aviary-image-1652580334811

Hits Hard Twice – a REview of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I was disappointed when my teacher in my final year of high school said we might study this book for English and then pulled out Shakespeare two weeks later. We ready the prologue in class and everything! And I was hooked.

But more on that later, and more on what hooked me reading this novel a second time this year.

Also, Markus Zusak commented on my photo of The Messenger the other day. I was starstruck all day.

On the brink of the Second World War in a small town in Germany, Liesel was meant to be sent to a foster home with her brother. He died on the train there. Overcome with grief and with a stolen book in hand, Liesel is welcomed into this new family found in Hans and Rosa Hubermann. In the years to come Liesel draws upon a connection to books as her family becomes silent protestors during the rise of Nazi Germany.

This was the novel that got me into historical fiction. While not the first, it was the one that got me hooked those four years ago with unique writing styles, insights and incredible characters. How anyone was able to write something so phenomenal was beyond me. It was revolutionary to my tiny brain. I someday want to write a book that hits like The Book Thief does but I don’t even know if it’s possible.

And when I read it the second time it still hit just as hard. I still got so emotional and close to tears reading the end, and even little bits in between that I had forgotten. So many surprises, so many lines that hit hard, and so many insights into the human condition. You already know I’m a fan of human condition themes, and this one smacks me in the face with desires to be welcomed, to find purpose, fulfill desires and do good in the world. So universal.

The main reason I wanted to read this novel back when I was seventeen was when I found out that this novel was narrated by Death. Arguably, this is what makes The Book Thief and defines Zusak’s style is narration like this. His portrayal of Death as a concept and a being is refreshing compared to the usual cynical and sinister portrayals. The narrator provides the killer lines and insights that hit the hardest, with a garden of flowery language that makes us see the world through his eyes in an at times dark beauty.

Usually with plots like this, day in the life stories with no clear goals and objectives of the main character, they can get tedious. But Zusak masters this and kept me engaged the whole way through. This is the way you make the seemingly mundane hit hard! He pulls out so much beauty from the simplest things – even dominos! I will never get over his writing style and how well he writes things.

If you haven’t guessed, this is book I recommend to everyone no matter their preferences.

The Book Thief gets a score of 5/5. Find a better book, I dare you.

Yours in writing

Amy

aviary-image-1645336146249

The Real War’s At Home – a review of The Gunner Girl by Clare Harvey

World War II fiction lads! Been a hot minute since we’ve had one of these, and I’m so excited to tell you guys about this one! It’s a great one!

The ATS served as the women’s branch of the British Army during the Second World War, and this story follows three of them; Joan, who doesn’t remember her own past, Edie, looking to be like her idol Mary Churchill, and Bea, providing for her impoverished and growing family. The three find sisterhood bunking together and doing their bit for the war, some of them also finding and holding onto love in the process. But soon they discover their own battles in their personal lives in spite of their success with the ATS…

We need to get some trigger warnings out of the way first. This novel depicts sexual assault, abortions and side effects of PTSD.

The characters in The Gunner Girl were the indefinite highlight. Characters blur and blend into each other at times during historical fiction, but that was never the case with this book. Each character was very distinct, engaging and favourite of mine – not even the pivotal characters. Every side character was just as engaging and distinct.

I additionally found the writing style to be very engaging. Good writing style right from the start can instantly hook me in, and this was definitely the case. It was a style that put forth the character’s thoughts and motivations, and you could really see them propel the story forward. The style didn’t bother to look fancy and it got down to the story. But while I’m normally a hater for stories without clear plots, but the way this story flowed and its style made up for it immensely.

What I really enjoyed about the plot was the war not so much being the focus on it – it was very much about the people. These are the World War II books I’ve really enjoyed, where the war serves as a backdrop and propels some but not all of the actions. It really allowed for insights into psychological impacts of war on the average person. A lot of the problems that the main three characters faced were both posed by the war and more regular things in contrast, and to see the psychological effects of both was very insightful.

But what really brought this story together was the homey vibes and the sisterhood – what the story is at its roots.

The Gunner Girl gets a score of 4.5/5. Sisterhood during wartime to make you feel heartwarming.

Yours in writing

Amy

aviary-image-1636875486479

Gretel is the Greatest – a review of Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis

Finish this book left me with an odd feeling – a disturbance and a satisfaction.

And I loved it.

Raybould Marsh has travelled back in time to save the world from the all-powerful Eidolons, save his daughter from death, and save his marriage that went far too downhill in the future. He must go back to the days of Milkweed in 1939 and stop the secret service’s warlocks from making the one mistake that sent humanity to its doom. Teaming up with his worst enemy, the clairvoyant Gretel, he uses his knowledge from the future to orchestrate his plans from the inside, without revealing his identity to his present self, and to still ensure Great Britain wins the Second World War.

First we need to address the elephant in the room – the sudden inclusion of first person perspective in an entire series that used to be third person. I found it jarring the first time I read it, but I rolled with it. It made sense as to why it was needed – the past and the future version of Marsh had POVs in this novel. There was no way to distinguish the two better than to have the perspectives in such a way. And this wound up making me enjoy the novel a great deal more. I had a bias towards reading his POVs because of how smoothly they read and how deep we got into his mind. I would have loved to have seen this with more characters, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the other third person perspectives for what it’s worth.

