The Black Mage by Daniel Barnes & DJ Kirkland – #ARC #GraphicNovel #Review

ARC, Book Reviews, Fantasy, General Books, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction

Goodreads: The Black Mage
Publish date: 29 October 2019
Genre: Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
Rating: ★★★.5☆☆

When St. Ivory Academy, a historically white wizarding school, opens its doors to its first-ever black student, everyone believes that the wizarding community is finally taking its first crucial steps toward inclusivity. Or is it? When Tom Token, the beneficiary of the school’s “Magical Minority Initiative,” begins uncovering weird clues and receiving creepy texts on his phone, he and his friend, Lindsay, stumble into a conspiracy that dates all the way back to the American Civil War, and could cost Tom his very soul.

Wow, this was a cool concept for a story: Harry Potter meets American Civil War history and the KKK. I don’t think I’ve ever read a fantasy novel that incorporates deep elements of racism in it! This artwork isn’t the type that I usually like, but I think it suited the story and I especially liked the use of all the colors. I really enjoyed the HP setting of the school! Honestly, it was a little terrifying to see all the KKK outfits being worn by children in school (even if it’s just fiction) and the thought of them having ‘magical powers’ in a fantasy world where they are still the oppressors, was also a terrifying thought.

One aspect that I didn’t enjoy so much at the start was that there’s a lot of text in the speech bubbles and I felt like I had to really zoom in to be able to read it all properly (so that broke up the panels a bit weirdly). As the story progressed there was still a lot of text in certain speech bubbles but for the most part it lessened. Since this is a standalone(?) the story progressed very quickly and it also wrapped up very quickly and neatly, which was kind of “eh”. I honestly would’ve liked to have the story be longer so that we get to learn more about the characters, and to get some character development in the story as well. The ending while “happy” not only felt too abrupt but also a little unresolved — I mean, how does the school still exist? I want to know more. Overall though, I’m glad that I decided to pick this up. It was an interesting read!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the free copy in exchange for an honest review! This graphic novel is out 29 October 2019.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys – #BookReview

Book Reviews, General Books, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Goodreads: Between Shades of Gray
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Panda Rating:

One night fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother and young brother are hauled from their home by Soviet guards, thrown into cattle cars and sent away. They are being deported to Siberia. An unimaginable and harrowing journey has begun. Lina doesn’t know if she’ll ever see her father or her friends again. But she refuses to give up hope. Lina hopes for her family. For her country. For her future. For love – first love, with the boy she barely knows but knows she does not want to lose… Will hope keep Lina alive?

Late one evening in 1941, 15-year-old Lina is dragged out of her home by Soviet soldiers, alongside her mother and brother. She’s confused, scared, worried for her father and most of all wondering, why them? This story chronicles their journey to and their experience in Siberia where Lina and hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians, Estonians, and Latvians identified as criminals against Soviet rule were deported to slave in labour camps or outright exterminated. With her world torn apart and having to deal with trauma, loss, grief and despair, Lina keeps a tight hold to the hope of survival through her memories and love of art.

“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.”

This was a harrowing and heartbreaking novel full of enduring hope in the face of absolute brutality and injustice. It was a testament to hope and love and kindness. I have always been gripped by historical fictions ever since I read books like Anne Frank’s Diary, the Devil’s Arithmetic, Night, and others in school. I admit though, that I didn’t have any prior knowledge about the same horrors happening in other countries and to other peoples during that same period. This was a very educational read, as much as it was a poignant account of those who suffered under Soviet rule.

“Was it harder to die or harder to be the one who survived? I was sixteen, an orphan in Siberia, but I knew. It was the one thing I never questioned. I wanted to live.”

Sepetys writes in a simple, yet powerful and compelling way that made it difficult to put this book down. I dreaded having to leave for work in the morning because I knew I had to put it to the back of mind and I couldn’t wait to race home and pick it up again at days end. I thought that all the characters in the book were well written and many of them had believably mature personas that I oftentimes forgot that Lina was only a teenager and her brother Jonas, only a boy.

