The Song of Achilles

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The Song of Achilles

By:  Madeline Miller
Published: 
2011
# of pages: 
352
Challenges: Full House (historical fiction)

5stargreen

Goodreads description:

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

My review:  I can’t remember where I stumbled upon this book, but it’s been on my TBR list for a few months.  It doesn’t sound overly fascinating, but since I’m interested in mythology and want to learn more, I decided to check it out.  I’m so glad I read it because it was great!  Miller has a true talent for taking an ancient story of a time and place that are foreign to me and made it interesting and real.  I cared about the characters and learned a lot about the story of Achilles and the Trojan War in the process.  I visited Greece many years ago and was excited to read about some of the places I’ve seen with my own eyes.

We’ve all heard of Achilles, but this story is about Patroclus, a prince who was exiled from his home to the court of Achilles’ father.  Patroclus is an awkward character and definitely doesn’t fit in with the other men of Greece who live to fight for all sorts of different reasons, including the kidnapping (run away?) of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world.  Patroclus is also very thoughtful and for the most part, he sticks with his values.

I loved how his story and the story of Achilles is realistically woven into the mythical aspects.  The gods are a regular part of men’s lives, especially Achilles, whose mother is the sea goddess Thetis.  I don’t feel like this review does the book justice, but The Song of Achilles is now one of my favorite books and I’m eager to read more by Madeline Miller.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:

Stalking Jack the Ripper

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Stalking Jack the Ripper

By:  Kerri Maniscalco
Published: 
2016
# of pages: 
337 (Kindle edition)
Series: 
Stalking Jack the Ripper (#1)

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Goodreads description:

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.


My review: 
I was excited by the description of this book and while it was slightly disappointing, it was still a fun read.  I had to keep telling myself that it was young adult and I’d probably enjoy it more as a teenager.  There’s young adult novels that are written to be just as enjoyable for adults as teens and then there’s young adult novels that are geared solely for young adults.  And this book falls in the latter category.

Audrey Rose is an aspiring forensic technician in 1880s London.  She apprentices for her uncle and nothing makes her happier than cutting into the cold flesh of corpses.  The problem is that her father doesn’t know she’s chosen an inappropriate career for a lady of that time.  Her secret life suddenly becomes harder to hide when one of the bodies she helps dissect turns out to be a murder victim of a killer who soon became known as Jack the Ripper.  Audrey Rose feels a kinship with the female victims and takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of the murderer’s identity.  Add in a handsome, mysterious young man named Thomas and things get even more complicated.

I figured out the mystery fairly early in the book, which I’m sure didn’t help with my opinion.  Audrey Rose is an interesting character, but whether purposefully or just because of poor writing, she’s very flighty and doesn’t come across as talented and intelligent as she should have been.  Thomas on the other hand…  I’ll admit, I have a little crush on him.  If I do read the next book in the series it will solely be because of Thomas.

Overall I recommend this book to young adults who are able to handle reading about some blood and gore (nothing too detailed).  The concept of a novel about Jack the Ripper is intriguing and I wouldn’t mind trying to find another one that’s better written.


Why I gave this book 3/5 stars: 
Cool concept for a young adult (or adult) novel, steamy male protagonist, main character was meh.

Before We Were Yours

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Before We Were Yours

By:  Lisa Wingate
Published:  2017
# of pages:  334
Challenges:  Full House (dual time line)
Quote:  “Since coming home I’ve readopted words like y’all, which I had expunged from my vocabulary up north. They’re good words, I’ve now decided. Like the humble boiled peanut, they serve perfectly in many situations.”

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Goodreads description:

An engrossing novel inspired by shocking real events—the kidnappings and illegal adoptions of children conducted by the notorious Tennessee Children’s Home Society—Before We Were Yours is a poignant, uplifting tale for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

My review:  Wow, this book was even more shocking and interesting to read just after reading The Girls Who Went Away.  The novel has a dual time line and follows Rill, a 12 year old girl who lives on a riverboat on the Mississippi River, and Avery, a 20-something year old lawyer with a political future in South Carolina.  I’m going to interrupt my review to say that part of the book takes place on Edisto Island, which isn’t far from my grandparents’ house and is where I go a couple of times a year on day trips to the beach.  It’s beautiful there and I loved the descriptions of the SC low country throughout the book.

Back to the review.  One night Rill’s life is turned upside down when her parents suddenly have to leave her in charge of her three younger sisters and baby brother.  Within less than 24 hours, the children find themselves at the Tennessee Children’s Home in Memphis.  Not only are they confused about why they are in the house when they have two loving parents, but they soon find themselves starving, abused, and separated from each other one by one.  It was incredibly hard reading about Rill and her siblings knowing that while Rill was fictional, these stories really did happen to hundreds of children in the earlier 1900s.  But I loved Rill and how realistic her character felt.

