Book Reviews, To My Reader

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

27190613Published: June 28th, 2016 by Delacorte Press.

Format: Hardcover, 475 pages.

Goodreads Summary: No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

Thoughts: And I Darken follows two siblings who find themselves prisoners of the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s. It is most notably described as a gender bend of Vlad the Impaler, a brutal ruler of what is now known as Romania. As soon as I heard about this novel I couldn’t click ‘read’ fast enough. It’s refreshing to see YA branching out and covering a topic of history that not many people know about. Kiersten White has done her research, for the book stays consistent in historical accuracy throughout. While reading, I felt like I learned more regardless of my prior knowledge of this time in history. It’s fascinating! The author has mentioned that she will take more creative liberties in the next two books to make her story work.

Our two main characters captured my attention instantly. Ladislav is an unattractive young woman fighting to be a warrior in a man’s world. She demands respect and breaks every rule of the Ottoman court as she attempts to return to her homeland. On the other side of the coin, her brother Radu must find strength in a different way. Although he has the benefit of being a handsome male, Radu is punished for his kindness which many around him perceive as a weakness. Unlike his sister, he finds a place in the Ottoman Empire despite other misfortunes. Lada and Radu both find themselves at the mercy of their emotions and this acts a catalyst for much of the novel. They will work with and against each other to secure their place in this society. Both characters are complex and illustrate important gender themes highlighted within the novel.

“As the baby latched on with surprising fierceness, the nurse offered her own prayer.
Let her be strong.
Let her be sly.
And let her be ugly.”

And I Darken transports readers into a vivid world of castles surrounded by mountains and ornate buildings containing harems. The writing was dense, but this seemed fitting for the story. When I was reading I was completely enveloped by the setting and found it difficult to pull myself out of it. I will admit that the plot is slow and meticulous. Therefore, it requires your utmost attention as every sentence reveals pieces of the story. Knowing this, And I Darken may not be for everyone. The first book covers a large amount of time in the span of roughly 500 pages. The Conquerors Saga will consist of three books, the next one releasing in Summer of 2017. For readers who enjoy Historical Fiction, Fantasy, or YA this is a novel you don’t want to miss. This brutal novel will gut you.

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Book Reviews, To My Reader

Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

25614492Published: February 2nd 2016 by Philomel Books.

Format: Hardcover, 391 pages.

Goodreads Summary: Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.
As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.
Yet not all promises can be kept.

Thoughts: Ruta Sepetys needs to stop stomping on my heart. This story follows a lesser known tragedy in the 1940’s and ups the anti by looking at the event from the perspective of young men and women whose lives have been destroyed by war. Sepetys never ceases to amaze me with the amount of emotion she is able to portray in each one of her novels. This one in particular quickly introduces lovable characters who all have their own motivations and voices. They react realistically and bring the novel alive. The story tests their limits of survival to the brink. The author is truly gifted when it comes to storytelling, but she also manages to keep her stories grounded in historical context which I believe adds to the overall emotional core of the novel.

The novel features short chapters that I believe work to increase the pace of Salt to the Sea. Because the chapters are so short you will have the desire to find out what will happen next. (After all the chapter was only two pages.) Why not continue? The faster storyline parallels the speed of the book’s main event on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Even though the ship is doomed to sink, there is a part of you that hopes everything will work out. – It took this ship less than an hour to sink below the depths of the icy water. The story had me on the edge of my seat and witnessing the war through four very different perspectives was clever on the authors part. It added suspense and a wider understanding of all sides.

“How foolish to believe we are more powerful than the sea or the sky.”

At the end of the story Ruta Sepetys talks about the importance of history and how she hopes that, although the story itself is fictional, the presence of humanity and the shadow of war will inspire readers to learn more about other stories lost in history. I am a huge fan of the Historical Fiction genre, and Ruta Sepetys hasn’t let me down yet. If you are interested I highly recommend you read this one. It is beautiful.

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Book Reviews, To My Reader

Book Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

18047651Released: August 26th, 2014 by Ecco.

Format: Paperback; 416 pages.

Goodreads Summary: On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office–leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist–an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand–and fear–the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

Thoughts: This book has been sitting on my shelf for the longest time. I was surprised when it appeared on my Second Semester English syllabus for this year.  Now, I don’t know much about the country of Amsterdam or its full scale involvement in the Dutch East India Company, but this story did shed some light on my lack on knowledge. I found this story easy to read and believe the author did an impeccable job researching the topic. This is all great, but I can’t shake this feeling that the novel fell short somewhere.

As Jessie Burton’s debut novel, The Miniaturist is vividly rendered with the magic of 16th century Netherlands. Nella Oortman has been preparing for her inevitable role as a wife and mother. Anticipating the moment when she reaches her marriage bed and can contribute something to her new household. However, events don’t unfold as she hopes. I found this book to be deeply rooted in the many aspects of gender roles and attitudes of human sexuality. We are met with a outspoken protagonist that must figure out how she fits into an influential family.

The novel has this underlying magical element to it, that ultimately becomes the source of mystery for the entire plot. How does this miniature doll house affect Nella’s new life? With the help of a stranger she is able to bring life into her dreary home. Although I enjoyed this aspect, I found that the novel lacked an important emotional element to it. I also found myself somewhat confused by a few parts, but maybe that means I need to read the story again. I may do that at some point. Burton has no shortage of shock worthy twists, but ultimately I didn’t feel a sense of closure. At least not in a way that satisfied me. That’s not to say that the author didn’t wrap up the story nicely.

Each character is unique and the story is easy to to get immersed into. For me, the most fascinating part of this novel was the author’s inspiration for it. I loved hearing about how Burton came across an intricate cabinet while on vacation, and built her entire story around an inanimate object. You can tell she took great care in the creation of the story.

