Review// The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

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Author: Kristin Hannah
Series: Standalone
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: February 3, 2015
Book Length: 440 pages 
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Review: 4/5
Goodreads Synopsis:
France, 1939.

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.

My Review:
So beautiful and yet so heartbreaking, this book taught me a lot about WWII and all the horrors that people faced upon the Nazi invasion in France that I didn’t know before.

I loved the portrayal of the two sisters – Vianne and Isabelle – and how they were so completely different from one another; Vianne being more uptight and rule abiding, and Isabelle being more rebellious. Before the war, the two seemed to constantly butt heads and resent the other. However, amid the war that was tearing everything and everyone apart, Vianne and Isabelle were brought closer together which I thought was extremely heartwarming.

The book kept switching back and forth between WWII and 1995, where an unnamed elderly female was going back to France from America to speak about the war at a passeurs’ reunion. There were very few chapters set in 1995, but I was really looking forward to them because I was eager to know who the female was and figure out how the events of the war played out for all of the characters. When I did find out how things ended, it was definitely – as you could have guessed – a tearjerker.

This book really does live up to its hype. If you are looking for a captivating, emotionally-engaging read in the genre, I would highly recommend picking this one up.

-Catherine

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Review// City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Series: Standalone
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: June 4, 2019
Book Length: 470 pages 
Publisher: Riverhead
Review: 5/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves-and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now ninety-five years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time, she muses. After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is. Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection, City of Girls is a love story like no other.

My Review:

“Once I like a person, I only like them always”

Well, once I like a book, I only like it always – and that will definitely be true for this one. The most fun I’ve had reading a book in a very long time.

City of Girls transported me to 1940s New York City; I feel like I really did experience the sights, the sounds, the neighborhoods, the theatre, and most of all: the characters. This book was great because of the characters, and not just one or two, literally all of the ~10 major ones served a purpose in the story of Vivian Morris’ life; no one felt like a filler and I enjoyed reading the parts that included every single one, which is rare for me. In addition, Vivian was by far one of the most engaging and fascinating narrators I have ever encountered. Every part of her story had me on the edge of my seat and I couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen next.

This is my favourite historical fiction to date and I could not recommend it enough.

-Catherine

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Review// Animal Farm by George Orwell

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Author: George Orwell
Series: Standalone
Genre: Classic
Release Date: August 17, 1945
Book Length: 95 pages 
Publisher: Penguin Books
Review: 5/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

Mr. Jones of Manor Farm is so lazy and drunken that one day he forgets to feed his livestock. The ensuing rebellion under the leadership of the pigs Napoleon and Snowball leads to the animals taking over the farm. Vowing to eliminate the terrible inequities of the farmyard, the renamed Animal Farm is organized to benefit all who walk on four legs. But as time passes, the ideals of the rebellion are corrupted, then forgotten. And something new and unexpected emerges…

My Review:

This book was wild – or at least, it was domesticated at first and then got progressively wilder after the animals overthrew human leadership in favour of their own rules:

1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal.

Orwell’s Animal Farm is a definitive example of what can happen when the fight for freedom quickly turns to a bloodthirsty hunt for power. Progressing through the story was so interesting, because as the pigs gained power, the other animals started to question the original commandments, and honestly, so did I:

1. Four legs good, two legs, better
2. [Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is inferior].
3. [Only pigs wear clothes].
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal [unless they defy the leader].
7. [Pigs are superior].

“Was the original commandment ‘no animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets?’ Maybe? No wait, it can’t be… I don’t remember that.” That is something I thought to myself while reading, and if I couldn’t definitively remember something so small after like 60 pages, how can you expect those who have been brainwashed by propaganda and corruption to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t either? That is why I gave this 5 stars – I felt the ‘aha’ moment many times while reading, and I think the author did an excellent job packing such a powerful story line in such a short book.

