BOOK REVIEW: The Whale: A Love Story, by Mark Beauregard

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BOOK REVIEW: The Whale: A Love Story, by Mark BeauregardTitle: The Whale: A Love Story by Mark Beauregard
Published by Viking
Published: June 14th 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

A rich and captivating novel set amid the witty, high-spirited literary society of 1850s New England, offering a new window on Herman Melville’s emotionally charged relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne and how it transformed his masterpiece, Moby-Dick   In the summer of 1850, Herman Melville finds himself hounded by creditors and afraid his writing career might be coming to an end—his last three novels have been commercial failures and the critics have turned against him. In despair, Melville takes his family for a vacation to his cousin’s farm in the Berkshires, where he meets Nathaniel Hawthorne at a picnic—and his life turns upside down.  The Whale chronicles the fervent love affair that grows out of that serendipitous afternoon. Already in debt, Melville recklessly borrows money to purchase a local farm in order to remain near Hawthorne, his newfound muse. The two develop a deep connection marked by tensions and estrangements, and feelings both shared and suppressed.   Melville dedicated Moby-Dick to Hawthorne, and Mark Beauregard’s novel fills in the story behind that dedication with historical accuracy and exquisite emotional precision, reflecting his nuanced reading of the real letters and journals of Melville, Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and others. An exuberant tale of longing and passion, The Whale captures not only a transformative relationship—long the subject of speculation—between two of our most enduring authors, but also their exhilarating moment in history, when a community of high-spirited and ambitious writers was creating truly American literature for the first time.

I love reading fictional works about author’s lives, I can’t help it. It’s like literary gossip magazines, and I eat it like candy. Aside from knowing a little bit about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s life due to early American literature courses and my own delving for the science fiction course I taught this semester, I had basically no clue about Hawthorne’s relationship with Herman Melville. Mallory’s review at Goodreads pretty much sums up my reaction to the novel in the end: “Never in my WHOLE LIFE did I expect to be breathlessly swept along like if they don’t kiss I am going to die over Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, but here we are.”

The most incredible thing about the novel is that in the novel Herman Melville’s letters to Hawthorne are like 98% real. Obviously with historical fiction, liberties are taken and there are about two letters that have been added to or fabricated, but the rest of Melville’s passion in any capacity for Hawthorne is clearly evident. Most, if not all, of Hawthorne’s letters to Melville don’t exist anymore, but Beauregard does an excellent job of filling in the gaps.

Until this novel, I thought of Hawthorne and Melville as part of those stuffy early American authors that lead stuffy lives and wrote convoluted, dense novels, but now more than ever I want to read Moby Dick and Hawthorne’s major novels that he wrote before, during, and after this brief period of their lives. It’s magical, and sometimes historical context means everything.

BOOK REVIEW: The Girl in the Castle, by Santa Montefiore

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BOOK REVIEW: The Girl in the Castle, by Santa MontefioreTitle: The Girl in the Castle by Santa Montefiore
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Published: September 27th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 576
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Library
Goodreads

International sensation Santa Montefiore presents the first book in a trilogy that follows three Irish women through the decades of the twentieth century—perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Hazel Gaynor.
Born on the ninth day of the ninth month in the year 1900, Kitty Deverill is special as her grandmother has always told her. Built on the stunning green hills of West Cork, Ireland, Castle Deverill is Kitty’s beloved home, where many generations of Deverills have also resided. Although she’s Anglo-Irish, Kitty’s heart completely belongs to the wild countryside of the Emerald Isle, and her devotion to her Irish-Catholic friends Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the castle’s cook, and Jack O’Leary, the vet’s son, is unmatched—even if Jack is always reminding her that she isn’t fully Irish. Still, Jack and Kitty can’t help falling in love although they both know their union faces the greatest obstacles since they are from different worlds.
Bridie cherishes her friendship with Kitty, who makes her feel more like her equal than a servant. Yet she can’t help dreaming of someday having all the wealth and glamour Kitty’s station in life affords her. But when she discovers a secret that Kitty has been keeping from her, Bridie finds herself growing resentful toward the girl in the castle who seems to have it all.
When the Irish revolt to throw over British rule in Southern Ireland, Jack enlists to fight. Worried for her safety, Jack warns Kitty to keep her distance, but she refuses and throws herself into the cause for Irish liberty, running messages and ammunition between the rebels. But as Kitty soon discovers, her allegiance to her family and her friends will be tested—and when Castle Deverill comes under attack, the only home and life she’s ever known are threatened.
A powerful story of love, loyalty, and friendship, The Girl in the Castle is an exquisitely written novel set against the magical, captivating landscape of Ireland.

 The Girl in the Castle is about the lives of women around an estate in Ireland. It’s the first in a trilogy that spans before, during, and just after World War I and the Irish War of Independence. It’s expansive and well-detailed historical fiction, but I found it typical of the genre. There’s romance, war, and rape. I am so incredibly tired of rape being used as a plot device to make us feel pity for that character. While I understand it can be used as a plot device to explore certain aspects of how women and men are treated in society, I really hate when it’s used to just add “flavor” to a narrative as I feel like it’s used here.

Aside from that, it’s a well-structured historical novel that kept me interested. It has a wide variety of characters from all backgrounds, and Montefiore explores nearly all aspects of the characters and compels you to care for the protagonists in some way. Montefiore also weaves historical significance of both the Irish War for Independence and World War I throughout the narrative, showing how both wars affect each of the characters and the fate of the estate.

Sometimes I felt as if there were too many characters to follow, and I hope there are fewer in the second and third novel. Often times what happens with several characters to follow in any series is that the storylines blur and individual voices are hard to differentiate.

