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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My Experience at the Harry Potter-Themed Bar in Toronto!⚡️

Hi random burst of creative energy to write a blog post that’s not a book review for the first time in almost a year – how are ya? 💁🏻‍♀️

So it’s been a while since I’ve written something like this but I’ve been feeling very inspired to take my blogging back by the reins this year, so here goes!

In a previous post back in 2018, I wrote about 5 Literary Themed Restaurants Around the World – in that post, one of the places I wrote about was The Lockhart in Toronto, Canada which is a Harry Potter-themed bar. In it, I vowed, and I quote: “You better believe I am going here after I finish the series and I will have a blog post up about it when I do.” I did finish the series, but I didn’t go to the bar immediately after (I should have). However, I’ve done it now (twice!) and I am very excited to share my experience.

The Lockhart is a quaint little cocktail bar a little bit outside of the downtown core. They have mostly regularly-named food and drink, but some themed names as well, like the Better Beer – a play on Butter Beer which I still want to try in Harry Potter World – or Dementor’s Kiss which are two drink names that caught my eye. I opted for the Better Beer, which is tequila-based and it was delicious! They do a very good job of masking the taste of alcohol in this drink, but it’s definitely strong enough to feel the effect of. Below is a photo of what it looks like – I seem to have misplaced the photo I took at the time, but this is one from their website:

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Pitcher of Better Beer

Along with drink options, they also of course have food. I got chicken and waffles – the portion was huge and the chicken was very flavourful and crispy, which I liked:

Although I went there to eat and drink, I especially appreciated how they decorated the place. They have a neon sign by the bar that says ‘all was well’ which are the last words in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; and also a wall of framed photos of Dobby (my favourite 🥰).

I love that I got to experience this place after reading all of the books; I adore it and am already eager to go back again. The staff is very friendly, the food and drink are great, and I love the aesthetic.

Now, I’m on the hunt for more literary-themed places to visit and I can’t wait for what will be next… ✨

-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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Review// Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

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Author: Julie Murphy
Series: Dumplin #1
Genre: Fiction
Release Date: September 15, 2015
Book Length: 371 pages 
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Review: 4/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

My Review:

Beautiful, he says. Fat, I think. But can’t I be both at the same time?

Finally. Finally I’ve read a book whose movie did it justice (and was maybe even better than the book?) – I really enjoyed this.

Willowdean Dickson, or Dumplin’, as her mom calls her, is a plus-sized Texas teen who decides to compete in the annual Clover City Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant which her mother and former winner of the pageant is running. Will’s initiative sparks other girls who wouldn’t have otherwise to join the pageant as well, which I loved.

Other things I loved:
• Millie! – Millie was one of the girls that Will inspired to also join the pageant. I thought Will was pretty confident in her skin, until I met Millie. I think Will sort of did care what other people thought, but Millie was completely oblivious to anything but her own happiness, kind of like a child, and it was endearing.
• The setting – this book made me want to go to Texas, although I felt like I was already there when reading.
• Bo – I loved the scenes with Bo and Will, I was rooting so hard for them to get together.
• The focus on Will’s relationship with her late aunt – Will was really close to her aunt Lucy, and I thought the way the author portrayed the stages of grief after her loss was done really well.

Things I didn’t like:

• Will and Mitch – Oh my. Where to begin with this? It was really sad and cringe worthy having to read through the parts where Will was leading Mitch on for ¾ of the book! I feel like the truth should have come out way sooner and in a much more mature way than it did.
• How mean Will was to basically everyone – her best friend Ellen, her mom, Mitch… the list can go on. Ellen was supposed to be her best friend, but they didn’t talk for ¾ of the book. She went on and on about how much she missed her, but was too proud to apologize for majority of the book; I almost forgot they were supposed to be best friends.

Being comfortable in your own skin is an uphill battle that I think everyone faces from time to time. Sometimes it is difficult not to let our decisions be affected by what we think others will think of us, or by how we think we will look if we step out of our comfort zone. This book’s message is that anybody can do anything they set their mind to, and that you should live your life based on what makes you happy, not by what others will think is the societal norm for you. Overall a great book with a positive message. Definitely want to read the next book in the series!

-Catherine

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