I greatly admired Lina’s strength of character throughout her story and her ability to keep hanging on to hope even in the most dire of circumstances and through the most debilitating of losses. Her strength and even youthful optimism in the face of adversity lent a lightness and much needed hopefulness to the situation that reminded me in ways of Anne Frank and her perception of her situation. Just as Anne did, I liked that rebellious Lina recorded events through her art and writing, despite the dangers of being discovered. Maybe it was selfish at times but it was also her way of ensuring that nothing was ever forgotten. What I also found very inspiring was that despite the amount of suffering that was inflicted upon Lina, her family and those around her, there was so much forgiveness and even kindness given to the enemy. All the characters felt so very much like family at the end and even the most frustrating/maddening characters managed to redeem themselves too.

Although I felt the ending came quite abruptly, I can see why it was done that way, and I thought it wrapped the story up on a positive note, giving readers hope that there will be a somewhat happy ending to this story after all.

“…evil will rule until good men or women choose to act. It is my greatest hope that the pages…stir your deepest well of human compassion. I hope they prompt you to do something, to tell someone. Only then can we ensure that this kind of evil is never allowed to repeat itself.”

This book made me think a lot about how despite having learned something from our history, it seems that we haven’t learned enough from it. There is still so much fear in people—fear of differences and of things that they don’t understand. It’s disheartening to know that there are still so many greedy, selfish and egotistical people in positions of power who use their words and actions to rouse hatred towards and stoke fear of others. But still, I believe in the power of human compassion and I stand with those who find the strength to step up against these types of people and their abhorrent actions. In her authors note at the end, Sepetys gave more background information to the Soviet massacre of over three million citizens of the Baltic states. I think the greatest lesson to be taken from this novel was beautifully summarized by her:

“Some wars are about bombings. For the people of the Baltics, this was was about believing. In 1991, after fifty years of brutal occupation, the three Baltic countries regained their independence, peacefully and with dignity. They chose hope over hate and showed the world that even through the darkest night, there is light… These three tiny nations have taught us that love is the most powerful army… —love reveals to us the truly miraculous nature of the human spirit.”

This was a fast and beautifully written read. I definitely look forward to reading more books written by Ruta Sepetys!

Have you read The Astonishing Color of After? What’d you think of it? Let me know in the comments and let’s chat!

Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1) by Kerri Maniscalco – #BookReview

Book Reviews, Crime-Thriller-Mystery, General Books, Historical Fiction, Horror, Young Adult

Goodreads: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)
Genre: Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Young Adult Fiction
Rating:

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life. Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

This book has received a lot of love in the community and I think I had pretty high expectations going into it, so I was little bit flummoxed that it ended up being very different to what I expected. That’s not necessarily in a bad way, but I think this might be a big case of it’s not you, it’s me. I mean, I liked it well enough but I didn’t love it. I read this as part of a big group read on Twitter, and they’re continuing on with the series throughout the month but I think I’ll put off continuing it for now.

SJTR was told through the perspective of Audrey Rose Wadsworth, who was smart, fiercely independent and very ahead of the times for that period, and she wasn’t at all shy to show it. I found her rebellious and spunky character refreshing. I love that she was a bit of a nerd, who just wanted to do cool things like autopsies and solve murders, but that she also loved fancy clothes and dressing up. She spends the majority of the story with her uncle, a famous doctor who people think is insane, and Thomas Creswell. Everyone who has read this book seems to have loved Creswell’s character the most. He definitely gave me Sherlock vibes, with his observant deductions and brilliant mind, but I liked that he was also sassy, sarcastic and bold. I felt a little like the romance between Audrey and Thomas was a little insta-love and I wasn’t actually here for it (sorry, please don’t kill me)! I just didn’t feel any spark between them and because of that their romantic interactions fell flat and felt forced! With how quickly the romance evolved between Audrey and Thomas, it was easy to forget the period which this was set in. If it was realistic, half the things that happened with Audrey traipsing around on her own, and especially alone with men, would not have happened. I mean, we’re talking the late 1880s here, so it’s a bit unrealistic. While the more modern tones of the story made it a much easier read than it would’ve been otherwise, I think it also detracted from the whole vibe/setting of the story.

