Review: Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

Image result for fawkes nadine brandesThis was absolutely and entirely a cover-based choice, and I will readily admit that. I was strolling through the vendor exhibits at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in June, spotted this cover, and immediately picked up a copy. I regret nothing. I didn’t even bother to read the back cover.

I adore fantasy books, they’re one of my favorite genres to dive into. However, I’m always a bit wary when they mess with the tried and true formula of general magic and mayhem. Fawkes is set in 17th century England and lo and behold, is about Guy Fawkes (remember remember the 5th of November), or more importantly, his fictional son Thomas Fawkes. At this point I was already a little “ehhhh” about this whole book. Guy Fawkes and his son? Yeah, okay… But wait, there’s more! So not only does Guy Fawkes have a kid, they live in an England that has magic. And not just any magic, it has COLOR MAGIC. When you come of age, you bond with a specific color, and then you can control items of that color. If you bond with brown, you can control wood and dirt and other fun brown things. Oh, and everybody has to wear masks of their color to use the magic, so now we have Guy Fawkes, his not real son, magic based on color, and everybody is running around wearing full face masks. Ohhhkay…

Boy was I pleasantly surprised by how dang enjoyable this story was. The premise is weird as hell, but Brandes ends up spinning a really great tale that pulls it altogether nicely. Thomas Fawkes is exactly what you expect from a 16 year old boy entrenched in a world of magic, lies, and betrayal. On the day he’s supposed to receive his mask and bond with a color, his famous soldier father decides not to show up. Angry with his lack of parental support, Thomas decides to walk to London from York and seek out Guy. Did I mention there’s also stone plague? Yeah, people are contracting a disease that slowly turns them into stone. And guess who has it? You got it, Thomas. So he’s turning to stone, walking across the English country-side to London to find his crappy father, and he has no mask and no magic. But don’t worry, he finds his dad, and gets roped into the plot we all know and love: his dad (and a number of friends) are going to blow up parliament and the king. In Thomas’ England, there are two factions of color magic users, and King James is leading the one that’s killing the other faction, of which Guy and his cohort are a part of. And to top it all off, Thomas kind of really likes this girl from school that just happens to be a part of King James’ faction. So we’ve got magic, impending doom via stone plague, a plot to kill the king, and a love story that could end in betrayal. See, I told you Brandes does well.

The best part of this book besides the fun plot, is that Brandes utilizes tons of actual facts from the very nonfiction Gunpowder Plot of 1605. If you’re familiar with the details of Guy Fawkes’ life and his work in the plot, you won’t be surprised at how some of this goes. I loved this aspect because while the story is still fairly outlandish, it’s set in a base of fact and truth. It gives it a sense of credibility. Some fantasy books become TOO fantastical, too hard for the reader to really believe. This one checked all the boxes, I could see an England with a stone plague and color magic and not “guffaw” at it.

I ended up giving this one four stars. It’s a little clunky at times with some of the writing, and there’s a brief “white savior must eradicate racism” section for a few pages that it could really do without, but all in all, it’s a strong book. It’s Pub Day is today, July 10th, and I’m excited to see how it does. I will say, since it’s not the most versatile (see “general magic and mayhem”) fantasy book because it’s also historical fiction, it might not be for everyone. But I definitely suggest checking it out and giving it a try. You might just be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

 

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Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

1594483655Right off the bat, I had no clue what this book was about. I found it in the bargain section of a local used bookstore for 75 cents and the synopsis seemed interesting enough, so into my basket it went.

Published in 2008, Galloway’s historical fiction novel is set during the Bosnian War in the early 90s. Centered around the siege of Sarajaveo, the book follows three main characters as they struggle to survive in a city that has been reduced to rubble (I’m not counting the cellist because he only gets one chapter from his POV).

I know absolutely nothing about the Bosnian War or the siege of Sarajevo, so I ended up doing some research while I was reading this. Heck, I didn’t even know where Bosnia was, hence the research. If you’re like me and completely clueless, here’s some fast facts for you:

  • The Bosnian War was an international conflict that occurred between 1992 and 1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is here:                                              Image result for bosnia
  • It was essentially instigated by the breakup of Yugoslavia
  • Basically it was the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat entities funded by Serbia and Croatia
  • The siege of Sarajevo is the longest siege of a capital city in history
  • The siege last from April of 1992 to February of 1996
  • 13,952 people were killed during the siege, 5,434 were civilians
  • A number of Serb officials were convicted of war crimes after the

I definitely recommend reading up on the war, but be warned, the atrocities that those in Sarajevo were exposed to is not easy to read about in detail.

