The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – #BookReview

Goodreads: The Great Alone
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

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! 🙂

June Monthly Wrap Up!

So… June was a month and I’m so glad that it’s over! I was plagued by intense work stress and anxiety for the majority of the month and it greatly impacted my reading. I couldn’t focus on anything for extended periods of time unless it was more visual than text, so I ended up reading a lot of graphic novels. Which was fine, and I enjoyed the ones I read, but I missed out on two buddy reads that I planned to join and I barely scratched the surface of my pride month book list–even though the majority were still LGBTQ reads. In the end I read 21 books:

Of these reads, four were physical books, and the rest were Kindle books and e-ARCs. I’ve really slowed down with requesting ARCs and I’m so glad because with the month I had, I would’ve fallen even more behind and felt awful about it! There are a few that I still need to catch up on that I’ve been requested to read by the author, so I’m putting that as a priority in July! As for which one was my favorite book, I honestly can’t decide between The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah or Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Both books have been massively hyped and to me, they were worth ALL of it. Seriously, they were so good, and I’m sad that it took me so long to pick up The Nightingale because it did all the things to my feelings. I haven’t cried so hard reading a book in a long time and I’m a bit of a crier, friends!

With all the graphic novels I’ve read this month, I’ve surpassed my Goodreads goal of 90 books and I’m now sitting at 104. Although I know it’s not about the number of books I read, it’s still exciting to think that i’ve already read over 100 books and we’re only half-way through the year! I wonder how many I’ll end up reading this year?

I’ve written reviews for most of these so if you want to see what I thought of these books, you can follow the links below! That’s all for now though, folks. I hope everyone’s reading month was fab!

Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Review: What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
Graphic Novel Review: The Woods (Vol 1-9) by James Tynion IV
ARC Review: Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
ARC Review: When the Light Went Out by Bridget Morrissey
Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Review: Autoboyography by Christina Lauren
Review: The #UltimateBlogTour: The Written by Ben Galley

How was your reading month? What was your favorite read?
Come drop me a comment below and let’s chat books 🙂

Friday Favourites: Character Deaths (That’ll Never Leave Me)

It’s time for another Friday Favourites hosted by Kibby @ Something of the Book! This weekly meme is where you get to share a list of all your favourites based on the list of prompts on Kibby’s page. Sounds fun, right? This week’s prompt is: Character Deaths**. So, I’m not really sure how to interpret this one because well, do I really have favourite character deaths? I’m not sure. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about this prompt is the character deaths that have stuck with me/made the biggest impact; so not necessarily my favourite death but it’s up on there on the list that I’ll never forget!

**Obviously I urge you to read this post with caution because I don’t know if you’ve read these books or if you want to read them, but warning: MAJOR SPOILERS! (Duh)

All the Deaths in the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling. All the deaths in this book, especially towards the end of the series, really gutted me while reading the book and even more so when I watched the movies. Gets me every single time and I wail like a baby.

Willem in A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Obviously this wasn’t the only death in the book that was devastating, this book was already gut wrenching from the start, but just as we were getting a glimpse into how much better Jude’s life could be, and was slowly becoming, THIS CRAZY DEATH had to happen and basically set off an intense period of depression and death. It WRECKED me. I’m pretty sure I had to take a break from reading because the heartbreak was so real, y’all. So real. I still can’t believe Yanagihara would do us like that.

Old Yeller in Old Yeller by Fred Gipson. Dog deaths in real life, books, movies, and TV shows are the absolute worst. I can still remember how hard I wept when I read this book in school and Old Yeller died after saving his family’s life. What a good doggo boy 😭

Augustus Waters in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. One of those tragic and unexpected twists in the book when you think one thing is going to happen and then something completely different happens. Oh, this book. I still cry whenever I reread it. I don’t think I could handle the movie (no, I haven’t watched it yet)!

Isabelle Rosignoll in The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. We were so close. SO CLOSE to a sort-of happy ending and even though, as you’re reading, you realize that this is probably not a possibility considering the physical and mental condition of the character towards the end of the book, you still can’t but feel (recklessly) hopeful that it can still happen. This was my favorite read last month and this death completely wrecked me. You can read my full review here.

Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Lennie’s death was a mercy killing, but his character was my favorite and it gutted me the first time I read this when I was in middle school and it was still able to slash at my emotions whenever I read it after I was out of school. Lennie was such a gentle giant who loved too much, and it really sucked that he had to die.

Werner Pfennig in All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This was one of those shocking deaths in a book that I absolutely hated. As it was happening I felt like I was reading it in slow motion (if that even makes sense). It was horrifying and I felt so robbed of a happy ending with and for Werner. SO sad.

Bruno in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t particularly enjoy this book. But Bruno’s death at the end was B-R-U-T-A-L. I was reading this on the plane when I got to the end and it caused me to literally swear out loud and chant NO NO NO because for real, that ending threw me so hard. I was shook–especially considering this is a book for children?! Hell no.

Do you have any “favourite character deaths”? Or are there any character deaths that you’ll never get over!?

Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

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

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 or is it on your TBR?
Did it live up to the hype for you or were you disappointed?