Book Reviews, Bookish Posts

Book Review – Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund

Abundance

 

In my opinion, Abundance is the definitive historical fiction novel on Marie Antoinette. I think she captures her perfectly as she is the one telling her own story. In this novel, she is portrayed as entirely human throughout the whole thing. I particularly enjoyed the fact Naslund framed the novel into 5 acts like a Shakespearean play, and I think it works. The rise and fall of Marie Antoinette and the rest of the nobility does read like a Shakespearean tragedy. Though there were times Naslund’s prose delved a bit into being really fluffy, I still enjoyed it.

I also really enjoyed the relationship between Marie and her husband, Louis XVI. A lot of authors seem to go the way of having Marie Antoinette hop into bed with Axel von Fersen like two seconds after they met. But I don’t necessarily believe that was the case. Instead, Naslund builds an awkward love story between Marie and Louis and it’s just the cutest. Yes, their relationship starts off rocky as we all know by not consummating their marriage for seven years but they grow to truly love each other. And yes, I do believe they loved each other. After all, Marie Antoinette stayed with him to the very end even though there were numerous times when she could have gotten the hell out of dodge.

The descriptions of Versailles (the palace and court life itself) brought me to a completely different time and place. While reading, I also did the virtual tour of the real palace and it enhanced the reading experience.

I did not want to get to the end of the novel for obvious reasons. I truly sympathized with her plight. She honestly tried to do the right thing for the people but they just hated her… mostly for things she had no control over.  A lot of the things she was accused of literally every other noble did the same thing many times over. And don’t even get me started on The Diamond Necklace Affair. Ugh.

I truly loved this book and it might actually crack my all-time favorites list.

Rating: 5/5

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Book Reviews, Bookish Posts

Book Review – A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

A Darker Shade final for Irene

 

A Darker Shade of Magic is an awesome New-Adult Fantasy novel following a young man named Kell who has the power to move between alternate Londons: grey London, red London, and white London. He serves as an ambassador between the Londons and on one of his trips, he acquires an artifact that changes his life forever.

What I Liked:

The worldbuilding is amazing! I love V. E. Schwab’s different versions of London. Each one is very different and it was easy to tell them apart. My favorite of them all, of course, has to be White London. I hope we see a lot more of it than we did in the sequel. I mean, we do see a lot of it, don’t get me wrong, but I want to know more about the geography, other countries, the political workings, and the royal family…especially Prince Rhy, because swoon. White London creeped me out (in a good way) and I thought the Dane twins were deliciously cruel (though a bit two-dimensional). Even though I know they already played twins in another enormously successful franchise, I kept picturing Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Astrid and Athos. We know Aaron Taylor-Johnson can pull off white hair, and I bet Olsen can, too.

scarletwitchquicksilver-1430152839

 

Kell and Rhy’s bromance was well-fleshed out especially as you find out how much Kell has exactly done for Rhy. It is heartbreaking. The sacrifice that Kell makes to keep him safe made me cry, and books usually don’t make me cry so that says a lot.

My favorite character has to be Delilah effing Bard, wannabe pirate. She was all of my favorite things: feisty, sarcastic, and didn’t take crap from anyone. What I really loved was that even though she was a criminal, Lila does show that she has (some) morals and is really rather vulnerable. Even if she doesn’t like to show it. I totally ship her and Kell so it’d better happen.

heart eyes

The magic system is a unique take on the four elements system that is so overdone nowadays. (Yes, I do realize I am writing a novel that has this magic system, but I’m trying to overhaul it.)

What I Didn’t Like (mini spoiler):

I found A Darker Shade of Magic to be a bit predictable. From the moment we met Holland and Dane twins, I pretty much knew what was going to go down. They were just too textbook cruel. However, it wasn’t predictable enough where I did not enjoy the novel.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Book Reviews

Book Revew – Victoria Victorious by Jean Plaidy

Victoria Victorious

First, let me say that this was a re-read, and I’m not entirely too sure why I decided to read this again as I wasn’t too fond of it 6 years ago.

Victoria Victorious is a fictional “autobiography” about Queen Victoria chronicling everything from her childhood, accession, and life on the throne to her relationships with her children, Prime Ministers, and most importantly, her one true love, Prince Albert.