Back to the book…

The three main characters, not including the cellist, are Arrow, Kenan, and Dragan. Arrow is a young woman who has been conscripted into being a sniper for the Republic of Bosnia’s forces in the city. The book covers several days in her life, unlike the other two characters. Kenan is a middle aged man with two children and a wife, and they live in a small apartment in the city, and the book follows Kenan through one day as he attempts to collect water for his family. Dragan is an older gentleman who’s wife and child have left the city, he lives with his sister and brother-in-law as his apartment was destroyed by shelling. The book also follows Dragan through one day as he attempts to get to a bakery across the city.

The book begins from the POV of the cellist, as he watches a shelling that takes out a group of people waiting in line to get some bread. He decides to go down an play at the sight of the shelling everyday for 22 days. One day for each of the victims. The book progresses through these 22 days, as each character seeks normalcy in a time when their homes are no longer recognizable. The story culminates with the last day.

The writing in this book is exquisite. The descriptions are heartbreaking and beautiful. Galloway spends a great deal of the book really capturing what Sarajevo was before the siege, and what it had lost. In a way, Sarajevo is its own character, growing and evolving as the siege progresses.

I wouldn’t say that this story is really about “the power of music” as some people have said. I think it’s more about the power of humanity to continue on in the face of overwhelming odds; the music component is just a nice add on. But even with that, you can’t go wrong with this book. It doesn’t have a happy ending by any means, but it does leave you thinking. And hopefully sparks your interest in researching a historical event you may not know much about.

 

Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Image credit: Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28449257-the-wonder)

I’m pretty sure I added The Wonder to my TBR on Goodreads wayyyy back when it first got published in 2016. And then I forgot about it.

But then, while browsing the library shelves before work one Saturday, there it was, smushed between some contemporary fiction. And now we’re here.

So if you don’t know who Emma Donoghue is, she is the author of Room, which got adapted into the box office hit about a little boy and his mother with Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson. I’d go into more detail, but this review isn’t about Room, so… The Wonder has seen its own success since its publication, it’s just not a movie yet. Anyway.

The Wonder is a nice little taste of historical fiction, set in Ireland several years after the end of the Great Famine (1859 according to Donoghue). It follows Lib, a young nurse who was trained under Florence Nightingale (the mother of modern nursing) as she embarks on a job no one else wanted. Lib has taken a short job in podunk nowhere Ireland under the impression she will be doing her nursely duties for two weeks in exchange for a decent amount of money. Instead, she comes to find that there is a young girl in this Irish village who people claim has not eaten a thing for four months. Lib’s job is to watch this young girl for two weeks and report if she is actually refraining from eating.

Each of Donoghue’s character’s have their own individually elaborate stories, and carry all the depth you hope for in any good fiction story. Alongside Lib is the young girl, Anne and her colorful family, a nun, a young news correspondent, a priest from the local parish, and the doctor who was overseeing Anne’s treatment. Each of them has a major part to play, and each has a story that unfolds with such breath and detail. You love them and you hate them all. No one character ever seems to be neglected or in the background, even when they’re written as minor characters.

As the story progresses, Anne’s health declines, and against her instructions not to meddle, Lib decides she must intervene to save Anne. From there it’s a race against time as Anne’s death lingers ever closer, and Lib must find the truth behind the last four months and convince the others to save Anne’s life.

Much of the story is a clashing of philosophies. Anne, her family, and the fellow villagers believe her four month fast to be successful because of divine intervention. Her decision to begin the fast on her first communion was influenced by her deep devotion to God. Lib, a woman of science, believes otherwise. As Lib struggles to save Anne’s life, she must fight tooth and nail against everyone around her who harbors a staunch belief that God will not let Anne die.

The story ends pretty surprisingly, but it takes a lot to get there. The characters shine where the story itself does not. The book seems to drag for ages, with all the action occurring all at once in the last third of the book. The extended chapters (about 60 pages each) make the wait seem even longer. I gave the book four stars originally, but I could easily see myself giving 3.5. The premise and characters are interesting, and the ending is satisfying enough, but all the trudging in between can be a bit off putting. To be honest, I finished the book a month ago and I’m still not sure what kind of impression it left on me.

