All The Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Published by Scribner on May 6th 2014
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 531
Goodreads

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

I love history. I love historical fiction. When I first saw All The Light We Cannot See, I was very intrigued but also a little afraid. I wanted to love this book so much, but I wasn’t entirely sure how it would play out. Especially since one of the main characters is a blind girl; would her story come across on the page?

I picked up the book anyway. I wanted to absorb this story, I wanted to read about these people. The first couple of pages took me a bit to get through. After all, they were setting the stage for the wondrous, rich prose that would follow. And pretty much from the 10th page in, I was hooked. And I couldn’t put it down.

If I was hesitant reading a story from the point of view of a blind girl, I should not have been. Anthony Doerr does a magnificent job at explaining exactly what is going on around Marie-Laure with all of the other senses she possesses. It’s like I was in her head experiencing everything she was experiencing, but I was also outside of her and able to see what she could not. It was wonderful, it was beautiful, and it made Marie-Laure my favourite character. I was tense the entire story, waiting for something bad to happen to her, hoping it wouldn’t, and afraid if it did.

Werner was a little harder for me to fall in love with, but I did. It was hard following him through his story with all the hardships that are put in front of him, and watching him as a little boy and young man make the best decisions he can. It’s interesting to see this part of history from his point of view. The simple hobby of fixing radios gets him a spot in Hitler Youth, and propels him forward on this insane path during the war. The assurance and innocence of a young boy turn into the questioning nature of a young man, and you get to watch it all unfold.

Now, what’s interesting for me was how insignificant the mention of the radio is. You think “oh it’s just a radio, just another piece of technology.” But this simple piece of machinery has such a powerful impact on the plot, and I loved the way it ended up tying the story lines together. After all, a simple thread can unravel an entire sweater (that’s a saying, right?).

If you love historical fiction, read this book. If you love getting emotionally invested in characters, read this book. If you love to read, read this book!

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Thin Space

Thin Space by Jody Casella
Published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse on September 10th 2013
Genres: young adult
Pages: 256
Goodreads

Ever since the car accident that killed his twin brother, Marshall Windsor has been consumed with guilt and crippled by secrets of that fateful night. He has only one chance to make amends, to right his wrongs and set things right. He must find a Thin Space—a mythical point where the barrier between this world and the next is thin enough for a person to step through to the other side.

But, when a new girl moves into the house next door, the same house Marsh is sure holds a thin space, she may be the key—or the unraveling of all his secrets.

As they get closer to finding a thin space—and closer to each other—Marsh must decide once and for all how far he’s willing to go to right the wrongs of the living…and the dead.

I wanted to love this book SO BAD. I mean, the concept of it is amazing. Who out there would not try and find a thin space to see a lost loved one? Unfortunately, the execution fell flat for me.

Alright, you can go now. No need to read the rest of the review. Jking.

The first issue I had was the bare feet. Does this count as a spoiler? I don’t think so. It doesn’t ruin any of the book, it’s just an integral part of the plot. In order to find a thin space, you have to be able to touch it with your bare toesies. Which makes complete sense to me. So he doesn’t miss finding a thin space, Marsh walks around bare foot. All. The. Time. To school, to the mall, in the middle of winter. All. The. Time. And I get that the adults want to let him grieve, but I don’t think in reality, people would let a kid walk around with no shoes on. I would assume the school would have had to send him home, at the very least. I know my parents wouldn’t have accepted it.

I wanted to like both Marsh and Maddie, but I didn’t feel connected to either of them. I’ve never gone through the type of grief and guilt that Marsh was experiencing, but his attitude towards life was a little much for me to handle. I liked the blooming friendship between him and Maddie (the girl who moves into the house with a thin space) but I didn’t really get a good sense of her. She was just kind of there.

Also, how Marsh knows about thin spaces just seems a little too coincidental for me. He learns about them then BAM, his brother is dead. The timing on that is just a little too perfect.

And finally, the ending. This was weird for me. I actually liked the ending, but I walked away going “that’s it?”. Maybe because I was basically done by this point, but I would have liked it if this whole part was a lot bigger. It’s twisty and I like it.

I mean overall, it wasn’t a HORRIBLE book. I read the entire thing, which is saying something since I’ve DNF’ed a couple of books lately. I’m trying not to push myself into reading things that don’t catch my full attention. So if it interests you, pick it up.