What I Liked:

I loved the first 1/3 of the novel that describes how Victoria was raised and was never allowed to be alone ever. I could not imagine never having any time to myself and having my every move watched. I felt bad for her when her mother basically forbid her from having anything to do with her father’s relatives because her mother felt that they were beneath her. When she finally acceded to the throne, I cheered and even enjoyed the bantering relationship she had with Lord Melbourne.  However, when Prince Albert came into the picture, I suddenly remembered why it was that I was frustrated with this book.

What I Didn’t Like:

I honestly don’t understand how the relationship between Victoria and Albert could be considered one of the greatest love stories of all time. She was OBSESSED with him and he treated her like an idiotic child. Also, maybe it was just Plaidy’s characterization, but Albert was truly controlling. Every time they argued, he called her “dear child” and would talk about taming her temper, and she’d just simper and apologize even if said argument wasn’t even her fault.

tina fey eye roll

He was even borderline abusive of their oldest son, Bertie (King Edward VII). Albert would beat Bertie, called him stupid on more than one occasion, and did not think he was capable of doing pretty much anything. When anyone showed the slightest bit of affection toward him, he said the boy was being spoiled. This was ironic, because Albert himself spoiled their eldest daughter, Vicky, silly. Of course, this seems to stem from Albert being jealous that Bertie would take precedence over him in ceremonial gatherings. Queen Victoria allowed Albert to treat Bertie like this and never really tried to come to his aid.

Even after Prince Albert dies of typhoid, Victoria still obsesses over him, and makes decisions based on if Albert would do the same thing if he were alive.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that she loved him very much, but she doesn’t need to call him a saint and talk about how so very good he was on every page just because he didn’t cheat on her…

Verdict:

Despite how I feel about Victoria and Albert, I did grow to like her relationship with her children, especially Bertie, Vicky, and Alice, and actually liked them more than I liked their parents. However, since all Victoria could talk about was Albert for 300 pages, I can’t give this book more than 3 stars.

Book Reviews

Mini Review – Bullwhip Days edited by James Mellon

Bullwhip Days

Bullwhip Days is a collection of slave narratives that describes the horrors of slavery and what it really felt like to belong to another human being. Personally, I could not imagine going through what my ancestors went through and I could not admire their strength and courage enough. There are several tales that stuck with me as I read, especially one in which a female runaway slave got her breasts tore from her body by dogs after she was caught and brought back to the plantation. The cruelty slaves faced at the hands of their owners made me sick. I was also surprised by how many of the ex-slaves stated that the missed the slavery days and one man even praised the KKK. Like, what? I had to re-read that part again to make sure I’d read that right. Anyway, this book and other books like it are very important to read, especially for young African Americans. It is vital for us to learn about our history.

Rating: 5/5

Book Reviews

Book Review – Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea is definitely my first 5 star read of the year. It is, without a doubt, equal parts powerful, haunting, and heart-wrenching. Telling the story of a little known tragedy, Salt to the Sea follows four characters: Joana, a Lithuanian nurse; Emilia, a Polish girl; Florian, an East Prussian mystery man; and Alfred, a member of the German navy. Their stories start off individually but soon they come together amid thousands of refugees trying to flee the oncoming Soviet army aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff.

What I Liked:

Ruta Sepetys doesn’t sugarcoat history. When something bad happens, she says it plain…no matter how it might hurt to read about. This could not have been an easy book to write. For example, we have the quote,”

Mothers tried hurling their infants to passengers up on deck, but they couldn’t throw high enough. Their babies smashed against the side of the ship and plunged into the sea” (pg. 295)

Sepetys’s words will definitely stay with me for a long time. World War II was definitely not an era I would have wanted to live through especially when it comes to war-torn Europe. I could not even imagine being desperate enough to throw my child towards a sailing ship knowing there was a 99.9% chance they wouldn’t make it. Plus, the scenes describing the sinking ship are just as depressing to read about. However, it’s sooo important to do so.

Even though the chapters were short, I still feel like I got to know the essence of every single character and how they developed. I loved 3 of our four main characters and how they banded together first out of necessity and then later as a family. I sympathized with all of them, but especially Emilia. She was such a poor little cinnamon roll who I just wanted to hug and feed cookies to.

Also, I love how this novel is about little-known history. How crazy is it that this humongous ship sunk, killing about 9,400 people, and no one has ever heard of it? Then there’s the Amber Room, a treasure-filled room that no one knows the whereabouts of. This room hasn’t been seen since 1945 and apparently people have died trying to find it. It’s really interesting albeit creepy to research.