I’ve always had a morbid fascination with the ‘legend’ of serial killers and murderers, and Jack the Ripper is one of the most infamous even until now. While reading, the names of his victims were familiar, but since the last time I went into a spiral binge of reading up on The Ripper was over a decade ago, I didn’t actually remember all the details of what he did to them. So I really enjoyed the fictional liberties that Maniscalco took to develop this story around his legend, while still remaining as close to what happened as possible. I also appreciated Maniscalco’s author’s note that detailed what she took liberties with. That said, I was a little shocked by how easily I deduced who Jack the Ripper was. I won’t say that I figured it out from the very beginning, but it was like a lightning strike moment when I figured it out and I was a little upset that Audrey didn’t see the <b>very obvious</b> clue that was like a big, bright red waving flag in front of her. I ended up wanting to shout at her for the rest of the book because it was SO OBVIOUS and the fact that Thomas didn’t pick up on it when he’s supposed to be a genius who sees everything, was kind of disappointing. I thought the ending was also a bit too rushed, and I was a little disappointed with how it was so… easily resolved and a little too picture perfect happy for such a horrifying story!

Another thing I appreciated was the detail of added photos to some of the chapters. I always find black and white photos a little creepy, even when they’re innocent, and these fit so well with the content of the story. I think only one of them, which I wasn’t expecting at all, gave me a right fright when I was reading this at around 3am on Friday/Saturday, and so I made sure to check the photos ahead of time (during the day!) so I wouldn’t get another shocker. I will say though that this book was a lot darker and more gory than I anticipated, so a word of caution if you’re looking to pick it up and aren’t so good with gore!

I was thinking about going straight into Hunting Prince Dracula, but I’m glad that I didn’t because it would’ve been too much for me. Apparently as I get older my constitution gets weaker LOL I am interested in continuing the series eventually though. So while I did enjoy this thrilling historical fiction, I felt a little too detached from the characters to really fall in love with the story. I’d still recommend it to anyone who likes a thrilling mystery, historical fiction, quirky characters and great banter, as well as a strong female lead ahead of her time.

Have you read Stalking Jack the Ripper? Did it live up to the hype for you? Leave me a comment below and let’s chat!

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini – #BookReview

Book Reviews, General Books, Historical Fiction, Poetry

Goodreads: Sea Prayer
Genre: Fiction, Poetry, Short Story, Picture Book
Rating:

A short, powerful, illustrated book written by Khaled Hosseini in response to the current refugee crisis, Sea Prayer is composed in the form of a letter, from a father to his son, on the eve of their journey. Watching over his sleeping son, the father reflects on the dangerous sea-crossing that lies before them. It is also a vivid portrait of their life in Homs, Syria, before the war, and of that city’s swift transformation from a home into a deadly war zone. Impelled to write this story by the haunting image of young Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed upon the beach in Turkey in September 2015, Hosseini hopes to pay tribute to the millions of families, like Kurdi’s, who have been splintered and forced from home by war and persecution.

A short but impactful read. Hosseini knows how to tug on readers’ heartstrings even in a book as short as this one! This touches upon on issue that will remain relevant in many years to come!

Sea Prayer isn’t so much a book as it is actually a heartfelt prayer. One that has undoubtedly fallen off the tongues of the countless thousands who have fled their communities, homes and families to avoid war, death and destruction, for a chance of survival in an unknown land. This story was inspired by Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who died when his family fled across the sea. That little boy whose body washed upon the shore in 2015, and whose image was splashed across newsfeeds all over the world for months, that called desperate attention to the refugee crisis.

It’s so easy for us watching from thousands of miles away to feel sadness, frustration and despair when hearing/reading/watching the news about the war and refugee crises taking place in parts of the world the majority of us have never been to, and most likely never will. It is easy to think that we can understand the plight of these families based on what we’re fed, but really, imagining what it’s like to be forced to flee the only life you’ve known just to ensure that you and your family stay alive? That’s a different kind of fear. In this short story book filled with beautiful illustrations, Khaled Hosseini, with his ability to transport and immerse readers into foreign worlds with his words, was able to give us an idea of what the fear might be like. But he not only captures the fears, but the beautiful memories and the hopes.

“But that life, that time,
seems like a dream now,
even to me,
like some long-dissolved rumor.

First came the protests.
Then the siege.

The skies spitting bombs.
Starvation.
Burials.

These are the things you know.” 