It’s a novel that was reminiscent of Downton Abbey, and if you’re in the mood for something more after finishing that show, this is the start of an expansive trilogy. I am looking forward to reading the next one!

BOOK REVIEW: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

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BOOK REVIEW: The Nightingale by Kristin HannahTitle: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: February 3rd 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 440
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real--and deadly--consequences.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France--a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.

I’d heard a lot about this book from various people, publications, and my old job at the bookstore. It kept showing up everywhere, so I finally decided to reserve it at the library and give it a go. We usually hear about the stories of men in wars, a man’s heroic actions, and a man’s role in the war, but we hardly hear of what women went through during any war. Not in popular commercial fiction, anyway. I’ll be the first to admit that I was hesitant on picking it up because Hannah’s other works aren’t titles of interest to me, but I’m all about expanding my horizons this year. I’m glad I did for this one.

In The Nightingale, Hannah explores the relationship between two French sisters during World War II. It started out slow, a bit cliche at times, but by the time I got through a third of the book, I couldn’t put it down. I read straight on from about eight-thirty in the morning to noon. I wanted to read more of Isabelle’s story, and I can certainly see from this interview why Hannah wrote about a young woman leading hundreds of soldiers to freedom. I don’t recall reading anything even remotely similar to that in my history books, nor are the actions of women often spoken about in reference to the war. The Nightingale shows two women fighting their own battles during the war in their own ways, sometimes through being outspoken and daring, and sometimes through hardship and resilience.

Even though the story seemed too tidy and too happily-ever-after in its resolution, I really enjoyed reading it, and it makes me want to read more about the women who played such pivotal roles in World War II.

REVIEW: Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen - Victoria Aveyard

“Anyone can betray anyone.”

TITLE: Red Queen
AUTHOR: Victoria Aveyard
PUBLISHED: 2015
PAGES: 383
FORMAT: Hardcover
SOURCE: Library
RATING: 3/5

SUMMARY: Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood — those with red and those with silver. Mare and her family are lowly Reds, destined to serve the Silver elite whose supernatural abilities make them nearly gods. Mare steals what she can to help her family survive, but when her best friend is conscripted into the army she gambles everything to win his freedom. A twist of fate leads her to the royal palace itself, where, in front of the king and all his nobles, she discovers a power of her own—an ability she didn’t know she had. Except… her blood is Red.

To hide this impossibility, the king forces her into the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks her new position to aid the Scarlet Guard—the leaders of a Red rebellion. Her actions put into motion a deadly and violent dance, pitting prince against prince—and Mare against her own heart. – from the book jacket

REVIEW: Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen has been getting a lot of hype in the last several months either on the bookstore front, the book bloggers’ front, and more recently with Elizabeth Banks reportedly to direct the film. I finally got Red Queen this past week when it finally came through the library for me (ugh, holds and hold queues and self-imposed book buying bans, but yay, free books!). Once I got it, I put everything else I’ve been dabbling in reading on hold. I’ve been through a weird and frustrating reading slump this year, so I’m literally about to do anything to keep myself reading, including writing about what I read! That’s more for another post.

I liked it.

It didn’t wow the socks off of me and it didn’t disappoint me, which is why it gets three stars out of five instead of anything less or more. I just want more? I’m so happy there’s a sequel coming out next year, because I feel as if Red Queen is just a setup for so, so much more. It’s a lot like Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass in the sense that the first novel in the series/trilogy is all about setting the stage for the real action. I don’t know what my real opinion about Red Queen and the other two books in the trilogy will be until they come out. I’ll have more of an I love this!! or an It’s just okay. opinion once the second one comes out, I think. I tend to read trilogies as cohesive narratives rather than individual books.

Now that I’ve finished it and have thought about it for most of the day, Red Queen draws on a lot of popular tropes and themes in popular fantasy and YA fiction, and that’s okay. There are threads of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, themes of Cinderella (the title had me hoping for an Alice in Wonderland vibe, but alas), X-Men mutant abilities, and the dystopian society of The Hunger Games woven in the narrative. While that might seem stale to some, I liked it. I thought it was an engaging, entertaining read. It sets the stage for more intrigue and drama, and that’s good because I want more.

The biggest issue I had with it was the love… square? Maven is by far the most interesting, Cal is sort of boring, and there’s not much I really gathered from Kilorn (and that’s probably because I started this book when I couldn’t sleep at about three in the morning, so the first few chapters are a little fuzzy in my memory). I’m hoping that this love square is happening just because Mare hasn’t been out of her Red world much and because she’s still figuring herself out in the midst of everything. And it’s not the main focus of the book. It’s sort of a plot point for the climax of the narrative, but it doesn’t overshadow anything else.

Overall, I enjoyed it! I’m looking forward to more (and I think I’ve said that about three times now, oops).

Hello Universe!

I’ve been procrastinating long enough! Too much thinking, not enough productivity. I’m going to try to post twice a week about what I’m reading, whether it’s an actual review or something else book-related! I’ve got so many things to read, so many things I want to read, and I want to keep up my smarts when it comes to writing about books. I can’t let that MA I’ve earned just linger there. In addition to writing about books and writing, I also hope to document in some form my journey to earning my PhD. That’s still some time coming, and I hope the process is relatively steady. There’s just a lot to do between now and then!

I have a few eARCs from Netgalley to read soon, of which I’m especially looking forward to reading Libba Bray’s Lair of Dreams and Jessica Day George’s Silver in the Blood. I also checked out a huge stack of books from the library, and there’s a few I’ve checked out that I’ll have posts about soon.

Until next time!