Book Review: The Nightingale

We made it! Thanks for hanging in there for four reviews this week! Back to Nonfiction November next week!


Author: Kristin Hannah
Published: February 3, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

If I’ve learned anything this year it’s that Kristin Hannah books are hard to pick up, but are so so worth it. They’re tough for two reason – the expectations are high and the page count feels astronomical. I’m so happy to say that The Nightingale lived up to the hype and the pages flew by, as I couldn’t get enough of the story.

The Nightingale is the story of two sisters during the German occupation of France in WWII. Each has different experiences, coming from completely different places in life.  Isabelle, the younger sister, has to flee from Paris and develops a great interest in joining the resistance, whereas Vianne, the older sister whose husband is off fighting in the war, would prefer to keep her head down and stay safe until the war is over. Their individual struggles during the war illustrate the heartbreaking and, honestly, terrifying years of WWII in France.

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Part of the hesitation for me in picking up this book is that I just feel so. damn. saturated on WWII historical fiction. I’ll do a post on all that I’ve read and my recommendations on that another time, but in general I’m enjoying learning about other periods of history and parts of the world. This book, however, was better than I could have hoped for a WWII historical fiction read. The characters were so compelling and the plot moved quickly through the time period, not leaving you time to dwell on the already known facts. There was love, there was loss, and I loved both the intensity of the scenes and the way the book was able to move on to keep spirits relatively high.

One of my favorite things about this book is that there is a twist in the end. Don’t worry, these reviews are always spoiler free, but I didn’t expect to enjoy the ending quite so much (I can get bored of tidy endings to historical fiction novels), and this one kept me tied in to the story until the final minute.

If you’ve read The Great Alone and aren’t sure you can handle another experience that’s quite so emotional, I would say this one is less emotional.  I teared up a little at certain parts, but it wasn’t like The Great Alone where I straight up bawled for the last 100 pages.

Overall, I would suggest you cast all doubts aside and pick up The Nightingale. This book was truly readable and compelling despite all my greatest reading fears! I’m glad I finally bit the bullet, so to speak, and went for it.

Book Review: Where The Crawdad’s Sing

It’s happening! Four reviews in four days to finally catch up on my October reviews. Starting with… Where The Crawdad’s Sing!


Author: Delia Owens
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pub Date: July 10, 2018
FLW Rating: 4.5/5

Where the Crawdad’s Sing is a beautiful atmospheric novel demonstrating the strength of a young girl- the novel’s proagonist, Kya. Before reading it all I knew was that ‘people liked it’ as a general statement. Ultimately I enjoyed this novel and all of its complexities, but something about the writing held me more at bay than I’ve felt in similar novels.

Where the Crawdads Sing is the story of Kya, a young girl at the outset of the novel living in the marshlands in coastal North Carolina. As the story continues, Kya grows older, and is left by her family to fend for herself and make her way in life. When a man from the town is found dead, Kya becomes a suspect and her whole life is analyzed through the lens of those living in town, invoking an strong emotional response from everyone involved in the case.

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What I think most defines this book is its subtlety. In a recent post I compared Kya to Wavy of All The Ugly and Wonderful Things and Leni of The Great Alonebut the biggest difference to me is that the other two novels were a bit in your face with emotions and tragedies, whereas Kya’s strength always felt understated.  I enjoyed this aspect and think this was the strength of the book. I felt like “clues” were slowly being conveyed throughout the course of the book, so I kept having quiet “aha” moments. Nothing dramatic, but I was frequently feeling the emotion of “oh that makes sense in the context” and I kept being amazed at how beautifully these details were being conveyed. Everything about the story felt authentic and real.

To that end, I find that there’s something so powerful in a story about the fate of the helpless laying in the hands of someone who may not understand. While this can be a relatively common theme in modern day literature, I felt like this book was particularly well done.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, except to say that it stays true to both the tone and the theme of subtlety to the past page. There’s nothing worse than an unexpected change of tone, and I thought this book did an amazing job of maintaining the tone while still going out with a bang.

Overall, I highly highly recommend this book. I recommend it to anyone, whether you’re looking for a tear-jerker, a feminist novel, beautiful descriptive scenic writing, or a murder mystery. This truly has it all in perfect balance.

Fiction/Nonfiction Book Pairing

One of the bookstagrammers/book bloggers I enjoy following is Simone and Her Books, and earlier this year (maybe January) and I remember her asking, “Do you ever get in periods of reading where you just stay in one part of the world for a while?” As I considered the question, I realized I was in my third book set in North-East Asia and that reading them in sequence was enhancing my experience so much more. So for this pairing challenge, I want to talk about the two book told about Koreans — both in North Korea and Japan throughout the 20th century. The third book I read during this period was The Leavers by Lisa Ko, which is a favorite of mine, but I think the other two mesh better for  cohesive pairing.

