Review// My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

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Author: Elena Ferrante
Series: The Neapolitan Novels #1
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: October 19, 2011
Book Length: 331 pages 
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Review: 4/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense and generous hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighbourhood, a city and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her two protagonists.

My Review:

The phrase, “don’t judge a book by its cover” plays its role heavily here. If it weren’t for me having watched an episode of the show based on this book first, I never would have even given it second glance because of how unappealing the cover is to me.

The book transported me to Italy – the little Neapolitan town where Elena and Lina grew up appeared in my mind as if I were recounting it from my own memory rather than from the descriptions of a character in a novel. As someone whose familial roots are in Italy, and who has seen firsthand what the culture there is like between people in small towns, this hit the nail on the head. The gossip, violence, comradery – it all was very accurately portrayed. If there is one thing I didn’t like though, it’s that there were so many families, and so many characters in each family, that even by the end, I had trouble figuring out who was who, and to what family they belonged! Nonetheless, it did a great job of capturing what a small town in Italy is like for the reader – at least from what I can say of my own observations.

I really enjoyed reading about the childhood and adolescence of these two girls, and how their relationship blossomed and changed throughout the years. Although both very smart, I liked the contrast in character between the two – Elena being polite, meek, and a studious “good girl”, while Lina was the rebellious, headstrong, and mischievous one. Going into it, I had the impression that the ‘brilliant friend’ was referring to Lina, as Elena is the narrator of the story, so it surprised me when Lina referred to Elena as her ‘brilliant friend’ at one point in the novel. I guess, in a sense, each one is the other’s brilliant friend, but for different reasons. Both of these girls hold the friendship and opinion of the other in high regard, and although neither outright admit to it, it is clear that there is a power struggle within their relationship. At times, this greatly annoyed me, and it felt like their relationship was based solely on these little silent competitions: who moved on to middle school; who got their period first; who was prettier; who got a boyfriend first; who got married first. Admittedly though, this narrative is also what kept things interesting.

This book definitely ended on a cliff-hanger, and in a very odd spot too! I am very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series to find out where their story takes them.

-Catherine

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Review// The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

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Author: Jill Santopolo
Series: Standalone
Genre: Romance
Release Date: May 9, 2017
Book Length: 328 pages 
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Review: 4/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

He was the first person to inspire her, to move her, to truly understand her. Was he meant to be the last?

Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning.

Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts.

My Review:

I thought this was really beautiful. I loved how it was formatted in a sort of love letter to the narrator’s first love, Gabe, detailing their origin story. Although at first it seemed like Gabe and Lucy’s story ended once he moved from New York to Iraq to photograph for the Associated Press during the war, it was really only put on pause as they kept in touch from time to time, even as both moved on to different lovers.

This book really tugged at my heartstrings – it raised the question of whether our choices, fate, or a combination of both come to play when major turning points happen in our lives that change us forever. Gabe was a huge part of Lucy’s life and remained in her heart even when she moved on with someone else; he changed her forever. And although sometimes I just wanted to reach into the book and shake her by the shoulders to bring her to the reality that her and Gabe could never be together again, at the same time, I felt for her. It didn’t matter how good of a guy Darren was to her afterward, or how wonderful the family they’d built together was, because in her heart she was always comparing him to Gabe, and that made me extremely sad.

This was a very unforgettable book, and one of the most tragically beautiful love stories I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommend.

“Love does that. It makes you feel infinite and invincible, like the whole world is open to you, anything is achievable, and each day will be filled with wonder. Maybe it’s the act of opening yourself up, letting someone else in— or maybe it’s the act of caring so deeply about another person that it expands your heart. I’ve heard so many people say some version of I never knew how much I could love another human being until . . . And after the until is usually something like my niece was born or I gave birth to a child or I adopted a baby. I never knew how much I could love another human being until I met you, Gabe.
I’ll never forget that.”

-Catherine

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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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