Just set your expectations low and maybe you’ll be blown away.

One StarOne Star

Nowhere To Hide

Nowhere to Hide by Tracey Lynn Tobin
Published by CreateSpace on October 3rd 2014
Genres: horror
Pages: 236
Goodreads

Nancy King's life was simple. Wake up. Go to class. Work nights at the bar. Flirt with the cute EMT. Sleep through her alarm and burn supper. Then life got complicated. Irrational news reports. Violent wanderers. Sudden attacks. Insane neighbor with a taste for flesh. Now Nancy's life is about running, staying alive, and staying human; but how can she continue to survive when there is simply nowhere to hide?

*I was given a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.*

Hm. Where to start? Nowhere To Hide had a lot of promise.

1. Zombie apocalypse
2. Zombie apocalypse
3. Zombie apocalypse

Yes, I am making a joke.

It started off pretty okay, but the more I read, the more I wanted to not read, but I had to see it through because a small part of me wanted to find out what caused the zombies. And even that part disappointed me a little bit.

Our main character, Nancy, is a bartender. She’s alright, but I never really gave a crap about her. There was nothing that made me root for her and I thought she was quite silly at times.

A lot of the dialogue and scenarios felt very forced and awkward. 0.5 seconds after meeting Greg, Nancy adopts him as an honorary brother. Huh? You just met the kid! More than one character liked referring to people as “my dear”, and Nancy liked using the term “my lover”, which was SO weird. Not once in any internal monologue have I ever called a boyfriend, a fling, whatever “my lover”.

One of the BIGGEST problems I had with Nowhere To Hide was all the telling that happened. We’d be given a scene, something would happen, and Tobin would write, “They shouldn’t have done that.” Or something along those lines, which created some of the most awkward cases of scene transition that I’ve ever read. It just did not flow.

I’m not even going to discuss the errors. Double words, names not being switched. It needs to be cleaned up a bit.

I am, however, giving it two stars for the following reasons:

1. I did finish it, without really wanting to put it down (this might have been different if the book was longer)
2. The zombies and the scenarios they created DID kinda scare me

The plot itself had a bit of promise, but it could have been worked on and expanded SO much more.

One StarOne Star

The Wishing Thread

The Wishing Thread by Lisa Van Allen
Published by Ballantine Books on September 3rd 2013
Genres: magical realism
Pages: 400
Goodreads

The Van Ripper women have been the talk of Tarrytown, New York, for centuries. Some say they’re angels; some say they’re crooks. In their tumbledown “Stitchery,” not far from the stomping grounds of the legendary Headless Horseman, the Van Ripper sisters—Aubrey, Bitty, and Meggie—are said to knit people’s most ardent wishes into beautiful scarves and mittens, granting them health, success, or even a blossoming romance. But for the magic to work, sacrifices must be made—and no one knows that better than the Van Rippers.

When the Stitchery matriarch, Mariah, dies, she leaves the yarn shop to her three nieces. Aubrey, shy and reliable, has dedicated her life to weaving spells for the community, though her sisters have long stayed away. Bitty, pragmatic and persistent, has always been skeptical of magic and wants her children to have a normal, nonmagical life. Meggie, restless and free-spirited, follows her own set of rules. Now, after Mariah’s death forces a reunion, the sisters must reassess the state of their lives even as they decide the fate of the Stitchery. But their relationships with one another—and their beliefs in magic—are put to the test. Will the threads hold?

I think this might be the first magical realism book I have ever read. I hadn’t even heard of the genre until a couple of months ago, but I didn’t really know what it was. I have to say, I’m quite a fan of the genre (yes this is based off of one book, but I’m allowed to make rash decisions!)

First off, the world building. Hm! Amazing. I loved the small town vibes that Tarrytown presented to me, the reader. I kept picturing Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls, but a little more run down and less welcoming. And The Stitchery lept off the page at me. I wanted nothing more than to explore every nook and cranny of that house.

All three of the sisters were superb. They each had their own personalities, their own set of problems, and yet everything wove together wonderfully. Aubrey grew throughout the whole book (although she annoyed me consistently near the end), Bitty became less bitchy (I did not like her at the beginning) and Meggie started to find her place in the family. It was wonderful to see such different characters come together and have to interact, especially since that sister bond is there. Or was there, before everyone left years ago.