We’ll start with the fiction choice: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

Pachinko tells the story of a Korean family living in Japan during World War II. As the war progresses through the attack on Pearl Harbor and on through the bombing of Hiroshima, the book showcases Korean values, why a family would choose to relocate from Korea to Japan, and how Koreans are treated as Japan starts to close their borders. It was incredibly compelling and emotional to read and I absolutely loved it. One of my favorite things about this book was the authors note, in which Lee wrote about the time she spent in Japan and how the book was influenced by hundreds of interviews over the course of her time living there.

And now, the nonfiction: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick.

Nothing to Envy is the work of an investigative journalist living in South Korea who connected with defectors from North Korea. Through her relationships, she’s able to tell a horrifying story about the conditions in North Korea in the 1990s. These stories are truly beyond belief – imagine being so hungry that you blend grass in a blender to try to drink it. I won’t ruin any more of the shock but its fascinating to not only understand how bad it really was, but how they got there.

I hope you enjoy these two books and learn about a side of history not always taught in the West! Happy reading!

 

A Look Back on 12 Months of Nonfiction

Last week I shared with you some of my all time favorite non-fiction books, but I for the first “challenge” of Nonfiction November I’m going to take a closer look back on the nonfiction reads I’ve read over the past year.

When I look through my list of non-fiction reads since last November, the things that jump out to me are a) a lot of them are backlist titles with pub dates backing back 1999, and b) these are some of the best books I’ve read in the last twelve months!

In total, I’ve read fifteen nonfiction books, which I’m stoked about! I’ve talked about them a lot recently so I’m just going to organize them by mood here. I’ll link to another blog post if I’ve raved about it recently!

If you’re looking for….

A peek in to military culture, coming from a place of love: Ranger Games by Ben Blum

A book that will change your views on rape culture forever: Missoula by Jon Krakauer

A way to understand what goes on behind closed doors in North Korea: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Nightmares for days (seriously though), but via an incredibly compelling tale: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

A way to indulge your inner whale lover: Spying on Whales by Nick Pyenson

A story about a city, that’s really about a team, and will warm your heart forever: Boomtown by Sam Anderson

A cautionary tale that teaches you to respect the danger of backpacking: Into Thin Air by John Krakauer

A way to understand the side of America who’s voting for Trump: Janesville by Amy Goldstein

An escape in to the middle of the ocean: Love with a Chance of Drowning by Toree DeRoche

A front seat to the 2016 election: Unbelieveable by Katy Tur

A coming-of-age slash fundamentalist mormon memoir: Educated by Tara Westover

History with a side of comedy along the Apalachian Trail: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A calm and collected version of the 2016 craziness: What Happened by Hillary Clinton

An irreverant memoir of the military and christianity all at once: A Girl’s Guide to Missiles by Karen Piper

An often untold history of the largest city in America: The Mirage Factory by Gary Krist

Let me know if you’ve read and enjoyed any of these titles! I truly recommend them all!

Book Review: Bad Blood

Author: John Carreyrou
Published: May 21, 2018
Genre: Nonfiction
FLW Rating: 4.5/5

If you’re ready for a book to stun you and teach you so much about the world we live in, I highly recommend Bad Blood. I expect a lot out of the books I read, and with all the positive reviews surrounding this one, I went in to it very skeptical. It took a little while to hook me, but after that, I was done. I absolutely needed to know what happened. And you bet I’m going to spend the next week reading articles and listening to podcasts on what has happened since pub day!

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in Silicon Valley is an exposee on the blood testing startup, Theranos and how they got from conception to breaking the law. Elizabeth Holmes, a Stanford drop out, founded a company with the intention of creating a device that could run multiple blood tests on  a single drop of blood. While the criminal trial is still unfolding, Bad Blood tells the story of the start up from its creation, to the point when it toed the line of questionable morality, to when it absolutely lost sight of that line. 

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One of the things I was skeptical about with this book was the layout. How was a book about a failed start-up going to keep my attention for three hundred pages? Through a narrative style arch is how! I was truly impressed with the suspense that was able to be conveyed, even though based on the fact that this book has been written, you know generally what “happened”. I was engaged and amazed as every stunt Holmes pulled was revealed to the reader.