This is a heavy book. It literally took me 5 minutes to read this but within those 5 minutes, Hosseini was able to evoke in me feelings of hope, sorrow and despair. Of course, my eyes were no longer dry. He paints a vivid picture of a bustling city life and the war torn communities that suffer the consequences of the actions of those filled with greed, hatred and pride. Often times we become so desensitized to the news we hear every day that we forget these people who are fleeing and suffering have stories of a life just the same as you and me. They are not just a large group of people with nowhere to go. Each and every refugee that makes it across that sea is not just another number to add to the growing masses. Every refugee is human. With all the bad news that makes it to our screens every day, sometimes I think we forget that they are people who each have their own story; and this is simply one of them.

Short but impactful, this book feeds into a dialogue that will continue to be relevant for many years to come. Khalid Hosseini will donate all proceeds from this book to the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and The Khaled Hosseini Foundation to help fund lifesaving relief efforts to help refugees around the globe.

Have you read Sea Prayer? What did you think of it?
Leave me a comment below and let’s chat!

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – #BookReview

Book Reviews, General Books, Historical Fiction, Romance

Goodreads: The Great Alone
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Rating:

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources. But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

Kristin Hannah is fast becoming an absolute favorite. This was my second book of hers, the first being The Nightingale, and both have been solid five star reads for me. She has a way of making me feel a deep emotional connection and investment in her characters and their lives. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a big crier and in this book, once the tears started at about the 80% mark, they pretty much kept flowing until the end. Hannah paints an enchanting and terrifying portrait of the Alaskan wild, and a family that struggles with the darkness in their lives that mirrors their surrounding environment.

“This state, this place, is like no other. It is beauty and horror; savior and destroyer. Here, where survival is a choice that must be made over and over, in the wildest place in America, on the edge of civilization, where water in all its forms can kill you, you learn who you are. Not who you dreamed of being, not who you imagined you were, not who you were raised to be. All of that will be torn away in the months of icy darkness, when frost on the windows blurs your view and the world gets very small and you stumble into the truth of your existence. You learn what you will do to survive.”

It’s a beautifully written, intensely atmospheric and heartbreaking story of family, love, hope and survival. I thought Hannah’s writing style in this was a lot more descriptive than in The Nightingale, but it isn’t over done and you don’t get bogged down with all the information about a place you almost can’t imagine because of how wild and foreign it is. The writing really helped me immerse myself in the Alaskan setting, which obviously plays a very significant part of the story. I honestly can’t imagine this book being set anywhere else.

“… home was not just a cabin in a deep woods that overlooked a placid cove. Home was a state of mind, the peace that came from being who you were and living an honest life.” 

As much as the setting makes the story, so did the characters and I really loved (almost) all of them. Leni was a beautiful main character. Her growth throughout the story was so wonderful to experience that at times I almost felt like a proud little mama hen. That said, it was also very sad. She deals with so much loneliness and isolation, and endures many trying moments with her father, but she always proves how strong and resilient she is by finding new ways to survive. Leni’s tender and innocent love for Matthew (and his for her) was a bright light amongst the dark tones of the story, even when it set me on edge sometimes because I just knew something bad was going to happen (I was right 90% of the time btw). On the other hand, I found myself growing increasingly frustrated with Cora. I’m sorry if it sounds harsh, but Cora was weak and what made it worse was that she would often be purposefully provocative in public! Why would you not only put yourself in that situation but risk putting your daughter in danger with that kind of destructive behavior? Cora and Ernt’s relationship was so incredibly toxic and felt extremely suffocating at times. They were such selfish and immature characters and my heart really broke for Leni because she was such a good, loving and kind daughter.

Although the Allbright’s take center stage, I thought the other characters were also well developed. Matthew Walker, Large Marge and Tom Walker were such heartwarming characters and I became so attached to all of them. We learn about their ‘before-Alaska’ lives and their family history which really made connecting with them even easier. Though sometimes that made this an even more difficult read to get through because there’s so much emotion involved, and it already isn’t an easy read to begin with. A lot of bad things happen through the majority of this book, but I will say that the heartache, frustration and fear is so incredibly worth it in the end. 

