a long video, and I’m sorry. I just got caught up talking about this incredible book! 

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
Genre: Historical Fiction (YA)
Rating: 5/5 stars – a new favorite

Top Ten Tuesday: Materials to Complement History Classes

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week I will make a list of 10 books, authors or other bookish things surrounding a certain topic. Today is technically a Back to School Freebie so I’ve decided to talk about 10 books, movies, etc. that you can use to complement your history classes!

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah // I know this is a fairly obvious pick, but I couldn’t leave it out. This would obviously supplement classes on World War II, and I think it would be interesting because you’re reading from the perspective of 2 women in France. Women’s roles in the war are highly overlooked, and you get two very different ones here. The quiet rebellion, and the “obvious” rebellion.

The Emperor’s Spy (Rome #1) by M.C. Scott // I think this would be an interesting book for classes on The Roman Empire because it doesn’t just focus on Rome. It also includes Boadicea and her legacy, it follows Judaism and Christianity in the Roman Empire, etc. It has a broader focus than only the Roman citizens themselves.

The Moon in the Palace (Empress of Bright Moon #1) by Weina Dai Randel // Unfortunately, growing up in Belgium I didn’t get much of Chinese history in class. But if you’re looking for a book that is incredible and will teach you something about the Tang and Zhou dynasties -and a Chinese empress- than this is the one for you.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller // I think this could be an interesting addition to classes on Ancient Greece. This retelling of the Iliad tells us a lot about Achilles’ life, but it also allows you to talk about LGBTQ+ people in history (and in the Iliad). 

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys // I didn’t want to pick two WWII novels, but I did. I chose this one in particular because I think the event this book is centered around has been forgotten by most of us. I certainly was never taught about the Wilhem Gustloff, one of the biggest maritime disasters ever. 

Outlander // I know I probably should’ve put the books here. But in all honesty, I think if you were teaching Scottish history, your students will be far more likely to watch a few episodes than to try and tackle those huge books. If you don’t know, this is about Claire who accidentally ends up in Scotland in 1743 -instead of the year 1945 she was in before.

Munich // If you’re talking more recent history, this is a great film to watch -and an interesting way to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is set in 1972 when 11 Israeli athletes are taken hostage and murdered during the Olympic Games in Munich by a Palestinian terrorist group. 

The Help // Another one in which I probably should’ve gone with the book. BUT I haven’t actually read the book. I did watch the movie, which was incredible. This is set in the 1960s in Jackson and it’s the tale of the African-American maids working for the rich white families. I know that this film isn’t perfect. It fails to mention many aspects of the inequalities, and it also has a bit of the white-savior trope. But I do think it’s still a film worth watching. This is recent history, and while we have come quite a way, there is still such a long journey ahead of us.

The Prince of Egypt  // Shout out to one of my favorite animated movies ever. This is the story of Moses -or the Exodus story if you will. Now, I am not religious. But I think this would be a great movie to watch when talking about religion and history, no?

Reign // Warning: I have only seen the first two seasons. Please, do not spoil me. But this is a really fun series about Mary Queen of Scots and her rise to power!


Which historical books, movies and shows would you recommend? 

Mini Reviews | The Disappointed Edition

Hi everyone! I’m so behind on writing my reviews. Honestly. So behind. So I figured I’d make some mini reviews! Not only because that will make it easier for me to catch up, but also because at times I don’t have a ton to say about each book I’ve read. Today, I’m writing a review on two books that have recently let me down: His Bloody Project and The Girls. So let’s get to it! 


the girlsThe Girls by Emma Cline
Published: 14.06.2016

Genre: Fiction (Historical), Adult
Rating: 2.5/5 stars – disappointed and detached
Goodreads

SynopsisEvie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat.

Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls.

And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways.

Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?

review

I had heard such amazing things about this book. As I’m trying to expand my genre-horizon, I figured I’d pick up this adult fiction novel. From what I could gather, this was about a teenage girl that got caught up in a cult which ended up killing some people. I heard this was a fictional version of the Manson murders. Sounds exciting, right? Wrong.

