Review// Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

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Author: David Mitchell
Series: Standalone
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: July 14, 2020
Book Length: 608 pages 
Publisher: Sceptre
Review: 3/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

Utopia Avenue are the strangest British band you’ve never heard of. Emerging from London’s psychedelic scene in 1967 and fronted by folksinger Elf Holloway, guitar demigod Jasper de Zoet and blues bassist Dean Moss, Utopia Avenue released only two LPs during its brief and blazing journey from the clubs of Soho and draughty ballrooms to Top of the Pops and the cusp of chart success, to glory in Amsterdam, prison in Rome and a fateful American fortnight in the autumn of 1968.

David Mitchell’s new novel tells the unexpurgated story of Utopia Avenue; of riots in the streets and revolutions in the head; of drugs, thugs, madness, love, sex, death, art; of the families we choose and the ones we don’t; of fame’s Faustian pact and stardom’s wobbly ladder. Can we change the world in turbulent times, or does the world change us? Utopia means ‘nowhere’ but could a shinier world be within grasp, if only we had a map?

My Review:

I really enjoyed this book overall; give me a historical fiction about music and I’m always going to be eager to read it.

The author really made me feel as though Dean, Elf, Griff, and Jasper were actual icons in the 60s, and along with all the real celebrity cameos it set the scenes well. However, sometimes, I have to admit that it didn’t seem believable that they would run into that many big names so casually. I don’t know what the music scene was like back then from my own knowledge, so I could be wrong, but the cameos felt a bit too in your face at times. I think the book got off to a really strong and promising start; I especially liked the way the author wrote all the flashbacks, and as the backstories of the main characters were revealed, I began to enjoy the book more and more.

Despite that though, there were a few things I didn’t particularly enjoy. For starters, Jasper’s backstory with the Knock Knock felt too long winded – I began to get a bit annoyed by it, and I didn’t like the magical direction it took because I didn’t think it suited the book at all. I wish Griff got more of a backstory too, because after 600 pages, I still feel like I barely know his character, despite him being one of the main ones. The biggest disappointment for me though was that I really did not enjoy how the book ended. I could tell that so much thought and work went in to writing the beginning and middle parts, but the ending felt unsatisfactory and kind of like a cop out. I do appreciate that it wasn’t predictable, but I don’t think it had a satisfying ending, and it did not leave me longing for the characters and story long after I put it down.

Even though I personally wasn’t a fan of how it ended, I would still recommend this book if you like historical fiction about music and bands. It was well written overall and kept me engaged and eager to see where the story was going to go.

– Catherine

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Review// The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

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Author: Elena Ferrante
Series: The Neapolitan Novels #2
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: September 22, 2012
Book Length: 471 pages 
Publisher: Europa Editions
Review: 5/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

My Brilliant Friend introduced readers to the unforgettable Elena and Lila, whose lifelong friendship provides the backbone for the Neapolitan Novels. The Story of a New Name is the second book in this series. With these books, which the New Yorker‘s James Wood described as “large, captivating, amiably peopled … a beautiful and delicate tale of confluence and reversal,” Ferrante proves herself to be one of Italy’s most accomplished storytellers. She writes vividly about a specific neighborhood of Naples from the late-1950s through to the current day and about two remarkable young women who are very much the products of that place and time. Yet in doing so she has created a world in which readers will recognize themselves and has drawn a marvelously nuanced portrait of friendship.

In The Story of a New Name, Lila has recently married and made her entrée into the family business; Elena, meanwhile, continues her studies and her exploration of the world beyond the neighborhood that she so often finds stifling. Love, jealousy, family, freedom, commitment, and above all friendship: these are signs under which both women live out this phase in their stories. Marriage appears to have imprisoned Lila, and the pressure to excel is at times too much for Elena. Yet the two young women share a complex and evolving bond that is central to their emotional lives and is a source of strength in the face of life’s challenges. In these Neapolitan Novels, Elena Ferrante, the acclaimed author of The Days of Abandonment, gives readers a poignant and universal story about friendship and belonging.

My Review:

“… she was explaining to me that I had won nothing, that in the world there is nothing to win, that her life was full of varied adventures as much as mine, and that time simply slipped away without any meaning, and it was good just to see each other every so often, to hear the mad sound of the brain of one echo in the mad sound of the brain of the other.”

I loved this book so much! The dynamic of Lina and Lila’s friendship as they’re growing into young adults was enthralling. They could not be more different, yet they compliment each other; they really are two sides of the same coin. Together, these two reach an equilibrium that could not be possible alone.

Admittedly, I really saw a lot of myself in the narrator, Lina. Lila is definitely the ‘pain in the ass’ of the two, as one character had put it, yet something about her draws Lina to her (and vice versa). The same could be said for me – as much as Lila annoyed and frustrated me at certain points in the book, I still couldn’t get enough of her; her energy was contagious, pulling me in like a magnet.

One of the best things about this series is that the author really makes you feel like you are there in Naples with the characters. I feel such a connection to the people sights in ‘the neighborhood’ – the old grocery, the new grocery, the Solara’s bar and pastry shop, the Cerullo shoe store, the old library, all of it. My favourite parts had to be all the ones surrounding the summer holiday in Ischia. This author really has a way of making you feel like you are there while reading, and it was a lovely escape from the state the world is in right now. Not to mention, the juiciest parts of the book happened in Ischia! I was truly shocked by what had transpired and was so eager to keep reading to see what was going to happen next. I would love to visit Ischia one day on summer holiday, if only to recount the feelings the book gave me in real life.

Just like the first book, the second also ended on the biggest cliff hanger! I am so eager to start the next book and admittedly also a little apprehensive because once it is done, there is only one more left, and I am not ready to say goodbye to these two just yet!

-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// 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// The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid 
Series: Standalone
Genre: Fiction
Release Date: June 13, 2017 
Book Length:  388 pages 
Publisher: Atria Books
Review: 5/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

My Review:

I HAD THIS ON MY TBR FOR SO LONG, WHY DIDN’T I PICK IT UP SOONER?! IT WAS AMAZING.

This was one of the most unique and interesting stories I have ever read. I have always been fascinated by Old Hollywood and its evolution, and getting to experience it through the life of this character was riveting.

Evelyn Hugo, blonde bombshell and sex symbol beginning her rise to fame in the 1950s, was a go getter; she knew that she wanted to be a star and she did everything in her power to make it a reality– even if that meant using her physical assets to get her there on more than one occasion.

The thing about Evelyn was that she had a way of making people feel special just by getting the chance to be in the same room as her and she used it to her advantage. She was a smart, strong woman who didn’t take no for an answer; she was a woman ahead of her time. The truth is, I was enamoured by this person and no matter what awful things she did to the people she loved, I still really liked her. Yes she was a famous person with money and looks, but she wasn’t without flaw which really attracted me to her character. Although she is fictional, she felt so real to me.

As you get to go through the amazing, lavish life of Evelyn Hugo, you begin to realize that it is not without trial, tribulation and heartache. There are some beautiful characters in this book, one of which being Harry Cameron. Everyone needs a best friend like Harry in their life; I think he was my favourite. I’m still really sad this is over because I’m just thinking about how I will never read about another character that compares to him.

The love story in this was really beautiful as well, and from the moment I found out for sure what was going on, I was rooting for everything to work out for them. In addition, I enjoyed reading the representations of love and intimacy in general. Love and sex mean different things to different people in different circumstances, and I think it was shown very well from every angle.

I think I can finally say that Taylor Jenkins Reid is one of my favourite fiction authors and I’m really excited to read her other books. I’m hoping this gets made into a movie one day because I have a feeling it could be so amazing on the big screen!


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