E-ARC Review: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Page Count: 384
Publication Date: June 1, 2021
Rating: 4.5 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over–especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud–because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own–including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.

Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them . . . and what they will leave behind.

First and foremost, I want to thank NetGalley and Ballantine Books for free E-ARC in exchange for an honest review. This does not in any way effect my rating!

I knew that this book was going to be good, but I think I underestimated how much I would like it. Taking place in the 1980s, this book follows the famous Riva siblings as they prepare for their famous, yearly party. Taking place in only 24 hours, the night will be one that changes their lives forever, and ultimately ends with their house bursting into flames.

Like Taylor Jenkins Reid’s other books, the characters were absolutely unforgettable. Usually, I am not a fan of many characters in a novel, but she crafted them so well that the story would have felt incomplete without any one of them. We have Nina, the oldest sister who is a surfing model going through a divorce. Nina was one of the lead characters in this novel, and probably my favorite. Towards the beginning, I will admit that I found her to be a bit flat, because I just wanted her to stand up for herself. But by the end, the reader appreciates every detail, because the character development was just amazing. Even so, it didn’t feel out of place. I was rooting for Nina the entire time, and just wanted the best for her.

Next we have Jay and Hud, who were raised like twins despite being half brothers. I will admit, I felt like these two were the least developed because I kept mixing them up. Even so, I am happy they were both there because it created a brotherly conflict that kept me on my toes. Hud is an aspiring photographer, and is hiding a huge secret from Jay that will change both of their lives forever. I absolutely adored the love these two had for each other, and found their relationship to be really real. Even though they get into fights, at the end of the day, they want what’s best for one another.

And lastly, there’s Kit, who was probably the most fascinating of the Rivas. The youngest of the 4, Kit is outspoken and isn’t afraid to tell others what she thinks. Going into the party, Kit is determined to kiss a boy for the first time, only to discover herself in the process. I believe that Kit is 20 in this book, and I will admit that she read more like 17 or 18. But even so, she was a great character, and I would love a novel just about her, because she is without a doubt a rising star in the Malibu Rising world.

Watching these 4 siblings navigate life together was just so great to read about. I loved their banter back and forth, and their relationships didn’t feel forced or cheesy. I also loved that they love to surf together. Surfing is a big part of this novel, and it is clear how much it means to each of the siblings, and how it has helped them get through loss and hardships together.

This story also contains a lot of flashbacks from the 1950s, where their parents story is told. Those take place mostly in the first half of the book, and didn’t take away from the main plot. Mick and June’s love story absolutely destroyed me, and I had to put the book down for a little bit because I had so many emotions. Mick and June are just as developed as their children. Their relationship with fill you with love, hope, rage, and pretty much every emotion in between.

My only critique of the story was the party itself. Taylor Jenkins Reid included a few characters who we see only once, and tells a scandalous story about what is going on at the party. I think she did this to really show how out of control the party was getting , but it was understood without those little scenes. I felt like it dragged down the plot, and took away from the characters I really wanted to read about. Even so, this book was so addicting and it had me up until 2 a.m. because I had to know what happened next.

All in all, this was a fabulous book. Even though I didn’t think it was on the same level as Daisy Jones & The Six, it was still definitely up there, and has officially pushed TJR to becoming one of my favorite authors.

Malibu Rising is out now, so don’t forget to pick up your copy!

Book Review: My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

“Words were good. But sometimes they were simply inadequate.”

-Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, My Plain Jane

Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Year: 2018
Page Count: 447
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3 stars

Synopsis (From Goodreads):

You may think you know the story. After a miserable childhood, penniless orphan Jane Eyre embarks on a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There, she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester. Despite their significant age gap (!) and his uneven temper (!!), they fall in love—and, Reader, she marries him. (!!!)

Or does she?

Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Brontë, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

Wow, where to begin with this one?

I want to start off by saying two things. 1: I loved My Lady Jane so much! I thought it was loads of fun and loved seeing how the authors took a classic historical figure and gave her a fun twist. 2: I do not have any previous exposure to Jane Eyre. I have never read the original novel, and I only watched glimpses of the 1950s film. If I had been more familiar with the story, this may be a totally different review!