I can’t remember exactly how old Evie is at the time, but I believe she’s 14. Correct me if I’m wrong. The story is told in two timelines: one when she’s 14, and one when she is a middle aged woman.

Very little of this story is actually about her involvement with the cult. When it is, she mostly talks about Suzanne (the older girl who got her involved with the cult). Throughout most of this book Evie is either a) lonely and angry at the world, b) a horrible person to others or c) thinking about sex. 

I understand she’s not supposed to be likeable. But I hated how she treated every person, aside from Suzanne. She was always rude. She didn’t always say the rude things she was thinking, but she was always thinking them. I don’t understand how anyone can be so hateful to her supposed friends, and family. 

And the amount of sex in this book is insane. To be clear: I’m not against sex in books, whether it’s adult or YA. But hear me out. Evie is 14 years old. Yet in every single moment, she is thinking about sex. Has her friend had sex? I want sex with her brother. Has he had sex with his girlfriend? Are they doing it right now? She is sexy. ON AND ON IT GOES. I understand that a teenager does think of sex. But please tell me there is something else going on in their lives! 

Overall, this book just disappointed me. There was far too little of the actual cult in there, I don’t even know why the adult-Evie perspective was there because it wasn’t relevant to the story at all, and I was so uncomfortable with the sexual portrayal of a 14 year old girl.


his-bloody-project
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Published: 05.11.2015

Genre: Crime, Historical Fiction
Rating: 3/5 stars –  didn’t do anything for me
Goodreads

Synopsis: A brutal triple murder in a remote Scottish farming community in 1869 leads to the arrest of seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae. There is no question that Macrae committed this terrible act. What would lead such a shy and intelligent boy down this bloody path? Will he hang for his crime?

Presented as a collection of documents discovered by the author, His Bloody Project opens with a series of police statements taken from the villagers of Culdie, Ross-shire. They offer conflicting impressions of the accused; one interviewee recalls Macrae as a gentle and quiet child, while another details him as evil and wicked. Chief among the papers is Roderick Macrae’s own memoirs, where he outlines the series of events leading up to the murder in eloquent and affectless prose. There follow medical reports, psychological evaluations, a courtroom transcript from the trial, and other documents that throw both Macrae’s motive and his sanity into question. Graeme Macrae Burnet’s multilayered narrative will keep the reader guessing to the very end.

review

Another one I had such high expectations of. Look, this was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (I think). That gives me certain expectations. And I thought the concept was really interesting too!

It’s set in a little village in rural Scotland, where a brutal murder takes place. 17-year-old Roderick is arrested and tried for the crime. The story isn’t really told as a story, but rather through the different documents related to his case. You have a few witness accounts, a diary/journal Roderick made of his life leading up to that moment, a psychologist’s views, his lawyer’s views, and a record of the trial. You sort of have to make up your own mind as to whether he’s guilty or not? 

That all sounded really fun to me. Instead, it just left me bored.

You get introduced to the crime by the witness accounts, which were really short and rather interesting. Then Roderick gets to tell you about his entire life. I felt mostly sorry for him, but then I also intensely disliked him. He was smart, but didn’t apply himself to anything. His actions were so incredibly weird and inexplicable at times, and reading about them through his eyes didn’t help you understand him either. From reading his account, I decided he was guilty. Although I also felt like the intended victim deserved what he got. 

I think the point of this book is to make you think about crimes from multiple points of view. Yes, murder is horrible. But are there mitigating circumstances? To what degree can you be held accountable for your actions under certain circumstances, and how can you tell whether someone is still truly sane? I did quite like that aspect. I wouldn’t know how to solve the issue of his sentence nowadays. Yes, I do believe he was guilty. Yet I also believe he was abused so badly, he cannot be tried as completely sane. I appreciate that this book made me think. Yet I wasn’t excited or intrigued by the overall story whatsoever. 