Now compare this to Avery Stafford, a successful DC lawyer who came home to South Carolina to follow her father around to train to be a future senator.  Not only has she been raised with the best of the best, she takes it for granted and tries to justify her family’s wealth and comforts whenever she’s confronted with even a hint of criticism.  I’m not going to lie, Avery annoyed the heck out of me for most of the book.  She’s spoiled and even worse, doesn’t think she’s spoiled.  Avery is stressed out dealing with her father’s bad health and training to be a future senator.  Every move she makes is planned out in order to maintain her family’s media and public appearance.  However, her life is also turned upside down when she meets a woman named May.

Instead of continuing her apprenticeship and maintaining appearances, Avery decides to do a little investigating into the past.  In the process she loses most of her entitled attitude and gains an insight into the past and the life of her grandmother.

I recommend this book to everyone because it’s an important part of history that should be learned and remembered.  I had never heard of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, but I’m interested in learning more about it now.  The author includes references in the back of the book that I’d like to check out soon.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Avery was annoying at times, but the other characters were great and the story was well written and an important story to hear.

Salt to the Sea

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Salt to the Sea

By: Ruta Sepetys
Published:  2016
# of pages: 
393
Challenges: 
Full House (4 word title)

5Stars

Goodreads description:

Winter 1945. WWII. Four refugees. Four stories.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies, war. As thousands desperately flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom. But not all promises can be kept…

World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

My opinion:  I’ve heard a lot about this book over the past two years and I can see there’s a good reason for its popularity.  I was hesitant to read another WWII book after being so affected by Winter Garden a few weeks ago, but this novel was not only very well written, it was also strangely hopeful in spite of the horrifying events.

First of all, just like in many novels, I think it’s great that the author has brought attention to real events that happened during the war that may have otherwise remained buried in the past.  It’s important to remember history and hopefully learn from mistakes and atrocities that were committed.

This story follows four young adults as they flee East Prussia as the Soviet army advances.  The Nazis are organizing a mass evacuation on several ships, but first civilians need to make it to the port.  The chapters alternate between Joana, a Lithuanian nurse; Florian, a young Prussian man who assisted the Nazis who “acquired” art from conquered countries; Emilia, an observant Polish teenager with a secret; and Alfred, a young German in the Nazi army who helps with loading the ships.  There are other characters as well.  A cobbler, a young boy, a blind woman, and an outspoken woman named Eva.

The chapters are very short and jump between each of the four main characters.  At first I didn’t like that the reader spent so little time in each character’s head, but it ended up working just fine.  At the end I understood all of the narrators and what they had done in the past to survive.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Amazing storytelling, complicated but realistic characters, very emotional as well as informative.

Winter Garden

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Winter Garden

By:  Kristen Hannah
Published:  
2010
# of pages:  394
Challenge:  A to Z, What’s in a Name, Full House (redemption theme)

3Stars

Goodreads description:

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard: the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time – and all the way to the end. Thus begins an unexpected journey into the truth of Anya’s life in war-torn Leningrad, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the singular, harrowing story of their mother’s life, and what they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying that it will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are.

My opinion:  This book was heartbreaking and had me sobbing towards the end.  I usually don’t mind hard stories, especially stories that take place during real wars.  It’s important to remember history and to hear people’s stories, both real and fiction.  I don’t know much about Russia during the 30s and 40s.  I enjoy WWII books and often read stories that are from the point of view of Americans, British, French, and German people.  But this is the first time I’ve read a book that took place during WWII from a Russian point of view.  I’ve spent some time thinking about the book before writing a review in case my overly emotional reaction was tainting my opinion.  But I still feel like 3 stars is a fair rating and I still feel so discouraged about the overall story for some reason.

The story is about Meredith and Nina, who lose their father and are “stuck” taking care of their emotionally distant mother.  They are also dealing with issues in their romantic relationships that stem from a childhood of emotional neglect by their mother.  Their mom, Anya, tells them a fairy tale in bits and pieces and soon they discover exactly what has shaped their lives over the years.

The first half of the book is slow and repetitive.  The pace quickens in the second half and changes are made in how the characters relate to one another.  We find out more about what happened in the past in Soviet Russia.  Horrible things happened long ago, and while they have shaped the women’s present lives, they still overcome the struggles to emerge as a new family.

While the story lifts at the end, it didn’t make me feel any happier about the depressing stuff.  I think that’s mostly my personal issue, but just know that one of the triggers is childhood death.  I’ve read the author’s book The Nightingale in which something similar happens, but for some reason this was harder for me to read.  Overall, I recommend this if you want to learn more about Soviet Russia, but I liked The Nightingale better.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Too depressing, repetitive narrative, slow pace in the first half, but the pace picks up and the characters make positive life changes.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

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By:  Mark Sullivan

Published:  2017
# of pages: 
509
Challenge:

5Stars

Goodreads description:

Pino Lella wants nothing to do with the war or the Nazis. He’s a normal Italian teenager—obsessed with music, food, and girls—but his days of innocence are numbered. When his family home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs, Pino joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps, and falls for Anna, a beautiful widow six years his senior.