What I Didn’t Like:

Oh, Alfred…if only there was someone out there who could love you…

I HATED his character so much, and was actually very happy at his fate. He was legit a psychopath. I don’t want to give too much away, but omg I wanted to do this for the whole novel.

get him anna

Final Verdict: I just loved everything about this novel, and I can’t wait to read more of Ruta Sepetys’s work.

Rating: 5 stars

Book Reviews

Book Review – The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

 

The Testing

The Testing is basically the lovechild of The Hunger Games and Divergent. However, in my opinion, this one seems a bit more plausible than either series. Colleges and universities are already competitive so why not make applicants duke it out to win a FREE spot. Shoot, I’d take it. If there was more than one university in this futuristic version of America, it’d be even more believable.

Our main character, Malencia (Cia) Vale, really wants to go to university in the Capitol…I mean, Tosu City, which is indeed the Capitol of the United Commonwealth, and the only way to do that is to have students selected to participate in The Testing. Not only did they have the vastly normal standardized tests (which I’ve always hated), but there’s also hands-on experiments, group work (which again I hated), and a seven-hundred mile trek through a war-torn, poisonous landscape. Yeah, that escalated pretty quickly.

Even though I did think that the premise is plausible, the book was just okay. I really liked the beginning that covered Cia’s graduation, nervousness about whether she’d be accepted for the Testing, being accepted and then meeting other Testing candidates. I also really liked the way the first three tests were done. They were “normal” with definite catches. There were some casualties over the course of these, and I do have to mention a suicide does take place within this book. It was shocking and disturbing.

The fourth test, for me, lost all plausibility. It was basically The Hunger Games and took up at least half of the novel. Not only did Cia and her love interest have to find each other and then survive in the wilderness, but they additionally had to face other candidates who wanted to kill off the competition. I would have liked the novel so much better if the fourth test could have consisted of literally ANYTHING else.

Also, some of the characters I felt were entirely one-dimensional…namely Cia. We knew she was smart because she was selected for The Testing and that she was close to her family, but that was about it. She just had no personality, likes beyond her love interest, or dislikes. I couldn’t even manage to put a face to her. The “empty” protagonist works in other novels (i.e the Hunger Games again) because in other dystopians, the citizens aren’t supposed to have a personality because their identities have been basically stripped away. However, Cia is allowed to have a pretty great childhood. Many of the other Testing candidates, including Cia’s love interest, were much more distinctive.

Again, I thought The Testing was okay. Just…okay. Maybe I’ll continue with the rest of the series. I don’t know yet. I hope the next two books will be a bit more original though.

Rating: 3 stars

Book Reviews

Book Review – Some Luck by Jane Smiley

Some Luck

The concept behind Some Luck by Jane Smiley was cute. Every chapter in the novel is a year from 1920-1953 and covers a few moments in the life of a farming family from a small town in Iowa. It starts when the eldest child is about a year old and ends when he is thirty-three. I understand that this novel could be boring for most people, but I liked it for what it was.

What I Liked:

It felt like I was a guest of the Langdon family as I hung out with the patriarchs of the family, Walter and Rosanna, their six children, Frank, Joe, Mary, Lillian, Henry, and finally baby Claire, and other extended family and friends. Through the novel we see each child grow up and into their own person. There were definitely some characters I liked better than others. Out of the Langdons, I really liked Frank and Lillian, and even Rosanna’s sister, the feisty and outspoken Eloise. If we had seen more of her (basically if she was the main character), she would have most likely been my favorite. I also like how some characters made questionable decisions, but this just made them that much more human.

The passage of time in the novel was again a really great concept. The novel covers the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, and the beginning of the Cold War all through the eyes of this one family. And we get to know them through how they react to these important moments in history.

What Was Meh:

Much of the beginning of the novel was about daily life on a farm. While I do respect those who farm and grew up on farms and stuff, whoo boy was this boring. There was chapter after chapter of talk about which crops grew better with which soil, and I almost fell asleep. The book didn’t truly get interesting until the children began to branch out and realize there was much more to life beyond their small farm.

Also, I felt some chapters just ended too abruptly. I’d be getting really involved with a character or a story line, and then next thing I knew, it’d be the end of the chapter. The novel itself actually ended this way after a HUGE moment, and even though I’m excited to move on to Book 2, I’m still sooooo mad.

Verdict:

I really did like this novel and I can’t wait to dive into Book 2, Early Warning. I’m rating this novel a 4, because even though I did like it, I did get pretty bored and I hope the chapters don’t go too fast in the next one.