The last aspect of this book, that I found jarring yet realistic was how the accounts differed. Some people saw Roderick as a kind and quiet young guy. Others as a mean and stupid kid. There are subtle differences between Roderick’s story and the autopsy reports too, which make you question everything. 

I’ll conclude by saying this: I think the concept of this book is wonderfully intriguing. Yet I never felt attached to any of the characters, nor did I feel drawn into their story. I trudged through, so I could finish the book. But I wasn’t excited to pick it up.

Review: The Game of Love and Death

the game of love and deathThe Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
Published: 28.04.2015 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism

Rating: 5/5 stars – ★★★★★
Goodreads

Synopsis: Antony and Cleopatra. Helen of Troy and Paris. Romeo and Juliet. And now… Henry and Flora. 

For centuries Love and Death have chosen their players. They have set the rules, rolled the dice, and kept close, ready to influence, angling for supremacy. And Death has always won. Always.

Could there ever be one time, one place, one pair whose love would truly tip the balance?

Meet Flora Saudade, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart by day and sings in the smoky jazz clubs of Seattle by night. Meet Henry Bishop, born a few blocks and a million worlds away, a white boy with his future assured—a wealthy adoptive family in the midst of the Great Depression, a college scholarship, and all the opportunities in the world seemingly available to him.

The players have been chosen. The dice have been rolled. But when human beings make moves of their own, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

review

Where do I even start on this book? Honestly. This had been on my shelf for a few months. I bought it because I’d seen some great reviews on it -and because the cover is gorgeous. But I didn’t truly know what it was about. So in my attempt to get you to read this book, I’ll tell you all about it.

SETTING

Here’s what I didn’t know before I started. This is actually a historical fiction novel. The story starts in 1920, when Love and Death each choose a player. Every so often, Love and Death play the Game. Each chooses a player, without telling them about the game. At birth (in 1920 for our main characters) they mark them, and so the Game begins. Love chooses Henry to be his player, and Death then chooses Flora.

Most of the story takes place in 1937 however, when Henry and Flora are 17 years old. It plays out in Seattle. Here’s what’s so interesting about the setting. Henry is an orphan, and white. He was taken in by this rich family, who have a son of the same age. He goes to private school and helps out at the newspaper the Dad owns, even though all he really wants to do is play music and baseball. Flora is a mechanic, a pilot, a singer, and a girl of color. She’s African-American girl, in a time where there was even more racial tension/repression than now. All she has ever wanted is to be a pilot and have her own plane.

I loved that this book was not only beautiful, but included diverse aspects too. There is a lot of mention of discrimination, both explicit and implicit. The “racial lines” are clearly drawn in society, and it makes me so angry to read about. It makes me angry in real life too, by the way.

I think the setting of this story was incredible. Not only the time period, but the places too. I could imagine the airfield Flora worked at, the jazz bar she partly owned and worked at. I could imagine Henry playing music in his room, and watching Flora sing. It was beautifully written.

PLOT

As I said, Love and Death each choose a player. The game ends when either of them wins. When the players choose to be with each other regardless of the consequences, Love wins. When they don’t, Death wins and she takes them both. Neither of the players are aware of that, however.

I adored watching this story unfold. To watch Henry and Flora grow into themselves, and get to know each other. My heart ached at times, and at other times it was filled with hope. There is so much loss, grief, hope and courage in this story. I can’t even express to you how much I loved reading it.

CHARACTERS

Ah, the aspect in which this novel TRULY shines. The characters. I adored Henry. His optimism. His music. His hope and faith in others. His willingness to help. I adored Flora. Her strong will. Her beautiful voice. Her big dreams. Her hard work. Her love and devotion to her family.

This book is not only beautiful in its characters and story, but the writing is incredible too. At a certain point in time, Henry writes a song for Flora. When you’re reading the book, you really can only see it in poem-form though. I mean, kind of. They’re still lyrics, but it looks more like a poem because you have no clue what the music sounds like. And the song he wrote may seem cheesy, but I thought it was absolutely beautiful. There’s still something about two of the lines in it that sticks with me. I’ll put those lines in bold for you. 