Like My Lady Jane, this book had the fun and easy banter that was present in that book. The writing was a lot a fun, with quirky comments that wouldn’t usually be found in historical fiction novels. You can tell the writers had a blast writing this novel and creating a unique retelling. They also added a supernatural element to the story by including ghosts, which was a lot of fun but also a bit much at times.

This story follows two main characters, the famous Jane Eyre and Charlotte Brontë (yes, the author of the original novel). Of course, once Jane is old enough to leave school, she becomes a governess to Mr. Rochester, despite the fact that she is offered a position at the Secret Society that pays much more. Charlotte is furious at her friend for turning down such an opportunity, and sets out to convince her to change her mind (and to make her Jane’s assistant when she accepts the position).

I unfortunately didn’t really connect with either Charlotte or Jane. Their voices were very similar and so I had a hard time distinguishing the two from one another. Jane repeated turned down the well paying job at The Secret Society, but really didn’t have any sound reasoning behind it. Charlotte had the exact same quirky personality as Jane, but I honestly can’t tell you much about her plot line except for the love interest.

The authors also took the liberty to acknowledge how old Mr. Rochester is compared to Jane, which I feel like is a bit overdone. Going into this, the only thing I knew about Jane Eyre was that Mr. Rochester was old enough to be her father, but they still “fall in love.” I think they could have moved their focus onto other aspects of the story rather than spending so much time on the supposed love story between Jane and Mr. Rochester.

Along with that, I just really didn’t connect much with the plot of the story. For the first 40% of the book or so, I thought the story was going one way, but around the 60% it took a complete turn around. I understand the plot twist was supposed to be dramatic and shocking, but it just felt like the authors spent so much time trying to create a story line that eventually led… no where. Furthermore, when the plot twist happened, there was just so much going on that I had a hard time following. Everything the reader thought was true wasn’t, and it was a lot to process very quickly. I felt the same way with the ending; the last 10% or so just felt very rushed, and I’m not quite sure exactly what the characters were accomplishing.

All in all, I think this book was kind of miss with me, but it may have been my fault because I am not familiar with Jane Eyre and I was admittedly a bit distracted while reading it. This was still a lot of fun though, so I definitely plan on reading the rest of the books this trio comes out with (I just got approved for an arc of My Contrary Mary and I cannot wait!).

What were your thoughts on this book? I know it is beloved by so many so I am curious what others think. Leave a comment below!!

Review: The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton

“The day we stop fighting for others is the day we might as well pack it all up and go home.”

Chanel Cleeton, The Last Train to Key West

Publisher: Berkley
Publication Year: 2020
Page count: 320
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3.5

Rep: Hispanic American author/ Hispanic MC
TW: Domestic violence, loss of a loved one, miscarriage

Blurb (From Goodreads):

Everyone journeys to Key West searching for something. For the tourists traveling on Henry Flagler’s legendary Overseas Railroad, Labor Day weekend is an opportunity to forget the economic depression gripping the nation. But one person’s paradise can be another’s prison, and Key West-native Helen Berner yearns to escape.

The Cuban Revolution of 1933 left Mirta Perez’s family in a precarious position. After an arranged wedding in Havana, Mirta arrives in the Keys on her honeymoon. While she can’t deny the growing attraction to the stranger she’s married, her new husband’s illicit business interests may threaten not only her relationship, but her life.

Elizabeth Preston’s trip from New York to Key West is a chance to save her once-wealthy family from their troubles as a result of the Wall Street crash. Her quest takes her to the camps occupied by veterans of the Great War and pairs her with an unlikely ally on a treacherous hunt of his own.

Over the course of the holiday weekend, the women’s paths cross unexpectedly, and the danger swirling around them is matched only by the terrifying force of the deadly storm threatening the Keys.

I will have to say, that this book was definitely an entertaining read. One of my favorite books I read last year was Next Year in Havana, so going into this I had high expectations. So, I’m not surprised that this book fell a tiny bit flat for me.

This book takes place in the Florida Keys in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. I don’t read many books during this time period, so it was definitely interesting in that aspect! This book mostly follows the events of the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, one of the deadliest hurricanes ever recorded in U.S. history. You can tell that the author did a lot of research into this tragedy, one that I never knew about. In that aspect, this book will pull on your heart strings as you watch these characters lose everything they have and love.