Another part I loved was the occasional peak into Gretel’s mind – something I craved when I read the previous novel! We got a taste of it right from page one, her odd charm previously shown in the perspectives of Klaus, Marsh and Will now being seen from her own perspective. Her calculation comes with an ego, and the way her story ended was awfully poetic. In spite of being an exceedingly horrid person, her character is by far my favourite, one I was very thankful to see glances of in this novel. I really want to see more villains like her in future reads.

Having a novel so centred on orchestrated plots can otherwise be difficult to make, but this novel danced around it with such prowess. Granted, it has been years since I read the first book in the series so I have no idea how truly accurate it is, but the butterfly effect was in full swing and I was flying on it. To see the calculations, causes and effects through future Marsh’s perspective was particularly enlightening, while also seeing the results playing out like it did in history. The previous timeline was an alternate history, and it felt enlightening to see the true events play out in this book including the strategic things around Dunkirk.

I think what this book really did the best was the closing of character arcs. I’ve already hinted that Gretel’s character arc was masterfully done, but even both versions of Marsh, Will and Stephenson were done incredibly well. This was expertly done through exploring the themes of morality. No better way to end the series.

Necessary Evil gets a score of 5/5. There had never been a more satisfying ending.

And now it’s series ranking time! The last series I would have finished for 2021.

Bitter Seeds – 4/5, a promising start to a series unlike anything I had ever seen.

Coldest War – 4/5, so dark and yet so compelling.

Necessary Evil – 5/5, the perfect character arcs to end the series.

You will never read a series like the Milkweed Trip. World War Two war strategy, plus supernatural abilities, plus warlocks! The dark magic combining with the exploration of morality fits perfectly into the settings of World War II and the great depression. And the morally grey Gretel will be among the greats. Although this series is very strong and totally deserves a place on my bookshelf, I’m not sure if I ever want to read it again. It was quite dark and one that I wouldn’t recommend to many light hearted people.

The Milkweed Trilogy gets a score of 4.5/5. It’s staying proudly on my bookshelf.

Yours in writing

Amy

aviary-image-1636849821906

Some Obvious Bias – a review of Dark Destiny by MJ Putney

I dug myself into a hole when I decided to read the third book in the Dark Mirror series. Since my review of the previous book and it being average as all nine hells, I opened this final installment wincing.

A book that should’ve taken me five days to read took me eight instead, PLUS an additional four days to get the guts to read these.

Back in the early 1940s Tori, Cynthia and her fellow mages have saved members of the Rainford family from death and has saved Dr Weiss and his family from Nazi imprisonment. But now these mages have to return to 1804 as the threat of Napoleon invading looms and they must now protect their own land and time. Meanwhile, Rebecca Weiss remains in the 1940s as a French Jew going to a British school, discovering her own magical potential. Such magic may be crucial in defeating Napoleon…

For this being the big battle and the way to conclude the series, it wound up fairly tame. The leads claimed to have found the situation stressful, with the only struggle faced being a broken ankle and them having many feasts and hospitable situations keep their head in the game. It didn’t feel right – more so how the magic system is soft to the point of it being malleable to solve any problem the mages may have. It barely felt like a struggle. Book one featured a greater struggle than in book three – that goes against all narrative logic! Too much was handed to them on a silver platter instead of in a rubbish bag.

As a sucker for World War II fiction, I enjoyed the perspectives from Rebecca and her being welcomed as a Jew in a British community. This part felt the most real and insightful out of anything. I would read the hell out of a novel that was just of Rebecca trying to find a new normal life with the British and the people around her recognising and celebrating her Jewish culture. If there is a story like this, can someone please tell me!

On the flip side, the 1804 society was in comparison completely glossed over. Most of the insights here were fictional due to the inclusion of magic in this world and how pivotal it was in nobility. To me that just screams a bias – at least while researching – towards World War Two. The writing itself showed that especially in this novel, with the world being far more developed in those scenes.

Furthermore, the main character Tori felt nearly useless in this novel. Her power was framed as something so huge, but she was next to never responsible for the story progressing. She was just there for every important moment to boost powers that knowing how bad this magic system is could have been achieved without her help. This is further emphasised by the one thing I hate the most in novels – when the main character doesn’t solve their own problems or achieve their goals. Other people do it for Tori. And that makes me furious at how happy an ending she got.

So in conclusion, I’m glad to finally finish the series, but not that it wasted my time.

Dark Passage gets a score of 2/5. The only parts I loved to death were short lived, like sunshowers in between thunderstorms.

I don’t think I need to do this whole series reviewing thing because you already know my thoughts, but I’ll go through it anyway as per tradition.

Dark Mirror3.5/5, the plot twist blew the whole story out of proportion, but it wound up being a very fun read nonetheless.

Dark Passage2.5/5, never mind, it’s not fun anymore. It’s a drag. So much talking and planning when there needs to be more actin and exploration.

Dark Destiny – 2/5, I just want a book about Rebecca Weiss now. I want that to be the only thing I remember from this series.