Lets talk about the F word: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

IMG_3597A really big discussion going on in libraries, and just in general, is about diversity, intersectionality, and tolerance. Bias and racism is obviously a touchy subject, and for librarians, we’re constantly talking about how to appropriately and comfortably help all of our patrons, no matter who they are. We’re also working on addressing the hidden biases we all have. I recently had the opportunity to watch Adichie’s TED talk, Danger of a Single Story. She discusses how only having or knowing one story about a person, culture, or group leads us to believe inherently damaging things about that person, culture, or group.

The discussion that followed sucked me down a rabbit hole of Adichie’s writings, and I immediately went to the library and checked out We Should All Be Feminists and one of her fictional works, Americanah.

We Should All Be Feminists is an essay adapted from another TED talk Adichie gave, and discusses her experiences with feminism throughout her life. Just as Adichie mentions in the first few pages of the essay, feminism carries a lot of negative baggage. Those of us who use the label feminist often find ourselves stuck in an argument with others that we don’t actually hate men, we don’t want to burn our bras, we’re not evil or angry, we do wear deodorant, and some of us shave our legs (and some don’t because honestly who has the time).

While Adichie discusses raising our sons differently and teaching our daughters to be who they are for themselves, she seems to be treading the line of second wave feminism. A key component of the third wave feminism that we’re experiencing currently is intersectionality and the inclusivity of all females and those who identify as feminine. This simply means that the feminism movement is no longer about simply cis-gendered women’s right to choose, it’s about supporting and fighting for transgender women and those who identify as queer femme (and really all those who identify in someway as feminine). A common point that was discussed after the first Women’s March last year is that the power of femininity does not come from having a vagina, but from embodying female power, whatever that may be for an individual person. It’s part of the reason the pussy hats got such a pushback from the LGBTQI community, and with good reason.

It’s not my place to say that Adichie’s experiences are not valid, because they most certainly are. Her essay is a great example of experiencing an extremely patriarchal environment, especially for her having grown up in Nigeria where even today the rules and laws stripping women of rights and options are infinitely more strict than those in the US. But if we want to truly create a viable feminist movement, and by extension a culture that fights racism, social injustice, and inequality on all fronts, we must be critical of our advocates and heroes.

A huge issue that runs rampant in the feminist movement over the last several decades (really since the second wave feminism movement in the 60s and 70s) has been the lack of inclusion of transgender women and really anyone who does not identify as a cis-woman. Adichie made several remarks not too long ago about transgender women that was considered transphobic. She expressed her feelings that trans women are trans women, and women are women. That while they are trans women, they grew up with the “privileges of being a man”. While it’s valid to say that the experiences of transgender women might be different prior to transition than a cis woman, they are no less valid in thefight for equality and understanding. The controversy here is that Adichie’s comments imply that trans women are not TRUE women.

When one of the most prominent voices of the global feminist movement makes these comments, we need to be wary. Our heroes and the people we’ve chosen to speak for the masses aren’t perfect, and we need to acknowledge that. That isn’t to say that other things Adichie has said haven’t had an amazing impact on the movement, but we do need to have a discussion about the not so wonderful things.

We Should All Be Feminists is a great stepping stone to more complex and exploratory social literature, but it needs to be taken with a grain of salt, like most social commentaries. And like all of us trying to address our biases and become better advocates, I hope that Adichie is doing the same. We become better by acknowledging our mistakes, understanding why they were mistakes, and working to fix them.

Books and Morals: when your favorite author is terrible

Recently I started getting into this fantastic podcast called Overdue, run by Andrew Cunningham and Craig Getting. Andrew and Craig read and review books that we all should have probably read by now. It’s fun and lets me revisit books I haven’t read in ages.

Their recent episode from December on Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card sparked a pretty big internal conflict for me that I think a number of us have maybe encountered. I adore Ender’s Game; I consider it one of my top three science fiction books. If you’ve never read it, it chronicles a young boy as he is sent into space to attend a space battle school. In this futuristic world, young talented children are trained in preparation for leading Earth’s interstellar military in battles against a hostile alien race. Ender is considered one of those elite children, in fact he’s thought to be THE future hero of the human race. It’s a wonderfully written science fiction novel, and has won multiple literary awards. They even turned it into a movie a few years back (it was horrible).