What I believe I learned from the book is a) how far manipulation and closed doors can get you, and b) to never use a product that may impact my health of decisions about my health without an FDA certification. I’ll start with the first one — Holmes was a master of loopholes, and of only showing certain people what they need to see, so that they could never start to put the pieces together. It was truly astounding how many people started to see that there was a problem, but the problem they saw was out of their jurisdiction or a certain fear they had was being exploited to prevent them from raising the issue.

Along that note is the point of the FDA certification. That was really the sticking point for Theranos – their products were never FDA approved through a certain loophole. Legal loophole or not, I think that’s one thing that we as consumers are able to look out for and able to question, when it comes to medical devices and tests. It’s terrifying that their products avoided FDA regulation, but at least the FDA standards weren’t compromised even though so many other things were.

I highly recommend this book, and I hope I’ve piqued your interest! It’s an entertaining, well-crafted, and immensely well researched book. The stakes were high in this one with a criminal investigation ongoing, and Carreyrou certainly produced a winner.

Top Five Favorites: Nonfiction

It’s November! And I’m excited to be participating in Nonfiction November, so to kick that off, I wanted to share some of my favorite nonfiction reads. There are so many others I could mention, but I’ll leave you with five for now, and hopefully talk about more over the course of the upcoming month!

Each of the books below opened my eyes to a world I hadn’t known before and that is why I love reading. I’ll just write a few notes on the books here, but I’ll link to their Goodreads Page so if you’re interested, you can check them out there!

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

My high school had truly amazing history classes for a high school, and I read this one for a class called African Issues. This is probably the only book I read in high school that I read every page of on the day it was assigned, and enjoyed it. I was obsessed with this book and wanted to get Beah to come talk at our high school. Unfortunately Beah was in high demand and couldn’t make it, but the fact remains that learning about the Boy Soldiers and the Sudanese Civil War was life changing to someone growing up in Western Pennsylvania. Can’t recommend this book enough!

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Erik Larson was a go to author for me after reading Devil in the White City in high school (it was a required summer reading selection!). I found Dead Wake to be insanely readable and eye opening. Larson is able to share intimate details from both a presidential romance and the experience of being in a German U-boat in WWI. It was a truly remarkable work of narrative nonfiction and I didn’t want it to end.

The Profiteers by Sally Denton

This book is the definition of an eye opener. In my senior year of college I took a course called “History and the Environment”. It was an absolutely fascinating class that tied things going on in nature, with those going on in politics. One major topic we focused on was the oil and the Iraq War. As an engineering major, some of this was over my head, but all the holes were filled in when I read The Profiteers. I read this right around the 2016 election and it felt so timely — and when the CEO of Exxon was appointed as Secretary of State, I felt that I understood the motives completely and knew exactly why I was not OK with it. If you want to be clued in to the financial motives spearheading politics, check this book out.

Ranger Games by Ben Blum

I haven’t read a slew of military nonfiction, but I imagine this is one of the most open and honest books in the genre out there. Written by a close cousin of Alex Blum, a former golden boy turned criminal by way of the army, the answer at the heart is what happened to Alex when he left home to become a U.S. Army Ranger. While this book is not for the feint of heart, its dives incredibly deep in to the psyche of our soldiers going through this intense training process. I really enjoyed it and recommend it to everyone I know.

Missoula by Jon Krakauer

I posted about this recently, but I’ll just repeat a bit of that here: This book is a nonfiction account of a town in Montana that had way too many rapes of high school and college students. Be prepared for a brutal read – this book takes you through trials where no details are spared, but if you want to know the facts about rape, read this book. I mean, let’s be honest, you don’t want to hear the facts necessarily (because they’re hard to hear), but they’re so important. I learned so much and my life has never been the same.

Do you read much nonfiction? Do you have any recommendations for me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nevertheless She Persisted: Stories of Strong Young Women

This week I read/listened to Where The Crawdad’s Sing — the hottest book of the moment (it was already a hot book of the moment and then Reese choose it as her September Book Club selection). I absolutely loved this story, and while it’s very unique, it is also reminiscent of two of my other most favorite books –  All The Ugly and Wonderful Things and The Great Alone. Even saying them out loud makes me want to hug the books close to my heart!

So since last week, I shared some books that reflect on the more negative sides of society, today I wanted to share some characters that left me full of hope!

For any who may not be familiar with these books, I’ll give you a quick synopsis.

All The Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood is the story of Wavy, the daughter of a drug dealer, who is growing up essentially without parents, or at least without any parents of influence over her life and well being. She develops a relationship with an older man, Kellen, who is both mixed up in the drug business and a shining light in Wavy’s life. It’s a story of Wavy acting well above her years, and fighting for herself even though society and logic try to keep her away from Kellen.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is the story of Leni, a spunky young girl with a dad who’s a Vietnam war POW, struggling to fit in in regular society– with a dangerous and violent side to his personality. Given the opportunity to move to a small town in Alaska, Leni’s family seizes the opportunity, but so much of the burden is left on Leni’s shoulders to prepare the family for winter when the family can’t do it themselves.