The one way to describe this series is never delivering on its promises. I thought this was going to be a series about a secret mage society protecting England to prove their magic to not make them worthless, and instead I got time travel with a warped magic system. This series had such a promising start in spite of the shock over it not being the story written on the blurb. I should’ve seen this as a sign that it was only going to go downhill. This is to the point where I would guess that somebody else may like it more than me – I’m not going to shit on the series any more than I already have. Undoubtedly, this is the most average book series in existence. It is definitely not for me. I hope I haven’t discouraged any potential readers too much.

The Dark Mirror Trilogy gets a score of 2.5/5 It’s going off the bookshelf.

Yours in writing

Amy

aviary-image-1634069358961

…What? – a review of Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

In recent years of reviewing and reading historical fiction books I’ve found that a writing style can make or break a book. It can make me fall in love with it like the Book Thief or I will end up hating how confusing it made the story like with Catch 22.

Warlight’s writing style just made me confused.

14-year-old Nathaniel’s parents have left him and his older sister in the care of a man they named the Moth in the wake of World War II. During this time where Nathaniel comes of age and begins to define himself, he learns that his upbringing and what he envisioned of his family was built upon lies.

The truth is… I don’t know. You can already guess that the writing style contributed to it, but let’s cover a little bit more first.

This novel was framed to be a solid narrative and to have a conclusion, and while I was given the pieces to put the puzzle together I was unable to solve it. And with this being a semi-mystery, you’d at least expect that answer to be spat in your face. I more so know what happened in Nathaniel’s mother’s past, but I still don’t know who she is or the conclusions made after those events in her past were revealed. I didn’t even sound like Nathaniel himself, who was studying his mother’s history, was happy with the outcome or got the full picture. I got a better outcome from this with Catch-22, one of my most hated books of all time, because of how unreadable it was and how often I didn’t know what was going on. And yet, it was easier to follow than Warlight.

And yet this book I don’t hate as much as Catch-22. The writing style and prose was very beautiful and often individual chapters felt very mesmerising to read. Single scenes or chapters were mesmerizing and the inner thoughts and observations of Nathaniel were great to explore in the moment. The moments he spent in his affair were among my favourites and the moments where the story felt the most relatable. This is the one redeeming quality of this novel.

I simply cannot express my confusion more! It was more than the plot that made me think this. Were any of the characters visually described in any way? No. Did the plot match the blurb and what I expected from the novel? No. Was the direction the story was going in clear at any point? No. I am convinced the author was literally piecing together random bits of poetic prose and moments into some form of an underdeveloped narrative barely worthy of the title. I for the life of me do not know what was going on in this whole novel. The writing style mase it a great hassle to read behind flowery prose.

And again, its nonlinear nature wasn’t the problem! Why the hell don’t nonlinear narratives state more clearly the order that everything is going in, clear definitions of whether the chapter is taking place in the past or the future? In or out of the narrative? So far half the books I have read with a non-linear narrative are near impossible to read.

And now I ask is that too much to ask for?

Warlight gets a score of 2/5. Did this book make it onto Sparknotes for me to get a grasp of? I’m not gonna read them anyway. Just curious.

Yours in writing

Amy

aviary-image-1632100155514

Hello Darkness – a review of The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis

Two things. First, I have officially finished this year’s reading goals. Way too early, it’s September as I’m writing this.

Second, that was the darkest book I have ever read in my life. Bit timely, considering my last blog post about me not liking horror movies. This was kind of a horror book. Maybe I have a thing for horror literature?

Regardless, it’s appropriate for me to publish this so close to Halloween.

It’s the middle of the Cold War. The Soviet Union has taken technology previously in Nazi hold and their experiments, including siblings Gretel and Klaus. Gretel’s clairvoyance abilities lend her and her brother an escape from their facilities and into England, where the Warlocks that had previously helped in the Nazi’s defeat are now being assassinated. It will take the last remaining Warlock, Gretel and Klaus, and a retired member of the Milkweed Birtish Intelligence force to push their differences aside from the conflicts risen in World War II and dismantle the Soviet facility holding these superhuman experiments.

This was the sequel to Bitter Seeds, the first book in the Milkweed series. Both felt very much the same and yet very different at the same time. I was able to understand it more, for one thing, as after playing D&D I finally knew what warlocks actually were. It was two years since I read the first book in the series, so I was glad all the important points were summarised and I could get back into it remembering enough of what had happened. I don’t know if it was my age at the time, but I read through this novel far easier than its predecessor.

I think it was because it was less war and action focussed. The scenes that did have it were so good because I understood what was at stake better. But the political and strategic moments were at times boring, because what was being said or mentioned sometimes felt hardly at stake. That made me sometimes get less immersed in the story, but luckily the interpersonal conflict drew me back in again quickly. That part of it was absolutely the strongest.

What I loved the most out of this book was how deep into the perspective characters’ minds we got – Marsh, Klaus and Will. I looked over my review of Bitter Seeds that said I would’ve liked to have gone deeper into the perspective of the characters, and in Coldest War that is exactly what I got. I felt for and understood every one of the main characters perfectly and felt for them so much. Fear, the past and the future were very much at the forefront of each of these characters mind and I loved feeling these emotions in each of them. Will was a favourite of mine just for his varying stances on morality alone.