Here’s the issue. Orson Scott Card is not a nice guy. I knew all of this prior to the podcast episode, but Andrew and Craig really delve into all the ridiculous things Card has done in the past. He’s penned numerous essays with staunch homophobic stances, he’s compared Barack Obama to Hitler, and he’s been very open about his political opinions in regards to other races and sexualities. The dude has gotten so much flack, he actually has a page on his website devoted to explaining how his quotes have been misquoted, and that his critics are wrong.

In the podcast, Andrew and Craig bring up the issue of how can we as consumers of art and ideas separate the art from the artist. Or more importantly, should we?

When I pick up a book penned by a white male, I typically don’t go “oh wow, a white guy wrote this book”. When I stumble upon a book written by a POC or a queer author, one of the first things people like to comment on is that it was written by a minority. We have this ability to separate white authors from their works quite easily, but for many minority authors, their identity is at the forefront of their works. Louis CK was the example used in the podcast. This is a man who used his humor and talent to portray feminism, but it was then discovered that he did sexually inappropriate things to women. And yet even after the news broke, people still expressed their support for his standup and his art. When it comes to white artists, fans appreciate their works in a vacuum. They can separate the man from the art. “Well, he’s the worst, but this stuff he made…I love it.”

For me, it’s an internal moral conflict. Ender’s Game has been one of the most important books in my personal library. Card lives in my town. He references our town in Ender’s Game multiple times. It’s a staple of my science fiction shelf, something I used to recommend to friends avidly. But it was penned by a person who’s beliefs literally go against my own. These ideals that Card embodies and proudly shouts are things I have spoken out against. But then in the back of my head I hear this small voice go “but Melissa, should you really hold this author you’ve never even met to a higher ethical bar than what you hold your close friends and family to?” Can’t I just say that he’s crazy, but this book is iconic, and deserves appreciation in some form? And then I start to wonder if my convictions are truly iron clad.

So this is the issue that I am dealing with personally, and I hope I’m not the only one. Maybe an artist or author you love has a track record of being a pretty terrible person too. Delving into this issue made me realize just how many authors of the past we wipe the slate clean for just so we can continue reading their works. TS Eliot is another favorite of mine, and was a raging anti-Semitic. Hemingway was an absolutely abhorrent person who emotionally damaged his wives and children. The list goes on. But their works!

It is quite a confusing moral conundrum. If we flipped through the pages of history, three out of every four great artists would have a black streaked past. We’d have to boycott and toss out countless works of art, novels of grandeur, and great classical symphonies (looking at you Wagner). But we also cannot love the art and pretend who it came from was as flawless as what they created. I loved Ender’s Game, but I acknowledge that I can no longer support Card the way I did when I was younger. And for my own personal convictions, I will not be re-reading the story for quite some time, if ever. I already own the book, it was gifted to me by my brother, so it will remain on my shelf, just not on the favorites shelf.

But how do we make it black and white when it’s gray all over? If you think we can not separate the artist from the art, and you wish to not support bad artists, can you truly stop consuming all the art around you that is tainted with a bad creator? Where is the line drawn? How bad must a person be for you to stop supporting them? Is a few inappropriate comments okay, but avid racism is where you draw the line? If you think we can separate it all out, are you comfortable with supporting ALL artists? It’s a hard line to tread, and I think we’ll all have differing opinions on what is and is not okay. Art consumption is a wholly personal experience, but it must be done with a little grain of salt on the side.

If you must gain access to works by authors you know have a track record of disrepute, I recommend strictly borrowing from the library so they in no way receive royalties from a purchase you might otherwise make. And research your authors. Acknowledge that great art can come from terrible people. For so long we as a society have shoved things we disliked under the rug in favor of appreciating art because “it makes us better and more cultured people.” We must consume art, but we must acknowledge that some of the greatest works we fall in love with came from dark people. And maybe we should start asking “why?”

Review: Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

IMG_3296This one got A LOT of hype from various book bloggers and bookstagrammers. I must have seen the cover pop up a thousand times, everyone singing it’s praises. I am apparently in the minority, but truthfully the book was disappointing. I’m sensing a trend with historical fiction in that it continually lets me down.

Last Christmas in Paris is a epistolary novel that follows Thomas Harding and Evie Elliot as they exchange letters during WWI. Thomas is stationed at the front in France and Evie back in England. In between the letters, there are flash-forwards of Thomas visiting Paris in 1968, some 50 years after the end of the war. 1968 Thomas is re-reading all of the letters he and Evie exchanged, and is preparing to read the last one she wrote for him that she left after her death.