Where the Crawdad Sings by Delia Owen is the story of Kya, a young girl left to fend for herself after both of her parents have abandoned her for another life. Uneducated and left to starve, Kya fights for herself using her wit and unwillingness to fail. This book has the added element of a murder of someone in the town where Kya grew up — a boy who was in Kya’s class for the one day that she went to school — but this story is primarily the story of Kya’s strength in getting through her misfortune.

Wavy. Leni. Kya.

What you’re getting in these book isn’t just a young strong female — each of these books shows you a side of life you wouldn’t otherwise see, paired with beautiful writing, wonderfully crafted to describe the scenery so perfectly, a few guardian angels (in various forms — because though these girls are strong, we all get by with a little help from our friends), and of course the strength of the young female protagonist.

So I just wanted to share that – This week in particular, reading about the strength of young women with zero privilege whatsoever, is pulling on my heartstrings and bringing me back to all the strong young female protagonists I’ve loved before.

Required Reading Regarding Brett Kavanaugh

Alright, internet. We’re getting political. A couple weeks ago I wrote a post on “diverse books” and mentioned that I don’t like to talk about political or serious things if I feel like I may not know exactly what I’m talking about. But here’s the thing — over the past year, I’ve read two of the best books I’ve ever read that have taught me the importance of spreading knowledge of the prevalence and effects of sexual assault in our society.

I agree that it’s obvious – men shouldn’t rape women, and men who rape women shouldn’t be appointed to the Supreme Court (and yes, I know it was an attempted rape). But beyond the obvious there is so much that can be learned from reading about this topic. So I have two recommendations for you:

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Missoula by Jon Krakauer

This book is a nonfiction account of a town in Montana that had way too many rapes of high school and college students. Be prepared for a brutal read – this book takes you through trials where no details are spared, but if you want to know the facts about rape, read this book. I mean, let’s be honest, you don’t want to hear the facts necessarily (because they’re hard to hear), but they’re so important.

This book will teach you that a rape between friends is a rape, that someone who commits one rape is extremely likely to commit rape again, that being raped can ruin your life, that rape victims feel a disproportionate amount of guilt, and that trying to get a rape case prosecuted is so much harder than it sounds. Seriously though, I learned so much and my life has never been the same. I’ve never been so blown away by a book, and I cannot. stop. thinking. about. this. book.

So read it — here’s the amazon link, because trust me it’s worth it. AMAZON LINK.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Does this blog really need to talk about Beartown again? (For real, if I need to I will.) This book is one of the most informative and moving pieces of fiction of I’ve ever read. Central to this story is a rape – ok sorry I ruined the plot twist, but you probably saw that coming. The response from the community – her family, her friends, and her enemies rings so true after reading Missoula and this book moved me beyond words. If you think you want to be understand what a rape victim goes through after the event, this book will illustrate that for you, and you’ll be better for it.

So again – please read this book. It’s one of my absolute favorites and I think it’s so important. Some of my best friends and book club pals have read it and not one has disliked it, so if you don’t trust me, trust them. And here’s the AMAZON LINK. Just do it.

Other Feel Learn Wonder content on Beartown: Beartown Review, Us Against You Review, Meeting Fredrik Backman, Should You Read Beartown?

And finally I just have to point out that both of these books are written by men, so the proof is in the pudding that not all men are bad, but also.. some of them are. Read these books. Be educated. Be passionate. Fight back.

Book Review: A Place For Us

Author: Fatima Farheen Mirza
Published: June 12, 2018
Genre: Literary Fiction
FLW Rating: 4.5/5

First things first: I’m currently participating in the Unread Shelf Project 2018, hosted by Whitney at @theunreadshelf. This post reflects on the August Challenge, but you can look back at all the posts here

You may be thinking – another five star (or almost five star) review of A Place For Us, really? If you are, I feel you – the hype was strong for this book and I found that anticipating “hype” in a slow burn really brought the vibe down. So I want to say that this book was good, particularly for the beautiful writing and unique structure, but I would advise you to be conscious of the slowness of this book.

A Place For Us is the story of an Indian-American family. Like any family they love each other but have their moments. This family in particular, though, has the added stressers of a strict Muslim lifestyle. Being a Muslim affects a lot of their life – the clothes they wear, the choice to abstain from alcohol, the romantic relationships they can enter in to, and, importantly, the way their classmates view them. As these factors come in to play over the course of the children’s upbringing, conflict repeatedly arises between Amar and his father and the book unfolds as they confront these issues. 