Gretel once again shone, however, as my favourite character. She was framed as the literal manifestation of the plot, and she literally is. In this book we see what sliver of humanity she shows the rest of the world and understand her motives without going into her head. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to, and it was wise for Tregillis to write her like that because it makes her so enjoyable. Her personality it just too intriguing from the outside.

Also, this novel was dark as the pits of hell. At some times this put me off because I had to sit back and process what was happening. This novel is absolutely not for the faint-hearted. I had a love hate relationship with how dark it got. Every chapter I read I felt disturbed in some form, but I really wanted there to be more breaks in it. There would have been so many more heartfelt moments to be achieved between characters – family relationships were a key part of this story which was not explored enough. I think I probably only felt calm for a third of a chapter. Must lend itself more to the horror genre then.

The Coldest War gets a score of 4/5. This book isn’t for the faint of heart, but those brave enough for it should absolutely read it.

Yours in writing

Amy

aviary-image-1631252080947

The Most Average Book Ever – a review of Dark Passage by MJ Putney

Guys, we did it. We found a perfectly average book!

I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but here we are. This book is perfectly balanced with its highs and its lows. This leaves me genuinely not knowing what to think of this book, but here we go I guess.

Victoria Mansfield returns from 1940 with her fellow magically inclined friends, whom helped out at Dunkirk to evacuate soldiers, and they return to Lackland academy to pretend to suppress their magical abilities and secretly meet at night to train their prowess. Soon it is the Christmas holidays, and the students must face the repercussions of embracing their magical talent. However, upon their return, their magical help is needed yet again in 1940 to evacuate a scientist imprisoned by Nazis in France, who holds the greatest medical discovery of his time in his hands.

One complaint I had with its predecessor was that the time travel aspects were barely foreshadowed, but in this second book it did a far better job. The plot was intertwined much greater with the connections between 1803 and 1940, historically and geographically, and it made for a very cohesive and satisfying plot. This was absolutely the strongest part of the novel, especially in the second half of the novel. This made the worlds too feel far more built out and cohesive.

Except for the subplots. Some subplots were inserted that had little to no connections to the events of the rest of the novel, and one of these subplots was practically useless. It was a couple splitting up and then getting back together after they realised how much they truly loved each other. The main plot points did nothing to enhance this, because they did it way too naturally. This is the worst kind of subplot – where you can pick it up and place it in any story and it works. No events contributed to this development once, at least not frequently enough.

Furthermore, the magic system felt very clunky in here. There were some moments where I thought they did make sense – such as their powers strengthening and they ways they could channel each others’ powers, but then there were moments where characters suddenly realised they had new powers or they just popped up out of the blue in the lead up to the climax as a solution for all that was going on. That’s a narrative sin we like to call the deus ex machina. There was no development whatsoever for Cynthia to casually say she has the powers of persuasion!

What’s just as weird is how reliant on dialogue this novel was, especially later into the book. The word count could be reduced significantly if they just made dialogue exchanges far more concise! I’m pretty sure the characters spent an entire chapter sitting outside of their mirror passage planning what to do and then doing it. Situations happened like this multiple times. Just do a timeskip and have the thoughts of the main character lay over the plan that was laid down and the shock if the plan goes to shit! It isn’t rocket science!

A final, very average point of discussion is the character arcs. Many of these felt short lived or not deep enough to make a significant change to the main characters of Tory and Cynthia. I can identify two somewhat minor ways that Cynthia changed and no significant ways that Tory changed over the course of the novel. The lessons they learn for the feats that they undertake are very small. I can only just accept them as character arcs.

Just as much as I can minimally say that this book was good. I didn’t hate it, not did I like it. It is about at split-down-the-middle average as average could get.

Dark Passage gets a score of 2.5/5. Perfectly balance, not as all books should be.

Yours in writing

Amy

aviary-image-1631250230027

Pleasant, but not Immersive – A review of The Berlin Girl by Mandy Robotham

World War II historical fiction. A favourite of mine. Usually if you gift me a book from that time period, I will read it and love it. Though there have been some anomalies on this blog here…

There is just so much to talk about and discover from studying World War II history altogether, and seeing the varying perspectives on such a huge historical event is always rewarding. In The Berlin Girl, we take a look at journalism.

Georgie Young scored herself a spot in reporting on the events happening in Germany in 1938, one of the few female journalists outside of lifestyle reporting to do so. This reporter for The Chronicle aims to make a name for herself through journaling one of the most important historical years in Germany to date, alongside Times journalist Max Spender and other acclaimed journalists from Europe and the US. However, things turn increasingly difficult as journalists mustn’t perceive themselves as enemies of the Nazi party, Georgie encounters many a cases of Jewish abuse and she finds herself falling for an oddly charming Gestapo member. And when her boss goes missing, she has more risks to take than just the words she writes to the masses.