There was so much life in this novel, I know that I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon. Kristin Hannah is a wonderful storyteller and I’m sorry that I don’t have better words to describe what an amazing book this is and all the things it’s made me feel. You just have to read it for yourself, but be prepared for your feelings to get put through a shredder! Content warning: physical abuse, alcoholism, PTSD

Have you read The Great Alone? Loved it? Hated it? Meh about it?
Leave a comment below and let’s chat! 🙂

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner – #ARC #BookReview

ARC, Book Reviews, Chick Lit, Contemporary, General Books, Historical Fiction, LGBTQ+, Romance, Women's Fiction

Goodreads: Mrs. Everything
Publish date: 11 June 2019
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary, Historical, LGBTQ+

Do we change or does the world change us? Jo and Bethie Kaufman were born into a world full of promise. Growing up in 1950s Detroit, they live in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house, where their roles in the family are clearly defined. Jo is the tomboy, the bookish rebel with a passion to make the world more fair; Bethie is the pretty, feminine good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life. But the truth ends up looking different from what the girls imagined. Jo and Bethie survive traumas and tragedies. As their lives unfold against the background of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib, Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything (except settling down). Meanwhile, Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness to the changing world instead of a participant. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy. Is it too late for the women to finally stake a claim on happily ever after?

I was not expecting the emotional punch that I would get while reading Mrs. Everything. I always enjoy family sagas and the relationship between two sisters/siblings, and this book was no exception. I loved the glimpse of modern American history that we got while journeying with the Kaufman sisters from the 1950s to 2022. This was a beautiful story about coming-of-age, getting lost and discovering and accepting yourself, finding and losing love, building a life, motherhood, and a poignant look at the role of women in society throughout the decades.

Told in alternating chapters between Jo and Bethie, Weiner’s prose and style was simple and easy to read but immersive. I often found myself transported to the different periods of history, standing beside Jo or Bethie, while they were picketing or getting high at a party or standing on the porch of a commune. I also enjoyed how Weiner incorporated key events in America’s history into the story. As the story covers an extended period of time, the plot does jump locations fairly often, especially at the beginning, but it mainly centers around: Detroit, Avondale, and Atlanta.

You’re thrown into the center of the narrative from the start. Jo was the tomboy who doesn’t conform to her mother’s or society’s idea of how a lady should look/act. She was more comfortable in trousers playing sports. Bethie was the sweet darling, the natural beauty with a charming voice. She was the good girl and it seemed almost certain that their lives would follow the paths they’d been on as children, with Jo living as a free spirit, making a difference, and Bethie settling down and becoming a mum. But tragic things start happening to both sisters, and we see how one loses herself, only to learn how to embrace her past and “come out new”, while the other struggled to hide her sexual orientation, found and lost love, and decided to settle for normal. I honestly loved both sisters and my heart broke when tragedies would befall them, and soar whenever either one triumphed. Being a character driven story, you get a chance to see how they grow over the years. The Kaufman sisters are strong in their own ways, but they’re also very flawed and simply human.

“We lose ourselves,” she repeated, forming each word with care, “but we find our way back” Wasn’t that the story of her life? Wasn’t that the story of Bethie’s? You make the wrong choices, you make mistakes, you disappear for a decade, you marry the wrong man. You get hurt. You lose sight of who you are, or of who you want to be, and then you remember, and if you’re lucky you have sisters or friends who remind you when you forget your best intentions. You come back to yourself, again and again. you try, and fail, and try again, and fail again.

Within the first 30% of the novel, Jo and Bethie already go through so much hardship that was so heartbreaking, but everything that happened to them throughout their lifetime was also completely believable. It was nothing spectacular in the sense that it’s a story that women have experienced and can relate to. Although it explores important issues about the role of women in society, it doesn’t feel preachy or like Weiner is trying to push a message down your throat. It’s very well-woven into the storyline and comes to play an important role in the latter part of the sisters’ lives. Even for an Asian woman such as myself, I found I could relate to some of their experiences, and a lot of what is discussed in this book. This story is so relevant to the social climate of today with the #metoo movement and rising feminism (not only in America but slowly worldwide too) and I think it’ll resonate with a lot of women who read it.

I’m giving this 4 stars because while I didn’t feel that any part of the story was unnecessary, I thought the middle lagged just a little, and the end felt a bit rushed. I thought we missed a key part of one of the main characters’ life in her later years of life, as it related to her sexuality and her family. I was surprised that Weiner didn’t write about it, as I think it was a pretty big deal for her character, and it just felt glossed over and made everything feel too neatly wrapped up. Still, this had a satisfying ending and although I’m a crier in general, I didn’t think I would be with this book. I was obviously proven wrong because I was crying hard at the end. 😅

Overall, I really enjoyed Mrs. Everything and I’m so glad that one of the ladies in my group read chats mentioned that this was available to “Read Now” on NetGalley because otherwise I probably would’ve missed it. I think it will stick with me long after I finish. This was my first book by Jennifer Weiner and I really enjoyed her writing, so I’m looking forward to reading more of what she has written. Fabulous book!

Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for the free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner? What did you think of it? This book is now out everywhere if you’re interested in picking up a copy!

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – #BookReview

Book Reviews, General Books, Historical Fiction, Romance

Goodreads: The Nightingale
Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII, Romance, Fiction

FRANCE, 1939
In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

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

This book absolutely shattered me. I don’t even know how to start writing a review for this beautifully heartbreaking book. I was ugly crying so hard in the last few chapters—like literally full body heaving, and just as my tears abated after one chapter, they’d flow again once I started the next. What have you done to me Kristin Hannah?! I was not expecting to feel this EMOTIONAL. Holy wow, when I finished this last night, my whole body felt so heavy but equally drained of energy! This moving book talks about a side of the war that is seldom seen or talked about: the women, and it was equally moving, fascinating and absolutely spellbinding.

“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”

The Nightingale is told in alternative perspectives between two sisters, Isabelle Rosignoll and Vianne Mauriac, from the start of the Nazi occupation in France until their liberation by the Allies. There were also a few chapters with an “anonymous” female narrator from the US in 1995, but we don’t find out who that is until the very end. I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a story about such strong female characters. Although they’re as different as can be, with Isabelle being the rebellious, bold and feisty younger sister to Vianne’s quieter, sensible and stable older sister, they both displayed awe inspiring strength and bravery during one of the most horrifying periods in history.

I was right there from the start with Isabelle’s character. I felt for her desire to be loved and accepted. She was wild and headstrong. Although it was reckless, I greatly admired how passionate she was about fighting for her people, resisting the Nazi’s, and how she dove right into the heart of danger by joining the resistance. She went on to save the lives of hundreds of Allied soldiers, and even though I was clutching my throat through every dangerous mission, how I cheered for her character to survive!

In contrast, I initially struggled with Vianne’s character. I thought her meek, almost cowardly and too willing to accept the changes happening around her. I wanted her to be bold like Isabelle, to fight—but in the end, I recognized that Vianne’s was a quiet strength that was just as admirable and courageous as her sister’s. As a mother she did everything she could to protect her children, and to survive the situation in the way she knew how to. She made a lot of mistakes that were sometimes fatal, but of the two, Vianne was the one who clearly grew the most throughout the story.

It’s so hard to believe that none of these characters are real. I grew to love all of them: Isabelle, Vianne, Sophie, Gaëtan, Antoine, Julien, Anouk, Micheline, Henri and so many others… I became so invested in their lives, safety and survival that it almost felt as if I was there and that I knew their fear, losses, strength and triumphs. With every scene, I could picture so clearly the surroundings. Kristin Hannah did wonders in bringing the setting and the characters to life with her simple yet descriptive prose. It’s not necessarily a “fast read” and it definitely wasn’t an easy one due to the subject matter, but I found I simply couldn’t put this book down. And when I was forced to put it aside, all I could think about was coming back to the story, and immersing myself back into the lives of these characters.

I think Hannah did a really fantastic job with this book and I learned so much about a different part of this historical period. Most books covering WWII, the Nazi occupation and the Holocaust focus on Jewish characters, and the horrors of the concentration camps. While there was a small part of that in this book, it was refreshing to learn about how other countries and citizens were also deeply affected, and especially to learn about the crucial role women played in surviving the war. One quote really got me:

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

How everything was tied together in the end was bittersweet perfection. It wasn’t rushed, and it answered the questions I had leading up to the “present day”. And like I said, my tears wouldn’t stop gushing. I want to give this book all the freaking panda stars!

I honestly didn’t think anything would top my feels for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which has held the top spot on my favorites so far this year, but The Nightingale knocked it out of the ballpark for me. I definitely wasn’t expecting that! This book has received rave reviews and a lot of hype, and it 100% worth all of it. I think it’s safe to say this is now one of my all time favorite historical fiction novels. I can’t wait to read more of what Kristin Hannah has written!

Have you read The Nightingale? Did it live up to the hype for you?
Let me know in the comments and let’s have a little chat 🙂