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At the center of this story is a generational shift from parents to children. While the parents grew up in a primarily Muslim community, and appear to have escaped a childhood full of prejudice and discrimination, the children are growing up farther removed from the church and in a society where they constantly have to think about not just being discriminated against, but also the risk of violence against them solely for their religion. This fundamental shift, while having some to deal with religious beliefs, comes across as a human story of struggle. While I harped strongly on faith in the summary above, I want to stress that, while I do not strongly associate with any religion, I still felt that I was able to relate strongly to the religious components of the story line in this book.

To illustrate this generational shift, two key issues are at play in this book: domestic violence and the use of drugs/alcohol/opioids. In this book Amar, the youngest child and only son struggled with substance abuse, and separately, his father, struggled with psychically abusive tendencies. I’ve read a few books recently (notably The Great Alone and Ohio) that tackle these issues together, meaning that one person has issues with both substance abuse and physical abuse — typically one causing the other. I loved how this book tackled them separately, so that one wasn’t an excuse for the other.

What truly made this book stand out for me was the structure. The first few sections, while non-linear in timeline, follow a relatively straightforward, third person storyline trajectory. However the fourth flips the story on its head and features Amar’s father directly addressing the first three sections and his feelings towards Amar. It was so hard to read and be confronted with the eternal and unconditional love of a father, despite viewing him as the villain for three-fourths of the story.

The phrase “stunning debut” is, in my opinion, way overused — but it truly applies in this situation. To write with such meaning and to create such a unique structure of a book is truly inspirational, and I commend Mirza for writing with such originality. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to feel some feelings — and sympathize with those who we may have faulted in the past.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

Book Review: Chariot on the Mountain

Author: Jack Ford
Published: July 31, 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

I seriously struggle with historical fiction if I think the story is “just” a novel from a different era – for a historical fiction novel to really strike me I need to know that it’s based on a true story. So I wanted to start off this review by saying this book is based on a true story and it is an extraordinary story that you will not find anywhere else. Ford, the author, discovered this story by reading a historical plaque on a courthouse in Virginia, and went through years of research to put this story together. Point being: If it weren’t for him this story would have gone untold. Luckily, Ford is also a fantastic writer so this book is full of complex narratives that make it a full 5 star read for me.

Chariot on the Mountain tells the story of Kitty’s journey to freedom. Kitty is a slave living on a plantation in Virginia, where she had always been given preferential treatment as she was the illegitimate child of the plantation owner. But when the owner passes away, Kitty knows her future will be uncertain if she stays put. The road to freedom is bumpy road to say the least, and before anything can be decided Kitty will travel the underground railroad, return to Virginia, and become to first black woman to sue a white man.

This book deals with the topic of slavery, and let’s just be honest, there’s no gray area with slavery – we all know slavery is bad. So I was really pleased with how effective the author was at surprising me with a) how bad it was and b) how commonplace it was. There was a lot of talk about how slavery was part of the lifestyle and how the northerners just didn’t understand their lifestyle, along with the realization of how hard it would be to abolish slavery since it’s so important for the economy. (Just think about how hard it is to outlaw something like guns today! There would have been so many fierce opponents of slavery who would have lobbied hard against the abolishionists.)

The dialog in this book also added to emotional impact for me. Coming primarily from the villain of the story, there were lines such as “they’re just slaves, it’s not as if they’re humans with emotions.” At first reading this, my reaction was to feel like the writing wasn’t very nuanced, too blunt and overstated and surely noone actually thought that, right? But the more this line stuck with me, the more I’ve come to appreciate the writing style. It really drove home the point of what it would be like to be in a country where you didn’t have a single human right. Perhaps not to the same extent, or maybe so depending on your political beliefs, but this didn’t seem too far off how I expect immigrants are being treated at the border today. One thing I worried about with this book, was that it was too far in the past for me to relate to, but emotions like this, unfortunately, made this book all too relevant in this crazy times.

Beyond knowing that the story was based on true events, I also enjoyed knowing that Ford was a lawyer. I worried that the court scenes would be written in a style bordering on cheesy, but I ended up enjoying the complexities of the law that he brought in to the story, which no doubt came from his experience in the court room.

Overall, I truly enjoyed this book and am so happy that NetGalley pointed it out to me as a book I might like! I flew through it in a couple of days and always looked forward to picking it up again. It’s out on shelves now so I highly reccomend you check this one out!

[Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the free copy of the book. All opinions are my own]