From a historical perspective this was very entertaining to read. I studied similar events for my history class in my final year of high school – the events leading up to and after Kristallnacht – and to read about it from a far more intimate perspective was very enlightening. I was glad that the journalists weren’t able to predict everything despite being very investigative, which made the events feel very real upon occurrence. From the main perspective or Georgie ti felt very thorough.

However, the way it was told was very telley. As in the show vs tell rule. It mostly told of the events that unfolded and events went by quite quickly. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – showing too much can give readers headaches sometimes. But I do think with how often things went from show to tell, it didn’t get me as deep into the story as I would’ve hoped.

That doesn’t discredit the writing style though. It really reflected the internal thoughts of Georgie and described scenes very well.This especially highlights through the stakes as they built up. With historical liberties taken, it was great seeing how the conflicts were handled and the outcomes of the novel being handled still on such a personal matter as well as the grander scale. They were woven together really well.

Another thing that I will credit is how feminism was handled in this novel. Sins in any piece of feminist media are moments that signpost how progressive the creators are for including a scene of such audacity. What we got in the Berlin Girl, however, was a showing of the feminist environment in journalism unfolding in a natural way – allies like Max at first making assumptions and then learning more and admiring Georgie and other female journalists as they showcased their skills and proof that they could walk among the other great journalists within their circles.

But altogether, there wasn’t anything that made it particularly stand out to me. It was nice, pleasant, but I think that telley writing style made me not get as immersed in the story as I would have hoped. So I’m not attached, but I’m glad I read it.

The Berlin Girl gets a score of 3/5. A pleasant story that I wish I was able to get deeper into.

Yours in writing

Amy

20210627_133731

A Real Good Pauser – A review of The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

The Librarian of Auschwitz would get along very well with The Book Thief. I never thought I’d pick up a second book about a girl coming of age through literature they picked up and read secretly during World War II, but here I am.

This book follows Dita, a Jew girl coming of age deep in the regime of Nazi concentration camps. During her stay in Auschwitz, a respected adult in the camp seeks to keep the children educated within the family block of the camp. Dita is sought out to protect a small collection of books, contraband that made its way through the security of the guards and kapo. She takes up her responsibilities in pride, caring for the books and stories with all the hope inside her, and inspiring others as situations grow ever dimmer for the prisoners of Auschwitz Birkenau.

I will admit that the narrative in this novel wasn’t strong, and neither were the secondary perspectives present. I will acknowledge that these points were instead included for historical and informative purposes, as it was based on a true story, but some didn’t adhere to Dita, the focal character’s, story. They were still very nice and insightful to read, but it did take me out of the story ever so slightly.

As for the story itself though, it took me on an emotional log flume. I would say rollercoaster, but these emotions were never of excitement. It was just a constant drift to peace and hope only to be crushed by something traumatic and filled with despair just around the next corner. There was a constant and evolving numbing sensation when reading this book that was both comforting and chilling at the same time.

And yet it took me so long to read. That is not to discredit the value of the book itself, though I used to think the time it took to finish a book was reflective of that. Some of the content in this book just had to be processed and reflected upon. I feel like this book wouldn’t have hit the same without it. It covers a lot of deep moments that most other books wouldn’t be able to put together in such a way, especially when much of the content in it was based on true experiences. I spent much of the second half of the book reading with watery eyes, not quite tears but getting close.

That was largely due to the way it was writing, almost poetically. I don’t think that there was a chapter that didn’t feature a quote worth gushing over. And the way each character was described by appearance was incredible, I’m definitely taking notes from this book for describing characters in the future. I’m not sure if it was the work of the translator or the actual author, but so much language in this novel was stunning. This makes me wonder if there are different ways to tell stories or make metaphors in other languages, because the language in this book was just ethereal.

But I think the highlight of the novel was seeing Dita grow. Coming of age is a classic and timeless tale, but the way Dita grew braver and nobler in face of her hardships was just incredible, especially when her childhood whimsy was still present. Her mother quoted that living in Auschwitz was no way to grow up, but the way that Dita did was admirable and incredible. That’s what truly brought on the beauty of The Librarian of Auschwitz.

The Librarian of Auschwitz gets a score of 4/5. A very thought provoking and reflective read placed against a historically important backdrop.

Yours in writing

Amy

ProShot_20210408_141007

Foul Fish in the Sea – A Review of Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

A review on the back of the book said that this was the only war fiction that they read that ever made sense.

Bullshit.

I would try to tell you what Catch-22 is about but I genuinely don’t know myself. I read on the synopsis it was supposed to be about the troubles of a paranoid bomber on an island in Italy and him trying to leave the war for good. I thought it was going to examine his attempts at trying to loophole various loopholes that would keep him flying at death’s door for the rest of his life.

Instead I got a headache and wasted 10 weeks trying to finish this thing just to tell you guys how bad it is.

Being a book taking place in the Second World War, I had high hopes for this and despite the confusing narration I kept on trying. Catch-22 wasn’t the first novel with odd narration I had read – in fact my all time favourite is one of those books. However, I can clearly say that this book put me off nonlinear novels all together. I wouldn’t mind reading something nonlinear if I could actually tell when I was taken forward and back in time. There was literally no way to tell up until the last quarter or so of the book.