-Catherine

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Review// A Lady’s Guide to Petticoats & Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

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Author: Mackenzi Lee
Series: Montague Siblings #2
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction
Release Date: October 2, 2018
Book Length: 450 pages 
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Review: 3.5/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

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 Review:

I had been anticipating this book ever since I finished The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue a few years ago; Felicity had made an appearance in that one, so I was excited when I found out that she got her own story line.

Living in the 17th century, Felicity really had to fight to prove her place as an aspiring doctor in the male-dominated field. I loved how she was resilient, strong-willed, and at times very sassy. I thought Lee was really able to tackle major issues such as homophobia, racism, and sexism though the characters in this novel, which made it that much more enjoyable.

Although I did enjoy it, some major parts were very predictable to me, which kind of took away from my experience. I think I am slowly finding that I’m not as into YA as much as I used to be, which definitely affects my rating too. Had I felt about the genre like I did a few years ago, I think my rating would have been higher. Nonetheless, it was a good book, and very informative about not only what life was like in the 17th century, but also about the medical world and how women were seen back in those times.

I’m glad I finally got to read this, and happy to have started off 2020 with such a positive, female-empowering novel 🙂

-Catherine

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Review// White Elephant by Trish Harnetiaux

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Author: Trish Harnetiaux
Series: Standalone
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Release Date: October 29, 2019
Book Length: 228 pages 
Publisher: Simon Schuster
Review: 2.5/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

There are only a few rules in a White Elephant gift exchange: 1) Everyone brings a wrapped, unmarked gift. 2) Numbers are drawn to decide who picks first. 3) Gifts don’t need to be pricey—and often they’re downright tacky.

But things are a little different in Aspen, Colorado, at the office holiday party for the real estate firm owned by Henry Calhoun and his wife Claudine. Each Christmas sparks a contest among the already competitive staff to see who can buy the most coveted gift: the one that will get stolen the most times, the one that will prove just how many more commissions they earned that year than their colleagues. Designer sunglasses, deluxe spa treatments, front row concert tickets—nothing is off the table. And the staff is even more competitive this year as Zara, the hottest young pop star out of Hollywood, is in town and Claudine is determined to sell her the getaway home of her dreams.

Everyone is puzzled when a strange gift shows up in the mix: an antique cowboy statue. At least the sales agents are guessing it’s an antique—otherwise it’d be a terrible present. It’s certainly not very pretty or expensive-looking. In fact, the gift makes sense only to Henry and Claudine. The statue is the weapon Henry used to commit a murder years ago, a murder that helped start his company and a murder that Claudine helped cover up. She swore that no one would ever be able to find the statue or trace it to their crime. So which of their employees did? And why did they place it in the White Elephant? What could possibly be their endgame?

Over the course of the evening, Henry and Claudine race to figure out who could have planted the weapon, and just what the night means for the secrets they’ve been harboring. Further adding to the drama is a snowstorm that closes nearby roads—preventing anyone from leaving, as well as keeping law enforcement from the scene. And by the end of this crazy night, the police will most definitely be required…

My Review:

Yay, I’m happy I finished this just in time for Christmas! I was looking forward to reading at least one festive novel.

I thought the premise of this book was extremely interesting. I love mystery/thrillers and I thought it was a great idea to combine that with a Christmas-theme (although I know this is not an original idea by any means).

I will admit that some parts were suspenseful, but I did guess a few of the main plot twists which took away the other half of the excitement. It just seemed like the plot points in this book were wrapped up all too perfectly with a little red bow, just like the one on the cover. A lot of things “conveniently” happened and after a while it seemed just too good to be true that the pieces were fitting together so seamlessly.

I also wish that the characters had a bit more personality. They seemed to be very cookie-cutter (no pun intended) and I could always predict the main characters’ next moves. In general, I think this is a little bit of an issue for me personally, but it is especially the case when I intend to read a mystery/thriller. I love being on my toes, and unfortunately with this, there were very few times that I was.

Despite all of that, the writing was enjoyable and I finished this in a few days – reading most of it in one. Not the worst book ever, but I did expect more from it. I would still recommend it if you are looking for an easy holiday read, but don’t expect to be sitting at the edge of your seat.

-Catherine

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