This book follows the perspective of 3 women: Mirta, a Cuban woman fleeing from Havana after marrying a stranger; Helen, a pregnant woman yearning to get away from an abusive husband; and Elizabeth, an NYC native searching for her brother. Since this book is fairly short, I felt like I didn’t really get to know all of these characters on a deeper level. I think it would have been more effective with only 2 POVs, although it was interesting to see how they all tied together at the end. I was definitely most invested in Helen’s story, and Elizabeth and Mirta’s story kind of fell on the back burner for me.

I think my biggest issue with this book was just… how neatly everything wrapped up. I know that may sound odd, since most books are like that, but it was just a bit too convenient in this book. You must have a lot of suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy the ending. Along with that, all 3 of these women are in sticky situations, and escape them by the help of a big, strong man. In Chanel’s other novels, I felt like the romance wasn’t central to the story, but in this novel it was definitely the driving force. Which would have been fine, but these men definitely “save” the women in this novel and I just wasn’t a huge fan.

That being said, I definitely learned a lot about this tragedy that I have never heard of before. Along with that, Cleeton also addresses the mistreatment of WW1 veterans during this time period, and how the government essentially left them high and dry. This was definitely an issue that I hadn’t known about, and I’m assuming most Americans don’t.

Even though this wasn’t my favorite book ever, I am happy I read it. Cleeton is releasing another novel in 2021 and I am definitely excited to read it!

Historical Fiction Books on my TBR

I have always been fascinated with history, and so historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to read! However, I don’t usually see a lot of buzz about historical fiction books, so I have compiled a list of a few I am really excited to read. These have a wide variety of time periods, and is also a mix of adult and YA.

They Went Left by Monica Hesse

Monica Hesse is the author of Girl in the Blue Coat, which I really liked when I read it last year (I flew through it in 2 days!). This is another WW2 novel, but takes place after the events of the war. Zofia has just been liberated from a Nazi concentration camp, but was separated from her family, who was sent left instead of right. Now, she is on a mission to find them. This is a YA novel, so I’m sure it will be fast paced, despite the heavy topics.

Actress by Anne Enright

I just recently came across this book, but added it right away to my list. This book follows the main character, Katherine, as she begins to rise to fame in Ireland, then moving to West End, Broadway, and eventually Hollywood. By her side throughout the ordeal is her daughter. Following both women during post war America and the 1970s, this book sounds intriguing to me, especially the Old Hollywood aspect.

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

This book follows 17 year old Lakshmi after escaping from an abusive marriage. Now, she works as a Henna artist in an Indian city. However, things are turned upside-down when Lakshmi’s husband tracks her down year later. Not only that, he brings along with him the sister she never knew she had. This sounds intriguing, and I am hoping to get to it this month.

The Downstairs Girl by Stacy Lee

Stacy Lee has published a few books, but this is one that really caught my attention! This follows Jo Kuan, maid for one of the most powerful and notorious men in Atlanta. However, in secret, Jo is also a columnist for the local newspaper, giving advice to people seeking the help of ‘Miss Sweetie.’ After addressing race and gender issues in Atlanta, citizens promise to uncover Miss Sweetie’s identity, leaving Jo scared and at risk for losing her job.

The Passion of dolssa by Julie Berry

Set in 1200s France, this YA novel takes place after the Catholic Crusades have annihilated Europe. Dolssa is on the run from a friar who is determined to see her burned at the stake because she has a mysterious healing power. This witchy-hunty book sounds very fascinating, and I loved Lovely War so much that I’m sure this is going to be a winner for me as well!

The WInemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel

I just read The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel a few months ago and really enjoyed it, so I want to read this novel as well! Set in 1940s France, this book follows Inès, a newlywed who got married just before Hitler invaded France. After her new husband teams up with the French Resistance, her initial response is anger- how could he put them at risk like this? But then, she begins to build a relationship with a half-Jewish neighbor, and realizes the danger for the French Jewish population is even greater. However, one mistake puts everyone at risk, and Inès may be to blame.

Gone by Nightfall by Dee Garretson

Charlotte is an ordinary girl in czarist Russia. She dreams of going to medical school, and someday becoming a doctor. However, this all changes after her mother suddenly dies, leaving her to care for her siblings. After revolution breaks out in Russia, Charlotte knows she has to find away to escape with her siblings, and fast.