I’ve heard many people say that they took a couple of rereads of the first few chapters before they got to reading the book. Heller should’ve known this would turn off readership. My word of advice if you can’t get into it within the first read: don’t. It’s not worth it. Here’s a few more reasons why:

Even without the changes in timeline, so much of this book was filled with filler. Every character had a backstory included in this book which brought nothing to the overall narrative. I don’t care that this Major’s wife doesn’t love him back – he was only present for three chapters in the book. Though Major Major’s backstory was pretty sad, it did nothing to the plot but make me wonder when we’d be going back to the story of the main character Yossarian. Was he even the main character? I can’t tell you. Barely any of the book touched on him trying to get out of the war when compared to all that wasn’t him trying to get out of the war.

I couldn’t tell you what any of the characters looked like. Each of them was described once, some of them without even a hint of their eye colour, and then nothing about their appearance was ever brought to attention again. This was terrible considering not only that there were so many of them but the fact that they were all white boys. Like 80% of the cast were white boys and only know the hair colour of one of them. Do you know how hard that was to visualise things and not get characters mixed up?

The “realistic” dialogue drag the story out for far too long. Yes, when we talk naturally we have a tendency to talk back and forth and eventually in circles and tangents. Conversation naturally drags our attention away from what is important. You can already imagine how poorly this translates in creating a narrative, especially when these tangents become pages long. To a reader, this is too much. I just want the story to continue.

A vast majority of the text was written in lengthy unreadable paragraphs that took up 3/4 of a page. Pieces weren’t broken down to make the text easier to digest, but it didn’t matter because as I said before there was a lot of filler. A bunch of “He said that she said…” was present. I found great joy in skipping paragraphs entirely, and that’s bad.

But in light of all these errors I decided that I wouldn’t hate on the story so harshly at first glance. I decided to give the TV series adaptation a watch to see if the story would actually be something I would enjoy. Some of the issues still stood like filler dialogue and difficult to distinguish characters, but I can conclude the following:

For once, the book was not better.

Catch 22 gets a score of 1/5. It only had the potential to be something average.

Yours in writing

Amy

20200129_191143

Take Me To Church – a review of That Burning Summer by Lydia Syson

You could probably tell that my two favourite genres of fiction are fantasy and World War II. I’m pretty sure I haven’t reviewed anything else on this blog. Today we’re looking at a World War II novel.

One that was a bit of a let down in all honesty.

In That Burning Summer, we’re taken to a small English town where Peggy and her brother Ernest live. When a Polish R.A.F. pilot crashes into the nearby marsh, Peggy decides to secretly take care of him. As she learns more of his story and his trauma that stops him from ever flying again… Oh no, he’s hot! Meanwhile, her skeptic brother Ernest begins to notice her behaviour and becomes conflicted by all the wartime rules she is breaking to keep her pilot alive.

So let’s start off with the good.

The romance between Peggy and Henryk was developed really well, albeit a slow burn. But a slow burn felt very natural for what was going on. Seeing the two relax around each other was great. It was very sweet to even see the protective nature returned from Henryk to Peggy in some circumstances. The kiss scene was beautifully written, too.

On the other side of the story we have Ernest, excellently written internal conflict. Right from the start this character was compelling. Young and fearful of danger striking, Ernest would memorise the rules he had to comply to to a niche. Almost to the point where people don’t take him seriously. And as he spots his sister breaking those rules, I loved seeing the conflict rise in him.

Now we move onto the bad. These things may seem minor, but ultimately it made the story drag on.

First, the book was riddled with passive voice. As I have lately been fixing that issue in my own works, at moments it stood out like a sore thumb. I notice people tend to use a passive voice to sound more professional, but they’re just extending a strict point when they do that. The story slowed down for me there.

Aside from the romance to bloom between Peggy and Henryk, the story never had any clear direction. Yes, a good story is unpredictable, but it typically has a direction. It wasn’t until the last part of seven parts that I knew that this was how the story was about to go down. Particularly with Ernest’s interactions, there wasn’t a clear goal that it was going towards. It didn’t help that the ending was literally an explanation of what happened in the six year timeskip that would have been far more engaging to read about. Even that didn’t felt paid off because it was done poorly. It was a very iffy conclusion to a slow story. It generally made the story feel very hollow and half-hearted.

That Burning Summer gets a score of 2/5. I knew the romance was coming, but nothing else came with it except a skeptical brother.

IMG_20191210_211529_234

A Distorted Reflection – A review of Dark Mirror by M. J. Putney

This review will contain a massive spoiler for this book that you need to know. I don’t want you to react the same way that I did when I read this.

Dark Mirror has two sides, what the author tells you the book is about vs. what the book is actually about.

This is what they tell you: Dark Mirror follows Lady Victoria Mansfield, who has to have her recently discovered magical abilities oppressed in order for her to regain her birthright. She goes to Lackland Abbey with the intent to get it rid of her and home to a family who will love her again, but instead winds up embracing it in a literal underground group who intend to protect England.

They didn’t tell you that there was also time travel involved. Crucially involved. But not until the novel’s midpoint.