 

Book Reviews, Bookish Posts

Book Review – A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott

a touch of stardust

Gone With the Wind is one of my favorite movies so naturally I had to grab this book since it focused on the making of the movie and the love story between Hollywood legends Carole Lombard and Clark Gable.

The novel follows our protagonist, Julie, a good girl from Indiana, who goes to Hollywood to be a famous screenwriter. Something women were not particularly known for yet. Through a couple of lucky breaks, Julie ends up becoming Carole Lombard’s personal assistant and best friend. While this was a bit far-fetched, I did suspend my belief and wasn’t too bothered by it. After all, who doesn’t wish they could be their favorite actor’s assistant? Julie achieved the dream.

What I Liked:
I LOVED the setting of 1930s Hollywood and seeing GWTW behind-the-scenes. There were a lot of little tidbits I didn’t know about. For example, it took a really long time to find a Scarlett and thousands of actresses read for the part before it was given to Vivien Leigh. I’ve seen some of those screen tests and it’s obvious that Leigh was the right one for the part. Also, Clark Gable was very much against segregation and demanded the bathrooms on the set be integrated. When it was known that GWTW’s African American actors would not be welcomed at the Atlanta premiere, Gable actually refused to attend and basically had to be bribed. He actually seems like a pretty chill dude. However, there is one scene where he uses a slur against the openly gay George Cukor, but I had to remember that this is the 1930s and people were not particularly as accepting of members of the LGBT community as we are now.

Carole Lombard was my favorite character. I’ve seen any of her movies, but she seems like she was an amazing person. There’s a scene where one of the production studios’ employees asks to keep a record of her menstrual cycle and she basically tells him to stuff it (in harsher words than that). Even though she at first seems like a jaded Hollywood veteran, she’s still optimistic about the world and her love for Clark.

What I thought was Meh:
I had a bit of a problem with the main character, Julie. She had absolutely no personality and was basically a conduit used to learn more about this world of Hollywood. She doesn’t really make any decisions for herself and does whatever Carole or her boyfriend, Andy, says. Through her, you do learn about how difficult it was as a woman trying to make her mark in Hollywood. There’s a scene where a man asks for sex in order to give her the job of her dreams. It’s disgusting and you definitely feel for her.

Also, the main love story between Julie and David Selznick’s assistant, Andy, really fell flat when parallel with the real story between Gable and Lombard and even the fictional one between Scarlett and Rhett. There was chemistry there but after reading about them arguing for the fifth time, their flame started to flicker. Also, many times Julie is left wondering why Andy is so distant and does not seem to understand he’s a Jewish man living in 1939 with relatives in Nazi Germany. Like obviously he has bigger things to worry about than when you’re going to spoon next, Julie. Ugh, I wanted to smack her with a newspaper and then make her read it.

Even though I didn’t enjoy the main character, A Touch of Stardust is an interesting story about making it in Hollywood. The scenes about making GWTW the iconic movie it is today is worth the read though.

Rating: 3 stars

Book Reviews

Book Review – The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Disclaimer: If you believe Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Ezell Ford, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, etc. deserved to be killed, kindly leave my blog and never come back. Kay, thanks…



Also, I have nothing against cops; in fact, my aunt’s a cop, and I respect the jobs they have to do and know that the good cops outweigh the bad ones. I do have something against cops who shoot first and ask questions later, are racist, or just are all-around shitty people.

The Hate U Give is an extremely powerful novel stemming from the Black Lives Matter Movement and multitude of cases where unarmed African American men, women, and children have been gunned down by (mostly) white police officers. It is a novel that needs to be read in today’s current political climate, especially by teenagers. The novel follows Starr Carter, a girl who feels she is straddling two worlds: her life in a not-so-great neighborhood where gangs run the streets and her predominantly white prep school. After leaving a party, Starr becomes the sole witness of the murder of her best friend, Khalil, at the hand of a white police officer.  Starr is the only one who is able to give the full story about what happened that night and there are some who don’t want that story told. 

What I Liked: 

ALL OF THE THINGS!

First, I love Angie Thomas’s prose and writing style: simple yet powerful. I also really love that Ms. Thomas used a lot of slang and even cuss words within the novel. It made the novel so much more authentic. I mean, people can be up in arms about there being cursing in YA novels all they want, but there’s no use pretending that teens don’t cuss. And this is coming from someone who said “What the fluffer-nutter!” until my junior year of college. 

