Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah


The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Rating: 5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.54 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her. 

As the war progresses, the sisters' relationship and strength are tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions."

Review: Wow.  This book was perfect.  Absolutely perfect.  Brilliant, gripping, complex, honest, and so, so moving.  I've read a lot of WWII fiction, but I've never read it from this angle: from the point of view of French female civilians.  The two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, reminded me a bit of Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood.  They are very different, but they're written about so well that I felt like I could see their souls - their beauty, their bravery, and their blind spots - and I related to each of them for different reasons.  

It's hard to sum up what moved me the most about this story.  But one scene stands out: after one of the sisters is manipulated and blackmailed into betraying a friend, she goes to a nearby abbey to confess her horrible guilt.  The Abbess is kind, but doesn't discount the damage of what she's done.  She does, however, make her ask herself the question: "what are you going to do next time?"

So begins this sister's resistance against the Nazis.  It was so moving to me to think that some of our greatest contributions to the world might in fact be born from our mistakes.  This book isn't just about atonement though.  It's about bravery in all its forms, forgiveness, sisterhood, friendship, love, loss, and survival.  

I loved it.  It could very well turn out to be my favorite read of the year.

Review in a GIF:
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Bottom Line: Don't just read this book - buy it so that you can read it three dozen times.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay


Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Rating: 4.5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 3.9 stars
Source: Purchased
Buy the Book: Amazon
SummaryPink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

Review: Ms. Gay is one of those extremely relatable writers who you are pretty sure would be your BFF if you met in real life.  (Think: Elizabeth Gilbert, Liane Moriarty, etc.)  She is honest and funny and blunt.  These essays ranged from the adorable (scrabble) to the passionate (health care) to the raw (sexual assault), but regardless of the topic, I was never bored.  Regardless of her stance, I was never frustrated - even if I disagreed with her.

I think this has a lot to do with Ms. Gay's superb and nonjudgemental writing style.  She is very clear that these essays are only one woman's experience and viewpoints.  (Read: not a feminism manifesto.)  Feminism and its related issues are messy and complicated and obviously controversial, but it's something we all have to grapple with.  This is simply a chronicle of Ms. Gay's feminist grappling.  

Where this book succeeds the most is that it asks hard questions and forces the reader to come up with their own answers.  Ms. Gay sometimes supplies her own conclusions, but it's clear that she does not expect her readers to have the same perspectives.  Her tolerant openness allows us to examine our own ideas and blind spots without becoming defensive, and judge whether our conclusions should be reexamined.  

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in feminism, or interested in having a good laugh.

Review in a GIF:
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Bottom Line: A short, funny, and thought provoking book of essays on (bad) feminism by an author I will be on the watch for.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance Trilogy #1) by N.K. Jemisin


The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance Trilogy #1) by N.K. Jemisin
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads Rating3.8 stars
Source: Library
Buy the BookAmazon
Summary"Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle."

ReviewSuper unique and original. I loved how the author played with fantasy norms, and then threw them out the window. You know... kingdom in trouble, rightful heir reluctantly ascends to the throne, orcs and princes do battle, etc... Nothing like that happens here. 

For one, this novel shows what a matriarchal society would look like. For all the crazy inventive fantasy stories I've read, I have never understood why they have all been so deeply entrenched in patriarchy. And she totally pulls it off in a completely believable way. I mean, if you consider that no warrior is as fierce as a mother defending her young, of course it makes sense that you'd want a female army. That alone was interesting and refreshing. I liked how the matriarchy also had problems- Yeine herself has moments of sexist thinking when she benevolently pities men for their inability to completely control their emotions, even though she herself loses her temper on occasion. It really turned gender relations on its head and made me think about how some ideas about men and women are completely unsubstantiated- both in Yeine's world and in mine.

I also liked how the white city on a hill turned out to be pretty much the worst possible place you can imagine. The mythology surrounding the prisoner gods was fascinating and made this story really stand out. Yeine was a great character- at once both strong and vulnerable, clever and rash. It wasn't 100% polished, but it was pretty close. Expect the unexpected in this story full of danger and intrigue, and buckle up for a thrilling and innovative ride. I will for sure be reading the sequel.

Review in a GIF:
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Bottom Line: A fantasy that thinks outside the box and is never predictable, in a good way.  Read it!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Review: Three Dark Crowns (Crowns #1) by Kendare Blake


Three Dark Crowns (Crowns #1) by Kendare Blake
Rating: 3.5 stars
Goodreads Rating3.86 stars
Source: Library
Buy the BookAmazon
Summary: "Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest."

ReviewGreat premise, interesting world, but darker than I expected. I don't know why I'm surprised- the word "dark" is literally in the title.

Maybe it's because I have three (totally awesome) sisters myself, but I was so disheartened that they couldn't just band together to overthrow the obviously horrible cards they were dealt.  The way this book is written, you really feel for all three girls and want them to succeed, but know that they can't all win.  And, in this case, losing means death.  Very Game of Thrones-esque mentality going on.  And the supernatural forces at play make me wonder if it would even be possible for the sisters to survive, even if they came together and tried to change things.  

That ending really changed the game, and I'm curious to see what happens in the sequel.  I'm not completely sure whether or not I'll read it though.  If it's horrible and everyone dies, I may just skip it.  I cared about these characters and want them to be happy, and I'm not sure I'm up for a bloody ending here.  So I'll wait for the reviews on the next one and then decide.  But I'm certainly going to keep my eye on this series, just in case it turns in a way I hope it will.  We'll see.

Review in a GIF:
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Bottom Line: An interesting and dark new series, though maybe too dark for my taste.