All in all, The Wishing Thread was a cute little book that I enjoyed. There were some parts of it that were meh, but it was an entertaining read. It gave me that warm, fuzzy feeling that watching Gilmore Girls used to give me.

One StarOne StarOne Star

Night Film

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Published by Bond Street Books on August 20th 2013
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 624
Goodreads

Everybody has a Cordova story. Cult horror director Stanislas Cordova hasn't been seen in public since 1977. To his fans he is an enigma. To journalist Scott McGrath he is the enemy. To Ashley he was a father.

On a damp October night the body of young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Her suicide appears to be the latest tragedy to hit a severely cursed dynasty.

For McGrath, another death connected to the legendary director seems more than a coincidence. Driven by revenge, curiosity and a need for the truth, he finds himself pulled into a hypnotic, disorientating world, where almost everyone seems afraid.

The last time McGrath got close to exposing Cordova, he lost his marriage and his career. This time he could lose his grip on reality.

ONCE WE FACE OUR DEEPEST FEARS, WHAT LIES ON THE OTHER SIDE?

I don’t have much to say about this book. Except that I did not sleep the entire time I read it.

The whole novel reads like one of Cordova’s horror films and I was half expecting to wake up with Ashley standing over my bed. I couldn’t wait to finish this book so I could sleep again, but I didn’t want it to end.

I loved that interspersed throughout the book were news clippings, websites, photos. Things that McGrath found in his research, we were shown, which added another fabulous layer to the story telling.

I was a tad but disappointed by the ending, but it did not deter me from loving the rest of the book. I borrowed it from the library and I am 100% contemplating going out and buying it. Also because it has amazing paper that I wish more books had.

If you like a good mystery and don’t mind sleeping with your lights on, choose this one. Please.

Update: Went out and purchased this book just for the paper and the cover. I’m not sure I can bring myself to read it again, but it’s now there if I decide to.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Barkskins

Barkskins by Annie Proulx
Published by Scribner on June 14th 2016
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 717
Goodreads

In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters—barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years—their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions—the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way altered my opinion of it. Cross my heart.

Barkskins was a dousy.

It sat, monstrously, on my shelf, staring at me for a month and a half before I decided to try and tackle it.

I’m still on the fence about whether I enjoyed it or not. I mean I did, but to a degree.

It was incredibly interesting to see the story unfold, generation to generation. I love hearing about people’s history, and Barkskins definitely reached that deep down love for me. Each character was wonderful in his or her own way, and they were all very distinct. It felt like I was actually watching history unfold instead of reading a novel about it. It was cool to see the history of family as well as a more broad history at the same time.

The writing, mmm! I’ve never read anything else by Annie Proulx, but I might have to go check out her other novels now. Her writing is wonderful. The entire novel was rich with detail. I don’t even have proper words to explain how much I loved her writing. I liked that since the beginning of the story takes place in New France, she included some French in the dialogue, but worked in the explanations afterwards. My Grade 9 French is pretty rusty but I was still able to understand what was going on.

The downside to this rich writing, and why I’m not entirely sure if I enjoyed the novel or not, is because it was laborious. It takes away from the story if I’m constantly having to push myself to read a book. I normally don’t have an issue reading long books, but because it’s based more on details and less on action (the action I prefer at least), it dragged for me. I had to pay attention to so much detail, so many different characters (there are family trees in the back which are helpful some of the time), that my brain started to hurt. I didn’t know what was going to be important for later on or what wasn’t. I struggled hard, but I also enjoyed the story, so I DON’T KNOW.

My only suggestion is that if you like history and have the time to read details, pick up this book. If you’re looking for some fast paced light reading, maybe this isn’t the book you should be looking at. It’s definitely one of those novels you have to be in the mood for, but when the moods right, it’s fantastic.

One StarOne StarOne Star

The Prince of Fools

Prince of Fools (The Red Queen's War, #1) by Mark Lawrence
Published by Ace on June 3rd 2014
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 355
Goodreads

The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.

The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.

After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board.

I don’t even know how to review Prince Of Fools properly. I had a hard time following the plot, but I think that has more to do with my attention span and memory rather than the story. I have a hard time reading detailed fantasy novels for this exact reason. And yet, I still enjoyed Prince Of Fools.