Kent State by Deborah Wiles

The last book on this list is one that I have had my eye on for awhile now. This short novel recounts the events that happened on May 4, 1970 at Kent State University, when the national guard shot 4 innocent students protesting the Vietnam War. I believe this is written in verse, and gives the perspective of 4 bystanders, each on the campus for different reasons. I studied at a brank of Kent State for a year and have a number of friends attending the campus now, so I am super intrigued by this and can’t wait to see what the author did with this story.

I hope these books sounded intriguing to any other historical fiction fans out there, and you were able to add a couple of these to your list! If you are interested in buddy reading any of these, leave a comment below 🙂

Happy reading!

Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

Publisher: Little, Brown and Co.
Publication Year: 2012
Page count: 578 pages
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3.75 stars
Rep: Black MC, queer side character

Blurb (FromGoodreads):

SOMETHING DARK AND EVIL HAS AWAKENED… Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult. Evie worries her uncle will discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer. As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho is hiding a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened…

It has taken me a few days to collect all my thoughts on this book, so sorry in advance if this review is a disaster!

I am going to start off with this: this book is very character driven. If you need a book where the plot takes off right away, you probably won’t love this one. In my opinion, the plot didn’t really start moving until about 50% of the way in. It didn’t bother me so much, but I can see how it would others.

The characters in this book are so much fun to read about! There are quite a few of them, but they each have their own distinct personality. Evie is the definition of a flapper girl: charming, flirtatious, and loves to have a good time. She is definitely the central character in this story, which I can’t complain about because her perceptive was a lot of fun to read about. The other character I adored with Memphis, and Black teenager growing up in Harlem. After the death of his mother and disappearance of his father, Memphis is tasked with taking care of his little brother. It was so interesting to see how much his world differed from Evie’s, even though they were in the same place at the same time. Memphis’s relationship with his brother will leave your heart so full.

I also liked how the author gave us back stories about other people in the city. For example: she tells us about a Polish immigrant trying to become famous. A boy who had just gotten into an argument with his best friend. It reminded me of The Sun is Also a Star in that aspect, and I really enjoyed it.

As for the plot, like I said earlier, it takes awhile to get into it. I did find myself bored a couple times, and I suspect if I would have physically read it I wouldn’t have liked it as much. I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I can’t go into much detail other than that. However, the atmosphere of the book fits so well with the plot; it is dark and mysterious- perfect for fall!

The other aspect of this book I loved was the setting. This takes place in 1920s New York City, and you can tell that the author definitely did her research. It was so interesting to learn about the flapper era, prohibition, and watching the city recover from WWI. This is definitely a time period I wish I would read more about!

All in all, although I didn’t enjoy this book as much as others did, I still am happy I read it this October, and I am definitely interested in picking up the sequel!

Leave your opinions of The Diviners in the comments below!!

Review: The Paper Girls of Paris by Jordyn Taylor

Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Year: 2020
Page count: 368
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 3.5 stars
Rep: queer supporting character, character with mental illness

Blurb (From GoodReads):

Sixteen-year-old Alice is spending the summer in Paris, but she isn’t there for pastries and walks along the Seine. When her grandmother passed away two months ago, she left Alice an apartment in France that no one knew existed. An apartment that has been locked for more than seventy years.

Alice is determined to find out why the apartment was abandoned and why her grandmother never once mentioned the family she left behind when she moved to America after World War II. With the help of Paul, a charming Parisian student, she sets out to uncover the truth. However, the more time she spends digging through the mysteries of the past, the more she realizes there are secrets in the present that her family is still refusing to talk about.

Sixteen-year-old Adalyn doesn’t recognize Paris anymore. Everywhere she looks, there are Nazis, and every day brings a new horror of life under the Occupation. When she meets Luc, the dashing and enigmatic leader of a resistance group, Adalyn feels she finally has a chance to fight back. But keeping up the appearance of being a much-admired socialite while working to undermine the Nazis is more complicated than she could have imagined. As the war goes on, Adalyn finds herself having to make more and more compromises—to her safety, to her reputation, and to her relationships with the people she loves the most.