The concept is sweet and nostalgic, a blossoming romance during times of war. And the book seems original and fresh until you’re 300 pages in and bored to death of reading letters. I personally feel like the book was just too drawn out, and could have ended a lot quicker. The whole will they, won’t they trope is great for a while, but once Evie has rehashed her unsure feelings towards Thomas in a letter to her best friend for the MILLIONTH TIME, I was pretty much over it. The overall plot was fine, but as I’ve come to find with most historical fiction stories, it was full of extra fluff. It’s that much harder when you know they end up together, but you now have to read another 150 pages to get to that point. It’s like sloshing through mud.

I can say that considering how wonderful the flash-forwards were written, I think this book could have been a lot better written narratively with letters mixed in. Trying to pen an entire novel from just letters is no small feat, but it tends to come out clunky and lacking detail that narratives can provide. Maybe I just hate epistolary books. Call me biased.

All that being said, I did enjoy and appreciate the book, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Clearly I struggle with epistolary writing and historical fiction. I should really just avoid those books from here on out. The ending was quite lovely and redeemed the book for me after having trudged through the whole middle section. Someone mentioned it might be better via audio book, and that the use of multiple narraters kept it lighter and easier to get into. If you’ve listened to the audio book, let me know what you thought!

Overall, I give Last Christmas in Paris 3.5 stars. It’s a sweet concept, I just don’t think it was executed properly. I feel like it could have been a wonderfully romantic story of two people falling in love during the war, it just didn’t need to be done entirely in letters, and  the writing in the flash-forwards proves that. Unpopular opinion be damned, I think 300 pages of letters is overkill, and the readers deserved more. Sorry, not sorry.

My Top Ten Books of 2017

It is always so hard to narrow down the list each year. How do you pick just ten books when you’ve read some fantastic ones? I did my best and tried to be fair, and landed on ten great books I had the pleasure of reading this past year. So in no particular order, let’s begin!

1. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas

I love a good fantasy series, and I’m amazed I put this one off for as long as I did. Fae, romance, and magic is always a great combination. And who doesn’t love a strong female protagonist? It was hard to pinpoint where on the spectrum this book fell; it reads like a YA fantasy, but has a lot of themes more appropriate for adults. Regardless, it’s a great book and series, and I’d highly recommend it for any fantasy lover. I’m excited to get around to the third book this year.

2. 11/22/63 by Stephen King

My last Stephen King was Dreamcatcher which leaves a lot to be desired; it’s definitely not the best King to start with, so I was fairly reluctant to try again, but I had heard nothing but amazing things about 11/22/63. It’s 900 pages, so my intention was to make it into my long winter read. I flew through it in less than two weeks… This book is a perfect balance of thrill, suspense, history, and romance. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a Stephen King that isn’t straight horror. It’s a time traveling book set around the Kennedy assassination, and I promise it’s not nearly as cheesy as it sounds. The pace of the novel keeps the page count from feeling overwhelming, so whether you’re a slower reader or a speed reader, anyone can easily tackle a tome like this. It’s versatile enough for any reader to enjoy. This definitely was a five star read for me this year.

3. The Power by Naomi Alderman

2017 was the year of diverse and feminist books, and The Power was a great example of the latter. The book is set in an alternate universe in which women now have the power to harm others simply with a touch. It follows several women as the power of men is flipped in their favor, and addresses the theoretical question of if women were in charge would the world be a better place? The story was original and creative, and while the writing was just so-so at some points, it does not leave you disappointed.

4. Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

There’s is nothing I love more than stumbling on a sweet, quick read about first love and with a little drama. If anyone needs a good pick me up book with a happy ending, Love and Gelato is the way to go. Once I get through my book buying ban and it gets published in May, I’m really looking forward to reading Welch’s second book, Love and Luck. Her writing is perfect for a great, light read in-between those heavy books.

5. Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the perfect book to help you find new books to read, or to firmly establish that there are just some terrible books out there no one should read. Annie Spence is a librarian in Detroit and she decided to compile love letters and break up letters to different books in her life. The communal librarian hatred of Fifty Shades of Gray makes an appearance, as it should. If you’ve ever deeply loved, loathed, or felt apathetic towards a book, you’ll relate to Spence’s letters and tales. It’s a must read for every librarian and book lover out there. I laughed through pretty much every entry, and her subject headings are perfection.