In an attempt to protect him, Pino’s parents force him to enlist as a German soldier—a move they think will keep him out of combat. But after Pino is injured, he is recruited at the tender age of eighteen to become the personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, one of the Third Reich’s most mysterious and powerful commanders.

Now, with the opportunity to spy for the Allies inside the German High Command, Pino endures the horrors of the war and the Nazi occupation by fighting in secret, his courage bolstered by his love for Anna and for the life he dreams they will one day share.

 

My opinion:  My mom recommended this book to me and I’ve been seeing it around Goodreads, especially since it’s been entered in the Best Books Awards competition this year.  I’m glad I decided to check it out because it was amazing!  WWII is my favorite historic period to read about and this book didn’t disappoint.  It’s a fictional novel, but it is based off a true story.  A man named Pino Lella really existed and did many of the things in this novel.  Apparently there’s some controversy about how much of the novel is true and even whether or not Lella’s non-fiction account is true.  When I found myself excited thinking, “I can’t believe this really happened!” I just reminded myself that it probably didn’t happen exactly that way or perhaps didn’t happen to Pino, but maybe he was close to someone else who had that experience.  It doesn’t really matter since this is a fictional account and whether it’s based off true events or not, it’s a great story.

The book tells the story of Pino Lella, a teenager in Italy during WWII.  His parents first try to protect him from the bombing of Milan by sending him to the mountains, where he begins to help smuggle Jews and other persecuted people over the Alps to safety.  Next, his parents decide to protect him by influencing where he was placed in the German military when he turns 18 and is required to serve.  His disappointment in working for the people he hates soon changes as he’s recruited to spy for the Italian Resistance.

All of this sounds a little boring, but Pino is a lively character who is easy to like.  His boyish antics like pretending to be a race car driver and exploring the mountains mix with adult actions like driving around a high level Nazi and guiding Jews over the treacherous Alps.  At times he behaves immaturely, but he’s forced to mature quicker than he should have to by the things he witnesses during the war.  The opportunities that he’s given just pop up, but he always makes wise choices by deciding to do what’s right instead of what’s easy and safe.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.  Even if it’s not usually what you like to read, I still think you should try this book out.  The descriptions of the horror of Nazi rule are balanced by the descriptions of kind people who counteracted that horror with goodness.

 

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Great and well written story of a part of WWII, the Italian front, that isn’t typically written about.

To The Bright Edge of the World

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To The Bright Edge of the World

By:
Eowyn Ivey
Published:  2016
# of pages:  417

5Stars

Official description:


Set again in the Alaskan landscape that she bought to stunningly vivid life in The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey’s second novel is a breathtaking story of discovery and adventure, set at the end of the nineteenth century, and of a marriage tested by a closely held secret.

Colonel Allen Forrester receives the commission of a lifetime when he is charged to navigate Alaska’s hitherto impassable Wolverine River, with only a small group of men. The Wolverine is the key to opening up Alaska and its huge reserves of gold to the outside world, but previous attempts have ended in tragedy.

For Forrester, the decision to accept this mission is even more difficult, as he is only recently married to Sophie, the wife he had perhaps never expected to find. Sophie is pregnant with their first child, and does not relish the prospect of a year in a military barracks while her husband embarks upon the journey of a lifetime. She has genuine cause to worry about her pregnancy, and it is with deep uncertainty about what their future holds that she and her husband part.

A story shot through with a darker but potent strand of the magic that illuminated The Snow Child, and with the sweep and insight that characterizes Rose Tremain’s The Colour, this novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Eowyn Ivey singles her out as a major literary talent.

My opinion:  Just after I finished this I changed my reading status on Goodreads.  Giving the book 5 stars was a no brainer, but for the review, I simply wrote, “I loved it.”  I couldn’t put into words how I felt about the book so soon after finishing.  I still don’t think I can adequately describe how amazingly written the novel is and how I feel about the reading experience.

First of all, I kept feeling surprised that I was so interested in the book.  In that way, it reminded me of The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.  You would think that reading about a man tromping around Alaska with a handful of other men and a woman staying at home in a small cabin would be boring.  The book alternates between Allen and Sophie’s journal entries with a few other letters and entries by other characters in between.  I was hanging on to every word.  Even when nothing exciting was happening, the descriptions of events and the characters kept my attention.

I loved the characters.  They were ahead of their time (1885), but it didn’t feel fake.  Allen especially encounters racism and sexism, but isn’t judgmental of the racists while at the same time doesn’t hold the same views.  Sophie also mentions disagreeing with others’ views of women and other races and doesn’t take a stand, but later is saddened by her silence.  I think that’s very realistic and I sympathize.  It’s how many people today behave and I believe that’s how many women who had no support would have behaved in the 1880s.

There were heartbreaking moments in the book, yet I was encouraged by the characters and the story.  This felt so real.  It had some basis in history, but this wasn’t a true story.  The aspects of magical realism were often subtle.  It all fit so well together.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  So many reasons.  It was written so well, great realistic characters, uplifting even with the sad events, beautiful woven magical realism and history…

Other reviews:

Have you reviewed this?  Let me know and I’d be happy to post a link!