This wasn’t on my October TBR because I wasn’t planning on reading it this month. But I am happy I did because this did end up being a heart felt story.

This book follows two girls, Alice, in present day Paris, and Adalyn, in Nazi occupied Paris. The story alternates between them each chapter, giving us a mix between historical fiction and contemporary.

I really enjoyed reading from Adalyn’s perspective. Historical fiction was definitely the author’s stronger suit. Although her story started out a bit on the slower side, by the end my heart was racing. Adalyn is a teenager when the Nazis occupy France, and through accident she finds The Resistance, teaming up with them to take down The Nazis. However, she cannot tell a single soul, and that includes her best friend and sister, Chloe. Chloe and Adalyn’s relationship was a heartfelt (although frustrating) one. The entire time I was rooting for the sisters to reconcile. My heart really went out to Adalyn that she could not confide in her sister.

Alice’s perspective was not quite as impactful for me. Alice visits Paris after her grandmother passes, leaving her an apartment that has been untouched since the war. Alice then finds pictures of Adalyn, a great aunt she has never known, as well as her diary. I think the reason I struggled with Alice’s perspective is that she just seemed immature to me. The way she reacted to certain situations, and even the language used, just seemed much younger than she was supposed to be. I wasn’t all that invested in her storyline until the end, and it just kind of served as a distraction from Adalyn’s story.

Another issue I had with Alice was how she handled the situation with her mother. Alice’s mother is clearly depressed after her mother has died, and given her most prized possession to Alice instead of herself. It was frustrating to read about how Alice and her dad handled it, tip toeing around the problem and forcing their mother into clearly uncomfortable situations. By the end, they do reach some clarity that her mother needs help, but it takes a long time for them to reach that conclusion. It was just a very frustrating plotline to get through.

Both Adalyn and Alice also have a romance. Adalyn’s romance was very sweet, and I will forever stan Luc. Their war torn relationship definitely pulled at my heartstrings and had me rooting for them. However, I was not the hugest fan of Alice’s relationship. Their meet cute was the typical “eyes locked across a crowded café” thing, and I just couldn’t really get past that. I didn’t see much of a foundation between the two of them, so it was kind of unbelievable. I think the story would have been better without the romance on Alice’s part, and they replaced her partner with a friend.

All in all, this was a good story and I’m not upset I read it. The author disclosed on Instagram that her next story is a Cold War era novel taking place in NYC, that sounds super exciting and I will definitely read it.

Leave your thoughts on this book in the comments below! Happy reading!

Review: The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

“He had taught her to love reading, one of the greatest gifts a parent could give a child, and in doing so, he had opened the world to her.”

Kristin Harmel, The Book of Lost Names

Publisher: Simon & Shuster
Publication year: 2020
Page count: 400
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 4 stars

As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.

If I’m being honest, I was very skeptical of this book. Historical fiction has been really hit or miss for me lately, ad I was not a fan of the other Kristin Harmel novel I read, The Room of Rue Amelie. However, after seeing the amazing reviews and beautiful cover, I decided that this would be worth a try, and I was not disappointed.

This book follows Eva’s perspective from both the 1940s and the early 2000s. One of the biggest misses for me with Kristin’s other novel was the multiple perspectives (I believe there were 3). This one only follows Eva’s perspective. I must admit that I was not too invested in Eva’s story from the early 2000s, just because we didn’t see much of it. I almost wish it would have been left out, even though it does come into play at the end. I just loved reading about Eva during the war.

Eva is a Jewish girl living in Paris when the Nazis occupy France. After her father is taken to Auschwitz, Eva and her mother flee to the French free zone, where Eva starts forging documents to smuggle Jewish children into free Swiss territory. Eva was such a fascinating character to read about. Even though she is obviously such a strong woman, she is flawed and makes mistakes, which makes her real. I also love how the character dives into her relationship with her mother. Eva’s mother is such a complex character who is trying to work through her grief and loss of her husband, home, and religion. She was a heartbreaking character, which made her and Eva’s relationship very complicated. But it also made the story more authentic.

