aviary-image-1665805290944

Good Glamour – a review of The Heart of the Ritz by Luke Devenish

World War II fiction. I’ve ready plenty that take place in Germany, Poland and Britain, but this novel delves into a country I didn’t realise was so greatly affected until I read it.

We’re going to France folks!

Polly Hartford moves from Australia to France after her father’s untimely suicide to live in the glamour of Paris with her prestigious aunt. However, when she also dies she is left in the company of her three best friends. An American expat, a silent film actress and a Comtesse. The four stay in their second home, The Ritz hotel, and teach Polly about the finer things in life. But she doesn’t have rose coloured glasses on when the Second World War inches ever closer, and eventually hits, Paris. As Wermacht soldiers make The Ritz their home, she’s not the only one with secrets to keep. And definitely not the only one with the courage or cunning to get rid of them.

Characters were great in this novel, especially when you learn about the historical people who inspired them. Many of these characters come from the same, if not similar, walks of life. Not a single one of them felt the same in spite of it. Each so well rounded with their fears, their secrets and the actions they took to further personal and selfless agendas. This was only improved in the afterword when Devenish explained his inspirations for each character. A lot of care was definitely put into each of them.

I will say that the pacing made this novel fall flat in places. A lot of it felt very slow and between POVs monotonous. That made more than one moment not hit as hard as it would have. Some of these moments I even doubted, knowing the multitude of secrets these characters were keeping anyway. For instance, when certain characters died it never quite hit me hard enough. To this day I doubt their deaths. Um, spoiler alert?

This book felt less like a narrative and more like a representation of history, however I didn’t mind. This was due to character arcs being the focus over grandier narratives, making the external events of the Nazi invasion a backdrop to character growth. I mean, that’s how life is, isn’t it? I liked how real it made the novel feel. A history buff may prefer reading this to a novel with a more typical arc.

Heart of the Ritz gets a score of 3.5/5. Characters pull forth the brunt of this novel… with style.

Yours in writing

Amy

aviary-image-1660965092178

I Like Math Now – a review of The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

I find it ironic now, looking back on my past and my ever vague connections to this book. I was pushed ahead a year for maths in High School, though my marks weren’t exactly spectacular. I learnt imaginary numbers and calculus when I didn’t need it for my degree, especially when all my others subjects sans one was writing based.

And this book is where those two worlds of mine, in a sense, collided.

Katherine is a half-chinese mathematician looking to pave her way forward in the field and tackle the unsolvable. And her greatest struggle in her career was never the problems she had to solve. In a career field dominated by males, everyone around her has given her nothing but doubt. Even those she trusted had stopped her from becoming known, stolen her credit and gone against her career morals. But that still isn’t her greatest struggle. It is discovering the full truth behind her past, one she previously never doubted to be anything but true.

Going into this novel I expected to be bombarded with math terms I had to quickly adapt to, but I got none of that at all. It wound up being a very different story with more depth and insight than the study of. maths itself. It created a very interesting backdrop, similar to stories like Hidden Figures and The Imitation Game but without the focus on the goals they pursue. It feels organic and ordinary in comparison, just going into the story of someone with a passion.

That someone is the protagonist, Katherine. Katherine’s voice and character made for a very beautiful way to tell the story, through insights, anecdotes and very beautiful imagery. It breaks the stereotype of cold and hard calculations coming from scientific minds on every matter they come across. Katherine is very sensitive and perceptive in the way she sees her world, which is reflected in her voice and Chung’s writing style. This was a style I very much enjoyed, encouraging me to read more of her works in the future.

One thing I really enjoyed about this was a refreshing take on feminism as a theme in this story. I’ll admit that I’m tired of seeing stale feminist stories about overthrowing patriarchies or breaking rules being set by men. The Tenth Muse features a new take, where Katherine being the first female to study in her field is not caring for the fact that she’s a female and doing it. It became a very refreshing perspective, for someone wanting to be recognised for their talent and worth and not their gender in the field. A very equitable look on feminism that I’m inclined to agree with after reading it. While it is good for someone of a minority to make pursuits or huge strides in a field they’re not normally a part of, it is not glorious. Glory is earned, as is Katherine’s pursuits and how she wants to succeed in her goals.

This is a book that opened my mind. This is a book that anyone could love. Even if you’re not female identifying, this overs fantastic perspectives into so much in life. And it’s very easy to read. This will become a go-to recommendation for me.

The Tenth Muse gets a score of 5/5. Books about math can be good guys!

Yours in writing

Amy

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-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