6. Orfeo by Richard Powers

I have never read a book that perfectly captured the feeling of being overwhelmed and in love with music, but Powers got it spot on. Any music lover, especially those who have an appreciation and understanding of classical music, will enjoy this wonderful ode to the works of the greats. Orfeo is a wonderful combination of the thrill of science fiction and the joy of art. I’ve read few books in my life that have left me in tears, but I can honestly say that I cried when I finished this book. A little heavy at times, and it’s definitely not a quick read, but it’s well worth the time and effort. Another fantastic five star read for 2017.

7. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I finally jumped on the Outlander train and I will never go back. I forced this book on my best friend after finishing it, I binged the show, I fell madly in love with Jamie Fraser. Scotland, hot dudes, romance, intrigue, and history? And it’s a part of a super long series that goes on forever? Sign me up. I got the third book of the series for Christmas and I’m so ready to rejoin Claire and Jamie on their adventures. Also, this book basically forced me to follow Sam Heughan on Instagram, and to be honest that was probably the best decision I made all year. If you have yet to read Outlander, or even watch the show, do it. Whether by book or by screen, you have to experience this story.

8. Caraval by Stephanie Garber

You can’t make a 2017 list without including one of the most popular fantasy books of the year. This was one of the only books this past year that I read in less than 24 hours. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say I’m crazy excited for the second book. It’s easier YA fantasy, but as I’ve said before, life is too short to read boring books, so read the YA fiction that’s geared towards people ten years younger than you. If it’s a good book, it’s a good book, regardless of audience.

9. The Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown

Two things: the first is that Pierce Brown is science fiction’s current resident bad boy hot dude. Number two is that this trilogy gave me life. I FLEW through the books. I read a lot of books, but science fiction is hands down my favorite genre, and Red Rising gets everything right. The characters are amazingly developed, the plot has so many unexpected twists, the Greek references are perfect. I pre-ordered the fourth book as soon as it was available. Iron Gold comes out on January 16th, and you can bet your butt I’ll be sitting by the front door waiting for our mail guy to deliver it.

10. Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey

I really did read some great science fiction this year. Corey’s Expanse series has made the rounds over the last few years, and gained a lot of popularity after it was turned into a show on Syfy. The series will be nine books in total, six of which have been published. Leviathan Wakes is a solid space opera, with all the drama and action you would expect from interstellar battles and planetary politics. I’m sorry to say that by the sixth book, things start to drag. It’s hard to keep a storyline going across that many books and not get bogged down with excessive detail. Even with all of the political drudgery, Corey has a winner with Leviathan Wakes (and pretty much books two through five).

Did you have any books that wowed you in 2017? Let me know! And keep an eye out for my Worst Books of 2017 list. They can’t all be winners and five star stories.

Review: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

img_3051.jpgHave you ever read a book that you just could not tell if you actually enjoyed it or not? That was this book. It wasn’t poorly written, but it wasn’t ‘smack me in the face’ amazing, so I’m still not very sure of how it left me.

This is Jennifer Ryan’s debut novel, and it follows the women of Chilbury during World War II, and follows the age old adage that “life goes on”. There’s romance, heartbreak, coming of age, and even death. I do think the synopsis is a bit heavy handed on the concept of the choir as it really only plays a background role to all of the other plots floating around.

For a rather short book, there is A LOT going on in this story; we get baby swapping in the first 50 pages. Because of it’s length and everything going on, a lot of the storylines develop quickly and almost at an unnatural pace. And even with all this action, the story doesn’t even really start to move forward until the last half of the book. Prior to that everything is simply moving in circles. I liken it to those battle scenes in action movies where there is a lot going on, but nothing is actually progressing the plot. All action, no movement.

The biggest thing at that made me question my enjoyment of this book was it’s written entirely as letters and diary entries from three characters. Which is all well and good, except that I have never in my life read a letter or diary entry that was written as if each character just happened to be a fiction writer on the side. The joy of fiction is that it’s believable. I find it hard to believe that someone would write a letter or diary entry as narratively as these characters have. I feel the story would work better simply as an alternating point of view narrative than attempting to make each chapter a written product from one of the woman. It makes it infinitely less believable when a letter from one of the characters quotes an entire conversation with emotional analysis, there was too much detail to make it a believable letter one sends to another.