How do you explain Prince Jalan to someone? If you have a good way, let me know in the comments. I loved him from the first moment he entered the pages. His sense of humour was on point, and his personality just radiated. I find it hilarious that he’s such a coward, but he fully admits he’s a coward, so it gets him into some interesting scenarios. He’s that friend that you keep around because you KNOW he’s going to make everyone have a good time.

Snorri I had a hard time getting to know, although he had a good personality. I’m hoping that the more he opens up to Jal, the more inside his head we can get because by the end of the book I still wasn’t sure what was going on with him. He’s a man of few words which doesn’t really help. I just know he’s a good person and he’s looking for his family. And he’s a viking. A very big viking.

What I could follow of the plot was alright. Snorri is heading North to save his family, Prince Jalan does not want to head North at all but is forced to because of the curse the Silent Sister placed on him. I’m still not 100% sure who the bad guy from the North is (obviously since I can’t even remember his name). And the army he has is also confusing to me, but it might be because I wasn’t following the story as much as I should have been.

Because of my comprehension skills, I might not continue this series. I don’t know if it’ll be worth trying to get through the next one if I already don’t remember a good chunk of Prince Of Fools. Maybe I should start keeping notes as I go.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star

Partials

Partials (Partials Sequence) by Dan Wells
on February 26th 2013
Genres: young adult
Goodreads

Humanity is all but extinguished after a war with Partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans—has decimated the population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island. But sixteen-year-old Kira is determined to find a solution. As she tries desperately to save what is left of her race, she discovers that that the survival of both humans and Partials rests in her attempts to answer questions about the war's origin that she never knew to ask.

I’ve never been a fan of the dystopian genre. And by that I mean I read one, once, a couple of years ago and then never bothered to pick another one up. But this, this! I devoured.

I liked the characters, they were diverse and each had their own personality. I liked that there was a bit of romance, but it wasn’t the focal point. But what I liked the most was the plot.

Dan has given us a future that could actually happen. Army of super soldiers? We probably already have that. Virus that can wipe out 99% of the population? We probably already have that too. Whenever I’ve thought about how the world would end (that happens very little, just so we are all aware), those two things are always the first to come to mind. Both are a form of control; one causes fear and the other helps promote a sense of safety. It’s a very smart way to get humans to do what you want.

It was fun to read the story from Kira’s point of view. She isn’t just some giddy teenager caught up in a bunch of drama. She’s smart, funny and doesn’t always put her heart before her brain (but she’s also human, so sometimes the heart wins out). When Kira takes on the mission to help save what’s left of the human race, she does it for personal reasons too, which adds some depth to the very scientific research she partakes in.

Partials also explores some social themes, like a woman’s right to control her body. Because their numbers are so few, the Senate passes The Hope Act. This states that any woman over the age of 18 must become pregnant yearly (or as much as they can, I can’t quite remember). It’s their duty to the human race. I’ve always been pro-choice when it comes to your own body, but Dan writes in a way that almost had me going “okay, yeah I agree. Women of child bearing age, make babies. That makes sense.” And just as I was leaning one way, a character would voice their opinion and I’d be swayed back the other way. It made for some very interesting personal debates.

Even though I say it’s predictable, it didn’t take away from the fun of this novel at all. I loved it from start to finish, and I was very upset when I had to put it down. I will definitely be picking up the next book in the series.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Glory Over Everything

Glory over Everything: Beyond The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
Published by Simon & Schuster on April 5th 2016
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 365
Goodreads

Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oakes, has a deadly secret that compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad.

Published in 2010, The Kitchen House became a grassroots bestseller. Fans connected so deeply to the book’s characters that the author, Kathleen Grissom, found herself being asked over and over “what happens next?” The wait is finally over.

This new, stand-alone novel opens in 1830, and Jamie, who fled from the Virginian plantation he once called home, is passing in Philadelphia society as a wealthy white silversmith. After many years of striving, Jamie has achieved acclaim and security, only to discover that his aristocratic lover Caroline is pregnant. Before he can reveal his real identity to her, he learns that his beloved servant Pan has been captured and sold into slavery in the South. Pan’s father, to whom Jamie owes a great debt, pleads for Jamie’s help, and Jamie agrees, knowing the journey will take him perilously close to Tall Oakes and the ruthless slave hunter who is still searching for him. Meanwhile, Caroline’s father learns and exposes Jamie’s secret, and Jamie loses his home, his business, and finally Caroline.