When that happened I encountered a massive “WTF” moment, literally the same three words repeating in my head over and over. It was barely foreshadowed or set up aside from the vague title, which tells us that there will be a Dark Mirror involved but not what it does. This made the book seem like two ideas tacked onto each other with two completely separate stories because thereafter the tension and conflict established in the first half became trivial. Now I see that it may be a setup for the rest of the series, but those ends still wind up waving in the wind while the ties of the second half were all neatly plaited together. They were just abruptly cut. New strings of stories were tied onto those ends.

I feel more comfortable talking about this novel in two halves, so I shall do so.

The first half was a great setup of what I thought would be the story I was about to read. Characters were established well, as well as the direction of Tory’s arc. The stakes were evident and investing. The mood worked incredibly well also. Tory’s emotional depth was explored really well in this section as she fought between the selfish need to oppress her magic and the selfless need to use it for the good of her country. She was great as an insecure character.

When the second half came along it turned it into an entirely different story, and I would have appreciated it more had it not been the second half of a completely different story. More compelling characters were introduced with interesting needs and goals, and the whimsy of Tory in a new environment made her seem different from her counterpart. This would have worked better for her had this been her primary story.

I keep talking down this book from that who two story standpoint, mainly because both tales lost their potential being spliced together. But somehow it kind of worked? I do intend to put the next book in the series on my TBR, only now that I know what the story will be like. With this in mind, the second installment in the trilogy I expect will be far more appealing to me.

Favourite Character

Jack Rainford was charming. I fell for him the instant he was introduced – a teaser and joker with still serious goals. He provided much of the comic relief, but still had great depth. He was even more compelling that Tory’s love interest to the point where I thought they’d get together instead.

Favourite Chapter

Chapter 17 was were the A story stakes were at their highest. It was very investful chapter that really got me hooked into that part of the story.

Favourite Serious Quote

“… All you poor, talented aristocrats are raised to hate yourselves. Only a few have the courage and wit to break out and learn how to be real mages.”

I am all for self acceptance and expression! As simple as this quote is, it really stands by me.

Overall Verdict

The story felt indecisive, but all worked out anyway. Dark Mirror gets a score of 3.5/5.

The Title Was Already A Pun – A Review of Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

It is no secret that I love The Book Thief. So when I heard that Markus Zusak was releasing another book, I knew I would be buying that.

I can honestly say that I had no idea what to expect of the plot. All I knew before I read it was that the Dunbar family of five brothers were going to experience some conflict, and it was down the the second youngest, Clay, to bring the family back together again.

God, was it more.

I was really curious about this book, as it is marketed as being very contemporary. I’m very selective when it comes to general and contemporary fiction, but I knew I was into something good judging by how deep Zusak would go into his works. I wasn’t wrong. He dives into elements you wouldn’t expect to come out of what he is writing, tying so many things together and making meaning out of seemingly insignificant things and moments. I guess that’s what draws me to Zusak. He takes something you think you’d know everything about, and then he shows you the rest of the iceberg.

Zusak used an interesting choice of structure in the telling of Clay’s story. It certainly wasn’t linear, but parallel. Chapters would switch between the past and the present, and the connections made between them were small but meaningful and gave a grand perspective of things. And it made total sense for it to be written swapping between the two. The situations were very relevant in respect to each other and it built up on the character of Clay a lot.

Speaking of Clay, his character is very interesting. He is very enigmatic at first, but that’s because we don’t know about him. The structure enhances us knowing his drives, insecurities, and connections with his family.

There was one thing I was uncertain of in Zusak’s decisions. I wasn’t entirely sure why it was the oldest brother telling the story. There was obviously some kind of reason behind that and I feel I might have missed it, and I doubt that reason was beyond the connection between him and Clay. I’ve been thinking it over for a while and still haven’t found any other clues.

Character I Loved

I really enjoyed the boys’ mother, Penny. Her drive and her story was all very touching, and she was a very strong character as well. Everything associated with her I fell for.

Character I Loved to Hate

There wasn’t really one of those, but Rory could get pretty annoying at times. It was all intentional, I could tell, but some of the things he did, man.

Favourite Chapter

Chapter 7 was very interesting with the focus on Clay’s love interest, Carey. It was quite the change of scenery and focus that felt pretty nice in my opinion.

Favourite Serious Quote

How many letters to Carey could he formulate, but not yet write?

Well, this was a familiar feeling. This quote stabbed me in the heart with an honest weight.

Favourite Not-So-Serious Quote

I don’t have a favourite, but they’re all to do with their donkey, Achilles.

Overall Verdict

A simple story with a whole lot of depth. Bridge of Clay gets a score of 4/5.

Yours in writing

Amy

20190422_142014

Not Fit For A Queen – A Review of Emerald by Karen Wallace

I started off March with a slump of DNFs. I had many books on my to-be-read shelf, and I picked many of those up without finishing them because they didn’t have the hook I was looking for.

But then I found Emerald by Karen Wallace, which seemed like a promising historical fiction book.

Emerald St John’s pulled the short straw. Her absent mother is forcing her to marry Lord Suckley (who should’ve been named Lord Assholey, and that’s the least censored version I can give) on the day of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to her mother’s home. Nobody can help her – not the aunt and uncle she stays with, not her brother Richard sailing the seas, and not the arrogant court lady who Emerald puts up with, Arabella. That is until she is offered the only way she can fix this – to warm up to the Queen and stop the plot against her assassination.