The characters are all diverse, but fairly one dimensional; a grieving war mother, two sisters that struggle to get along, a pleasant and supportive choir director, a mean old vicar. All pretty standard tropes one finds in a small village in war stricken England. And with all the drama going on in the book, everything once again conveniently wraps up with a nice bow. Everyone gets the ending you hope and wish for them. This novel is anything but out of the ordinary. It’s simple, straight forward, and predictable.

I gave it three stars because of my so-so feelings towards the characters and this book in general. I’m sure others who enjoy nice, simple historical fiction with a bit of drama would eat this book up. It just was not my cup of tea. One day I’m going to find a historical fiction novel that doesn’t leave me feeling “meh”.

Review: Christmas Edition

Whew, it’s been a while, friends! But I’m back and ready to supply you with some new reads. This go round is actually a double review of two wonderful little seasonal reads that are perfect for Christmas time: Skipping Christmas by John Grisham and Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand. Both are fairly short, quick little reads perfect for curling up next to a well-lit tree and a warm fire (and a toasty cup of cocoa too). So pull out your Christmas sweaters and stockings, and put on the carols, because it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Skipping Christmas – John Grisham

Yes, you read that right. This christmas book was written by THAT John Grisham. Skipping Christmas is far cry from a legal thriller, and if you’ve ever watched Christmas with the Kranks a lá Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, then you’ve essentially read this book. That being said, it still stands on it’s own in the best way. If you’re just looking for a fun, quick story that is the equivalent of watching Freeform’s 25 Days of Christmas, and is well written and leaves you satisfied, John Grisham delivered.

I love Christmas with the Kranks, I think it’s a funny Christmas movie that holds up well even while competing against the big whigs like White Christmas and Christmas Vacation. I’ve seen the movie countless times, so I was interested to see what it’s literary precursor had to offer. The movie stayed pretty true to the book; Luther and Nora have decided to forgo Christmas and take a tropical cruise now that their daughter Blair is off with the Peace Corps through the holidays. They say no to all of their traditional Christmas goings on and whatsits: no party, no tree, not a thing. When you live in a very Christmas-oriented neighborhood with holiday obsessed friends, coworkers, and neighbors, you’re obviously going to get backlash. The characters are funny, quirky, and just trying to figure out how to navigate riled teens, questioning adults, and people who really just want Luther to Free Frosty!

Like I said, if you’ve seen Christmas with the Kranks, you’ve basically read this book. Book Luther is quite a bit more strict about forgoing Christmas fun than his Tim Allen counterpart, and unfortunately we don’t get a funny botox scene, but all in all, it reads wonderfully.

The book is rather short, perfect for a chilly afternoon. You could easily read this in one go. And if you never grow tired of Christmas hi-jinx like myself, then this is a perfect little read. If you’ve absolutely never seen the movie, then definitely grab this book, because it is a wonderful Christmas story that leaves you all warm and fuzzy at the end, all that true meaning of Christmas and whatnot. If you’ve seen the movie, give it a go anyway. With Grisham having penned it, it’s definitely not lacking some great writing.

Winter Street – Elin Hilderbrand

I have never read a single thing by Elin Hilderbrand, never even heard of her until I saw this book plastered all over bookstagram. The raving fans left me wanting, so I grabbed a copy for FOUR DOLLARS at our local bookstore and pushed it to the top of my TBR list.

This is actually the first of three books about the mildly dysfunctional Quinn family. Dad, Kelley, owns a little B&B on Nantucket, Mom is an illustrious news anchor for CBS, the daughter is a music teacher, the oldest son works in investments, and the middle son is a bartender with a track record of giving up. The story begins just a few days before Christmas as Kelley discovers his current wife, Mitzi, is leaving him. Winter Street follows each family member in the days leading up to Christmas as they all deal with trials, tribulations, and dysfunction individually and with each other. Patrick, the eldest son is facing major illegal activity, while his younger brother, Kevin, is planning for the future.

If you enjoy love, dysfunction, and a good outburst of drama at dinner, than this book is for you. It’s a great contemporary drama with the warmth of Christmas and wintery Nantucket thrown in. I do recommend making sure you have access to all three books, because Winter Street leaves you absolutely wanting more. The cliff hanger at the end made me so upset that I didn’t snag the other two when I grabbed the first one.


If you’ve got a favorite seasonal read or Christmas story, let me know! This is the first year I’ve attempted to read something seasonal, and I really loved it.