Heartbroken and with nothing to lose, Jamie embarks on a trip to a North Carolina plantation where Pan is being held with a former Tall Oakes slave named Sukey, who is intent on getting Pan to the Underground Railroad. Soon the three of them are running through the Great Dismal Swamp, the notoriously deadly hiding place for escaped slaves. Though they have help from those in the Underground Railroad, not all of them will make it out alive.

I picked up The Kitchen House a couple of years ago on a whim from the used bookstore. I love me a good historical fiction, and it DEFINITELY falls into that category. Fast forward to this year and when Simon & Schuster reached out asking if I’d like to read Kathleen Grissom’s newest novel, Glory Over Everything, I said heck yes!

I looked up a couple of reviews of The Kitchen House to re-familiarize myself with the story, but it turns out I didn’t need to. All I had to do was look at the cover and I could remember the plot, characters and feelings I had reading it. Since I read so much, this rarely happens. It’s a testament to Grissom’s writing.

I received Glory Over Everything during the week, and made sure to clear my schedule so I could start it on the weekend. All it took me was one afternoon. ONE AFTERNOON!!! I don’t remember the last time I flew through a book like that.

Although you don’t have to read The Kitchen House to understand Glory Over Everything, I suggest you do. It helps set a backstory for Jamie, and it helps immerse you in the story so much more. I was able to feel what Jamie was feeling easier, and understand why he did certain things. At times when he was thinking back to his plantation days, I felt like we were two friends reminiscing, because I had followed him on that journey as well.

The story is told mostly from two points of view: Pan and Jamie’s. Even though I’m not normally a fan of multi-viewpoints, it worked well. They were each distinctive viewpoints, and I like that Jamie’s started a little farther back than Pan’s, so it wasn’t really overlapping. They intertwined nicely.

Pan I liked, although I found him a little annoying. Mind you he is a child, and a pretty sheltered one at that, so I can understand. But I gave him a lot of side eye throughout the novel. Other than that, I found him cute and I got really super nervous anytime I thought something bad might happen to him.

Jamie I didn’t mind at all. His growth in character was a little sudden and didn’t feel 100% genuine for me, but overall it didn’t detract from my liking of him. It was interesting to have him as a little boy in The Kitchen House, and then see him as a man in Glory Over Everything. You can definitely see how the past has shaped who he is today.

Overall, I loved Glory Over Everything, just like I loved The Kitchen House. Actually, I might have liked it more. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, pick this one up.

 

Three Souls

Three Souls by Janie Chang
Published by HarperCollins Canada on August 20th 2013
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 439
Goodreads

An absorbing novel of romance and revolution, loyalty and family, sacrifice and undying love

We have three souls, or so I'd been told. But only in death could I confirm this ...

So begins the haunting and captivating tale, set in 1935 China, of the ghost of a young woman named Leiyin, who watches her own funeral from above and wonders why she is being denied entry to the afterlife. Beside her are three souls—stern and scholarly yang; impulsive, romantic yin; and wise, shining hun—who will guide her toward understanding. She must, they tell her, make amends.

As Leiyin delves back in time with the three souls to review her life, she sees the spoiled and privileged teenager she once was, a girl who is concerned with her own desires while China is fractured by civil war and social upheaval. At a party, she meets Hanchin, a captivating left-wing poet and translator, and instantly falls in love with him.

When Leiyin defies her father to pursue Hanchin, she learns the harsh truth—that she is powerless over her fate. Her punishment for disobedience leads to exile, an unwanted marriage, a pregnancy, and, ultimately, her death. And when she discovers what she must do to be released from limbo into the afterlife, Leiyin realizes that the time for making amends is shorter than she thought.

I quite enjoyed this novel. It wasn’t your typical ghost story, but it wasn’t your typical historical fiction either. It was a very good mix of both.

The characters were all intriguing and the little bits of background given about the side characters made you that much more involved in the story.

The locations were richly described without bogging down the story and I genuinely felt for Leiyin even when her actions were a bit stubborn.

Definitely pick this novel up!

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star