This book had potential, along with some well done aspects. The character arc of Arabella was done spectacularly, for one thing. I’ll explain that later down. The language used in it was very vivid and characteristic to Emerald, particularly when things became personal with her.

But then come the disappointments.

Emerald was engineered way too well to fit her role. It was very hard to feel for her because there was only one overarching thing she struggled with. She had the tools and skills to execute her plans from the start. This didn’t feel right. Not to mention she barely developed and the plot was made up quite a bit on coincidence. So late in the book, it’s practically a sin. This would be better if she made a strong impact on the characters around her, but spoiler alert – she didn’t. Most people had their hearts in similar places that she did. At least she did have flaw with her snappy tongue, but for goodness sake some of the stuff in there!

And relationships didn’t happen realistically enough for me to care about them! I could understand everyone who Emerald hated perfectly, but then it came down to everyone she liked and loved. She’d claim that, but where was it? Nowhere. The romantic subplot in this story was practically a Cinderella romance! So much for her wanting to marry for love when she grasped onto a romance way too quickly and without even explaining why. Okay, she did. It was because he danced well. I know a good dancer when I see one, but that’s not meant to lead to marriage! Surely, not in that time period.

I would have liked the book way more if Emerald was fixed. The structure of the plot and the events that happened were what kept me reading, and they were written well. But I’m going to be subjective in this one and say that the main character can make or break the book because it is their story, and Emerald’s story wasn’t real enough for me to decently score it.

Character I Loved

Arabella was the best written character of them all, who had more of an arc than Emerald did. The way that she learned to consider others and not take advantage of them was so suited to her. She may not have been likeable from the start, but she grew on me the most.

Character I Loved to Hate

When I was reading this I first saw it as either Emerald’s mother or Lord Suckley. After writing this whole review thing, you can probably see who I really hate now. I’m sorry, Emerald, your potential was wasted.

Favourite Chapter

Chapter One set up the scene, the tone, everything so well. That hooked me for sure.

Favourite Serious Quote

“I suggest you spend some time watching that bull over there.” She sniggered. “It should broaden your education.”

I’m just a sucker for quotes containing symbolism and foreshadowing. I’d have never seen the significance of it coming.

Favourite Not-So-Serious Quote

“And I must tell you that I loathe cards.”

Who doesn’t love a good roast? Especially when the receiver of this line is a pig.

Overall Verdict

I was promised a struggle, and it didn’t suffice. Emerald gets a 2/5.

Yours in writing

Amy

img_20190305_173755_3542867289893251573899.jpg

I Did Nazi That Coming – A Review of Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

I had never thought I’d be using this pun in the title of a review, and here I am.

I picked up Bitter Seeds in a bookshop at the end of January, intrigued by its seemingly unconventional plot. It lived up to its first impressions and was finished in under three weeks.

In case the title of the book didn’t provide insight into this book, it takes place during the second world war. Only that there are some unusual players in the game; the Nazis have young adults with trained psychic abilities on their side, as British government agent Raybould Marsh finds out on a mission in Spain. As the Nazis gain on the Allies in the war, Raybould calls upon Will, a friend from university, to help provide their own supernatural secrets to win the war. That secret is Warlocks.

The premise itself was a hook; I have recently discovered a joy over reading books taking place in the Second World War. But this book was full of surprises. It was not simply battles and blood, although they did feature in it. The explorations of loyalty and morals were done very well in the context of this. And boy, was it dark. If you’re not a fan of dark stuff, this may not be your book. Oh, but it was SO my book! These relationships, these stakes… it was good!

But there was still some bad. I feel like with some characters while they got me engaged their personalities could have gone deeper. In particular, some of their motives get lost. The ending was also a lot calmer than I had anticipated. Without giving spoilers I’d say that the stakes weren’t quite as high as is typically structured at that point of the book, so its final chapters were a deflation of a lot of the mood.

Character I Loved

Gretel outright wins this. Her character is the most intriguing I’ve ever seen. From her thought processes, to her sinister charm, to her relationships I was hooked in. She was as well written as the protagonists, but I love her more than that. While she is totally on the bad side, I kind of want to protect her. Not that she needs it…

Character I Loved To Hate

Reinhart. Oh, the bastard. The things he does combined with his asshole nature just boils my blood! While Gretel did some dark things, some even darker than he did, I hate him more because of that a-word that is used to describe him.

Favourite Chapter

Chapter nine was full of all the emotions, and I drank them right up!

Favourite Serious Quote

‘Ravens everywhere huddled in their nests, to ride out the ice.’

This requires a lot of context and knowledge of its symbolism, but in short it was a beautiful way to describe how the world in the perspective of the ravens had turned to chaos.

Favourite Not So Serious Quote

‘Incoming.’

And that was how Gretel roasted Rudolf and I fell in love with her.

Overall Verdict

A pleasant surprise with engaging content.

Bitter seeds gets a score of 4/5.

Yours in writing

Amy