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

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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, 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 – Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey, or Why I Couldn’t Be a French Princess

Becoming Marie Antoinette is an intriguing novel that follows the early life of doomed queen Marie Antoinette from her early years as a child in Austria under her formidable mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, to her ascension as queen of France. I’m actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this book, even though I did put it down at one point.

What I Liked:

Juliet Grey managed to humanize Marie Antoinette. In so many other novels I’ve read, Marie is either portrayed as a saint or as the devil incarnate. There’s not usually a happy medium. However, in this book, while Marie is shown with both good and flawed character traits, like any character should. This portrayal really makes her feel relatable. I mean, it couldn’t have been easy leaving the only home you’ve ever known to marry a boy you’ve never met at the age of fourteen. When I was fourteen, I was still under the impression that I had to put my arms and legs inside my blankets so nothing would “get” me. In other words, if I was her, I’d be pretty inept. Now, I’m not exactly saying that she was inept when she got to France, but she could’ve benefited from one more year at home with her mother. She never understood how precarious her position as the dauphine and thus the queen of France was. Hell, she couldn’t even take part in politics because it wasn’t something the queen consort of France should worry her pretty little head about. Ugh. No wonder all she cared about was having fun and gambling. That’s probably all I would have cared about, too.

The author also managed to bring Versailles to life, especially the ridiculous rules regarding the etiquette of the royal court. I would have HATED living in the French court back then…I mean, French revolution aside, but if I couldn’t get dressed without my underwear being passed around from noblewoman to princess to Princess of the Blood, I would have cursed out everyone within hearing distance and then be sent back to whatever country I came from.

What I Thought Was Meh:

Louis Auguste. Poor, awkward Louis Auguste. I kind of felt sorry for our dear dauphin. He’s just sooooo awkward. However, he annoyed the hell out of me, because Marie would be trying to tell him how she felt and he’d just repeat something one of his tutors told him. Like, damn it, Louis, you’re going to be the king of France. Grow a backbone! Also, there’s all this build up about why they didn’t consummate their marriage, but it’s left by the wayside and will get picked back up in the second book. If you studied history, you know why it took so long, but it didn’t need to be treated like it was some big secret. I did love his character when he and Marie would have their tender moments though. Hopefully, there’ll be more of those in the sequel.

The conflict between Marie and the king’s mistress, Madame du Barry, was equally awkward, and it didn’t need to happen. I know it does happen in history, and Marie uttered her utterly insipid line about how there’s people at Versailles, but the way it’s portrayed in this novel made me want to bang my head on the wall. A good five chapters was spent with Marie going “Should I talk to her?” and then “No, she’s a whore” over and over again. And it was especially annoying that the only reason she started this whole conflict was because Marie got advice from people she should’ve ran away screaming from. At least it was entertaining.

What I Didn’t Like:

The pacing!!!!!!! I ended up putting the novel down toward the beginning of the novel, because the chapters where she’s training to be the dauphine were just soooooooo boring. I can only read so much about the Versailles glide and her hideous medieval braces for so long. Don’t get me wrong, I did find all of this interesting, but not interesting enough. I did soldier through though and the pacing did pick up once she (FINALLY!) arrived at Versailles.

Final Verdict:

All in all, I liked Becoming Marie Antoinette. Even though the pacing was really slow, I did love Marie’s character and she had me laughing out loud during some scenes. It’s really like listening to Marie Antoinette tell her story. I do plan to start the next book soon!

Rating: B+