The characters are just amazing, especially Starr, her parents, brothers, and other relatives. They were not perfect by any means, but their love and devotion for each other was solid. Starr’s father’s character arc is one we don’t normally see: an ex-gang member trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his wife, children, and community. The bond Starr has with him brought tears to my eyes on numerous occasions. 

Starr’s relationship with her boyfriend, Chris, was really cute. If there’s a sequel or companion novel, they still better be together.

I definitely side-eyed Starr’s friend, Hailey. She’s that type of friend that leaves you constantly cringing about whether what came out of her mouth might have been racist but to avoid drama you don’t say anything. I have definitely learned that when it comes to these types of so-called friends, you have put a lid on comments that offend you from the get-go or they’ll constantly think you’re okay with it. 

However, the cop that killed Khalil and the cops that tried to justify Khalil’s death especially bothered me.  Just because someone sells drugs does not mean they deserve to die! Especially not in cold blood. You see this again and again with these cases. Look at the Mike Brown case. They made him seem like a thug to make his death seem justified and it’s not fair. With Philando Castile, they said he was a monster because he smoked weed in front of his child but there was recently an article about “supermoms” who smoke weed. And don’t tell me it has nothing to do with race because it does but that’s a post for another day. 

The only thing I particularly didn’t like about the novel was King, the neighborhood drug lord. Ugh I wanted to slap him with a brick on every page he was on. 

I appreciated how realistic the verdict was, and understood why the author wrote the ending the way she did. 

There is honestly so much more I can say about this novel, but I have to say you have to read it for yourself. I am floored that it took me this long to read this. I firmly recommend The Hate U Give to everyone, especially African American teenagers. After all , the scene where Starr describes being talked to about what to do if stopped by a cop is a common staple in many homes, including mine. The problem is that it shouldn’t be. Ms. Thomas’s book is  a stunning one about police brutality and its consequences. 

Book Reviews

Book Review – The Lines we Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

The Lines We Cross

The Lines We Cross is a thought-provoking novel with an important message that resonates with the political climate of today. Our two protagonists are as different from each other as night and day. Michael is the son of two avid anti-immigration activists who believe immigrants should completely assimilate into the Australian culture. Mina is a refugee from Afghanistan whose life is starting to look just a bit brighter…until she has to move to an upper middle class neighborhood to Michael’s private school and ends up clashing with Michael’s parents’ group, Aussie Values.

What I Liked:

I absolutely loved Mina’s character! She was intelligent, sarcastic, and sassy…basically everything I could ever want in a main character. In the beginning of the novel, Mina feels like a fish-out-of-water. She has moved from her multicultural neighborhood in West Sydney to attend a prestigious private high school. Her growth over the course of the novel from insecure new student to confident young woman was endearing. I also absolutely loved her family.  I was glad to see Mina’s stepfather depicted as endearing and a doting husband and father.

I also loved the moment when Michael began thinking for himself and stopped regurgitating the things his parents and Terrance told him to. Michael, as a character, I kept going back and forth about liking. I wish he had started thinking for himself and questioning his parents’ values before he met Mina. While she did serve as the catalyst for his change, it seems that he ONLY changed just to impress her.

The setting of Australia was different and refreshing to me. I personally can’t recall reading a YA contemporary novel not set in the States or the UK. It was a nice change and I enjoyed learning about Australian culture. Personally, I didn’t think about the fact Australians go through a lot of what we go through here in the United States, such as a tense political climate.

The writing was superb and kept me transfixed. I couldn’t put the book down except to go to work and to sleep. I loved Fattah’s prose.

Also, Paula and Mina are 100% BFF goals.

What I Didn’t Like (and it Worked):

Ugh. Michael’s parents and their friends disgusted me. They were so condescending and patronizing. My problem with them was that their brand of racism is the type where they believe what they’re doing is right for those “inferior” to them. Every time they spoke, it just ground my gears. I also wasn’t too fond of their treatment of Michael’s younger brother who is definitely coded as being autistic thought it is never mentioned. What REALLY made me mad was when reading about how their mother told her child who takes everything literally to “Get out of her way” and the poor boy ended up having to be brought to her by the police because he thought she meant her words. It’s treated as a cute memory but I was kind of disturbed. It only made me dislike Michael’s parents a lot more.

Final Verdict:

I loved this book immensely and it is definitely a novel we need in today’s world. It teaches us to have compassion to those who may not look like us. I laughed, I cried, and I laughed some more. I highly recommend it to everyone, especially people who want to view life through another’s eyes.

Rating: A+