This book was very much plot driven, which I really enjoyed. I feel like at times historical fictions can be slow, but I never felt bored during this book. It honestly sort have read like a YA book. Each scene had a purpose and helped the reader get to the climax of the story quicker. I also liked how the war was at the forefront of this story. In Kristin’s other novel, I felt like I was reading a romance novel with the war taking place in the background of the love story. This was the opposite.

Speaking of romance, I really enjoyed the relationship between Eva and Rémy. It was a slow burn, their relationship blossoming into a romance over the months they worked together. Rémy was not the most memorable character, but I think he played a good love interest and was very sweet. Of course, both Rémy and Eva have the war on their mind, so the romance is not very front and center in this book until the end.

Speaking of the ending, this book definitely ripped my heart out. Although I guessed the big plot twist, there were still so many things that happened that I wasn’t expecting.

All in all, if you are looking for a good World War II novel, this is a good one to pick up, especially if you are new to historical fiction!

What did you think of this book? Leave your comments below!

Book Review: Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris

3.5 stars

When Auschwitz is finally liberated, 18 year old Cilka does not receive freedom like many other prisoners. Instead, she is charged by the Soviet Union to 15 years of hard labor in the Russian Gulag in Siberia for accusation of helping the Nazis. This story follows Cilka as she does what she must to survive yet another prison camp with the friends she makes along the way.

This is a companion novel to Heather Morris’s first novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which I read in February 2019. I was really impacted by that book, so I think my expectations were a little too high for this one.

Let me start with the writing. While reading reviews of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, I saw many people complaining about Morris’s writing style, saying that it was very bland. I didn’t really know what they meant until I read this one. Morris does a lot of “telling,” not “showing.” I remember there were sentences like “Cilka feels upset.” or “Cilka experiences longing.” As the novel went on, I did get adjusted to it, but I still feel like the writing style didn’t mesh with me.

As for the book itself, there wasn’t that much going on, and it was fairly slow. I guess that most historical fiction novels are like this, but it was just so different from Tattooist of Auschwitz, which was action packed and had me on my toes the whole time. I didn’t really feel motivated to read until the last 40% or so, and by the end I was ready to put it down. It didn’t stick out to me like other historical fiction books have, such as The Nightingale or Between Shades of Grey.

Lastly, after the book was over I did look into how much of the story was true, since the author says it was based off a real person named Cilka who did survive both Aushwitz and the Russian Gulag. I cam across and article of an interview with Cilka’s stepson, who was upset that the women in the novel is nothing like his mother and asked Heather Morris to stop claiming it was based on a true story. I haven’t seen Heather Morris’s response, but I know the book is still being marketed as such.

If you’ve read this book, how did you feel about it? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Review: The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar

3 stars

“Stories are powerful, but gather too many of the words of others in your heart and they will drown out your own. Remember that”

-Zeyn Joukhadar

It is 2011, and Nour’s father has just passed away from cancer. Her mother does not know how to recover with the loss of her husband, and moves her family from New York City to Syria to be closer to family. However, the Syria the family arrives to is not the Syria they remembered. Violence is increasing everyday, with threats of bombing, shooting, and protests constantly looming over them. After a shell destroys Nour’s home, the family decides to pack up their things and join the refugees crossing the Middle East into Europe.
800 years earlier, Rawiya is desperate to see the world and help her widowed mother. Dressed like a boy, Rawiya joins a world famous map-maker tasked with creating a map of the world. However, she has no idea whats in store as she fights many beasts and thieves as they travel through The Middle East.

I want to start off by saying I really do feel bad for giving this book 3 stars. I think that the story is incredibly important and more Americans should be informed of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. I know I knew next to nothing about it before starting this book, and I know others are in the same situation. Because of that, I don’t feel like I can rate it less than 3 stars, even though this book really wasn’t for me.

There wasn’t a specific reason I didn’t care for this book, I just don’t think it was my cup of tea. The writing style was beautiful, describing all the scenes in the story with gorgeous imagery. I would definitely be willing to give this author another shot for that alone.

I think the biggest reason this book didn’t work for me was the duel timeline. I am a sucker for a duel timeline that works well, but for me this one didn’t. I didn’t really see any connection between the two characters, besides the fact they were in the same place. Nour’s point of view seemed very realistic, while Rawiya’s almost felt like fantasy. I was much more invested in Nour’s part of the story and because of that found myself becoming less engaged during Rawiya’s perspective. Duel perspectives are done best when they complement one another, and in this novel I felt like they were distracting one another from each other, and Rawiya’s story was almost like a page filler.