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Yes, I will decorate my house, Marin, Nella thinks – with all the things that you detest.”

This just goes to show that writers can take inspiration from anywhere. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction novels, and although The Miniaturist didn’t make it onto my favorite books list, the story is full of intrigue and magic. Readers will have no problem getting swept into this sixteenth century novel. A stunning, and historically accurate debut by author and actor Jessie Burton. I look forward to reading more from her.

Let me know what you think.

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To My Reader

Wishlist Wednesday #18

wishlist-wednesdayIt’s time for another Wishlist Wednesday! This weekly book-related blog hop was started by Dani at Pen to Paper and each week those who participate share one book that they desperately want to add to their bookshelf. I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly finding new titles that I feel deserve a spot on my shelf. So without further ado here’s this weeks pick.

Very simply, I found this book while perusing through Goodreads and instantly found myself intrigued by the synopsis.

3392089 Title: The Winter Sea

Author: Susanna Kearsley

Format: Hardcover, 544 pages.

Goodreads Summary: In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.
Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.
But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth-the ultimate betrayal-that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her.

I’m always on the hunt for new stories and every so often I find ones like The Winter Sea. I’ve never heard of the author, but from the few reviews and ratings I’ve seen others really enjoy her books. For that reason and the fact that I haven’t read any Historical Fiction in a while, The Winter Sea earns a spot on my To-Read List. I’m always looking for recommendations for new books to read so please feel free to leave some suggestions in the comments or on my Goodreads.

What are you wishing for this Wednesday? Share it below.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

2728527  Published:  July 29th 2008 by The Dial Press (274 pages)

Thoughts: There have been many mixed reviews for this book and after reading it for myself, I must say that I’m still unsure of my feelings for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Goodreads Summary: “ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….
As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

Before you get the impression that this will be a negative review, I didn’t hate it. On the contrary the plot sounds absolutely fantastic. My biggest fault though lied with the construction of the story. This book is completely set up in letters, and the readers are supposed to feel a part of the story by reading these “personal” letters between the characters. I was fine for about 100 pages but soon found that all the voices tended to blend together. I’m sure that wasn’t the author’s intention.

If however, you just look at the history aspect of the novel, it’s quite enjoyable. Personally, I would have never heard of the island of Guernsey if it weren’t for this book. That along with the characters was enough to keep me invested and I felt that I needed to complete every page. Honestly, It wasn’t in any way a long read. I have no doubt many avid readers could finish this book in one sitting. – A large part of this novel surprisingly focuses on Juliet’s relationship with a few men she meets. I believe that some part of us wants to find love no matter what age and that’s exactly how our main character felt. That common feeling connects the reader to Juliet.

As for my final thoughts; I wasn’t completely in love with this read, but If you happen to come across it by all means check it out. I think it will appeal to some more than others solely based on how different it is. I hate that this review ended up being kind of sort but sometimes you don’t have much to say. Over all it was a pleasant read.

Next Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

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To My Reader

Wishlist Wednesday #9

wishlist-wednesdayHere we are again participating in yet another glorious Wishlist Wednesday. This blog hop was originally started by Dani from Pen to Paper and like I’ve said countless times, today’s the day that bloggers share one book they want to have on their shelf.

I swear that not all my posts will become Wednesday posts, I’ve just haven’t had too much time for actual reviews. That should change very soon though. I plan on writing one tonight and publishing it tomorrow.
Now that that’s cleared up, this weeks Wishlist Wednesday choice is Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

17333319  A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

I’ve seen this book floating around the literary atmosphere and it was recently nominated for Best Historical Fiction: Opening Round in Goodreads Choice 2013. I believe this is the authors debut novel and I am very much looking forward to reading it. I’ve just recently noticed that a few of my bookish friends have already delved into this story. Lucky them, hopefully I won’t be too far behind.

What are you wishing for this Wednesday? Share it below.

-B

 

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To My Reader

Wishlist Wednesday #7

wishlist-wednesdayIt’s really upsetting that I had to miss out on last weeks Wishlist Wednesday, but I’m hoping this will make up for it. Wishlist Wednesday was started by Dani at Pen to Paper and allows bloggers to share a book that they desperately want on their shelves.

If it wasn’t for Youtube and the “booktubing” community I probably never would have come across this novel. This weeks pick happens to be book one in The Bronze Horseman series by Paullina Simons.

wishlist wendsday #7  The golden skies, the translucent twilight, the white nights, all hold the promise of youth, of love, of eternal renewal. The war has not yet touched this city of fallen grandeur, or the lives of two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha Metanova, who share a single room in a cramped apartment with their brother and parents. Their world is turned upside down when Hitler’s armies attack Russia and begin their unstoppable blitz to Leningrad.

Yet there is light in the darkness. Tatiana meets Alexander, a brave young officer in the Red Army. Strong and self-confident, yet guarding a mysterious and troubled past, he is drawn to Tatiana—and she to him. Starvation, desperation, and fear soon grip their city during the terrible winter of the merciless German siege. Tatiana and Alexander’s impossible love threatens to tear the Metanova family apart and expose the dangerous secret Alexander so carefully protects—a secret as devastating as the war itself—as the lovers are swept up in the brutal tides that will change the world and their lives forever.

One of the biggest reasons why this novel caught my attention was the fact that it fell under the Historical Fiction genre. When I researched it further on Goodreads I was so excited to see that its setting was partly based in Russia. You don’t see many books set in that country. (At least I haven’t.)  From the blurbs on Goodreads It looks like many readers have enjoyed these books. I’m really looking forward to picking this one up soon.

I may do a post on some of my favorite book reviews on Youtube. It’s an idea!

What are you wishing for this Wednesday? Share it below.

-B

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