You are the moon
And I am the sea
Wherever you are
You’ve got pull over me

The whole of the sky
Wants to keep us apart
The distance is wearing
A hole in my heart

Someday your moonlight
Will blanket my skin
Someday my waves
Will pull all of you in

Someday I promise
The moon and the sea
Will be together

Forever you and me

Both characters are truly incredible. But there are a lot of side characters that are worth a mention too. Like Ethan. Ethan is the son of the people who took in Henry. He’s dyslexic, something he has kept hidden his entire life, as he is supposed to take over his dad’s newspaper one day. He really cares for Henry. At times, it truly shows he was raised by rich, white people. He can be snobbish and racist at times. And it’s important to recognize that. But he also has his own struggles that are important.

I also had mixed feelings about Love and Death. At times, I admired Love. At other times, I hated how he used these mortal lives and manipulated them like it meant nothing. How he played with feelings like only Love can. I felt the same way about Death though.

There’s one other character I want to mention: Helen. I HATE what happened to her. If you’ve read this book, message me on Twitter so I can talk to you about it!

All in all, I would highly recommend this book. It was my first 5 star read of the year. Not only is the setting gorgeous, and are the characters incredible, the writing itself is beautiful too. Please, go read this book. I beg you.

DNF Review: Shadow of the Raven

shadow of the ravenShadow of the Raven (Sons of Kings #1) by Millie Thom
Published: 27.05.2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
DNF at 56%
Goodreads

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion in any way. 

Synopsis: Thunder claps roar and Odin’s ravens fly. Dragonships set sail – and the kingdoms of Western Europe hold their breath. Warriors of Thor are on the move. By the mid ninth century, Danish raids on Anglo-Saxon kingdoms have escalated. Several bands even dare to overwinter on the coastal islands, particularly those at the mouth of the Thames, where the kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia border each other. The kings of these lands must put past enmity aside and take the first steps towards unity; steps they see as vital in the face of this newfound threat to their lands . . . Alfred of Wessex and Eadwulf of Mercia are the sons of kings, whose futures have been determined since birth. But the turbulent events in their childhood years change the natural progression of things – and shape the characters of the men they will become. Their roads to manhood follow vastly different routes, but both learn crucial lessons along the way: lessons that will serve them well in future years. Discovering that they enemy is not always a stranger is a harsh lesson indeed; the realisation that a trusted kinsman can turn traitor is the harshest lesson of all.

review

I feel really bad DNFing this. That’s why it’s been on my currently-reading shelf on Goodreads for 3 months now. But I need to face the facts. I read up until 56%, some of it a struggle. When I put it down in July, I had every intention of trying to finish it. It’s the end of October now, and I haven’t once felt like continuing it. It’s time to call it a DNF. 

I was really excited to read this one! I haven’t read that many Viking stories, or stories about the Danish raids, or the ninth century. It’s a period of history I don’t know all that much about, to be honest. So this looked like the perfect read to me! 

It started out fairly well. The story takes off with Eadwulf of Mercia, son to the king. He’s playing in the courtyard, when his father’s party is killed and he is taken hostage. I thought Eadwulf was a great main character. He seemed strong, kind, to care very much for his friends and family -a kid with a strong moral compass, in general. As the story went along however, I grew to understand him less. At first I was proud of him, because he stayed so strong and honest throughout his trials and tribulations. But it comes to a point where he joins a group of people, and I just couldn’t understand. I won’t tell you what it is, but I just couldn’t see how someone with his past could do this.

We also follow many other characters, of different countries. To be honest, I had a bit of trouble with all the names and people. There just wasn’t  character I was really attached to? 

I think this book is the epitome of the cliche: it’s not you, it’s me. Most people who have read this book, absolutely loved it. And I didn’t dislike the writing style, nor do I think it’s a bad book. I just didn’t have any connection with the characters -which for me, makes it pretty impossible to continue. If you like the synopsis and think it sounds interesting, I’d still urge you to give it a go. Maybe it’ll suit you better than it did me.