I also didn’t know that this book was being told from a 12-year-old’s perspective. Because of that, I felt like novel walking a fine line between middle grade and general fiction. Many sentences were very blunt, like a middle grade novel, but the content was definitely more leaned towards adults. It was a weird mix and I couldn’t quite tell how I felt about it. Along with that, the characters in this book definitely did not speak like children. Nour would be complaining and then suddenly spit out a huge metaphor about the sea and stars and I was like… where did that come from??

Lastly, I don’t feel like the characters really engrossed me the way they should have. Nour was well developed, but I felt like the other characters weren’t. I was constantly confusing Nour’s sisters because they were so similar, and I could tell you virtually nothing about any characters in Rawiya’s story.

Like I said earlier, give this book a shot if you are interested! This story is very important and needs to be shared. I did learn a lot about the Syrian Refugee Crisis while reading this, and it did warm my heart to read about a family who would go to the ends of the Earth for each other. I would definitely recommend the physical book over the audiobook. If I had a physical copy, maybe I would have been able to force my mind to focus more on the story, but since I didn’t, the audiobook just didn’t keep my attention.

Hope this helped and happy reading!

Review: Lovely War by Julie Berry

4 stars

“If music stops, and art ceases, and beauty fades, what have we then?”

-Julie Berry, Lovely War

The year is 1917, and World War I is at its peak. Hazel, a talented pianist, and James, a British soldier set to be deployed in a week, catch site of each other at a party. By some cruel fate, the two fall in love, but James still has to go and fight, leaving behind Hazel as he heads for the loveless trenches.
Meanwhile, Aubrey is an American apart of the first African American infantry being sent to Europe to fight in The Great War. Also a successful musician, he is awestruck the moment he first hears Colette sing. Colette is Belgian and has been threw unspeakable tragedies. How will she be able to let Aubrey into her broken heart?
Told by the Greek Gods, this story takes a new twist on historical fiction as Berry writes a love story that will shows its readers the power of music and love.

Let’s get right into this, shall we?

First off, let me gush about how amazing this book was! This story is told by the Greek gods, which was such an incredible spin on historical fiction! It definitely reminded me a bit of the Book Thief, narrated by Death. This definitely made this novel stand out from other historical fiction I have read. And of course, who better to tell a love story than Aphrodite and a war story than Ares? I adored this aspect of the story. Not only that, but the Greek gods were funny! I really enjoyed their sense of humor and it made the heart-breaking book a little more light-hearted when needed; almost like a comic relief.

Second, I loved the insight to the African American regiment in this novel. I had no idea that POC went through horrors just at their training! Aubrey’s story broke my heart, which made his love story with Colette so much better. Both of the characters had people they love stripped away from them at war, which I think made their relationship even deeper. It was very interesting to read about what they faced as a mixed-race couple, and how it was so much different in Europe vs. America.

And of course, I loved the part that music played in thus novel. 3 of the main characters were all musicians, and I think that it really emphasized how important music really is! James fell in love with Hazel because of her music, and Aubrey fell in love with Colette because of hers. Not only that, but Hazel and Colette befriended Aubrey because they were awestruck by his talent! Music brings people together in ways that words can’t, and I think this novel really embodies that. I put my favorite quote from this novel up above, but it is so true I think it deserves to be said twice:

“If music stops, and art ceases, and beauty fades, what have we then?”

-Julie Berry, Lovely War

I wish I could end this review with all positives, but unfortunately I have to say that James and Hazel’s relationship was too insta-lovey for me. I understand that we are supposed to believe that Aphrodite is the reason they “fell in love at first site,” but I had a really hard time believing it. It wasn’t until the second half of the book I started to even care about their relationship because that’s when I started to find the chemistry more believable. By the end I was rooting for them, but it definitely took me some time.

So, to sum up, read this book! There is not a lot of WWI historical fiction out there so this is definitely an interesting read. I can’t wait to see what Julie Berry publishes in the future!

TW: grief, sexual assault, loss of a loved one

Cover photo by Penguin Teen